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JR'S TOP 10 FILMS-2011
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"Good Old JR" Jim Rutkowski weighs in with his picks for the TOP 10 films of 2011

Movie Reviews by:
Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Looking in the rear view mirror at the movies of 2011, I have to say this was not one of those years where I bemoan the lack of quality. All in all, a decent year in cinema. Martin Scorcese showed us all that he does not need a comfort zone. Terence Malick proved that he can dazzle and infuriate...
Looking in the rear view mirror at the movies of 2011, I have to say this was not one of those years where I bemoan the lack of quality. All in all, a decent year in cinema. Martin Scorcese showed us all that he does not need a comfort zone. Terence Malick proved that he can dazzle and infuriate simultaneously. Woody Allen gave us his best work in many a year. As usual, my top 10 is a pliable beast. Ask me the order of preference 10 minutes from now and it will change. Except for the top 4. Those are a lock. What I find the most interesting about 2011, is that my top 2 picks are films that celebrate the earliest days of film. Before the advent of CGI, 3D and motion capture. Pure cinema, after all, is story, character and an artful directing eye.
Juliette Binoche won the Best Actress prize in Cannes for her performance in this playful and provocative romantic drama from legendary auteur Abbas Kiarostami, his first feature made outside of Iran. Binoche plays a gallery owner living in a Tuscan village who attends a lecture by a British author (opera star William Shimell) on authenticity and fakery in art. Afterward, she invites him on a tour of the countryside, during which he is mistaken for her husband. They keep up the pretense and continue on their afternoon out, discussing love, life and art, and increasingly behaving like a long-married couple. But are they play-acting on a whim, or is there more to their seemingly new relationship than meets the eye? A film about truth, love, fraudulence and authenticity where things may not be what they seem done with a deft and mysteriously light touch.
A powerful psychological thriller starring Elizabeth Olsen as Martha, a young woman rapidly unraveling amidst her attempt to reclaim a normal life after fleeing from a cult and its charismatic leader (John Hawkes). Seeking help from her estranged older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy), Martha is unable and unwilling to reveal the truth about her disappearance. When her memories trigger a chilling paranoia that her former cult could still be pursuing her, the line between Martha's reality and delusion begins to blur. An existential thriller about identity and just how tenuous a grasp we have on who we really are. With a knockout performance by Elizabeth Olsen. Yes. She's an Olsen sister. Never thought I would here "Olsen sister" and "award buzz" in the same sentence.
From Alexander Payne, the creator of the Oscar-winning Sideways, set in Hawaii, The Descendants is a sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic journey for Matt King (George Clooney) an indifferent husband and father of two girls, who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off of Waikiki. The event leads to a rapprochement with his young daughters while Matt wrestles with a decision to sell the family's land handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries. Funny, moving, and beautifully acted. Captures the unpredictable messiness of life with rare eloquence and uncommon grace.
A sixty-something woman, faced with a crippling medical diagnosis and the discovery of a heinous family crime, finds strength and purpose when she enrolls in a poetry class. Lee Chang-dong's follow-up to his acclaimed Secret Sunshine is a masterful study of the subtle empowerment - and moral compass - of an elderly woman. For my money, some of the finest films are being made in Korea. Chang Dong-Lee's Poetry is an absorbing, poignant drama because it offers no easy answers to its complex central conflict. With a heartbreaking central performance. Great is not a word I use often. Here, it applies.
Curtis LaForche lives in a small Ohio town with his wife Samantha and six-year-old daughter Hannah, who is deaf. Money is tight, and navigating Hannah's healthcare and special needs education is a constant struggle. Despite that, Curtis and Samantha are very much in love and their family is a happy one. Then Curtis begins having terrifying dreams about an encroaching, apocalyptic storm. He chooses to keep the disturbance to himself, channeling his anxiety into the obsessive building of a storm shelter in their backyard. But the resulting strain on his marriage and tension within the community doesn't compare to Curtis' private fear of what his dreams may truly signify. Faced with the proposition that his disturbing visions signal disaster of one kind or another, Curtis confides in Samantha, testing the power of their bond against the highest possible stakes. On the surface this is a film about madness. But ends up as a metaphor for the current state of American unease. Micheal Shannon's performance is hands down, the best acting of the year. All in all, this is a movie that confronts its own hard challenges - and feels utterly, uncomfortably relevant in this new Age of Anxiety.
Ryan Gosling stars as a Los Angeles wheelman for hire, stunt driving for movie productions by day and steering getaway vehicles for armed heists by night. Though a loner by nature, Driver can't help falling in love with his beautiful neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan), a vulnerable young mother dragged into a dangerous underworld by the return of her ex-convict husband Standard (Oscar Isaac). After a heist intended to pay off Standard's protection money spins unpredictably out of control, Driver finds himself driving defense for the girl he loves, tailgated by a syndicate of deadly serious criminals. But when he realizes that the gangsters are after more than the bag of cash in his trunk-that they're coming straight for Irene and her son-Driver is forced to shift gears and go on offense. Creates a new genre that would best be described as the arthouse action movie. A hyper-stylized blend of striking imagery and violence, that plays, in part, like a tribute to the films of Michael Mann. In particular, Thief and Heat. Atmospheric, refreshingly intelligent and suspenseful with a well-nuanced performance by Ryan Gosling. It's one of the most invigorating thrillers of the year because it offers both style and substance
These final 4 were difficult to put in an ascending order. They are all equal in my eyes but for different reasons. But lists are meant to be in order. So here is where they stand. Ask me tomorrow and the order will probably change.
From Terrence Malick, the acclaimed director of such classic films as Badlands, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line, The Tree of Life is the impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950's. The film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack, through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt). Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn) finds himself a lost soul in the modern world, seeking answers to the origins and meaning of life while questioning the existence of faith. Through Malick's signature imagery, we see how both brute nature and spiritual grace shape not only our lives as individuals and families, but all life. From reclusive director Terence Malick comes a film that defies categorization. "Tree of Life" is a cinematic poem that will challenge your intellect, your faith and at times your patience. Beautiful, baffling, lyrical, intimate and at times pretentious. Evokes the emotional turmoil of childhood, its resentment, pains and joys, in a way that few other filmmakers can match. If you believe cinema can still be a valid form of personal expression, then see this. It does not get any more expressly personal than this. And it has dinosaurs in it. Yes. Dinosaurs.
This is a romantic comedy set in Paris about a family that goes there because of business, and two young people who are engaged to be married in the fall have experiences there that change their lives. It's about a young man's great love for a city, Paris, and the illusion people have that a life different from theirs would be much better. A real return to form for Woody Allen and his best film in a decade. He may not be reinventing any wheels here and it may not boast the depth of his classic films, but the sweetly sentimental nature of this astute comedy about artistic creation and personal dreams is profound none the less. He suggests that no matter what era you're in, you are unaware of its value, so you look back and see a better past. And the past, of course, is a selective illusion.
Throughout his extraordinary career, Academy Award-wining director Martin Scorsese has brought his unique vision and dazzling gifts to life in a series of unforgettable films. This holiday season the legendary storyteller invites you to join him on a thrilling journey to a magical world with his first-ever 3-D film, based on Brian Selznick's award-winning, imaginative New York Times best-seller, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret."  Hugo is the astonishing adventure of a wily and resourceful boy whose quest to unlock a secret left to him by his father will transform  Hugo and all those around him, and reveal a safe and loving place he can call home. Our very finest director, Martin Scorcese, here working well outside of his comfort zone in 2 genres: The family film and in the 3D format. Scorcese fully embraces both and creates an extravagant, elegant fantasy with an innocence lacking in many modern kids' movies, and one that emanates an unabashed love for the magic of cinema. This is obviously an intensely personal statement from Scorsese. Like a great literature, if you immerse yourself in it, the rewards are plentiful. The film is really about Scorsese sharing with us, on a deep visceral level, his extraordinary affection for the medium that's his passion, his profession, his everything. In attempting to create a film for all ages, Martin Scorcese has created instead, a film for the ages.
Here it is. A #1. Top of the heap. Easily the years most entertaining movie. A silent film. In black and white. Shot in the non-widescreen format. Starring complete unknowns.
Who would have expected that the closing weeks of 2011 would include the release of two different feature films that would pay homage to the long-lost days of the silent cinema? A few weeks ago, there was "Hugo," Martin Scorsese's extraordinary love letter to the art form that paid special tribute to one of its true pioneers, French filmmaker Georges Melies. Now there is the much-discussed "The Artist," a French film that does  "Hugo" one better by being an actual, genuine black-and-white silent film from start to finish. Most film fans will recognize that much of the plot of "The Artist" is derived from the storylines of two of the most famous films ever made about Hollywood--namely "Singin in the Rain" and "A Star is Born." However what the story cooked up by writer-director Michel Hazanavicius may lack in pure originality, he more than makes up for it with the utterly beguiling style with which he tells it. Yet, this is not some clinical dissection or parody of bygone cinematic techniques; it's a lively, appealing effort that rises above mere novelty. It's vibrant, clever and dramatic, and has a rich treasure trove of cinema lore and vitality. The Artist captures the eternal wonder of movies -- new and old. I admit, it isn't the weightiest movie that you will season but you will be hard-pressed to find one more entertaining playing in theaters these days. Yes, it is silent. Yes, it is in black-and-white. Yes, it is French (though the title cards are, of course, in English and it was filmed in the U.S.). For some people, those elements might seem like a turn-off but trust me, they work fabulously and help to make "The Artist" into the kind of film that will leave viewers entranced, excited and, well, speechless.
Now that we have put 2011 to bed, we can look ahead. In 2012 a Dark Knight will rise, for the last time under director Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott returns to the series that started it all, or does he? James Bond returns directed by an Oscar winner. The Avengers will.....avenge! Pixar's newest looks like pure gold, and there will be more superheroes than you can flutter a cape at. Rest assured that I will d my best to see each and every one of them. So you don't have to.

For those of you that might be curious as to what my choice for the worst film of 2011 would be. That's easy. Zach Snyders' Sucker Punch. In a word: unwatchable. In another word: junk. And not even the fun kind of junk. Just plain junk.

Roll on 2012!

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