2011 in Film: A Year in Review Introduction

By Jordan Magrath

This will be Part 1 of 5, which will attempt to review this year in movies (to the best of my abilities).  Here is the schedule (tentative dates):

Part 1: Introduction/Themes of 2011 (today)

Part 2: “Best Of” Awards (January 3)

Part 3: Top 25 Movies (January 11)

Part 4: Oscar Predictions/Thoughts (Mid-February)

Part 5: Oscar Coverage/Future (Late-February)

First of all, I’d like to admit that, as of now, I have seen exactly 52 movies from this past year.  By this year, I mean movies that became available during 2011.  There are some titles that could technically be considered 2010, but if it didn’t get a wide release until 2011, I am just going to consider it a 2011 film.

Unfortunately, I have missed a lot of great films.  Among those films are: “The Artist,” “Take Shelter,” “Shame,” “The Descendants,” “The Skin I Live In,” “The Interrupters,” “Senna,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 2,” and many more I’m sure.

However, with a sample size of 52 films (1 per week), I think I’ve got a pretty good gauge on the overall state of film in 2011, which was disappointing to say the least.  Without trying to discredit the top films too much, I felt like this year’s top tier films couldn’t touch last year’s.  By the end of last year, I was leaving some quality films off of my top 10, including “Exit Through The Gift Shop” and “127 Hours” because the competition for the top 10 was pretty heated.  This year, I feel pretty confident with what I consider the top-tier movies, but I don’t find any film this year to be in contention for Best of the Decade come 2020.

That isn’t to say that this year was complete failure, though.  In general, 2011 had some interesting themes.  Here is what went right:

1) Comedies

2011 beat the crap out of 2010 in comedies.  From top to bottom, we had some genuinely funny movies, such as “Bridesmaids,” “Cedar Rapids,” “The Muppets,” “Tower Heist,” (surprisingly) and “The Trip.”  We also had some darker comedy hits such as “50/50,” “Attack the Block,” “The Guard,” and “Hesher.”  I also need to champion the films “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” and “Horrible Bosses,” as they were also pretty funny.

2) Autobiographies

Some of the best stories of the year revolved around autobiography or biographical events.  In autobiography, we had two awesome films (although they are still highly overlooked) in “50/50” and “Beginners.”  Either written or directed by the man behind the story, each one captures the emotions flawlessly.  Broadening the scope, films such as “Moneyball,” “Margin Call,” and “The Tree of Life” have aspects of autobiography or truth-based events, with all of them being pretty good films, at the least.

3) Homage

While plenty of films, over the years, deal with classic cinema, there was plenty of winking and hat-tipping to past generations in 2011.  “Hugo,” and “Super 8” were both cinematic love letters to the forefathers of film.  Also, “The Muppets,” was a nostalgic comedy about those poor Muppets we’d all forgotten about.  Lastly, from what I’ve heard and read about “The Artist,” there was plenty of nostalgia here, too.  If anything, this year served as a way of paying homage to the past.

4) Performances

In terms of actresses, last year had some great performances, but the gap between 1st and 5th place was pretty wide.  Maybe this was because Natalie Portman’s “Black Swan” performance was magnificent, or maybe it was because this year raised the bar.  Without giving away my favorite performance of the year, all of these actresses are worth mentioning: Brit Marling (“Another Earth”), Melanie Laurent (“Beginners”), Kristen Wiig (“Bridesmaids”), Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg (“Melancholia”), Elizabeth Olsen (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”), and Tilda Swinton (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”).  There are still plenty of other movies out there, too.

The male performances were good as well.  However, it was the year of Ryan Gosling and Michael Fassbender.  Appearing in three different movies (“Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “Drive,” and “The Ides of March”), Gosling nailed all three roles, which were all so different.  Michael Fassbender appeared in four movies, although I only got to see one (X-Men: First Class).  Likewise, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“50/50”, “Hesher”) and Brad Pitt (“Moneyball,” “The Tree of Life”) were able to play vastly different characters in their films, and deserve credit for a busy year.

5) Indie Films

This one is more of a no-brainer, since every year there is a plethora of overlooked, small-budget films.  This year, though, showed just how great some of the limited release films can be.  While some utterly terrible movies make it to wide release (and make millions of dollars), filmgoers have to go out of their way to uncover the hidden gems.  This year this included, among others, films such as “Another Earth,” “Attack the Block,” “Beautiful Boy,” “Beginners,” “Hesher,” “I Melt With You,” (debatable) “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Submarine,” and “Win Win.”  Again, I’m probably leaving off dozens more.

When looking back at 2011, hopefully we’ll remember some of the high points, such as the things I’ve mentioned above.  It was a funny year, with some great drama, filled with good performances.  However, some may remember it as the year of the disappointing action movies (save a few), low box office numbers, and a general lack of cinematic punch.

Look for the “Best Of” awards that will be coming next week…

2 comments

  1. Great review of the year! I agree completely with the films I got to see. My personal favorite was, and I was excited to see you add it, Beginners. Great performances all around, and beautiful cinematography, adding another Focus Features film to my top list.
    I’m stoked for the next parts!

    Sincerely, Your favorite and only reader.

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