Andrew’s 10 Best Movies of 2011

2011 was a year full of sequels and remakes (most of which were dreadful, some of which were not), but there were some real gems thrown in the mix which meant it wasn’t a total loss. Here is a break down of my top 10 of the year, whittling them down to just 10 was not easy.

10 – Senna

To say that Asif Kapadia’s documentary about F1 racer Ayrton Senna is a masterpiece is an understatement. He not only manages to put together a detailed and touching picture of Senna’s life through racing to the tragic crash that took his life, but does it with a skill that the footage and interviews tell the story themselves coherently without the need for a voiceover explaining things. An even greater result is that, aside from being aware of Ayrton Senna in passing, I am not a fan of racing and still the movie is amongst my top 10. If that doesn’t convince you to give this a look, then nothing will.

9 – Stake Land

Low budget movies rarely come along at this level of quality. Made for a budget of approximately $4 million, Stake Land took two well worn subjects and mixed them together, following the story of a young man who journeys across a post vampire-apocalyptic United States with a man he knows only as ‘Mister’. Shot to be visually bleak, the movie instead of relying on special effects focuses on story and character.

8 – The Ides Of March

Directed by George Clooney, this is a dramatic thriller based on the stage play ‘Farragut North’ starring Ryan Gosling as a staffer in a presidential campaign who discovers some scandalous information about his boss (played by Clooney) that could derail the whole campaign and his political career altogether. The performances from Gosling and Clooney are top notch as are those of supporting actors Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

7 – Limitless

In what could be his best performance to date, Bradley Cooper plays a down and out man who stumbles upon a pill that allows him to maximize his potential to it’s maximum, and all the problems he finds himself in when he gets in over his head. Based on a book called ‘The Dark Fields’, Limitless has it all, great performances from Cooper and Robert De Niro, a great musical score (see my Best Scores of 2011 piece), a great visual style due to the skillful direction of Niel Burger, and most of all, a fantastic script serving it all. A movie that was a small release, but deserves to be seen in a much larger light.

6 – The Help

Another movie based on a book, this time of the same title, The Help is a comedy/drama about the stories of coloured maids in 1960’s mississippi during the civil rights movement. It manages to tread the fine line of being funny whilst also covering the touchy subjects of racism and slavery whilst also being a touching story about friendship across social barriers. The movie features solid performances from Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain, and come Oscar time one or more of these names should be popping up in a category or two.

5 – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tomas Alfredson’s take on John Le Carre’s book about spies in England at the height of the cold war, who are trying to uncover a possible traitor in the intelligence services, is not your typical spy thriller. Focusing entirely on characters and plot rather than injecting the movie randomly with forced action sequences, Alfredson has assembled a near perfect cast for the job with a powerhouse of actors including Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Cairán Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Toby Jones. Oldman alone deserves to win an Oscar for his performance as a retired analyst pulled back into the spy game to route out a mole, and most of the other cast members deserve no less.

4 – Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

A re-imagining of the classic ‘Apes’ movie series, which at first look appeared to be your typical hollywood blockbuster, audiences were in awe though at it’s main character, an ape – Ceasar, played by actor Andy Serkis in a full body motion capture performance unlike anything that had been seen before. Though it does have a decent story behind it, it’s Serkis’ performance and the emotional reaction that he envokes that makes the movie. As someone who was skeptic when the movie was released, trust me this is one worth checking out even if you have little interest in it.

3 – Source Code

This year’s attempt at intelligent science fiction, Source Code is the follow up movie of director Duncan Jones (Moon) starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a soldier who wakes up on a train with no memory of where he is, or how he got there, before having to try and figure out which of his fellow passengers is going to blow up the train. The movie is another wonderful example of how you can make an intelligent blockbuster, and how you don’t have to dumb down things for an audience to follow. Hollywood take notes.

2 – Warrior

A movie about mixed martial arts fighting which focuses more on the dramatic tension of the relationships of two brothers and their alcoholic father more than the actual fighting, Warrior is the gut punch that I was not expecting. Superb performances from Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, and Nick Nolte make this one of the best movies of the year.

1 – Drive

Personally, this movie just hit it right out of the park for me. Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s grungy retro drama about a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a wheelman for hire has the feel of a Quentin Tarentino script, directed with a style akin to Michael Mann, with a healthy dose of 70’s exploitation genre mixed in. Actor Ryan Gosling really gives a career defining performance as the un-named driver of the title, and actress Carrie Mulligan gives a worthy supporting performance as the neighboring married woman who he strikes up a relationship with, also worth mentioning is Albert Brooks who gives a particularly good performance as a mobster who gets involved with the driver. The movie is rated 18 for violent scenes, and it’s a hard 18 for a couple of scenes in particular, but it’s an extremely engrossing watch from start to finish.

Special mention for movies that came close:

Moneyball

Based on the true story and book of the same title about the manager of a poor baseball team who decides to put together a team based purely on statistics, bucking the trend of the sport to go with high profile players. Features a great performance from Brad Pitt, but can’t decide wether it wants to be a drama or a documentary while trying to cover the subject of politics in sports – something that was covered to much greater effect, albeit in the sport of American football, in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday.

The Guard

Comedy starring Brendan Gleeson as a morally ambiguous policeman in Ireland who finds himself saddled up with an FBI agent (played by Don Cheadle) in order to catch a group of drug smugglers. Key here are the performances of the two leads, who bring drama and comedy to their roles, with great supporting performances from Mark Strong and Liam Cunningham as two drug traffickers, who bring a genuine charm to their character’s moments on screen.

Battle Los Angeles

An alien invasion movie that’s not about the aliens. Yes, that’s how I originally described this movie when I first reviewed it, and I stick by that. Director Jonathan Liebesman has made a movie following closely a group of Marines including Aaron Eckhard and Michelle Rodriguez during an alien invasion of Los Angeles that more closely resembles Black Hawk Down than Independence Day, and it’s all the better for it.

Captain America

Okay, I’m a comic fan, I admit it. I’m also a fan of director Joe Johnston since he directed another comic book character’s big screen adaptation The Rocketeer in the 1990’s. Here he brings his obvious skill for making a movie that looks and feels like it’s set during 1940’s wartime America, with the origin story of Steve Rogers as he undergoes the transformation to Captain America. This, the final part of Marvel’s set up for The Avengers next year, like Thor which was also out earlier this year, does not dissapoint.

Fast Five

Perhaps the most fun movie of the year, as a fan of the Fast & Furious series since it’s start, I absolutely loved this movie and the change in direction from a simple racing movie to a heist movie. Director Justin Lin does a fantastic job tieing elements from all previous movies into this one, while still managing to make a movie that is not only coherent, but a heck of a lot of fun, and one I admit to having watched numerous times. Here’s to Fast Six (Furious Six?).

Posted on December 21, 2011, in Features and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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