So, I apologize that I have not been producing more posts lately, but these Best of 2011 series take a lot of time to write. With that in mind, I am stretching them out just a bit. This week I will only be covering writers and directors, with the Best and Worst Picture categories covered next week, and the genres the week after that. I know, I know, but anticipation is half the fun. If you missed any of the previous posts in the series, you can follow these links to The Techs, The Performances Part One, and The Performances Part 2. As before, any film titles that appear as links will take you to my review for that film if you click on them. Oh, and I forgot to include the Tin Toadstool Award last week for Worst Ensemble Performance. I hereby bestow it upon...The Immortals. And without further ado...
Best First Time Director
I feel it necessary to include this as a separate category because so many of the competitors in the Best Director race took decades to hone their crafts to become the caliber of director that they are today. But if we look towards the future, we must look at the most promising members of a new generation of directors. Besides, its always fun to be able to say, "Oh, I've been following their work ever since....". Every once in a while, someone debuts with a Reservoir Dogs. I believe that there is at least one such under appreciated masterpiece sitting atop the list this year, but all of these films are impressive freshman efforts worth watching.
Honorable Mention: Sarah Smith
It is difficult to judge the director of an animated feature against live action directors because there are many dissimilarities in the job descriptions, but I couldn't let the opportunity go by to commend Ms. Smith enthusiastically.
10. Sean Durkin
Martha Marcy Mae Marlene
Although I took issue with some of the choices that Mr. Durkin made in his screenplay, the job he did as director was actually quite impressive. I hated the ending of the film, but the journey getting there was very well done.
9. Ralphe Fiennes
Mr. Fiennes didn't seem to realize that it even WAS his first directorial effort as he made every choice that could possibly make his production more challenging. The craziest part is that he mostly made it all work.
8. James Marsh
A very thoughtful sci-fi flick with a very limited budget. Mr. Marsh managed to pull it off with intelligence, believability (not easy with this film), and heart.
7. Angelina Jolie
In the Land of Blood and Honey
Like Fiennes and Farmiga, Angelina carries the added pressure of already being famous so a certain set of expectations exists about she will create. I am pleased to say that my expectations were thoroughly exceeded. I'm excited to see what her next (off screen) project will be.
6. Joe Cornish
Attack the Block
The action adventure version of everything that was challenging about Another film on this list. Tons of fun without ever condescending to the audience in the slightest. Oh...and it was made on a shoestring.
5. Dee Rees
This was a very difficult and uncomfortable story, but Ms. Rees somehow kept it entertaining and engaging enough that you could not choose to look away, even in the worst parts.
4. J.C. Chandor
It is quite an accomplishment to make something that is more than the sum of its parts when those parts include Quinto, Spacey, Tucci, and Irons for starters.
3. Vera Farmiga
Ms. Farmiga is a phenomenal actress, but this may have been the year that she found her highest calling. Not to mention how good she is at directing herself.
2. Michael R. Roskum
Any director who, in his first swing at bat, can pull a lead performance like Michael Shoenaerts' Jackie out of an actor, is someone to watch out for.
1. Peter Mullan
For now, I will simply say that I would NEVER have guessed that this was a directorial debut in a million years.
Tin Toadstool: Julia Leigh
If you lose yourself in the pacing of this film you fall into the sleep of a hundred years.
Best Adapted Screenplay
20. Carlos Saboga
Mysteries of Lisbon
There were so many stories within stories in this source material, yet Mr. Saboga managed to craft a script in which they all functioned both as individual tales and as a part of the whole.
19, Yasmine Reza and Roman Polanski
The stage play God of Carnage did not translate quite as smoothly to the screen as many had hoped, but it still had some great moments.
18. Tate Taylor
Very mixed bag of brilliance and overindulgence in sentimentality, but worthy of mention.
17. Steve Kloves
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
It may have still been a little confusing to those who had not read the books, but you have no idea how much the story had to be compressed even into TWO films worth of footage.
16, George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon
The Ides of March
A little less than cohesive, but it had some great dialogue.
15. John Logan
It is always nice to see a Shakespeare adaptation that finds clever choices and new ways of looking at a story centuries old.
14. Sang-soo Im
It was too much at times, but in all the right ways. High melodrama.
13. Moira Buffini
Ms. Buffini made this frequently remade story feel a good deal fresher than usual.
12. Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, Cornish
The Adventures of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn
It's sort of funny that in a year of soooo many comic book adaptations, this funny and exciting yet obscure subject managed to trump all those famous super-heroes.
11. Dee Rees
I already praised Ms. Rees in the first time director category, but her work is even more impressive when you realize that she also wrote this complex story, adapted from her own previous short film.
10. Steve Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin
I know, it's sacrilege to have a Sorkin/Zaillian joint this low on the list, but while there was a lot of clever dialogue here, the film was still a little dry to me. However, considering the source and subject matter, it is impressive that the film was as interesting as it was.
9. Carolyn S. Briggs, Tim Metcalfe
Spirituality and the search thereof is not the easiest subject matter to address in a movie in a way that will be both accessible and entertaining. Job well done.
8. Pedro and Agustin Almodovar
The Skin I Live In
This was truly a unique and crazy story, but the Almodovars specialize in tales of that nature and it really shows through in their work here.
7. Steve Zaillian
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
It's difficult to judge this film so recently after the Swedish version came out, but Mr. Zaillian made some interesting choices to help make this adaptation unique unto itself.
6. John Logan
Mr. Logan took a beloved children's book and adapted it into one of the most enjoyable film experiences of the year for viewers of any age.
5. Bridget O'Conner, Peter Straughan
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
A very complex story, already popularized on British television, that these talented writers made their own in subtle and skillful ways.
4. Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
No writers this year were tasked with more tired and overworked source material than this team. Yet the way in which they were able to produce a wholly re imagined take on things while still paying homage to the whole franchise is just this side of brilliant.
3. Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Working just as well on both dramatic and comedic levels, this script may have had the best dialogue of any on this list.
2. Lynne Ramsey, Rory Kinnear
We Need To Talk About Kevin
The entire surreal atmosphere of this film was aided so skillfully by the time lapsing way in which the script reveals its story.
1. Hossein Amini
This film functions so well as an action/adventure flick, but the real genius of the screenplay is the depth of emotional undercurrent that it carries throughout.
Tin Toadstool: Gela Babluani, Greg Pruss
Maybe this film worked better in Babluani's native language but this version of the story was beyond weak and barely watchable.
Best Original Screenplay
The competition here was a little tougher than in Adapted this year. This list contains some great work, although you will probably note that none of the Oscar nominees made my top five.
20. Brit Marling, Mike Cahill
There were some basic tenets of this script that stretched believability somewhat, but the fact that the rest of the story can make the viewer ignore this fact is impressive.
19. Will Reiser
This was not the most tightly scripted dramedy of the year by any stretch, but it was an excellent first effort on Mr. Reiser's part.
18. Mike Mills
This well written film featured an amazingly well written character in Hal Fields which elevated the production overall.
17. Michael R. Roskam
Another script whose greatest strength was one central character, this film tackled some tough subjects in a thoughtful, concise, and wholly original way.
16. Thomas McCarthy, Joe Tiboni
Clever would be an excellent word to describe this screenplay. Lots of excellent dialogue.
15. Abbas Kiarostami
This was a complex and subtly told story with surprises and twists in every conversation.
14. John Logan, Gore Verbinski, James Ward Byrkit
Highly creative and funny animated films were NOT easy to come by this year. It is no wonder that this one won the Animated Feature Academy Award.
13. Dan Fogelman
Crazy, Stupid, Love
In this film Mr. Fogelman crafted one of the best written rom-coms in quite some time.
12. Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith is never going to write like Shakespeare, but no one else is ever going to write like Kevin Smith and this is some of his best work.
11. Woody Allen
Midnight in Paris
I know it won the Oscar and I don't even have it in my top ten. However, while it IS some of Woody's best work in years, it is not Manhattan, and some of the writers in the next ten may have created THEIR personal masterpieces this year. Still, very enjoyable.
10. JC Chandor
If this first effort is any indication of what we may expect from Mr. Chandor in the future, then he is definitely one to watch.
9. Terrence Malick
The Tree of Life
This film ranks much higher on most of the lists that I put it on, but I feel that its brilliance lies more in how the pieces were put together than on the way those pieces were originally written.
8. Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo
Perhaps the best written dialogue of any comedy this year.
7. Jeff Nichols
Although this film was largely the Michael Shannon show, writer/director Jeff Nichols did give him some great material to work with.
6. Michel Hazanavicius
Notice that I carefully said that Bridesmaids had the best written DIALOGUE of any comedy this year.
5. Asghar Farhadi
This film fired on all cylinders, acting, directing, and writing. Wholly original.
4. Lars von Trier
Mr. von Trier is quite simply one of the most unique and interesting voices in film today and this film is probably his best work yet.
3. Paddy Considine
This is a simple story, elegantly told, with penetrating characterizations and a few real surprises. What else can I say?
2. Andrew Haigh
Besides being packed with insightful and believable dialogue, this script positively brims with the passion that Mr. Haigh obviously fed into it. Amazing work.
1. Steve McQueen, Abi Morgan
Everything about the telling of this story made something inside me ache in this exquisite and terrible manner. The best screenplay of the year, indeed.
Most of these films have already been cited multiple times in this series and will factor heavily into next week's Best Picture finale. I want to have something left to say at that point, so I'm keeping it brief for now.
20. Woody Allen
Midnight in Paris
19. Joe Wright
18. Sang-soo Im
17. David Fincher
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
16. Pedro Almodovar
The Skin I Live In
15. James Marsh
14. Tomas Alfredson
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
13. Alexander Payne
12. Wim Wenders
11. Mike Nichols
10. Martin Scorsese
9. Andrew Haigh
8. Michel Hazanavicius
7. Peter Mullan
6. Asghar Farhadi
5. Lynne Ramsey
We Need To Talk About Kevin
4. Lars von Trier
3. Nicholas Winding Refn
2. Steve McQueen
1. Terence Malick
The Tree of Life
And that's it for this week, just under the wire. Next week is the climax of this series so be sure to look for that next Saturday. I promise the Classic Cinema series and reviews will get up and going again very soon. As always, thanks for reading.