My Top 10 of '11

2011 is not only the first year I've kept strict track of every film I've seen and ranked new releases along the way, it's without question the year in which I've watched the most movies. And it's been quite a success in that regard! Not only do I feel I have a solid top ten for the year itself - to the point that half of them could have been #1s for many other years - I have also seen a slew of excellent films from prior years. I finally delved further in to Brosens, discovered Pasolini, fleshed out my experiences with Woody Allen and took in firsts and then some from auteurs I was blind to such as ByambasürenŻuławskiParajanovResnais, Reygadas, Merhige, Tarr, etcetera, etcetera.

I might've liked to post this year-end summary a couple days sooner - so it goes - and as I imagine is the case with anyone sans worldwide festival access there are still certain titles I'd like to have seen (listed further down) so this list of course carries potential for change, but here are the top ten films I loved most from 2011 (strictly by IMDb dates), beginning with the best of the best:

Young Adult [Initial Review]
I have fallen head over heels for Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman's latest, which is a vast improvement over my reaction to their first collaboration. Truly, I am obsessed, and practically refuse to see anything else in theaters until the 35mm finishes its run (I've attempted to see other films but always wind up switching my ticket, thinking something along the lines of "Why isn't the horse actually Charlize Theron and why isn't World War I actually Mercury, MN?"). I mean, just look, even my wardrobe (and my girlfriend's) now consists of more hot pinks and bold greens inspired by lead character Mavis Gary's bemused theatrical poster get-up. "Young Adult" is fascinatingly dense with layers upon layers of a deep sociological examination - that, despite its immediate outlandishness, makes brilliant sense on every level when dissected - while remaining absolutely hilarious on the surface. The juxtapositions of characters and evoked emotions as well as the ever-effervescing themes of varied success, the meaning of a homecoming, personal identity and self-confidence are as addicting as putting "The Concept" by Teenage Fanclub on repeat. With honors, this is my favorite film of the year and a more than welcome member amongst my favorites of all time. Keep watch for an upcoming article detailing further exactly why I am so in love with "Young Adult".

Drive [Initial Review]
Nicolas Winding Refn was primed to bowl me over again after I became so taken with his prior "Valhalla Rising", and with "Drive" he does exactly that and more. In ideal and thoroughly affecting unison with the year's best soundtrack, Refn's careful and unadulterated landscape of a slick character's quiet and willing descent through the work of hands dirtier than his own in effort to simply help a friend is the stuff seat-glue is made of. The atmosphere conjured is so palpable you can reach out and smash its face in.

Midnight in Paris [Initial Review]
We're accustomed to and gladly accepting of strikingly similar structures with slightly varying themes from outing to outing with Woody Allen, but with the purely delightful, surprising and beautiful "Midnight in Paris" the Manhattan master has given us a refreshed gateway to his oeuvre with some of the most intricately brilliant and honestly self-reflexive writing of his almost 50 features. I defy you to wipe the grin from your face.

Melancholia [Initial Review]
With this pseudo-apocalyptic portrait Lars von Trier inflicted a stigma upon me - one in which I dwelled for days, enjoying the - indeed, melancholy - feeling that had begun welling up from the picture's jaw-gaping onset and finally exploded in a wave of blue that plastered me to the wall. The Blu-Ray cannot arrive quickly enough!

The Tree of Life [Initial Review]
The identity of "The Tree of Life" within film circles as I know it is as the quintessential art/vanity picture about existentialism with something intimate for everybody. Much the same way I lambaste the trailer for "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" for being pure Oscar bait, the trailer for Terrence Malick's latest could easily be labeled the same for the Cannes crowd - with a sensationally stinging caress it pushes nearly every button I have to be pushed in its distinct realm. The film itself follows suit, more or less generating an endlessly applicable experience of life and death, the before and the after, "nature" and "grace", evolution and/or creation and - all-importantly - memory, with the sheer gorgeousness of both daringly improvisational and artfully precise cinematography and an utterly eargasmic score.

La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) [Initial Review]
I don't kick around the term "perfect" very often, but for what it seeks to achieve Almodóvar's newest is very close to being as such. I believe all that's missing is a more overt sense of deliberation a la Kubrick, the master auteur the revered Almodóvar appears quite inspired by in this project. With one of the best "WTF" storylines of the year and some of the most masterful and purposed dialogue and visuals, "The Skin I Live In" will stick to you, unpeeling for weeks.

We Bought A Zoo [Initial Review]
With an always-growing adoration of "Elizabethtown" and "Vanilla Sky" long holding the title of my favorite film ever, I may be predisposed to liking nearly anything the so wonderfully music-oriented Cameron Crowe touches. Still, there's no denying "We Bought A Zoo" as the genuine feel-good movie of the year. I say 'genuine' because instead of politically correct schmaltz (which can work, don't get me wrong, hence my positive reaction to "New Year's Eve") this is one of if not the most emotionally heavy "PG" rated films I've seen - to watch it is to be on the verge of tears if not out-and-out sobbing for 2 straight hours. I'll be damned, though, if I didn't have one heck of a bright day after exiting my matinee showing. I believe the same goes for plenty more, as through my day job at a local theater I've seen a share of families leaving, red-eyed and embracing one another.

Hall Pass [Initial Review]
In a year full of surprises, the Farrelly brothers' "Hall Pass" may just be the biggest for yours truly, partly due to the fact that it initially appeared to merely be another post-"Hangover" attempt at cheap raunch. Going in with that mindset readied me to wildly enjoy the hapless exploits (or non-exploits, rather) of these two white, middle class suburbanites so rooted in their seemingly narrow lives that they have no clue how to handle their much-desired "week off from marriage". Beyond that, what really makes "Hall Pass" memorable and meaningful is its brutally honest approach to contemporary monogamy - I'm sure some of the observations of delusion made herein will be relatable to anyone, even one in the most loving, however-many-year-long relationship. In the end, after at least a meager handful of admittedly hit-or-miss gags, the comedy's heart is in a great place, reassuring us in our love lives by reminding us why we sought out that package to begin with.

Hugo [Initial Review]
What's old is new again with this practically gift-wrapped treat from one of the most notorious film buffs of our time, Martin Scorsese. "Hugo" not only emulates beloved silent era cinema on a frequent basis, it provides opportunity to glimpse some of the truly immortal greats of all movie-dom on a big screen while musing over the infinite power of such images and looking all-around lovely itself, its 3D a popularly derided gimmick galvanizing itself in a wider eye the same way its very medium did in the early 20th Century. What's more, Scorsese's natural adaptation to modern 3D provides not only lovely negative space (in my opinion the key area making 3D so worth it when done well) but also the first successful use of positive space.

Red State [Initial Review]
Despite the filmmaker's obvious missteps both professionally and socially, I feel no shame in being a long-time Kevin Smith fan, and am happy to have another title - this time a significant creative departure - to include among others like "Clerks". A bold statement that hits its stride regardless, the point "Red State" really catches on is when it abruptly chucks right and wrong to the incinerator and teases justification of its vile antagonist - a Branch Davidian-esque Christian cult holding hostages for the purpose of demonstrative "cleansing", if you will. Talk about your "oh, shit" moments. Outside this, the fittingly photographed production deftly builds tension throughout while featuring some of Smith's best dialogue in years.

Honorable Mentions
Puss in Boots
The Turin Horse
Take Me Home Tonight
The Muppets
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The Ides of March

Bottom Ten (from "best" to worst)
The Big Bang
Fast Five
Like Crazy
X-Men: First Class
The Help
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Bloodlust Zombies
The Green Hornet
Season of the Witch

Complete 2011 list on Letterboxd (rankings subject to change).

Films of particular interest still to be seen (alphabetical)...
The Artist
Attack the Block
A Dangerous Method
Le Havre
Life in A Day