The WW music department isn't the only one that can write multiple, contradictory year-end lists!
Some of us wrote short, some of us waxed prolix, but we all had cinematic triumphs to toast. We didn't bother making lists of the worst things we saw, because it's best to forget, and because there's no use disagreeing: Fuck Hobo With a Shotgun, amiright?
1. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Life is beautiful.
2. How to Die in Oregon
Life is beautiful and then you die.
Life sucks and then you die.
Life sucks and then you drive.
Life is beautiful and it also sucks and then you write.
6. Take Shelter
Life sucks and then you hide.
7. Martha Marcy May Marlene
Life sucks and then you multiply.
The A's suck and then they don't and then they do.
9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
James Franco sucks and then a chimp throws you off a bridge.
Life sucks and then you fuck.
Nicolas Winding Refn reduces every key L.A. noir element from cinematic history—from femme fatales to Michael Mann, from slick cars to slimy gangsters—and reduces them to a bouillon cube of cool, then boils it in blood and emerges with a movie of unparalleled style.
2. Take Shelter
Using the apocalypse as a springboard to examine mental illness can be a ham-fisted endeavor (Lars Von Trier, I'm leering at you), but powerhouse performances by Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain anchor a stirring examination of insanity and the toll it takes on those whose lives it touches. Whether Shannon's everyman is actually seeing the end of days or simply unraveling is moot: This is horror of the most personal kind.
3. The Interrupters
Were Hoop Dreams director Steve James' yearlong documentary about gang violence in Chicago and the attempt of a brave few to curb it content to simply examine bloodshed's impact on a weary community, it would still be brilliant. That it does so while instilling an overwhelming sense of hope for humanity at large makes The Interrupters essential.
4. 13 Assassins
Takashi Miike's name isn't exactly synonymous with subtlety: The Japanese provocateur is notorious for soaking his movies in entrails, geysers of crimson, spooge and every other manner of secretion. Yet the man who made Audition and Ichi the Killer has crafted one of the most controlled and emotionally resonant samurai flicks since Kurosawa. Then, just so he doesn't come off soft, he concludes with a savage 45-minute battle of balletic grace, perfectly balancing the elegance and brutality of the warrior lineage.
5. The Muppets
Proof positive that the shameless milking of nostalgia—when done with skill, humor, heart, reverence and more than a few felt chickens—can help us realize there is no shame in being nostalgic for the lovelier things in life.
Janus Metz Pedersen's documentary chronicling six months in the lives of Danish troops in Afghanistan examines the docile nature and disillusionment of soldierly psychology in an era of mechanized warfare and Call of Duty so well that it's easy to think Armadillo is a scripted film—until bullets fly, comrades fall and good men revert to savagery. It will shake your soul.
7. Attack the Block
Like mentor Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish likes to wear his influences on his sleeve. With his hyperkinetic debut, he out-John Carpenters John Carpenter with a throwback sci-fi fiasco that's as funny as it is exhilarating. Believe.
8. Martha Marcy May Marlene
People were right to call director Sean Durkin's debut lopsided. It jackknifes between Elizabeth Olsen's life in a rapist's brainwashed cult, her transition back to reality and the haunted world of her own hallucinations. The confusion is Martha Marcy May Marlene's strength. The film takes place in the prison of a broken mind. We're locked in there with her, struggling for a breath of reality.
The inspirational sports drama has been milked dry—even by Warrior director Gavin O'Conner, who himself scored with the sappy-but-exciting hockey epic Miracle. But Warrior stirs genuine emotion the most Neanderthal of modern sports.
10. Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol and The Adventures of Tintin (tie):
A master animator makes his live-action debut and a master popcorn chef tries animation. Together, Brad Bird and Steven Spielberg pack more thrills than all the summer's warring robots, Frisbee-wielding superheroes, aliens, cowboys, Nordic gods and revving engines combined.
In the order in which I thought of them:
Wim Wenders' gorgeous documentary about the late choreographer Pina Bausch is the best (and maybe only only) real argument I've ever seen for 3D film. I, a grown man, gently wept in places from the pretty of it all.
The Stunt Man meets Le Samourai, to the music of American Gigolo. How could I not fall in love?
Bill Cunningham New York
The film title is not a result of lazy punctuation; Bill Cunningham is New York, or perhaps what's left of what it was. And this documentary makes me glad to be alive in the world of people.
The Tree of Life
"Critical opinion" has bounced around on this since it's opened, from orgasm to backlash and back, but mine hasn't: all of the sorrow of the world is in the face of Jessica Chastain. The film is mostly humorless, occasionally overambitious, its dialogue seemingly (though not really) entirely on the nose. It is also unendingly beautiful, and its world is one I recognize as true.
You don't want to say that director Takashi Miike (he of the 10-minute onscreen lactation, eyeball gouge and revenge castration) is growing up, but 13 Assassins has wedded Miike's punishing style with rich narrative and development and especially a moving sense of tragedy—before, of course, sending everyone straight to hell.
Aaron Sorkin is the only man alive who can truly romance a technocrat, from Clintonian West Wingers to computer hacks to, now, baseball statisticians squeezing the heart out of the game, romantically. I, in turn, a technocrat myself, romanced the sheer movement of the movie; it is a beautiful narrative machine.
The year's most unrelentingly hateful and anomic and perhaps also purest film. I gave out my first and likely only 100 rating for this earlier this year, alongside my first and likely only 0. It is both, and it will core the life out of you.
Mysteries of Lisbon
A 4.25-hour posthumous Portuguese surrealist 18th-century soap opera by Chilean experimintalist Raul Ruiz, sort of like what would happen if you got Douglas Sirk to direct Barry Lyndon.
If the actor Steve McQueen was an action hero, director Steve McQueen is an absolute hero of inaction: still frame, no cuts, character a matter of unpeeling an onion and not forcing development.
Attack the Block
Everything J.J. Abrams' sodden, warmed-over Super 8 was not. Believe!
Nicholas Winding Refn's neon-noir confused as many people as it impressed—questions typically overheard after screenings included: "Why didn't Ryan Gosling talk?", "Where was all the driving?" and "HOLY FUCK WHAT DID HE DO TO THAT GUY'S FACE?!?"—and in a year where few mainstream films caused much controversy at all, that's the sign of a movie that'll be discussed long after all the awards are handed out (to other, safer movies, probably). I'll let more intellectual critics argue over whether it's just a shallow "action flick for hipsters," though. For me, great style is substance, and Drive is the most aggressively stylish film of 2011. Y'know what the message is here? Ryan Gosling looks fucking awesome in black gloves and a blood-stained satin baseball jacket. And that's a message that will resonate with me for years to come.
2. Take Shelter
Character studies about people slowly sinking into paranoid madness were big at the arthouse in 2011. Martha Marcy May Marlene had a creepy song by John Hawkes and a quietly disturbed, star-making turn from Elizabeth Olsen, but when it came to portraying a psychosis that may or may not be all in the head, the year belonged to Michael Shannon. Shannon's insectoid features make him look like the uneasily silent guy on the bus you can't stop staring at. If you ever wondered what that guy's up to, here's your answer: He's throwing a basement party at the end of the world, and you're not invited.
Kim Novak jokes? Nods to Chinatown, Apocalypse Now and Sergio Leone? A cameo from Hunter S. Thompson? What the hell kind of kids' movie is this? One that doesn't care if kids get the references or not. While Martin Scorsese used Hugo to give children a film-studies lesson, Rango director Gore Verbinski doesn't bother explaining anything. He made this existentialist cartoon western for himself and other adults who already love the movies, and screw the tykes if they're not up on their cinema history.
4. The Trip
Here's what happens in The Trip: Two middle-aged Brits—one contentedly goofy, the other dissatisfied and sour—drive across the English countryside, eat at fine restaurants, sing ABBA songs and do impressions of Michael Caine. That's all. And yet, it's the year's funniest film—which might say something about the sad state of comedies in 2011, but truthfully, it's more a testament to the chemistry of stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Director Michael Winterbottom was smart enough to simply point his camera at them and get out of the way, and for that alone he deserves some kind of statuette.
5. 13 Assassins
It seems like an oxymoron to call a film that starts with a scene of ritual disembowelment, features multiple decapitations and includes a cameo from a horrifically mutilated woman "reserved," but coming from the director of such masterpieces of depravity as Visitor Q and Ichi the Killer, Takashi Miike's samurai epic might as well have been two hours of monks combing sand.
6. The Artist
Attempts to resurrect long-dead genres often end up being lifeless style exercises, and a throwback silent film sounds cutesy at best, pretentious at worst. But what writer-director Michael Hazanavicius has made isn't a waxwork replica. It's the real deal. Hazanavicius weaves together familiar beats from A Star is Born, Singin' in the Rain and Sunset Blvd. with such a deft touch he ends up with something truly original. Ultimately, The Artist succeeds because its message is in the medium: It reinvents the past to remind us that no performer should be afraid to confront the future.
Appropriate enough for an underdog sports movie, Gavin O'Connor's Warrior faced a litany of challenges when it came out in September: a generic title; a misrepresentative trailer; the cliches of its own script. I'd like to say it overcame those obstacles and became a huge hit, but, well, this is real life, so of course it flopped. Artistically, however, this âRocky for the UFC generationâ is easily the biggest cinematic surprise of 2011. Although it layers on the tropes and leaps of logic pretty thick, they're beaten back by a trio of superlative performances from Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte (who deserves a Supporting Oscar nod) and some of the best sanctioned-fight scenes in recent memory. (Don't go writing a bunch of comments about how unrealistic the action is, MMA nerds: I know Kurt Angle wouldn't be able to powerbomb a dude in the middle of a match. The point is it feels real, which is the most important thing.) Only problem: Edgerton looks so much like Conan O'Brien it made watching him get tossed against a cage and pounded into dog food unintentionally funny.
8. The Muppets
Yeah, it might be difficult to get an honest appraisal of Jason Segel's Muppet resurrection because every critic of a certain age harbors at least some warm, nostalgic feelings toward Jim Henson's daffy felt creations, but let me say this: Unlike some of my colleagues (*cough* AP Kryza *cough*), I don't weep at the mere sight of Kermit the Frog, and this is still the purest fun I had at the theater all year.
9. We Are What We Are
People who eat people need people most of all. Freshman director Jorge Michel Grau's unsettling tale of cannibals struggling alongside everyone else in the slums of Mexico City keeps its socio-political commentary in the background of what is really an intense family drama—it is not, in strict genre terms at least, a horror movie—but it is what the makes the film so greatly disturbing, as it blurs the line between allegory and actual social reality. Maybe we shouldn't be shocked at the idea of the poor eating the poorer: Treat people like they're subhuman long enough, and eventually it becomes the truth.
10. Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone
Am I allowed a purely sentimental entry? Well, even if that's against the rules, I cannot in good faith put any other movie above this documentary on Los Angeles ska-punk-funk institution Fishbone, a band that in high school meant more to me than any other. As music docs go, Michael Rapaport's Beats Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest got more attention, but Lev Anderson and Chris Meltzer's chronicle of one of the most underrated groups of the last quarter-century hits harder as an examination of rock 'n' roll racism, how the industry frays familial bonds, and what happens when an alt-rock dream gets deferred. Plus, you couldn't ask for more entertaining subjects than frontman Angelo Moore and bassist Norwood Fisher, the last original members left standing.