Best films of the year needs to have a little something extra. To be a film that satisfies the intellect, but also gives a gut punch, a jolt that makes you sit up and say "Hey, I'm really watching something here." And in 2011, like last year, there really was no contest. That film was Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive.
I could go down the list and articulate all the ways Drive scores a 10 out of 10 - the performances, the cinematography, the sound work - but it all boils down to this: Drive gets me excited, not just about Drive, but about movies in general. I didn't realize I could still be riveted by car chases and gym bags full of cash, by mob deals gone bad and tough guys of few words. Drive proves any material can be made great if it's tackled by a filmmakers determined not to make a film like every film we've seen before. Thus a story that could have easily made for a direct-to-video Fast and the Furious knock-off is elevated it to a cinematic powerhouse that deserves comparison with noir titles like Le Samouri and Blood Simple.
Like my #1 choice last year Drive is a polarizing choice. So for all those who saw in Drive a pretentious, gratuitously violent, genre exercise I would only humbly suggest that you watch again to appreciate the way Refn's film defies expectations at every turn. The story that is not about a hero but about a violent, unstable man who wishes he were one. A villain who dispenses violence not with glee but with weary precision. And a romance that only lives for the length of one kiss in an elevator.
Years from now when the test of time has separated the real deals from the pretenders Drive will still be watched and discussed. It was only five months ago that I saw this move and it already feels like an old favorite.