Tanner Smith’s Favorite Films of 2011 (with shorts)

December 24, 2011

Tanner Smith is a filmmaker and critic.

By Tanner Smith

Instead of making a standard list of the top ten “best films” of 2011, I’m going my own route and listing my favorite features. Unlike last year, where I listed two short films in the list of the best for 2010, I’ll provide a separate list for 2011’s shorts. And finally, I’ll list my pick for the worst film of the year.

And to be sure, the year isn’t over yet, and there are a couple titles being released this month that I’m most looking forward to. Whether or not this list will change depends on what I think of those titles after I’ve seen them.

Counting down from number ten, my top ten favorites of 2011:

10. Hanna —With gripping action, sharp direction, and a solid performance by Saoirse Ronan, this action movie intersected with an interesting coming-of-age story—a mountain girl, who has been trained by her father to kill, explores the real world—delivers the goods.

9. Source Code —Though I’m still a little unsure about some of the sci-fi elements of this movie, at least it still keeps me wondering.

8. Kung Fu Panda 2 —This wonderful animated sequel to the amusing 2008 animated film Kung Fu Panda, begs the question, Could Dreamworks give PIXAR a run for its money at the Oscars this year?

7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 —A satisfying conclusion to the beloved Harry Potter series.

6. Contagion —A terrifying look at the world not ending with a bang, but with a whimper.

5. The Beaver —This is probably the most controversial film of the year, due to what was spreading about Mel Gibson who stars in it. But separate the art from the artist and you have a most endearing picture that takes a ridiculous premise—Gibson plays a lowlife who uses a beaver puppet to put everything back on track—and makes it into something wonderful.

4. Super 8 —OK, this has gotten a positive critical reception, though most who like it don’t seem to like the ending. With Internet commenters, it’s a different—more lukewarm—story. But I love just about everything about the exciting, fast-paced, well-made Spielberg-produced Super 8. To me, this is the example of what every summer blockbuster should be.

3. 50/50 —How do you make an effective movie about dealing with cancer? Add some comedy to mellow the situation out once in a while. With a winning screenplay by Will Reiser (who had his own experiences with spinal cancer) and excellent performances (especially from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who really deserves an Oscar nod for this), 50/50 is an effective comedy-drama that doesn’t get corny or try too hard to make us weep (or laugh).

2. Hugo —This is Martin Scorsese’s first family film and it’s a welcome addition to this list. This is a sweet, gentle, even exciting-at-times tale about a runaway orphan who rebuilds an automaton and then attempts to “rebuild” the mean old man who works at the toyshop. This is a touching, wonderfully acted film that only gets better as it progresses. It’s also one of the best-looking films of the year, with great atmosphere, neat cinematography, and wonderful settings. There’s no doubt in my mind that Hugo will get multiple Oscar nominations this winter.

1. Take Shelter —This is an excellent film, the second film by writer-director Jeff Nichols after 2008’s Shotgun Stories. It brings about a subject that is a main envelopment of mankind—fear. Take Shelter features a man who reacts extremely to his fears, and he has two of them—the fear of a coming apocalypse and the fear of slowly but surely descending away from sanity. The film is inspired, unpredictable, chilling, masterfully made, wonderfully acted (especially by Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain), well executed, and intriguing. Am I leaving anything out here? Only this — this is my pick for the absolute best film of 2011.

And now my picks for the Top Five Short Films of 2011.

5. Ballerina —This dialogue-heavy short with a sci-fi element reminded me of the best of the Twilight Zone episodes.

Ballerina from Bryan Stafford on Vimeo.

4. Tie between Foot Soldier and The Conversation — Both shorts are strange, yet wonderful.

Foot Soldier Trailer from Jon Bryant Crawford on Vimeo.

3. Seven Souls —A deep, powerful, haunting story about death and love.

2. Cotton County Boys — Filled with laughs and heart, this 30-minute short about three dim-witted Southern brothers making their own Jackass-type videos is a true delight.

Cotton County Boys Little Rock Film Festival Announcement from Collin Buchanan on Vimeo.

1. Pillow — How do I properly describe just how great this film is? It is deep, disturbing, unnerving, unusual…and yet, it’s original, great-looking, haunting, and to sum it all up, absolutely amazing. Actually, I need to be honest here. If I counted these short films in the Top 10 list above, this would tied with Take Shelter for number one.

“Pillow” trailer from Joshua Miller on Vimeo.

And finally, my pick for the worst film of the year: Your Highness. This is a rude, crude, disgusting, sloppy, stupid atrocity. And I wouldn’t mind, if there was something to laugh at! But no—this movie relies way too much on the crudeness of the Danny McBride character and the nonstop use of jokes about pot and male genitalia. Now I’ll admit I actually had some hope for this, since the director of this film—named David Gordon Green—has been known for taking something ordinary and forming it into something better (I loved Undertow and Snow Angels; I even liked Pineapple Express). If only he knew that this material wouldn’t work at all.

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