Weingrad rates the movies of 2011

Well, it’s that time of the year again where I shove aside politics, girls, Facebook and other mundane thoughts and talk strictly about movies. I recently started a movie blog (Beyond the Credits), but that is mainly for my reviews. So, like I did for 2009 and 2010, I am going to list my top 12 movies of the past calendar year, with a brief description.

These movies have barely even hit DVD yet, so you probably haven’t seen most of them. I assure, you however, that I will not even come remotely close to spoiling any of these movies for you. I also assure you that I watched all of these movies legally.

Okay, so let’s jump into it. I’m doing this a little later than I usually do, since it’s already February, but it took me a little longer than usual to see all of the movies that I wanted to see. Damn the government for cracking down on Internet piracy. So let’s go.

12: Tree of Life

Man, I went back and forth several times between three different movies over which I was going to insert in the 12 spot. I decided on Tree of Life because of its indelible uniqueness. Director Terrence Malick, in this film, tries to encapsulate the entire existence of our universe within a 139-minute motion picture. How bold and ambitious can you get? To be honest, I wouldn’t even recommend this film to any one. In fact, most people will hate it. Upon viewing it, I had absolutely no idea what to think of it. However, over the next few days, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it, and decided that it was a masterpiece. Most people watch films to escape reality, and temporarily forget their place in the world. The Tree of Life does exactly the opposite; it will make you think about nothing except your place in the grand scheme of this world. Plus, the cinematography of this movie is absolutely stunning. The Tree of Life was primarily dismissed during the awards season, but the Academy Awards gave it some deserved love, awarding it a cinematography and directing nominee, as well a best picture nod. Mad props, academy. Mad props.

11. Midnight in Paris: Woody Allen writes so many damn movies. It’s inevitable that two of every three movies he makes will be average, and that one in every three will be a gem. Well, this is that third movie. Midnight in Paris is a lighthearted, time-traveling, modern and historically intertwined romantic comedy that will appeal to everybody. If you have a love for history, then you’ll love this movie. If you have for the arts, as in literature, painting or photography, you’ll love this movie. If you love to travel, then you’ll love this movie. Basically, it’s an impossible movie not to love. it doesn’t hurt either that Owen Wilson plays the lead role in an extremely charming and endearing fashion. In the film, Wilson, a screenwriter,while on vacation in Paris, discovers a way to travel back in time, meeting famous historical figures such as Hemingway, Van Gogh and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The movie is smart, funny and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Also, i know that Rachael McAdams has always been lovely, but damn, she’s never looked better in this film. I thought woman were supposed to get uglier in time? So much for that. But yeah, great movie and a job well done by Mr. Allen.

10. Margin Call: Some people, like me, are visual learners, and are able to process information easier when they actually see it with their eyes, rather than reading it. Though Margin Call is a fictional story, by all accounts it is an accurate depiction of the actions that began the economic crises that has plagues our economy for the better part of four years. The movie centers around a mega financial services firm that, in early 2008, realizes that the economy is on the verge of crashing. Through a series of rapid decision-making made by the company’s higher-ups, they, in turn, actually facilitate the global crisis. The movie doesn’t preach, though, and instead, gives the viewer some insight as to why they made these decisions. The movie has a large ensemble cast, and everyone in it does a great job, including Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgley, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons. J.C. Chandor, who wrote and directed the film, deserved mad props for putting together such a realistic and intelligent film.

9. Source Code: Man, talk about the most underrated movie of 2011. Source Code is a science-fiction techno thriller that doesn’t waste any time. It jumps right into the action right off of the bat. The best part about Source Code is that just when you think it is your generic sci-fi thriller, it jumps out, slaps you in the face, and totally changes gears. You are meant to be in the dark for most of the film, and when you finally realize exactly what’s going on, you will become impressed by the complexity that this movie actually possesses. Jake Gyllenhaal is fine in the movie too, I guess, but the main credit for this movie’s success belongs to its script. Just 93 minutes long, the movie will absolutely fly by, and does exactly what it needs to do in the minimal amount of time. Also, although it’s science-fiction, it’s not like Inception, where you have to follow eight-million things to understand what is going on. Stupid people should have no problem staying afloat with the plot. I would hope.

8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: David Fincher really is incapable of creating a bad film. He can make a five-minute film of me waiting at a bus stop to be picked up, and still somehow make it entertaining. The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is a good mystery, whodunit type-film. The whole thing plays out like a book: It lays out the mystery for you, and then you get to sit back and watch everything unfold, finally culminating in the climactic resolution. It really is prime entertainment. Rooney Mara plays the aforementioned girl with the dragon tattoo, and you also see her naked, which is good, but only because she is getting (fictionally) raped, which is bad. Seriously though, she really exceeded my expectations in this movie and proved herself to be a great actress with a bright future. My one criticism is that the movie is longer then it needs to be. In fact, the climax occurs about forty minutes before the film ends. it definitely could have been condensed into, say, a two-hour and twenty-minute film, and not two hours and forty minutes. Not that it dragged or anything, but I think it would have been better. However, it’s still a very enjoyable, extremely-well crafted film by Mr. Fincher that I highly recommend.

7. Bridesmaids: This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the funniest movie to come out since the summer of 2009, when Todd Phillips directed the Hangover. Movies don’t often make me laugh out loud (or “lol”), but this one did several times. Who knew females could be so funny? Kristen Wiig, who as you know wrote the movie, is absolutely hysterical, and actually does a really nice job acting during some scenes that require a little more subtlety. Other scenes, which feature women vomiting on each other’s heads and shitting in the middle of the street, are not as subtle, but equally funny. Some might criticize the movie for being too long, but I for one appreciated every second of this comedy. Melissa McCarthy is also a hidden gem that was discovered by Wiig, and incredibly, received an Academy Award nomination for her role. Additionally, I truly believe that this will also become one of those comedies that only gets funnier with each subsequent viewing.

6: The Help: The Help is a fantastic movie that will really make white people hate themselves. The movie is from the point of the view of “the help,” black women who, in the era of segregation, are still very much looked down upon in the south, and can only find work serving as maids for rich, white people. Like Bridesmaids, this movie is essentially an all-female cast, and a great one at that. Emma Stone, Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain, among others, are all wonderful and really lay their mark on their respective characters. However, it’s Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, who play maids, who steal the show. The two clearly took this role to heart, and put forth career-making performances. The movie cleaned house at the SAG awards, including honors for both Spencer and Davis, who very easily could do the same come the Oscars (Octavia Spencer is the most likely one to bring home gold, however.) I also think The Help is a dark horse candidate to win best picture. Anyway, the movie is not for everyone, particularly males who prefer guns and car chases, but if you want to see a fine piece of work and an important story that we should all know about, then run to your local Red Box and pick up this movie.

5. Moneyball: Moneyball and the Help could easily be flipped, but I put Moneyball a notch ahead simply because as a huge baseball fan, it appealed to me a tad more. However, Moneyball isn’t really just a baseball movie. It’s an underdog story, it’s a story about economics, and it’s a commentary on the information-elite. In today’s age of computers, numbers and statistics, there is a ton of information out there that could be really advantageous for those who choose to seek it out. This movie is about the people who do, and how they attempt to use that information to revolutionize a game that has been a staple in our country for over a century. Brad Pitt plays the lead, and puts forth a great performance. I always used to think of him as just a pretty-boy who was an overrated actor because of his name, but with the movies he has done over the past several years, including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Inglourious Basterds, he really has solidified himself as an elite actor in my mind. The film certainly does carry a heavy baseball angle, but I truly believe it can be enjoyed by anybody who likes a good story.

4: War Horse: This movie, to put it plainly, is an awesome story. Based on a novel, and also a play, Steven Spielberg brings War Horse to the big screen in epic fashion. We follow a horse, who after being separated from his owner, goes on an ultimate adventure, right in the heart of World War I. The movie is not graphic — most violence is implied, not shown — and that is because the film is mainly designed and targeted for a younger audience; it is a fable, of sorts. The horse’s plight is totally unrealistic, and would never happen, but who cares? The cinematography is beautiful, and the story is gripping. There’s no way you can really not watch the movie and not fall in love with it. The movie is long, so if you were to watch it, clear some type on your calendar for it. Also, if you’re a crier, than definitely have a tissue box nearby. The film really hits home on the irrationality of war, as it delves into the lives of many people, and how the great war has affected them all. Jeremy Irvine, an unknown, plays the lead, and does a fine job. The star of the show, though, is the horse. Whoever trained that creature really deserves a pat on the back.

3. Hugo: Hugo was erroneously marketed as a kids’ movie, but that really isn’t the case. it certainly would qualify as a “family film,” but the true point of the movie is to tell a story that pays homage to old filmmakers. The movie starts out following a young orphan boy, played remarkably by Asa Butterfield, as he befriends a girl, played equally as remarkably by Chloe Moretz, as he travels all around a Paris train station, where he lives. Eventually, however, the adventure leads you in another direction, and almost turns into a film history class. To be honest, it might bore some, but for those who have a thirst for knowledge, it’ll be a real treat. Hugo is one of those films that you can’t help but enjoy, and you’ll probably find yourself wanting to jump through the screen and live in the world that Martin Scorsese presents to us. It’s a great movie to watch on a Friday or Saturday night when you just feel like staying in, and I guarantee, in years ahead, that you will never forget the time and place when you first watched this movie.

2. The Artist: Man, in three years of doing this, I don’t think I have ever had a more difficult time distinguishing between #1 and #2. but I had to pick one. The Artist, at the risk of sounding cliché, is a true piece of art. The film is a silent picture, and it’s purpose is twofold; it is meant to pay homage (there’s that word again) to the glory days of silent film in the early 1900s, and it also serves to inform our generation of exactly what happened to silent film actors once movies evolved to include sound. Yeah it’s a silent picture (though not truly because there is music, along with a few sound bites), but if that stops you from seeing this then you are just being plain ignorant. The acting by Jean Dujardin is phenomenal, and the same could be said by Berenice Bejo. It make sense, though, because with no audio, you have no choice but to act. Dujardin lost out on the Golden Globe, but took home the SAG award for best actor. In my opinion, he’s going to win the Oscar for best actor. He’s that good. Look for it to take best picture, as well. The Artist is a film like no other and should be mandatory viewing for anyone who enjoys movies.

1. The Descendants This is a movie about how a family is forced to come together in the midst of a tragedy. In the film, George Clooney’s wife has a speed boating accident that puts her into a coma. We then learn that before the accident, she was cheating on him (it’s not a spoiler — watch the trailer.) Clooney plays the ultimate sympathetic figure in this movie, and he does a great job, and arguably puts forth the best performance of his esteemed career. Shailene Woodley, who plays his daughter, is also incredible, and was robbed of an Academy Award nomination for supporting actress. It’s a fairly simple story that will really make you feel something, unless you are a robot. Like Hugo, it’s a movie that has immense character, which director Alexander Payne does a nice job establishing in the great state of Hawaii. It’s another good one to watch on a rainy day, cuddled up on your sofa. And after it ends, I guarantee that you will be thinking about it for a while. The best part of the Descendants is that it is a really good study of human nature, and how even though we all wish to do and say the right things, we all still manage to find ways to screw up. Hey, we’re only human. Except you, robot, who for some reason, is reading my blog. The Descendants and the Artist are, in my mind, the main competitors for best picture at the Oscars. Additionally, Clooney and Dujardin will be going head-to-head for best actor, and in both cases, I really think it could go either way. My gut tells me the Artist will take both, but nothing would surprise me. We shall see.

And there you have it. I hope I have given you all enough incentive to want to go out and see these movies. But wait, I’m not done!

On the outside, looking in:

50/50: If there was a #13 spot, 50/50 would be it. The movie does a terrific job blending comedy and drama, and it’s a movie that will sadden you and inspire you at the same time. Highly recommended, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogan have a fantastic chemistry in the movie that only makes it even better.

Melancholia: By controversial director Lars Von Trier, Melancholia is a beautiful depiction of the end of the world. It’s very slow-paced, so beware of that, but still very much worth the watch in my mind. The film was snubbed horribly at the Oscars, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it. Also, Kirsten Dunst strays away from her usual bubbly perkiness and takes on a new role as a young woman suffering from depression. She does a great job.

Take Shelter: Michael Shannon (another Oscar snub) is fantastic in this one, playing a father who has apocalyptic and disastrous dreams, and we watch as they begin to take a toll on him and even affect his sanity. The movie is a great commentary on today’s economy, and how the economic recession has smothered middle and lower class families across the globe. Check it out.

Other solid features from 2011 that you should see:

–  The Ides of March: A fun political thriller that is very relevant in today’s age of political deception and corruption.

– Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II: Obviously. A tremendous end to the Harry Potter era, though not quote as good as Part I in my mind. The movie actually changed some things from the book, which bothered me, but the most important scenes were nailed to perfection, which couldn’t have made me any happier.

– A Separation: an Iranian film that will probably take home the award for best foreign film at the Oscars this year. We may hate them, but put that prejudice aside for this movie, which is well acted and quite gripping.

– Rango: an animated flick starring Johnny Depp’s voice that actually makes for a good animated western. Very enjoyable.

– A Better Life: A story about an undocumented Mexican immigrant, played by the Oscar-nominated Demian Bichir, and how he does what he can to make money to provide for his son, ultimately trying to give him the life he never had. A really nice and touching story.

– Warrior: A fast-paced story about two estranged MMA fighting brothers who are plagued by the mistreatment of their alcoholic father during their childhood. The movie features a lot of punches and anger, but at the heart of it, the movie is about love.

– Drive: People raved about this movie, but to be honest, I didn’t get it. The cinematography was great, as was the soundtrack, but otherwise, the film was completely unoriginal and surprisingly slow. Not that it was bad. But see it for yourself and form your own opinion.

– Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A little convoluted at times, but an old-school spy mystery that is pretty fun to watch. It features a great cast, anchored by a great performance by Gary Oldman.

Just to note, the three films I have yet to see, that I wish to, are My Week with Marilyn, Shame, and the Adventures of Tin-Tin. I highly doubt any of them would crack my top 12, but given what I have heard about these three, they are supposed to be pretty good.

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