2011 was a good year for both mainstream and GLBT-oriented movies. I saw so many great films that I actually felt the need to break my best list into three parts: narrative, documentary and GLBT-themed. Without further ado, my selections as the finest the big screen had to offer in 2011 are:
BEST NARRATIVE FILMS:
1) The Tree of Life and The Tree (tie). These two extraordinary movies, one American and the other Australian, share more than their titular flora. Both explore the great mysteries of life, death, love and family.
2) Moneyball. Set in the world of major league baseball but far from a generic sports story, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill give inspiring performances as underdog team managers who restored virtue and ethics to professional athletics.
3) The Descendants. George Clooney does his best work to date as a wounded husband and father struggling with multiple challenges amongst his character's ancestral Hawaiian islands. Beautifully made and extremely moving.
4) Take Shelter. Suspense movies are often referred to as "Hitchcockian" after the genre's master, but this one is the real deal. Michael Shannon stars as a farmer whose apocalyptic visions may be premonitions or the early stages of psychosis. Keeps you on the edge of your seat to the very end.
5) Win Win. A troubled teenage wrestler ingratiates himself into the lives of a reluctant coach (a typically great Paul Giamatti) and his wife. A warm comedy-drama from the talented writer-director of the equally humane The Station Agent and The Visitor.
6) We Need to Talk About Kevin. Superbly crafted if deeply disturbing tale of a mother (the ever-fearless Tilda Swinton, in an award-worthy performance) grappling with her sociopathic son. The Bad Seed for the 21st century.
7) Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The year's best popcorn movie boasts a smart screenplay, great performances and amazing special effects. It is also the second-best "reboot" of a movie series, following James Bond's 2006 Casino Royale.
8) Hugo. Martin Scorsese's opulent valentine to classic cinema (and the works of Georges Melies in particular) is gorgeously designed and photographed, and is a touching, kid-friendly story at heart of "broken" people who are magically drawn together.
9) Carnage. A superior adaptation of the popular but overrated play God of Carnage, masterfully streamlined and directed by Roman Polanski and starring the powerhouse cast of Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly and, best of all, Christoph Waltz.
10) Hanna. Exciting, fairy-tale inspired adventure of a teenage girl with superhuman abilities who takes on evil "wicked witch" Cate Blanchett. It also features an adrenaline-pumping music score by the Chemical Brothers.
BEST GLBT-THEMED NARRATIVE FILMS:
1) Tomboy. A compassionate, beautifully-made drama about a young girl's coming of age.
2) Pariah. Another fine film focusing on a lesbian teenager's coming out.
3) J. Edgar. Provocative historical epic with a very impressive, Oscar-worthy Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role.
4) Weekend. Nice and sexy British film that authentically depicts two gay men bonding over 72 hours.
5) Beginners. Mike Mills' heartfelt and amusing tribute to his gay father, enjoyably played by Christopher Plummer.
1) Bill Cunningham New York. The celebrated New York Times photographer has the camera turned on himself, with revelatory results.
2) Make Believe. A fascinating and inspiring look at aspiring magicians.
3) Semper Fi: Always Faithful. Shocking but moving expose about a military coverup and one father's quest to hold those responsible accountable.
4) Project Nim. Informative if often heartbreaking account of the life of a chimpanzee used in a failed social experiment.
5) The Last Mountain. A community rallies against the greedy corporation destroying its environment in this excellent doc.
AND THE WORST FILMS OF 2011:
1) The Rite. This film needs an exorcism.
2) Horrible Bosses. Horrible movie.
3) One Day. Contrived, calendar-hopping romantic clap-trap.
4) X-Men: First Class. Inexplicably acclaimed, incredibly dumb.
5) The Thing. Pointless prequel to the 1982 sci-fi/horror classic.
By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.