Here are Patch’s picks for the top films of 2011:
10. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Will Rodman, played by James Franco, discovers a way to enhance the abilities and intelligence of a chimpanzee, while trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. Rodman brings home a baby chimpanzee named Caesar from a failed experiment, and cares for him as if he were his own child, until his intelligence grows and things get more complicated.
This isn’t just some half-cooked prequel to add to the long-running Planet of the Apes franchise; it’s a well-thought out, amazingly acted film, with stunning visual effects. Some will go so far as to say that it’s probably the second best film of the entire franchise. Is it a popcorn flick? Yes, and an amazing one at that, but it also has a tender soul beneath the CGI muscle. Andy Serkis, acting as Caesar, the lead ape, is perfect, and James Franco and John Lithgow also turn in solid performances. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the perfect Hollywood big-budget film, reigniting the franchise with fireworks.
Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton play brothers that haven’t seen each other in quite some time, due to the circumstances of their broken family. Tommy, played by Hardy, is a Marine that comes back home for unknown reasons to ask his former alcoholic father, played by Nick Nolte, to train him for an MMA tournament. Brendan, played by Edgerton, also enters the MMA tournament, as he is in desperate need of money for his family, especially his ill daughter.
Director Gavin O’Connor weaves a truly inspirational film that is in the same realm of the original Rocky. Hardy, Edgerton, and especially Nolte, give tremendous performances; it’s hard not to be captivated by their characters. Unlike other fight films, this one has two protagonists that collide, introducing a new concept to the classic template for fight films. Warrior strips the characters down to reveal what is truly worth fighting for, and it never lets up. For a film about MMA combatants hitting each other with all they’ve got, the hardest thing this film hits is your heart.
8. Like Crazy
Rising director Drake Doremus displays that he’s a talent to keep an eye on with his latest film about love. Like Crazy follows the lives of two individuals, Jacob, played by Anton Yelchin, and Anna, played by newcomer Felicity Jones. Jacob is an American student that falls for Anna, a British student that eventually overstays her visa when the two hook up. They are both dragged by time and obstacles, falling in and out of love, trying to hold on to the feeling of the honeymoon phase.
Both leads are so achingly realistic in their portrayals of love for one another that it seems they could have been together in reality. The film takes a genuine look at the development of a relationship, going through the different phases of the complex feeling that is love. If anything, Like Crazy will have you thinking about relationships. Are we the same people every time we fall in and out of what we think love is? Does love even matter? The potential answers lie within the quiet moments of the film.
A planet named Melancholia, previously hiding behind the sun, appears to be heading towards Earth, although scientists predict that Melancholia will go past them. The story sounds old on paper, but it’s much more than an “end of the world” film like Armageddon, as director Lars von Trier weaves a much richer, genuine take on the world ending with a bang.
Kirsten Dunst plays Justine, a woman slumping in and out of depression and hopelessness, and her sister, Clare, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who has been there as a crutch her whole life. Both give stellar, revealing performances with reactions that seem so natural. The juxtaposition of the two sisters is the central beauty of the film. Melancholia is a slow ride through the mind of depression, and a contemplation of what would happen if we truly came to the end. The final scene will inject viewers with a myriad of emotions, all of them trying to figure out who to place in front.
Martin Scorsese, the man known best for his classic crime films, takes on a family-friendly adventure project in Hugo, and does so with a magical touch. The film is set in 1930s Paris, where an orphan living in the walls of a train station gets caught up in a mystery involving his late father and a peculiar automaton.
This is, hands down, the best 3D film that has come out so far; even if you despise the 3D gimmick, this film is worth a shot in 3D. Scorsese’s cinematography is amazing, with the beautiful backdrop of Paris and the majestic train station; one can’t help but to be swept away by it. The acting from the two leads, Asa Butterfield, who plays the title role, and Chloë Moretz, Hugo’s friend Isabelle, give natural and captivating performances. Hugo is a love-letter to the roots of cinema that’s similar to watching a dream on screen.
5. We Need to Talk About Kevin
Ghosts and goblins are fun to watch on screen because most believe that they safely lie in the world of fiction; however, this film is about a fear we have in our everyday lives. We Need to Talk About Kevin is about a boy that never seemed quite right, especially in his relationship with his mother, played by Tilda Swinton. The film follows him, particularly the dysfunctional mother-son relationship, from when he’s a baby to his teenage years.
Swinton gives an award-worthy performance. Eva is a wrecked soul, once an adventurer, trying her best to be a good mother to the devious Kevin. We Need to Talk About Kevin brings up questions of how to raise a child, especially on the topic of nature versus nurture. It’s a gut-wrenching film about a destructive relationship between a son and mother that gets under the skin like a horror flick, but still packs such an emotional dramatic punch that you’ll still feel the sting the next day.
4. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Based on John le Carré’s novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is about a semi-retired espionage veteran, George Smiley, coming out of retirement to try and find a mole in British Intelligence. The mole is supposedly a Soviet agent within the MI6’s upper crust, and Smiley, played by the legendary Gary Oldman, must use his talents to flush out the rat.
This is an authentic look at the spy world, and is the complete opposite of the run-and-gun spy films that are released in mainstream Hollywood. Within this genuine world of espionage, agents use their intelligence and manipulative skills to work underneath the target’s skin for the kill. Everyone’s wearing a mask, so you don’t know who to trust. Gary Oldman gives a precise, powerfully subtle performance that is perfection, and he leads a cast at the top of their game, including Colin Firth, Mark Strong and John Hurt. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy will place you in the real world of espionage, where the truth is used as a bullet.
This visually stunning film, with wonderful homage to the Western genre, is an amazing piece of work from director Gore Verbinski, as he takes a much needed break from the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Rango is about an ordinary pet chameleon who somehow winds up in the lawless town of Dirt in the Wild West where a sheriff is desperately needed.
In a Pixar-weak year, Rango shines in the animation department. Johnny Depp is wonderfully lovable as Rango, the quirky chameleon with a lively imagination. Deciding to become the person you choose to be has never been so evident or entertainingly put as it is in this film. Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Bill Nighy and the rest of the cast are all fantastic voicing their respective parts. Rango’s journey of self-identity was the first must-see film of the year.
In Drive, the ladies will swoon over Ryan Gosling and guys will want to be him. This retro-cool film revolves around a stuntman that moonlights as a wheelman. Gosling, simply known as the Driver, falls for the woman next door, and attempts to help her and her family get out of harm’s way by agreeing to take part in a heist. The heist goes astray and the Driver is painted with a red target by two gangsters looking for their money.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn has an ultra sleek style that pops; everything from the soundtrack, cinematography and the Driver’s scorpion jacket bleeds cool. Gosling is subtle and only speaks when he really has to, like he has a goal to say only so many words in a lifetime, but his mannerisms and eyes speak volumes. This arthouse action film is a tale of love, loneliness and vengeance; it’s a bubblegum wrapped gift filled with blood and bullets. There was nothing in theaters this year quite like it, as Drive resurrects and redefines the word “cool.”
Writer Will Reiser, whose battle with cancer inspired the script, said that this film is the best comedy about cancer. It’s probably the only comedy about cancer, but it’s also one of the best films of 2011. The film revolves around a 27-year-old, play-it-safe young man named Adam who is diagnosed with cancer seemingly out of the blue. He struggles to beat the disease with the help of his laid back friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen), and his therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick).
This film is truly uplifting in a way that doesn’t feel phony or manipulative, dealing with a serious matter from a comedic perspective, while still preserving the weight of the situation. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam, a neurotic but nice guy, with a calm fortitude; however, there is still that subtle fear he has lurking underneath his armor. The script is hilarious, and shows a natural and inspiring way of handling the situation of being close to death. 50/50 magically turns a tragedy into a comedy, and that kind of feat inspires for a lifetime.
Other noteworthy films in 2011:
I Saw the Devil
The Skin I Live In
Attack the Block
The Sunset Limited (HBO movie)
Where to watch:
- Redbox: Warrior; Rango; Source Code; Attack the Block; Another Earth.
- Netflix (Streaming): I Saw the Devil.
- Netflix (DVD): Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Warrior; Rango; Source Code; Attack the Block; Another Earth.
- Still in theatres: Like Crazy; Melancholia (limited release); Hugo; We Need to Talk About Kevin (limited release); Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Descendants.
- Not available yet: Drive (DVD release in January); 50/50 (DVD release in January); The Skin I Live In (DVD release in March); The Sunset Limited (DVD release in February).