Once again my colleagues here have been kind enough to share their picks.
More to follow.
Ten Best in Order:
A Dangerous Method
Bill Cunningham New York
I stay away from really bad movies, so my list couldn't go beyond
Hugo and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives
A Brighter Summer Day
Mysteries of Lisbon
Martha Marcy May Marlene
City of Life
Tuesday, After Christmas
Runners-up: You All Are Captains (Oliver Laxe,
Spain/Morocco), Le Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy), Putty Hill
(Matt Porterfield, US), Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, US), The Trip
(Michael Winterbottom, UK), Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami,
France), The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Goran Olsson,
Sweden), Silent Souls (Alexei Fedorchenko, Russia), Children of Hiroshima
(Kaneto Shindo, Japan), The Arbor (Clio Barnard, UK).
Worst five, no order: White Irish Drinkers, The
Change-Up, Crazy Stupid Love, Midnight in Paris, Bridesmaids. (I should note,
with some satisfaction, that this year I managed to avoid seeing and/or
reviewing most of the films that would've surely bottomed out far lower
than these five, and my life, without the various teen vampires and
superheroes and robots and sundry sequels, has happily swapped out the very
dubious state of statistical critic's-docket thoroughness for the simpler state
of sanity most normal people can enjoy. I must be, I think, the envy of many of
1 Tree of Life - another haunting contemplation on the human
condition by Terrence Malick (Badlands and
Days of Heaven). The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is opulent and ethereal.
2 The Artist - who knew a silent film about silent film and
directed by a Frenchman with John Goodman in a supporting role, could be such
an all consuming crowd-pleaser?
3 Jane Eyre - the classic told with the perfect
balance of ardor and restrain. The most understated of Michael Fassbender's
many fine performances this year.
4 Contagion - a fantastic ensemble, a deft script and
some nifty narrative shifts demonstrate why Steven Soderbergh is one of the
best working in the business today.
5 City of Life and Death - the black and white
dramatization of the Rape of Nanking owes a few staging nods to Speilberg's
Saving Private Ryan, by the harrowing saga of human suffering and hopelessness
achieves a foothold in cinema on its own accord.
6 Moneyball - Pitt gives one of the finest
performances of his career (the other being Tree of Life) and the taut script
by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steven Zaillian make the tedious
backroom task of assembling a team, a sprite roller-coaster ride.
7 Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy - Cold War spy epic with a
complex plot mechanism handled with adroit control and confidence by Tomas
Alfredson (Let the Right One In). The cast, including Gary Oldman, Colin Firth
and Tom Hardy is a fantastic ensemble in a year of fantastic ensembles (along
with Contagion, Carnage and Margin Call).
8 War Horse - Spielberg depicts the horror of war
through the eyes of a horse. The scale and sets impress as does the POV which
shifts from WWI Brits to their German enemies and back, aligning with French
villagers in between.
9 Martha Marcy May Marlene - Sean Durkin's first time effort
is both physically and psychologically brutal. The air of imminent and despair
hangs in every frame. A break out performance for the Olsen Sisters' younger
10 Drive - a hip, cool retro crime thriller that calls
to mind The Gambler or The Driver. Albert Brooks turn as a snake of a heavy is
worthy enough in its own right.
Honorable mentions: Project Nim, Into the Abyss, We Need to
Talk about Kevin, Incendies and Margin Call
1.Straw Dogs - the original directed by the great Sam
Peckinpah had a political agenda applicable for the times (reflecting the
needless violence of the Vietnam War), but Rod Lurie's needless remake seems to
be in it just for the gratuity of sex and violence.
2.Trespass - How many ham fisted films can Nic Cage
make? I love Nic, but he's a long way from Leaving Las Vegas.
3.The Roommate - single white female psychopath belittles
those with true mental illness.
4. Atlas Shrugged Part 1- The screen version of Ayn
Rand's cult classic boasts poor production values and tepid performances, but
then again, the book was no Fountainhead.
5.Sucker Punch - a sexy hot titillation that becomes
one giant friction blister of boredom. All style and no substance.
1. Hugo. In which Martin Scorsese proves there's no paradox
in using the newest digital technology to pay homage to ancient analog
celluloid. Imagination and enchantment are timeless, after all.
2. Midnight in Paris.
Another thoroughly delightful trip in time to early 20th-century Paris from a veteran
director in full command of his gifts. Still, he recognizes that nostalgia is
best when it serves as inspiration to change the present.
3. The Tree of Life. The year's most ambitious movie
(visually, spiritually, emotionally) is Terrence Malick's meditation on family,
loss, the history of the universe, and learning to love a father (Brad Pitt,
God) who so often metes out suffering.
4. Melancholia. Or, The Tree of Life as made by an agnostic,
with similar visual and musical grandeur. I thought I'd sworn off Lars Von
Trier and his brutally martyred heroines, but Kirsten Dunst won me over as the
most luminous depressive on this planet.
5. The Interrupters. Once again, 'Hoop Dreams' documentarian
Steve James hits the streets and immerses us in the lives of people
marginalized by neglect but eager to find meaning and redemption.
6. The Descendants. Somewhere over the years, Alexander
Payne has gone from being the new Preston Sturges (celebrating communities of
funny eccentrics) to being the new Jean Renoir (recognizing that everyone, even
people who behave abysmally, has their reasons). That wistful recognition of
humanity in others makes him one of the few grown-ups working in American
7. A Separation. Iran continues to release (or allow
to escape) exciting dispatches from its culture wars like this one, whose
portrait of a dissolving marriage seems to capture an entire society restless
8. Moneyball. In the movies, baseball is always a metaphor
for life. Here, it's the arena for a thoughtful exploration of how people are
more than statistics and how even failures are more than the sum of their
9. Rango. Not only was it the most inventive, funniest,
weirdest American cartoon feature in years, but also the best distillation on
screen of the Occupy zeitgeist, explaining the exploitation of the 99 percent
by the 1 percent in a way even kids could understand.
10. Shame. I admire director Steve McQueen's icy control,
but even more, I admire the reckless abandon of Michael Fassbender and Carey
Mulligan, whose performances are truly daring and baring, and not just in the
Arthur. Hard to choose the most superfluous remake in a year
full of them, but this one, which squandered the talents and charm of several
otherwise enjoyable actors, was the most painful to sit through.
Just Go With It. This was the second most painful. I bet
crass, profligate wastes like these are the reason so many foreigners hate us.
Green Lantern. In a year full of desultory superhero movies,
this 3D fiasco gave me the biggest headache.
Cowboys and Aliens. I've seen Harrison Ford sleepwalk
before, but I've never seen him give a cartoonishly, unredeemably bad
performance, until now. Please, make it stop.
Green Hornet. Another extravagant yet half-assed superhero
movie. At least Michel Gondry and Seth Rogen looked like they were having fun
making it; too bad none of that fun actually made it into the movie.
Top Ten for 2011
1. Of Gods and Men
2. We Are What We Are
4. Martha Marcy May Marlene
5. The Descendants
6. The Mysteries of Lisbon
8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
9. The Artist
2. Transformers: Rise of the Machines
3. Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1
4. I Am
5. Red Riding Hood
Ten Best Films of 2011 (in no particular order):
1. JANE EYRE (A stunning adaptation by Cary Fukunaga
with compelling performances by Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender as Jane
This version more closely captures the novel's treatment of nature and
landscape than any other I've seen, and doesn't gloss over the St. John character as so
many of them do. A new classic, seemingly lost amid the year-end blockbusters.)
2. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (Astonishing debut from
filmmaker Sean Durkin. Elizabeth Olsen shines as a young woman who lives too
long in a cultish compound. The film's dreamy, unsettling sense of place and
time arises from expertly-crafted direction and editing. John Hawkes is
terrific as a charismatic leader.)
3. TROLLHUNTER (Norwegian fake documentary with brilliant
special effects. Inventive, enthralling, hilarious. An American remake is in
the works, but see this one.)
4. MONEYBALL (I hate baseball. Everything about it: the
game, the fans, the players, the culture. But I loved this film. It's clever,
engrossing, inspiring and entertaining. Brad Pitt is brilliant.)
5. THE TREE OF LIFE (Ambitious, epiphanic and
heart-wrenching. Brad Pitt is also brilliant here.)
6. BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK (Bill Cunningham is 80 years
old, rides a bike to work and lives like a lovable, eccentric pauper. He's also
the most famous fashion photographer in the world. Fascinating, delightful and
sure to renew your faith in absolutely everything.)
7. THE ARTIST (A loving paean to cinema, viewing the
transition from silents to talkies via the imploding career of a charming
impresario and his amazing little dog. Devoid of dialogue, this is masterful
8. DRIVE (Nicolas Winding-Refn's glossy, moody, intense
drama is not your average crime thriller; Ryan Gosling is terrific in this
9. THE GUARD (Sweet, naughty, implausible and hilarious
Irish buddy flick with ovation-worthy performances from Brendan Gleeson and Don
Cheadle as two cops thrown together for a simple investigation that turns out
to be high stakes.)
10. STAKELAND (An arty little vampire apocalypse movie by
Jim Mickle. Starts out like a typical zombie fest, but this is different: subtle,
thoughtful, moving, with gorgeous photography and a top-notch original score.)
Five Biggest Disappointments:
1. A DANGEROUS METHOD (David Cronenberg directs Viggo
Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley in an erotic drama about
Freud ad Jung? Sign me up! Viggo is unrecognizable, which is to say his
portrayal is airtight, and Fassbender also very impressive; but Miss Knightley,
who I normally love, is so affected, so intense, it's downright embarrassing at
times. I suppose that may have been the point, but it that performance ruined
this for me.)
2. THE DESCENDANTS (Loved SIDEWAYS, love Clooney. I found
this manipulative and precious. The Hawaiian music is an interesting touch but
always seems to come in just a touch too early and is ultimately an overbearing
3. CARNAGE (I hated these characters, and I found the
dialogue forced and clumsy. And why is John C. Reilly always married to these
beautiful women? Since I viewed it I learned it's intended as a comedy, which
inclines me to be more gentle.)
4. DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (One of the scariest made for
television horror films ever; Guillermo del Toro thought so, too, hence this
remake, but his executive producing hands were clearly too far from this
overwrought remake, with some of the most unintentionally hilarious CGI effects
I've ever seen. Dear Horror Directors: less is more, dammit! love, Peg)
5. THE RUM DIARY (Johnny Depp in a film by WITHNAIL AND I's
Bruce Robinson? This could not fail, right? It certainly had its moments but
Depp was surprisingly restrained in a role that might have become a standout
even for him. The story trudged along, despite an exotic setting and political
intrigue around every corner. What happened?)
Honorable Mentions: MAGIC TRIP (Terrific documentary
of Ken Kesey and his Band of Merry Prankster's 1964 cross country trip to the
New York World's Fair); SUBMARINE (Sweet black comedy about a lovesick
Welsh teen and his whacky family; great use of music, unexpected pleasures
around every corner); WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Brutal, moody beauty
from Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay. Tilda Swinton is terrific as a woman who
must live through the horrific tragedy her bad seed son of a son has wrought.); TAKE
SHELTER (Michael Shannon gives a first-rate performance as a hard-working man
beset by disturbing visions, whose simple life begins to unravel beneath his
unexplainable obsession); TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (Stellar cast, superb
production design, a whip-smart old-fashioned spy thriller); HIGHER GROUND
(Vera Farmiga stars in and directs this story of a woman thrown into a
religious cult that challenges her views of love and spirituality); THE GIRL
WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (a surprisingly good remake, finely detailed, with a
first-rate cast: Rooney Mara gives Noomi Rapace a run for her money, and Daniel
Craig is very fine); MELANCHOLIA (Lars von Trier imagines the end of the world
with an odd blend of gripping realism and lofty romance; hard to watch, hard to
look away); THE IRON LADY (A tour de force performance by Meryl Streep in an
absorbing biopic of Margaret Thatcher); HANNA (Joe Wright's engaging fairy
tale-tinged thriller boasts some of the year's finest cinematography, an edgy
score by the Chemical Brothers and great performances from Saoirse Ronan and
Eric Bana); SHAME (Hard to shake this one off: Michael Fassbender's performance
radiates quietly controlled rage and pain); OF GODS AND MEN (An uplifting but
sad, true story of a group of Trappist monks exposed to terrorism in their
Algerian village); RAMPART (Woody Harrelson was born to play the hyper-verbal,
sociopathic "dirty cop" at the heart of this urban thriller); THE
CONSPIRATOR (Robert Redford's little-seen and underrated historical drama of
the conspiracy behind Lincoln's assassination with a heart-rending performance
by Robin Wright is getting a great many well-deserved roles these days); THE
TRIP (Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon drive from fancy restaurant to fancy
restaurant in Northern England, along the way trying to out-do each other in
impersonations and war stories of the acting life. Hilarious and unexpectedly
moving thanks for Michael Winterbottom's unerring eye for the things life hides
from us); MEEK'S CUTOFF (Unlike anything I've seen before or since; slow,
steady-paced drama of life on the dangerous prairie of our pioneering
forefathers and mothers.)
Those interested in my own top ten can find them here.
My bottom five are as follows:
As always, these choices don't necessarily represent the
absolute worst films I've seen all year. Okay, the first two do. The other three
films I've chosen because I think they have ambitions or pretensions of aesthetic
or social significance and have been acknowledged as such but which in my
opinion are fatally flawed, misguided,
or downright dishonest. Besides, what's the point of a worst list if you can't
1. New Year's Eve
2. A Good Old-Fashioned Orgy
4. The Help
[Sorry I ran out of gas in providing links.]