Over the past 12 months, moviemakers have presented plenty of magnificent motion pictures from which audiences could be entertained, enlightened and encouraged.
These included a highly affecting documentary (“Project Nim”), a low-budget horror masterpiece (“Insidious”), a spy-tacularly hilarious comedy (“Johnny English Reborn”), a science-fiction flick that is both timely and timeless (“In Time”) and a freakishly fascinating foreign film (“The Skin I Live In”).
However, the critic’s curse is to narrow down their list of favorite flicks to 10. So, without further ado…
With “Rango,” George Lucas’ special effects company Industrial Light and Magic gives Pixar and Dreamworks a run for their money. The Gore Verbinski-directed motion picture is the studio’s first foray into feature-length animation. And it makes quite the stellar impression. One look at the gorgeous detail that went into “Rango’s” exceptional visual style will have you hooked while the auspicious story – and its multifaceted entertainment value – will blow you away.
9. ‘Point Blank’
With “Point Blank,” writer/director Fred Cavayé gives a shot of adrenaline to the arthouse cinema crowd. Easily one of the most exhilarating thrillers of the year, “Point Blank” moves along at a breakneck pace while constantly evolving, leaving the audience on pins and needles every step of the way. While he frequently sacrifices logic for frantic fun, Cavayé created a rare popcorn flick that is smartly attuned to its own uniquely unpredictable rhythms.
8. ‘A Better Life’
“A Better Life” could not have been a better movie. The most affecting motion picture of the year, “A Better Life” tackles the illegal immigration issue with intimacy and the effect can be felt from wherever one stands on said issue. Director Chris Weitz tells a survival story that is as riveting as it is real, facilitating a white-knuckled walk in fellow human being’s tragically tattered shoes.
The indie ensemble comedic drama “happythankyoumoreplease” is simply spectacular in every way. Written, directed and starring “How I Met Your Mother” lead Josh Radnor, the movie is a terrifically therapeutic piece of generational cinema. Radnor’s dialogue – which is at the heart of “happythankyoumoreplease” – is as clever as it is poignant while his visual style shows a profound love for this ensemble cast of sympathetic characters and the enormously engaging story that is collectively formulated from their independently meaningful memoirs.
6. ‘The Devil’s Double’
Director Lee Tamahori’s insanely intense biopic “The Devil’s Double” may not amount to much in terms of intellectual value, but the experience is explosively entertaining. Pair tortuous tension with a shockingly graphic aesthetic with which Tamahori chooses to lace the project and you have got one of the most riveting films of the year. Moreover, star Dominic Cooper gives the best performance(s) by an actor of 2011, playing two relatively consonant characters without ever once leaving the audience confused as to which is which.
5. ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’
Summer saved the best for last and its name was “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” The most explosive blockbuster of the season was, surprisingly, also the most feeling. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” begins with a relatively simple story of heartbreak and slowly escalates to an all-out action extravaganza. And its greatest quality is its animal thinking – using behavior and action over dialogue to tell its story and evoke not just excitement but empathy, too.
4. ‘Water for Elephants’
Capturing all of the magic and marvel that circuses must have possessed during the depression, “Water for Elephants” is an enormously enchanting experience. Based on Sara Gruen’s novel by the same name, this romantic drama’s old-fashioned storytelling approach – which focuses on real characters, authentic relationships and honest emotions – makes for a permanently affecting piece of cinema and one of the best motion pictures of 2011.
3. ‘Small Town Murder Songs’
Filmmaker Ed Gass-Donnelly’s seething thriller “Small Town Murder Songs” is an incredibly unsettling experience. It is also one that keenly echoes the works of the Cohen brothers. Gass-Donnelly employs a slow and deliberate pace to tell this story, covertly sliding “Small Town Murder Songs” under the viewers’ skin. The thrills here are much more emotionally and psychologically based than most genre films and the director does an absolutely stunning job building cerebral tension.
2. ‘The Artist’
If film is projected at 24 frames per second and a picture is worth a thousand words, then director Michel Hazavanicius’s 100-minute silent film “The Artist” must be worth 144,000 words. On the other hand, that is a rather black and white way of complimenting a motion picture as transcendentally gorgeous as “The Artist” (which, coincidentally, is in black and white). Instead, it is much more accurate to say that each and every magical moment of the movie is completely captivating, resulting in the richest cinematic experience of 2011.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn’s drama “Drive” is a terrific trifecta of style, substance and suspense. The tension that screenwriter Hossein Amini builds from James Sallis’s novel can genuinely be cut with a knife. And eventually it is, with plenty of blood being spilled as a result. A simple seat-belt is sincerely insufficient to save moviegoers from the best motion picture of 2011. “Drive” is provocatively poetic and practically perfect from departure to destination.