The Best Films of 2011

Yes, I’m woefully late. In fact, if everything goes as plan, this will be posted mere hours before the Academy Awards. Oh well! That just means you won’t have to wait long to see how utterly crap my predictions are. Last year I did this as a two-parter, but since I’m already running late, we’re going to shove it into a single post. First up, the list of my favorite movies of 2011. Following that, my Oscar predictions. Without further ado, and in no particular order….

My Favorites

The Artist – Smart money’s on The Artist to win ALL OF THE THINGS! so let’s go ahead and start there. It’s great. It’s unique — a mostly-silent film about a silent film actor, the effortlessly charming George Valentin, who’s suddenly not as effortless when those new-fangled talkies start making waves in the film industry.

Jean Dujardin, a French actor who I’ve never seen in anything else, is friggin’ fantastic as Valentin. I don’t want to spoil anything for the prediction section … so I won’t. But Dujardin makes the film. The cinematography is similarly excellent — some really beautiful shots. The editing, directing — all top notch.

If I have one qualm, it’s that the story is somewhat simple. Not that there’s anything wrong with a simple story, but the film hints that it could have been somewhat more layered. Near the beginning of the film, Valentin has a dream that’s suddenly audible to us, the audience — and, to his terror, to him as well. I feel like director Michel Hazanavicius missed a chance to carry that metaphor through the rest of the film. But even so, The Artist is thoroughly enjoyable.

Midnight in Paris – I think I liked this movie more than I should — more than nonwriters would. Seeing Ernest Hemingway chatting with Gertrude Stein is almost as fantastically satisfying as seeing Thor smash a Frost Giant in the face with Mjollnir.

On the surface level, there’s not a huge amount of story here. Guy’s writing a book. Gets inspiration by imagining (or perhaps not?) writers of old giving him advice. Guy finishes book and learns a bit about life. But the sheer brilliance Woody Allen employs in the relationships between the various artists, and the intriguing (if not-too-subtle) grass-is-always-greener theme, make this a joy to watch, and Allen’s best film in years.

The Help – The Help got a lot of criticism for whitewashing (pun-intended) history, and that’s a fair point. But on some level, a good story is more important than getting every detail right. And The Help is a great story.

Yes, we get a little bit too close to “White angel” syndrome here, but I think the key difference between this and, say, The Blind Side, is that Emma Stone’s character in The Help is simply a mouthpiece — she just helps to make these women’s voices heard. And that’s generally the main thing privileged allies for underpriviliged people are expected to do.

The acting is the most important part, here. Viola Davis is fantastic, of course, but Octavia Spencer makes the movie for me. I think I laughed harder at her performance than at most of the comedies this year.

Super 8 – WHAT? Yes, like Tangled last year, Super 8 is my “dark horse.” While the wife wasn’t impressed, I found J.J. Abrams’s love song to Steven Spielberg entertaining as hell (and, ironically, infinitely more entertaining than Spielberg’s own War Horse, but then, what isn’t).

Super 8 has everything you could want — aliens, explosions, adorable children (who can actually act!). It’s E.T. on steroids — in fact, I have a suspicion that Elle Fanning is actually Drew Barrymore’s bastard child.

While Abrams still doesn’t seem to know how to handle giant monsters (Cloverfield wasn’t shown/explained enough, while Super 8’s creature is explained too much), it doesn’t hurt the movie enough for me to dislike it.

I’d like to again mention that War Horse was terrible.


Moneyball – Rounding up my favorites is something rare for me — a sports movie. But it’s a sports movie where the sport is somewhat tangential. This isn’t about the kid with a heart of gold fighting adversity, though it is sort of an underdog story. Instead, it’s about statistics, and any story that can entertain while simultaneously showing that, guess what, math is real and has real power — well, that’s a good movie in my book.

Brad Pitt is fantastic as always, imbuing Billy Beane with a subtle humanity that’s interesting, but not overdone. Jonah Hill (excuse me, Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill) is great as the nerdy number cruncher, and I think he’s proved to everyone that he can do more than make dick jokes. Philip Seymour Hoffman did a great job as well, and I’m surprised he didn’t get more attention for this (in fact, he probably deserved the Supporting Actor role over Hill).

Honorable Mentions
The Descendants – Great acting all around — from Clooney, which is expected, but also from American Teenager Shailene Woodley. The fact that Woodley didn’t grab a Supporting Actress nomination is definitely on my snub list this year. That said, I thought the script was weak — the film spent way too much time on the tangential land grant plotline, and the resolution was both predictable and lacking in motivation.
Source Code – While not pure Science Fiction perfection like Moon, Duncan Jones’s followup is seriously underappreciated (I blame wonky marketing). It’s a classic Twilight Zone-esque time-travel story, but with a few interesting philosophical twists that elevate this movie above your normal Hollywood SciFi fodder. It’s not movie of the year, but it’s definitely worth checking out.
Contagion – The flaws with this movie are evident from the trailer: too much narrative distance, too many characters, Jude Law is super annoying. And yet, amidst the problems, Contagion manages to be entertaining, tense and occasionally thought-provoking.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – I’m including this because, in my opinion, it’s superior to the Swedish version in nearly every way. Now, of course, some of that is simply due to a higher budget. But Fincher’s eye and pacing also make it a far more interesting and frightening film.


So after some thought, I’m going to switch this up. I’ll highlight what I think the Academy is going to choose — and if I disagree, I’ll note that in the text below. As before, any movie highlighted in red is one I haven’t seen.
Best Original Screenplay
The Artist
Margin Call
Midnight in Paris
A Separation

 I think Midnight in Paris clearly takes this, as it should. The writing, especially the dialogue, is exceptional. And while The Artist has several strengths, the screenplay isn’t really one of them, in my opinion.

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Descendants

The Ides of March

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Given the buzz, I can’t see the Academy giving this to anything other than The Descendants. I disagree — personally, I thought Moneyball was far stronger.

Best Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
I’m pretty sure Apes will get it, just to give at least a slight nod to Andy Serkis’s performance (which absolutely deserved a Supporting Actor nomination). Also, Dark of the Moon’s nomination is a travesty. The Transformers movies are a great example of how not to do visual effects. You can get the same performance by shaking a bag of metal and filming it.
Best Sound Mixing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

There’s not a whole lot to say about this category — The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made excellent use of audio. And Transformers is a cacophony of pain.
Best Sound Editing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

I still find it funny when a movie gets a Sound Mixing nod, but not an Editing nod. Like, was Moneyball’s sound mixing appreciably better than its editing? I guess so. In any case, I’m giving this to Dragon Tattoo as well.
Best Original Song

“Man or Muppet,” from The Muppets

“Real in Rio,” from RIO
Seriously? Two songs? Just cut the fucking category if you’re not even going to try. Obviously The Muppets wins this — I can say that without even seeing RIO, because Bret McKenzie is a god.
Best Original Score

The Adventures of Tintin

The Artist
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse
After all the drama with The Artist’s score, I doubt the Academy will touch that. John Williams is great, but War Horse is terrible, so it’s very possible that Tintin wins the award. But I’m going to guess Hugo, ’cause Howard Shore’s pretty great also.
Best Makeup

Albert Nobbs

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
The Iron Lady

It’s possible they’ll throw a bone to Harry Potter to recognize the series, but I think Albert Nobbs did a better job, and I think it’ll win.

Best Film Editing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


The Descendants

The Artist

Another interesting one … both The Artist and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had great editing. But since they didn’t nominated Dragon Tattoo for Best Director (and since editing and directing are very closely connected), I’m going with The Artist.

Best Director

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)

Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
The Descendants (Alexander Payne)
Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)

Best Director goes hand-in-hand with Best Film. Spoiler! I think Hazanavicius deserves the win.
Best Cinematography

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Tree of Life
The Artist
War Horse

Tough choice, man. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had some excellent shots. But in the end, I think The Artist went above and beyond.
Best Animated Film


Kung Fu Panda 2
A Cat in Paris
Puss in Boots
Chico & Rita

Sad. Kung Fu Panda 2? Really? Seriously, though, Rango was great. It will win.
Best Supporting Actress

Berenice Bejo, The Help

Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Very competitive category this year. Bejo (who should be nominated in the Best Actress category, honestly), McTeer and Spencer all have very real chances to score here. My heart is with McTeer, as she blew her performance out of the water. But my gut’s going with Octavia Spencer, without whom The Help wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining.
Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
On the flip side, I feel like the Supporting Actor category is not particularly competitive. None of these roles really stood out to me. I think Nolte takes it, though Plummer has a strong chance to win as well.
Best Actress

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Viola Davis, The Help

Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
Great performances, all, but Rooney Mara really should win. She was brilliant. I think, though, that they’ll give it to Viola Davis — who is nearly equally as deserving.
Best Actor

Demian Bichir, A Better Life

George Clooney, The Descendants
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Jean Dujardin, The Artist 
Dujardin’s the clear winner. It’s almost unthinkable to me that anyone else could win, as great as the performances were.
Best Picture

The Artist

The Descendants
War Horse
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
The Artist takes it, as well it should. Good night, show’s over, tip your waitress. The Help was great, I enjoyed Midnight in Paris, The Descendants, Moneyball, Tree of Life was … interesting, War Horse was terrible (did I mention that?). But in the end, The Artist was something special. It wins the night.

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