Although we're several months into 2012, I've continued to catch up with prominent movies from 2012. At last count, I've seen 46 movies from 2011. While I started out feeling it was a more lackluster year, I actually had a hard time making some of my choices and think I have a pretty solid list. Some movies on my list are crowd-pleasers, while others are highly divisive. Here are the movies from 2011 that most moved me, made me laugh, made me cry, and made me think.
Runners-Up (Or, I wish I had room):
Bridesmaids: Amazing comic performances from the hilarious women and easily the most laughs from any movie this year. If it hadn't gone on quite so long and added on a subplot or two too many, it easily would have made my top 10.
Higher Ground: The great Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Departed) directs and stas in this film about a woman finding and questioning her faith. It's the rare modern film that treats faith and doubt seriously.
Hugo: Martin Scorsese makes a charming film for the whole family light-years away from his usually gangsters and violence. While I definitely thought some sections were weaker than others, the last third, a celebration of filmmaking, is simply stunning.
Midnight in Paris: A lovely and charming movie from Woody Allen. I recently had the trip of a lifetime to Paris, so I certainly buy the nostalgia.
Poetry: A quiet and haunting South Korean movie about a woman with Alzheimer's finding joy in a poetry class and dealing with her grandson who is in trouble with the law.
Without further ado.......
10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Sure its confusing, but compellingly so. Director Thomas Alfredson gets the tweedy atmosphere of 1970s England so right in movie about an intelligence officer finding a mole. Gary Oldman commands a great cast, and I can't wait to see it again (and understand it more this time).
9. Young Adult: My vote for the most underrated movie of the year. This movie is in turns completely hilarious and utterly painful to watch. Writer Diablo Cody, director Jason Reitman, and star Charlize Theron refuse to pull any punches in their caustic portrayal of a self-deluding woman returning to her small-town life.
8. Drive: The year's coolest movie. I absolutely loved the first half of this movie, as we were introduced to Ryan Gosling's mysterious (and nameless) character who is a stunt-movie driver by day, hired driver for crooks at night. While I think the movie revels in the violence of its second half a bit too much, the movie is filled to the brim with filmmaking bravado.
7. The Artist: This Best Picture winner is pure entertainment. Jean DuJardin and Berenice Bejo fit right into the silent-film world and the movie is filled with humor and pathos.
6. Shame: Director Steve McQueen (different from the actor) is a masterful director. This movie is probably best-known for its graphic sexuality. It does have that, and yet its never feels sensationalistic. All the elements comes together to tell a compelling and disturbing story of addiction and emotional alienation. Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan give two of the best performances of the year.
5. The Interrupters: It's about former gang members who now intervene to help settle violent street feuds in Chicago. Watching these brave men and women (especially the astounding Ameena) give back to their communities will make you a better person. The same directors made the brilliant Hoop Dreams in 1994, and once again the Academy ignored the Best Documentary of the year.
4. Martha Marcy May Marlene: Debut writer/director Sean Durkin made a masterful movie with a great debut performance by Elizabeth Olsen (yes, the sister of the Olsen twins). The movie sucks you in with its mixture of dread of and mystery that will haunt you for a long time to come. I loved the great ambiguous ending.
3. Moneyball: Moneyball is just about perfectly made. Moving but never sentimental, funny but never trying too hard, and so realistic every moment feels true. It's a story of statistics, reinvention, and redemption in the baseball stadium. Writer Aaron Sorkin follows up The Social Network script with more pitch-perfect dialogue, and its delivered by a great cast headed by Brad Pitt.
2. A Separation: This Iranian movie is so many things at once: a portrait of a marriage, a legal thriller, a mystery, a study of the secular/religious divide, and a probing search into modern Iran. Most prominently, though, its about human beings with all their complicated emotions. It blew me away. See it now.
1. The Tree of Life: I'm quite aware that some people couldn't stand this movie. Terrence Malick's drama is mostly about a boy growing up in Texas, but it also includes the beginnings of the universe, dinosaurs, the afterlife, and lots of whispered voiceover. For me, it all worked beautifully. Watching this movie in the theater, I was transported to a place where I was so engrossed in Malick's cosmic vision, I never once thought about the time. As a bonus, it's easily one of the most beautifully shot movies of all time. A divisive masterpiece, and my favorite of the year.
So there it is, another year in film and lots of movies to see. What were your favorites of 2011?