Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jeremy's Top 10 Films of 2011

1. Meek's Cutoff
There is a lingering, haunting feeling that persists after watching Kelly Reichardt's study of desperation and madness in the endless Oregon Desert. "Meek's Cutoff" encapsulates fear, anxiety, anger and grief as it follows the tribulations of its lost pioneers and their dubious guide. Christopher Blauvelt's exquisite cinematography blends with brilliant slow dissolves and anguished performances to capture a sort of resigned insanity.

2. "Midnight in Paris"
Woody Allen's nostalgic fantasy captures the allure of a majestic city and the melancholy that not everyone can see its majesty. It's also damn funny — only John Cusack (in "Bullets Over Broadway") rivals Owen Wilson as a Woody stand-in. Allen stacks his film with 1920s cultural references both obscure and obvious, and crafts some of the year's funniest scenes (such as when Wilson spots a familiar Picasso at the Orangerie), but the film's greatest achievement is its feel — a mixture of both joy and longing, a yearning for what never was, and a reluctance to embrace what can be.

3. 13 Assassins
The oft-controversial Japanese director Takashi Miike put the directors behind this summer's Hollywood blockbusters to shame with the thrilling 40-minute climax of "13 Assassins." Approaching the film like a stately Samurai classic (albeit with some distinct Miike-isms), he steadily builds up the character relationships, then whirls it all into the smart, virtuoso finale.

4. A Separation
A sprawling study of moral dilemmas, grey zones and lies, "A Separation" unassumingly lets a key event unfold, then watches as it fuels a pile-up collision of hangups, denials and weasel words. This is character study at its finest — it lets no one off the hook, yet understands everyone's feeling and motivations. Writer/director Asghar Farhadi toys with the characters' conflicting version of stories without any flashbacks or retellings from different points of view. You only see it once, then as the truth gets continually muddled, you spend the rest of the film trying to remind yourself what you actually saw.

5. The Time That Remains
When you sit down to watch a film that tells the history of the Israeli state from its inception in 1948 to present day, you might not expect a carefully constructed comedy built on visual wit that recalls Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton. But that's what writer/director Elia Suleiman achieves in this deeply personal story of his father's struggles as a resistance fighter, and his own life growing up as an "Israeli-Arab" minority. In equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, "The Time That Remains" is a wholly individual war film.

6. Take Shelter
Michael Shannon gave the performance of the year as a man whose feelings of dread just won't go away, no matter how hard he tries to shake them. Jeff Nichols's "Take Shelter" deftly studies the mind of a man who suspects he's going insane, but can't stop the urge to prepare for the visions seen in his apocalyptic nightmares. The film is visually stunning from the first shot to the last, and the supporting performances — especially Jessica Chastain's — live up to Shannon's.

7. The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick's poetic feast of a film isn't simply visually breathtaking. It's a carefully constructed meditation on the memories that stick around through all of life's changes and surprises. The film is at its best when recalling the impressions, lessons and disappointments bundled inside childhood memories, which flow in a moving, free-association succession.

8. Rango
"Rango" is like "Chinatown" meets a Sergio Leone western meets "Star Wars" but, you know, for kids. Gore Verbinski's first animated film is also his best, thanks to the brilliant visuals and John Logan's endlessly clever screenplay. Whether you're a kid watching a movie for the first time or a reference-loving nerd, this is top-rate entertainment.

9. Hugo (2D version)
What appeared on the surface to be a children's adventure film turned out to be a deeply personal work from the great Martin Scorsese. "Hugo" is about the importance of remembering our heritage and appreciating the art that has come before, bundled into a highly amusing adventure story, starring whiz kids Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz, alongside Ben Kingsley and Sacha Baron Cohen.

10. Martha Marcy May Marlene
The story of a mind ingrained with fear, writer/director Sean Durkin's "Martha Marcy May Marlene" tracks two timelines as it explores the hows, the whys and the aftermath of joining a cult. Elizabeth Olsen delivers a brave performance of fear and fragility, while John Hawks boasts another standout role as the manipulative cult leader.

Eleven tied for 11th:
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2"
"Mission: Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol"
"My Joy"
"The Mysteries of Lisbon"
"Le Quattro Volte"
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
"Tuesday, After Christmas"
"Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives"
"We Need to Talk About Kevin"

Honorable mention:
"The Arbor"
"The Artist"
"Attack the Block"
"The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu"
"Bill Cunningham, New York"
"Cave of Forgotten Dreams"
"The Descendants"
"The Guard"
"The Interrupters"
"Into the Abyss"
"The Mill and the Cross"
"The Muppets"
"Nostalgia for the Light"
"Project Nim"
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
"Super 8"
"The Trip"
"We Were Here"

1 comment:

Brent Sallay said...

Ha, I like that you specifically excluded 3D Hugo. Good list.