Amy’s Best of 2011: Movies

by Amy Osborne (a.k.a. Screengrab’s “Iris Steensma”)

10. Bridesmaids
Finally a movie featuring smart, funny chicks that we (I?) can get behind. One of the most accurate depictions of the competitive, sad, crazy, tenuous, weird world of female friendships. Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig are brilliant and hilarious, with lots of good dick and poop jokes for the fellas.

9. Midnight in Paris
Woody got his Mojo back again. One of the few ‘fantasy’ pics that was palatable this year. Screenwriter Owen Wilson escapes his current stressful engagement in modern-day Paris to the Paris of the 1920s, where Ernest Hemingway shares his manuscript with Gertrude Stein and surrealists Salvador Dali, Man Ray and Luis Buñuel find nothing strange about someone coming from the future. A delightful bit of escapism and beautifully photographed. Makes everyone want to visit the City of Lights.

8. Drive
Enigmatic, nameless ‘Driver’ (played by the hypnotic Ryan Gosling) is the cool center of one of the most striking, strange, violent and unforgettable films of the year. It’s basically another ‘heist gone-wrong’ story but with actual car-chases free of CGI, a great electro-pop score and a climax featuring acting power-houses Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks (against type as a terrifying mobster). The violence is a bit excessive and not for the queasy but if you can get through the massive head trauma, this movie is a real treasure!

7. Moneyball
I’m ashamed to admit I live in Boston and have virtually zero knowledge of the game of baseball, nor do I really care about it except when the Red Sox win the World Series.  So I didn’t think that I was the audience for a film about the sabermetric approach of analyzing players to produce a perfect ball team, but I was wrong. Brad Pitt as the general manager of the struggling Oakland A’s is, in my opinion, one of the strongest roles of his career. He has a mature, world-weariness that I have never seen before and he breaks your heart. Jonah Hill’s Yale economics graduate, who assists in turning the game around, is also perfectly cast. Makes you appreciate the machinations of producing a competitive team.

6. Weekend
Often described as the gay Before Sunrise, Weekend is a romantic-drama about two men who meet at a nightclub in a London suburb and end up spending an intense, romantic weekend with one another. What I really liked about this film was the realness of the characters and their situation. These felt like two beautifully fleshed-out young men, maybe even people I would have befriended.  Their love story is also very moving, as one of the men decides to move to the U.S. and leave the other behind, both wondering if they’re ruining something special.  Or is the brevity of their encounter what made it so perfect in the first place?

5. 50/50
A realistic, funny and moving account of what it is to go through your own cancer diagnosis (or that of your best friend), inspired by the true story of Will Reiser (a screenwriter and close friend of Seth Rogen). The film could have been a maudlin tearjerker or a story of triumph, but instead hovers somewhere closer to reality and what it’s like for a young person to get what could possibly be a death sentence (and how that affects friends, lovers and family), told in a wry and insightful way that never for a moment feels sorry for itself. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perfectly cast as the lead and Anna Kendrick as a compassionate, but very green psychologist.

4. Melancholia
This movie just left me breathless. Lars Von Trier is not everybody’s cup-of-tea, with his controversial recurring themes of women suffering masochistically while striving for martyrdom — but Melancholia is something quite different from the director’s previous works, at once a piece of science fiction and a strikingly realistic portrayal of depression.  Melancholia is a rogue planet headed towards a possible collision with earth and the story focuses on how it affects the lives of two sisters (Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg).  Dunst in particular should get an Oscar nomination for her naked performance as the manic-depressive Justine. Also, the cinematography is gorgeous:  the prologue has some of the most sublime imagery ever captured in cinema.

3. The Descendants
What new insights can I add about a movie that’s on everyone’s top 10 list? Alexander Payne has once again produced a funny, wrenching account of what it is to be a family and how to cope through loss. George Clooney is at the top of his game playing a Dad with a lot on his plate:  dealing with his recently comatose spouse (who he finds out was cheating on him), two daughters he has no connection to and, as a trustee, determining whether he should sell pristine land in Kaua’i (which has been in his family for centuries) to land developers. How he manages to persevere with grace, humility and intelligence is a testament to Payne as a writer and his perfect cast, especially Clooney and eldest daughter Alex, played by Shailene Woodley.

2. Hugo
Martin Scorsese’s love-letter to the dawn of cinema. This is another beautiful-looking movie, intended to be seen in 3D. I opted for 2D and was still blown away. Hugo is the son of a watchmaker who, by fate, ends up living in the walls of a Paris train station, maintaining all of their clocks. He ends up getting entangled in a story involving an automaton and the pioneering filmmaker (and “Cinemagician”) Georges Méliès.  The boy’s story wasn’t as compelling as the genius of Méliès, played lovingly by Ben Kingsley:  the montage of early film-making featured in the middle of Scorsese’s movie is such an affectionate tribute to the resourcefulness and enthusiasm of cinema’s auteurs that the decline of that period is all the more tragic. (I also learned that celluloid could be used to manufacture footwear.)

1. The Artist
I haven’t actually seen this one yet, but a black and white silent film that forces you to care about the demise of one silent film star and the rise of another is such a bold and original premise that I’m rooting for The Artist even if it turns out to be a mediocre production. Also, I hear the soundtrack is outstanding, the era is drenched in Art Deco style and the movie features a spunky Jack Russell Terrier. What’s not to love, I ask you?


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