2011 Movie Top 10: Jordan SmithPosted 01/15/2012 04:54AM by Monk 0 Nuggets as Top 10
This past year I have spent more time engaged with the big screen than any previous year. So much so that I sadly fell behind a bit with my first love: music. That time was well spent, however. I managed to attend both the Hot Docs and Toronto International Film Festivals, and in a few weeks I will be making my way to Park City, attending Sundance for the first time. An incredible amount of quality films were released in the past year. From big budget blockbusters that were actually worth a shit, to micro budget indie docs that moved outside of genre norms; tons of excellent cinema was at your disposal. If you didn't know what to check out, or just didn't have time to hit up the theater, now is your chance to indulge in the best of the past year. I present to you, my ten favorite films of 2011.
1. The Tree of Life
What is there to say about this masterpiece that hasn't already been said? Somehow tackling cosmic creation and the fruition of a Texas bound family during the 50s, Terrance Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have crafted one of the most eye-poppingly gorgeous films to ever hit celluloid. And it's not just the visual beauty that makes this behemoth a thing of cinematic magic. It's in the intimate portrayal of human development, and the delicately layered questions of existence that run throughout the picture that make The Tree of Life the best film of the year. Malick has likely arrived at the pinnacle of his legendary career with this highly personal tail that for me, strangely, hits quite close to home.
Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling created a modern day Travis Bickle whose soundtrack aches to live in the 80s. It sounds like a bad idea, but somehow the result turned out to be the most stylish piece of film making of the year. Drive is idiosyncratic in its lack of character building, choosing instead mysteriosos and clear cut mobsters, but it simmers with intensity, and is peppered with extreme blasts of overtly graphic violence that is unshakably memorable in its incredible staging. Pair that with a silently stoic Gosling and a set of stellar supporting performances by Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, and Ron Perlman, and you are going to want to run out to find one of those scorpion embroidered jackets our hero dons in hopes you'll exude that same level of cool.
Blasting out of SXSW at the top of the ranks and nabbing the top prize at Hot Docs a couple months later, Tristen Patterson's chronicle of professional skateboarder Josh 'Skreech' Sandoval's hazy, meandering journey toward responsibility is a strikingly photographed doc that captures his surprisingly candid subject with supreme authenticity. The film seems to be getting lumped in with other skateboarding films, but it is so much more than that: a coming of age tale, an encapsulation of southwestern wasted youth, a real life romance that feels like a Godard film come to life, and a non-fiction story that plays like the best kind of indie drama.
4. Super 8
Following up his extremely fun reboot of Star Trek, J.J. Abrams got his Spielberg impression on (with the help of Spielberg himself) with brilliant results. His cast of charismatic youngsters, hair raising special effects, and a story that draws heavily on that wholesome nostalgic feeling we all love so much, make Super 8 an instant classic made for lazy Sunday afternoon cable viewing with the family.
5. Martha Marcy May Marlene
Sean Durkin's vexing debut takes Elizabeth Olsen down a paranoid one way path of cultic discipline and misogynistic surrender. Olsen puts forth one of the best performances of the year, with a complete loss of social norms; she floats along, fearing the worst is yet to come. Her tortured tale is woven together elegantly, blending the past and present with subtle sensory triggers that haunt her every move. Like her sister, we deeply worry about not only her mental stability, but the allusions that her past may come to consume her.
6. Burning Man
Largely overlooked by the general populous on the festival circuit, writer/director Jonathan Teplitzky crafted a highly personal film of explicitly sensual love and soul crushing loss with a keen handle on the narrative form. He intelligently chose to dole out the drama in moments of intense memory recall, letting the audience connect the dots slowly but surely, putting together one of the most heartfelt depictions of the devastation of having to deal with cancer yet. I caught this at the TIFF, but hopefully this Australian flick gets a US release in the coming year.
7. Project Nim
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was the primate centered film about humans over-reaching themselves in the name of science that did the most business this year, but James Marsh's doc about the fate of Nim Chimpsky is by far the better picture, and it is much more disheartening in its truthfulness. Pulling from archival footage of Nim's fascinating life, and new interviews with the people who were involved in the communication experiment, Marsh has once again proven he is at the top of his craft.
8. Take Shelter
Michael Shannon can be one intense dude, and he certainly maintains his acute sense of suspense and release in Jeff Nichols's welcome return to the big screen. Constantly leading us on with thoughts of oncoming insanity, we are uncomfortably given our own decision about Curtis's mental health. The film is a remarkable take on what it would be like to be diagnosed with a mental disability you have little or no control over in the prime of your life. It makes my heart hurt just thinking about it.
Something most people assumed probably wouldn't or shouldn't happen: Martin Scorsese at the helm of a family film. And in 3D. Ugh. But somehow he pulled it off, and not just by a thread. Hugo is a glorious success that nods to the films that started it all (particularly those of Georges Méliès), while delving into the ideas of young independence, perseverance, shared experience, and profound appreciation for family. It's a sugary sweet cinematic treat, but it bares a big heart and a history lesson to boot. (Though, I still would recommend seeing it in regular old 2D if possible.)
Lars Von Trier can't stop torturing his female protagonists, but with such an intriguing filmography that relies heavily on just that dynamic, who could blame him? He continues his torment, this time with Kirsten Dunst in the lead. His entrancing images of a planet on track to collide with Earth, paired against the fluid liveliness of an already doomed wedding, perfectly encapsulate the experience of being inundated by panoptic depression. It's obvious Von Trier and Dunst know the topic at hand all too well, but in this case their pain is their catharsis and our pleasure.