With the Oscars right around the corner, the "Cinemasochist" Justin Oberholtzer reveals his top thirty films of 2011. Be sure to head over to the Freakin' Awesome Network to read more of his writing, as well as that of the entire crew.
30. The Other F Word
-This documentary focuses on punk rockers and their newfound fatherhood. Ousted by society as freaks and misfits, these rebels must cope with now being the authority figures. Simply put, it’s a funny, engaging look at parenthood through the eyes of those that aren’t expected to be good role models.
29. Win Win
-The always reliable Paul Giamatti turns in another fine performance as Mike, a part-time wrestling coach who takes custody of an elderly man. His trouble grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), lands on his doorstep after another fight with his mother. Taking him into custody, Mike discovers his true talent of wrestling and puts him on the team. This funny and heartwarming tale is a sweet little slice of life.
28. The Last Circus
-Alex de la Iglesia’s latest is a twisted tale of a sad circus clown, Javier (Carlos Areces), who gets entangled in a love triangle between Sergio (Antonio de la Torre) and his lovely girlfriend, Natalia (Carolina Bang). Faster than you can say “clowns are scary”, the film goes off the deep end into manic overdrive, which is why I loved it. It’s a lot to take in (especially the finale), but it’s well worth it.
27. The Last Mountain
-This eye-opening documentary focuses on mining operations in West Virginia and their disastrous effects on the communities around them. Local civilians fight back against Massey Energy Company, leading to some truly shocking abuses of power. “The Last Mountain” is this year’s “Gasland”.
26. The Trip
-Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play thinly veiled versions of themselves in this delightful comedy. When Steve is asked by The Guardian to tour the country’s finest restaurants for an article, he’s tasked with a dilemma. He can’t take his girlfriend due to relationship issues. Who does he take? He enlists the aid of his longtime friend Rob, who tends to get on his nerves. The two tour the country and share exuberant conversations from jobs to Michael Caine impersonations. A well-written script and cheery performances by Steve and Rob make this comedy a delectable treat.
25. Attack the Block
-Alien creatures invade a block in Southern London. Fighting back are a group of mouthy delinquents, as well as drug dealers and the female they mugged. Simple creature design goes a long way in this fast-paced, exhilarating sci-fi extravaganza.
24. Super 8
-JJ Abrams’ love letter of sorts to super 8 filmmaking and Steven Spielberg is a wildly fun sci-fi yarn. A group of adolescents film a train crash while shooting their latest zombie film. As strange happenings overtake the town, they investigate and get more than they bargained for. Incredible special effects (even with the unsatisfactory monster), tolerable and relatable pre-teens and tight direction make Super 8 an enjoyable popcorn flick.
-A by the numbers account of family turmoil mixed with MMA. It’s done so well that I simply didn’t give a damn about it’s clichéd nature! Nick Nolte plays the father of two distant sons. Joel Edgerton is a loving husband and father struck with financial issues; Tom Hardy is a former soldier drifting through life. Both enter a huge MMA competition and, lo and behold, wind up facing each other. The direction is focused more on the emotions of all three men, leading to quite a few tear-inducing scenes.
22. Certified Copy
-Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film follows author James Miller (William Shimell), who is doing a book tour in Tuscany. He meets a French woman named Elle (Juliette Binoche), who takes him on a tour of the town. A romance brews or does a pre-existing relationship stir back up? This romance challenges the viewer, but the chemistry between the two leads is what carries it. No matter what outcome you draw, the love story itself is beautifully told. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
21. Cold Fish
Here’s a movie that, on the surface, doesn’t sound that great. When Syamoto’s (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) daughter is caught stealing, rival fish store owner Murata (DenDen) generously forgives her and gives her a job. As time rolls on, Syamoto finds out the sickening truth behind the seemingly perfect life of Murata. It may not sound like much, but this tightly wound thriller is nearly perfect. It’s near two-and-a-half hour running time just flies by.
20. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
-This prequel to the classic “Planet of the Apes” is a smart and stylized dissection of man’s selfish power and the impending doom when nature strikes back. James Franco plays a scientist working on a cure to Alzheimers. When his testing goes awry and the experiment is shut down, he smuggles home his guinea pig, Caesar. Franco finds the cure and raises the ape. When he’s taken away and abused in a shelter, he forms an alliance with the other apes and stages a revolution. Jaw-dropping special effects and a stunning performance by Andy Serkis as Caesar elevate what could have simply been a cash-in revival.
-Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) have a one night stand after a night of partying. Attempting to make something serious out of it, the two men spend the weekend learning about each other and possibly falling in love. What’s refreshing about this film is that the director, Andrew Haigh, treats his characters like human beings and not homosexual stereotypes. This is a love story that just so happens to be between two gay men. It’s a wonderful one, at that.
18. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
-This hilarious and at times emotional documentary follows the late-night talk show sensation’s “Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour”. We witness candid shots of the funnyman in his natural demeanor, as well as his struggles with the anger and depression of losing the job he fought so hard to get. The film also deals with how he copes from being away from his family, his relationship with his co-workers and his love and admiration for his fan base. You don’t have to be a Conan fan to enjoy this film, though it certainly helps.
-Martin Scorsese’s latest film, his first family and 3D venture, adapts the Brian Selznick book to the big screen while implementing his own personal love letter to cinema, as well. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station. He befriends Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and the two set out to fix his father’s automaton. What they discover is the making of film itself. This magical tale is enchanting for both adults and children. Cinephiles such as myself will be drawn in deeper, due to the aforementioned love letter to cinema.
16. These Amazing Shadows
-This documentary is for the film fan in all of us. Documenting the importance and creation of the National Film Registry, Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton interview those working for the company and famous directors and stars of cinema. The reasoning behind a film’s inclusion into the registry, as well as the fight to preserve and salvage older film reels, make for an enriching watch. It’s easy to get lost in this one’s magic.
-Who would have guessed that a Nickelodeon animated film would be so much fun for adults and, especially, western fans? To much surprise, this Gore Verbinski film does just that. Johnny Depp voices the titular character, who is mistaken for a hero in a small, defenseless town. With humor the whole family can enjoy and enough nods to westerns from the likes of Sergio Leone, this animated comedy exceeds all expectation and is one of this year’s most surprising delight.
14. Horrible Bosses
-It’s hard for a comedy to hit all of the right notes. Once the story picks up, the laughs usually begin to subside. That’s not the case with this somewhat dark comedy about three disgruntled workers (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) who plot to murder their despicable bosses (Kevin Spacey, Collin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston). Once the film starts, the laughs begin and never end. The three leads have tremendous chemistry and their horrible bosses bounce off of them perfectly. This is the type of comedy I love. One that simply ceases to stop being funny.
-Mike Mills’ film about the relationship between a father, Hal Fields (Christopher Plummer) and his son, Oliver (Ewan McGregor), is quite wonderful and touching. Loosely based on his relationship with his father, Mills gently tells the story of Oliver’s feelings when he discovers that, not only does his father have cancer, but that he’s gay. He reevaluates his life and relationships, including his current one with Anna (Melanie Laurent). This simple story is told so elegant and sweetly that it’s hard not to fall in love with it.
-In the second most depressing film of 2011, Joseph (Peter Mullan) is nearing self-destruction. Not being able to cope with his rage and short temper, he finds an unlikely companionship in Hannah (Olivia Colman), a Christian shop owner. Her seemingly perfect life is actually quite dark. She has an abusive husband (Eddie Marsan) who treats her like garbage. The two new friends both struggle with their emotions in this deeply effective and gloomy dissection of depression and angst.
-In what has to be the most shocking entry on this list for me is this documentary on famed Formula One driver Ayrton Senna. Why is this so shocking? I have absolutely no interest in Formula One racing and am unfamiliar with Senna. That doesn’t matter, as Asif Kapadia’s documentary lays out his life story, rivalry with Alain Prost, his many championship wins and eventual tragic end. This is almost as gripping and involving as high-caliber fiction, if not more so. I went in with no interest or expectations, but came out loving every second of it.
10. The Artist
-This love letter to silent films is much more than that. It’s about the downfall of former star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), whose pride gets in the way with the transition from silent films to talkies. When Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) picks up the ball and runs with it, she’s transformed into Hollywoodland’s “It” girl. George watches on with jealousy and anger, as his plight becomes much more tragic. Despite this grim description, the film is also very cheerful and exuberant. John Goodman is wonderful as director Al Zimmer, as is James Cromwell as Clifton, George’s assistant. Nearly stealing the show is Uggie, George’s loveable dog. Done almost entirely in silence, this film takes a risk and it pays off.
-Leaving behind his persona as Ross Gellar from “Friends” and cementing himself as a serious director is David Schwimmer. His latest film tackles the treacherous subject matter of online predators. When Annie (Liana Liberato) is raped by an online predator, her parents, Will (Clive Owen) and Lynn (Catherine Keener), are stunned. When Annie reveals she’s in love with the man, Will nearly loses it in hunting him down and finding the reasoning, while Lynn simply tries to console her daughter. This could have easily slipped into “Lifetime Movie of the Week” territory, but Schwimmer’s solid direction and pacing keeps this film from sinking. As of right now, it’s the best film to tackle the subject matter.
8. Beautiful Boy
-Another film that tackles a heavy subject matter. This one being about a college shooting. More so, it’s about the aftermath of the shooting and the parents’ (Maria Bello and Michael Sheen) response to their son’s (Kyle Gallner) actions. As they dig deep to find the answers, they struggle with their marriage, blame themselves and fight the demons inside of them. This is the second film of the year to tackle this subject (the other being “We Need to Talk About Kevin”). In my opinion, this one is superior.
7. A Separation
-This powerful drama centers on the troubled marriage of Nader (Peyman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami). The wife wants a divorce, but the courts don’t deem her cause worthy. She wants to move out of Iran and have a better life for her daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhardi). When an incident occurs (which shall be kept secret), the stakes are raised and emotions run wild. This is a nail biter that kept me hooked until the end.
6. The Descendants
-A touching, real and honest observation on the death of a mother and wife and it’s effect on her family. George Clooney turns in one of the finer performances of his career as Matt King, a grieving widow-to-be who’s not only dealing with the stress of his wife’s death, but just now learning about her affair. He’s also dealing with a huge settlement issue that can effect the entire state of Hawaii, as well as raising and coping with his daughters, Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alexandra (Shaliene Woodley, in a breakthrough performance). It really is quite wonderful.
-This one may be a cheat in many people’s eyes, as most view it as a 2010 film. Despite having some Oscar nominations under it’s belt in last year’s awards spectacle, this wasn’t highly accessible for me until afterwards. I may have let it slide from appearing on the list if it wasn’t so damn good. It’d be a shame for me to leave it off of this list, considering how powerful it is. Javier Bardem plays a father who is stricken with cancer and is coping with his mortality, as well as his children growing up without him possibly being there. Even the supernatural elements play in nicely to the story. Just like “Cold Fish” it’s nearly two-and-a-half hour running time flies by.
4. The Skin I Live In
-Pedro Almodovar’s latest film is a twisted medical thriller that is strikingly original. Plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is haunted by past tragedies which play into effect on his current project, Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya). The reveal halfway through that ties everything together is nothing short of brilliant and is utterly shocking.
-The most depressing film of the year is made all the more unpleasant thanks to it being based on a true story. Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) falls in with his mother’s new boyfriend, Gavin (Bob Adriaens) and his flock of neighborhood watchmen. He turns out to be a violent sociopath who forces murder upon Jamie. This film is brutal, violent, unnerving and intense. Not for the squeamish.
2. The Tree of Life
-Terence Malick’s newest film is best related to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, simply in it’s cinematography and execution. His dissection of human life and our mortality is a beautiful and elegant film that is challenging, well acted and dazzling to look at. Some have questioned his choices (such as the dinosaurs), while others have embraced them. I’m of the latter.
-The film to take the coveted number one spot this year is one of the most loved. That’s for good reason, as Nicolas Winding Refn’s character evaluation of the Driver (Ryan Gosling) is tense and gripping. The Driver is a Hollywood Stuntman by day and getaway driver by night. When he is left with a briefcase belonging to Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman), his life and that of his neighbor/love interest Irene (Carey Mulligan) are in serious jeopardy. This isn’t a “Fast and the Furious” film, despite a few car chases being present. It’s a character assessment on top of being a crime thriller. It’s a near-flawless one at that.