Colin’s Top Films of 2011

I didn’t see nearly as many movies as I wanted to this year, and many of the ones I did see I didn’t like. So unfortunately this list is not at all inclusive or finished. I still have yet to see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Shame, A Dangerous Method, Midnight in Paris, Ides of March, The Artist, Carnage and quite a few other films that I’m a real easy mark for. So that being said, here are seven films I did see that I would rank among the years best in no particular order.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (dir. Rupert Wyatt)


The original Charlton Heston film is one of my all time favorites, and I’m a big fan of a couple of the sequels, namely the third one Escape from the Planet of the Apes and its immediate sequel Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which this film is sort of a remake of.

Rise should not work as well as it does. It’s a remake of a sequel that was technically a prequel to a film from 1968 about apes taking over the planet. But it does work and the reason it does is because of Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar, the ape who rises against his masters. Without (barely) any dialogue Serkis makes us empathize with Caesar’s plight as he is misunderstood, abandoned and abused and eventually provoked into leading his fellow apes into revolt. The film takes Caesar seriously as a character and as a result so does the audience. The way the film builds and builds is truly impressive and there’s a particular moment in this film with Caesar that was so powerful that it literally caused the entire theater to go dead silent both times I saw the film. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a really special film in that it’s a summer blockbuster with a strong central character that tells a good story.


Beginners (dir. Mike Mills)

This is the kind of film Ewan McGregor should be doing more of. In Beginners he plays a slightly depressed sad sack who strikes up a relationship with a beautiful French girl (the gorgeous Melanie Laurent), after his father (the always terrific Christopher Plummer) passes away. Shortly before his father died he came out of the closet, and Ewan’s kind of in a funk, not because it turns out his Dad’s gay, he’s cool with that, but the fact that he realized his Dad kind of wasted his life doing something he didn’t want to do. Ewan’s struggle to make things work with Melanie Laurent is very touching, even though he tends to sabotage himself. Also he communicates with his Dad’s Jack Russell who responds to him in subtitles. It’s a really splendid little character driven movie.

Tree of Life (dir. Terence Malick)

Another film driven by a father’s relationship to his son is the elusive Terry Malick’s Tree of Life. Malick’s film details the relationship between a young son to his stern father (played by Brad Pitt) in the 1950s while also relating it to the creation of the cosmos. The film is all at once heartwarming and emotional, while also being incredibly eclectic and distant. It’s often very stunning visually, possibly Malick’s most gorgeous film after Days of Heaven. While it may be rather elusive at times, it’s a tremendous work and it really deserves to be seen on a big screen, the interlude which shows the origins of the Earth is some of the most visually interesting effects work this side of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Melancholia (dir. Lars Von Triers)

Melancholia also features some great effects worked into a non-special effects driven film. Essentially the hidden planet known as Melancholia emerges from behind the sun and starts working it’s way towards Earth on a collision course. The movie opens up with the destruction of the Earth and then flashes back to tell a two part story of two sisters played by Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg who both suffer from different forms of depression. Dunst’s depression is more chronic in nature, nothing seems to help her and there’s no discernible cause for it. Her sister’s depression stems directly from the impending collision that promises to destroy the world. The film posits how different personalities would respond to a situation like the destruction of the planet, and the interplay between Dunst and Gainsbourg and Gainsbourg’s husband played by Kiefer Sutherland is very telling. While it’s not an easy film to watch, and it’s certainly a downer, it is definitely a must-see.


X-Men: First Class (dir. Matthew Vaughn)

It’s a weird year when two blockbuster prequels from 20th Century Fox are on a best of list, but here we are it’s a weird year. Vaughn takes the most interesting part of the X-Men series, the relationship between Professor X and Magneto and puts it front and center. As Magneto, Michael Fassbender continues to prove that he may be the greatest new actor of his generation, giving a multi-dimensional performance. At times Magneto is suave like James Bond, other times he’s vulnerable like a young child, but he’s always badass. Kevin Bacon also gives a fun performance as a Mutant Nazi that would feel very comfortable in a Sean Connery-era Bond film. Along with Rise of the Planet of the Apes this film helps to prove that not all summer blockbusters need to be mindless drivel.

Contagion (dir. Steven Soderbergh)

Elliot Gould’s in this movie! Elliot Gould! That’s all you need to know.

Actually Elliot Gould only plays a small part in the film, but he’s the best and it was cool to see him on the big screen. Soderbergh’s film successfully interweaves various different plots involving the outbreak of a deadly new flu. The film almost plays out like a zombie film without the zombies and Soderbergh goes against the grain and portrays the scientists as heroes working around the clock to find a cure, while people panic in the streets and certain assholes try to take advantage of the situation for profit. The film is incredibly paced, driven by Cliff Martinez’s pulsing electronic score, and the focus for each storyline is never lost. Also Matt Damon has a really cool Dad haircut.


Drive (dir. Nicholas Winding Refn)

Imagine if David Lynch adapted Hemingway by way of Michael Mann and you should have a good sense of what Drive is like. Refn takes what could have been a very straight forward low budget action film and turns it into a synth-drenched, neon light soaked, violent, romantic fairytale. Ryan Gosling’s character defines himself solely through his ability to drive, and has detached himself from people until he falls in love with the lovely Carey Mulligan and of course his love tears his carefully constructed world apart. Refn blends sweet scenes of Gosling and Mulligan canoodling with Gosling bashing dude’s heads in. All at once beautiful, dreamy, sad and horrific, Drive is pretty much a masterpiece.

Hey what movies from this year do I need to check out?


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Categories: Best of 2011

Author:Colin Holmes

I love movies. I love watching them and I love writing about them. My taste ranges from Jean Pierre Melville to Jean Claude Van Damme and everything in between as long as it isn’t mediocre. I’ll take a crazy failure of a movie over a middle of the road one any day. I'm an American currently living abroad in Oz and am relishing how my accent makes me sound like a cowboy to everyone I meet here.

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