I saw a pretty decent amount of movies this year; keep in mind, I like going to movies. Rarely is a movie so bad, I could barely stomach its badness and wanted to walk out. And I have pretty good luck picking movies that I think I’ll enjoy. That being said, here are the top five cream of the crop that I saw this year:
It’s not often that “action movie” and “arthouse flick” are merged into the same film; and on paper, this sounds like a terrible idea. In practice though, we get the Ryan Gosling vehicle (no pun intended), Drive, which works on every level; it is as dangerous and sexy and cutthroat and gorey the way a major action flick should be; and yet, it is melancholy, spacious, avante-garde and emotionally charged and damaging the way an arthouse flick should be. Ryan Gosling, who barely speaks at all, manages to carry the emotional and physical weight of this nameless character on his shoulders. And Carey Mulligan is stunning and flawed and vulnerable, yet tough-as-nails as mother, Irene. Toss in a soundtrack featuring groovy, sparse 80s synth-esque indie pop and some of the most vulgar, unforgettably vile violence I’ve ever seen in a movie, and you have a win-win situation that appeals to hipsters and on-the-edge teenage boys all at the same time.
It is often said that “the academy” does not do its due diligence in recognizing great comedies. Comedies worthy of an academy nod in recent memory include: The Hangover, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and 2011’s Bridesmaids, an unimaginably funny ode to being ‘the friend’ whose BFF is getting married, and who loses around every turn while trying to do the right thing and make it through a difficult time all at once. Kristen Wiig’s Annie is one of the most relatable protagonists I’ve seen all year in a movie; she walks the line between hilarity and pathos and saves this movie from being too gross, too unrealistic or too cartoonish. Despite obvious criticisms that the protagonist sorts out her roughage through a man’s affection rather than on her own, the result of this movie is a sweet, fluffy, roll-on-floor-laughing romantic comedy that gets it right almost every time.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
In what was by FAR the best installment of the Harry Potter franchises by far, this movie is a quest and journey, an intense battle, and a coming-of-age story. J.K. Rowling breaks and makes some rules of a typical “fantasy” by often blurring the lines between good and evil and allowing the hero not to be all-sacrificing, but vengeful and hateful, regardless of whether these emotions can be construed as “right” or “wrong”. It is these touches that make Harry Potter a successful, well-rounded series of both books and movies, aside from the basic Hero’s-journey tale that it is on paper. However, it is not Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter that is the real star of this movie but absolutely, 100% Alan Rickman who is the heart, soul, brain and moral pivot of Deathly Hallows part 2. I would be extremely offended if we don’t see a Best Supporting Actor nod for him in 2012.
Midnight in Paris
I walked out of this movie with so many thoughts; about time and place and false nostalgia in my own life, and my relation with these notions and the “real” world around me. To me, that’s what this movie is fundamentally dealing with. Not only does it tackle these issues by allowing the audience to immerse themselves in rhetorical, often scrupulous questions, but it does so with REAL humour, particularly with ‘cameos’ from famous and infamous intellectuals such as Luis Banuel and Hemingway. Only Woody Allen can glean laughs from intellectuals while at the same time, poking fun at intellectuals. With brilliant writing, gorgeous Paris scenery, a great pitch-perfect performance by Owen Wilson as the neurotic, idealistic writer and a typecast-bender of a role by Rachel McAdams, this was not only one of my favourite movies of 2011, but one of my favourite movies ever.
By far the best movie I saw this year was 50/50. Seth Rogen is being Seth Rogen; Joseph Gordon-Levitt is being Joseph Gordon Levitt; the high concept of this film is “a comedy about cancer.” Yet, cancer brings with it so much more than obligatory off-colour jokes, especially when your chances are only 50%; there’s fear and acceptance and confusion and longing and regret and a loss of hope and belief. And this movie deals with both sadness and the right tone of humour, all of these emotions and issues. There are some poignant moments between best friends and between Gordon-Levitt’s protagonist and his mother, and some truly funny one-liners; there is a great supporting cast; there are a lot of questions raised about mortality and a lot of difficult-to-swallow truths about the nature of a terminal illness, all of which Joseph Gordon-Levitt handles with both care and MAD skills. I can’t really imagine anyone disliking this movie. It is so hilarious — even raunchy and offensive, sometimes; yet, there is a HUGE heart behind every scene, and that combo of heart and humour is what makes a good comedy a GREAT comedy.