I go to the movies a lot. Just about every week, in fact. Rather than just telling you the best and worst movies of the year, I thought it would be fun to rank every single movie I sat through in a movie theater in 2011. Here's the complete list.
Unlike professional film critics, I don't get to see every single movie that comes out every year, I just go to see the ones that I'm interested in and get decent reviews or that one of my friends drags me to or is playing at the Paris Theatre on a rainy night or has hot shirtless guys in it or is getting buzz in August when it is hot as hell and there is nothing on TV or, you know, whatever stupid reason it is I go to the movies all the damn time. Also, unlike professional critics, I paid my own money to see a vast majority of these movies. At $13 a pop, that is some mighty expensive research.
After wading through all my ticket stubs (how else do you think I kept track?) here are all the movies I saw this year ranked from best to worst. I can't wait to start collecting movies for next year.
S1. The Artist: This silent movie about the end of the silent movie era is rightfully on the top of many critic's top 10 lists and should be in contention for Best Picture at the Oscars. Not only is it a delightfully different way to watch a movie—something that modern audiences aren't used to—but it's a fun movie on its own, with a great cast of winning and game actors both French and American. What I found really magical about The Artist was that using a silent movie wasn't as much a gimmick as it was the perfect way to tell a story that is really about our age. Movies are fascinated about people left behind when movies went from silent to "talkies" because that is all of us these days. We're all left behind by not joining Facebook or Twitter or Foursquare or not getting a tablet or a smart phone or something implanted in our brains to search IMDb for us so we don't have to remember which movies character actors were in on our own anymore. We are constantly being made obsolete by the technology that comes out every year. That is why this is a triumph, because it is about us all, and it took the oldest of mediums to show us the most modern of conditions.
S2. Weekend: A very close second, this movie (that I already gave a rapturous review) was not only a spot-on insight into the modern gay milieu, but a very real and natural take on romance and romantic movies in general. It's the saddest thing I saw all year, but nothing gave me more hope.
S3. Melancholia: Yes, this movie has its flaws and I have a hard time buying into Lars von Trier's nihilistic outlook on life, but I didn't see a movie that had a more visceral effect on me all year. Maybe it was the stark and realistic way he handled the apocalypse, maybe it was his insight into a woman with crippling depression, maybe it was Kiki Dunst's remarkable performance, or maybe it was all of those. Whether or not you buy into von Trier's worldview, you can't dispute that he has some interesting ideas.
4. Beginners: Emotionally resonant and structurally complex, Mike Mills' look at a young man falling in love after his father's death and father coming out of the closet just before being diagnosed with cancer speaks to people at every stage of their lives. The always wonderful Christopher Plummer (who should be getting more Oscar buzz, especially this late in his career) and Ewan McGregor were perfectly matched as father and son, and this found a way to make a twee love story and a talking dog (yes, really) not seem gimmicky at all.
S5. Bridesmaids: I ideologically rushed out to see this on opening weekend just so that we'd have more comedies with funny ladies in the Cineplex. I was delighted that the ladies were especially funny and not only because they can do gross out humor as well as the boys, but because the funniest bits—like Kristin Wiig and Rose Byrne's one-upping speeches, Wiig's Annie going berserk at her best friend's shower, and everything Mellissa McCarthy did—were things the boys club of comedy would never even dream up.
S6. Bill Cunningham: New York: This sharp, crisp documentary about the New York Times photographer was good when it was showing his place at fashion shows, society balls, and on the street taking photos, but it was at its best when looking into a buttoned-up man's inner life and crazy working habits. Media doesn't make men like Bill Cunningham anymore, so it's best to capture them while we still can.
S7. Cedar Rapids: There is something to be said for perfect execution, and that is just what happened here, in this delightful comedy about a man (Ed Helms) who leaves his small town for the first time for the slightly bigger Cedar Rapids, and learns some hilariously hard lessons. Everything about this is pitch perfect and clever without being overly quirky and sentimental.
S8. The Names of Love: This is one of those French movies I saw at the Paris theater because I love that place and nothing else was on TV, so why not? It turned out to be one of my favorites of the year. Basically it's a love story between an older conservative French man and a younger liberal woman who has sex with conservative men so that they'll convert their political beliefs. He's hiding that he's a Jew and she's hiding that she's an Arab. Both political and passionate at the same time, this is the romantic comedy every studio in Hollywood should be trying to make.
S9. Drive: Yes, this was missing Ryan Gosling's abs and any sort of performance from Carey Mulligan, but it deserves to be at the top of the list for the font alone. I wasn't so big on this movie when I first saw it, and thought that the violence and blood was comical. Then I decided that, maybe, was part of the point. Then I was into it and it's overly-stylized look at genre. Way to go!
S10. Tabloid: Gawker hosted a screening of this Errol Morris documentary about a crazy beauty queen who kidnapped a Mormon and kept him as his sex slave. Yes, you couldn't make this story up, and it's something that has to be seen to be believed.
11. Hugo: Everyone is doing 3D these days, but no one is doing it as well or with such verve as Martin Scorsese. Marketed as a kid's movie, this is really an old man's version of what he thinks a kid should see. It's basically a cinema history lesson in shiny wrapping paper, but the paper is really fucking awesome. Now, if only someone would come in and tell Scorsese when he's being self-indulgent and letting the narrative go slack.
12. The Muppets: I'm never a huge fan of nostalgia, but if you're going to do it, at least drag an old brand into the modern age with some meta humor, camp, catchy songs, and a joke about "fart shoes."
13. Rise of the Planet of the Apes: It's not a good idea to praise anything that James Franco has done, but this action movie was smart, interesting, and unlike anything you've ever seen. That you forget that the "apes" are almost entirely created with computers is part of what makes it amazing.
14. The Debt: This movie was marketed as a thriller in both the past and the present about a bunch of Israeli spies covering up an unspeakable lie. That is what you get, but what it also delivers is an action movie centered around Rachel (played by both the ever-present Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren) and her quest to set the past right. You'll see their lie coming from a mile away, but the ending is still remarkable.
15. X-Men: First Class: As you can see from this list, I'm a huge fan of comic books and the movies they spawn, especially the X-Men. While this wasn't as good as the first two movies, and has plenty that will drive X-Men die-hards bonkers, it's a quick moving yarn that gives us what we want to see: mutants using their powers in pretty special effects scenarios. Oh, and Kevin Bacon as a villain! Amazing!
16. Double Hour: I'm still not sure what to make of this Italian thriller that is both a love story and a crime movie at the same time. The fact that it's like Russian nesting dolls made out of mobius strips is what makes it so fun.
17. Crazy Stupid Love: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling's abs, Marisa Tomei in a great character part, a former America's Next Top Model contestant, and a twist you will never see coming: what's not to love (well, maybe the cloying ending, but otherwise...).
18. Thor: The narrative is as thin as Natalie Portman's wrists (pre-baby, natch) but Kenneth Branaugh's take on the super-hero tale gave it a Shakespearean dynamic of fathers vs. sons played out in an extra-planetary otherworld an in down-home America. Bonus points for introducing us to walking god Chris Hemsworth.
19. Midnight in Paris: I'm not a huge Woody Allen fan but banking that this will be nominated for at least a few Oscars, I checked it out. It's good, but not as great as the rapturous reviews would have you think. As a treatise about the nostalgia trap, though, it's quite good. Now if Woody Allen would only stop making movies that belong in the '70s.
20. The Descendants: Sure to mop up at Oscar nomination time, here is a another movie I thought was overly lavished with praise. While this story about George Clooney and his cutesy family dealing with his wife's coma was heartfelt and funny at moments, I also felt it was sloppy (what happens to the voice over?) and a little overly simplistic. Also, Judy Greer continues to be wasted by Hollywood. Poor thing. Also, I didn't think Clooney was that great (there, I said it) and I didn't see how the storylines about his wife and losing his family land came together in a meaningful way. Damn, maybe this should be lower on the list.
21. Super 8: If you can't figure out what the big secret in Super 8 is before the final act, then you have never seen a movie. Still this pitch perfect walk into a nostalgia trap is the perfect summer movie for remember summer movies when summer movies were better than summer movies are now. If only it was more concerned with making summer movies for a new generation instead of rehashing all the old ones.
22. The Skin I Live In: There is as crafty or chilling as Pedro Almódovar, but this was a matter of style over substance. The plot hums along interestingly, but there is no point other than creating a burnished melodrama for its own sake.
23. Young Adult: Charlize Theron gives a magnificent performance of the most comically unlikeable person you ever met. This was missing the trademark Diablo Cody wit and repartee and would have been much more enjoyable with a few more jokes and a character that had even a glimmer of hope.
24. Blonde Crazy: This 1931 James Cagney flick was part of a "pre-code" retrospective at Film Forum. It proves that you don't need CGI or anything else fancy to make a successful comedy, just game actors, some good gags, and a story about grifters that's as good now as it was then. Some things are timeless.
25. Paul: Every sci-fi nerd in the world should see this funny gem of a film about a pair of British nerds who find a real alien and the adventure they go on. The plotting is a little ludicrous, but so is the subject matter. This is reverent and winning from start to finish, though nothing revolutionary.
26. Potiche: This campy woman's lib remake of a '70s flick feels a little dated, but Catherine Deneuve playing a kick-ass housewife who finds her voice and gets revenge on her philandering husband is well worth it.
27. A Dangerous Method: Want to find a way to make kinky sex boring? Try this Freud and Jung biopic that is the longest 90 minutes I ever spent in a theater. It's only saved by some great performances by Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, and Keira Knightley.
28. Certified Copy: You'll never figure out what is fact and what is fiction in this fraught pas de deux between William Shimell as a writer and Juliette Binoche as a crazed fan (or is she)? Maybe a little too experimental for its own good, but ambitiously different.
29. Shame: Michale Fassbender's dick is huge. Also, sex is unsexy and Carey Mulligan can sing good. But for all the pathos of a sex addict trapped in a weird relationship with his sister, it still rings hollow.
30. We Need to Talk About Kevin: In my mind, Tilda Swinton can do no wrong, and that includes playing a chilly and conflicted mother in this strange psychological thriller that is more structurally and visually arresting than emotionally vibrant.
31. The Help: A pretty film with some great actresses acting their hearts out to great effect, but, man, what a slog. This could have used some tightening up all around and a pace brisker than the fanning-yourself-on-the-porch-drinking-sun-tea languish it got.
32. Green Lantern: Gorgeous to look at for five minutes and then preternaturally dull. Oh, I was talking about Ryan Reynold's abs.
33. Hanna: I get it, this is supposed to be an action movie for smart people, but it just wow me. Actually, I fell asleep. Cate Blanchette makes a good Big Bad Wolf, but she needs a hero worthy of her snarl.
34. Captain America: In a worse year for comic book movies, this might have been higher, but with a better historical action movie (X-Men: First Class) and one with more emotional depth (Thor) this just looked pat and mediocre. Though, still some great action sequences.
35. Sherlock Holmes: There's nothing wrong with good, stupid fun, even if it is 15 minutes too long (and the theater where I saw it didn't have any heat).
36. My Weekend With Marilyn: This is like a bad Vanity Fair profile come to life: bloated, self-indulgent, nostalgic, oblique, and more concerned with celebrity than emotional truth. Michelle Williams continues to be an acting marvel, however.
37. The Immortals: Eye candy so sweet that it will give your brain a cavity. At least it doesn't try to be more than it is, though.
38. The Eagle: Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell rolling around shirtless in the muck is always fun. This whole movie isn't horrible...for imperialistic, pro-war propaganda.
39. The Man Who Fell to Earth: There are some great ideas hidden in the undecipherable '70s classic, but, man, is this a pretty mess. I do want to own every outfit Bowie wore in the movie, though.
40. Carnage: What works on stage doesn't work on film so when Roman Polanski took Yazmina Reza's play without altering and just filmed it in a Brooklyn apartment, the result is a dreadfully airless flop. The only reason to see this is the amazing square light fixture on the mantle.
41. The Illusionist: The Triplets of Belleville was a delightful, dialog-free animated movie. This is by the same writer/director/animator, Sylvain Chomet, but this story of a man's love for a young girl is dour, confusing, and completely inexplicable. A shame such great imagery was wasted on this stinker of a story.
42. Somewhere: Yes, Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation was a great movie, but there was no reason to go remaking it about a man lost in Hollywood trying to connect with his daughter. What was original and inventive the first time around just seems forced, aimless, and trite when you do it again.
43. I Don't Know How She Does It: I don't know how Sarah Jessica Parker made a movie this awful or how anyone approved this script. I also don't know how Olivia Munn is the only character who gets any laughs. I mean, Olivia Munn!?
44. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame: This historical Chinese action movie was like trying to watch a bunch of dandelion seeds blowing in the wind: every time you tried to follow one thing, you were distracted by another and lead off in an entirely different direction. The visuals looked cheap and, if I remember the ending correctly (I sort of fell asleep) it has an anti-feminist bent. If this is the best China has to offer, in 50 years when they take over the world, cinema is doomed.
45. What's Your Number?: Chris Evans takes off his shirt. A lot. I've repressed the rest of this Anna Faris comedy.
46. Transformers: Dark of the Moon: I'm still pissed I paid money to see this. The plot was a complete afterthought and implausible even by stupid action movie standards. The 3D made your eyes hurt, and there was no articulation at all about the robots or how they moved or transformed. The whole thing was just a shiny blur. But the worst thing about the whole movie? When it was over, the audience actually clapped. Ugh.