Tomorrow we will present our official Top 10 Weird Movies of the Year List. This list covers all movies released in 2011, weird or not.
This year, for the first time, I will be voting for the Online Film Critics Society Awards. Taking this commission seriously, I have watched perhaps a hundred of the most highly acclaimed 2011 movies, with a few nominees still left to see before my vote is due. From the perspective of a weird movie specialist, this process has provided me two benefits. First, it’s given me that baseline of movie normality that I need to be able to recognize the stuff that’s really out there to the average viewer. Watching only the strangest of the strange week in and week out skews your perspectives. Hopefully, I will never again fall into the trap of thinking The Tree of Life is too conventional, as I did in my initial review of the movie.
Secondly, gathering that “baseline of normality” has made me appreciate the weird all the more. Conventional award-winning movies are all alike; but every weird movie is weird in its own way. You can tick off the list of qualities that great movies should have: moving performances, arresting cinematography, sparkling dialogue. A weird movie may have these qualities too, but it also has a spark of divine madness or folly that sets it apart from the herd.
You may notice that six of my top ten choices could be pigeonholed as children’s movies. That’s not by design (last year my list would have contained only one, Toy Story 3). But I did not feel the need to bump the children’s movies off the list to make room for more “adult” fare. The truth is that children’s films are the most lucrative segment of the movie market right now, and studios are taking more time and care (not just more money) in making them. They’re writing clever, multi-layered scripts to appeal to adults as well as kids; spending more time on storytelling basics and character development; and crafting more exciting and spectacular set-pieces. If movies made for grown-ups are to increase their share of next year’s list, well, then, they’ll just have to make better movies.
We’ll start off this list with 10 Honorable Mentions. I would have been comfortable including any of the films below on my year-end list, but by the narrowest of margins each came up a little short.
50/50; The Artist; Bridesmaids; Cave of Forgotten Dreams; Martha Marcy May Marlene; Melancholia; Tinker Tailor Solider Spy; Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives; Weekend; We Need to Talk About Kevin
And on to my Top 10 Movies of 2011:
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2: I’ll be honest—although it’s a good film, Deathly Hallows 2 makes it on this list mainly as a lifetime achievement award for the series. None of the Harry Potter movies were masterpieces, but they were all above average, and such sustained quality over eight movies and ten years deserves recognition.
9. Arthur Christmas: This surprisingly dense and entertaining animated film (co-produced by the studio behind “Wallace and Gromit”) juggles lots of well-drawn characters and subplots together with an entirely new, technology-influenced mythology of Santa Claus.
8. Winnie the Pooh: Refreshingly innocent; this feels more like golden age Disney than anything the studio has done in years.
7. Hugo: Martin Scorsese tries to bribe film critics into fawning over his movie by casually slipping film geek fantasies into the narrative—he remakes Georges Méliès shorts in color and 3-D, complete with extra “making of” footage. It works.
6. Midnight in Paris: Maybe it’s a bit frou-frou, but it’s also like a pleasant conversation with a sharp-witted old friend.
5. Project Nim: This documentary about a chimp who gets shuttled around to various labs, shelters and foster homes is, surprisingly, the most emotionally affecting and thought-provoking movie of the year.
4. Rango: The animation is excellent, the chase scenes thrilling, and the movie is damn funny; with its numerous citations to classic movies of the past and PG rating for mild language and violence, Nickolodeon Studios aims at a niche audience of older kids and adults.
3. The Muppets: Simply the most fun you’ll have at the movies all year.
2. 13 Assassins: Takashi Miike proves he can play it (mostly) straight with this samurai film that’s beyond epic—it’s mythological. Like the no-name cowboys in Sergio Leone’s Old West, these men are demigods, and the final battle is their Ragnarök.
1. The Tree of Life: Read the Certified Weird entry. Terrence Malick‘s moon-shot of a movie gives us the birth of the universe, graceful dinosaurs and Sean Penn confused on a Beach of Souls. It’s not just the best weird movie of the year; it’s the best movie of the year (and, thankfully for us in our role as advocates of the supranormal, it just happens to be weird).