Critic: Shawn Stone
Best of 2011
A lost soul (Kirsten Dunst, wonderful) is fulfilled by doom in Lars von Trier’s lovely—and often very funny—vision of a personal and/or global apocalypse.
Steven Soderbergh deftly evoked the horror and terror of a world pandemic in an entertaining, star-laden Hollywood movie, thus summing up his career as a mainstream filmmaker.
3. Meek’s Cutoff
Kelly Reichardt’s portrait of Manifest Destiny as a road to nowhere made audiences taste the dust of the American West.
4. Martha Marcy May Marlene
This deceptively low-key portrait of a young woman’s breakdown (following her exit from a low-rent hippie cult) features a fine debut performance by Elizabeth Olson.
This is a baseball movie that isn’t about baseball. Brad Pitt might win an Oscar for a scene in which his character listens to a song—and he would deserve it.
Errol Morris’ documentary about the life of romantic obsessive Joyce McKinney was generous and kind without shying away from the painful reality.
7. Super 8
J.J. Abrams made a better 1980s-style Steven Spielberg movie than Spielberg ever did, because these kid characters are genuinely interesting.
8. Young Adult
Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s scabrous, closely observed comedy about an alcoholic sociopath revisiting her miserable home town is the bravest studio-produced film in ages.
9. The Skin I Live In
Pedro Almodovar’s furiously unromantic autopsy on obsession was the year’s one genuine shocker.
10. Midnight in Paris
In the Woody Allen filmography, file this under “the funny ones.”
Worst of 2011
1. Cowboys & Aliens
Tedious, witless garbage which highlighted a few things that Hollywood’s fucked up lately: alien invasion movies, westerns, and the careers of Jon Favreau, Olivia Wilde and Harrison Ford.
2. Red Riding Hood
This incredibly inept attempt to out-Twilight the Twilight series proved again that honest schlock has its own integrity.
3. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Guillermo del Toro produced and co-wrote this embarrassing misfire, which featured an inert kid actor and an even more inert Katie Holmes.
4. Water for Elephants
A lot of on-screen talent was wasted in this unromantic dreck.
5. The Descendents
Alexander Payne’s movies just keep getting worse. This one’s particularly smug.
Critic: Ann Morrow
Best of 2011
Set in a Paris train station nostalgically filled with menace and marvels, this enchanting tale of an orphaned boy with mechanical inclinations incorporates magic, the advent of cinema, and a mysterious automaton to help him find his purpose. Asa Butterfield as the boy and Chloe Moretz as his friend give two of the best performances of the year.
2. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Werner Herzog’s fascinating documentary about the cave paintings of Chauvet, France, brings the viewer into astonishing intimacy with the Ice Age artists who created these mysterious artworks. The filmmaker’s quasi-mystical conjecture is inspired, as is the customized 3D photography.
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
The second Deathly Hallows brings the eight-film fantasy series to an emotionally satisfying, often thrilling conclusion. Yet the film’s greatest act of wizardry is how it doesn’t play out like an ending: Part 2 is more of a wondrous adventure epic than a final farewell.
4. Meek’s Cutoff
A beautifully composed ode to the hubris of crossing the high plains (in 1840s Oregon), this survival tale of a lost wagon team is too sparing in its narrative to be a masterpiece—but it comes close due to its haunting imagery.
A witty, Burtonesque vision of the Old West where a fanciful raconteur named Rango (delightfully voiced by Johnny Depp) saves the day by sheer braggadocio. So what if Rango is a lizard and all the townspeople are vermin? Wonderful animation and terrific action make this one of the year’s most entertaining films in any format.
Steven Soderbergh’s best movie since Traffic follows the rapid spread of an unknown virus as it blazes a trail of fatalities around the globe. The suspenseful script plays on suppressed panic—personal and public—as a vast international medical-emergency apparatus is baffled at every turn. Chillingly plausible.
7. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen’s latest love letter to the bright lights of a big city—this one being Paris—time travels to the 1920s for a gentle satire on romance: as it is now, and as it was then.
8. Jane Eyre
Intelligent, literary, visually ravishing—what else could you ask for in yet another adaptation of the Bronte classic? How about a perfectly cast Mia Wasikowska as the strong-willed Jane, and Michael Fassbender at his most romantic as the forbidding Rochester?
Worst of 2011
1. New Year’s Eve
Interlocking stories—make that concepts–of a contrived variety of people hooking up or letting go in the hours leading up to the Times Square ball drop is Garry Marshall’s least funny and most vapid comedy of all time.
Mickey Rourke as a psychotic king of the savages, who favors giant crab parts atop his helmet, is only the most garish element in this bloody, junky mishmash that pretends to be about a clash of the titans but is actually just a mindless gorefest with sandals.
Apparently just about anyone with a budget can create an opulent approximation of Elizabethan England, because if Roland Emmerich can do it. . . . And within this beautiful tableaux of nobles and thespians is a half-baked conceit—that Shakespeare was a no-talent illiterate involved in a web of deception reaching to the top the degenerate royalty—that yea, verily, turns to rot and stinketh.
4. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn
Somebody made off with the talent in this by-the-numbers “thriller” starring Taylor Lautner at his blandest. While going through its predictable motions, Abduction wastes the screen presence of the rest of the cast, from Sigourney Weaver to the extras.
Critic: Laura Leon
Best of 2011
Ostensibly it’s a 3D children’s film; the fact that Martin Scorsese is behind the helm of this adaptation of the beloved YA book tells us much more. A brilliantly conceived, acted and delivered homage to the power of storytelling in general, and to the artistry of George Melies in particular.
Overlooked by the public, Warrior puts mixed martial arts at the front and center of a brutal, Shakespearian family tragedy. Powerful, painful, mesmerizing, and ultimately beautiful.
3. Tree of Life
Grandiose and magnificent, if also troubling and challenging, Tree of Life represents Terrence Malick’s continuing devotion to making one masterpiece every decade or so, and to hell with the box office. The depictions of family life, and the varying pulls and twinges that bring us together and push us apart, are the stuff of real life.
4. Take Shelter
Is it live or Memorex? Is the protagonist really seeing portents of evil coming, or is he simply batshit crazy? Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain deliver stunning depictions of normal people whose lives are shaken to the core by the threat of mental illness and uncertain times.
5. Captain America: The First Avenger
Yeah, I’m going there. The latest in the Marvel superheroes leaps to the big screen and is heartfelt and emotionally compelling, perhaps because it’s set during WWII, but more so because of Chris Pine’s sensitive portrayal of the a hero whose heart is as massive as his brawny muscles.
6. Crazy Stupid Love
Delightful and subversive twist on the bromance, with Steve Carell, who thankfully checks Michael Scott at the door, and engages marvelously with Ryan Gosling.
7. Source Code
Very thrilling, wistful ode to Hitchcock which masterfully blends science fiction, action and romance.
8. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen continues his love affair with Europe—hey, at least it’s not the Upper East Side—but goes one better, sending protagonist Owen Wilson, a writer afflicted with a major case of writer’s block, back into the 1920s to hobnob, carouse and basically re-engage with life, with Hemingway, Stein, the Fitzgeralds, Dali, etc.
9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Who does a part one and part two series-ender? While the former sucked as it tried to channel Ingmar Bergman at a school for wizards, this installment was a fitting, emotionally fulfilling end to the Harry Potter enterprise.
Girls are funny! Girls having bathroom accidents while wearing wedding dresses are even funnier! A crack ensemble cast and solid writing proves that Hangover-type misadventures are not just for the dudes.