Alright. I’m done. Of course there are a few reputable movies of 2011 I haven’t seen yet, but I’m done waiting. If I see one of note that would make my list, I’ll let you know. So here’s my list.
THE ARTIST (dir. Hazanavicius) - Wonderfully charming, uses both silent film tricks and modern sensibilities to tell a very clever and entertaining story. There’s not much substance to it, but this is a very enjoyable movie.
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (dir. Durkin) - A movie of creeping uncertainty and paranoia, and the way that those feelings (if at first justified), can never fully go away, and can completely erase all foundations of normalcy in life. Elizabeth Olsen’s performance is incredible, and this film probably has my favorite final shot of the year.
THE SKIN I LIVE IN (dir. Almodovar) - I was getting ready to really dislike this movie as Almodovar does some very questionable things to his characters early on that do not seem justified. Shame on me, then, as he does more than justify it, but makes a vastly entertaining melodramatic horror tragedy that sympathizes with both the hero and the villain (who also switch places?) and asks lots and lots of questions about identity and gender and loads more. Almodovar is toying with us, I swear.
DRIVE (dir. Refn) - A minimalist action classic, only demoted by the obvious debt it owes to movies like LE SAMOURAI and THIEF. Still, there’s copious amounts of style, and the violence in this movie is as violence should be, not an escape but a wake up call.
AND NOW, MY TOP TEN FILMS IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER:
THE TREE OF LIFE (dir. Malick) - I’ve said some words about this one, but the sheer amount of emotion in this movie is something behold. And it’s gorgeous. And it really reaches places where many films don’t dare to go. And it’s pure cinema.
KILL LIST (dir. Wheatley) - The less you know about this film going in, the better, but this one of the best thrillers I’ve ever seen with some of the best twists and tonal shifts that actually work. This is a brutal, disorienting movie, but it’s very dense and there’s a lot to unpack. And it’s relentlessly disturbing.
THE ARBOR (dir. Barnard) - A marvelous documentary with a brilliant construct (Barnard uses actors to lip sync interviewees’ words on location so it’s not a bunch of talking heads in a room) about a very interesting and very sad story about playwright Andrea Dunbar and her children. Profoundly moving. Wonderfully innovative.
MEEK’S CUTOFF (dir. Reichardt) - A starkly minimal, existential “Western” that is wonderfully feminine in perspective. Maybe more of a parable than a narrative, this is a very intriguing, ambiguous film.
13 ASSASSINS (dir. Miike) - A samurai film that pulls no punches about what it’s going to be, and does it perfectly. All 13 titular assassins are unique and have backstories that are masterfully revealed. AND there’s a 40 minute battle scene to end the thing that doesn’t bring the story to a halt but actually continues the narrative through action. Amazing! Also, it’s a really awesome battle scene.
HUGO (dir. Scorsese) - I never had much hope to resist this one. A movie about the power of cinema, the ultimate redemptive properties of art, people finding other people that complete them, plus a mini film history lesson in one. Also, this movie is the best looking 3D movie I’ve ever seen. AND it’s set in Paris no less. Yeah, I had no hope. I love this movie.
MELANCHOLIA (dir. von Trier) - The European provocateurs are getting soft in their old age, and I believe they are getting all the better for it. First there was Haneke’s THE WHITE RIBBON, and now here’s von Trier making a movie with a sense of humor, a real sympathy (without subjecting them to abuse) for his female characters, and the sense of hope brought about by depression in the face of devastation. It’s also pretty darn gorgeous to look at, especially his slow motion tableaux.
CERTIFIED COPY (dir. Kiarostami) - A beautiful and heartbreaking movie. Binoche is absolutely astounding in this one. There’s so much to think and look at and listen to in this movie. What’s real, what isn’t real, does it matter when it’s this believable? When it affects us this much? It’s as much a comment on fiction as it is on the typical motions of relationships.
LE HAVRE (dir. Kaurismaki) - Probably the best shot film of the year, a wonderful throwback to the humanist movies of Renoir and Melville. Dryly funny yet so very warm in the portrayal of its characters. It reaches the right balance between fable and realism, and it’s completely devoid of sarcasm or irony. This is an earnest, funny, subversive (in its own way) film about good people doing good things because it’s just what should (and must) be done. And the wonderful capacities of the cinema can make sure they are justly rewarded for it. Beautiful.
A SEPARATION (dir. Farhadi) - The best written film of the year. A story that is able to touch across subjects of culture, morality, justice, gender, social class and more without dropping a very harrowing, very tense story about people with morally justifiable actions that still bring them at odds with each other. No one is purely right, no one is purely wrong, and unfortunately, not everyone can win. A difficult, profoundly moving film.
And that’s it. It goes without saying that I recommend all of these movies wholeheartedly, and they should all be seen. And then you should tell me what you think. That is all. I guess I’ll put my Oscar picks up soon, oh Lord, not that again.