I respect the Oscars’ selection of Best Picture nominees (I’ve seen seven of the nine films), but here are the films that I would have included if I were a member of the Academy:
My Favorite Films of 2011
1. Midnight in Paris
I think why this film resonates with me so much is for two reasons: Gil’s (Owen Wilson) fascination with the past and his Woody Allen-inspired neuroticism. With a degree in History, I have a soft spot for nostalgic tendencies, so I found a great sense of commonality between Gil and myself and his yearning for this particular moment in time, full of his artistic idols (Hemingway! Buñuel! Dali!). And Owen Wilson so perfectly executed Allen’s notorious neurotic behavior, which is also another trait of mine, even if that’s one I’m not so proud of. Beyond feeling a connection to the main character, I found the film so delightfully entertaining and original, not to mention really funny. I liked that the trailers for the film gave you little to go off of – I seriously knew nothing more about the film than Owen Wilson was a writer suffering from writer’s block while in Paris. So it was such a pleasant surprise to find that the story took an abrupt left turn at the stroke of midnight, incorporating what we can only assume was time travel – or was it all a dream? Did Gil have too much wine? Or did he really just imagine everything, what with his suspicion of the brain tumor and all? We don’t really know, but that’s why I loved it. The story was simple and straight-forward, yet conceptually it was executed on a whole separate level from anything else this year. Plus, the soundtrack and shots of Paris also swooned me into falling in love with this film.
There was a lot of talk about how this movie helped prove that women can be funny too (or at least funny enough to be deemed a box office success), but I think that’s a moot point, as anyone who has a brain and a sense of humor knows that there have been funny women since the beginning of time (I’m sure Eve was a riot!), let alone the beginning of the movie industry who have been very successful (the two Hepburns, anyone?). But that being said, this movie was really really funny. So funny in fact, that I saw it three times in the theatre. Kristen Wiig has been stellar on SNL, even if a lot of the material given to her is subpar, but add in her screenwriting and acting skills, plus one of the greatest ensembles of today’s comediennes, plus a few great supporting men, plus director Paul Fieg of Freaks & Geeks fame, and then you’ve got an original, poignant, and hysterically honest film.
3 & 4. The Artist & Hugo
In line with Midnight in Paris, The Artist and Hugo tug upon the nostalgic strings of any film fan’s heart. I liked that this year saw a small trend in light-hearted stories that deal with life’s struggles and conundrums, yet find a happy medium in the process through the magic of art. In these two films, that artistic medium is film, and boy do I have a bias there. I felt like The Artist knew how to draw on an adult’s relationship to the classic movies of yore with a great tongue and cheek approach, while Hugo reminded me of those magical moments when you’re a kid and you first see those fantastical images on the giant screen in front of you.
5. Super 8
Okay, now I can see I might have a problem with really liking movies about movies. Oh well, I can’t help what I like! I was bummed to see that Super 8 got no love from any of the award shows, but this was definitely a summer highlight for me in terms of “popcorn movies.” Although I would argue it is much more than your typical summer fare, higher and above any other action movie that came out this year, with strong character development and an emotional core that gave it so much more depth than just being an alien/monster movie. That being said, it was also good suspenseful fun. And it had perennial favorite of mine Kyle Chandler in it and an impressive group of teenage actors. So it wins on multiple levels.
Honorable Mention: The Descendants (George Clooney and Hawaiian scenery showcase), Moneyball (simple and subtle), Shame (two words: Michael. Fassbender.), The Help (Viola Davis is superb), Cedar Rapids (a fun overlooked ensemble comedy), Friends With Benefits (a raunchy affair, but also sincere), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (a beautifully constructed finale to an exceptional series – but let’s try to forget how they all look 19 years later…)