The Top-Rated Films of 2011
I admit that my “movies to see’’ list is rather long this year. I guess a lot of my free time has been spent with my nose in a book (or my iPad), but I do love a great movie. I also hate wasting time watching bad films, so to narrow my focus, I decided to compile the best lists of various movie critics.
I cast a wide net to get a greater range of tastes, but my Excel spreadsheet has revealed a consensus of the best films of 2011. Some of these movies are in theaters, or just coming out. Others are no longer on the big screen, and I’ve indicated if the library owns them so you can place holds.
The following movies were compiled from the lists by Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, Michael Wilhelmson of the Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, Time, MTV, Hollywood Reporter, AV Club, Timeout New York, Moviefone and Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve used the marvelous Internet Movie Database (IMDb) website for the descriptions.
Nine out of eleven sources listed three movies in their best lists:
- “The Artist” is a black-and-white silent movie which has just come into the theaters.
IMDb summary: Hollywood, 1927: As silent movie star George Valentin wonders if the arrival of talking pictures will cause him to fade into oblivion, he sparks with Peppy Miller, a young dancer set for a big break.
- “Hugo’’ is based on the phenomenal children’s book, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret: A Novel of Words and Pictures ’’ by Brian Selznick. The movie, directed by Martin Scorsese and is still available in some theaters in 3D.
IMDb summary: Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton.
- “Tree of Life”, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, was released in May and is available at the library.
IMDb summary: The story centers around a family with three boys in the 1950s. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence.
Movies that were listed in eight out of eleven lists:
- “The Descendants’’, starring George Clooney, still is in theaters.
IMDb summary: A land baron tries to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident.
- “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’’, the finale of the fabulous Harry Potter movie franchise, is available at the library. OK, I admit I am a Potter junkie, and not only have watched this several times, but own the entire series in Blue Ray.
IMDb summary: Harry, Ron and Hermione search for Voldemort's remaining Horcruxes in their effort to destroy the Dark Lord.
- “Moneyball’’, another Brad Pitt movie, which will be released Jan. 10 on DVD/Blue Ray, and is available at the library.
IMDb summary: The story of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players.
- “The Separation’’, an Iranian film that is being released Dec. 30 in theaters.
IMDb summary: A married couple are faced with a difficult decision, to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimers.
- “Drive’’, starring hottie Ryan Gosling, will come out on DVD/Blue Ray on Jan. 31. You can put it on hold at the library.
IMDb summary: A Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a wheelman discovers that a contract has been put on him after a heist gone wrong.
- “Bridesmaids’’, a hilarious, sometimes raunchy comedy, is at the library.
IMDb summary: Competition between the maid of honor and a bridesmaid, over who is the bride's best friend, threatens to upend the life of an out-of-work pastry chef.
- “Midnight in Paris’’, where Owen Wilson channels Woody Allen’s spirit, is at the library.
IMDb summary: A romantic comedy about a family traveling to the French capital for business. The party includes a young engaged couple forced to confront the illusion that a life different from their own is better.
- “Margaret’’, starring True Blood star Anna Paquin, is no longer in theaters, and I couldn't find a DVD release date.
IMDb summary: A young woman witnesses a bus accident, and is caught up in the aftermath, where the question of whether or not it was intentional affects many people's lives.
- “Margin Call’’, a German thriller, is on order at the library.
IMDb summary: A thriller that revolves around the key people at a investment bank over a 24-hour period during the early stages of the financial crisis.
- “Martha Mercy May Marlene’’, starring Elizabeth Olsen (the younger sister of the Olsen twins), is still in some theaters.
IMDb description: Haunted by painful memories and increasing paranoia, a damaged woman struggles to re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult.
- “Pina’’ is a German film that was released in theaters in December.
IMDb summary: A tribute to choreographer Pina Bausch.
- “Attack the Block’’, starring two of my favorite actors, Kevin Spacey and Stanley Tucci, is available at the library.
IMDb summary: A teen gang in South London defend their block from an alien invasion.
- “50-50’’, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, will be available soon at the library.
IMDb summary: Inspired by a true story, a comedy centered on a 27-year-old guy who learns of his cancer diagnosis, and his subsequent struggle to beat the disease.
- “Beginners’’, starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plumber, can be found at the library.
IMDb summary: A young man is rocked by two announcements from his elderly father: that he has terminal cancer, and that he has a young male lover.
- “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’’, the David Fincher American version of Stieg Larsson’s Swedish thriller, is in theaters now. The library does have the Swedish version of the film, and of course, the book.
IMDb summary: Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker.
- “Melancholia’’, starring Kirstin Dunst, will be released on DVD in March 2012.
IMDb summary: Two sisters find their already strained relationship challenged as a mysterious new planet threatens to collide with the Earth.
- “Muppets’’, with Amy Adams and Jason Segal, is still in theaters.
IMDb summary: With the help of three fans, The Muppets must reunite to save their old theater from a greedy oil tycoon.
- “Shi’’ (or “Poetry’’) is a South Korean film available at the library.
IMDb summary: A sixty-something woman, faced with the discovery of a heinous family crime and in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, finds strength and purpose when she enrolls in a poetry class.
- “Rango’’, the animated comedy starring Johnny Depp, is available at the library.
IMDb summary: Rango is an ordinary chameleon who accidentally winds up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost in the Wild West in desperate need of a new sheriff.
- “Shame’’ is still in some theaters.
IMDb summary: In New York City, Brandon's carefully cultivated private life -- which allows him to indulge his sexual addiction -- is disrupted when his sister Cissy arrives unannounced for an indefinite stay.
- “Take Shelter’’ will be released Feb. 14 on DVD and is on order at the library.
IMDb summary: Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself.
- “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy’’, based on the classic spy thriller by John LeCarre, stars Colin Firth and Gary Oldman. It is in theaters now.
IMDb summary: In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet agent within MI6's echelons.
- “War Horse’’, a Steven Spielberg film, is in theaters.
IMDb summary: Young Albert enlists to service in WWI after his beloved horse, Joey, is sold to the cavalry. Albert's hopeful journey takes him out of England and across Europe as the war rages on.
- “Young Adult’’, with Charlize Theron, is in theaters.
IMDb summary: Soon after her divorce, a fiction writer returns to her home in small-town Minnesota, looking to rekindle a romance with her ex-boyfriend, who is now married with kids.
- Coriolanus”, with Ralph Fienes and Gerard Butler, is at the library.
IMDb summary: A banished hero of Rome allies with a sworn enemy to take his revenge on the city.
- “The Help”, based on the blockbuster novel by Kathryn Stockett, is available at the library.
IMDb summary: An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960's decides to write a book detailing the African-American maid's point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.
- “Incendies”, a Norwegian film, is available at the library.
IMDb summary: Twins journey to the Middle East to discover their family history, and fulfill their mother's last wishes.
- “Le Quattro Volte’’, an Italian film, is available at the library.
IMDb summary: An old shepherd lives his last days in a quiet medieval village perched high on the hills of Calabria, at the southernmost tip of Italy. He herds goats under skies that most villagers have deserted long ago. He is sick, and believes to find his medicine in the dust he collects on the church floor, which he drinks in his water every day.
- “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’’, the latest Tom Cruise offering, is still in theaters.
IMDb summary: The IMF is shut down when it's implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, causing Ethan Hunt and his new team to go rogue to clear their organization's name.
- “My Joy’’, is a German film.
IMDb summary: The story about a few days in the life of truck driver Georgi seems to be a never-ending nightmare, a spiral of violence and abuses of power. A man goes to work and on his way he is sucked into the everyday madness of his country, losing his health and memory in the process. A dark parable about the situation in deep Ukraine today.
- “Rise of the Planet of the Apes’’, starring James Franco, is at the library.
IMDb summary: During experiments to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease, a genetically-enhanced chimpanzee uses its greater intelligence to lead other apes to freedom.
- “Super 8’’, created by J.J. Abrams "Fringe'', is available at the library.
IMDb summary: During the summer of 1979, a group of friends witness a train crash and investigate subsequent unexplained events in their small town.
- “Tuesday, After Christmas’’, is a Romanian film available at the library.
IMDb summary: Paul Hanganu loves two women. Adriana his wife and the mother of their daughter, the woman with whom he's shared the thrills of the past ten years, and Raluca the woman who has made him redefine himself. He has to leave one of them before Christmas.
- “X-Men: First Class’’, is available at the library.
IMDb summary: In 1962, the United States government enlists the help of Mutants with superhuman abilities to stop a malicious dictator who is determined to start world war III.
- “Win Win’’, with Paul Giamati and Amy Ryan, is available at the library.
IMDb summary: A struggling lawyer and volunteer wrestling coach's chicanery comes back to haunt him when the teenage grandson of the client he's double-crossed comes into his life.
- “We Need to Talk About Kevin” will be released in theaters in January, and some critics consider this a 2012 film and therefore will consider it for next year's lists.
IMDb summary: The mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief - and feelings of responsibility for her child's actions.
Best Non-Fiction of 2011
Now it’s time for the best non-fiction books of the year! (Please see my previous post for best fiction.) I compiled the 2011 best lists from the New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Book Page, Amazon and Barnes & Noble to see which titles are mentioned the most.
Several titles stand out as among the top-reviewed non-fiction of the year, according to these lists. Only one book made all seven compilations -- Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton, who tells with honesty and humor how she evolved as a chef.
The only book mentioned six times is In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson, who relates the story of how a mild-mannered professor from Chicago became the United States’ first ambassador to Germany during Hitler’s reign. Larson’s previous book, Devil and the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, is still popular among patrons and our book clubs.
One book that made five lists is Blue Nights by Joan Didion, which is described by critics and haunting and moving. Didion shares her thoughts about illness, losing a child and growing old. Her previous book, The Year of Magical Thinking, also examines grief, including what it’s like to lose a spouse.
For history lovers, Pulitzer Prize winner Robert K. Massie is back with Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, which was listed four times. Massie is known for his biographical narratives, including Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs.
Twelve books made the cut three times:
- 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann
- 1861: Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart
- Bossypants by Tina Fey
- Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of an American President by Candace Millard
- The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick
- Lost In Shangri-La: A True Story Of Survival, Adventure, And The Most Incredible Rescue Mission Of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff
- Malcolm X: A Life Of Reinvention by Manning Marable
- Midnight Rising: John Brown And Raid That Sparked The Civil War by Tony Horwitz
- Rin Tin Tin: The Life And The Legend by Susan Orlean
- The Swerve: How The World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
- Thinking, Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- A World On Fire: Britain's Crucial Role In The American Civil War by Amanda Foreman
Twenty-four titles were picked two times:
- Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty by Andrew Bolton
- Assassins Of The Turquoise Palace by Roya Hakakian
- Beginning Of Infinity: Explanations That Transform The World by David Deutsch
- Believing Is Seeing: Observations On The Mysteries Of Photography by Errol Morris
- Better Angels Of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker
- Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin
- Cocktail Hour Under The Tree Of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
- Ecstasy Of Influence: Non-fictions, Etc. by Jonathan Lethem
- Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle With India by Joseph Lelyveld
- Greater Journey: Americans In Paris, 1830-1900 by David Mccullough
- Inferno: The World At War, 1939-1945 by Max Hastings
- Inside Scientology: The Story Of America's Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman
- Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert
- Love And Capital: Karl and Jennie Marx And The Birth Of A Revolution by Mary Gabriel
- The Memory Palace: A Memoir by Mira Bartok
- The Origins Of Political Order: From Prehuman Times To The French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama
- Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan
- The Rise And Fall Of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
- Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World Of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
- To A Mountain In Tibet by Colin Thubron
- To End All Wars: A Story Of Loyalty And Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild
- Townie: A Memoir by Andre Dubus III
- A Train In Winter: An Extraordinary Story Of Women, Friendship, And Resistance In Occupied France by Caroline Moorehead
- What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes
If you want to see these best of 2011 lists, I posted links on our Readers’ Services page, which you can can find by clicking here. I also compiled a list of the Fiction and Reference Staffs' favorite books of 2011, which you can find by clicking here, or picking up a booklet at the Reference Desk. I hope this list gives you great reading and gift ideas. Do you have a non-fiction book that you think should have made the list? Let me know!
Best Fiction of 2011
I’m always fascinated by the compilations of best books of the year released in December by various newspapers, journals and retailers. I look to see if my favorites made any of the lists, and to get ideas for the next best read.
I decided to compile the 2011 best lists from the New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Book Page, Amazon and Barnes & Noble to see which titles are mentioned the most. This blog entry will focus on fiction, and I will do another entry about non-fiction.
Several fiction titles stand out as among the best of 2011, according to these lists. Only one book made all seven compilations -- The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Middlesex.
Three titles were mentioned six times:
- The Tiger’s Wife by first-time novelist Tea Obreht also received the 2011 Orange Prize, and was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award. However, it failed to make the Kirkus best books of 2011 list.
- IQ84 by Haruki Murakami originally was published in three volumes in Japan in 2009–10. The book, which is a tribute to George Orwell’s 1984 and features alternative realities, failed to make the Publishers Weekly best list.
- Night Circus, set in Victorian England, is the first novel written by Erin Mortgenstern and already has a movie deal. It is a finalist for the 2011 Guardian First Book Award. The only list this book didn’t make was the one by the New York Times.
Three books were mentioned five times:
- Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips, who has written several novels, including the well-reviewed This Song is You in 2009.
- State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, whose book Bel Canto won the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Pen/Faulkner Award in 2002.
- The Submission by debut author Amy Waldman deals with events following the 9/11 attack in New York City.
Two books made the cut four times:
- The Art of Fielding by first-time novelist Chad Harbuch was named Amazon’s best novel of the year. It is one of my favorite books of 2011.
- The Leftovers by veteran author and screenwriter Tom Perrotta, best known for Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher
Books mentioned three times include:
- Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
- Cain by Jose Saramago
- Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
- Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
- Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
- Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
- Paris Wife by Paula McLain
- Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes,
- Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman
- Zone One by Colson Whitehead.
Books mentioned two times include:
- Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
- Call by Michael Grant
- Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy
- Empty Family: Stories by Colm Toibin
- Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright
- Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen
- Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
- Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks
- Magician King by Lev Grossman
- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
- Moment in the Sun by John Sayles
- My New American Life by Francine Prose
- Open City by Teju Cole
- Pale King: An Unfinished Novel by David Foster Wallace
- Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
- Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz
- Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
- Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta
- Stranger’s Child by Allan Hollinghurst
- Swamplandia! By Karen Russell
- This Burns My Heart by Samuel Park
- Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
- We the Animals by Justin Torres
- West of Here by Jonathan Evison
- Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson
Notable omission: Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, which won the 2011 National Book Award, was mentioned by only the Library Journal. This is not unusual. The 2010 National Book Award winner, Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon, was conspicuously absent from the 2010 best lists.
My favorites that made the cut included The Art of Fielding, Night Circus, Tiger’s Wife, Marriage Plot, State of Wonder, Caleb’s Crossing, The Paris Wife, Rules of Civility and Sisters Brothers.
I hope this gives you a lot of ideas for new books to read. Were any of your favorite books mentioned? If you want to see these best of 2011 lists, I posted links on our Readers’ Services web page, which you can find by clicking here. I also compiled a list of the Fiction and Reference Staffs' favorite books of 2011, where you also can find on our Readers' Services web page, or you can pick up a booklet at the Reference Desk.
Films At Your Library: The Complete Jean Vigo
During his tragically short life Jean Vigo (1905-1934) became one of the most influential filmmakers of the 1930's. Vigo, the son of a militant anarchist strangled in his prison cell, grew up mostly on the run or in boarding school under a false name. He eventually fell into filmmaking, but died in 1934 at the age of 29 from tuberculosis. I recently spent some time working through Criterion's recently released Complete Jean Vigo. Complete works sound daunting, but given Vigo's short life, the collection consists of 2 shorts (A Propos de Nice & Taris), a 40 minute film (Zero de Conduite), and one full length feature (L'Atalante).
Vigo was a prankster with a camera. The films never take themselves too seriously, though somehow always manage to be subversive. The boarding school boys of Zero de Conduite are never up to any good. In L'Atalante the cabin boy and Jules play tricks on one another and cheat at checkers. Perhaps the playfulness that weaves in and out of harsh realism is what makes Vigo such an influential figure in what would eventually become the French New Wave.
While at the Art Institute of Chicago I happened to catch a photo gallery of Ralph Meatyard, an American photographer best known for his eerily beautiful black and white photographs of dolls and children wearing masks. For Meatyard, "dolls represented a physical human presence, whether employed in a scene alongside people or instead of people. He used masks to universalize his sitters rather than make portraits of individuals." Vigo also portrays these things- a grotesque costume parade in A Propos de Nice, a creepy puppet in L'Atalante.
But Vigo also evokes these human sentiments through swimmers flailing underwater, girls dancing on balconies, sailor tattoos, simple magic tricks, and mischief. The images stick with you. Camera tricks that might seem archaic by today's standards produce a sense of light wonder in the hands of Vigo. This is true whether its the juvenile humor of women's clothing quickly stripped away through a series of film dissolves in A Propos de Nice, the swimmer Tarvis shooting out of the water through reverse filming, or the dreamlike slow-motion insurrectionist pillow fight in Zero de Conduite.
L'Atalante (1934) is a romance movie like no other. It beautifully explores the fragility of new love. Jean, the new husband is the captain of a barge and brings his new wife Juliette along on a trip that also functions as a sort of honeymoon. The animosity between the newlyweds grows as life's responsibilities and each other's shortcomings drive them further apart. Jean is practical while Juliette yearns for adventure. The more they grow apart the deeper they eventually realize how much they need one another. They keep each other afloat, making the canal setting a wonderful metaphor.
For fans of foreign language classics and French New Wave, the complete Jean Vigo is not to be missed. Thanks to Criterion, these films have been beautifully restored so that a new generation of film lovers can enjoy these classic works.
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Merry Christmas Reads
I admit it: I’m a sucker for Christmas books. As Readers’ Advisors at CMPLD, we read our share of “serious” literary fiction throughout the year – but I give myself a free pass during the month of December to read only “shiny, happy” books. I thought I would share some of my favorites.
If you’ve read any of the Pink Carnation Regency series by Willig, you’ll know that you’re in for a treat. And if you haven’t, don’t worry – you can easily get the drift of this book without having read any others. Reginald "Turnip" Fitzhugh -- often mistaken for the elusive spy known as the Pink Carnation -- has blundered into danger before. But when he blunders into Miss Arabella Dempsey, it never occurs to him that she might be trouble. When Turnip and Arabella stumble upon a beautifully wrapped Christmas pudding with a cryptic message written in French, the unlikely vehicle for intrigue launches the pair on a Yuletide adventure. Will they find poinsettias or peril, dancing or danger? Is it possible that the fate of the British Empire rests in Arabella's and Turnip's hands, in the form of a festive Christmas pudding? Witty and fun, this book will leave you laughing and wishing for more.
P.S. Lauren Willig is coming to Aspen Drive Library in February! Come and meet her then!
This eighth book in Karon’s popular Mitford series takes us to Christmas in the small North Carolina town of Mitford, where you will find one of the most endearing cast of characters you’re likely to encounter in contemporary fiction. Father Tim, protagonist of the novels, has always lived what he calls "the life of the mind" and has never really learned to savor the work of his hands. When he finds a derelict nativity scene that has suffered the indignities of time and neglect, he imagines the excitement in the eyes of his wife, Cynthia, and decides to undertake the daunting task of restoring it. As Father Tim begins his journey, readers are given a seat at Mitford’s holiday table and treated to a magical tale about the true Christmas spirit. The book is a wonderful, faith-restoring reflection on the holiday season.
The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
Baldacci has departed from the thriller genre several times in recent years, and this sweet novella is a pleasant diversion. In homage to the lost experience of train travel, he sets his story on a cross-country train from Washington, D.C. to L.A. Banned from flying on airplanes after a hostile incident at an airport security checkpoint, main character Tom Langdon is forced to take a cross-country train to meet his girlfriend for Christmas. As he begins talking to the passengers and staff aboard the train, he meets an eccentric older woman who seems to be a regular rider, a young couple preparing to marry on the train, and a former Catholic priest. To Tom's shock, the former love of his life, Eleanor, is also aboard the train. Sparks fly between them, bringing up old feelings along with the unresolved issues from their relationship. Tom realizes this might be his second chance with Eleanor, but a series of unexpected events may derail his plans. Plot summary copyright 2002 Booklist Reviews
Next on my December reading list:
An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor
The Nine Lives of Christmas by Sheila Roberts
Visions of Sugar Plums by Janet Evanovich
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
Bring Me Home for Christmas by Robyn Carr
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