Monday, January 16, 2012

2011 Year In Review: Some Thoughts & My 4 Honorable Mentions

2011 was a very interesting year for me cinematically. It's the year I up and moved to one of the most robust cities for film-going, and I saw just as many repertory screenings as I did new releases. Most of the films I instantly adored came from the former, as I found with each 2011 release I felt admiration but very rarely love. I saw Minnelli (courtesy of BAM's National Society of Film Critic's award-winning retrospective), Hitchcock, Malick, Skolimowski, Mizoguchi, Zulawski, and much more. Those films challenged me and moved me in many ways before and after the credits rolled, while many 2011 releases left me cold upon exit.

Yet when I started compiling a list of what I felt to be the best of what 2011 had to offer, I was surprised at just how many of those films had stuck with me long after the credits rolled. Each and every film in my Top 10(+4) of 2011 are films that have parasitically rented space in my brain since the first viewing. Even work that hasn't cracked my list such as Martha Marcy May Marlene, Jane Eyre, and The Skin I Live In (just to name a few) have haunted my thoughts. So perhaps 2011 isn't a year like 2007--in which love came fast and easy--but something more akin to real love and respect; something that must be worked towards. True art challenges the spectator, and I think that most of the films I saw this year that I came to love asked just as much of me as I expected of it. Which in the end is what I want a film to be: challenging, enigmatic, beautiful, poetic, and multi-dimensional. However, don't think that I can't have some fun at the movies! Not everything here is a difficult art-house piece of cinema, even if that's ostensibly what I go for.

This list is limited to 2011 releases I saw in 2011, which means titles like Moneyball, The Iron Lady, Carnage, A Separation, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and more are ineligible. I am not a good enough writer or prolific enough critic to get screeners, so most of what I see I must pay and allot time for myself, which means some things get pushed to the side. Even Meryl, unfortunately.

Without further ado....



Shame is imperfect. The screenplay is fairly horrible, the photography borders on pretension, and the film has a very forced and unbelievable narrative arc. Yet it also has Michael Fassbender in what could end up being a career-defining role as Brandon the sex-addict. Besides a performance that is absolutely harrowing (the threesome orgasm grimace, anyone?), the film until the end takes a very slice-of-life approach to real addiction, and I admire it's tenacity in portraying Brandon's spiral, and the exhaustion that elicits. My favorite part of course is Carey Mulligan as Sissy. Mulligan recently admitted to wanting the Lisbeth Salander part in Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to break her image, but I think this role does just that wholly on her acting prowess. Sissy is a live-wire of selfishness and neediness. She is enigmatic and terrifying in her unpredictability. One of my favorite screen moments of the year is her broken down "New York, New York." How much her singing voice reflects the teetering-on-breakdown quality of her character is ace acting.



I read Kathryn Stockett's novel this summer in anticipation of the film's release, and rarely have I been so swept up in such a prime example of pop lit. The film version of The Help carries much the same sentiment for me: it's enjoyable, moving, well-made, and I wanted to hate every minute of it. The politics of the film notwithstanding, the story succeeds so effortlessly because of its characters. Aibileen (Viola Davis), Minnie (Octavia Spencer), and Celia (Jessica Chastain) are my personal favorites, and all of them deserve the awards recognition they're getting. I loved the characters on the page but those three actresses brought such wonderful fun and dimensionality to roles that could've easily been caricature. That's a testament to the fact that this film is purely an actressexual orgasm, and those three performances alone would've cracked my list any year. That they're surrounded by a wonderfully satisfying film just brings it all home.



Win Win is the first Tom McCarthy film that I outright love. I saw it way back in March of 2011, and I knew as soon as I left the theater that it'd be on this list. It's the perfect blend of drama and comedy that McCarthy does so well. Paul Giamatti plays his regular shlub role, but he does it so masterfully and with such a refreshing candor. Amy Ryan is as luminescent as always, and I can't help but love a film that features yet another dynamo performance by Melanie Lynskey. Give that girl more leading roles! She may only have a brief few scenes in the film, but she makes a stock character who on the page exists purely for plot into so much more. Besides the performances the film is one of the best-written of the year with its effortless zip through dramedy, and I will always love a film that's perfectly paced. I wish I could place it much higher on this list, but I'm thankful films like this are getting made and distributed. This was a really great year for character-driven comedy with two more of them still yet to come on this list. Each features great actors at the top of their games working both sides of the genre coin and developing full-bodied characters to go along with some really great writing. More please, Hollywood!



I didn't think I'd get a chance to see Tomboy during its very brief run at Film Forum here in New York. Luckily I was able to get to see it on the last night of its run and I'm very thankful I rushed out because it's absolutely stunning. Much is being said about how Malick's The Tree of Life perfectly encapsulates the experience of growing up. While I think it perfectly encapsulates looking back on your childhood (more on that later), Tomboy for me perfectly encapsulates growing up and figuring out sexuality while at the same time attempting to fit in. It's a beautiful film with an awe-inspiring lead performance from Zoé Héran, and I hope that it gets a DVD release soon so those who don't live in its small release zone can catch it. The film uncannily evokes that period of uncertainty and awkwardness in your body that defines puberty. It's exuberant, thought-provoking, and moving all at the same time. I can't think of it and not want to watch it again immediately.


Stay Tuned for #10-#6....

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