The Best Films of 2011 #15-11

As the number of films I watch has grown so has the number of films I rank among my best of the year. Essentially what matters to me is not so much the number of films included amogst the best of the year but rather the proportion. When I started these picks as a teenager I’d pretty much only be guaranteed a Saturday matinee at the local UA so that amounted to about 52 films a year. Meaning the five Best Picture nominees were equivalent to the top 10%. It’s not a bad rule of thumb. Granted only picking 10 Best Picture nominees of about 222 films deemed eligible equals about 4.5% of the total films I viewed. Therefore it’s not much of a stretch to take my Best List which goes beyond just the nominees from 15 to 25. In fact, I just had to pick the first few that came to mind. Some that wouldn’t show up on another list I did because 30 would be easily achievable.

Without much further ado here is the continuation of my Best Films countdown, you can find the beginning here:

15. Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams in Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics)

This film in my mind doesn’t mark a renaissance for Woody Allen. I never declared him creatively dead so he had nothing to rebirth from necessarily. Each trip into an Allen film is an uneasy balance for viewers. We want “old, funny” Woody in a new way but those films of which we think are nearly, if not more than, 40 years old at this point. Things have changed and so has Woody. He always does, that’s the thing. So while this hearkens back to some of his more inventive works and comments openly on a man caught in the past; he’s also playing with new techniques in a new city. Allen has always been unafraid but he’s in a full on experimental mode. He’s not just playing with new techniques, he’s playing with house money, and after all he’s done, why shouldn’t he? You may not like some of his films but any director who always gives you cause to discuss his work, perhaps even heatedly, is worth noting.

14. Crazy, Stupid, Love

Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell in Crazy, Stupid, Love (Warner Bros.)

In the previous list section there I discuss Bereavement which is likely my favorite horror film since the release of Frailty. This is a film I have not yet seen a second time so whether I like it more than such-and-such is difficult to say but what I can say is what class I believe it’s in and that’s the likes of Love Actually, French Kiss and maybe, maybe When Harry Met Sally… It’s equal parts funny and insightful, it’s all heartfelt and it weaves love plots deftly when most would be clunky. Too many missed this film, see it now.

13. Win Win

Alex Shaffer and Paul Giamatti in Win Win (Fox Searchlight)

This is the kind of film that you hope and pray will stick in people’s minds as the year goes on as it deserves to land on lists of this type regardless of release date. I’m glad to see it along with some of the performances have been recognized. Win Win in a lot of ways flies in the face of conventions of escalating incidents, constantly raising stakes and climax. Not to say it doesn’t have these things but it plays them differently. It deals in reality and subtext. It has palpable drama and humor but doesn’t always feel the need to remind you of it but you feel it, always.

12. Take Shelter

Michael Shannon in Take Shelter (Sony Pictures Classics)

To see how I feel this film qualifies as a horror film please see my Horror Film list (to be posted).

Take Shelter is a great film. In a few regards it’s the best kind. It features a powerhouse performance by Michael Shannon one that needs to be as great as it is in order to drive the story. If you believe him as an actor there’s a chance you believe maybe what he sees is in fact real and not delusion despite evidence to the contrary. If you believe him, or at least that he believes it, you fear for him and for his family and not just by proxy either. Another way in which this film is great is that it can be interpreted in a few ways and regardless of which path you choose as your own its great either way, the view is just a little bit different on that road is all.

11. X-Men: First Class

Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox)

Were I one for quotas I may have pre-designated this year as one which would need to have a superhero film representative. However, I didn’t hold my breath for any of them and came away blown away by this one. The one most near and dear to my heart that I needed to succeed to continue to have faith, or optimism, in those with powers on the big screen. I discussed much of what love about this film in my review so suffice it to say that X-Men clearly did not get here because I needed a superhero film and conversely it’s not a slight that it ends up at number 11. Precisely the reason I started to make lists to accompany my awards is because it would allow me to echo or restate my affections for certain film regardless of how they fall down the ladder when separated by an iota or two from one another.

Review- Midnight in Paris

Carla Bruni and Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics)

I always feel it a necessity to state my general stance on Woody Allen prior to getting into a review of any of his works. I feel this is appropriate so you know where I am coming from and thus so you can take my review with a grain of salt should you need to. Fans of Woody Allen seem to come in two camps: First, those who believe he’s slipping and hasn’t done anything really worthwhile in the past 15 to 20 years and blind followers, while I skew more towards the latter I believe I am somewhere in the middle. I believe Allen has peaks and valleys like many prolific filmmakers but I have really enjoyed his recent works.

Lately, Allen has been globetrotting a bit and he writes and shoots frequently enough such that there are threads of philosophy and narrative choices that run through many of his films but conversely he has periods akin to painters. His break from being tethered to New York City in and of itself has breathed some new life into his recent works.

As you familiarize yourself with a filmmaker you expect certain things, with Allen it had been New York, art deco, Jazz (or another genre whose heyday is past), plain title cards, longing of some kind, etc. When minor changes to the formula are applied to the same voice it can be rather interesting.

What is perhaps most interesting in Midnight in Paris is that Allen attacks head on an issue which many of his detractors (at least of his recent work) cite him for, which is his nostalgic love affair with the past. Rather than having it be an idiosyncrasy of a character (or group of them) that we must either accept or reject it becomes central to the protagonist’s, Gil (Owen Wilson), struggle and part of why he is not understood.

By openly addressing this and applying it to a younger character one of Allen’s motifs is revitalized because he can’t be cited as someone whose “lost touch” with modernity. He’s found here a new way to funnel his voice into a modern setting. Another one of the frequent attacks on Allen’s work is that his scripts are in lieu of therapy. Truth be told it is for a lot of people and it’s more identifiable with him because he’s a personality and is more known. He’s always been a personal filmmaker and this may be his best and most coherent addressing of any hang-up he’s covered.

While I don’t think it’s on par with things like Manhattan or Annie Hall this film does have the inventiveness and flair from that era of his career. A majority of the reason why is that in this film he embraces Magical Realism and allows for facile time travel and creates time-space paradoxes and is not concerned about factual truths but emotional ones which affect his characters.

In a film where a slew of historical figures, who we all have preconceived notions about, appear the casting has to be spot on and it’s nailed on the head repeatedly whether it be Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Dali and so on. Even funnier are how Allen writes these personalities and how they perform the parts.

It’s without question one of his best concepts in quite some time. Though not running any longer than most of his films the episodes in the past do get a tad lengthy and there is a bit of drag in the second act but not enough that it hurts the film greatly.

It’s also, clearly as the concept implies, one of Allen’s more visual recent ventures. The dialogue is strong while not being audaciously witty. The conclusion is expected but earned and sweet.

You can say what you will about Allen’s recent track record but I have nothing but admiration for an artist who continuously pushes himself to new horizons regardless of their results. However, Midnight in Paris is an unqualified success and a bold new step for this auteur and is therefore highly recommended.