Sunday, December 20, 2015

Standout Films of the Decade: 2011

WRITER’S NOTE: This was arguably an exceptional year for movies, particularly for women, nostalgia, and recalling early twentieth-century film.

1. Moneyball
Compelling and winning true story of the Oakland A's unconventional streak in 2001-2002 baseball season, by means of spreadsheets and on-base percentages. The cast (headed by Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman), writing (by Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian, based on Michael Lewis's book), and direction (by Bennett Miller) knock it out of the park. Now a personal favorite of mine.

2. The Artist
A favorite at the Cannes Film Festival (where Jean Dujardin won Best Actor), Michel Hazanavichias’s loving tribute to the silent film era and Hollywood’s transition to “talkies” is entertaining and engaging—and (mostly) without even a single word! Dujardin is wonderfully supported by Berenice Bijo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, and Uggie the dog.

3. The Descendants
George Clooney headlines director Alexander Payne’s adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel as lawyer Matt King, who tries to reconnect with his estranged daughters, only to learn that his comatose wife has recently been cheating on him. Brilliant and moving dramedy on family relationships, connections, and walking together through difficult circumstances. Breakout film for Shailene Woodley.

4. The Tree of Life
Director Terrence Malick's ambitious project on the creation of life (a la 2001: A Space Odyssey) juxtaposed with a Texas family in the 1950s didn’t play well in theaters (its non-linear direction reportedly caused several walkouts, as well as several boo’s at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme D’or award). Rotten Tomatoes says it very well: “Terrence Malick's singularly deliberate style may prove unrewarding for some, but for patient viewers, Tree of Life is an emotional as well as visual treat.”

5. The Interrupters
Hard-hitting documentary from director Steve James (Hoop Dreams), centered on a year in the life of "violence interrupters" in inner-city Chicago. Three main subjects include Eddie Bocanegra, Ameena Matthews, and Cobe Williams.

6. The Help
Worthwhile female-led ensemble story of African-American maids in 1960s Louisiana during the civil rights movement, as a young author decides to write on their daily experiences and hardships. Stellar cast headed by Viola Davis, Emma Stone, and Octavia Spencer.

7. Hugo
Another love letter to early 20th-century cinema, based on the award-winning book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick, and directed by Martin Scorsese. Hugo Cabret lives in a train station, winding the clocks daily, while searching for a key to an automaton left by his late father. He soon meets a young girl whose guardian (the local toy shop owner) carries a mysterious past, and possibly the key Hugo’s been looking for. Visually stunning and cinematic. Brilliant cast includes newcomer Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sasha Baron Cohen, and Christopher Lee.

8. Super 8
Director J.J. Abrams follows his successful revamp of Star Trek with a nostalgic homage to Spielberg classics of the 70s and 80s, as a group of young kids witness a train crash in their small town one evening while filming a monster movie. This amalgamation of sci-fi action, mystery and drama combines memories of Jaws, Close Encounters, and The Goonies, while standing on its own. They haven’t made summer blockbusters like this in a long while. (Could’ve done without the language, though.)

9. The Adventures of Tintin
Steven Spielberg recalls his adventurous Indiana Jones series with a surprisingly entertaining and action-packed adaptation of Herge’s classic comic book boy detective. Aside from The Lord of the Rings and the recent Planet of the Apes films, this is the best use of motion capture I've ever seen in a feature film. Produced by Peter Jackson.

Other Honorable Mentions

Another Earth
Intriguing and moody sci-fi drama of a young woman with a checkered past, and the discovery of a replica of Earth in space.

Jane Eyre
Beautiful and haunting adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

Kung-Fu Panda 2
A rare sequel that matches (and possibly improves on) its predecessor, as Po the panda takes the next step in his kung-fu journey and faces an even greater threat, while trying to piece together his past. Entertaining, funny, and surprisingly moving.

Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol
The previous outing in Tom Cruise’s film series started to get things on the right track, but it’s this fourth installment from director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) that scores a home run. Cruise is backed by Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg, as the remaining members of the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) go rogue after being framed for a global disaster.

The Muppets
Writers Jason Segal and Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) revive Jim Henson’s endearing characters (including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and Fozzie Bear) and idiosyncratic brand of humor as the gang is brought back together to save their old theater from an oil business tycoon (Chris Cooper). A real treat for kids and adults.

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