“I live in Kentucky and these are the only movies I’ve seen this year. I only really liked about four of them.”
No idea what happened there—no desire to revisit for the sake of figuring it out. Maybe I just resent that this movie made me feel dumb, but life is too short.
One of the most oddly edited movies I’ve ever seen. It jumps all over the place, covers many elements of Thatcher’s life and political career, and yet somehow manages to be completely void of substance or insight into her identity. An impressive feat.
17. TIE: The Descendants and Win Win
I was very eager to see these two movies, both from directors whose work I’d enjoyed in the past. Both were big disappointments for me. The Descendants holds some poignant moments, but doesn’t create developed enough characters to earn the maudlin sentiment it tries to convey. Win Win at least presents some interesting and lived-in characters (Amy Ryan and Melanie Lynskey are stand-outs), but it still manages to veer all too often into the category of sentimental tripe.
15. TIE: Certified Copy and The Future
These two unconventional films managed to be simultaneously insightful and infuriating—with an emphasis on the infuriation. I enjoyed them to an extent, but I walked away more annoyed than satisfied.
14. The Help
A competent adaptation of a stupid book that I really did read. Offensive on many levels, but narratively coherent, which is more than I can say about many of the movies I watched this year. Good performances, but I don’t get the Octavia Spencer love at all. Shows a stunning disregard for the inner lives of its black female “protagonists,” but ultimately its competence puts it a bit higher than the films that precede it.
A generally successful attempt to explore the inner-workings of an investment bank on the eve of the financial crisis of 2008. Works well as a corporate thriller, less so as a character study.
A film that does a good job exploring the depths of sex addiction, but that ultimately presents a fairly conservative notion of how sex ought to look. Fassbender’s “bender” really made me insane (“Look, he’s having a threesome! Now he’s doing it with a GUY!! He’s really come unhinged!”). Still, I enjoyed it on a scene-by-scene basis, and I loved the ambiguity of the brother-sister relationship. Also, perhaps I’m in the minority here, but the New York, New York scene got to me.
10. TIE: Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher
Here is the story of two comedies that made me laugh. Neither one was earthshattering, but both were thoroughly enjoyable. The former has been nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar, while the latter ended up on several “worst of” lists for the year. I can’t for the life of me see what makes one a critical darling and the other a critical punching bag, but I am intrigued by the disparity.
9. A Dangerous Method
If most movies read like novels, this one reads like a compelling work of (psycho-?) history. Not necessarily the liveliest movie of the year (apart from Keira Knightley’s chin), but this was actually a nice surprise for me.
This film’s high score is almost fully indebted to Christopher Plummer’s performance as an elderly man who comes out of the closet late in life. To be honest, I was pretty un-invested in the relationship between Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent. But Plummer’s character was more than enough to keep me engaged from start to finish.
6. TIE: Melancholia and Terri
Two interesting approaches to the subject of depression. While I enjoyed the second half of Melancholia, it was the extended wedding scene that really made a fan out of me. Meanwhile, Terri, a story about a discontented overweight high schooler and his burgeoning relationship with a kind/quirky assistant professor, could very easily have fallen into the category of schmaltzy cliché (which my description likely suggests it to be). And at points it is pretty conventional, but the representation of high school sexuality and awkwardness really rang true to me.
5. Midnight in Paris
I can only think of a single Woody Allen film that I don’t like (Stardust Memories), so this one was bound to show up pretty high on my list. Unlike The Purple Rose of Cairo, its explorations of escapism and nostalgia don’t raise significant philosophical questions. But its cleverness and humor make it a form of escapism in and of itself.
4. Bill Cunningham New York
A great documentary about a fascinating character. Beyond profiling Cunningham’s long career in the fashion industry, it raises interesting questions about individuals’ personalized pathways to fulfillment. Really good.
A beautiful, mysterious, and gripping profile of a band of settlers on the Oregon Trail in 1845, with crisis on the horizon. Yes, it’s “slow” in parts, but it’s also fully committed to recreating these families’ lives in all their monotony. A gorgeous historical film that puts a post-modern twist on the Western convention.
One of the most honest and realistic depictions I’ve ever seen of the excitement, possibility, and terror that accompany new romantic/sexual prospects. While its themes are universal, it is an unapologetically gay movie that makes no qualms about the unique perspective that its characters’ gayness brings to the experience. While this shouldn’t be a rare trait, it really is.
Trust me, Katherine, a year ago I would have been shocked if you had told me my #1 film of 2011 would be written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman. But I loved Young Adult because it offered a brilliant reflection on the narcissism that we both shun and reward, the alcoholism/mental disorders that we turn a blind eye to, and the “psychotic prom-queen bitches” that we still can’t quite shut out of our heads. Charlize Theron gives my performance of the year here, in part for making me care about the wretched character of Mavis Gary, and in part for helping me to understand why the Mavises in our lives continue to dominate, despite all of our efforts to make them disappear. All this to say, Young Adult has given me a new understanding of why the world is not a better place.