Kiko Martinez’s Top Ten Films of 2011

While it hasn’t necessarily been a stellar year in film (watching Adam Sandler, Martin Lawrence, and Tyler Perry in drag was enough to sideline the most intrepid moviegoer), there have been some diamonds in the rough. Enough, at least, to make slogging through 185 movies feel worth it. From a fuzzy red Muppet to the dissecting of baseball stats, here are the best films Hollywood (and Iran,France, and the U.K.) had to offer.

10. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
Contrary to popular belief, “The Muppets” wasn’t the best Muppet movie this year. That distinction goes to this 80-minute documentary on puppeteer Kevin Clash, who has given voice and life to the widely popular “Sesame Street” character Elmo for almost 30 years.

9. The Tree of Life
Sean Penn still might be trying to figure out what the hell he was doing walking aimlessly amongst the hoodoos in Utah, but there is no denying the stunning work of art visionary director Terrence Malick has created on a sprawling and ambitious timeline that begins with a lyrical take on the creation of life.

8. Martha Marcy May Marlene
This indie thriller about a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen in a compelling breakout role) who escapes a rural cult becomes relentless and unnerving from the moment first-time feature filmmaker Sean Durkin exposes his nonlinear imagination and jolts the narrative into a haunting survival story. While the ending might frustrate some viewers, I was actually relieved knowing I didn’t know everything.

7. Tyrannosaur
With a story of redemption at the center of its cold, black heart, this independent drama from the U.K. introduces us to the most unlikely hero in a film this year. It’s not often I would root for a raging alcoholic (Peter Mullan) who kicks his dog to death in the opening scene, but actor-turnedwriter/director Paddy Considine does the impossible and finds a way to make him human. Someone please give actress Olivia Colman an Oscar already.

6. A Separation
As Iran’s official entry into the Academy Awards this year, this captivating marital drama could become only the second Iranian film to be nominated in the Best Foreign Language category after 1998’s “Children of Heaven.” Writer/director Asghar Farhadi delivers a complex and honest portrayal of two families in modern-day Tehran. It is a challenging and heartbreaking film that deserves an audience.

5. Hugo
Listen up Robert Rodríguez: Next time you make a movie for your kids because you want them to see what Daddy does for a living, here’s proof you can actually make it fun and enchanting. Case in point: Martin Scorsese’s family fantasy he made for his now 12-year-old daughter. Blending a beautifully imagined treasure hunt with a tribute to cinema’s early pioneers, Scorsese makes an impressive mark and soars into a genre that usually treats youngsters like morons.

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Whether or not you enjoyed the 2009 Swedish adaptation of the Stieg Larsson novel isn’t important — just open your mind to the stylish and trippy investigative thriller director David Fincher has fashioned as his follow-up to “The Social Network.” For those who can handle both sides of Fincher’s storytelling talent — both the brutality and the meticulous craftsmanship — his version of the first book will prove “The Millennium Trilogy” can be hard-edged and fearless.

3. The Descendants
Much more dramatic than his previous films, writer/director Alexander Payne still finds a way to fuse the dark comedic moments of his script with the tragic ones and make it flourish. George Clooney has never been better as a father trying to keep his sanity as his dysfunctional little family faces an emotional meltdown in Hawaii.

2. The Artist
It’s French. It’s in black and white. It’s silent. And it’s brilliant. I can’t remember the last time I was charmed by a film as much as I was with this ode to the silent film era. From its pitch-perfect performances by actors Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo to the snappy and sentimental score by Ludovic Bource, when all is said and done “The Artist” will be as admired as Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights” and F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise.”

1. Moneyball
An exceptionally entertaining look at the true story behind Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and the unconventional route he took in 2002 to transform his scrappy, penniless team into a competitive ball club. (Yes, math is involved.) While director Bennett Miller deserves an owner’s portion of the credit, it’s the clever screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian that confirms the entire production’s big-league worth.

15 honorable mentions: “Another Earth,” “Bridesmaids,” “A Better Life,” “Contagion,” “The Debt,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2,” “The Ides of March,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” “Margin Call,” “Rango,” “Source Code,” “Super 8,” “Take Shelter,” “War Horse,” “Win Win”

Jerrod Kingery’s Top Ten Films of 2011

10. The Descendants
A funny, scraggly comedy/drama held together by a breezily assured performance from George Clooney. Shailene Woodley, freed from her melodramatic teen television prison, brings acidity to her role as Clooney’s rebellious daughter who eventually becomes his confidant in an effort to hold the family together in the face of infidelity and tragedy. Few moments in film this year carry more truth and hilarity than Clooney’s awkward, desperate sprint across his Hawaiian community to confirm one of his worst fears.

9. X-Men: First Class
Like the best movies in the series, “First Class” is rough around the edges, featuring great performances from lesser-known actors and wooden performances from the bigger stars. The alternate history plot, set in the swinging ’60s during the Cuban Missile Crisis, picks and chooses which parts of the established X-Men film continuity to use or toss aside, largely ignoring the much-reviled “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and the unjustly-reviled “X-Men: The Last Stand.” The show is stolen by Michael Fassbender’s Magneto, who uses his mutant powers to hunt down the Nazis who tortured him in a concentration camp.

8. Captain America: The First Avenger
Unlike “Thor,” its more than just a piece of the puzzle Marvel is building in next year’s “The Avengers.” Set in a pulp version of World War II, “Captain America” is a stylistic treat with a whiz-bang sci-fi plot and fun performances from Chris Evans and Tommy Lee Jones. Its too bad the coda eliminates the possibility of following Cap on more adventures kicking Nazi butt across Europe.

7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
Finally, the frustrating build-up that plagued the fifth, sixth, and seventh movies in the series pays off in this action-packed, emotionally wrenching finale. Despite an unfortunately cutesy epilogue that echos the worst of the series (read: the Chris Columbus-directed entries), it makes for a thrilling conclusion to an ambitious film franchise.

6. Moneyball
A fun, seemingly effortless sports movie featuring a Brad Pitt who isn’t afraid to look old and a Jonah Hill that isn’t afraid to be unfunny. Add Philip Seymour Hoffman as an old school  manager clinging to tradition in the face of Pitt’s analytical approach and you’ve got a baseball movie that both respects the legacy of the game and exposes the flaws that come with romanticizing a business.

5. Bridesmaids
While “The Hangover Part II” dropped the ball by ripping itself off and trying to create a raunchy meta-comedy or something, “Bridesmaids” strode in and easily took the crown as the funniest movie of the year. Writer/star Kristen Wiig and director Paul Feig crafted a smart and raunchy comedy that’s far more than “The Hangover” for women. Its only glaring flaw? Casting Tim Heidecker of “Tim and Eric” in a non-speaking role.

4. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
The final piece of a cross-media trilogy telling the tale of Conan O’Brien’s ouster from “The Tonight Show.” Best enjoyed by attendees of “The Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” tour and after reading Bill Carter’s “War For Late Night.” Essential viewing for members of Team Coco.

3. 50/50
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s journey through cancer is equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking. The hilarity is thanks to co-star Seth Rogen, and the heartbreak comes at the hands of scenes like the one where Gordon-Levitt’s Adam has to say what might be his final goodbye to his mother (Anjelica Huston) before surgery. I’m not afraid to admit that the honesty of that exchange finally broke loose the tears that had been welling up in my eyes, even though I told everyone sitting around me that it was onions or something.

2. The Artist
I’ll confess, upon hearing that “The Artist” was a silent film shot in black-and-white, I rolled my eyes in dread. But then I watched it and couldn’t stop grinning. What could have been an art-house gimmick ends up being one of the most delightful movies of the year. Descriptions won’t do it justice. Just go see it already.

1. The Muppets
Ignoring everything since “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” writer/star Jason Segal’s love letter to the Muppets strikes the perfect balance between nostalgia and self-awareness. A return to “The Muppet Show” roots paired with wonderfully singable songs by Flight of the Conchord’s Bret Mackinzie left me smiling for days after I left the theater.

Cody Villafana’s Top Ten Films of 2011

Similarly to last year, I was a little disappointed with the films that came out in 2011. While I did see some very good films, I can’t quite say that anything blew me away. Still out of the 110 (and counting) films I saw this year, there were a list of 10 that stood out above the rest. As always, these are a reflection of what I’m feeling right now and are subject to change. Enjoy.

10. Senna
This spot will likely be a revolving door of films, as there were three very different movies that were in the running for the 10th spot. At the moment, the spot belongs to the sports documentary “Senna,” which documents the career and life of Formula 1 racer Ayrton Senna. One of the more interesting about this film is that it is composed entirely of footage from the late 80’s and early 90’s. The footage is impeccably edited and paced and feels like it was crafted from fresh footage shot just for the purposes of this documentary. I should also make note that I am someone who has absolutely no interest in any form of auto racing, and yet I was completely gripped with this film right from the get-go.

9. Tyrannosaur
One of the more bleak films I’ve seen this year, “Tyrannosaur” is a British independent film that definitely going to be an acquired taste. The film OPENS with a man so belligerently drunk that he kicks his dog to death. Nice tone setter, huh? The film follows a drunken violent man and his unique relationship with a battered religious woman. Despite the fact that its main character appears to be totally despicable, “Tyrannosaur” features a pair of great performances from Peter Mullan and Oliva Colman. The best thing about “Tyrannosaur” is its script, which features some of the most venomous and cynical dialogue in any film this year. One suggestion for when you view the film; opt for subtitles. Mullan’s Scottish accent is so thick that you are certain to have some trouble understanding him.

8. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen’s whimsical time-travel comedy was a very pleasant surprise this year. I was actually told by multiple people that I probably wouldn’t like this film, but I gave it a chance and I loved it. Allen’s charming script is whip-smart and I really enjoyed seeing all of the literary characters that Owen Wilson’s character Gil admired come to life and interact with Gil himself. One of my favorite performances in the film is a role played by Michael Sheen who hilariously thinks he knows it all, and Wilson can reply sarcastically to him. The scenery of Paris is beautiful, and the guitar waltz played throughout the film will be stuck in your head for days. I also believe this to be perhaps Owen Wilson’s best performance in a lead role in his career. He’s been good when he’s had someone to act with, or with an ensemble, but I love his performance here as the lead.

7. Another Earth
“Another Earth” is unique in that while the plot of the film very much takes the shape of a sci-fi movie, it is not one. In his big-screen debut, director Mike Cahill gives us a situation where another version of planet earth has been discovered, somewhere that your life could be totally different. “Another Earth” is cleverly written and this will most certainly be a stepping-stone for actress Brit Marling (already lined up for big roles in 2012).  It is a very human story of a girl who is tortured by an event of the past, and feels that she must repent for the things she has done. William Mapother should also get some accolades for his complex performance.

6. The Descendants
George Clooney is flat out one of my favorite actors working today, and “The Descendants” is business as usual. In “The Descendants,” Clooney takes on the role of a father who must juggle a hefty business transaction and looking after his rambunctious kids while his wife is in a coma after a boating accident. The film is equal parts humorous, dramatic and touching, as Clooney and his two daughters face their problems head on and grow closer together. Young Shailene Woodley is excellent in her role as Clooney’s oldest daughter and I hope she gets recognized with an Oscar nomination.

5. Shame
Slapped with the ultra-rare NC-17 rating, “Shame” is a film about a man who spirals out of control in his sex addiction. I love that Fox Searchlight decided to keep the NC-17 rating rather than edit it down for R, keeping director Steve McQueen’s vision intact. While it is not gratuitous in its sexuality, “Shame” definitely earns its rating. The way in which the sex addiction is portrayed is fascinating, with Michael Fassbender’s character Brandon needs to fulfill his urges in the most inappropriate of times and places. Fassbender gives an incredible performance, and the always-reliable Carey Mulligan is great as well.

4. Martha Marcy May Marlene
The alliteratively titled indie “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” follows a girl who struggles with adapting back to normal life after she flees from a cult. The narrative shifts between the past and present flawlessly, with incredible editing transitions between the two time periods. Elizabeth Olsen proves herself to be the most talented actress in her famous family, and will be a star in the very near future. John Hawkes plays a creep to the t for the second year in a row, and his musical performance following a “cleansing” is one of my favorite scenes all year. Also, the abrupt ending of this film was met with groans from the theater audience; there’s your warning.

3. The Artist
When I saw “The Artist” for the first time at Austin Film Festival, it was at the historic Paramount Theater in Austin. Built in 1915 and kept beautifully restored, it was a surreal experience to watch the film in the exact setting a film like this would have shown in back in the 20s. I was absolutely enamored with it, and it was one of the highlights of my film-going year. After seeing the movie again out of that context, it was still charming enough to crack my Top 3. Admittedly, “The Artist” is a hard sell. It’s a French, black and white, silent movie, powered by text cards and Ludovic Bource’s genius score. The performances from Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo are  perfectly played, and Uggy the dog is the unsung hero of the cast. Undoubtedly the most unique film of the year, “The Artist” is my early prediction for the Best Picture Oscar. Give it a chance.

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
David Fincher is quickly becoming the next director whose style is so uniquely his that the word “-esque” attached to his name will soon become an adjective to describe films. Adapted from the Swedish book series (and Swedish films), Fincher brings his trademark style to a series that millions are familiar with. For a two hour and 40 minute movie, it is never boring. It is tautly paced, visually stunning, and most importantly, brilliantly acted. Daniel Craig is very good in his role, but the star of this film is Rooney Mara, who plays Lisbeth Salander. Undergoing a very extreme makeover that included piercings, eyebrow dying and drastic haircuts, Mara is unrecognizable as Salander. I was absolutely mesmerized by her performance. She plays Salander so aloof and calculated that she is impossible to keep your eyes off of during the movie, and impossible to get out of your head long after it ends. She’s a darkhorse to even get nominated, but Rooney Mara gave my favorite female performance of the year.

1. Moneyball
I liked “Moneyball” a lot the first time I saw the film, but only after multiple viewings did I truly appreciate its brilliance and its solidification as my top movie of 2011. It would be misleading to call “Moneyball” a baseball movie. Sure, there are little nuggets of behind the scenes looks into how the business of a baseball team operates and runs. But “Moneyball” is so much more than that. It is a movie about economics, about trying to build championship worthy team given money constraints. It is about being undervalued, and being given a chance based on the way you fit into the larger scheme of things. And even further, it is about trying to change something bigger than yourself.  It is one of Brad Pitt’s most mature and best acted roles of his career, and he will certainly be nominated for an Oscar. Jonah Hill gives a surprisingly strong supporting performance and could get nominated himself. Even if you don’t like baseball at all, I still believe “Moneyball” is a fascinating film that is well written and well acted and is well worth your time.

Honorable Mentions: The two movies that were also fighting for the 10th spot on my list were “The Skin I Live In” and “Win Win”. Both of those movies are very well done (for very different reasons) and just barely missed out on my list. Other mentions include: “Bridesmaids,” “Contagion,” “The Ides of March,” “Everything Must Go,” and “Undefeated”

3 Responses

  1. 10. Troll Hunter (I know. It’s from 2010, but I didn’t see it until 2011)
    9. Source Code
    8. The Help
    7. Win Win
    6. Drive
    5. Paranormal Activity 3
    4. Crazy, Stupid, Love
    3. Young Adult
    2. Cedar Rapids
    1. I Saw the Devil

  2. 10.Contagion 9.We Bought a Zoo 8. Rango 7. War Horse 6.The Help 5. Crazy, Stupid, Love 4. Super 8 3. The Descendants 2. Moneyball 1. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2

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