Ray’s 2011 Movie Awards
Best Films of 2011
- The Artist – Director Michel Hazanavicius goes retro with this silent movie about the advent of sound in Hollywood. Yes, it treads some of the same ground as Once in a Lifetime and Singin’ in the Rain, but it’s highly original, beautiful, and enchanting.
- Project Nim – Amazing true story of a misbegotten scientific experiment in the 1970s. The goal? To raise a chimpanzee as a human baby and see how much sign language he could learn. A electrifying, appalling, fascinating, disturbing, and inspiring story.
- Drive – This beautiful, horrifying, mesmerizing, sexy, and thrilling picture is the best crime thriller I’ve seen in years. Ryan Gosling is spectacular, and Albert Brooks delivers the goods with an unforgettable supporting performance.
- The Descendants – Alexander Payne’s beautifully observed family drama set in Hawaii. Clooney’s best performance since Michael Clayton.
- The Adventures of Tintin – I agree that Spielberg seemed revitalized by his dynamic handling of the big-feature debut of the beloved Belgian comic book hero. Just about everything in the movie works. Even the 3D. It’s a fun, funny, thrilling ride. Special props to Jamie Bell for a vocal performance that anchors the movie.
- Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen’s best film in years, with a delicious magical premise and a very valuable moral. It takes a lot for me to recommend a movie starring Owen Wilson, but Woody’s managed to do it.
- Martha Marcie May Marlene – I know I was fairly hard on this movie when it came out, but I really think it was my own personal filter, and not the movie’s fault. This is a highly original work, haunting, beautifully acted, and VERY disturbing.
- Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – I know I’m shocked, too. But I probably shouldn’t be, with the genius Brad Bird taking over the directing duties. But I must give props to Tom Cruise as well. He turns in a performance of tremendous star power. He’s even funny. Color me disoriented.
- Cave of Forgotten Dreams – The first 3D documentary I’ve ever seen. Director Werner Herzog takes us into a newly-discovered cave in France that contains the oldest examples of human art ever discovered.
- Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Top-notch commercial filmmaking. The CGI performance-capture apes worked much better than I would have imagined. Full of fantastic franchise easter eggs. Only problem: James Franco doesn’t bring any value-added, other than his looks. He needs to work a little harder.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, The Debt, Paranormal Activity 3, The Ides of March, Margin Call, Take Shelter, A Dangerous Method, Hugo, The Muppets, My Week With Marilyn, We Bought a Zoo, War Horse, Life in a Day, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Michael Fassbender — Jane Eyre, A Dangerous Method and Shame
Brad Pitt – Moneyball
Michael Shannon – Take Shelter
*George Clooney – The Descendants
Jean Dujardin – The Artist
Honorable Mention: Rhys Ifans — Anonymous, Dominic Cooper – The Devil’s Double
*Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs
Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady
Viola Davis – The Help
Michelle Williams — My Week With Marilyn
Charlize Theron – Young Adult
Honorable Mention: Vera Farmiga – Higher Ground, Rooney Mara – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin, Elizabeth Olsen – Martha Marcie May Marlene
*Albert Brooks – Drive
Jonah Hill –Moneyball
John Hawkes – Martha Marcie Mae Marlene
Christopher Plummer – Beginners
Max Von Sydow – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Honorable Mention: Patton Oswalt – Young Adult
Jessica Chastain – The Help, The Debt
*Octavia Spencer – The Help
Bérénice Bejo – The Artist
Judi Dench – My Week With Marilyn
Janet McTeer – Albert Nobbs
Stephen Spielberg — The Adventures of Tintin
Nicolas Winding Refn – Drive
*Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Brad Bird – Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Alexander Payne – The Descendents
Honorable Mention: Vera Farmiga – Higher Ground, David Fincher – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Midnight in Paris
My Week With Marilyn
Cinematography (it’s a tie)
*Tree of Life
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Martha Marcie May Marlene
Art Direction / Set design
Tree of Life
The Devil’s Double
*The Adventures of Tintin
*The Troubadors – terrific chronicle of the emergence of the singer/songwriter on the American pop music scene in the late 60s and early 70s, with a special emphasis on James Taylor and Carole King.
Tabloid – Errol Morris once again finds a fascinating human story to explore.
Being Elmo – A loving portrait of legendary Muppeteer Kevin Clash.
Animated Feature (no winner; they are all sooooo good)
Puss in Boots
The Adventures of Tintin
Foreign Language Feature
Undertow [Peru] – A gorgeous film that uses magical realism to tell a sweet, sad and life-affirming love story.
*Point Blank [France] – A very thrilling, twisty, well-acted and superbly shot crime story.
Puss in Boots
The Eagle – It was not only the best gay movie of the year, but a surprisingly well done depiction of the collision of Rome and native Caledonian (that is, proto-Scottish) barbarians in the second century. Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell and Mark Strong are all in fine form.
In Time – Why did critics hate this movie so much? It was clever, audacious and exciting. Justin Timberlake proves his mettle as an action star.
The Lincoln Lawyer – I don’t care what anyone said. This was the first grownup movie in forever from the once-promising Matthew McConnaughey, and he is quite good in it.
The Guard – Written and directed by the brother of the man who wrote and directed the great “In Bruges” and likewise starring the great Brendan Gleeson, this tiny little character-driven thriller deserves a look by any film buff. Also, it’s always good to see Don Cheadle in anything.
Special Shout-Out to YouTube
For producing the remarkable movie Life in a Day. Ordinary people from around the world were invited to submit video of their own lives on a particular day – July 24, 2010. The thousands of videos received were culled and edited into a beautiful portrait of life on Earth.
The Greatest Film Ever Made
A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas. Okay, not really the GREATEST, but it’s wall-to-wall fun.
Most Bizarre Film Sequence of 2011
Oscar-winner Chris Cooper breaks into a rap number in The Muppets.
Slyest Dirty Joke
They managed to slip a song called “Fuck You” into the family-friendly The Muppets. How did they do it? It was sung by the chickens, who can only speak one word: “Bok!”
Waaaaaaay Better Than I Expected
Anonymous — Who would have ever put money on the chances of Roland Emmerich directing a movie that I would champion? Well, he did. This speculative tale of an alternative author of Shakespeare is simply delicious from start to finish. Seriously, put it on the top of your Netflix queue.
Most Underrated Movie of the Year
Paul. Yes, this silly alien-on-the-run comedy was hilarious and smart. Rent it if you don’t believe me.
Further Proof that Liam Neeson Has Stumbled Onto a Really Good Career Phase
In 2008 when he scored with Taken (a JANUARY release!) it seemed like a fluke. But then he followed it up with Unknown this past January. Both were solid, fun thrillers. If his new film The Grey follows suit, he’ll have a full-fledged franchise on his hands.
I must be going soft, because …
I actually didn’t mind Starlet Johansson in We Bought a Zoo. Is this a sign of The Apocalypse?
Inched me closer to accepting John C. Reilly as a movie star
The very underappreciated, sweet, odd, and funny Cedar Rapids. Also, it was great to see Anne Heche in a lead role again!
I Am Number Four. Dopey but weirdly fun high school science fiction action pic.
Limitless. Fun wish-fulfillment fantasy with Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro (playing against type in a fun way).
Source Code. Special props to Vera Farmiga who has to give most of her performance as a talking head on video, and yet still manages to be compelling at every moment.
Good Neighbors – even the presence of two actors I really like (Jay Baruchel and Scott Speedman) couldn’t turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse, but it’s a genre I like so much (Chamber Thriller) that I still enjoyed myself.
The Devil’s Double – Nasty thriller based on the true life experiences of a man forced into living as a double for one of Saddam Hussein’s sons. Tremendous work by Dominic Cooper in dual roles.
The Help – It cheapens the themes of the book, but it’s still beguilingly written and performed. Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer are standouts in a terrific cast.
30 Minutes or Less – It’s possible this movie only seemed good because I was in Tampa.
Crazy Stupid Love – It was a hot mess, but still, fun.
Friends With Benefits – Sharp, funny romcom with very appealing lead performances from Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake.
Fright Night – A totally unnecessary remake, but still, fun!
In Time – Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the same dude who wrote and directed Gattaca. And yeah, this movie may be a tiny bit too much LIKE Gattaca, but hey, Justin Timberlake over Ethan Hawke is a huge improvement, right? In Time is elegant and exciting and fun.
The Immortals – as my friend Brett might say, “Bring on the mens!”
The Adjustment Bureau – Silly, but nice high concept plus great suits and hats.
Paranormal Activity 3 – The filmmakers behind 2010’s Catfish take over the reins of the popular “Found Footage” franchise, with very creepy results. Best cinematic idea: The camera mounted on the oscillating fan.
Best Career Move
It was extremely smart for Matthew Lillard to take a one-scene role in The Descendants. Not only is it a better picture than he has ever been in, but it’s a role utterly unlike anything we’ve seen him do before. Good for him, his agent, and Alexander Payne for using him in this interesting way.
Special Kudos to Warner Brothers
I have to congratulate Warner Brothers for the skillful and consistent and classy way they have handled the Harry Potter franchise. Over the course of ten years, eight films, five different directors and a galaxy of the most talented British thespians, the films were consistently entertaining and well-made. Probably the greatest thing Warners got right was the casting of the three leads: Daniel Ratcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint. Not only did they embody the books characters beautifully (Ms. Watson is too pretty for Hermione, but that’s not her fault), but they handled themselves offscreen in a classy and professional manner. The Harry Potter movies will go down in Hollywood history with one of the greatest film franchises, taking a well-deserved place alongside the Thin Man films, the James Bond films, the Fred and Ginger dance movies, and many others. My hat is off to all involved.
January Jones as an icy assassin and Frank Langella as a Machiavellian boss in Unknown.
Best Special Effect
Jeremy Renner’s forearms in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Can we see more of?
Isiah Whitlock – Very funny and appealing as a not-particularly “street” black dude in Cedar Rapids
Anne Heche – Okay so maybe she’s crazy. Who cares. She’s a big talent, and I want to see her in more movies.
Mason Lee – practically the only good thing in The Hangover II.
Corey Stoll – mesmerizing as Ernest Hemmingway in Midnight in Paris.
Emma Stone – I know, she starred in two big movies this year, but she’s adorable.
Zachary Quinto – He was only in two features this year and one of those was a cameo. I think we can all agree that this isn’t enough.
Jessica Chastain – Seriously, the flavor of the month this year. She appeared in Texas Killing Fields, The Tree of Life, The Debt, The Help, Coriolanus, Take Shelter. All major roles, too. For once, I think they’ve anointed the right actor as The Next Big Thing. I approve, and I hope we get to see her in seven movies in 2012.
Kudos for compliance with the “Ray and tayler” rule about getting in shape for a movie
Alex Pettyfer in I Am Number Four
Rooney Mara in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love and Drive
A friendly warning to kal penn…
… who took a brief sabbatical from his duties working for President Obama to make A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas: You’re a very good looking guy. Don’t let all that plush White House food send you into a weight-gaining spiral. Learn from MY mistakes!!
Great suits and hats!
The Adjustment Bureau
Give Him a lead in an “A” picture already
Best Argument For a Benevolent Deity
Henry Cavill in The Descendants
Greatest ALIENS Reference Ever
In Paul, Blythe Danner gets to yell TO Sigourney Weaver: “Get away from her, you BITCH!” Heaven.
Overrated, I don’t care what you say
Bridesmaids – I like Kristen Wiig as much as the next guy, but her script for this movie was alternatively unfunny (the one-upsmanship party toast sequence) and stupidly over-the-top (yay, wedding gowns and diarrhea). Also: Are there really Irish cops in Milwaukee? Really?
Super 8 – Elle Fanning was terrific, but the train crash was stupidly over-the-top, and the third act made no sense at all.
I Guess I Am Just Too Stoopid to Understand, Appreciate, or Enjoy It
Tree of Life
Most Boring Movie of 2011
Of Gods and Men. Yes, this French film actually managed to be more dull than The Tree of Life.
Weirdest Movie of 2011
Rubber. A movie about a sentient, homicidal steel-belted radial tire. And it’s not animated. Yes, it’s as strange as it sounds, and very very meta, in case that appeals to you.
Red State – Kevin Smith ventures into Quentin Tarantino / Coen Brothers territory, with very indifferent results.
It may be time to talk about a constitutional amendment barring artists from becoming filmmakers
Or at least to keep Steve McQueen from making another movie as boring as Shame. Yes, he managed to make a film about a sex addict played by the frequently nude Michael Fassbender boring. This couldn’t have been easy. But he managed, and made it predictable and pretentious as well!
The Chemical Brothers’s earsplitting, inappropriate, jangling, obnoxious music for Hanna.
The Jodie Foster Award For Worst Performance by a Lead Actor
I regret to report that this award goes, once again, to… Jodie Foster herself for her hammy, senior-class-play-level performance in the otherwise interesting Roman Polanski film Carnage. Perhaps it’s time to consider just giving Jodie the Lifetime Achievement Award in this category?
Worst Films of the Year
Water For Elephants – BLEH. Not even Academy Award-winners Christoph Waltz and Reese Witherspoon could salvage this tedious bit of dreck starring an inexcusably out-of-shape Robert Pattinson.
Thor – First of all, it was a bore. Second, it was a cheat. Why? The publicity machine was in overtime for an entire year about the incredible shape star Chris Hemsworth was getting into for the title role. The trailers for the film showed a very brief glimpse of his amazing physique. Unfortunately, it turns out, that brief shot was the entire amount of screentime he appeared shirtless. I want my money back!
The Hangover II – I loved the first one. Really. But this one was a bust. It also confirmed all of my fears about the city of Bangkok.
What’s Your Number? — Even the presence of a frequently-naked Chris Evans couldn’t lift this dumb, contrived romcom out of the doldrums.
Hanna – It’s full of people I love (Eric Bana, Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett) and directed by the talented Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice). But the movie sucked, no matter what my friend Valerie might tell you. Don’t listen to her.
REST IN PEACE!
The peerless Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)
The indefatigable Harry Morgan (1915-2011)
The underrated “full-figure” girl Jane Russell (1921-2011)
The legendary Hollywood agent Sue Mengers (1932-2011)
The very tall James Arness (1923-2011)
The sort-of creepy Jeff Conaway (1950-2011)
The 50-foot woman herself, Yvette Vickers (1928-2010)
The perennial character actor Michael Gough (1916-2011)
The puzzlingly admired Pete Postlethwaite (1946-2011)
The sexy siren Anne Francis (1930-2011)
The alarmingly hilarious Kenneth Mars (1935-2011)
The prolific film composer John Barry (1933-2011)
The insane director Ken Russell (1927-2011)
The durable Charles Napier (1936-2011)
The Oscar-winning Cliff Robertson (1923-2011)
The simply great Peter Falk (1927-2011)
The tragically underappreciated writer, producer, and designer Polly Platt (1939-2011)
Comments? Kudos? Threats? Please leave a comment!!
 Full disclosure: This film would be in the top films of the year list if I just didn’t dislike Martin Scorcese’s films as much as I do. So sue me.