2011 Citizen Awards

1) Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2

I judge films, in part, by how much I move in my seat.  In the final installment of the incredible Harry Potter series, I moved not at all.  I was frozen and not because I was dressed up as a death scene.  The film continues from where it left off, a mere month in movie time and 8 months for the audience, and never looks back.  For Deathly Hallows, the filmmakers were given 2 volumes to tell this story and wrap up the series and with 2 films, they were able to make Part 2 an all-out, chaos-filled, mind-blowing experience from beginning to end.  Those familiar with the story knew from where they ended Part 1 that Part 2 was going to be nuts.  Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the perfect ending to what has become one of the best and highest grossing franchises in movie history, not to mention the fact that each film is highly praised by critics.  For fans of the books, this is the closing of a decade-long chapter of our lives.  Though Harry Potter lives on through Pottermore, Cons, Theme Parks and Wizard Rock, the films, which were our closest thing to the books, have now ended.

Sometimes as I compile my yearly Top 10’s, I like to think ahead to when I’m older when my children or grandchildren ask me (as I still do with my grandfather) what my favorite movie from a particular year during my lifetime is.  Most years’ best are always changing and it’s quite possible that, 40 years from now (Lord willing) Once may have taken over #1 from There Will Be Blood, but some years are a no-brainer.  If they ask about 2003, then Return of the King will be my obvious answer because that movie just feels right and to me the choice is obvious.  When they ask about 2011, then I will happily tell them that, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was BY FAR my favorite movie that year.”  And they, knowing me, will understand why.

So, as I sum up my favorite films of 2011, it is only fitting that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 tower over the rest.  This film got to me more emotionally than any other film I saw this year and that emotion stuck with me all throughout the year and never wavered.  It was also the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year.  But most importantly, Deathly Hallows Part 2 represents so much more and is so much more meaningful to me personally than any other film from 2011 and, naturally, it sits at #1.

2) The Tree of Life

There’s just something about this film that hit me like a ton of bricks.  It’s difficult to describe and I’ve tried throughout the year to pinpoint exactly what it is that appeals to me.  I have found that, generally speaking, the film appears to appeal to males more than females….generally speaking.  The Tree of Life has several different interpretations, but mine comes from more of a ‘perspective’ perspective.  It’s pondering the perspective of the Big Bang sequences juxtaposed against this meager, humble family of faith existing in the 1950’s.  How significant or insignificant is this family’s existence when put up against an ever-expanding and infinite universe that is potentially constantly creating an infinite number of worlds and galaxies and meager, humble families of faith.  What got me was this family and the relationship of and between its members.  The hard-working and hard-ass father, his boys (and their mother) whom he loves in his own way, but whom they fear and feel liberated from when he’s gone.  It was a different world back then.  They were a society on the back end of 2 world wars and times were just way different.  Terrence Malick has bottled that feeling of ‘family’ from back then and showed us what it is like and had us feel the essence of that life and I completely got it.  When someone communicates such a feeling so strongly and accurately, it’s very difficult not to react to it, appreciate it and love it.  That’s what The Tree of Life did for me and I can’t not deem it as one of my favorites of the year.

3) Midnight in Paris

Deep and complex philosophical ideas are usually at the core of Woody Allen’s films.  Midnight in Paris is a less intense version of those films.  It takes itself less seriously.  Instead of dwelling on philosophical conundrums or rolling around in the despair of our existence, Allen focuses on a very simple idea of one’s desire to live in a different period of time.  This is something everyone has thought about in some capacity and is an idea that is relatively harmless and pure.  The actors entertain this thought throughout the film and eventually the main character, Gil (Owen Wilson), decides that the here and now is the best place.  It’s not a foreign thought, the idea that everyone has a “Golden Age” in mind and if only they could live during that time period, then everything would be perfect.  Naturally, those who lived in said time period were likely to feel the same way and longed to live in another era.  At first glance, Owen Wilson certainly seems an odd casting choice, yet he couldn’t have been more perfect.  This particular character in Allen’s films, many times played by Allen himself, is quick-talking, neurotic, fearful and thinks too much.  Gil is written in this way and Owen Wilson’s slow and laid-back delivery is a completely different approach to the character, but a very refreshing one.  Midnight in Paris is packed with famous people playing other famous people in history, which is very difficult to pull off, but I was pleased to find that this was not in the least bit distracting.  There’s innocence to Midnight in Paris.  It’s a fun and warm little story.  It’s a sincere film with a positive message.  In the end, the present is where you want to be.

4) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I always enjoy going to see a film based on a book that I have read.  I was particularly excited about seeing how this film would pan out because the novel isn’t the easiest read in the world.  However, props must be given to director, Tomas Alfredson, for doing a stand-up job at translating this convoluted Lohn Le Carre novel on the big screen.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is an old-school, Cold War spy novel centered on the struggle between British and Russian intelligence and set in the early 1970’s.  Not only does Alfredson manage to complete the nearly impossible task of adapting this story in a somewhat clear way, but he manages to do it with incredible style and flavor.  There’s a foggy look to the cinematography which seems to frame every shot with precision and there are some wonderfully crafted set pieces that aid in telling the back story.  The entire film has this old British miniseries feel with the sweeping camera shots and the soft, jazzy, noir-like score that goes right up there with the best of the year.  It’s a slow-burning film with little action, but a quickly moving storyline bursting with many, many details.  Gary Oldman, who plays George Smiley, the recurring character in Le Carre’s work, and his fine ensemble cast only increase the enjoyment of this experience.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of the films that you’re still thinking about long after you leave the theatre.  The trick is that the truth isn’t as complex as all the details make us think it is, but that’s what makes it so brilliant.

5) Buck

Buck is a touching documentary about Buck Brannaman, the world-renowned horse trainer, who makes his living traveling across the country and holding horse training clinics.  Buck’s clinics are in high demand and people come from all around to attend, but Buck is so much more than a horse trainer and the film is about much more than just horse-training.  Director, Cindy Meehl, shows us the steady command of Buck as well as the grace and gentleness that he exudes at these clinics.  He’s been known to expose deep-seeded issues with the owners, themselves, and not only their horses.  Buck has become well known for his unorthodox, though more humane, style of horsemanship that focuses on forming a bond between the horse and human and less about physically forcing the horse to do what you want.  The film combines moments of Buck working at his highly popular clinics with the back story of his tortured and dark childhood.  One of the great things about this documentary is that it doesn’t divide its audience.  There’s no underlying message or hidden agenda getting pushed behind the scenes.  It’s about humans seeking to understand horses.  Buck is a movie for everyone.

6) Take Shelter

Sometimes it’s the small films that really pack the punch.  Take Shelter is a haymaker.  This little gem also contains two of the most underappreciated performances of 2011, with Michael Shannon’s being, perhaps, the best of the year.  He plays Curtis, a father and husband who works hard to support his family, but has a rough job that pays very little.  Curtis begins having ultra-vivid dreams of tornadoes and storms and impending doom that begin to affect his daily life.  Either he’s going crazy or he’s some sort of prophet, but no matter what the reason, he’s trying to keep it secret.  Ultimately, Curtis takes these dreams to heart and like a modern day Noah, Curtis urgently prepares for what’s to come.  He jeopardizes the financial status of his already poor family by borrowing a bulldozer from work and taking out another loan just to add on to the existing storm shelter in his back yard.  Shannon brilliantly shows us the pain, suffering and madness that this man must be experiencing.  Curtis has been run through the mill and becomes the laughingstock of the town and Shannon does it so well.  Another overlooked performance is that of his wife, played by Jessica Chastain.  This hard-working housewife is struggling to be supportive of her husband and their deaf daughter, yet she, herself, is at her breaking point.  Take Shelter, directed by Jeff Nichols, is a small, understated film with a fantastic story and great performances.  The film does a great job of showing us the frailty of this family on the verge of collapse, both financially and emotionally without just coming out and saying it.  We are constantly reminded in neat little ways that this family needs money very badly and that makes it all the more heart-breaking to watch it being spent on a storm shelter.

7) The Artist

The Artist is a heartwarming story toldwithout sound or spoken word.  The Artist embodies all that was grand about those films from the silent area, yet it doesn’t overplay the cliché’s or exploit those identifiable elements that audiences today would recognize from silent films and this is why it works.  In fact, The Artist looks as if it was plucked from right out of the 20’s and left unchanged.  There are no calculated exploits by director Michel Hazanavicius.  He didn’t intend to make a silent film in 2011, but just a silent film.  As a matter of fact, the film’s authenticity makes it feel like it is a silent film made in 1927, but kept under wraps for 84 years before being unveiled to the world and unaware that it’s 80 years too late.  The Artist thinks that it’s still in the Silent Era.  Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo work the silver screen like the old days.  Their classic faces and bright demeanors only add to the warmth of the film.  Both are deservingly nominated for Oscars and both say more in this silent film than most other actors that carry their films say with dialogue.  The Artist is oozing with imagery and has some of the best shots of the year including the magnificent staircase scene shot at L.A.’s Bradbury Building.  Surely what makes this film so great is that it has a humbled look of authenticity and doesn’t over-stylize.

8) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I have to appreciate David Fincher’s ability of adapting novels to film and I can’t possibly think of a better director to attach to the Millennium Series.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the very best contemporary crime/mystery work out there today, but the book is extremely dense and adapting it is surely a difficult task.  Fincher’s gloomy and bleak style is the absolute perfect match for the horrific and violent subject matter.  The film is supported not only by strong performances from each of its cast members, but also of the best film editing job in any film all year.  With perfect pace and timing, the pieces of the puzzle come together in one heated and suspenseful climax.  The score by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor brings the intensity and is vital to the pace and tone of the film.  I’m always weary of films consisting of foreign individuals that is set in a foreign land, but uses the English language.  It usually deflates the authenticity of a film for me.  That’s not the case with this film.  The location is an important element of the story in that it sets a stone-cold atmosphere, but the contrast of this setting to the language mainly used in the film is not at all distracting.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the most intense and suspenseful films of 2011.

9) Moneyball

Bennett Miller nails this adaptation of the true story of Billy Bean and his unorthodox way of managing a baseball team with limited funds in a game where money is everything.  What’s incredible about this film is the way in which the real-life highlights were meshed in with expertly stylized reenactments of the game.  This, merged with the audio clips that essentially narrate some transitional scenes, is done with a perfect balance of taste and style and avoids a cheesy, though popular, course of overly suspenseful and emotional route of filmmaking.  Of course, when writers like Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian are churning out the screenplay, much of the work becomes easier.  However, it’s the perfect balance of (not too much) suspense and (not too much) style in these game-time sequences that really make this film work.  Brad Pitt’s performance, though Oscar-nominated, is still underappreciated as his is one of the stronger acting jobs of the year.  Jonah Hill, jumping from comedic to somewhat serious, takes on this role well.  Some of the best scenes of the year come from Moneyball and are those scenes that take place in the scout room.  The brainstorming conversations that take place are so incredibly authentic that it’s no surprise to learn that at least some of those actors are actual scouts.

10) The Trip

The funniest film of the year documents Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s bed and breakfast journey across the beautiful English countryside.  What occurs is a wonderful sequence of hilarity, whit and what might be considered male bonding.  Steve and Rob, over fine cuisine, attempt to out-do one another on the accuracy of their impressions, which include Woody Allen and Michael Caine, among many others.  Taking each others’ egos to task, neither laughs much at the other, for we can tell that they are genuinely annoyed when the other is funnier.  The absurdity and humor of Steve and Rob’s chemistry and conversation set against the backdrop of the lush and regal scenery of northern England and the atmosphere of fine dining serves as a delicious contrast.  Though the film is essentially a seamless thread of humor, it is strongly supported by quaint looks into the personal lives of these two funny men, which provide a more realistic perspective for the audience.   When the film has run its course we understand that this humorous road trip wasn’t just a physical journey, but the movie has actually developed around the back stories of Steve and Rob and what they are missing and what they’ve learned and what they are excited to return home to.





Best Director

David Yates – Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2

– David Fincher – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

– Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist

– Tomas Alfredson – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

– Terrence Mallick – The Tree of Life


Actor

Michael Shannon – Take Shelter

 – Jean Dujardin – The Artist

 – Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

 – Brad Pitt – Moneyball

 – George Clooney – The Descendants

Actress

Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady

   – Bérénice Bejo – The Artist

 – Viola Davis – The Help

 – Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

 – Elizabeth Olsen – Martha Marcy May Marlene

Supporting Actor

Brad Pitt – The Tree of Life

  – Phillip Seymoure Hoffman – The Ides of March

 – Christopher Plummer – Beginners

 – Ben Kingsley – Hugo

 – Jeremy Irons – Margin Call


Supporting Actress

Jessica Chastain – The Tree of Life

 

 – Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids

 – Jessica Chastain – Take Shelter

 – Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

 – Octavia Spencer – The Help



Adapted Screenplay

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2

  – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

 – Moneyball

 – The Help

 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo



Original Screenplay

Midnight in Paris

 – Bridesmaids

 – Take Shelter

 – The Tree of Life

 – Margin Call

Original Score

Alexandre Desplate – Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2

  – Ludovic Bource – The Artist

 – Cliff Martinez – Drive

 – Alberto Iglesias – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

 – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo



Cinematography

Emmanuel Lubezki – The Tree of Life

 – Guillaume Schiffman – The Artist

 – Hoyte Van Hoytema – Tinker Tailor Solider Spy

 – Jeff Cronenweth – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

 – Robert Richardson – Hugo



Film Editing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Baxter, Wall

 – The Artist – Bion, Hazanavicius

 – The Tree of Life – Corwin, Rabinowitz, Rezende, Weber, Yoshikawa

 – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Dino Jonsater

 – Moneyball – Christopher Tellefsen



Sound Editing/Mixing

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2

 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

 – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

 – Super 8

 – Drive



Art Direction

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2

  – The Artist

 – War Horse

 – Hugo

 – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Costume Design

The Artist

 – Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2

 – Hugo

 – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

 – The Help



Make-up

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2

  – X-Men: First Class

 – Hugo

 – The Iron Lady

 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Visual Effects

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2

  

  – The Tree of Life

 – Hugo

 – Rise of the Planet of the Apes

 – Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

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