ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
It took awhile, but 2011 ended up being a decent year for movies, with Hollywood actually financing some edgy stuff and even giving some heft to their high-concept tentpole movies (four of the best entertainments — Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, X-Men: First Class and Mission Impossible 4 — superhero actioners).
10. Midnight in Paris. After years of middling (sometimes unwatchable) films, Woody Allen finally found his avatar in Owen Wilson with this, his best comedy since 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite.
9. Anonymous. A huge flop in the fall, audiences failed to connect with this thrilling (though highly fictionalized) riff on whether Shakespeare really wrote his plays. The premise was compellingly told, however, mixing action, a love of language, political savvy and romance in a satisfying way. Biggest surprise of all? Gay director Roland Emmerich of mindless action films like Godzilla and 10,000 B.C. was responsible. Maybe that’s what critics couldn’t get behind it.
8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Debate if you will the literary merits of Stieg Larsson’s rangy trilogy about a hacker and a journalist uniting to take down Fascists, but David Fincher’s thoughtful, well-paced thriller was faithful to the spirit of the book, while turning it into a cinematic mind-fuck of a movie, almost as bleak as his signature piece, Se7en.
7. Shame. British director Steve McQueen’s close-to-the-vest investigation of the modern male psyche was as unnerving to watch as it was captivating, delving into dark areas of sexuality with brilliant visual flourishes.
6. Weekend. Two queer Brits spend a night together, but explore something more about the nature of gay relationships of today in this frank, compelling and sexy drama.
5. The Devil’s Double. Poor Dominic Cooper seems to have been all but forgotten by most critics, but his dual role as Uday Hussein and his body double was exciting and frightening, but also finely detailed — how many people get to play both the protagonist and the villain in the same movie? Vivid and energetic, this is the Scorsese film Scorsese should have made instead of the twee kid’s fantasy Hugo: It’s Goodfellas in the desert.
4. The Skin I Live In. Pedro Almodovar returned to great Hitchcockian form with this masterful mystery about a beautiful woman held captive by a perverse surgeon (Antonio Banderas). Layers upon layers are revealed on the way to a breathless, fantastical explanation, aided incalculably by Alberto Iglesias’ fantastic score — one of the best ever written for the screen.
3. The Tree of Life. It may sound like a cop-out, but Terry Malick’s tone poem of a film defies critical analysis. You simply allow yourself to be washed away by his experimental filmic mood shifts, or you resist. Giving over resulted in one of the dreamiest experiences I’ve ever had at the movies.
2. Beginners. Christopher Plummer gave perhaps the performance of the year, if not his career, as a septuagenarian who comes out and enjoys his final years embracing life. Mike Mills’ quasi-autobiographical film was humorous, poignant and delightfully quirky.
1. The Help. Along with Dragon Tattoo, writer-director Tate Taylor showed how to adapt a popular novel to the screen while retaining its literary merits and adding cinematic flair. One of the best shot movies of 2011, it was also exceptionally well-acted by the entire cast, but especially Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 30, 2011.