Top Ten Movies of 2011

I love movies. I love the art of film more than any other art form and I love discussing this art form. That’s why I spend time reviewing and discussing movies on this site. What I love more than reviewing though is making top ten lists. Don’t get me wrong, I love reviewing movies, but it is so fun to- from time to time- not just establish why I liked or disliked a film, but to also discuss a film within the context of other films. I haven’t posted a top ten list in a while (Top Ten Horror Movies) because I’ve been preparing for this list.

I look forward to posting a top ten list every year that allows me to discuss my favorite films of that year. I will say that this was a pretty lackluster year. It felt like a year in film where my favorite directors weren’t working. And that’s completely true; the Coen Brothers didn’t make a film this year for the first time in four years, Tarantino’s western, Django Unchained, is coming in 2012 as is my most anticipated movie of 2012, Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. However, like any year no matter how underwhelming it was, 2011 still offered a handful of films that I could not live with out. This is a list celebrating those films…

10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was not the masterpiece that I had hoped for. I can’t ignore the fact that I did get a lot of enjoyment out of this film though. This is a tale of espionage that needed to be told and what you get in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, instead of relentless action is a bleak and enthralling examination of loyalty, betrayal and what a man will do to carry out his duty.

9. Hesher

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is simply brilliant as the title character. This is dark comedy filled with anarchy, vulgarity and rage. Hesher is able to stand above a lot of black comedies and its of my favorite films of the year for one reason, it has a lot of heart. Initially, it can be ones first reaction to be as apathetic as the title character, but by the end you can’t help but care about these characters.

8. Moneyball

It’s rare for me to find a sports movie that really loved, but Moneyball is one of those exceptions. This film certainly didn’t affect as much as almost every other film on this list. Nevertheless, Moneyball is such a fantastic film all around that it was hard for me not to put it even higher on my list. Also, there was a lot of drama in this story for me because I- unlike most- had no idea how the events would play out.

7. 50/50

50/50 is quite the memorable film. It’s easy to remember if only for the way it mixes hilarious comedy with tear jerking drama. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives his best performance in a career of great performances. 50/50 offers up a completely unforgettable experience that’s more than comedy or drama that can make you laugh at times and cry at others. It’s a film I can’t wait to watch again because it is simply and unquestionably amazing.

6. Attack the Block

If you would’ve asked me five months ago what my favorite movie of the year was I would’ve said with out a doubt in my mind, Attack the Block. It just misses my top 5 because this year offered most of its glory in its final months. Attack the Block, unlike most films with similar subject matter, takes itself completely seriously. Instead of just throwing aliens in the mix, Attack the Block has a coherent and interesting plot. Joe Cornish’s first film is spectacular.

5. Shame

With Shame, director Steve McQueen looks at ideas of addiction, family and self-hatred through the unbelievably mature character study of a sex-addict. Michael Fassbender gives the greatest male performance of the year as main character, Brandon Sullivan. Shame takes the glamourous world of sex and shows exactly what it can be. Without hesitation, this is the most emotionally draining film I’ve seen in a very long time and I loved every single powerful minute of it.

4. Bellflower

Bellflower is a film that left me absolutely speechless. It was a film that stuck with me long after I watched it and the more I think about it, the more I find it extraordinary. The story is unique, fascinating and one meant to be savored, the interactions in this film are deliciously and incredibly palpable, the imagery can be beautiful and at other times be haunting, but  most of the time the film manages to blend the two together. That’s what happens when you mix ideas of apocalypse and love. There is a lot to take in when it comes to the film Bellflower and it’s truthfully something to experience for yourself.

3. Beginners

Beginners is a completely charming film about the moments and people that make life worth living. At its heart Beginners is a love story, but the drama isn’t in whether or not this man and woman will fall in love, it’s in whether or not these two can actually take a leap of faith and believe in love. Past the love story, Beginners has so much more to offer. This is an unbelievably breathtaking film about who we are and what makes us that way. While Beginners is incredibly meaningful, the filmmaking is gorgeous and the acting is flawless. All this to say, Beginners is and always will be a one of kind masterpiece.

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher is an amazing director and my favorite to have made a film this year. Practically everything he makes is a masterpiece and yes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is just that. Fincher is able to shine bright with dark tales of killers (SE7EN, Zodiac), but he is able to even surpass those two brilliant films with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo merely because there is more emotion and subsequently an attachment to the characters at hand.

Rooney Mara gives the greatest performance of the year, hands down, as title character Lisbeth Salander. Salander is damaged, she’s strong, she’s dark, she’s layered, yet she has a soul and Mara plays the character to perfection. There are so many pieces to this story, aside from just Salander, and Fincher manages to blend these pieces together to make for a relentlessly beautiful cinematic experience that never fails to keep you invested and entertained.

1. Drive

Drive is profound film the offers up the definition to the word, masterpiece. When it comes to film, a masterpiece should be a piece of art because cinema is a beautiful art form and one that needs films like Drive to serve as a reminder of that fact. It’s not enough to just be technically beautiful though, a true masterpiece needs to be entertaining. A true masterpiece needs offer a form of escape because at the end of the day, that is the point of film. Drive is truly a masterpiece and the best film of 2011.

Drive proves that the way one tells a story is just as important as the story itself. From a filmmaking stand point, director Nicolas Winding Refn has made a perfect film. Both the mood and tone of the film are defined and never tarnished, each moment is made memorable through elegant editing and cinematography, the music is phenomenal, the violence is grotesque and somehow fitting, but what’s truly breathtaking is in the way the film seamlessly flows from one mesmerizing moment to the next.

I won’t even mention a single performance because it would be an insult to mention one performance without mentioning every single fantastic performance in this film. Drive has the ability to be so much. It can be thrilling, it can be heart felt, it can be tense, it can be inspiring, it can be dramatic, it can be frightening, it can be glorious, it can be gorgeous, but what it never stops being most of all is riveting. Drive is a masterpiece that flawlessly blends substance and style and resonates with the ideas of exactly why we go to the movies.

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Top Ten Horror Movies

This is a list I made a long time ago and looking back over it, I realized it definitely needed some touching up. I truthfully believe that I’ve matured not only as a movie viewer, but as a horror movie viewer since my last attempt at this list and it took me a long time to figure every finite detail of the list out, but I finally did it and right in time for October too.

There is a lot to take into account when it comes to Horror. Like any top ten list, I looked at the films not only for their entertainment value, but also from the view point of the filmmaking and the artistic aspects. With horror though you also have to look at how well the film succeeds in exactly what its trying to do, not just be a great movie, but be a great horror movie. That’s why you might find a movie like The Silence of the Lambs not exactly at the spot you’d expect because it may be one of the best movies on the list, it most certainly isn’t the best horror movie.

One last thing before I get into the list; I have a few honorable mentions. I was  displeased with the fact that I was not able to include four movies onto my list of “Top Ten Horror Movies”. After much moral and discomfiting debate I finally decided on ten films and these four just happened to unfortunately missed the mark. This is of course just one mans opinion and I could completely see why someone could put these films not only on a top ten list, but among the top three.

The first film is just a personal favorite of mine, “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon”. This is the best example of combining both the horror genre and the comedy and it just barely missed my list. The other three are the ones I’ll get the most ridicule for. Three films that are amazing and just missed the mark for me are Jaws, Psycho and The Exorcist. All are great films that just list my list of “Top Ten Horror Movies”. I’ve been rambling long enough though so with out further ado here’s a list of my favorite horror movies…

10. The Hitcher

The Hitcher is an often overlooked and under appreciated horror and I’m oblivious to the reason because I love this movie. This is the slasher movie that should be praised over “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th” because behind the despicable antagonist you find a weathered villain looking for a way to go out in glory and in the films protagonist you’ll find a brilliant transformation from innocence to courageous.

9. 28 Days Later

Whether you want to call 28 Days Later a zombie movie or not, no director has ever executed a similar idea with such intensity, artistic flair and overall respect for the exact story they were trying to tell. And yes, by similar idea, I mean zombie movie. 28 Days Later fantastic in the way it never strays from its decrypted path and keeps you involved and craving more until its pitch-perfect ending. It truly is an unbelievably fascinating movie.

8. Insidious

Yes, Insidious, the movie that just came out months ago made it onto my list of the greatest horror movies of all time. The reason is simple, Insidious is a relentless journey into the dark and one that attempts to scare you not by showing a man chopping off someones leg with a chainsaw, but by showing you the things that go bump in the night. Insidious is a spectacular and enthralling roller coaster ride that shows truly great horror can still exist today.

7. Saw

It’s unfortunate that the original Saw may very well be the movie that instituted the idea that in order to make a horror movie now, it must include torture and disturbing gore. That’s strange because the original Saw, aside from the leg sawing, wasn’t nearly as brutal, not too mention awful, as its sequels. Unlike  its  sequels and the films it may have inspired, the original Saw is phenomenal. Where it has its moments of twisted terror it never fails to entertain. It is a staple in the genre of horror.

6. The Silence of the Lambs

While writing a review I usually save this word till the end, but I want to make this as clear as possible; The Silence of the Lambs is masterpiece. It has so much on its palette and has so much to offer and not all of it pertains to the genre of horror, so it barely misses the top five because it’s probably the second of third best movie on this list, but that’s not to say it’s among the best horror movies on this list. The Silence of the Lambs is however amazing in its portrayal of real characters in a horrifying story.

5. Halloween

To put it as bluntly as possible, Halloween is the greatest slasher movie ever created. The sub genre of the horror genre, slashers, as of lately has become some what of a joke with the overly sexualized main characters and the outlandish gore. Halloween is not the first slasher movie of all time, but this original horror masterpiece isa large part of the reason the sub genre, slasher, is so well known today. All other slasher movies should’ve taken note, because this slasher, with the amazing tension, the claustrophobic suburban atmosphere, the villain, is magnificent.

4. Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity is an unflinching excursion into the heart of terror and though modern it is justifiably one of the greatest horror movies ever created. Paranormal Activity is the most realistically executed ghost story ever put on screen and it works. It’s the little things that are the scariest, the door moving, a shadow in the form of a man, something falling in another room, etc. The film is brilliant in the way that it builds and builds, intensifying with each coming night, until the film comes to an end and it’s clear that you’ve just watched a masterfully crafted horror film  in every way imaginable.

3. The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project is incredible, unequivocal in its craft, and unquestionably one of the greatest horror films in existence. If this was a list of top ten scariest horror movies, there would be no doubt in my mind that The Blair Witch Project would be number one. A horror movie might make you jump, it might make you squeamish from the gore, but rarely will a horror movie, just due to the events that transpire, instill the idea of actual fear and stay with you long after. Incredibly and terrifyingly, The Blair Witch Project is able to do just that. There is no other horror film that is as unsettling in its realism, beautiful in its simplicity and distinguishable in its terror. The Blair Witch Project is simply magnificent.

2. The Thing

The Thing is an unbelievably remarkable horror film that combines isolation, fear, paranoia, extraterrestrial terror, flame throwers, a hero who belongs in an action movie, and much more. The Thing for these reasons, among many others, easily finds its way into the top two of my favorite horror films ever made. The Thing, though being a remake (widely considered one of the greatest remakes in existence), manages to be completely original in the way that it’s a monster movie, only the thing of it is, this monster or “The Thing” has the ability to morph into its prey after killing it.

Once this idea sets in for both the characters in the film and the audience you slowly begin to realize that no one can be trusted and you have to expect the unexpected. These ideas are utilized flawlessly because the story is respected, yet told with such zest. Even though this is film about an alien that transforms into humans, it finds a way to be as real as possible. The characters have purpose yet can’t be called caricatures, the transformations, instead of happening in the blink of an eye, seem grotesque and mutilating, and the plot follows a well-thought out path that fits into the events that transpire before your eyes. John Carpenter is quite possibly the greatest director in regards to the horror genre and this is his masterpiece.

1. The Shining

Stanley Kubrick is unmistakably one of the greatest directors to ever work in cinema. He’s put his uniques spin on so many genres whether that be comedy, war, period piece, sci-fi, drama, heist and I could go on. It was with in one of the most under appreciated genres in film, that he made has magnum opus. Kubrick made so many amazing movies and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find films like A Clockwork Orange or 2001: A Space Odyssey at the top of a list in regards to Kubrick movies, but for me it’s by far The Shining. The Shining is Kubrick’s best and not only the best horror movie ever made, but one of the greatest movies ever made.

Whether you’re looking at The Shining from the view point of a young boy dealing with the consuming darkness at hand, a man’s decay into madness in part due to isolation and writer’s block, but it also might have something to do with the ghosts, or your looking at the film as a simple haunted house story set in the perfect location, you really can’t go wrong. The Shining, like no other film, epitomizes the very idea of horror. The film is epic, it’s beautiful, it’s compelling, yet behind all that it is quintessentially nightmarish.

You don’t even have to be a lover of horror films when it comes to The Shining either. Yes, The Shining is first and foremost a horror movie, but all and all, fundamentally, it is an extraordinary movie through and through. I mean, at the end of the day, isn’t The Shining just a masterpiece about a father and son trying to connect? No, not at all. I did get one part of that statement right though, The Shining is a masterpiece. I love every aspect of The Shining and there was never a single question as to whether or not it would find a place right here as my favorite horror movie of all time.

Insidious Review

Insidious is, to put it as simply as possible, a breath of fresh air. It’s a film that breaths life into a genre’s darkest hour. Insidious is proof that spectacular horror films can still be made today. It’s a true trip to a haunted house and leaves you with chills running down your spine long after. It’s a fascinating and horrific excursion into the dark abyss and I loved the ride. Insidious is a horror movie in every sense and other horror filmmakers should take note because they could learn a thing or two.

This is a film that’s reminiscent of the films that made showed the genre exactly how awesome it could be, films like The Exorcist and The Shining. It’s clever, yet simple and at the same time, contrary to some opinions, it feels extremely fresh in its execution, plot and form. Insidious is a film filled with the kinds of things that you’d imagine as a child and if they were real, would scare the living hell out of you as an adult. It seems almost childish and corny by it’s very nature, by due to the style and execution, it never fails to express maturity.

Insidious is a horror film created by people who know exactly what a horror movie should be. A horror movie’s job isn’t to see how many gallons of blood it can spill in grotesque ways. It’s job is to scare you and not just make you jump (yes a horror movie should do that and Insidious does that constantly), but also just make the very idea of being in the dark by yourself seem like an insane one. You never know who or what is lurking in the shadows. A horror movie scares you and your friends on a friday night because feeling fear is fun.

Insidious does its excels in its job with flying colors. Sure you could point out some corny parts, but even The Shining had a bear giving a butler a blowjob. You could look at any of your favorite movies and find some problems, but who cares?! The question isn’t, “what’s wrong with that movie?”. The question is, “Did you have a good time watching this movie?”. I for one had an awesome time watching Insidious.

Grade: A-