My 10 favorite films of 2011Section 4A, Movie Review Monday, February 6th, 2012
Last week, the Oscar nominations were announced, and nine movies are vying for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Why there are nine and not ten like last year and not five like there were every year for sixty years is a long and complicated story; it mostly involves a combination of preferential voting system calculus and the desire to put a broader slate – and wider demographic of Oscar viewers – up for the big prize. The nine nominated are The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse. I, um, respectfully disagree with the voters. Or with the calculus. My favorite movies of the last year include four of the nine that the Academy chose to honor.
10 The Help. I could not resist the easy morality of this story of a quiet revolution waged by black housekeepers in early 1960s Mississippi. Viola Davis’ quiet suffering is almost agonizing to watch, while Octavia Butler is funnier than anyone in Bridesmaids. But most of the white characters are nearly as interesting or layered. (On DVD.)
9 Albert Nobbs. It doesn’t open in San Diego for several weeks, but I managed to see a DVD screener of this quiet and intense drama about gender politics in Victorian London. Glenn Close’s uncanny and deeply moving and Oscar-nominated portrayal of the sad, scared butler Albert Nobbs is one of the great performances of 2011.
8 Bridesmaids. Easily the funniest movie of the year, Bridesmaids is not just about female friendship, but also class warfare, gender politics and food poisoning. Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy steals every scene she’s in as the bizarre butch future sister-in-law. The film’s jokes are neither cruel nor racist, as they were in the movie I hated more than any other last year, The Hangover, Part 2. (On DVD.)
7 Heartbeats. Barely anyone saw this stunning French Canadian story of a bisexual love triangle. Written and directed by Xavier Dolan, who also starred in the film, it’s a gorgeous, avant garde piece of art that seems impossible to have come from someone only 21 years old. (On DVD.)
6 Beginners. It’s a gay movie made for straight people – it does little too much Homosexuality 101 – but as Ewan McGregor’s father who comes out after turning 70, Christopher Plummer is as sweet and giddy and confused and awake as a kid in a candy store. He is a frontrunner to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Mike Mills, who wrote and directed the movie, uses some brilliant editing and witty voiceover to make something extraordinary, moving and funny. (On DVD.)
5 Drive. A violent, searing and ultimately gorgeous homage to 1980s L.A. noir films like American Gigolo and Blade Runner, Drive is also Ryan Gosling’s best performance of the year; and that’s saying a lot. Taciturn, serene and dressed a bit like Steve McQueen in Le Mans, as the driver, Gosling is the new ultimate example of cool.
4 The Artist. A silent movie about the silent movies, and as good as the best silent movies made at their height, The Artist is an exquisite, perfect film that features a performance by Jean Dujardin that is so charismatic and sexy that when the movie is finished, you want to watch it all over again just to stare at him. He was nominated for Best Actor, one of the movie’s ten nominations.
3 Moneyball. How could a movie about baseball statistics be so enthralling, even exciting? The answer is Brad Pitt, who plays former Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane when he revolutionized baseball recruiting. Pitt is funny, arrogant, nervous, sly and sexy; it’s a marvelous movie-star performance. He may finally win his Oscar.
2 The Tree of Life. The winner of the Cannes Film Festival, The Tree of Life divided audiences, half of whom thought it was pretentious nonsense, and half of whom thought it was a masterpiece. I’m in the latter camp; I cried in awe during the film’s montage of the history of the universe. A meditation on family, anger, creation and memory mostly set in 1960s Texas, the film still haunts me six months later. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain will be rewarded for other movies this year, but it is in The Tree of Life that they did the best work of their careers. (On DVD.)
1 Weekend. I will just repeat what I wrote in my review a few months ago: “It is about what it is like to be gay and in love now. It is an immediate, intimate and honest examination of love, sex and longing in 2011. It’s also gorgeously shot, sensitively acted and sexier than any gay film I can remember. Andrew Haigh’s sensitive direction and editing and Urszula Pontikos’s cinematography turn what is basically a two-person parlor play into an intense, almost epic work of beauty.” It’s my favorite movie of 2011. (On Instant Netflix.)
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