Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top Ten Films of 2011

Certified Copy

1.     Certified Copy dir. Abbas Kiarostami
Enchanting from the first frame on, with the inexperienced William Shimell astonishingly keeping up with Juliette Binoche doing the best work of her career. Kiarostami imbues the margins of the couple’s (or not) tête-à-tête with remarkable emotional weight, and the mystery — wonderfully beguiling as it is — fades in importance.

2.     We Need to Talk About Kevin dir. Lynne Ramsay
As formally audacious as Ramsay’s earlier masterworks (its elliptically edited flashes of memory surpass even those of The Tree of Life), Kevin manages at turns to be both deeply unsettling and blackly funny. By putting us firmly inside the fractured memory and psyche of Tilda Swinton’s reeling Eva Khatchadourian, Ramsay allows herself even more freedom to revel in stylistic excess in the face of narrative improbability.

3.     Margaret dir. Kenneth Lonergan

As messy as its tortured production history would lead you to believe, but the chaos isn’t entirely unintentional, and the post 9-11 moral morass provides an acutely realized backdrop for the impetuous, maddeningly selfish and idealistic Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin, superb). Even if a proper director’s cut never sees the light of day, what we have here is an American classic. Looking forward to double-featuring it with 25th Hour someday.

 4.     Take Shelter dir. Jeff Nichols
Michael Shannon internalizes almost all of the physicality and blistering emotion that can make him such a fun scenery-chewing actor to watch, and the resulting slow-burn dread is matched by Nichols’ direction in this unnerving Midwestern apocalyptic meltdown.

5.     Le Quattro Volte dir. Michelangelo Frammartino

A peek at the mystifying metaphysics behind the sometimes cruel, sometimes comic connections in life, Le Quattro Volte features sublimely designed long takes — one featuring a brick, a mischievous dog, an Easter procession and a pen of goats is easily the greatest one-shot scene of the year.

Meek's Cutoff
6.     Meek’s Cutoff dir. Kelly Reichardt
Yep, the Academy ratio absolutely works to great constricting effect for the poor pioneer souls in Reichardt’s totally assured western. In fact, every detail of the sparse, evocative photography seems to turn your throat dry and perpetually make your heart sink. A cop-out ending? Hardly.

7.     Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Explicating the distinctly alien pleasures of an Apichatpong Weerasethakul movie can be futile. Suffice it to say, allowing myself to become immersed in this world — where the membrane between past and present, reality and fantasy is nearly invisible — was one of my most satisfying cinema experiences of the year.

8.     The Tree of Life dir. Terrence Malick

Neither viewing of Malick’s latest was an entirely satisfactory experience for me, and I can’t shake the feeling this might be his weakest, least realized film. But ambition counts, and when the film is firing on all cylinders (its evocations of deeply personal familial memories and experiences are glorious), it’s truly a wonder.

9.     The Interrupters dir. Steve James
For every single “issue” doc out there, I wish there was a filmmaker with the intelligence and humanity of Steve James behind the camera. Eschewing the tendency to squeeze real life into a narrative arc and turn human beings into character types, James creates an absorbing and sobering study of endemic violence and the people trying to stem the tide in Chicago. When the Oscars can’t even find room for The Interrupters on a 15-film shortlist, you know the system is broken.

A Dangerous Method
10. A Dangerous Method dir. David Cronenberg
Another blow against the “mainstream-ifying” of Cronenberg meme, A Dangerous Method sees the filmmaker sharpening his technique — the blocking and camera work in the therapy scenes is masterfully economical — and finding ways to more obliquely examine themes of body horror and sexual displacement. Michael Fassbender bests his Shame work, but the real story is the riveting physicality of Keira Knightley, who I was not prepared to be impressed with.

And check out a bonus 10 after the jump.

11. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy dir. Tomas Alfredson
12. Contagion dir. Steven Soderbergh
13. Poetry dir. Lee Chang-dong
14. Hugo dir. Martin Scorsese
15. Melancholia dir. Lars von Trier
16. Terri dir. Azazel Jacobs
17. The Skin I Live In dir. Pedro Almodóvar
18. Le Havre dir. Aki Kaurismäki
19. Margin Call dir. J.C. Chandor
20. Shame dir. Steve McQueen

Films I haven’t caught up with yet that would likely be strong contenders for this list: A Separation, House of Pleasures, Mysteries of Lisbon, The Arbor, Carnage

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