Moviespirit presents the Top 12 Family Films of 2011. Family members can be your greatest teachers. Explore wholeness through family, friends and community in these outstanding films.
I define “family” as “the human family” across cultures, classes, countries and beliefs. These films will appeal to adults, mature teens and pre-teens.
Rising from the ashes
The Descendants. George Clooney stars as Matt King, a real estate lawyer in Hawaii whose wife Liz lies in a coma after a waterskiing accident. Matt must transform his own pain and sorrow as he guides his daughters through impending loss. Shailene Woodley plays rebellious Alex. Amara Miller stars as tender Scottie. The family learns to live more from the heart and less from the mind in Alexander Payne’s sensitive drama about honor and letting go.
Everything Must Go. Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) is having a very bad day. He’s been fired. His wife dumps him. He’s marooned on his own front yard. Nick is forced to face his alcoholism and take stock of his life in this deadpan comedy. A smart, enterprising neighborhood kid who lost his dad shows up. Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace) cares about his neighbor, and helps Nick care about others again. Nick and Kenny help each other rise above despair. Laura Dern also appears. Dan Rush writes and directs.
The Way. Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez travel the Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago) from France to Spain in this sensitive drama about men’s hearts. Sheen’s son Estevez directs and appears as a ghostly muse. The most powerful movie is sometimes the simplest. Sheen’s deep, rousing performance and Estevez’s minimalist, mood-centered direction fill The Way with meaning. Cinematographer Juanmi Azpiroz captures inner and outer adventures along the breathtaking pilgrimage route. Tom Avery (Sheen) loses his son Daniel (Estevez) in a freak accident in the Pyrenees. He begins to retrace Daniel’s steps, intending to complete the journey. Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wageningen and James Nesbitt also star.
Sports and character
Moneyball tells the true story of sports rebel and Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane. Brad Pitt brings Beane to life in this exciting drama about professional baseball, valuing others and bold change. Fast-talking Beane uses saber metrics to recruit a winning team on a tiny budget. The fantastic script was penned by Oscar winners Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network). Jonah Hill co-stars as economics whiz kid Peter Brand. After 11 losses, the team sets a major league record during the 2002 season. Actual game footage from the A’s 20-game win streak adds excitement. Bennett Miller (Capote, Doubt) directs.
Win Win. Paul Giamatti is tremendous as Mike Flaherty, a storefront lawyer and sports coach who learns about honesty from a teen wrestling prodigy. Alex Shaffer plays Kyle, a deadpan runaway with a mom in drug rehab. Mike shows a great capacity to care for a kid in need even though he’s cash-strapped. Kyle demands a higher level of integrity from Mike. Shaffer was a high school champion wrestler in New Jersey. Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale and Burt Young also star. Director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent; The Visitor) evokes characters you will care about.
Families in time
Hugo. Martin Scorsese’s first children’s fantasy is a tribute to the cinema. Asa Butterfield stars as an orphan who lives above a Paris train station in the 1930s. A Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) chases the 12-year-old who lifts croissants and toys. Ben Kingsley is masterful as brooding, heartbroken Pappa Georges. Chloe Grace Moretz is engaging as Isabelle. Impeccable cinematography by Robert Richardson and fabulous sets from Dante Ferretti create an intricate world of wonder. You’ll see the Lumiere Brothers’ 1895 short The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station and Georges Melies’ 1902 classic A Trip to the Moon. The making of these movies is reenacted. You’ll feel deep appreciation for early films and filmmakers.
Incendies. A daughter investigates her mother’s life and her own roots. Denis Villeneuve writes and directs this suspenseful family drama. Jeanne (Melissa Desoreaux-Poulin) travels to the Middle East to solve mysteries about her mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal, incredible). Politics, religion, identity and passion are explored. Best Movie Quote: “Death is never the end of the story. There are always details.”
The Tree of Life. When her son dies at war, Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) asks why. Director Terrence Malick answers with a return to the beginning of time. Galaxies and the Earth form. A couple meets. A child is born. Hundreds of beautifully composed images shape a quiet, elegant whole. Upheavals take on a stately grace. Sparse dialogue and interior monologues become poetry. Brad Pitt impresses as strict, troubled Mr. O’Brien. Jack is played as a youth by Hunter McCracken, and later by Sean Penn.
Take Shelter is a fever dream of a thriller. It dwells on anxiety and hope, prophecy and mental illness. Jeff Nichols directs. Michael Shannon brilliantly plays sensitive everyman Curtis LaForche. Gangly, enigmatic and tortured, Curtis is plagued by hallucinations and nightmares. In an age of uncertainty, his dark night of the soul feels universal. Suspenseful from start to finish, Take Shelter portends the end. It sweeps you away with dread and faith. Jessica Chastain stars as Curtis’ wife Samantha. Tova Stewart is sweetly perceptive as their hearing impaired daughter Hannah.
Love your neighbor
In a Better World. Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier explores violence, courage and responsibility in this Oscar and Golden Globe winner. Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a surgeon working far from home in a Kenyan field hospital. When his 10-year-old son Elias (Markus Rygaard) is bullied at school, he steps in as a peacemaker. Seeking his wife’s forgiveness after an affair, Anton lives in a state of love and surrender. His humility, gentleness and willingness to look like a fool are unique. Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen and William Johnk Nielsen also star.
Beginners. He may be late for the party, but Hal celebrates like it’s 1955. Christopher Plummer’s Golden Globe winning performance reveals a man who married for love while hiding his sexual orientation. After his wife dies, Hal comes out to his adult son Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a romantic idealist. Parallel love stories unfold. Melanie Laurent stars as Oliver’s new sweetheart Anna. Goran Visnjic plays Hal’s lover Andy. Beginners is masterfully directed and written by Mike Mills, whose own father came out late in life. Art and whimsy add delight. Oliver sketches the many faces of sadness as he converses with his dog Arthur. McGregor brings a sensitive, vulnerable and thoughtful quality.
Terri. John C. Reilly and Jacob Wysocki give standout performances in the best coming-of-age dramedy of the year. Azazel Jacobs directs. Mr. Fitzgerald (Reilly), a vice principal, begins to counsel Terri, a huge oddball with a confused, hungry heart. Reilly’s straightforward, unforgettable character walks his talk. Mr. Fitzgerald doesn’t pretend to have it all together, but helping troubled kids is his life calling. Jacobs captures strange beauty as Terri hangs out with two outcast friends. Creed Bratton also stars.