Thursday, January 19, 2012

CineCritical's Picks O' the Year 2011 - Sio's Picks

The concept is simple and you've likely seen it on the other sites you frequent (it's okay that our relationship isn't exclusive, we know how it is). The difference here is that rather than making site-wide picks, Matt and I will both be making our own top ten list.

If you've been visiting the site for awhile you'll have noticed that when it comes to preferences, we each have our own unique style. What's more, we don't always have a chance to watch the same films (i.e. Matt sees far more films than I do). Chances are you've found that one of us is more aligned with your own tastes and that's the idea behind the split picks. This way, you have even more opportunity to discover something you haven't enjoyed yet. So without further ado here are my picks for 2011:

10. The Guard
This film was an unexpected delight, discovered on a day when there simply was nothing else I was interested in seeing. As is often the case for films that you walk into with no expectations I was delighted by Brenden Gleeson in the lead as Sergeant Gerry Boyle and found the film to be utterly engaging. The film itself was a fine mix of comedy and intrigue which kept things from getting monotonous, though the plot was quite familiar. Check it out on DVD and BluRay and have a look at my full review here.

9. The Tree of Life
While Terrence Malick's symphonic ode to family life is certainly one of the more visually stunning films that I've seen this year, I felt it tried a little too hard to live in the realm of art. As I mentioned in my notes on Matt's review (which you can read here) the breathtaking camera work and solid acting was mitigated in no small part by some of Malick's more art house directing choices. For instance, there is section in the middle of the film that is gorgeous but is nearly twenty minutes long, and comprises computer animated images of space over which an insistent soprano wails. It's entirely superfluous and bumps this film down to number nine.

8. Drive
Drive has been described as an action movie made as an art house eighties film and even boasts a lawsuit which saw one moviegoer seeking reparations due to misrepresentation. You can read the full story on that PR stunt here. Ultimately while the film does boast moments of action, it is the quiet moments that make this film as engaging as it is. We have become accustomed to a certain amount of mayhem and carnage in films and often forget how horrifying true violence can be. Drive manages to capitalize on this disconnect and succeeds in telling a story that can be-- at times-- truly chilling. Read the full review.

7. Midnight in Paris
Charming and enjoyable, this Woody Allen special is slightly more accessible than many of his other films. When writer Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams) travel to France with her parents, Gil indulges his wildest romantic fantasties. Taking late night strolls through Paris, he somehow stumbles into the middle of a the 1920's. When F Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway show up at the party Gil looses all sense and is drawn into a mad world of famous creators he just can't seem to pull away from.

This, for me, was a delight from start to finish. Who doesn't love Paris? Check out the full review here.

6. X-Men
I'm a sucker for a good comic book movie and no set of characters is more in my wheelhouse than the X-Men. While I certainly enjoyed the first round of X-Men films, this time the story takes us back to the beginning, back to when Charles Xavier and Eric Lensher first met.

A thoroughly enjoyable romp through the alternate history that the films have created, the key here is (and has always been) the relationship between these two men. It is the anchor, the emotional heart that this film keeps coming back to. With nods to the fans and several of the other movies, this is a solid action packed film. With the possible exception of Michael Fassbender's accent...which plays hide and seek until it's lost about two thirds of the way through the film. For a full review check out my post here.

5. Bridesmaids
Silly and surprisingly touching, Bridesmaids shocked critics and boyfriends alike by being funny, charming and absolutely gross. I remember seeing the trailer for Bridesmaids quite early on and thinking: "finally a rom-com that doesn't turn its heroines into love-blind bridezillas."

Maya Rudolph (formerly of SNL, and the upcoming Friends with Kids) gets engaged to her longtime boyfriend and asks best friend Annie (played with relish by SNL's current MVP Kristen Wiig) to be her maid of honour. As with any wedding party, the ladies don't really know one another and hi-jinx ensue. With a stand out (and nominated) performance by Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls, Mike and Molly) and strong support from players like Rose McGowan, this film gets a high score for just trying to be honest. Sort of. For the full review click here.

4. Win Win
I went to see Win Win on a whim with a friend and was absolutely and totally charmed by Paul Giamatti as the down on his luck patriarch of a midwestern family. When a very sick client visits Mike Flaherty's law practice to try, desperate to stay in his home, Mike sees an opportunity to alleviate some of the financial pressure. When the older client's grand son shows up things get complicated.

With stand out performances from Giamatti, Alex Schaffer (as Kyle Timmons, the grandson) and most of all Amy Ryan as Giamatti's hard done by wife Jackie, this film is a must see. Matt was kind enough to provide us with a full review here.

3. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
My pronouncement upon first leaving this film was that, "it is a film where nothing happens." But oh, how glorious nothing can be!

The Hollywood adaptation of heralded writer John le Carré's first novel in the Karla trilogy, this film centres on George Smiley, "middle-aged, taciturn, perspicacious intelligence expert in forced retirement." He is played with absolute relish by Gary Oldman, who's Smiley is tasked with discovering a highly placed mole within British intelligence. As the story progresses however, you are left to wonder how much of the story comes down to the actions of its characters and how much is bubbling beneath the surface. With stellar performances by all (except perhaps Colin Firth, who's Bill Haydon is a bit flat), this film had me riveted from start to finish. For Matt's full review check here.

2. Ides of March
I'm always unsure about political films, even more so when the film includes one George Clooney. That said, I've softened a little on this point since seeing The Descendents at TIFF (watch him run in flip flops for a few minutes and you just can't hold a grudge). This film packed a wallop I wasn't ready for. Loosely modeled on the history of Julius Caesar and Brutus (it is said that the Ides of March is the day on which Brutus betrayed Caesar) the film follows junior campaign manager Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) as he struggles to get Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) nominated for the presidency. With support from Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Evan Rachel Wood this film was a dramatic and compelling ride from start to finish. If you haven't seen it, check it out! For the full review see here.

And finally, my absolutely favourite film this past year (by far) was:

1. Hanna
Seventeen year old Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan stars as Hannah, a young girl who has been raised by her father to defend herself and grew up away from society in the wilds of the far north. When her father goes on the run Hannah decides it's about time she meet her enemy. Cate Blanchett stars as CIA agent Marissa Vieglar, who is tracking the girl as they work their way towards their inevitable meeting.

Well acted, impeccably paced and unexpectedly touching, you can read Matt's full review here (and as always my take in the comments below).

It should be noted that there are several films which were very highly rated on CineCritical this year which I've not had the opportunity to see. Since I can only speak for the films I have seen I thought I would mention a few of this year's films that are on my watch list. Most notably on my list are: Shame, The Skin I Live In and We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Have a look at the reviews linked above if you want to more more about the films mentioned in this post and keep an eye out for Matt's Picks O the Year, which will be forthcoming.


  1. I really did love Hanna. It could really have been on my list. Saoirse Ronan always gives me another reason to love her.

    I really wanted to include Win Win. It was such a genuine surprise how much I loved it. But I really love Amy Ryan!

    I guess the only one I could disagree with (besides The Guard - which I have not seen) is X-Men: First Class. It was good. But it also had Jennifer Lawrence.

  2. ...says the man who is anticipating The Hunger check the trailer linked in my watchlist.