2011 IN REVIEW: The Film Misery Staff Top Ten

There has been some great variety among the various top ten lists posted by Film Misery staff over the last few days. Just for fun I thought it might be interesting to gather a consensus opinion among all of us based on the rankings within our respective lists. I lined up all six lists and assigned each movie a point based on its ranking. A 1st place ranking was worth 10 points, 2nd place was 9 points, 3rd place 8 points, etc. Below I have assembled the top ten along with the blurbs from whichever writer had that particular film ranked the highest on their list. I must say, I’m rather pleased how things turned out.

All Film Misery Top 10 Lists

Film Misery Staff Top Ten List

9) 50/50 (tie) – 13 points

“Speaking of films that made me cry… This one caught me totally off-guard. As a person who fears death with about every fiber of my being, I have a certain discomfort about watching movies about young people getting diagnosed with cancer. After hearing nothing but raves, I finally cracked and saw it. Within ten minutes, I realized I’d been avoiding something special. 50/50 is a wildly quirky romp that is more about the people that surround you when you have cancer than it is about the disease itself. Will Reiser wrote the masterful screenplay about his own experience getting cancer at age 27 at a time when he was writing for Saturday Night Live. Seth Rogen was really his close friend at the time, so Rogen is essentially playing himself. Everything in the film feels equally as sincere and close to the heart of the event as possible. Joseph gordon-Levitt gives a sadly ignored performance that hits many comedic and dramatic notes right on the head. But as I mentioned before, it is everything around him that makes the film really fly. He has a bad girlfriend, a friend obsessed with getting laid, elderly pot-headed fellow cancer victims, a dog, and a neurotic mother. Each character and each scenario presented in the film is touching and hilarious. By the end of the film, my eyes were red, but I wanted to stand up and cheer. It’s that kind of movie. Once again, I’ve written too much, but when the film isn’t playing an excellently selected song to suit the moment, Michael Giacchino has composed a simple but moving score to fill the gaps.” — Davin Lacksonen

9) Shame (tie) – 13 points

“Steve McQueen’s second feature proves that he is a director that will consistently blow us away. His films are about as far from accessible as films can get, but they are gloriously directed and uncomprimising in the face of harsh material. Shame is the kind of film experience that I can only compare to Requiem for a Dream. But it is both artistically and narratively superior in believability, ambiguity, and sympathy. This bleak tale about sex addiction is a fearless voyage into the darkest corner of private shame. Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan both give best of career peformances, equally displaying new sides of their versatility. In long takes, the viewer can’t help but be forcibly drawn into the film and the tragedies of an unknown sadistic past. The staging is richly complex and the cinematography keeps up every step of the way. Every detail of this movie is captured with precise characterization and dramatic effect. I left the theater shaking. Whether I like it or not I consider this to be the unflinching artistic masterpeice of the year. It’s not a film I suspect I can watch on a regular basis, you’d have to be masochistic to do that. But I know I will find myself returning to it reliably because it is a film that pushes the one’s boundaries just to watch it.” — Davin Lacksonen

7) Weekend (tie) – 14 points

“The reason why so many “gay romance” movies fail on a very fundamental level (like Miles Swain’s 2002 film The Trip or the truly terrible 2008 film Breakfast with Scot) is that you get a sense that deep down, all that is really being recounted is a straight people’s romance with the love interests getting swapped out for members of the same sex; nothing about the generic formula, or the essence of the romance, feels suited specifically to a same-sex couple or the sexual politics implicitly linked to their identities.

The reason why Andrew Haigh’s Weekend works so terrifically is because the two lovers at its center read like actual gay men: people who have spent their lives having to come to terms with a dissident sexual identity in a way relatively few straight people have to worry about. As a result of this approach, romantic interests Glen and Russell are far more human, and it is much easier to buy in to the specificity of their romance. And since that specificity rings true, it is much easier for anybody who has ever had a romantic or sexual relationship – gay, straight or otherwise – to identify with the story being told.” — Justin Jagoe

7) The Tree of Life (tie) – 14 points

“This visual and narrative opus from one of the greatest working auteurs creates its own greatness. By allowing so many different viewers to walk away with such rich and varying experience, the film allows itself to be whatever the viewer needs it to. It raises enormous questions dealing with old religion versus new religion, creationism, evolution, parenting and loss of innocence, yet it never points the viewer in a particular direction. It’s a film that gets absorbed rather than just watched and has inspired some of the best conversations about movies from this year. Bonus points for having the best presentation of a dinosaur ever put to film.” — Alex Carlson

6) The Skin I Live In – 15 points

“Pedro Almodovar’s brilliantly twisted film raises questions on gender identity, experimental medicine, and torture. Those deep, life affirming themes certainly do not bog the film down, however. The Skin I Live In is dirty fun more than anything else with a twist that is so fantastically creepy that it somehow feels very satisfying. As a crazy surgeon, Antonio Banderas’ character executes one of the most detailed and graphic revenge plots that so consumes him that he comes to forget who the monster he just created really is. It’s B-level horror elevated to Grade-A filmmaking and one of the best of Almodovar’s recent work.” — Alex Carlson

4) Bridesmaids (tie) – 16 points

“Nothing movie related this year irritated me more than the constant comparisons of Bridesmaids to the movies in The Hangover series. Granted, this was fueled at least a little by the film’s marketing – it’s hard to blame producers for wanting a piece of that $277 million domestic – but it quickly became a frequent and lazy analog for critics and moviegoers. The Hangover is an pretty funny movie with a compelling mystery hook, but little in the way of clever wit, careful thought, or emotional substance – all of which are found in Bridesmaids.

It’s astounding how much I loved this movie, given it features so prominently two of my least favorite SNL cast members in recent years, Kristin Wiig and Maya Rudolph. Free of the grotesque caricatures they’re normally saddled with, they project very heartfelt, warm characters. These are women who are actually funny, instead of being given a bunch of motormouthed Gibberish to clue to the audience that they’re supposed to be funny (cough*Juno*cough). Also, bless this movie for breaking Mellissa McCarthy free of the standard rom-com sister-in-law roles it looked like she was going to be stuck with post Gilmore Girls. And for introducing the charming Chris O’Dowd to Americans like me who weren’t familiar with The IT Crowd. Bridesmaids is the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time, and deserves a little extra credit – since like that old saying about Ginger Rodgers, it has to do everything other comedies do, but in heels.” — Casey Malone

4) Hugo (tie) – 16 points

“I absolutely adore Brian Selznick’s captivating children’s graphic novel-picture book-flipbook-straight-up book-thing The Invention of Hugo Cabret. To say that I had lost faith in the film leading up to its release would be a considerable understatement. But as word begin to come out after its surprise appearance at the New York Film Festival, my hopes began to rise. By the time the film had its U. S. release, it was clear that not only had Martin Scorsese revolutionized 3-D filmmaking with his eye-popping full-focus photography and stunning tracking shots, but that the film was sincere love-letter to cinema. Seeing this film brought tears to my eyes on more than one occasion. It’s just a beautiful film in practically everyway. And it’s a side of Scorsese that we’ve never seen before. That’s not to say his thematic attraction to it isn’t apparent. But it is awesome to see his traditional flares as a filmmaker remain consistent as he stretches his visual boundaries as well as his storytelling powers. This was probably my favorite theater-going experience of the year. Utterly enchanting.” — Davin Lacksonen

3) Midnight in Paris – 26 points

“A recurring theme you have no doubt heard on end of the year summaries is that 2011 was a year of nostalgia. If I am to pick a film that best represents nostalgia in 2011, however, it has to be Woody Allen’s magical return to the form that brought us classics like The Purple Rose of Cairo. Allen cleverly references artists and authors that we all learned about in High School English class and hopefully have grown to appreciate as adults. He then propels the protagonist and the viewer forward with a simple ending that suggest the present is the best place to be. If those opening shots of Paris don’t sell you on the beauty of the city than the carriage ride to the Belle Epoque most certainly will.” — Alex Carlson

2) Certified Copy – 29 points

Certified Copy, among the very first films I saw in 2011, does not inspire hyperbole like other films on my list. It doesn’t boast the magnetic style of Drive, nor does it share The Tree of Life’s confounding ambition. It is not as searing in its romance as Weekend nor is it as sentimentally meta-textual as future Best Picture winner The Artist. Yet I knew throughout the whole year, even as I was watching all those films (and dozens more), how little chance they had of toppling Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s masterpiece as my very favorite of the bunch. Quiet and calculated in its structure yet insightful on levels movies so rarely are capable of conveying, no other 2011 film so stimulated both my intellect and my deeply jaded heart.

Certified Copy starts off as a wryly enjoyable polemic on the function and legitimacy of art, following two intellectuals (the great William Shimmell and the incredible Juliette Binoche) on the Tuscany countryside as they debate their ideas and assertions. Following a critical moment in the film’s middle, however, their discussion takes a turn, and the nature of their relationship begins to meld indistinguishably with the primary discussion at hand. Our sense of what is and isn’t real wavers as a result.

If you look for an answer to the riddle proposed at the center of Certified Copy, you risk losing focus of the film’s true emotional core, which frankly lies within the riddle itself. Yes, the movie is about art. But it is also about our relationship with art, the role art plays in influencing our perceptions of truth in this world and the role that very same truth plays in defining the relationships that surround us. Certified Copy is more than a high-concept experiment. It is instead about the vitality of expression, the urgency of relationships, and the attempt to capture the essence of the countless emotions life is capable of evoking. No single hyperbole, not even “Best Movie of the Year,” will ever be able to encapsulate all of that.” — Justin Jagoe

1) Drive – 41 points

“Often I have the hardest time writing about movies I really love. How can I describe in words the moody tension and neon beauty of Drive as well as Nicholas Winding Refn did melding sound and images? How could I convince you of the mystery, romanticism, and threat of Ryan Gosling’s Driver that he couldn’t do more thoroughly by glancing up from his toothpick?  Drive is as close to a perfect film I saw this year, a staggering Neo-Noir masterpiece full of characters whose exaggerations are classically cinematic.  No one is as strong and silent as the Driver, no one as pragmatically sinister as Albert Brooks’ Bernie Rose. These archetypes stretch back decades in film, and the intense, subtle performances both men bring to the parts ground them and remind us why these kinds of characters are so enduring.

The direction and soundtrack are equally bombastic, a blaring synth-pop audio canvas on top of reflected neon Los Angeles. All this beauty is matched by the graphic, unflinching violence that fills the second half of the movie. I struggle to find more words to describe Drive beyond perfect, but everything feels cliche – sparse, rivetting, etc – when I could offer to you that you should see Drive. As my favorite movie of 2011, I have been counting the days until the Blu-Ray release, when I plan to see it again. And likely again. And again after that.” — Casey Malone

As a staff overall, how did we do?

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  • Joseph Bridges

    I always like seeing what people liked and what inspires their choices. That is a pretty good list all in all. I would have loved to seen 13 Assassins, Of Gods and Men, The Arbor, The Trip, Bellflower, Take Shelter, and Senna show up a few more times on your guy’s lists, but this list is very reflective of a populous vote amongst good critics who give well though out criticism.

  • a perfect list overall but i really wish you guys should have seen A Separation, i think The Skin i Live in wont be this much high if u have seen that one. But overall i say superb. The Artist and The Descendants missing too !!! but i liked that 50/50 made it along with Shame and The Tree OF life.

    • ‘A Separation’ doesn’t open in most of our cities for another week. Hence the lack of inclusion on most lists.

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