Top 13 Movies of 2011

Note: This list is tentative and will be constantly updated to be hopefully finalized by March at the latest due to the unavailability of many movies that are garnering critical acclaim and award traction, be it on DVD or in local theaters.

After checking my first “Top of 2011” list which dealt with music, it is time for the second one about another thing that I’m interested in and which I’ve discussed many times throughout this past year: movies.

So without further ado, let us begin.

13 – X-Men: First Class

This reboot of the franchise of which I am a fan was a very needed approach in order to keep these X-Men relevant. Showing how Dr. Xavier became as such and Magneto became, well, Magneto, the movie was really a breath of fresh air for action movies that became more reliant on screen explosions and aerobics than on a decent story to which those special effects come as a complement. (My review of X-Men: First Class)

12 – Stray Bullet

This Lebanese movie may be too short and not a very accurate reflection on the war it is supposedly set in but the acting performances in this are so gut-wrenchingly real, it can’t but be on my list. (My review of Rsasa Tayshe/Stray Bullet)

11 – The Ides of March

This political drama is my favorite of its genre this year. I may not agree with the accolades it’s getting everywhere over more deserving movies but it’s still a great movie in its own merits. It’s riveting, engaging, highly reflective and real. It can happen anytime in any political campaign. The performances are top notch as well. (My review of The Ides of March).

10 – Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s back to basics is definitely one of the better movies of the year. This Parisian comedy will make you dream. It will take you beyond the confines of whatever room you’re watching the movie in and take you aboard its own fantastical world in a trip back in time. Marion Cotillard is more than brilliant in this. The plot is very original and the movie is very enjoyable. (My review of Midnight in Paris).

9 – One Day

Many didn’t like this movie. I found it enthralling and enchanting. Telling the story of a couple revisiting each other on the day they met every year over the course of 23 years. The premise is intriguing and while I’m sure it flows more smoothly in the book upon which this is based, the movie doesn’t botch it. In fact, the transitions are very smart at times. (My review of One Day).

8 – A Separation

This Iranian movie is simply stunning. It’s a cross examination of Iranian society through the lives of  a couple getting a divorce. The emotions in this run high, they never relent. The hurt in the characters is examined and not feared. Taboos are approached and at the end of the day, it leaves you with a stereotype-breaking view of Iranian society. (My review of A Separation).

7 – War Horse

Steven Spielberg’s WWI epic is, well, an epic movie as well. Based on the children’s book of the same name, War Horse is emotional and phenomenal. It’s stunning to look at and boasts one of the most pleasurable scores I have heard this year in a movie. It is a sentimental movie that transcends age lines and turns into a story for the ages. A must watch. (My review of War Horse)

6 – Moneyball

Brad Pitt shines as Billy Beane, manager of a struggling baseball team, as he tries to get his team to survive a grueling league with a dismal budget. So he enlists Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand to help him change the whole baseball game and turn it head on heels. Moneyball might be the best sports movie made. (My review of Moneyball)

5 – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher’s take on this Swedish noir novel preserves the book’s essence and turns it into a stellar movie, fueled by a top notch performance by Rooney Mara who embodies the novel’s heroin Lisbeth Salander in spellbinding manner. I loved the book and the movie. (My review of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)

4 – The Artist

The Artist is a black and white movie which relies on the symphony playing throughout its run for its only auditory input. And it just works. It asks nothing of you as a viewer but to simply watch, not even listen. It relies on the strength of the performances by its cast to communicate the emotions it tries to convey. (My review of The Artist).

 3 – The Help

Based on the book of the same titleThe Help is easily one of the best movies this year as well. It is the tale of the quest of three Southern women in a 1960s racially segregated America for racial equality. The movie may be a work of fiction but it feels so real when you watch it, you can’t but be amazed. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important” – that’s a sentence for the ages. (My review of The Help).

2 – Where Do We Go Now? (W Halla2 La Wein?)

The Lebanese movie that could. Nadine Labaki’s latest movie is without a doubt one of the best movies this year. After being robbed of a Golden Globes nomination (Angelina Jolie, I’m looking at you), we find solace in this movie winning at the Toronto International Film Festival. Telling the tale of women who go beyond their means to get the men of their religiously-divided hometown to ease the tension, the movie tugs at your heartstring, activates your tear ducts and makes you laugh uncontrollably – all at the same time, sometimes. (My review of Where Do We Go Now?)

1 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Because there’s no other movie that deserves to be here. Because there’s no other franchise that has had such a thrillingly brilliant finale. Because no other movie has ever gotten me this close to tears and because every single award show is hell-bent on shunning this from the awards it most definitely deserves. Yes, this may be predictable to many but there’s just something about the final installment in the story of Harry Potter that transcends it being just a movie and turns into a cinematic experience that we, as the Harry Potter generation, are very lucky to have experienced. (My review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2).

– – – – – — – – – – — – – – – –

Notable mentions:

Puss in Boots, previous #13 on the list’s initial version. 

Soul Surfer (check my review) previous #12 on the list’s initial version.

Source Code (check my review) previous #11 on the list’s initial version.

Stray Bullet (Rsasa Taycheh) – Movie Review

Currently in cinemas across Lebanon, this movie is a must-see to every Lebanese. It will leave some of you in tears, especially if you’ve actually lived some of the events firsthand. And if you haven’t and you actually can think for yourself, you will come out of it amazed. That was the case for most of the people in the cinema I went to tonight.

Let me start with what I saw when the movie ended. I looked around and there were grown men drying up their tears… men my dad’s age. This movie is that poignant.

Set in 1976 Lebanon during a period when people thought the civil war had ended. The story revolves around a 30-year old named Noha, portrayed by the ever brilliant Nadine Labaki – and we will be discussing her in due time. Noha is getting married to a guy she doesn’t love, in fear of becoming a spinster like her sister. And on the day that her family is preparing a dinner for her fiance’s family, she decides to meet up with her ex-lover.

The events that follow are what make this movie so real. The meeting with the ex-lover, the dinner, the family dynamics, the emotions expressed on screen, the witty dialogue…. This movie is very Lebanese. It was set in 1976 and yet it still feels very familiar. We have all had at least one scene in that movie happen in our households – regardless of how modern and classy you believe your household is. This movie brings us, with our mentality that we have come far since then, back to the ground, telling us: you are still the same people, 35 years were simply added to the date.

Apart from the heartfelt and close to home plot, the movie feels rustic. The art direction here is just terrific. I have no idea about the techniques with which they filmed this but it feels like the movie was actually filmed in those times.

Now to the acting… all the actors and actresses in this movie have apparently given their services for free, which rendered the budget a simple $0.5 million. And the acting is so brilliant, in fact, that I think the actors and actresses gave it their all. I honestly didn’t know Lebanese acting personnel had it in them to give such raw, gut-wrenching and real performances without coming off as fake.

Nadine Labaki, whom I repeat is as brilliant in what she does as brilliant goes, is terrifyingly good. Portraying the character Noha, she reminded me of a review I read by an American top critic of her 2007 movie Caramel. He said to look out for this woman, both directing and acting-wise. While she doesn’t showcase her directing chops in this movie, she more than excels in her acting. There’s one scene at her brother’s house that will leave you dumb-founded. Also the scene that follows that will leave you shaken to your core.

This movie’s title “Stray Bullet” is very poignant. And the content is even more so. It is reminding us, all of us, to beware of going back to times like the ones the movie illustrates without coming off as preachy. Some say the running time is too short. But I thought it was perfect. I wanted more. But I felt it ended right where it should have ended. It didn’t embellish the story with needless subplots. It just lets your mind fill in the blank with your own version of events.

Let me conclude by saying this: Stray Bullet will hit you straight in the heart. It’s that good and I think it’s an obligation for every Lebanese to watch it.