In a very flexible order: My Favorite Films of 2011

This post is about 6 months in the making. My apologies to those who have been awaiting it (you know who you are). I only recently finished watching most of the films on my “must see” list before I sat down to write today. I am calling the order “flexible” because (particularly in the cases of 6-11) I’m not sure the order would be the same if you asked me this while I am in a different mood. What great films we got in 2011! So without further ado:

Jessie’s Top Favorite Films from 2011

(Honorable Mention) Breaking Dawn Part One – Yes, yes, I like Twilight. Commence eye-rolls now if you must. Whatever bit of nerdy prepubescent girl is left in my 30-year old self wins out every year and makes me put these films on my list. Why? Because I ENJOY them immensely. This is truly the best of the Twilight Saga to date. I’m pleased with how the films have developed and improved over time (both as a result of cast experience and greater budget allowances). I was, however, quite concerned that they’d ruin it for me by not matching the film adaptation to my admittedly high expectations (Breaking Dawn was my favorite of the YA novels). Thankfully, my concerns were unfounded. This is a cast that is maturing and becoming more nuanced in their performances as they grow into their sizable shoes. Once again, the filmmakers knock it out of the park in regards to the soundtrack. Knowing that there are people who despise Twilight, but LOVE the soundtrack music is somehow an interesting testament to the unique appeal of this franchise.

11. Water for Elephants – Ok. It’s a sappy love story. What can I say, I’m a chick. This is a badge I wholeheartedly embrace on most occasions. I’m a sucker for a good love story. I’m also a sucker for films that are adapted even to a moderate level of success from books I particularly loved reading. Nearly every film I saw during the particularly difficult year of 2011 (in which we became a military family) was with my podmate (Hey, Jessy P!) and this was a story that was a lot of fun to read, watch, and discuss with a much loved friend. I’m not completely sold on the chemistry between Reese and Rob, but it worked well enough and the film was quite beautiful.

10. Moneyball – I love a good baseball film. Throw in Brad Pitt and you’ve sold me ten times over. I particularly appreciated that it was a story of how sometimes we triumph even when we don’t win the last game of the season. Special recognition goes to the surprisingly flawless dramatic performance of Jonah Hill. Who knew?

9. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Craig. Mara. Fincher. While it didn’t stay true to the book, this film adaptation did NOT disappoint me. Mara’s unflinching, at once fragile, inscrutable, and, at times vicious, Salander resonated with me in a way that Rapace’s didn’t (in the Swedish version). I know many preferred Rapace to Mara, I was not one of those people.

8. No Strings Attached – Natalie Portman in a comedy? Yes, please. I’m not a huge Kutcher fan, but he’s irresistible playing opposite Portman in this enjoyably light, and uproariously funny rom-com gone right. I have been trending away from most romantic comedies these days, but I could not miss this one. I’m glad I didn’t.

7. Drive – I cannot say enough how shockingly impressive I felt this film was. It was the biggest surprise of the year for me and is an experience at the cinema that I will not soon forget. It was not just the violence and brutality of this one that sticks out (though it certainly made it all the more memorable), but the complex, carefully plotted, at once relaxed and breakneck pace of the storyline that really got me. In what became “The Year of Ryan,” this may have been Gosling’s standout and most successful performance. I have not seen Carey Mulligan in a whole lot yet, but her understated performance here certainly piqued my interest. And what can I say about Albert Brooks in what is the only non-comedic role I will ever be able to remember him in? Wow. Yes, “wow” is all I can say about that.

6. Ides of March – It has been said that this film did not quite achieve what it set out to achieve. I cannot speak to what it hoped to achieve, but I can say that I thought it quite succeeded at portraying the disillusionment and danger we face by placing too much emphasis and hope for our futures into the hands of others. Gosling’s phenomenal performance is, again, one to remember.

5. My Week with Marilyn – What more can be said about Michelle Williams as the iconic screen siren whose flame burned out far too soon? I have come to believe there’s NOTHING this actress cannot do. The final verdict: a stunningly beautiful portrayal that will move you to tears.

4. The Descendants – I didn’t think Clooney could top his performance in Up in the Air until I sat on my couch completely fascinated with the slowly collapsing world of Matt King in this fantastically written and superbly performed film. Everything about it feels so “every day” and yet none of it is. Faced with heartbreak compounded by heartbreak, Clooney boldly lets us into the world of his character and that of his daughters. It’s offbeat, raw, and more than a little humorous. You’ve done it again, Clooney. Bravo!

3. Midnight in Paris – “That’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life is unsatisfying.” It seems like every other year I hear something to the effect of, “Woody Allen is back!” In truth, I never thought he left. Though his personal life is a bit of a train wreck, I almost universally love everything he does. With Midnight in Paris, he has outdone himself. I typically question the casting of Owen Wilson in anything because there’s something about him I instinctively want to dislike. Again, however, he proved my misgivings erroneous and allowed me to love yet another character he’s created. Everything about this film was lovely, from the locale to its complete success in making the artistic Paris of the 1920’s wholly believable and immersive. Woody, I don’t think you ever left, but in any event, I’m glad you’re out there dazzling us still!

2. The Help – “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Was this also “The Year of Emma”? The girl can act and simultaneously appeals to both genders for different reasons.  I quite enjoyed this Southern tale, disturbing though it sometimes was (the “terrible awful” was, truly, terribly awful, I could have done without that). I particularly appreciated Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance as the insufferable mean girl with a heart of cold, black ice. It made me laugh, made me cry, and gave me a more sincere appreciation for what some of our fellow human beings have had to endure on their way to greater racial equality. Bonus points for featuring an aspiring writer (which you all know I not-so-secretly-but-still-kinda-secretly aspire to be).

And my number ONE favorite film of 2012…

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1. Crazy Stupid Love – “Seriously? It’s like your photoshopped!” C’mon, was there really any other film this year that so moved, entertained, and amused me? Hardly. This was the first film in “The Year of Ryan” and “The Year of Emma” and arguably the best of the bunch. When you throw in Steve Carrell and the lovely Julianne Moore, you’ve got a cast that seemingly cannot fail. I particularly appreciated the fact that the twist at the end did, in no way, reveal itself too early and ruin the big “aha!” moment we eventually get to experience. Lovely, funny, outrageous, and dramatic. Well done.