I had to submit a list of my top 10 films of 2011 for Sound on Sight. Here’s that list, plus a whole mess of other favorites. Pretty good year in films. At the end of this post I included the many movies that I missed for a variety of reasons: didn’t catch it in the theater, didn’t open in a theater near me, hasn’t opened yet, etc.
1. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – Yep, it’s long, and Turkish cinema isn’t necessarily the rage, but this was the best one I saw all year. A long investigative search where the actual investigation is secondary to introspection. The film is sad, funny, dramatic, gorgeous and mesmerizing. It features the best shot of an apple I’ve ever seen, nods to Tarkovsky, and such a beautiful wordless ending that it should hang with any viewer for a long time.
2. Melancholia – I’m an unabashed Von Trier fan. Always have been. This isn’t his best film, but it is one of his most personal. I’ve heard a lot of different criticisms of it: the middle sections are boring, it’s misogynist (save that one for Bellflower), it’s unintentionally laughable, etc. For me this is an oddly optimistic film about the end of the world, where apocalyptic scenarios are visually important but not as redundant and hackneyed as your standard end-of-world sequence.
3. Take Shelter – Jeff Nichols is the newish American director I’m most excited about. His Shotgun Stories was great and this one-ups it. Dream sequences that aren’t cliche, Michael Shannon playing it mercilessly understated, a haunting ending, and a bomb shelter sequence that is scarier than most horror films out there.
4. The Skin I Live In – Why didn’t this film get more hype this year? It’s Almodovar’s best in years, maybe since Talk To Her. All of the master’s motifs are in full form. You can just hear him laughing at his audience, and in the end (or at the climax), we can’t help but laugh at ourselves. This is saturated, operatic trash-cinema at its finest.
5. The Future – I was surprised at how much I liked this flick. Miranda July pulls off a a feature film that is ostensibly only about mid-life crises. Her use of a talking animal is better than her husband’s this year (Mike Mill’s Beginners), and the moment when time stops is heart-stopping.
6. Contagion – This might be my favorite Soderbergh film ever. Seriously. So cold. So terrifying. So systematic. This is the personification of a virus’ movement, though the virus is not only the sickness, but also the human interaction and paranoia that surrounds it.
7. Certified Copy – This is a common theme here (minus Von Trier): close to my favorite Kiarostami film, and one that finds the Iranian at his most playful. An always powerful Binoche performance is made all the more so by the one flaw in the entire picture – the performance by the male lead. This is Kiarostami playing with cinematic trickery. I’ve heard it compared to F for Fake, which is very appropriate.
8. Another Year – Why is this on no one’s year-end lists? So Mike Leigh’s film premiered festival-wide in 2010, but it didn’t get a theatrical release until this year. Jim Broadbent is great as always, but Leigh shows off his Lumet-like way with actors by pulling incredible turns from everyone.
9. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – I just snuck this one in the other day. Nothing like a cold, Cold War thriller to warm your cockles. I’m not the first to point this out, but Oldman’s stoic Smiley + impeccable production and costume design + Alfredson’s way with pacing and camera actually transcend the famous le Carre source material.
10. Poetry – I’m glad I’ve gotten turned onto the cinema of Chang-dong Lee. Poetry has the best structure of any film on this list, taking surprising character turns at every possible segue. Lee has the ability to say a lot without his characters saying much.
The Rest (in no real order and with shorter notes for some):
The Guard – hilarious and action-packed. I’m excited to see what McDonagh does next.
Road to Nowhere – Monte Hellman’s triumphant return! Dark and sexy. I thought about this film for a long time after watching it.
Attack the Block – surprisingly violent, but also idealistic sci-fi. In some ways Cornish’s debut is a throwback flick – not to the paranoid sci-fi of the 40s and 50s, but to the more optimistic, human-oriented genre types.
Le Quattro Volte – the softest, most poetic film on this list. Life never moved so slowly and quickly simultaneously.
Bridesmaids – The most I’ve laughed at a film in a long time.
Beginners – Mills has a talking dog and Christopher Plummer wearing an ascot.
The Housemaid – worthy of Almodovar. Soap-opera violence meets Korean horror sensibilities.
Meek’s Cutoff – charges of ‘boring’ are ridiculous. I was in Reichardt’s Western-ish, 4:3-framed film from start-to-finish. More of a thriller than most give it credit for.
The Ides of March – Strong performances and a 1970s style put this one on the list.
The Robber – Those German’s and their taciturn anti-heroes!
I Saw The Devil – Best serial killer film of the year? It falters in the second act, but this is a violent cat-and-mouse game with a nice third act.
Beats Being Dead – Christian Petzold is a director I’ll follow from here on out. He never ceases to surprise and his films are among the freshest and most original on this list. They stick with you.
Shame – I liked McQueen’s Hunger better, but still, Shame is strong stuff. The much talked about ‘New York, New York’ scene deserves the hype
Hobo With a Shotgun – is this a satire or just B-trash? Either way it’s awesome. “I’m going to wash off my blood with your blood.”
Hugo – Scorsese’s best in awhile. The only one (I think) that I saw in 3D this year, and it made the technology fairly worthwhile.
The Turin Horse – Tarr long takes are more hypnotic than a swinging watch.
The Forgiveness of Blood – Didn’t love it, but I have to give Marston credit for tackling a new cultural area and topic and putting what is perhaps becoming his signature thriller stamp on it.
Another Earth – flawed writing, but a strong story of grief.
The Tree of Life – If this was 45 minutes shorter it’s Top 10. Unfortunately it’s not. Still, maybe the best second act on this list.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams – Herzog in a cave!
Into the Abyss – Herzog on death row!
Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene – I saw it after hearing too much hype, but still, the writing and performances are very strong. One too many zooms for this guy, but an interesting enough aesthetic.
Here are films that I haven’t yet seen but should be catching over the next few days:
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Weekend, The Strange Case of Angelica, Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil, and Moneyball.
The others that I hope to get to very soon:
The Artist, A Separation, A Dangerous Method, Tyrannosaur, Carnage, Extraterrestrial, Kill List, Tintin, Sleeping Beauty, Incendies, Armadillo, The Kid With a Bike, Drive, Le Havre, Hanna, Rampart, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Putty Hill, Tomboy, Tuesday After Christmas, Essential Killing, The Mill and The Cross, Of Gods and Men, Film Socialisme, Aurora, Mysteries of Lisbon, I’m Glad My Mother is Alive, Cold Fish, Senna, The Last Circus
Any recommendations that aren’t on here?