[Note: In a different form, this was supposed to run in LGBT Weekly last week, but it was cut for space.]
Before you read through the list of my 10 favorite movies of 2011, I want to provide you with a disclaimer. I haven’t seen every movie that came out this year. Yes, part of the reason is that many of the movies that are probably going to be nominated for Oscars only open in New York and Los Angeles before January 1, and they won’t open in San Diego for weeks. However, there are also some movies that have opened in San Diego that I should have seen but haven’t had the time or something was preventing from getting to the screening. For example, I ran out of gas on the 15 on the way to see Tintin. (I didn’t see until after it had been out for three weeks.) Some other big movies that I haven’t seen that could have made this list include War Horse, Take Shelter, Melancholia, A Separation, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. However, the reason Hugo, The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Shame aren’t on the list that I just didn’t like them that much. And I really liked Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, but not more than the other ten in this list.
With all of that in mind, here are my favorite movies of the last year.
10. The Help. I could not resist the easy morality of this story of a quiet revolution waged by black housekeepers in early 1960s Mississippi. Viola Davis’s quiet suffering is almost agonizing to watch, while Octavia Spencer is funnier than anyone in Bridesmaids. But most of the white characters are nearly as interesting or layered. (On DVD.)
9. Albert Nobbs. It doesn’t open in San Diego for several weeks, but I managed to see a DVD screener of this quiet and intense drama about gender politics in Victorian London. Glenn Close’s uncanny and deeply moving portrayal of the sad, scared butler Albert Nobbs is the one of the great performances of 2011.
8. Bridesmaids. Easily the funniest movie of the year, Bridesmaids is not just about female friendship, but also class warfare, gender politics, and food poisoning. Melissa McCarthy steals every scene she’s in as the bizarre butch future sister-in-law. The film’s jokes are neither cruel nor racist, as they were in the movie I hated more than any other last year, The Hangover, Part 2. (On DVD.)
7. Heartbeats. Barely anyone saw this stunning French Canadian story of a bisexual love triangle. Written and directed by Xavier Dolan, who also starred in the film, it’s gorgeous, avant garde piece of art that seems impossible to have come from someone only 21 years old. (On DVD and Instant Netflix.)
6. Beginners. It’s a gay movie made for straight people – it does little too much Homosexuality 101 – but as Ewan McGregor’s father who comes out after turning 70, Christopher Plummer is as sweet and giddy and confused and awake as a kid in a candy store. Mike Mills, who wrote and directed the movie, uses some brilliant editing and witty voiceover to make something extraordinary, moving and funny. (On DVD.)
5. Drive. A violent, searing, and ultimately gorgeous homage to 1980s LA noir films like American Gigolo and Blade Runner, Drive is also Ryan Gosling’s best performance of the year, and that’s saying a lot. Taciturn, serene, and dressed a bit like Steve McQueen in Le Mans, as the Driver Gosling is the new ultimate example of cool.
4. The Artist. A silent movie about the silent movies, and as good as the best silent movies made at their height, The Artist is an exquisite, perfect film that features a performance by Jean Dujardin that is so charismatic and sexy that when the movie is finished, you want to watch it all over again just to stare at him.
3. Moneyball. How could a movie about baseball statistics be so enthralling, even exciting? The answer is Brad Pitt, who plays former Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane when he revolutionized baseball recruiting. Pitt is funny, arrogant, nervous, sly, and sexy; it’s a marvelous movie star performance.
2. The Tree of Life. The winner of the Cannes Film Festival, Tree of Life divided audiences, half of whom thought it was pretentious nonsense, and half of whom thought it was a masterpiece. I’m in the latter camp; I cried in awe during the film’s montage of the history of the universe. A meditation on family, anger, creation, and memory mostly set in 1960s Texas, the film still haunts me six months later. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain will be rewarded for other movies this year, but is in The Tree of Life that they did the best work of their careers. (On DVD.)
1. Weekend. I will just repeat what I wrote in my review three months ago: “It is about what it is like to be gay and in love now. It is an immediate, intimate, and honest examination of love, sex, and longing in 2011. It’s also gorgeously shot, sensitively acted, and sexier than any gay film I can remember. Andrew Haigh’s sensitive direction and editing and Urszula Pontikos’s cinematography turn what is basically a two-person parlor play into an intense, almost epic work of beauty.” It’s my favorite movie of the 2011. (On Instant Netflix.)