Film Feature: Top 10 Films of 2011

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CHICAGO – As the days count down to the end of the year, it’s a perfect time for a countdown of the top ten films of 2011. Last week, Brian Tallerico of posted his 10 Best of 2011, and this week I pick my Top Ten Films of 2011, by Patrick McDonald.

If there was a single overriding theme to films in 2011, it was the end of the world. There were symbolic, financial, moral, anarchistic and literal end of the worlds, which comes on the heels of the meltdown of the end of last decade. It wasn’t a science fiction style end, but a commentary on a pervasive mood in general society, and the reflection of that mood in so many films throughout 2011 is quite remarkable, and unmistakable.

In my Top Ten of 2011, several of those end-of-the-world films are there, but also there is hopeful turns with baseball, Woody Allen and brilliant smaller budget filmmaking. Notable films that could easily have been in the tenth spot include “Certified Copy,” “Paranormal Activity 3,” “Source Code,” “Hugo,” “Bridesmaids,” “Cedar Rapids” “Take Shelter,” “Super 8,” “Rango” and “My Week with Marilyn.” I also stand by the true audacious and surreal eye candy of “Sucker Punch,” one of the early-in-the-year films that generated much derision and social commentary.

It is a great privilege to be able to get the opportunity to critique films on this level, and I take on the opportunity with humility and a clear notion that the beauty and accessibility of the cinema art is that all are welcome to opine and all opinions have value. In that spirit, I present the Top Ten Films of 2011, by Patrick McDonald.

Star10. “Incredibly Small”

Incredibly Small
Incredibly Small
Photo credit: Range Life Entertainment

This was a film from last year that hit the festival circuit in 2011, and I saw it at the Midwest Independent Film Festival. Dean Peterson wrote and directed this very personal relationship film, which rises above its smaller budget roots by being meticulously acted and precisely composed. Stephen Gurewitz is Amir, who moves in with his girlfriend Anne (Susan Burke), in an obvious attempt to save a dying relationship. The weaknesses in their coupling become apparent when the 400 square foot apartment starts to metaphorically cave in on them. This is not all serious, as some nice comic relief is contributed by the “best friends” of Amir and Anne. This is a succinct exploration of the first big adult relationship, fraught with an emotional, sexual and lifestyle mine field.

HIGHLIGHT: The “Karpovsky Bounce,” as writer/director Dean Peterson characterized it, indie film favorite Alex Karpovsky (as creepy/interesting neighbor Tom) obviously likes small-theme titles, as he gave a bounce to “Tiny Furniture” last year as well.

Star9. “Midnight in Paris”

Midnight in Paris
Midnight in Paris
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

As a long-time fan and student of America’s most prolific filmmaker, Woody Allen, it was soul satisfying to experience his latest comeback effort. Owen Wilson navigates the male lead once reserved for Woody, and for once doesn’t do a pale imitation of the master, but filters the telltale Allen rhythm through his own laconic style. This moral tale of a man obsessed with the “moveable feast” of 1920s Paris, and getting a chance to live within it, has both the comedy and sentimentalism of classic Woody Allen. Also the humor comes easily from the situation, especially the family Wilson’s character is potenitally going to marry into, real “ugly Americans.” A wonderful late-career achievement from the legendary Woody.

HIGHLIGHT: Without a doubt, Corey Stoll (of TV’s ”Law & Order: LA”) as Ernest Hemingway, pursuing the Papa machismo right on the edge of satire.

Star8. “Another Earth”

Another Earth
Another Earth
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

A reverent potential-end-of-the-world film, generating hope rather than panic or destruction. The apocalyptic event – another planet, parallel to ours, is moving closer to us – is filtered through a relationship, as Rhoda (Brit Marling) causes the demise of a family through an automobile accident (and does prison time for it), but seeks the one survivor, John (William Mapother), to redeem herself. The other “earth” becomes the target of this redemption, as Rhoda is chosen to be a traveler to the other realm. This narrative is so respectful in regard to the delicate nature of our existence, and the fragility of relating within that existence, that there is an utter sense of blessing in the reflection of the other world. Director and co-writer (with Brit Marling) Mike Cahill creates a science fiction not of fear and dread, but of renewal.

HIGHLIGHT: The ending is a stunner, and it open to many “reflective” interpretations.

Star7. “Shame”

Photo credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The male libido is explored to its essential core in this morality tale that explodes on many levels. Hot actor Michael Fassbinder exposes his sexual being as a randy New Yorker who seeks carnal satisfaction, but gives and gets back mostly nothing. He is fairly honest in his pursuits, hiring mostly hookers or having endless one night stands, but when potential connections are imminent, he is totally incapable of sealing the deal. Adding to the complications is a homeless sister he takes in (Carey Mulligan), who hints of an incestuous past, the reminder of which haunts both of them. Director and co-writer (with Abi Morgan) Steve McQueen creates a reality that is based on natural biological imperatives, but is screwed up by an uncontrollable nurturing and environment that destroys rather than builds. We are all terminal cases.

HIGHLIGHT: Great creativity in use of camera shots, cuts and actors-in- scene to symbolize and actualize the sexual journey.

Star6. “SUPER

Photo credit: IFC Midnight

This one is crazy, but in its insanity puts a nice skewer into the current atmosphere of comic book hero movies. Rainn Wilson continues his independent film credibility as Frank, also known as The Crimson Bolt. Yes, this is a comic book origin story, but it exists in the real world, with all the neurotic misgivings, violence and bad decisions intact. Ellen Page (”Juno”) is sensational as Boltie, The Crimson Bolt’s sidekick, whose delusions of grandeur meet a shocking (and appropriate) conclusion. Written and directed by James Gunn, this is the type of super hero tale that uses a plumber’s wrench as a tool of destruction. Anarchistic, twisted and fantastic are appropriate descriptions for this deranged epic, which evolves primarily through the fate of love. A must see, especially for comic book lovers.

HIGHLIGHT: The opening credits are the best of the year. And Page’s portrayal of Boltie is as funny as saying “Boltie.”

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