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JASON'S BEST: The Ten Best Films of 2011 (Return to Jason's Best Main Page)


THE TEN BEST FILMS OF 2011


Click Above to Listen to Jason's BlogTalkRadio Show
Discussing 2011 Movies And His Choices For The Year's Best Films
as well as Garney Johnson's and Jamey Duvall's, originally broadcast January 9, 2012

1) SHAME
Very rarely do we get films of such raw honesty, and when we do, by skilled filmmakers and actors, they usually become some of the most powerful film experiences we can ever have. Michael Fassbender gives the best performance of the year in his portrayal of a man suffering from sexual addiction in director Steve McQueen's deeply moving film. Talk about a brave performance. Fassbender goes to the darkest places to reveal a man who is so handicapped by his addiction, he has ultimately started hating himself. He doesn't even get enjoyment out of this addiction, but yet it continues to plague him, and it doesn't get any better when his sister shows up at his place, played in a tour de force performance by Carey Mulligan. I love that this film doesn't take the typical steps a lesser filmmaker might take ... he doesn't go seek out a doctor for help, we're not given answers as to what afflicted him and his sister to make them how they are, and the ending sequences hit just the right note. It's a film that leaves us to ponder so many things about these characters, and to figure out the demons that haunt each and every one of us, whatever they might be, and wherever they may have come from. Sure, it's not an easy film to watch ... and with its boldness to go ahead and stand by its NC-17 rating, it's likely most of you won't see this, and to miss a movie of this caliber, that's the real shame.

FAVORITE MOMENT: At the end of his rope, as Fassbender walks out to a pier overlooking the city, as he breaks down at what his life has become

2) THE TREE OF LIFE
One of the greatest films of recent times still remains one of the most difficult to fully grasp, which makes it all the more brilliant. Certainly the most personal film that Terrence Malick has ever made (in a career containing only a handful of movies), it is a movie which does away with all the conventions of storytelling to try to grapple with the larger questions of our humanity. And isn't that what great art is supposed to do? I think of this film as memory, how our memories work ... scattered, vivid, and even magical as they sometimes can be. As Malick leads us through a story of a family growing up in the 1950's, and even back to the creation of the universe and life itself, and into the hereafter (perhaps?), it is one of the most powerful film experiences I've ever had. This is a movie to be immersed in, not one to just watch from a detached distance like so much of the crap coming out of Hollywood tends to do these days. Technically, it contains the most beautiful cinematography of the year, and has truly astounding performances by Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and the young Hunter McCracken. The film posits that there are two ways through life ... that of nature and that of grace, and that concept, among so many others, is illustrated absolutely beautifully in this film. This is a movie I will be pondering and thinking about for years to come, and will no doubt find something new in every time I see it. And that's what the greatest of movies always do.

FAVORITE MOMENT: The awe inspiring creation of the universe sequence showing the emergence of life

3) THE ARTIST
In one of the most unique film experiments of recent times, director Michel Hazanavicius presented an enjoyable story about the film industry's tumultuous time in the late 1920's when the advent of sound on film threatened so many in the industry who thought it was not the future of movies after two decades of growing an art form that had no language barriers since the movies were all "silent". But instead of just presenting this story, Hazanavicius made the bold step of actually presenting the film as "silent", and in black and white, and in the aspect ratio of films from that time. Audiences today are so far removed from the days of the silent cinema, it may be a very tough adjustment for most audiences, but if they give it a chance, they will be able to experience the fact that movies are a visual medium, and a great story can be told without spoken dialogue. Thankfully, you need some very engaging stars in the film, and Hazanavicius has two in the delightful performances by Jean Dujardin as the silent film star whose once star studded career fades when he refuses to adapt to sound, and the glowing Bérénice Bejo as the young new star who finds a strong attraction to him. It is a wonderful celebration of the early days of cinema, and one of the great results I hope of people experiencing this film is that they will search out so many of the great classics made before 1927 and realize how rich those movies were as well.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Peppy (Bérénice Bejo) in George Valentin's (Jean Dujardin) dressing room putting her arm through his suit coat pretending that he's dancing with her, and George walking in on her

4) LIKE CRAZY
I have long been on the search for movies that actually present the true difficulties of love and relationships, and they are extremely few and far between. But in 2011, this brilliant little independent gem proved that it's possible. Most films telling the story of young love end when the two finally get together, but this film has them together and already having the first montage of good times together within the first 10/15 minutes. From there, it shows the difficulties of distance, suspicion, and jealousy as the couple evolves through all the things that work to keep them apart. The final sequence of the two of them holding each other in a shower is one of the most beautiful and sad sequences of the year, and there are no easy answers by the end. Just like real life. Real honesty portrayed in an incredibly realistic looking relationship ... I almost forgot I was watching actors give performances. It's a beautiful and simple film definitely worth finding.

FAVORITE MOMENT: The ending sequence with Jacob and Anna holding each other in the shower, each remembering past times, with questionable looks on their faces as to their future

5) HUGO
Everyone always talks about the magic of the movies, and it's refreshing to see that that magic is still alive and well, and never more so than in this delightful visual feast by Martin Scorsese, one of our greatest directors. This movie is in itself a love letter to the very beginnings of movies, and how that magic was first discovered by none other than a magician. And it was incredible to see how Scorsese actually used 3D as a vital element to the movie's story instead of the gimmick it's been most often used for in the last few years. Scorsese has always been known for being such a personal filmmaker with so many of the greatest films ever made, and this may be his most personal yet. His love of movies and even film preservation exists in every frame in this deeply moving story of one young boy's search for his purpose in life and his search for a mystery left by his father that ends up finding a way out of darkness for one of the pioneers of the film medium itself.

FAVORITE MOMENTS: So many great moments! One: Showing the sad fact that old nitrate films used to be burned down and turned into material for shoes, Two: Hugo and Isabelle reliving the history of the movies in the library, Three: Hugo and Isabelle accidentally breaking open Georges Méliès's box full of old film drawings as they fly through the air

6) THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Some people wondered why David Fincher would want to make a "Hollywood" version of the film adaptation of the incredibly popular book since a great version had already been made in Sweden, but once we saw the results, it was obvious. Because he made it better. And with Rooney Mara in a career defining performance, a much deeper and more interesting Lisbeth as well. But comparing the foreign film and this version isn't really fair anywhere, as they are two very different movies, but on its own, David Fincher's haunting film was a masterful achievement this past year. It will be a travesty if the Academy Awards fail to nominate Rooney Mara's hauntingly memorable performance. Along with her ferocity and vulnerability making her one of the most unique characters in all of recent film history, Fincher's typical mastery of craft, cinematography, and pacing elevated the material beyond a standard whodunit mystery into a film that still haunts me, and will likely stay with a lot of viewers long after it's over.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) and Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) sitting together going over their investigation, and Lisbeth saying to him "Put your hand back in my shirt" after he removes it

7) THE DESCENDANTS
Alexander Payne hadn't written and directed a movie since one of my favorites, SIDEWAYS, in 2004. And although not as great a film as that one, this one is still extremely well done, and like that film, Payne has such a gift for portraying situations that have been portrayed in hundreds of other movies but in complete bare honesty that makes it feel so completely fresh and new. He set this film in Hawaii, which almost becomes another character, in this deeply moving story of a father and husband (played by George Clooney in one of his very best performances) who might try to piece his life back together when his wife is in an accident. Shailene Woodley is a revelation as Clooney's daughter, and I sincerely hope she gets an Oscar nomination. Filled with a number of deeply moving scenes and a performance by Clooney that is clearly him at his most vulnerable, it's also one of the best written screenplays of the year.

FAVORITE MOMENT: The final scene over the end credits with Matt King (George Clooney) watching TV with his two daughters

8) HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS - PART 2
The incredible and epic achievement that created such a magical world over a decade's worth of books and then these marvelous movies, finally arrived at its conclusion with this last film in 2011. Just as deeply moving as the Part 1 installment the year before, this one contains a magnificent final battle back at the place where all this magic began so long ago, at Hogwarts Castle. The revelations, the ultimate resolution, and the emotional ending showing how time passes, it all combined into this incredibly powerful film. It's extremely rare to have a series of films like this, where multiple directors were able to maintain a consistency of vision, and their differing styles and themes made the films all the more interesting. It's hard to think that the Harry Potter series is completed, as it's been part of our lives for so long now.

FAVORITE MOMENT: The powerful moment of revelation of the true story of Severus Snape

9) DRIVE
Certainly one of the slickest films of the year, it's also one of the darkest. It was a film that surprised me as to where it was going, and I love it when any movie can achieve that. Ryan Gosling is particularly effective as this very mysterious Driver, and great supporting performances are turned in by everyone involved, particularly Carey Mulligan and Albert Brooks, definitely playing against the usual type we've seen him as.

FAVORITE MOMENT: The opening sequence when Driver (Ryan Gosling) demonstrates his abilities, evading the cops around the city as he helps two criminals escape

10) MARGIN CALL
I love dramas that take place in a workplace which feel very authentic, and this was definitely one of them. It's also one of the best films if you ever want to understand the financial crisis of 2008. To be able to see how a problem discovered by one employee leads to a quick escalation up the corporate ladder and how this one fictional corporation helps contribute to the financial crisis that ensued actually makes for a very riveting film. And to think this came from a first time director, bringing together an extremely impressive cast, which includes Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto, S tanley Tucci, Demi Moore, and a very strong performance by Kevin Spacey.

FAVORITE MOMENT: The morning after the long hellish night trying to figure out what to do, the powerful scene between Sam (Kevin Spacey) and John Tuld (Jeremy Irons), discussing the nature of money

And the next ten:

11) A DANGEROUS METHOD
David Cronenberg directed this film, a movie which contains a lot of themes he has explored in other movies, but in a much more restrained way than we're used to from him. But it's no less a successful film because of that fact. First of all, it brings to life some very interesting history, showing the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and the young woman who became a catalyst in their various theories. Viggo Mortensen is especially effective as Freud, and Michael Fassbender is just as good as Jung. The history is of course intriguing, but I just love to see a movie being made in 2011 that actually presents some interesting debate about the human condition and sexuality, and actually makes me envious for the time when serious individuals would actually try to have serious discussions about the bigger questions of our existence ... and this is all portrayed extremely well in this film.

12) WAR HORSE
Sure it's heavily plot driven and overly sentimental, but it works, much to my surprise. Steven Spielberg no doubt knows how to craft a movie, and this is a loving throwback to some of the glorious Cinemascope glories of movies past with its beautiful cinematography and epic musical score, another wonderful one by John Williams. It has also a fascinating story, seeing all the different human lives touched by this one animal, and even manages to say a few things about the devastation of war ... one particularly powerful sequence shows two enemies coming together on the battlefield in a common purpose because of this horse. Certainly not up there with some of Spielberg's other masterful films, but still definitely worth seeing.

13) TAKE SHELTER
One of the most haunting films of the year, anchored by one of the best performances of the year by Michael Shannon (the guy is incapable of giving a bad performance). As Shannon's character Curtis begins having all these strange visions of a coming Apocalypse, we are forced just like him to decide if he's suffering from mental delusions or if he's actually being granted some kind of vision, as he works to protect his family from it at the same time as he destroys it.

14) MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
I've always loved movies made about the movies, especially ones that provide some insight into movie stars that we may not have known before. And this was one of the successful ones ... not only because it showed one crazy week in the making of a film starring Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, but also because it shows an intriguing love story and the path of broken hearts that Marilyn often left. Michelle Williams is absolutely incredible in her portrayal of Monroe, but there are good performances all around, including Kenneth Branagh as the perfectionist Olivier, who recognizes sadly that his style of acting is becoming a thing of the past.

15) BEGINNERS
What an absolute delight this film was, a lot of people probably missed this movie, but you should definitely find it. An incredibly unique and moving film about being true to one's self, personified in the revelation by Christopher Plummer's character that after a lifetime of concealing his true self, he finally opens up to his son (Ewan McGregor) that he's gay. And something so great in addition to it being such a wonderful film ... it looks like this performance may FINALLY bring Christopher Plummer a much deserved Academy Award.

16) THE HELP
I love when movies exceed my expectations, and this one certainly did. This powerful story ... filled with so much heart, comedy, and tears ... all combined so well into an important story of fighting against those who would keep people down and segregated, is filled with one incredible performance after another, particularly Viola Davis, showing that she can definitely carry a film after giving so many stellar supporting performances, and such a winning performance by Octavia Spencer. And I blame this movie for making me investigate pies much more closely before I ever eat them again.

17) SUPER 8
This film was one of the joys of the summer movies last year. Director J.J. Abrams made this delightful throwback to the types of films that I remember growing up with. He also wisely made this film focused on the perspective of the kids, who not only are grappling with a strange alien invasion of some kind, but also with growing up. All the kids are wonderfully cast, and the closing credits reveal of the film the kids were making was one of the most hilarious and delightful moments in movies this year. And as I argued with my good buddy Jamey Duvall on my show last week ... yes, I know the alien is not interesting and I didn't like the ending of this film and how the alien situation is resolved, but to me, the alien is secondary to the story about the kids and how they react to this situation, as we get very few films nowadays that actually "get" kids and are truly able to present something like this from their point of view.

18) YOUNG ADULT
Another wonderful collaboration between screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman. Charlize Theron gave one of the best performances of the year, laying herself bare as an incredibly sad character who returns to her hometown to try to steal the guy she thinks she was meant to be with, somehow thinking this will make her happier. The resulting film takes many unexpected turns, which is always refreshing in any movie these days. Patton Oswalt is truly great, at turns so hilarious and just as tragic as Theron's character.

19) MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
I'm not the biggest fan of Woody Allen's films, but this was a delightful gem from this past year, a wonderful ode to great romantic films. With the beautiful Paris backdrops, we don't even care how author Owen Wilson finds himself transported back in time to meet famous literary authors of the past, as it becomes an engaging and delightful romance, one of Woody Allen's best recent films.

20) CONTAGION
Certainly one of the most scary films of the year, this is much more horrific than some silly human centipede or Saw movie. Steven Soderbergh's star packed film is so horrific because you realize just how easily something like this could happen ... a global pandemic that spreads so easily and quickly. You never quite feel the same after seeing the movie ... especially because of a powerfully edited sequence showing how easily a virus can spread from touching surfaces and touching each other. It shows a realistic response to the panic that would ensue, and contains universally powerful performances, particularly from Matt Damon and Kate Winslet.

Honorable Mentions:
Moneyball
The Ides of March
Limitless
Horrible Bosses
Rango
The Muppets
J. Edgar
We Need To Talk About Kevin
Bridesmaids
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold