Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Top 10 Films of 2011; Tony's Picks

Movies: DG Editor Tony Nunes ends our look back at 2011's best, with his picks for the top 10 films of last year

2011 was quite the interesting year in film. Fantasy and recollection seemed to be what audiences craved as a means to momentarily escape from these hard economic times. Directors like Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Michel Hazanavicius took us back to a time when movies and art were truly magic. They knew we needed to be reminded of the simple pleasures of imagination as this generation is far too caught up in technological narcissism. Where Melies and Chaplin once dazzled with simple magic, today's film audiences have sadly grown cold to the wonder. Or have they? Turns out we were all waiting for the magic to return, and last year it did.

Making a top ten list is tough, and there's always some internal debate on what stays and what goes. The films of 2011 that nearly but not quite made my cut were just as diverse as my top ten. The great bank crisis saga Margin Call was a close contender for its strong cast led by Zachary Quinto. The dark post-apocalyptic indie Belleflower showed how original a true low-budget film can be while the incredibly fun Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol proved that super budget action epics can be smartly entertaining. Ridley Scott's documentary compilation Life In a Day gave us strange and real beauty from across the globe as Take Shelter showed us our darkest fears in one of the years most compelling psychological thrillers. Finally, Captain America: The First Avenger did the superhero genre some justice but the movies that truly saved 2011 are the ten listed below.

Here are my picks for the top 10 flicks of 2011.


10) Attack the Block


Hands down the best horror film of last year, a witty sci-fi street film that is as funny as it is scary. Director Joe Cornish combines equal parts comedy and horror as a gang of London teenagers take on the streets and an invading alien race. Not since Gremlins has there been a better horror/adventure/comedy.

9) The Help

At first I had no real desire to see The Help, writing it off as an overwrought melodrama before giving it a chance. Boy was I wrong. The Help is a poignantly told, deeply human and uplifting take on racial divides in the early 1960’s south. Lifted by its exceptional cast of actresses, particularly the great Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, here is a film accessible to everyone that weaves a provocative and tearful look at feminism and race in the face of heinous ignorance.

8) Hugo / Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2 / The Adventures of Tintin

Lumping these three films together is my way of celebrating the adventurous, family friendly fantasies of 2011. Here are three brilliant films full of wonder and imagination. Scorsese celebrates the dream of the movies with George Melies in Hugo. The best Potter film to date closes the epic saga with dark hope and the most fantastically satisfying end. Tintin offers up beautifully animated (snubbed by Oscar) adventure ala Indiana Jones, adding new breath and excitement into Herge’s comic works. See all three with the kids.

7) Melancholia

Love him or hate him (I dislike him), Lars von Trier has created a masterpiece with Melancholia. A film set at the end of the world, it’s a visually striking narrative work circling the ins and outs of madness and Zen unlike any film before it. Kirsten Dunst (Oscar snubbed) is fantastic as the detached Justine, a failed bride who finds strength only at the end of times. I’ve never seen an end-of-the-world film quite as restrained and disconcerting.

6) The Muppets

When Jim Henson died tragically in 1990 I feared the Muppets I grew to love would die with him. Henson’s son Brian released the great Muppet Christmas Carol but after that a line of terrible Muppet films followed. Just when all seemed lost, Jason Segal and Nick Stoller released The Muppets, a cameo heavy comedy that made me laugh and feel for Kermit and Co. once more. Playing off of the Muppets 80’s prominence, the film is a genius satire employing all of the charms Henson created for his bizarre gang.

5) Drive

When it comes to style, Nicolas Winding Refn’s thriller Drive is a vision of neo-noir perfection. With an 80’s title design, stellar synth soundtrack and dark LA streetscapes it’s a film with a hard edge. Ryan Gosling leads a top-notch cast including Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks and Albert Brooks in a shockingly violent role beyond what we’ve come to expect from the comedian.
4) The Descendants

George Clooney gives his greatest performance to date as Matt King, a Hawaiian father of two who finds out his dying wife had been cheating on him. Alexander Payne delivers the most intelligent and heartfelt family drama of 2011. At its heart, The Descendants is a film about people, history and the connections we make between our pasts and our future.

3) Midnight in Paris

A truly joyous time at the movies, Midnight in Paris is an homage to another time and place in the arts. Woody Allen has created a fairytale for romantics trapped in a generation of shallow pessimists. Owen Wilson is brilliantly restrained as a writer transported nightly to 1920’s Paris, an old soul whose trips take him on a journey cast by Hemingway, the Fitzgerald’s, Picasso, Porter and more. This is my new favorite Woody Allen film.

2) The Artist

Not only a love letter to the movies of old, The Artist is the most joyous time I’ve had at the movies in years. Silent not as a gimmick, but a statement of timelessness, this silent masterpiece forces us to look and feel at a time we’ve become accustomed to senseless cinema. Stars Jean Dujardin and Bernice Bejo shine new light on the genre as Buster Keaton and Greta Garbo once did.

1) Life, Above All

Life, Above All is a tragic, heartbreakingly accurate story centered on the struggle of HIV/AIDS stigma in rural Sub-Saharan Africa. At the center of this powerful South African film is Khomotso Manyaka, the actress who brilliantly portrays 12 year old Chanda, a young girl fighting forces we can barely comprehend for her dying mother and ignorantly tarnished family name. Perhaps the truest tragedy I have ever seen on film.

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