Making year-end “best of” lists is a love/hate activity for me. While I nerdily relish any opportunity to somewhat arbitrarily rank things in list form, I am always left with the woebegone feeling that so much worth mentioning is getting left out. Masterpieces generally happen when amazing performances gel with amazing filmmaking, but as we all know, often some of the year’s best, most riveting performances aren’t necessarily in “great” films. And even a turd of a movie may still have a brilliant or awesome scene in it. So here is a hodgepodge of some of my favorite things from 2011 cinema, to serve as an addendum to my Top 15 Films of 2011.
- Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw (X-Men: First Class)
- David Carr as himself (Page One: Inside the New York Times) — Given that this is a documentary, Carr isn’t giving a performance in the typical sense. But he is an all-consuming presence, and definitely giving a presentation of himself.
- Min-sik Choi as Kyung-chul (I Saw the Devil)
- Dominic Cooper as Uday Hussein/Latif Yahia (The Devil’s Double)
- Jean Dujardin as George Valentin (The Artist)
- Ryan Gosling as Driver (Drive)
- Woody Harrelson as Dave Brown (Rampart)
- Rutger Hauer as Hobo (Hobo With a Shotgun)
- Gorô Inagaki as Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira (13 Assassins)
- Eric Jacobson as Miss Piggy/Fozzie Bear/Animal/Sam Eagle (The Muppets)
- Michael Lonsdale as Luc (Of Gods and Men)
- Hunter McCracken as Young Jack (The Tree of Life)
- Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud (A Dangerous Method)
- Gary Oldman as George Smiley (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
- John C Reilly as Dean Ziegler (Cedar Rapids)
- Tilda Swinton as Eva Khatchadourian (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
- Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary (Young Adult)
- Marisa Tomei as Kate (Crazy Stupid Love)
- Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre (Jane Eyre)
- Kristen Wiig as Annie Walker (Bridesmaids)
- Rainn Wilson as Frank D’Arbo (SUPER)
- Shailene Woodley as Alexandra King (The Descendants)
Best Collective Performance:
- Michael Fassbender (Jane Eyre. A Dangerous Method. X-Men: First Class. Shame.)
- Jessica Chastain (The Help. The Tree of Life. The Debt. Coriolanus. Take Shelter.)
- Conan O’Brien and his assistant Sona Movsesian (Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop)
- Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (The Trip)
- Jean Dujardin and Uggie the dog (The Artist)
Best Combined Effort Performance:
- Andy Serkis and Weta Digital’s creation of Caesar (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)
- Birth of the universe/Evolution of life sequence. (The Tree of Life)
- Sync sound nightmare. (The Artist)
- Ultra-slow-mo destruction prologue. (Melancholia)
- “The Rainbow Connection” telethon number. (The Muppets)
- Lieutenant Chad’s meta opening monologue. (Rubber)
- The sandstorm chase in Dubai. (Mission Impossible 4)
- Twist ending revelation. (Final Destination 5)
- Maurice the orangutan reveals he knows sign language. (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)
- “A momentary relief from the existential terrors of existence.” Aka, the “Under Pressure” climax. (Happy Feet 2)
- Freud and Jung’s first meeting. (A Dangerous Method)
- The elevator kiss and de-facing scene. (Drive)
- Trip to the Moon flashback. (Hugo)
- The leaning skyscraper set-piece. (Transformers 3)
- Magneto and Sebastian Shaw’s final face-off. (X-Men: First Class)
- The banjo-“Flight of the Valkyries” canyon chase. (Rango)
- Ares’ mass-decapitation-by-hammer slaughter. (Immortals)
- “Let’s Talk About Me.” Tex Richman’s rap song. (The Muppets)
- The Woman finally gets free and seeks vengeance. (The Woman)
- Mavis’ pivotal chat with Matt Freehauf’s sister Sandra. (Young Adult)
- Caesar says “No.” (The Rise of the Planet of the Apes)
- Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 — The existence of Twilight was all made worthwhile for me by a drunken viewing of this most unwaveringly ridiculous film of the year. Both overcooked and undercooked in all the wrong places, with grotesque body horror, no plot, and embarrassing attempts at levity peppered throughout. It is perfectly stupid.
Film Most Likely to Spark a Debate:
- Bellflower – A friend of mine very aptly described this no-budget love-it-or-hate-it oddball as “frathouse arthouse.” I’ve heard people call it ‘brilliant,’ others call it ‘misogynistic,’ others call it ‘unwatchably bad.’ I’d say that for those who appreciate what goes into making a movie, it is one worth viewing, regardless of your reaction.
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes — This movie had no business being so good.
- The Lincoln Lawyer — Television has completely killed the old school procedural film, but this unexpected lil’ gem suggests hope isn’t totally lost.
- Winnie the Pooh — Don’t let your inner cynic keep you away, this reboot is a warm fuzzy blast of goodness.
- The Woman — While I’ve never disliked Lucky McKee, I also wouldn’t have called myself a fan. I would now.
- The Green Hornet — Chalk this one up to inverse hype; I’d heard so many bad things about the film going in that I was pleasantly surprised by what an entertaining and inventive film I found.
- Paul — Someone get Edgar Wright back together with Frost and Pegg, pronto.
- Your Highness — While I laughed at much of this movie, the jokes were too spread out; I expected more from McBride and David Gordon Green.
- Cars 2 — Call me a Pixar bitch; I thought this film might be a step up from Cars, not a step down.
- Conan the Barbarian — I knew enough not to expect high quality, but “dumb fun” seemed reasonable; this is one of the most inert films I’ve seen in years.
- Sucker Punch — A rare film that managed to be worse than the bad hype I’d already heard; this is the Image Comics of cinema (good visual artists sometimes need to stay far away from the writing process).
Films I’m Pumped For You to See in 2012:
- Bullhead — Belgian gangster film with your soon to be new favorite character actor, and presumably future Mission Impossible or Bond villain, Matthias Schoenaerts.
- A Boy and His Samurai — New high-concept rom-com from Yoshihiro Nakamura.
- Sleepless Night — French action-thriller; American remake already in the works.
- Sleep Tight — Slyly disturbing French thriller-dark-comedy.
- Headhunters — Norwegian action-thriller with Game of Thrones‘ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau; will presumably also get a remake soon enough.