SPECIAL: The Best Movies of 2011

10. DRIVE

Many films nowadays are polarizing to audiences. As more movies are made for specific audiences, there are more that cause some to adore them as much as others despise them. Drive is one of those movies, it would seem. There are some who say there is too little talking or too little action. My guess would be that these people went into the movie expecting a street-racing/nitrous-fuelled actioner and were so disappointed in not getting what they expected, they couldn’t appreciate it for what it was. Drive is a hypnotizing throwback to the “lone gunman” movies of Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood, when strong men rode into town, didn’t say much, helped people in distress, and rode off into the sunset. (I did find that the violence, while usually sudden and brief, was unnecessarily graphic, but that’s just me.) In essence, this movie is a Western, set to ‘80s synch music. It shouldn’t work, but the movie just has so much damn style, it holds your attention to the very last frame.


9. HUGO

One of my favourite developments in cinema over the last few decades has been the growing number of family movies that, while successful when viewed by a child, truly bloom when watched as an adult. The trend was kick-started by E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial in the early ‘80s, but it’s become increasingly common just in the last few years, from WALL-E to The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Usually, such movies are animated. Hugo, instead, is a vivid, live-action love letter to silent cinema, told from the point of view of an orphan living in a giant train station clock. Cinephiles can play spot-the-movie-reference till the cows come home, but the film’s true power for most adults will involve the mystery and backstory behind Ben Kingsley’s character, a storeowner in the station with an astounding past. Children will enjoy the adventurous and puzzle-solving elements of the film, but adults will be able to appreciate fully this wondrously transporting tale about the universal magic of movies.


8. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE —
GHOST PROTOCOL

I didn’t care for the first Mission: Impossible. I hated the second. When I reluctantly watched the third, however, I loved it. (It actually made my Best of the Year list in 2006.) Now comes the fourth in the franchise and a groove has been found. While I always thought the series was sequential, like most sequels are, I finally realized with M:I – Ghost Protocol that each is a stand-alone action film, like the Bond movies, that requires no real knowledge of earlier films or even of characters. If the Mission: Impossible movies continue on the path they’re now on, this series will soon rival 007 himself – it’s become that good. If you gave up after the first two in the series, or if you’ve just never bothered with them at all, I highly suggest giving Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol a whirl. This is the one of the best action movies of the year.


7. THE CONSPIRATOR

Usually, movies that have laundry lists of actors use them as selling points. (See: New Year’s Eve.) (That’s just an expression. Please, don’t see New Year’s Eve.) Often, a movie is stuffed with a giant cast just to attract large audiences. The few that utilize them properly, like Confidence or Contagion, tend to not boast about it. As such, they sometimes slip under my radar, like The Conspirator did during its theatrical release; had I known at the time that it stars James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, Danny Huston, Evan Rachel Wood, Justin Long, Alexis Bledel, Stephen Root, Colm Meaney, and Jonathan Groff, I doubt it would have. The beauty of this movie is that while it’s all about the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination, The Conspirator is, essentially, a legal thriller. All too often, legal thrillers are interchangeable and predictable, but by virtue of this one taking place a century before cell phones, computers, DNA testing, or even cars, the tension is able to reach near-palpable levels.


6. TAKE SHELTER

Michael Shannon plays Curtis, a man who begins having dreams — or nightmares, rather — about a horrible storm coming. Not just a heavy torrent or a tornado, but a truly devastating tempest of destruction. He becomes convinced they’re visions. He can’t tell anyone about them, though, because heredity has a strong alibi against him: his mother is a paranoid schizophrenic. Not only that, but Curtis’s mom was diagnosed with it when she was the very age Curtis is now. Is Curtis prophetic? Or is he just crazy? The beauty of Take Shelter is that it works both ways. Not only does the entire movie support either theory, depending on which answer you’re looking for evidence supporting, but the ending is bound to be debated, deconstructed, and argued over for years to come.


ON THE LAST PAGE: The five best of the year

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