2011 was a year in which I saw almost nothing. Generally speaking, the better part of my winter is spent at various move theatres in the metro area with a pen, paper, and overwhelmingly geeky thirst for cinema. This winter, I’ve been to about 3 theatres. Therefore, this list is both wildly slanted and probably subject to change in about a month. But it’s January, and this is what I’m supposed to do as a film buff. So here goes: my incomplete list of the best 2011 had to offer in film—
Let’s just get one thing out of the way right off the bat: Kristen Wiig is a goddamn goddesslady. Her comedic timing is some force of nature that Lucille Ball would be envious of. With “Bridesmaids”, the world learned that her skills as a writer stood as something to rival that timing. Everyone expected it to be hilarious. Everyone expected it to be gross. No one expected it to have a real, visibly beating heart or characters that everyone who watches feels like they know. Taking the wit of mainstream comedies like “The Hangover” and backing it up with a real story about real characters dealing with real problems, “Bridesmaids” turned out to be one of the year’s biggest phenomenons. It deserves the love.
Key Performance: Chris O’Dowd as an adorably inept and refreshingly real police officer who pursues a romance with Annie. He brings a gravity to every scene he’s in and makes sure that the film stays within the realm of reality.
Taking one of the most incredible ensemble casts to hit the screen in recent memory, Steven Soderbergh taught every horror movie of 2011 how it was done with his ultra-realistic and ultra-uncomfortable bio-disaster flick “Contagion”. Depicting the spread of an unbeatable pandemic as it circles the globe, the film boasts not only Soderbergh’s tense, urgent direction, but a thoroughly researched and whip-smart script that examines the social and political reactions to such. In one particularly memorable scene, a pharmacy attempts to close its doors for the day which results in an all-out riot. What’s chililng about it is that it’s not really clear if the rioters are even after medication: looking at the fear in their eyes, you can’t help but wonder if they’re just rioting to have something to riot against.
Key Performance: Matt Damon as the husband of the unnamed disease’s first victim. For the first time since Good Will Hunting, Damon slices himself open and bleeds everything he has onto the screen. The results are absolutely startling in their emotional potence.
The promos for “Rango” contained everything that my eight year old self looked for in an animated film and my current self detests about the genre: jokes about bodily functions, talking animals, and a Nickelodeon label slapped onto it. With at least that much guaranteed up front, my hopes for the film were not high. It turned out to be everything my current self looks for and everything my eight your old self fell asleep during: a thoughtful, clever, surprisingly deep examination of the importance of identity and hope amongst a society that also included some fantastic in-jokes and often hysterical nods to other classic films. What makes “Rango” work so well is that it pointedly wears the cliches of the western genre on its sleeve while also carving its own niche with an engaging story, characters that you care about, and an absolutely gorgeous visual pallette that more often than not match up with an equally beautiful, poetic piece of writing. The veteran voice cast led by a pitch-perfect Johnny Depp doesn’t hurt things. ”Rango” is the least family friendly “family film” since Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are”. It’s also the best.
Key Performance: Isla Fisher’s spitfire, feministic Beans who serves as the hero’s “unlikely suitor”. She voices the character with an effortless wit that commands the screen each time she is featured.
7) Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Oh boy. An ensemble romantic comedy for adults about the ups and downs of relationships! How incredibly, fresh, groundbreaking, and undeniably real!
….actually, yes. “Crazy, Stupid, Love” takes one of the oldest tricks in the romcom book and makes it brand new. With a stellar dramatic turn by Steve Carrell at its core (and an even more stellar comedic turn by the superhuman Ryan Gosling), the film manages to capture the closest thing Hollywood can get to the real turbulence of relationships. And, of course, the real power of love. With a script that manages to effectively juggle about 5 storylines (which all come together in one supremely discomforting but totally brilliant climax) while also packing plenty of surprises and some of the year’s biggest laughs, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” is the best comedy of this or any year. The biggest feat of the film is its refusal to sensationalise anything; with big characters that still somehow feel completely real, every word seems authentic, and every breakup induces pain.
Key Performance: Emma Stone is all kinds of adorable as Hannah, a young woman who questions the direction of her relationship with a sleazy and safe lawyer played by Josh Groban.
6) Young Adult
“Young Adult” is probably the most uncomfortable time you’ll ever have at the movies. In all honesty, I watched more of this film through my hands than any number of installments in the “Saw” franchise. Therein lies the picture’s power. Boasting an absolutely incredible script from writing prodigy Diablo Cody and perfect, just-a-little-too-claustrophobic direction from Jason Reitman (the two teaming up for the first time since “Juno”), it tells the story of Mavis—played with stunning effectiveness by Charlize Theron—that psychobitch from high school who you’re sure is living a better life than you are. Spoiler alert: she’s not. She’s got a shitty job writing second rate tween fiction, she has no friends except for her rodent of a dog, and she lives in an apartment that has one Kardashian or another spewing from every television set in sight. When she hears that her old flame (Patrick Wilson) has had a baby, she returns to her hometown to win him back and rekindle the spark that her life had when she was in High School. That’s it. That’s the movie. From there, it becomes the blackest of black comedies, the sharpest of character studies, and the most dramatic of melodramas. It’s witty. It’s heartbreaking. Due to Mavis’s increasingly questionable mental state, it is almost IMPOSSIBLE to watch. It also calls for intense introspection within the viewer and contains one of the best onscreen meltdowns of 2011. This thing makes the dark subject matter in “Juno” look like an episode Teletubbies.
Key Performance: I can’t deny Charlize Theron the love here. She turns in her best performance since “Monster”, playing just that. If it were up to me, she would get the Oscar. Mavis’s every tick, every blank expression, every horribly HORRIBLY inappropriate social faux pas seems absolutely authentic. Also, she’s really pretty.