I have glutted myself on 2011 film releases these past few weeks to put together a year-end list I could be proud of. With few exceptions (Pariah, a handful of documentaries, Poetry, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [the first three are my own interests, the last being the last big event film I've missed]), I feel I've seen enough new releases to actually go after my own Top 10 list for the first time in years. Update 1 January 2011: An amazing New York Times list about Top 10 lists guilted me into ranking the films for real.
#10: Rango--In a year of really strange films, Rango stands out as just plain weird. A pet chameleon is lost during a cross-country move and winds up stumbling across an Old West town of animals where water is a commodity. It's a send-up and tribute to both Westerns and Absurdist Drama, complete with 4th Wall-breaking owl mariachi band that constantly sings about the danger the title character will face (and his pending doom). Review.
#9: The Artist--Sweet, funny, charming, and effortless, this joyful tribute to silent film takes a very intriguing look at the rise of talking pictures. The performances and period effects are strong, but the deconstruction of Hollywood history/the typical happy-go-lucky rags to riches story is stronger. Review.
#8: My Week with Marilyn--Filled with backstage drama and a very realistic portrayal of the peacemaker on a set, My Week With Marilyn is funny, charming, and memorable. Everything The Artist does to make you fall in love with the film industry is thoroughly torn apart by this film in the best way possible. Review.
#7: Attack the Block--It was a rough year for science fiction. The few films to rise above cookie-cutter mediocrity had major flaws that took a lot away from them. Not Attack the Block. Part coming of age story, part alien invasion epic, this British import wisely puts the focus on character development and a sturdy screenplay rather than high-end effects and overdone story arcs. Review.
#6: Jane Eyre--An epic Gothic novel that works so beautifully on page is near-impossible to capture outside of a mini-series. Seemingly inconsequential details wind up defining the final few chapters that are usually missed when condensed to feature length. Not the case with Cary Fukunaga's adaptation of Jane Eyre. It has the love story, the horror, the drama, and the parallel narratives in the past and present that define the novel but wisely excises some of the more memorable scenes for a laser-focused and haunting version of the story. Review.
#5: Beginners--In a film year marked by an inability to find a happy relationship onscreen, Beginners develops many in sweet and believable ways. The three main actors--Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurent, and Christopher Plummer--bring a lot of depth to a strange series of narrative tricks that feel right for this story. Plus, the puppy is adorable. Cosmo for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Review.
#4: Martha Marcy May Marlene--This indie drama is the best horror film of the year. The fluid screenplay that jumps through time does not feel forced or gimmicky. We are seeing the world from Marcy's perspective as she copes with the psychological ramifications of joining a cult only to flee when she no longer feels happy there. It's a shocking piece of cinema you cannot shake off easily. Review.
#3: Certified Copy--What draws you to film? Great acting? Interesting stories? Beautiful visuals? Slick execution? Then fell free to hop onto Netflix and soak up this multilingual import from France for all of the above and so much more. Review.
#2: Midnight in Paris--It's a love letter to Modernism. It's a fable about the power and dangers of nostalgia. It's a laugh out loud comedy of characters out of their elements. And it's one of the most inventive fantasy films to come out in years. Woody Allen strikes gold with his time-traveling love story about a writer who believes he was born in the wrong era. Review.
#1: Young Adult--Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman seem to be made for each other. She writes a killer script and he finds the right vision to bring it to life. Simply shot to keep the focus on the characters, Young Adult makes you laugh at how horrible everything is going for a pair of mismatched characters who have voluntarily pulled themselves away from their hometown's culture. Review.
- Insidious--I love this film so much, but it just doesn't stack up to what these other ten features are doing. Review.
- The Muppets--It's a great Muppet film and very enjoyable, but not as consistent as the entries on this list. That beyond last minute plot resolution drove me insane. It's also the best family-friendly all ages film of the year. Review.
- Drive Angry 3D--I missed this the first go around because I forgot it was a 2011 release. Forget Rubber or Hobo with a Shotgun, Drive Angry is the creme de la creme of referential grindhouse/exploit features in 2011. Review.
What were your favorite films of 2011? Sound off below.