Top Ten Films of 2011: Part II

My rough approximation of having this up in a day was clearly misguided. I hope the burning in your loins didn’t subside due to my lateness. Now, that the anticipation is killing you, it’s time for the money shot. Here is the finale. As always, sound off in whatever method you prefer. Oh. And if there is an issue, COME AT ME BRO.

5. The Tree of Life

I will never pretend to know the meaning behind The Tree of Life. After seeing it many times, I’ve left the theater dumbfounded by the message Terrence Malick wanted to transmit. With that being said, I also can’t pretend that it didn’t move me in a massive way.  For all the distanced musings and ethereal moments, like the creation of the universe, I felt intimately attached to the film despite residing on the outskirts of its philosophical design.  Much of the film’s power hails from the lens of Emmanuel Lubezki. His images, as detailed in my awards post, are haunting, gorgeous and invasive. Their presence penetrates our defenses, leaving us vulnerable and singularly in tune with their significance. We may never truly have a grasp on Malick’s puzzle, but there’s no denying that Lubezki’s work bears an emotional weight that assists in unlocking the mystery. The mystery itself is both infuriating and invigorating, as it stimulates a wealth of conversation. A film that lives beyond the frames is something that rarely happens, but that’s what The Tree of Life does. It’s a daring piece of filmmaking that feels inherently true, despite the secrets it holds.

4. Jane Eyre

I’m not particularly a fan of period pieces, but I loved this brooding look at an unthinkable romance between a governess, Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska), and her employer, Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Impeccably shot and terrifically acted, especially Fassbender whose towering demeanor is spellbinding, Jane Eyre is an involving sophomore effort from director Cary Fukunaga. Even though the two romantic leads are classes apart, Fukunaga installs his adaptation with a keen sense of mental equality that initiates the unlikely romance. The equilibrium between these eventual lovers develops through scintillating dialogue that plays out like two master chess players staking their claim to a checkmate. Each rapturous retort includes a piercing glance that all but spells out the sexual tension. Fortifying the forbidden love is the white-hot chemistry between Wasikowska and Fassbender. Their bouts of verbal sparring amidst the soft glow of a fire are forever etched into my mind. Matching the tumultuous relationship of Jane and Rochester is a foreboding mood that embodies their evolving love. The twisted locales, as well as a gothic score from Dario Marianelli, remind us of the madness that threatens to tear our two lovers apart. The dark romance that plays out is hard to escape.

3. Moneyball

In Moneyball the Oakland Athletics don’t become world champions. As a matter of fact, they actually lose their first playoff series and become pegged as an experiment that benefited from luck. Losing between the lines doesn’t happen often in sports based films, but this is reality. Most importantly, what happened on the field is a byproduct of the work off the field. What goes on beyond the locker rooms and behind the closed-door meetings becomes the subject of Moneyball. Deep in the bowels of Oakland Coliseum, we have the opportunity to see a revolution brewing from the mind of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Looking for alternative ways to compete as a small market team, these two underdogs turn baseball’s scouting system on its head by initiating tactics deeply rooted in statistics. Their methods never win a championship, but they ignite a new wave of thinking. It’s a victory the film asserts with quiet, methodical moments. Detailing this revolution is a witty and terrifically written screenplay that delivers copious amounts of character victories that build up to a crescendo.  Much like the ideas it preaches, Moneyball rewrites the rules of the game.

2. Hugo

Martin Scorsese made a film for kids. Think about that for a moment. The master of playing on the edge of darkness and violence has made a movie full of sentiment and heart. Not only has Scorsese ventured out of his wheelhouse, but he’s made one of the best films of the year. Part fairytale, part argument for film preservation, Hugo is a magical film that represents the sheer power of storytelling. Highlighting a group of characters who have lost aspects of their soul (film, parents and a sense of social cues), Hugo ensures that the audience loves everyone involved without being cloy. Achieving this accomplishment is tough in film, but Scorsese delivers by asserting terrific characterizations and dictating his own pace. The latter is especially pertinent when it comes to delivering emotional payoffs. You can’t rush a character and expect a worthwhile result. Thankfully, Scorsese recognizes this and revels in small character moments that accentuate the wonder he will eventually put on display. Through terrific special effects, adoring reenactments of films from the past and an unbelievable ensemble, Hugo demonstrates the power of filmmaking and the significance it will always have.

1. The Descendants

I feel like I’m going round and round with this film. More specifically, I can seemingly only muster one word in regards to it: balance. Yes, the strength of Alexander Payne is his ability to measure an equal distance between hilarity and drama. The Descendants triumphantly demonstrates this. There are a slew of scenes that deliver unapologetic humor and heart clenching emotion. Helping Payne dictate an even narrative is a triumphant screenplay and actors who have the deft ability to go from either end of the spectrum with ease.  George Clooney’s central performance is representative of this, as he brilliantly shifts from a boiling rage to a quiet understanding within seconds. The prowess he possesses creates for an honest character that’s easy to cling to. The rest of the cast easily captures the power Clooney conjures up. Swinging like a pendulum, each character is given life by their respective actor. This is especially true for the surprising Shailene Woodley. Because of the time and respect each character receives, we can’t help but laugh and cry with them; they become a part of our family. Due to Payne’s unwavering vision and his terrific cast, The Descendants is a marvelous film that captures the image of a family just trying to keep their heads above water. Frankly, it’s a film that’s reflective of a complicated life we lead.

Honorable Mentions: Submarine, Tinker-Tailor-Soldier-Spy, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Beginners, The Ides of March, Shame, The Muppets


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