Sunday, December 25, 2011

Top 10 of 2011

Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Kooky Kwanzaa/Happy Holidays everyone! My Christmas present to you all this year is a list of my favorite movies of the year so far. I might update this at New Years if I get the chance to see stuff like War Horse/The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo/etc., but I'm pretty happy with this list as is. I'll start with #10 and work upwards because it just seems more suspenseful that way:

10. The Mill and the Cross
This intriguing Polish/Swedish co-production is the story of a painter navigating the troubling themes of his time. The director Lech Majewski cunningly toys with the idea of movies as moving paintings by having the film take place on the canvas itself, with the painter and his patron moving and living within the painting themselves. In the background, people live their lives as the Spanish Inquisition wreaks havoc on the well-meaning folk of Flanders. Some might find it a little slow, but for the patient... this film makes for an incredibly rewarding and a wholly unique visual experience.

9. Margin Call
Margin Call is perhaps the most intelligently written movie of the year. First time screenwriter and director JC Chandor ably crafts this stunning indictment of how some on Wall Street acted just before the infamous crash of 2008. With a uniformly excellent cast (great performances in particular from Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and Stanley Tucci), this film grasps your attention and never lets go... even though it's largely a series of tersely worded conferences. But by keeping these characters relate-able and sympathetic, it makes you wonder, "Would I have done anything differently in their place?"

8. Hanna
Hanna is a visually arresting fairy-tale about a young girl who lives alone in the woods with her father. She's been trained her whole life to be a ruthlessly efficient killing machine for reasons she doesn't yet fully understand. Then, one day, when her training is complete, she's released into the world, tasked with hunting down CIA agent Marissa Wiegler. Truthfully, the story here is hardly the important thing as this film's strongest aspect is Joe Wright's engaging visual style and perfect sense of pacing. Also the electronic score by The Chemical Brothers has to be among the best of this millennium. Listen to my favorite track here. Great performances by the three principals bury the lead for this counting among my favorites of the year.

7. Melancholia
Lars von Trier is normally very hit and miss with me (I hated Dogville and Antichrist, but enjoyed Breaking the Waves), but this tale of two sisters facing the end of the world is easily his best work yet. Instances of stunning imagery are anchored by two fascinating lead performances: one from Kristen Dunst (who knew she had it in her?) as the depressed Justine who rises to the occasion in the face of earthly destruction and one from Charlotte Gainsbourg as the initially controlled one who, confronted with the possibility of the Apocalypse, turns to her sister for help and support. By focusing on the characters instead of the inevitable end itself, Melancholia is perhaps the best portrayal of the apocalypse in the past 10-20 years.

6. Beginners
A tale of romance in the face overwhelming grief, Beginners has the singular honor of being among both the funniest and saddest movies of the year. Ewan McGregor plays the main character Oliver, a 30-year old man who, having just lost both of his parents in the space of a few short years, must deal with the fact that he may have just met the woman of his dreams... but he's not sure he's ready, or able, to open himself up to the possibility. It's rare that a movie can have me laughing and then tearing up so frequently during its duration. Mike Mills' script perfectly captures the tumultuous nature of dealing with such a profound loss and the wondrous terror of falling head over heels in love. Anyone whose ever lost someone important to them, will empathize with this movie--and McGregor's subtle, closed-off performance--intimately.

5. The Kid with a Bike
As The Kid with the Bike shows, sometimes the simplest movies are the best ones. This tale is about a boy who must come to terms with the fact that his father has abandoned him. Helping him with that is hairdresser Samantha who agrees to house him on the weekends. Initially refusing to believe that his father would ever intentionally leave him behind, the young boy, Cyril, goes in search of him. Searching for his father leads him into the influence of some less than savory elements. This tale from the Dardennes brothers, who seem to excel at simply presented, unpretentious stories involving children, is about a young boy desperately searching for acceptance... and it strikes a fascinating balance between those that would help him find it, and ones who would take advantage of that impulse.

4. Hugo
I've already written some thoughts on Hugo for this site, which can be found here. Simply put, this is movie magic at its best. Martin Scorsese's surprisingly personal love letter to film is something that is best experienced in theaters and in 3D, so if you haven't see it yet, run, don't walk, to your nearest theater and watch it now. That's the best Christmas present anyone can give themselves. The latter hour is the most affecting hour of cinema I watched this year, and only the overtly kiddie tone of the first 45 minutes keeps me from rating this even higher on my list.

3. Drive

Stunt-driver by day, getaway driver by night, Ryan Gosling's stoic and soft-spoken driver is reminiscent of the great action heroes of years past. Drive is a flawlessly constructed exercise in style over substance, and when the style is this good (thanks to the meticulous direction of Nicholas Winding Refn) there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Drive is the story of a man, previously beholden to nothing but his simple set of values, who, upon meeting a young woman and her son, finds himself willing to fight for something more.  A great, 80s inspired soundtrack impeccably synthesizes the movie's smooth tone, which lifts this construction to something akin to the finest artwork. Indeed, each shot feels like it could be framed and hung in an gallery.

2. Weekend
One Friday night, after a party with his straight friends, a young gay man named Russell heads out to a club. There he meets the refreshingly honest Glen whom he ends up going home with. Over the course of the next couple days, what initially started as just a one-night stand develops into something more. But with Glen leaving for America come the end of the weekend, the question arises, where exactly are they heading? Is this fledgling love worth pursuing? This realistic, perfectly acted film pulls no punches, but also avoids the typical histrionics that might accompany a romance of this sort. Thusly, the relationship between the two principals feels universal, making for a love story that people of all ages, orientations and creeds can relate to. Available on Netflix instant, I dare you to watch this movie start to finish without shedding a tear, or without seeing a little part of yourself in the travails of Russell and Glen as they navigate the complexities of love in the modern world.

1. The Skin I Live In
Another film I've previously reviewed on this site. Pedro Almodóvar's bizarre The Skin I Live In is a unique blend of horror, thriller and off-kilter sci-fi. Antonio Banderas plays the obsessed Dr. Ledgard, who in pursuit of perfection alters the life of the mysterious young Vera forever. Playing with the notions of identity and gender, obsession and memory, The Skin I Live In recalls the best of Hitchcock with its briskly twisting plot. I put it at #1, but really any of the first three I've listed here would fit just as well.

Honorable Mentions: Bridesmaids, The Devil's Double, The Guard, Jane Eyre, Moneyball, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Source Code, Take Shelter, The Trip, We Need to Talk About Kevin,

Alright, that's my list and I'm sticking too it... at least until I see something better.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the recommendations Glenn. The only one of these I've seen is Hugo, which was beautiful indeed. You write like a professional movie reviewer...very impressive. Keep up the good work!