Besides having a personal best performance from the always-fantastic Michael Shannon that haunts me to this day, Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter is a masterful slow burn descent into paranoia and fear. Shannon's Curtis has dreams of a big apocalyptic storm coming and decides that these dreams in their intensity and recurrence might actually be premonitions, so he takes steps to build a shelter in the backyard of his family's home. Jessica Chastain is fantastic--as expected--as Curtis' wife Samantha who is confused and feeling powerless at her husband's state. Like another indie powerhouse this year, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Take Shelter has an incredible ending that has polarized audiences. While I found the former's ending infuriating, I found the latter's a perfectly ambiguous (in explanation) cap to a film that had spun one hell of a siren's song on me.
I may be a bit biased in how high this film placed on the list because I am a fairly die-hard Lars von Trier fan. Despite idiotic remarks at press conferences I find the man to be quite a genius filmmaker. After the painfully beautiful opening 10 minutes of this film I knew it had already cracked the list. The film following that opening is flawed, but my goodness what an ambitious and moving piece of work. My interpretation of the film is that the first half--titled Justine after Kirsten Dunst's character--is about struggling with depression amongst those who can't understand it and just aggravate your situation. The second half is about two different people in different stages of depression: Charlotte Gainsbourg's Claire who is just beginning her descent and acceptance, and Kirsten Dunst's Justine who is near-catatonic and living deep down in her dark hole. Besides that story and the blatant but beautiful metaphor of "Planet Melancholia," the film is beautifully shot, scored, and paced. Some have complained that it feels bloated, but I challenge them to cut out even a single scene or shot from the whole.
When I walked out of Drive and into the night, I remember I called all of my best friends and told them that as soon as the film opens they HAVE to see it. Drive is by far the most fun I've had at the movies all year, and it's also just a staggeringly unique and well-made piece of work. I think the acting is fine here, but the film really is about Winding Refn's vision, and it is perfectly executed. A score that will surely stay on my iPod for years to come, shots that still linger in my mind, and structure and pacing that is so perfect the film is over seemingly before it even began. I have a feeling that 20 years from now the new generation of filmmakers are going to cite this film as major inspiration to them. It's new, exciting, fresh, and surely a new classic of action and art-house cinema.
When Christopher Plummer wins an Oscar later this month for his performance in this film it may be my favorite acting win the Oscars has had in years. Not because I think he's overdue (which he is) or because it's the best performance in contention (which it is) but because Plummer's Hal Fields is the heart of this film and what takes it from meet-cute romance to something so much more. The film tracks Ewan McGregor's Oliver Fields (who himself is deserving of acclaim for this film) as he **SEMI-SPOILER** copes with his father Hal's death. Hal, months before he died, came out of the closet as gay. The film goes back and forth between Oliver in the present and Oliver's last few months/years with his father. **END SPOILER** The romantic part of the film is entertaining, but never as engaging as the story of Hal. It's been quite some time since a film has moved me so deeply, and this film hit me hard in the theater and has stayed with me every single week since. Sometimes it can be a bit cloying in its whimsy during the meet-cute, but the script and direction by Mike Mills comes from such a personal and raw place that it shines through in the emotionally heavy-hitting moments. I took the bait and I'm thankful for it. Also, Arthur is SO much better than Uggie. Suck it The Artist.
I saw Andrew Haigh's weekend as part of BAM Cinematek's BAMcinemafest 2011, where it was the opening night film. I had heard a bit about it prior to the event this past June, but nobody had really raved about it. I'm thankful that I hadn't heard about just how incredible it is, because that let me be blown away all on my own. The film is a perfectly executed film about one man's discovery that his sexuality is about more than just sex. Tom Cullen's incredible performance as Russell is the centerpiece of this wonderful film. In the film two men meet at a club, go home and hook up, and end up spending the whole weekend together. They discover, of course, that their feelings have grown into much more than either could have believed. While the detractors of the film say that the gay stereotypes (sexually promiscuous, drug use) and the unbelievable nature of this intense romance is a serious handicap to the film, I disagree. I don't enjoy the stereotypes, but it isn't an untrue picture of twenty-somethings, and I've seen relationships similar to this quite often. I may have even experienced something similar--albeit to a less intense degree. Yet I think to call this a romance is a detriment to the film. Yes it's certainly that, but it's about Russell and his acceptance and confidence and how Chris New's Glen draws something out of him that even he didn't know was there. The script is beautiful and tender, cinematography arresting, and I'm so grateful that the film has been such a success. It's currently available to watch instantly on Netflix and I recommend you push play right after watching the trailer.
Well there you have it, folks! I hadn't intended my top 2 films to be gay-themed, but I think that speaks quite a bit to the year I've had personally. I hope you've enjoyed reading up on what I think--whether you agree or not--and I'd love to hear about what films you love from this past year. Share away!