'Drive,' 'The Tree of Life' and 'Melancholia' Lead Exclaim!'s Top 10 Films of 2011

'Drive,' 'The Tree of Life' and 'Melancholia' Lead Exclaim!'s Top 10 Films of 2011
With the Golden Globes just behind us and the Oscars in front of us, it's time for Exclaim!'s learned film council to weigh in on the standout celluloid exploits of the cinematic year that was 2011. From stripped-down embodiments of cool driven by revenge, to drama that felt as if the world was ending turned world-ending drama, to existentialist imagery spanning the whole of creation and evolution, to raunchy bridesmaids but never the brides, the themes of 2011 unquestionably reflected the anxiety, confusion, isolation, optimism and desperation of these troubled times. But, of course, with poop jokes. You know: the human condition.

Exclaim!'s Top 10 Films of 2011:

10. The Guard
(Directed by John Michael McDonagh)

The most underrated movie of the year, The Guard is another one of those "bad cop" comedies that milks laughs out of the ridiculous misbehaviour of a supposed authority figure. Sure, we've seen it before, but The Guard stands out from the pack thanks to cultural specificity and a towering, hilarious performance from Brendan Gleeson. The debut film from writer/director John Michael McDonagh (whose brother and award-winning playwright, Martin McDonagh, made the fantastic crime/comedy In Bruges in 2008) tells the tale of international drug smuggling coming to a small, isolated Irish community. Paired with an American FBI agent (ably portrayed by the always excellent Don Cheadle), Gleeson plays a confrontational, unorthodox policeman with almost as many vices as the criminals he's catching. The film is ultimately little more than dirty, R-rated, "did he just say that?" comedy, but it's executed with such style by such talented collaborators that it feels like more. The dialogue is exquisitely crafted by McDonagh and spat out with such flair by Gleeson that it practically becomes vulgar poetry. The characters are fully fleshed out, the narrative carefully constructed to find surprises in clichés and the humour is both endless and cripplingly funny. For anyone with a dark sense of humour, The Guard offers 90 minutes of filthy delight. It's not easy to find originality in well-worn crime movie conventions, so McDonagh deserves praise for finding a fresh spin on an old game. You'll never look at roly-poly police officers the same again, even if you already harboured suspicions about their off hours. (Alliance)
Phil Brown

9. Bridesmaids
(Directed by Paul Feig)

The excitement and high expectations that accompanied Bridesmaids on its release were tempered only by an occasional dismay that, again, we are presented with a typically "feminine" theme for a film full of, and created by, women. But that theme was only incidental in light of Bridesmaids' incredibly sharp comedic writing, standout performances by Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy (oh, and don't forget Jon Hamm as an excellent asshole), and a remarkable, emotionally raw and touching centre to the otherwise consistently hilarious film. Wiig's protagonist is a woman down on her luck in so many ways, and yet, her painfully awkward attempts to deal with her troubles are somehow effortlessly combined with genuine, and big, laughs (witness her insult-trading with a spoiled teenager or her strange relationship with her manipulative, yet idiotic, roommates). At the centre of Bridesmaids is a remarkably thorough exploration of the relationships that grow among a diverse and hardly "normal" group of women as they gather for a friend's wedding. McCarthy's character's paranoia, self-assuredness and swagger are combined with her unapologetically frank approach to her gastro-intestinal problems, to pitch-perfect effect. Indeed, the film's greatest contribution to both comedy and feminism is that it refuses to "pin down" any one character, relationship or plotline. The women posing on the film's poster says it all: deal with it. For such a flawlessly hilarious film, Bridesmaids packs in an impressive amount of detailed character development and emotional drama. (Universal)
Jovana Jankovic

8. The Descendants
(Directed by Alexander Payne)

Early on in Alexander Payne's first film in seven years, The Descendants, someone describes Matt King's (George Clooney) current circumstances as, "one heck of a unique, dramatic situation" and he isn't kidding around either. King's wife is in a coma after a boating accident; his daughter just told him his wife was having an affair prior to her injuries; and, to top it all off, the fate of an entire Hawaiian island rests upon what King's family decides to do with a sizable chunk of land. Fortunately for King, there's nobody better than Payne when it comes to directing characters at distinct and difficult turning points in their lives. And fortunately for the audience, Payne's time away has only made him more adept at his craft. Clooney has never looked more schleppy, as a Hawaiian lawyer and father of two, nor has he ever been quite so vulnerable and sensitive on screen. If the man can pull off one of the most commanding performances of his career in tacky Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops, you know he deserves all the accolades he receives. By bearing the weight of the film on his shoulders, with every dramatic tangent converging in front of him at once, Clooney succeeds in transporting the audience through a journey that not only inspires strength and humility, but also provides a very real sense of joy along the way. The Descendants is not only one of 2011's greatest films, but it is also Payne's finest work to date. (Fox Searchlight)
Joseph Belanger