Top Eleven Movies I Saw in 2011

by - Thursday, December 15, 2011

11. Half Nelson (very close to Lars and the Real Girl)- Alright, it's barely worth noting that Ryan Gosling is adorable, and i don't want to add to the inevitable overkill moment, but he is fantastic in these two movies, which I watched in the same day, but I think Half Nelson, structurally, is a better film. Smart and really sad.
10. Howl’s Moving Castle- Totally bizarro plot, but this movie was a hoot to watch and a feast for the eyes, though I will never get why anime pairs these super deep and rich backgrounds with such flat and sometimes washed out characters. Still, I loved the story and I think I would add this to the list of films I would show my children, because the heroine could probably beat the crap out of all the Disney princesses (Mulan included).
9. Meet me in St Louis- So, when I ta-ed musicals, the professor was all about Vincent Minelli. I will put myself out on a limb and say I don't totally get it. I really did not enjoy Brigadoon, and I am not sure that I totally buy some of the arguments about him. On the other hand, I did really like Meet Me in St. Louis. That movie is such a sweet piece of Americana, and Judy Garland is at her campy girl next door best. She just looks beautiful and works it, big time. Her numbers are so good, and she looks beautiful. I think the film just resonates in my soul where I am right now, because it is all about the home and the community where you are in, that truly the only horrible thing that could happen in the world is to have to leave. I understand that feeling (or more like fantasy) so well!
8. The Pajama Game- Ok, the first time we watched this we didn't love it. I still think John Raitt comes off as extraordinarily creepy as the male lead, but the film is shot well, it has a hilarious ensemble, and Doris Day is amazing. She and Raitt's fast number together might be in my top three favorite musical numbers ever (ooooh, I should make that list).
7. An Education- This movie got a lot of attention when it came out, so I can't possibly have much to add, but it really is a lovely film with a fantastic performance by its lead. It is no wonder that she has become such a star since then. Also, kudos to Peter Sarsgaard for playing the charming douchey guy yet again. It was a great movie to watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
6. Everything is Illuminated- It was an interesting adaptation of the book, leaving out the more mythical side of the novel, but it was really a beautiful film, with great shots and a real eye for these complex amalgamations of detail. At the same time, the sort of soul-crushing climax didn't have the same emotional depth that I felt in the book, but the performance of the Eugene Hutz carries so much of the weight. I wish this guy was getting more work, because this film is worth seeing for him alone. He is able to carry both the sort of dry absurdest humor and these crushing emotional moments. He makes this movie.
5. Whoopee- Super super racist. I think that has to be said first, and there is a real and good reason that this film hasn't persisted through time (it's interesting how often race is a central debate in the early musical; ta-ing that class makes you kind of face these histories of vaudeville and blackface, which seem so ridiculous now). At the same time, Eddie Cantor, at his best, is like Woody Allen before Woody Allen, except even sassier. It's just the strangest movie, but I could watch Cantor sing "Makin Whoopee" about a million times. Glad I saw it, though it is such a mixed bag that it is hard to say I enjoyed it as a whole or need to watch it again.
4. Tangled- Disney's newest Princess movie is definitely a mixed bag, but it has a lot of fun moments and the best passive agressive villian mother ever. In fact, part of what makes this interesting, in light of their history of instilling really conservative gender roles in these movies, is that the evil character is manipulative through a kind of striving for stasis and passivity. The heroine actually wants to be active. I also loved the first number, where the princess does all the stuff a good princess does, Snow White style, then sings about how bored she is. Also, the lanterns were like the prettiest thing ever. Not flawless, but it did feel like a good step in the right direction (and it sort of passes the bechtdel test, which is pretty impressive for them).
3. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner- Ok, so I just watched this yesterday, but it is fresh in my mind. I did not expect this movie to be as good as it was, but parts of it blew me away. I think it may have been my first Katharine Hepburn movie, and she blew me away. When Spencer Tracy gives his final speech, she is totally out of focus and you still can't take her eyes off just the beams of light reflecting off her tear-filled eyes. She is literally a blur, and she is still amazing. It also is surprisingly forward for such an early movie about race. Everyone should have to see this movie, because it really captures the moment it was from. Let's us remember things we now take for granted (but also makes us think about what of this moment remains... the Boy was telling me that there are still very few films with interracial couples). I was expecting to be repulsed, and there are certainly some awkward moments, but it is surprising at every turn.
2. A Fish Called Wanda- This movie is ridiculously hilarious, and no one is better in it than Jamie Lee Curtis. Also, I really like comedy Kevin Kline more than serious Kevin Kline. Just perfect in every step it takes. Great performances, great movie.
1. Swing Time- This movie has inspired a whole year of Ginger Rogers obsession, so you know it must be great. It's not exactly progressive in terms of certain politics, but in other ways you see a lot of kind of great  power plays going on. And seriously, forget any hipster now, Ginger Rogers is the ultimate hipster dreamgirl. And she is ridiculously beautiful and powerful in her own weird way. I also think it has some of the best dance numbers ever. These two got their reputation for a reason, and if you want proof, go see this movie.

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