Clint’s Top 20 Films of 2011

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Saw a lot of nasty stuff this year – mauled animals, exploding petrol tankers, wild storms, supersized Target underwear.. . Taylor Lautner movies. But enough about “Abduction”, because for every tummy ache comes a welcome aspirin and the remedies were readily available this year. From Refn’s  Reagan-era ode “Drive” to Scorsese’s 3D-done-right gem “Hugo” and surprisingly effective Hollywood fare like “Crazy Stupid Love” and “Footloose”, there’s been as much good stuff as there has been Twili.. Bad. Talking, of course, about the films of 2011.

Here’s my favourite films of 2011 (Please Note : At the time of going to print I had yet to see “Alvin & The Chipmunks : Chipwrecked”, hence why it isn’t included in this list. Er, I’d also not seen “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”, “A Separation” or “The Artist” – which, I hear, come close to the brilliance of “Chipwrecked” too). Now, like any Top 10 or Top 20 favourites list, you’re likely to agree with many of the choices, but a few  - like, say, “Trust” or “Insidious” – may be met with a head-scratch. But these are my personal favourite films of the year – the films I enjoyed immensely and found much merit in. Suck on a soapy bubble wand if you don’t like my picks!

I had a hard time with some of these – I really wanted to include Jodie Foster’s “The Beaver” and Duncan Jones’ “Source Code” amongst the 20, but there were just too many good films to choose from this year. And, quite frankly, I thought David Schwimmer could use some love (admit it, he looks like a guy that doesn’t get much of that).

20. Mission : Impossible -Ghost Protocol

The ”Mission Impossible” franchise is a bit like the family Christmas tree. You pull it out of cobwebs, stick some pretty things on it, even add a star, but at the end of the day, it’s still the same old piece that’s on display.

In the case of ”Mission Impossible”, that same old piece isn’t so bad – as a trustworthy plumber will tell you, if it aint broke, don’t fix it.

Personally, I think I enjoyed Abrams’ effort a ‘little’ more, and for numerous reasons (Philip Seymour Hoffman’s villain was more compelling than the one-note chap here; Hunt seemed a little less don’t flinch superhero and easier to root for with that fiancée and double-life subplot, and the action sequences were spread out more evenly), but ”Ghost Protocol” is a very decent sequel all the same. It’s extremely entertaining and is some of the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year. It’s actually worth the price of admission, and knowing how high cinema prices are these days, that’s saying something.

19. Trust

Will do for internet meet-ups what “Hard Candy” did for.. well, internet meet-ups. David Schwimmer’s goosebumpy tale of a father out to get revenge on an old sleaze who picks his teenage daughter up online serves as both divine entertainment and a cautionary tale for all parents.

18. Rampart

Not an unfamiliar tale by any means (the Abel Ferrara film “Bad Lieutenant” being it’s closest cousin), “Rampart” is a film that’s relying on its performances to engage the viewer. And engage Mr Harrelson does in one of the most arresting performances of his career. Harrelson is so good in the role of a despicable, unlikable, bigot, womanizer misanthrope cop that you start feeling for his broken tin man, hoping, maybe, there’s some heart or humanity behind that tough, ugly exterior. And there is, but is there enough in there worth saving?

17. Insidious

The horror movie of the year, this low-budget fright-fest from “Saw” creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell works because it relies on old-fashioned squeaks and squeaks, along with some horrific imagery, not loud music and button-pushing. Destined to be a horror classic.

16.  Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard and so often during a movie! A wonderfully witty, well-performed and imaginatively plotted Canadian horror-comedy about a couple of redneck dimwits mistaken for Texas Chainsaw-esque killers.

15. The Ides of March

George Clooney not only successfully directs another solid little movie, but convincingly plays the asshole of the piece.  As good as Clooney and co-star Ryan Gosling are in this though, it’s Evan Rachel Wood that has the most memorable and heart-wrenching part.

14. 50/50

Cancer isn’t funny – but Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon Levitt somehow manage to make light of it, and get you smiling at the same time, with this heart-warming and smartly written little piece about a young man who cops a terminal disease. This is a film more concerned with how amusing the cancer victim now looks with a bald head than it is of watching someone sweat and sulk away. Plenty of “Terms of Endearment” jokes! One can never get enough of those!

13. Bridesmaids

All-star female comedy that works? Never thought I’d see the day! More Kristen Wiig please!

12. Snowtown

I think the last time I walked out of the cinema a little short of breath it was after a screening of “Se7en” in 1995. But this left me in need of a ventilator  - as amazing as it is, and as captivating a story as it has in tow, it’s also one of the most disturbing and horrific true-tales you’re likely to put your eyes on.

11. Melancholia

An oddly engaging tale that pushed all the right buttons with a control panel of concealed knobs. Seemingly just clicking away and pushing away at our psyches and the fears we thrive on, director Lars von Trier has crafted an obtuse film experience that paints the perfect picture of depression while pushing into the background the normally heavyweight planet hurtling towards earth storyline. It’s the people, and their plight to live and carry on contently in the moment, that takes precedence here. Nothing matters but the now and trying to get through it. And you know, that’s not a bad way to look at things. Earth might be doomed, but we can sure as shit try and live as comfortably and as happily as we can until that happens.

10. Like Crazy

Those still pissing on about the merits of Adam Sandler’s “Jack & Jil” will likely find themselves irked by the languid and somewhat disheartening tale of teen-romance on hand – because there’s no spoon on hand to be fed with. Okay, that’s a bit rough. I understand where they’re coming from though – they want to see a movie to escape reality, not be reminded of how harsh it can be. Fair enough. Still, they’re robbing themselves of a beautiful bloody movie.

9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Rooney Mara, who you’ll recall from her brief but memorable role as Mark Zuckerberg’s offended date at the start of Fincher’s ”Social Network”, gives an amazingly brave and brilliant performance as the Goth girl cum crack investigator. Just as Rapace did in the original, Mara let’s it all hang out here and is determined to give audiences a close-up view of the emotional and physical scars that bear Lisbeth Salander’s frame. Hard work playing a character like this, but whoever said winning an Oscar was easy?

8. Shame

With ”Shame”, filmmaker Steve McQueen doesn’t seem to be merely out to make David Cronenberg’s sex-in-car epic Crash or Larry Clark’s controversial teen-sex flick ”Ken Park” look like an edited-for-prime-time episode of ”The Sopranos” – though he does succeed at that – he’s here to paint a realistic portrait of how caustic sex can be, and how ultimately life-threatening an addiction to it is. McQueen and co-writer Abi Morgan serve up an in-your-face and unreserved yarn of a New Yorker (Michael Fassbender) who is in constant pursuit of sex. Whether it be picking up girls from bars, hiring prostitutes or wandering desperately into gay sex clubs, it all starts to chip away at the over-emotional loose cannon. And when the equally-loose sister (an equally brave Carey Mulligan) turns up, ultimately ending up in bed with her brother’s boss (James Badge Dale), it sends sir sex-a-lot into a spin. Celibacy here I come!

7. Warrior

What looked, on the outside, like a loose remake of the James Marshall/Cuba Gooding Jr fight-flick “Gladiator” (1992), ended up instead a gripping, highly-emotional and fantastically-performed drama that’s as much interested in telling the story of a family torn apart as it is what goes on inside the ring. Welcome back Nick Nolte!

6. Martha Marcy May Marlene

This one will do for Elizabeth Olsen what “Winter’s Bone” did for Jennifer Lawrence (and funnily enough, the brilliant John Hawkes is in both films). A simmering suspense thriller that’s not so much interested in coming to the boil as it is to simply swim in its sweet juices, “Martha” is the indy darling of the year – complex, proactive and amazingly well-performed by it’s mostly-unknown cast.  It won’t be for everyone, but fanciers of the artform will guzzle it down like coke on a hot day.

5. The Tree of Life

Wow. Just Wow. I’ll never forget the sock-in-the-guts that Terry Malick’s eccentric but beautiful epic to life (and afterlife) pummelled me with after sitting through this. This is one of the movies that undoubtedly changes you, your life and predominantly, has you questioning our existence.

4. X-Men : First Class

I’d been hanging onto the noose just in case Fox gave us another intolerable mess like “X-Men : The Last Stand”, but with director Matthew Vaughan’s superbly-written and crafted prequel the rope can finally make with a trash can! I compare this latest “X-Men” movie to “The Dark Knight” – it may be a comic-book movie but it’s crammed with so many relatable real-world issues and characters so profound and complex that it’s undoubtedly going to be enjoyed by anyone.

3. The Muppets

An adoring email to that original weekly TV series, but also the first and best Muppet movie (1979′s “The Muppet Movie”), The Muppets perfectly captures what worked for the hand-gang way back when – lovable characters, sweet and funny songs, witty jokes, and welcome family and friend messages. It skips over the crappy telemovie years of the Muppets and instead boomerangs back to the original, serving as almost a direct sequel to that very last episode of ”The Muppet Show”. Structured much like that first film, in that it’s simply about getting the troupe together and putting on a show (as opposed to doing a theme movie – a’la “Muppet Treasure Island” or “The Muppet’s Wizard of Oz”), with a cutesy, infectious song every few minutes, a horde of cameos (Mickey Rooney’s still alive!?) and a heart-warming plot that drives the film along feverishly and fast, Segel and co-writer Nick Stoller’s film is a film that almost seems out of place in this drama-heavy technology-driven smart-arse era. And good. Cos we need a shake-up.

2. Drive

Though there’s no sign of Georgio Moroder, Brian De Palma, Tangerine Dream or Michael Mann’s names on the credit block, Nicholas Refn’s “Drive” is unquestionably straight out of a Delorean that’s been to the ’80s (maybe even the ’70s, what with how closely it resembles some of the old Clint Eastwood flicks). This one was a beautiful reminder of the kind of films we use to pay $5 to see back in 1986 – those infectiously gripping thrillers with their crafty camera angles, electronic synthesizer scores and almost-mute heroes.  Destined to be a classic.

1. Hugo

A much easier film to love than what I imagine it would’ve been to market, Martin Scorsese’s first foray into 3D was fresh coolant for a dying cinematic engine. Suddenly, cinema feels fresh, energized and exciting again with the arrival a film that’s totally devoid of effects, sex and violence and merely prides itself in encompassing a sweet, meaningful tale of family. In addition, “Hugo”  tips its hat to classic cinema – both literally and figuratively. Wonderful to see Ben Kingsley made good use of again.

Runners Up : “Crazy Stupid Love”,  ”Super 8″, “Source Code”, “Hall Pass”, “Thor”, “The Beaver”, “Attack the Block”, “The Devil’s Double”, “Pearl Jam Twenty”.