The Best Movie Critic + tintin

Ben's Best of 2011

So what I'm posting my Best of 2011 list two weeks into 2012. Stop breaking my balls. My list of the best movies of 2011 includes more imperfect movies than any respectable top ten list should, simply because they were the movies I had fun with. The ones that excited my imagination or hit me personally. My top 3 will not be particularly surprising nor exciting. What can you do?

I’m struck, looking back at my top movies of 2010 list, at how many great movies with radical ideas are on that list. 2010 shoved the future in our faces. I find no movie this year as exciting or dangerous as last year’s Summer Wars, Splice, Four Lions, Dogtooth, 127 Hours, and Black Swan. In 2010 we looked forward to a diverse world, where the old rules of how to exist were changing. Odd, then, that 2011 is almost uniformly a year in which movies looked backward into the past. Over half the movies on my top ten list are explicit homages to other eras of moviemaking, looking back at the good ol’ days. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but after 2010’s cold shower of progress, 2011 feels an awful lot like a warm bath of nostalgia.

Nevertheless, the movies of 2011 featured some great work by talented artists. Perhaps in 2012 we can all get back to the business of the future, but for now…


A surprising last minute addition, A Dangerous Method is profoundly underrated. Far too often, sexual movies hide a conservative message behind their racy subject matter. While Dangerous Method is not the raciest movie I’ve ever seen, its sexual politics are truly radical, which, considering that David Cronenberg does little more than accurately and calmly present the 100 year old theories of Jung and Freud, is actually sort of depressing. I wish we as a society could say that we’ve moved past a psychoanalytic understanding of our relationship with the world rather than merely ignoring it. Cronenberg’s quietest movie perfectly parses out the incongruences between our words and actions and the disconnects between our conflicting desires. A Dangerous Method is the quietest existential crisis imaginable, and manages to push past its Merchant-Ivory set dressings to be the most progressive and mature movie of the year.


Speaking of existential crises... I’m not the world’s biggest Alexander Payne fan, but The Descendants is his most likable movie yet, while still offering up some nuggets of hard earned truth and also simply being a very well put together production. I am lucky enough in my life not to have had to deal with the death of someone close to me. I’m frankly terrified of the idea. I honestly don’t know if I am strong enough to deal with it. The Descendants is populated with characters that are likewise not prepared for death in their lives, trying to cope day to day with life going on. Payne doesn’t go for the big tears. Rather, the movie feels more like the moment after a big cry when you take a deep breath and try to figure out how to get your shit together. The pain is still there, but you’re alive and you have to keep moving. The Descendants features what is probably a career best from George Clooney, along with a justly-lauded performance from newcomer Shailene Woodley.

That’s right. A four-way tie. None of these four movies is perfect, but damn it all, we got some spectacular action in 2011! Whereas the last decade was defined by poorly imagined, confusingly executed, and totally inconsequential action sequences, this last year has blessed us with no less than four movie that figured out how to do it right. Rango’s escape from the bat-riding hillbilly mole people, Fast Five’s train heist, Tintin’s airplane hijacking and Bagghar chase sequences, and best of all, Brad Bird and Tom Cruise’s tour de force action-suspense magnum opus, Mission Impossible’s forty-five minute long Dubai sequence. They say that action movies aren’t what they used to be. These four movies prove ’em wrong.


This documentary charted a wide festival circuit this year and will deservedly receive theatrical distribution in the first part of 2012. New Jersey-raised NYU grad of Hindi decent Vikram Gandhi sets out to expose new age gurus by becoming a false guru himself. As he delves deeper into the character, however, Gandhi finds himself making real connections with his followers and genuinely desiring to help them better their lives. Gandhi learns as much about himself as the people he fools, and the looming reveal of his true identity gives Kumare an unavoidable ticking time-bomb. Emotional, cathartic, and suggestive, Kumare blew me away.


Kristen Wiig really is the funniest female comedian in as long as I can remember, and definitely in the running for funniest person around right now regardless of gender. It’s a miracle that this movie works as well as it does. There’s nothing deep or profound to mine for here, just some flat-out hilariousness that will have you rolling on floor with laughter.


I imagine I’m the only person to feature Haunters on my top ten list. The Koreans Scanners-esque superpower story is just a big heap of pure fun from front to back. The suspense and danger ante up scene after scene relentlessly. No subtext, just an impeccably told yarn about a guy who can control people with his mind and the one guy he can’t control. See this movie.


Back during South by Southwest, Attack the Block went from obscurity to genre favorite in a matter of days. I even saw it at the festival itself, just later on, and even after one week’s worth of buzz it couldn’t help but let me down. At that point, Citizen Fucking Kane couldn’t have satiated me. Thankfully, I liked the movie enough to see it again upon general release, and boy what a difference a few months to cool the hype makes! Attack the Block is not the loudest, biggest blockbuster. It’s a small movie, but every single second is well used. Every payoff is perfect, the character arcs complete without being overwrought. There’s a reason that everyone compares this to high-period John Carpenter, but I would go so far as to say that besides The Thing, Carpenter never made a movie this air tight.


Since its June release, Midnight in Paris has received hyperbolic praise followed by vicious backlash followed by more heaps of praise in a never-ending cycle. As much of a headache as Woody Allen’s latest masterpiece has become in film-discussion circles, when you actually watch the damn thing it’s just a great, charming movie. Late period Woody isn’t aiming for the bleachers any more, but his calm confidence has landed him more twilight successes than any other octogenarian director I can think of. Midnight in Paris is part ode to the great Modernists of the early twentieth century, part farce, part rumination on happiness, expectation, and perspective. That the whole proceeding plays out light as a feather is to Woody Allen’s credit. The movie has a general vibe of life well lived that is dangerously appealing.


Drive floored me, for the exact same reasons it floored everyone else. Albert Brooks is terrifying. The car chases are the even better than those in Fast Five. The soundtrack is immaculate; the movie gets extra kudos for being the first studio picture to use artists from the Italians Do It Better roster. I always hated Ryan Gosling, but even I have to admit he was perfect in this movie. Also, as if I needed more confirmation that Carey Mulligan is my favorite young actress working right now. Yeah, that’s about it. Drive delivered everything I look for in a movie, executed perfectly.


Yup, Hugo. As I said earlier, nothing particularly surprising or iconoclastic about the top movies on my list this year. Even though every parent I’ve spoken to about this movie says that their kids wouldn’t be interested in it, I think Hugo is the most radical, essential kid’s movie to come out in years. I was inspired by the way Scorsese rewards and encourages learning and passion in his young heroes. Hugo is not about restoring the status quo; it’s about striving and struggling to realize the fullest extent of your potential. [SPOILER] At the end of the movie, when Ben Kingsley’s Georges Melies addresses the audience at his first retrospective with, “Tonight I address you as you really are: wizards, mermaids, travelers, adventurers, magicians,” it is a challenge to each and every member of the audience, those of us who may have settled in life, given up on our dreams, to pick the baton back up. We have one life to live, and we were meant to do something spectacular with it. Scorsese, through Hugo, demands that we all rise to the challenge, no matter how great the obstacles may be. This is perhaps the greatest lesson fiction can teach us, and more than worthy of a place at the top of the list of the best movies of the year.

A bunch of runners up, in no particular order:

Hanna, Shame, The FP, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Tree of Life, Patang, The Trip, 13 Assassins, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Le Fee, Vacation!, The Innkeepers

Movies I didn’t see that are on everyone else’s lists:

Martha Marcy May Marlene, Melancholia, A Separation, War Horse


adventure, attack the block, best, best of 2011, Bridesmaids, dangerous method, Drive, fast five, favorite, haunters, hugo, kumare, midnight in paris, mission impossible, Movie, rango, review, the decendants, and more:

Ben's Best of 2011 + tintin