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Monday, January 23, 2012
My favorite films of 2011

The other day, Molly Knight and I were chatting on Twitter when we both realized how much each other loved the films of 2006. That happened to be my first fall working full-time at Variety, and it was a spectacular one for the movies, led by "Little Children," "United 93" and "The Last King of Scotland."

All three of those films would rank ahead of my favorite film of 2011, using the system I designed long ago. It's a system that is decidedly personal, because film is decidedly personal.  I don't think there's any such thing as a "best" film, but only a "favorite" film, because what we bring to a film and what we desire from it is so idiosyncratic.  Here's how I explained the system back then:
Ambition (1-7): How much the film is taking on, in subject matter and in filming challenges? For example, is it offering both a romantic story and social commentary at once? How difficult was the film to make technically? This allows one to distinguish between two equally well-made films when one is Casablanca and the other is Animal House. Ambition isn't the be-all and end-all, but it allows some extra credit to be given where it is due.

Quality (1-10): This is essentially how most films are graded - simply, how good are they. As objective as I can be, how well do I think the film succeeds in achieving its ambitions?

Emotional resonance (1-13)
: How much did the film affect me personally. This category gets the most weight because it's the most important - I'd rather see a flawed film that touches me than a technically perfect but emotionally stultifying picture.

Just to give you a quick idea of how this works, here are the scores of my favorite films of all time.

The Misfits: Ambition 5, Quality 9.5, Resonance 13, Total 27.5
Casablanca: Ambition 6, Quality 10, Resonance 11.5, Total 27.5

Both are great movies in my mind, with Casablanca being objectively better and The Misfits being the most powerful to me emotionally. Now, there probably aren't 10 people in the world who would consider these films equals, but that's the whole point, isn't it? This system helps us rank our favorites without trying to say that they're definitively the best.

And, for comparison, down near the bottom of the scale ...

The Bad News Bears Go To Japan: Ambition 1.5, Quality 2, Resonance 2, Total 5.5.

During my single days, I rated nearly 600 films using this system before it fell by the wayside. But I decided to hurriedly resurrect it to knock out the films I saw that were released in 2006. You'll see that list below.

Two last quick points: I wouldn't get caught up in single-point distinctions - those don't amount to a significant difference between films. In fact, each time I look at the list, I feel like tinkering with some of the grades.

The other thing is that in the past, an average film totaled about 16 points, which means that I did pretty well in what I saw this year. I honestly didn't feel that I saw a truly awful movie from 2006.

Now while I didn't see a movie in 2011 that I would rank ahead of the best of 2006, I did see plenty of good ones in a year that matched up well with 2010 – along with one truly awful, despicable one. So here, the day before the Oscar nominations are revealed, is my list for the past year ...

1Beginners49.510.524A wonderful grown-up multi-person love-and-loss story, perfect in tone.
2tThe Artist4.591023.5I know some don't get the fascination with it, but I found it simply winning.
2tMoneyball48.51123.5Some unnecessary missteps on the baseball side, but a really affecting story of a man at war with himself.
2t50/504910.523.5Sincere and meaningful, with some genuinely brilliant touches
5Martha Marcy May Marlene491023They should have gotten her treatment sooner, but otherwise, really strong, intense movie.
6tHugo49922An involving, well-executed ride. Got kids interested in origins of film, which was very cool.
6tA Separation49922"Carnage" for grownups. Serious themes and believable stakes.
8tThe Descendants489.521.5Too much voiceover and lag early on, but hits home hard in second half.
8tThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo498.521.5Pretty riveting, and enjoyed Mara and Craig greatly. Didn't like the Villain Explains It All ending much.
10tTake Shelter48921A sincere depiction of the confusion that comes with mental illness, with tremendous work by Michael Shannon
10tWin Win 3.58.5921Good entertainment, fun and unique story.
10tWarrior48921Except for its detour into conventional ESPN sports movie midway, very well-done.
10tThe Guard3.58.5921Sharp and entertaining, a good companion with "In Bruges."
14tTinker Tailor Soldier Spy3.59820.5Well-executed (though as challenging as anything to follow) and Oldman is amazing.
14tA Better Life47.5920.5Earnestness is mostly well-earned. Bechir is great. The gang stuff feels a little staged.
14tThe Help3.58920.5Solid storytelling that mostly feels familiar and not groundbreaking. Liked the performances.
17tA Dolphin's Tale47920After a somewhat rough start, I got swept up in the film despite (okay, maybe because of) its earnestness.
17tMidnight in Paris 48820Rachel McAdams' disaster character harms an otherwise smart ride.
17tRio3.58.5820Fun. This and "Gnomeo" are underrated as far as this year's animated movies.
20tRango3.58819.5Cool in its way but the story didn't completely enthrall me.
20tTyrannosaur38.5819.5Searingly intense with great lead performances.
22tHigher Ground47.57.519Slow-starting but kicks into something kind of unique.
22tCrazy, Stupid, Love37.58.519Fun but not special. Feel-good movie.
22tGnomeo and Juliet38819See "Rio."
22tJane Eyre38819Few complaints of this adaptation.
22tThe Tree of Life47819The ambition, care and commitment are evident, but I couldn't make all the connections the movie wants me to.
22tYoung Adult47.57.519On the edge of too unsympathetic, but overall it succeeded, and performances were great.
28Hanna387.518.5A good exciting ride. Ronan is awesome. Cate Blachett's Texas accent, not so much.
29A Dangerous Method47718Good elements, but didn't come together as an impactful movie.
30tCarnage37.5717.5Only partially successful adaptation of the play, with many of its strengths but more of its artificiality.
30tShame 36.5817.5Didn't dislike it, but we end up basically where we began.
32tThe Muppets36817You know, the plot wasn't much, but I enjoyed it.
32tThe Adventures of Tintin37717A good adventure built around a bland, bland central character.
32tCedar Rapids37717Lightly fun, mostly unassuming comedy.
35tCowboys & Aliens36716Kind of a mess, but I didn't mind all that much.
35tKung Fu Panda 236716Movie didn't hold me.
35tWe Need To Talk About Kevin36716Well-meaning, well-acted, but with serious flaws and lack of insight
35tThe Iron Lady37616More strange than entertaining.
39tJ. Edgar3.56615.5Not bad but not reveletory, kind of dull. Not once did I feel the actors disappeared into their roles.
39tMargaret35.5715.5Promising start derailed by contrived shrillness. Needed much more nuance.
41tAlbert Nobbs45615Well-intentioned but with inexplicable plot and character choices.
41tBridesmaids36615Melissa McCarthy as good as advertised, but otherwise almost as overrated as I thought "The Hangover" was.
41tMy Week With Marilyn36615Other than watching Michelle Williams, who is convincing, not much there. Lead male is two-dimensional.
44The Ides of March35.5513.5Boy falls in love with politics and an hour later is jilted. That's all there is?
45Cars 235513Flat and uninvolving - a big drop from the original.
46Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close3.5339.5As phony and manipulative as anything you'll ever see, to the point of being offensive. Garbage plotting.