BY KEVIN CARR
Some folks will probably disagree with me, but I thought 2011 was actually a pretty good year for films. It didn’t have a ton of fantastic movies, but it had plenty of good movies throughout. Sure, there were real stinkers (which you can check out here), but there were plenty of three- and four-star films out there to enjoy. And the beginning of 2011 treated us to some truly original content, even if none of those films made this final list. But when all is said and done, there were still some fantastic films to enjoy, and the year really ended with a bang.
A notorious movie, to be sure, for its brazen subject matter about a man dealing with sexual addiction, “Shame” is an intensely personal film. Rather than sensationalizing or fetishizing this form of addiction, director Steve McQueen gives us a raw look at the emotional struggles behind it. Powerfully acted by Michael Fassbender, the subject of “Shame” reveals the true nature and the humiliation surrounding this affliction. It’s not exactly an uplifting movie, but it’s a quality one.
For me, “Hugo” is a triumph on several levels. First, it’s a fantastic film that isn’t what you’d expect but is fascinating nonetheless. Beautifully shot, with master director Martin Scorsese utilizing 3D better than anyone else on the planet has to this point, “Hugo” is a work of art. It’s both a kids’ movie (albeit a cerebral one) and one for the cinephile. Heartwarming and gorgeous, “Hugo” was a joy to behold.
8. KUNG FU PANDA 2
Normally I have at least two or three animated films on my best-of-the-year list, and while I enjoyed quite a few of these movies (including “Rango” and even the much-maligned “Cars 2”), “Kung Fu Panda 2” was the only one that really rose from the pack for me. Like the first film, this sequel took me by surprise, continuing with gorgeous animation and a touching story, along with fantastic CGI kung-fu action.
7. WAR HORSE
I wasn’t sold on Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” until I actually sat down and watched it. A hard movie to describe without sounding cheesy, “War Horse” manages to sweep the viewer up in the grand, epic spectacle of World War I. While it doesn’t shy from the horrors of war, it also manages to be one of the more uplifting films of its genre, and of the year. It’s a button-pusher, but with Spielberg at the helm, he’s pushing the right buttons at the right time, and I was sold.
6. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
David Fincher blows hot and cold for me, but for this adaptation of the famous Swedish film, he was red hot. Fincher’s style was perfect for this movie, and he told an unflinching story. Rooney Mara shines as Lisbeth Salandar, and the rest of the cast pops off the screen in this stark and raw, but also beautiful, film.
Anyone who knows me recognizes that I’m not a fan of Ryan Gosling. However, this (along with another film on this list) showed me that even he can win me over. Not a traditional action film, “Drive” is a slow-burn character study that explodes with rage and violence when it needs to. Paced perfectly like an actual drive through L.A. traffic, this movie was the first film of 2011 that really made sit up and take notice.
4. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL
While some critics reserve spots on their best-of-the-year lists only for significant, thought-provoking movies, I like to throw in some of the films that were nothing more than sheer entertainment. Brad Bird’s first live-action film goes full-force and doesn’t stop, giving us some of the best action we’ve seen all year. It’s a relatively simple story, but it’s a blast to experience. I haven’t had more fun in a theater this year.
3. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
As a parent, I found “We Need to Talk About Kevin” to be the scariest film of the year. It’s not a traditional thriller, and it’s non-linear structure can make it a challenge to watch. But this movie chilled me to the bone, not just because it showed how disconnection with a child can lead to bad thing. It also showed that even if you do everything right as a parent, these bad things can happen. Expertly acted, well thought-out and emotionally difficult, this movie disturbed me to my core.
2. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2
The release of a new Harry Potter movie has become so routine in world cinema that it’s kind of hard to believe it’s over, but damn if the series didn’t go out on top. There have been some lesser films in the series (“The Order of the Phoenix,” I’m looking at you), but like any long-form entertainment, it’s good to have the best efforts at the end. David Yates split the final book into two films and took his time to give the fans what they wanted to see, an honest and worthy ending to this decade-old saga.
1. THE IDES OF MARCH
George Clooney’s adaptation of the stage play “Farragut North” was a hard sell for me because I feared it would get needlessly preachy about the current political issues. Instead, it was a slow burn through the seedy and uncomfortable American political system. Rather than being partisan, Clooney focused on his own party and pulled the veil back to expose politics in general as it runs. A great companion piece with the film “Margin Call,” “The Ides of March” plays out as the “Glengarry Glen Ross” of political films.
Let’s not forget some of the other films that made me raise an eyebrow or two. While movies aren’t typical fodder for a best-of-the-year list, they did something special, whether it was to prove that prequels can work or truly scary horror movies are not totally dead, or if they were just surprisingly entertaining flicks I didn’t expect to enjoy…