There’s really nothing more subjective than top ten lists. We break them down and sketch them out and rearrange them like there’s some kind of science to it, while in the end, it’s all just a matter of opinion.
But also, all those other critics are wrong and these are the year’s best movies.
After the jump: Top 10 Best; Honourable Mentions; Most Overrated; and Movies to Look for in 2012.
10. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Easily one of the best characters to emerge in popular literature of recent years is now easily the best film heroin of the year. Rooney Mara (The Social Network) stars as the title tattoo-dawning, ass-kicking hacker and assistant to Daniel Craig’s not-very-James Bond-y journalist. They’re the most exciting murder-solving duo of the year.
9. War Horse
As beautiful as a painting, this World War I epic about a horse and his boy is also the most moving romance of the year. Yes, that’s right, I said it. A romance. There’s nothing more sweeping and romantic than a horse’s loyalty. This impressive feat of filmmaking (also, I’m sure, an impressive feat of theatre) is one of the most amazing visual feasts of the year too. If there were an Oscar for Best Performance by an Animal — this is it. Watching Joey bolt through no man’s land is simultaneously heart-wrenching and how-the-hell-did-they-manage-that filmmaking.
8. Midnight in Paris
Sure, you have to be pretty cultured to get all the references (not everyone is going to catch the name-dropping of artists like Man Ray and Paul Gauguin), but just getting lost in the whimsical joy of Woody Allen’s 44th film is all you need to get high on the joy of movies here.
6. Melancholia + 7. Take Shelter
These maddening films delved into the millennial fears of the apocalypse better than any others this year. And there were lots of them: Contagion, Battle: Los Angeles, Vanishing on 7th Street, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. But these two, each with stellar performances at their core, make the end of the world look beautiful in all its paranoia. (see my Melancholia review)
Looking back on 2011 most people will remember Time magazine’s Coolest Person of the Year, Ryan Gosling, for his A-lister I’m-a-movie-star roles in The Ides of March and Crazy Stupid Love, but his best movie was this hypnotic, ultra-violent, indie thriller. The fact that one woman sued distributors for false advertising says enough in itself of this movie’s awesomeness. While there were plenty of solid bang-’em-up blockbusters in 2011, this was by far the coolest action movie. No obnoxious love story condemns this one to mainstreamery or cheese. This is pure, thrilling cinema. Oh, and the soundtrack? Don’t even get me started.
4. The Artist
It’s 2012. The last twenty years have seen technology advance almost beyond belief and the changes have expanded into film with more and more directors taking advantage of box office-loving innovations. So who would have thought that in 2011, when some of cinema’s greatest filmmakers were releasing 3D films, that one director would dare to defy it all? France’s Michel Hazaravicius’ was that director. Almost entirely silent, The Artist embraces old forms of cinema and proves that the technological wizardry of the day doesn’t necessarily make the best films.
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
So they made a lot of money. A lot of money. Enough money probably to fill the whole of Gringotts (that is, a Gringotts before the epic dragon escape that opens this glorious swansong). You can’t deny the money-sucking machine that is the Harry Potter franchise: seven blockbuster novels, eight blockbuster films, a theme park — yes, a theme park — and LEGO video games, of all things. Money aside, the Harry Potter series has also been one of the most thrilling movie machines to get lost in over the last decade. The fact that award season has never been a friend to Harry is even more appalling after this masterful final act. For our generation, this instalment evoked similar feelings to that of Toy Story 3, last year’s best film. Hogwarts crumbled and Harry had to face Voldemort, mortality, and, worst of all, the real world. As those final, beautifully cheesy moments flashed across the screen, feelings of a childhood coming to a close were some of the year’s most cathartic once again.
2. Martha Marcy May Marlene
Nothing seemed enough to give this movie a wider release. Not its terrifying girl-escapes-from-cult premise, nor its would-be star-making performance by the Olsen twins’ younger sister. But this Sundance chiller scraped up enough buzz and critical recognition to match its low-key paranoia. The uninitiated can think of it as Black Swan meets Winter’s Bone, but even that might not be enough to fully comprehend the amount of tension this little indie thriller by newcomer Sean Durkin stirs up. It’s riveting stuff. While it seems at times a director’s dystopian portrait of socialism on a small scale (Elizabeth Olsen’s dinner table debate with Hugh Dancy sounds all too political), it manages to be a hugely successful portrait of a damaged girl. The final scene — easily one of the year’s most memorable moments — will make you quiver.
If The Social Network was the obvious movie of the times with its commentary on connectedness and loyalty in 21st century social networks, then Moneyball is its much-less-obvious counterpart for the new decade. On the surface it’s splendidly feel-good fare, a rousing, true-story underdog fable. But at its core this Brad Pitt vehicle is much more. It’s about changing the rules of the game. Here it’s literally the game of major league baseball, sure, but as a relevant movie metaphor, Moneyball hits it out of the park. As protesters took to the streets asking for their voices to be heard, for faulty systems to be changed – for the rules of a different game to be rethought – here was Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane challenging the status quo of major league baseball, and, while his hand didn’t always turn up aces, he managed to have a lasting impact. In an unprecedented year of game-changing initiatives worldwide, Moneyball was like a pep talk; an impeccably timed sports movie that was a lot more than a sports movie. They can’t all do that. We’re so glad this one did.
Hugo, Like Crazy, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Super 8, The Help, The Ides of March, Thor, Fast Five
2011 FESTIVAL FAVS TO LOOK FOR IN 2012:
Hysteria and Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
A critical favourite in 2011, I found myself utterly lost in this intolerably zig-zaggy, stolid number. The movie made absolutely no sense to me. For all it has to offer in acting royalty (Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt) it ends up a big, incomprehensible disappointment. I’ll take another James Bond, please.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
With all that there is to respect and admire about this film about a mother coping with the aftermath of her son’s killing spree (namely Swinton’s performance and an artful cinematography), it’s simply next to impossible to avoid its discomfort and frustration. I hated this film. Among all that the movies have to offer, that is the one thing the they should never do – inspire hate.