Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Dbackdad reminds me that it's Oscar Time (OK, him plus the fact that I emerged unwittingly from the L.A. subway Monday right onto a closed Hollywood Boulevard and into the middle of red carpet preparations in front of the Kodak Theatre--I had honestly forgotten all about it). Despite seeing a fair number of this year's nominees, I found myself unable to fill out the New York Times's sample ballot--there are just too many key performances I have not seen. But I can certainly come up with a list of my favorite films of 2011.
I thought it was a pretty good year for films. Not great, but good. I began writing this post by ranking this year's reviews by letter grade, but I found after the dust had settled that I rather liked some films better than others despite their grades not reflecting this. (I suppose there's a question in there about quality and craftsmanship and artistry versus entertainment.) But no matter: I think the lists done either way contain mostly the same films, just ordered slightly differently.
Probably the best film of the year was Tate Taylor's The Help. A moving story full of engaging and likeable characters, and one that reflects an actual dynamic in American life, one mostly--though not completely--past.
Andrew Rossi's documentary about the New York Times, Page One, was another particular favorite. I care about the newspaper business, and I revere the Times. It's fascinating to meet some of the characters that bring us this brilliant news coverage, and to see how the sausage is made, as it were. And all during a period of great moment for the institution.
Michael Hazanavicius's The Artist is a special achievement. A movie about movies and the history of this particular form of storytelling, it's engrossing from beginning to end and a constant surprise.
I loved Simon Curtis's My Week With Marilyn, mostly for a couple riveting central performances by Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh. Marilyn Monroe is an icon and an enigma, a beautiful race horse run off a cliff. The film does a service keeping the spark of her alive for future audiences.
David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method makes my list of favorites. A tight ensemble piece for three main characters, it's brilliantly written, cast, and acted. Engrossing, and based in historical fact.
As is Clint Eastwood's biopic J. Edgar. Leonardo DiCaprio is great, and the film tells the story of one of the more notorious and fascinating characters in modern history.
David Fincher's The Girl with Dragon Tattoo did not get my highest letter grade, but I anticipated this film more than any other (this year and most others). I'm quite in love with Stieg Larsson's novels and with the excellent Swedish films they spawned. But Fincher has given us his own take on the gripping story, and done so in a way that makes me hunger for the next two films to come.
Woody Allen's lovely Midnight In Paris is whimsical and quirky and punctuated with little profundities. And we get the glory and almost painful beauty of Paris. Maybe Allen is not to everyone's tastes--I'm warming to him more and more as years pass--and this film will not change minds already made up about him. But it's a lovely film by its own measure and an entrancing two hours.
I really enjoyed Steven Soderbergh's Haywire, a solid conventional story that offers a couple twists. An action / double-crossed spy story, it's of a very popular genre and sports a strong cast. But Soderbergh's treatment raises the genre film up above--and beyond--the norm.
Likewise Hanna, Joe Wright's film about teen-aged programmed killer. An action film with a touch of sci-fi, Hanna takes a standard genre and puts an unexpected variation up on the big screen--and pulls it off. Unexpectedly engaging.
Honorable mention goes out to Shame, The Iron Lady and The Beginners.
So what did I miss?
PS: I typically review most of what I see in theaters in a year, but I see looking at a list of 2011 releases that there are a bunch of things I've seen and not reviewed: Crazy, Stupid Love, Contagion, 50/50, Thor, Hugo, Super 8, Source Code, Bridesmaids. None of these would make my top films list, but I enjoyed several of them: Hugo for a rich immersion into a kids' fantasy; Thor for good, splashy fun; Bridesmaids for Melissa McCarthy.
And I wish I had seen Melancholia.