Monday, January 2, 2012

Top 10 Films of 2011

It is part of the human experience to look back on life and try to categorize our experiences, often year by year.  It can be quite difficult to completely sum up a year of anything as that very year is ending.  It is easy to get caught up in the moment, unaware of how the past felt when it was the present or how the future might shed new light on the past.

Moments that seemed insignificant at the time might later gain increased significance and, at the same time, events that seemed monumental might not even register once time is given to reflect upon them.

It is with this knowledge that I hesitantly present my list of my Top 10 Films of 2011.  Before I begin, I must state that I haven't seen all of the 500+ films that were released in 2011, something that I most likely will never do, but only a mere 68.  At best, this list is a mere representation, or time capsule, of my opinions as of the beginning of 2012.

Here is my list of my Top 10 Films of 2011:

1.  The Tree of Life

There was no question in my mind over the film that would be at the top of this list.  The Tree of Life was more than just a film, it was a life-changing experience that effected me in a deeply spiritual way, despite not being religious.  Once I decided to surrender to its unparalleled visuals and hypnotic rhythms there was no chance that I would recover.

The Tree of Life is more than just a film about a simple mid-western family living in the 1950s; it is a film that attempts to capture all of existence and relate it in terms of its inherent battle between nature and grace.  There was no film this year that was nearly as ambitious as The Tree of Life or as successful.

Read the full review.

2.    Martha Marcy May Marlene

When I think about the quality of a film I tend to think about the thematic tone of the film, the invisibility of the craft, and the emotional resonance that it creates.  Martha Marcy May Marlene stood out so strongly to me because it nailed every aspect that I go to the theaters for. 

The emotional paranoia that the film displays through its main character Martha, played by Elizabeth Olsen (my favorite female performer this year), is palpable.  Upon leaving the theater, I caught myself eyeing groups of individuals in the parking lot, fearful of what they might do to me or if they had ill will towards me.  The power of this film is almost frightening, especially in its final moments where its plunge into paranoia is put to the test.

Read the full review.

3.    Take Shelter

The strengths of Take Shelter are very similar to those of Martha Marcy May Marlene, which is even more interesting because I saw them a day after each other.  In this case, the audience is transported into the mind of Curtis, played by Michael Shannon (my favorite male performer this year), who is either suffering a schizophrenic breakdown or is a modern day prophet. 

Either way, the characters and their loving relationships are portrayed so honestly and lovingly that the drama that unfolds becomes incredibly captivating and heartbreaking.  Also like Martha Marcy May Marlene, its unreliable narrator had me second-guessing my own sanity by the end of the film.

Read the full review.

4.  The Guard

There wasn't a funnier film this year than John Michael McDonagh's The Guard starring Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle.  This came as no surprise to me as the director's brother made the hilarious and subversive In Bruges, a favorite of mine, with Gleeson several years ago.  The Guard works so well because not only does it feature a fantastic study of one of the most enjoyable characters this year but its comedy always comes directly from the character or thematic base.  The Guard never feels like it is trying to be funny, it just is and brilliantly so.

Read the full review.

5.  Young Adult

It is no mistake that the main character of Young Adult, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), wears rose-tinted glasses throughout the film.  Young Adult is an incredibly dark comedy full of completely detestable people, particularly Mavis Gary, that takes a probing look at a social society that values youth and popularity.  Out of that culture comes a monster like Mavis Gary whose refusal to mature proves that change isn't always inevitable.  Young Adult says everything I've ever felt about our media obsessed culture and does so in an obtrusive and biting way that reflects a mirror back onto its audience.  This kind of satirical comedy is rare and all the more powerful for it.

Read the full review.

6. Melancholia

I've never seen a film present the ultimate oblivion of humanity as a way to deal with the state of depression before, in both a literal and figurative way.  As you'll notice, most of my top films find a way to express a very real emotion and present it in a way that engages the audience.  Melancholia has a very bleak outlook, presented in various forms, that shows great disdain for humanity.

I can't say that I agree with its nihilistic thesis, but the emotions are effectively conveyed and beautiful in way that proves how masterful director Lars von Trier is as a visual artist.  Kirsten Dunst's performance is the real star of the film, proving that she is still one of the greatest actresses working today.  However, what is the most surprising about Melancholia is its sense of humor that is allowed to peak through, even at mankind's end.

Read the full review.

7.  13 Assassins

I hope that 13 Assassins is the rebirth of straight samurai action films of the grandest nature.  Director Tashaki Miike proves that the key to the best action/revenge films is to truly hate the bad guy.  Naritsugu is probably the most evil character I've seen on-screen in years and while the beginning of 13 Assassins has decidedly little action sequences, it is well spent on giving the audience a reason to hate Naritsugu. 

However, when the action delivers it is nothing but pure spectacle.  Seeing thirteen trained assassins take on over three-hundred soldiers in an medieval cage-match is beyond spectacular.  The best part, I cared about every single character thanks to the incredible build up to the forty-five minute battle.

Read the full review.

8.  The Muppets

I'm completely unashamed in my love for The Muppets.  It has been years since I've left a theater singing the music from the film only to find myself humming them while teaching days later.  I was smiling so much during this film that my face hurt afterwards.  Best of all, the humor is completely positive, smart, and earned.  It might seem strange to say this, but I openly welcome the return of the Muppets and of jokes.  Even better, the creators of this film agree with me, as the film operates as a meta-commentary on the rise of modern cynical situational humor and how terrible it is.

Read the full review.

9.  Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

I had no expectations for Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol except that it was to be directed by Brad Bird, of Pixar fame.  So, when I found myself in the theater mouthing "wow" at the screen, I was completely shocked.  Sure the characters are paper-thin, especially the villains, but Brad Bird knows how to shoot action.  There isn't a set-piece that doesn't impress and they are all presented in a clever and old-school way.  For straight-up action fun at the movies, I haven't been blown away by a film like this since Casino Royale.

Read the full review.

10. Beginners

On the surface Beginners seems like a pure schmaltz.  It follows Ewan McGregor's Oliver as he deals with the death of his father (Christopher Plummer) and romance of Anna (Melanie Laurent).    Meanwhile it flashes back to his final years with his father, who after the death of his wife comes out as being gay.

However, director Mike Mills's love for the characters prevents the story from ever becoming melodramatic.  Instead, Beginners is a visually arresting story about what it means to love and find yourself.  That doesn't even mention that it has the best performance from a dog I've ever seen, whose thoughts are presented in subtitles throughout the film.  If Christopher Plummer doesn't receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at this year's Academy Awards it will be the greatest tragedy in cinema this year, and I've seen Melancholia.

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

50/50, A SeparationAnonymous, Another Earth, Bridesmaids, Captain America: The First Avenger, Certified Copy, Contagion, Crazy, Stupid, Love.Drive, Friends with Benefits, Hanna, Hugo, Jane EyreKung Fu Panda 2, Le Sens De L'Humour (A Sense of Humor)Like Crazy, Meek's Cutoff, Moneyball, Rango, Rubber, Shame, SubmarineSuper 8, Tabloid, The Adventures of Tintin, The Artist, The Trip, Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyTucker & Dale vs Evil, War Horse.

Thanks again for reading Grind My Reels during 2011 and I hope that you continue to read the site in 2012, as we continue to grow and develop.


  1. I am terribly behind in my 2011 movie watching. Melancholia, Beginners, and Young Adult are at the top of my list. Tree of Life is a part of my soul and the most profound piece of art I have ever experienced.

  2. Awesome to see "The Guard" on your list. Great movie, under appreciated. Brendan Gleeson can do no wrong.

  3. This would be my list:

    1. DRIVE



    4. HUGO


    6. 50/50


    8. WIN WIN


    10. RANGO