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10 for '11
December 21, 2011 - Rick Chatenever
OK, the year isn’t over yet, I haven’t seen quite all the films, and I wrote the script for a movie that got produced in 2011, “When the Mountain Calls,” which I’m inclined to include on the year’s best movie list, but won’t.
Besides, it seems much of the best work for the screen in 2011 is on YouTube. Check out the honey badger at youtube.com/ watch?v=4r7wHMg5Yjg, the forlorn pooch at www.funnyordie.com/videos/4ecc13d3ed or Charlie Chaplin’s speech from 1940’s “The Great Dictator” at youtu.be/ M8C-qIgbP9o to see what I’m talking about.
Sadly, the fact that so much of the last paragraph is in something other than English illustrates the most depressing development of the year now coming to an end: Language is giving way to code. Paper is passé. We’ve got our heads in our screens and our brains in our pockets. We’re well down the slippery slope of post-literacy. But I digress …
’Tis the season for making lists. For kids, the lists are for Santa. For reviewers, the list is for movies. After agonizing in years past about what the Best means, I’ve made my peace with just naming my favorites — the 10 movie experiences I liked the best.
Try as I might not to give in to the herd instincts of movie critics, notoriously a thin-skinned fraternity, it’s amazing how similar these lists tend to be. Awards season is the brief moment when Hollywood pretends not to care about the bottom line … caring about what critics say is more perplexing.
Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” for example, is the kind of art film that gets critics’ prizes up the wazoo, but has audiences walking out and demanding their money back. “Bad Teacher,” on the other hand, isn’t going to show up on anyone else’s 10 Best List (actually it’s been on several Worsts) … but almost made mine.
There are at least a half-dozen films on this year's list that I would be tickled to see win the best-picture prize. There’s not a “Hurt Locker” in the bunch. And while there are notable performances and individual achievements galore, in most cases, the best movies of 2011 were group efforts.
This is the year that George Clooney and fellow “Oceans 11” star Brad Pitt — both past recipients of Sexiest Man in the World accolades — are deservedly leading the awards field for not one, but two projects each.
This is the year that Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and Jessica Chastain reached name-above-the-title status in a bunch of films each, often starring with each other to produce the most potent chemistry to grace the screen in ’11.
This is the year that iconic filmmakers from the ’70s — Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Terrence Malick, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg — showed themselves still at the top of their games, nostalgically looking to bygone eras …and Paris … for inspiration. Everything old is new again in their last grasps at old-fashioned humanity before technology replaces it with the next best thing.
And, in the same vein, it’s the year that a brand- new silent film, “The Artist,” delightfully provides the antidote for too much information, too much technology, too much action and too much noise … and may well walk away with the biggest prize of all on Oscar night.
But I digress again. Here’s the list. It’s alphabetical, which is almost the way I’d rank them.
“The Artist” — In black and white, this nouveau silent film written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius starring the perfect Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo is not only the most original project of the year, it is also the most satisfying.
“Bridesmaids” — Writer-star Kristin Wiig and her great co-stars are too unsentimental and honest for chick flicks, showing they’re better — and funnier — at making guy films, instead.
“The Descendants” — Modern Hawaii, complete with Gabby Pahinui soundtrack, co-stars with George Clooney as he belatedly discovers how to be a dad to his teenage daughters as his wife lies in a coma in Alexander Payne’s pitch-perfect dramedy.
“50/50” — Who knew a comedy about cancer could work so well? Stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick, for starters.
“The Help” — A throwback to the stellar-ensemble, noble-cause race-relations dramas of past eras, this visit to Jackson, Miss., in the ’60s has great performances and noble intentions to spare.
“Hugo” — Martin Scorsese finally lets his heart show in this magical, enchanting clockwork fairy tale set in a Parisian train station in the 1930s.
“Margin Call” — A superb cast led by Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and Stanley Tucci make the 2008 Wall Street collapse understandable and compelling … but still inexcusable.
“Midnight in Paris” — Letting Owen Wilson stand in for him in front of the cameras was only the first brilliant call by Woody Allen in this entirely charming time trip back to Paris in the ’20s.
“Rango” — Johnny Depp and company hit a wiggy mother lode, showing that just because it’s rated PG animation doesn’t have to be for kids.
“The Tree of Life” — Of all the meaning-of-life films of the year, Terrence Malick’s almost inscrutable meditation is the most visceral experience for both the senses and the soul.
Close, but not quite: “Hanna,” “Win Win,” “Beginners,” “Bad Teacher,” “I Am,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” “Crazy Stupid Love,” “Moneyball,” “Dolphin Tale,” “The Ides of March,” “Drive,” “J. Edgar,” “Happy Feet 2.”
•Wishing you all the happiest of holidays! • Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Weinstein Company photo: “The Artist,” a new silent movie filmed in black and white starring Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo is the leader in the Golden Globe field in this year when everything old is new again at the movies.