When it comes to making lists of one's favorite film or films that one judges to be the best there is much controversy. There are numerous protests: the films on the list are too mainstream, too obscure, too erratic, and too arbitrary. Some like Roger Ebert have divided their lists into "mainstream" and "indie" with a Cannes-inspired "special jury prize." Others include many honorable mentions.
I will offer two lists: a list for entertainment and a list for social realism and significance. There will be some overlap. My primary criteria for including films on this particular list is replay value - both established and estimated.
1. Inception: This film creates a spell on the susceptible viewer- a trance of emotion and possibility. This film is not for everybody, as with most great works this film is polarizing. Some dismiss it for not being dreamlike enough. That misses the point- as Inception is not a film about the organic process of dreaming it is a film that meshes dreams with technology. The story concerns dreamworlds that are designed rigorously in advance as opposed to instantaneously in real time. The dreams are shared and very lucid. This film is as much about the cinematic experience as it is about dreams. All movies are shared dreams- dreams of the filmmakers and reflective of our common humanity and sometimes inhumanity. Over time we forget movies like we forget dreams and then we experience déjà vu. Movies like dreams motivate us, change us and shape us. Some movies are like the best dreams because we never want them to end. Some are nightmares and they cannot end soon enough. Some are just bland and forgettable. So next time you are at the movies ask yourself if you are truly awake.
Like Vertigo this genuine marvel tends to improve the more times I view it. This appears to be true for others as well. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) refers to an idea growing like a virus and having the power to bring about great change- and this film has that same contagious power. This film infests your mind and soul if you allow it to, just like Alfred Hitchcock's aforementioned masterpiece- both films are dizzying and complex. I believe the power of this film will lead it to become an indelible landmark in cinema. A future classic in my estimation.
There is a point in the film which gives me shivers: when a van starts rolling over on one dream level and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) ends up fighting in shifting gravity. The music, the visual effects, and the concept itself are all beautifully realized- a perfect marriage of style and substance. I Get the chills yet again at a pivotal moment involving zero gravity. And then there is the power of catharsis in one scene that I shall not spoil- but I can say that to an extent everybody wins in this film. Nobody loses. Given a choice between social networking and dream-sharing I would definitely choose dream-sharing.
* I have been listening to selections from the score at work on my Zune lately.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1: I imagine, once the series draws to a conclusion, more critics will include "Part II" among the best of 2011. However, this was a powerful opening to the closing of the Harry Potter film series phenomenon. I had the chills during the eerie final sequence involving Voldemort. In essence, the whole film is haunted territory like none before in the series - "The Tale of the Three Brothers" took me back to childhood. This film washed over me like déjà vu.
3. The Town: Ben Affleck creates a tightly constructed crime thriller that is mostly plausible. Excellent robbery sequences, tense chases, and many disguises give this film an exhilarating graphic quality. Then there is the central romance which provides an emotional core to the film. Jon Hamm's mere presence is icing on the cake. This film is in the tradition of such gritty crime classics as The French Connection and Heat while giving us a tale of redemption we can believe in.
4. Chloe: Seyfried, Seyfried, Seyfried! Seyfried is the camera's fetish here. A gorgeous actress heading a gorgeous cast (Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson) plus gorgeous cinematography plus gorgeous Toronto locales plus haunting music equals perfection on the surface. Add an intriguing story of marital insecurity, distrust and deception born of a mid-life crisis and there is enough substance to justify this nuanced erotic thriller.
5. Easy A: Emma Stone is as watchable as they come as an adorable, intelligent, compassionate high school student who gets caught up in a vortex of lies about having sex. This coming-of-age romantic comedy is one of those self-aware, pop-culture savvy gems that acknowledges itself as a throwback to the era of John Hughes films about youth. Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Haden Church and Malcolm McDowell are hilariously exceptional in their supporting roles.
6. Letters to Juliet: Seyfried, Seyfried, Seyfried! Seyfried's big green eyes, killer curves and milky white radiance return. Much sweeter than her appearance in Chloe, Amanda Seyfried portrays a fact-checker who aspires to be a writer. She goes on vacation with her fiance to Verona, Italy and her life changes with a series of heartwarming events. This film is pure feel-good fun. Vanessa Redgrave is a fine co-star.
7. Youth in Revolt: I am a sucker for romantic comedies. This one comes with a dash of the absurd. Portia Doubleday is the aspirational beauty of this film and Michael Cera does what he does best trying to win her heart. Doubleday shines with her milky white skin, hot gazes and forward dialogue. Like Easy A this film is a stylized, self-aware treasure of pop-culture savvy. Jean Smart, Steve Buscemi, Ray Liotta and Justin Long are part of a rich supporting cast.
8. Salt and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: Terry Gilliam returns to the feverish and fanciful absurdism that he mastered in films like Brazil and Time Bandits. Heath Ledger in his final role dazzles as a swindler with the panache of a motivational guru and a knight-in-shining-armor. Johnny Depp also dazzles far too briefly as one incarnation of Ledger's swindler. The story is really irrelevant, it's all about the experience- and this experience is a head-trip extravaganza that looks and sounds great.
9. Somewhere: A minimalist film. A tone poem. "Lost in Translation in Los Angeles." This film is a perfect companion to Lost in Translation and may serve as an impetus to awaken one's humanity. To awaken one's humanity one must first acknowledge their inhumanity. The subject of this film may be emptiness and its protagonist empty, but this film is very full and very touching. Like Lost in Translation I wish it kept going.
10. The King's Speech: A slice of history realized with marvelous production value and astounding onscreen talent. Aspirational, inspirational and truthful in its representation of human emotions. The simplest thing can also be the hardest. Colin Firth deserves all the acting awards he gets and more, Geoffrey Rush is the heart of this film and Helena Bonham Carter is exquisite. Let there be wit, perseverance, and victory.