My Favorite Films of 2011

There were so many well done films this past year, I had a hard time narrowing them to this list, but  here, in no particular order, are my faves.
  1.  1.The Descendants
Any film which elicits laughter as easily as it does tears is a treasure.  This is certainly the case with The Descendants.  Clooney masterfully creates one of the most beautifully heart wrenching scenes I’ve ever witnessed in a movie.   Familial  dissent, the beauty of Hawaii, marital heartbreak, growing old, coming of age…it covers a  wide swath of life.  A strong, gorgeously filmed work of art. 

  1. The Artist
Impossible to discuss without giving too much away,  The Artist is simply pure love of film. 

3.  Drive
Possibly one of the best ensemble casts ever brought together.  Albert Brooks as you’ve never seen him before, Ron Perlman as a true beast, Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac and  golden boy Ryan Gosling make for one hell of a ride.  As the main character- one with no given name- Gosling plays a mysterious, almost unflappably calm stunt driver by day, getaway driver by night.  He is a study in cool broodiness.  He’s also definitely the guy you want on your side.   SPOILER ALERT: The one thing I was not prepared for was the intensity of the violence in this film.  It is brutal.  And not indicated at all on any of the trailers/ads I’d seen. 

  1. The Guard
Brendan Gleeson, playing an quirky Garda in Western Ireland,  elicits steady  laughter with his crude, certainly off color banter.  This movie is a joyful word play, with enough seriousness and depraved criminality mixed in to keep it from becoming silly.  Don Cheadle is the perfect straight man to Gleeson’s cop who lacks any self editing whatsoever.  Fionula Flannagan is sheer, sharp loveliness as Gleeson’s Mum. 

  1. Win Win
Truth be told, I feared  before seeing it  that this one would dip into cheap sentimentality, “After School Special” style.  Thankfully it didn’t.  Paul Giamatti and Bobby Cannavale  play best friends perfectly and hilariously.  Jeffrey Tambor adds  sad sack humor.  Amy Smart plays Giamatti’s no-nonsense though big hearted wife.  It is a pleasure to see Bert Young on screen again. The real surprise, cast wise, is teen Alex Shaffer who embodies his role pitch perfectly. 

  1. The Ides of March
Gosling again.  And Clooney again.  Hey, Giamatti’s here too.  If there are 3 actors who are eminently watchable, it’s this lot.  Add Phillip Seymour Hoffman and it’s acting perfection.  Evan Rachel Wood is luminous in her role as young campaign staffer who becomes enmeshed in events far more sinister than any good campaign can withstand.  

  1. Bridesmaids
“Girl Power” film extraordinaire.  Not for the faint of heart or the easily offended, but a sincere testament to the power of friendship. 

  1. Crazy, Stupid Love
Funny,  Touching Film. 

  1. Hugo
Based upon David Selznick’s fantastic book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”,  “Hugo” is a beautiful love letter to the art and magic of film.  It’s a bit slow out of the gate but makes up in beauty and heartfelt adoration what it lacks in pacing.  Sir Ben Kingsley is nothing less than wizardly in his role of toy kiosk owner with a history. 

  1. The Muppets
Need I say more?  No, I thought not.  True to its roots and well worth watching.  Plus, we all KNEW Animal would wind up in an Anger Management Program one day.  Right?

  1. Money Ball
Truth be told it wasn’t initially on my “must see” list.  Then I saw it.  And am glad I did.  It is the super engaging tale of Billy Beane, GM of the Oakland A’s, and his innovative plan to build a winning team with a shoestring budget.  Brad Pitt was nothing less than ideal for the role of Beane and Jonah Hill played Yale educated number nut Peter Brand perfectly.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays put-upon manager Art Howe, who has no faith at all in Beane’s dream.  Beane, using Brand’s statistical info, begins  to take players at the bottom of the Pro pay scale (due to various physical ailments and deformities)  and  puts together a Franken-team with the hope they can turn their losing streak around.

  1. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
An absolutely delicious confection of a short film, I was moved to tears by this piece. Twice.  It is as much an homage to film as it is to books,  which are depicted as living beings- flying, migrating, roosting at night upon library shelves…heavenly creatures. Mr. Lessmore,  a sweet Buster Keatonish character, wins the audience over effortlessly with his sad eyed charm and reverence for the Story Book Land he is deposited in after a (Katrina like?) storm whips him away from New Orleans.  With all due respect to Frank L. Baum,  I won’t make the obvious comparisons between this film and other storm-centric fantastical stories.  It  is more than capable of standing on its own.  Hugo, The Artist and The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore comprise a  perfect trifecta of cinephilia.  The Fantastic Flying Books may be downloaded free.

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