Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Top 25 Films of 2011

It was a year in which real life (Gabby Giffords, Egypt, bin Laden, Qadhafi, Occupy Wall Street) threatened to make the cinema look boring. The medium continues to change radically. We now see the end of 35mm film as we know it on the horizon. The box office foundered but sequels ruled the day. Conventional exhibition continues to contract as new modes of consuming media continue to expand.

1. Mildred Pierce – USA – Todd Haynes
2. We Need To Talk About Kevin – USA/UK – Lynne Ramsay
3. The Tree of Life – USA – Terrence Malick
4. This Is Not A Film – Iran – Jafar Panahi (and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb)
5. A Separation – Iran – Asghar Farhadi
6. Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest – USA – Michael Rapaport
7. House of Tolerance – France – Bertrand Bonello
8. Drive – USA – Nicolas Winding Refn
9. Certified Copy – France – Abbas Kiarostami
10. Midnight in Paris – USA/Spain – Woody Allen
11. George Harrison: Living in the Material World – USA – Martin Scorsese
12. Hugo – USA – Martin Scorsese
13. Kinyarwanda – USA/Rwanda – Alrick Brown
14. Cave of Forgotten Dreams – USA/UK/Germany/France/Canada – Werner Herzog
15. Rise of the Planet of the Apes – USA – Rupert Wyatt
16. A Dangerous Method – Canada/UK/Germany – David Cronenberg
17. Young Adult – USA – Jason Reitman
18. Shame – UK – Steve McQueen
19. Meek’s Cutoff – USA – Kelly Reichardt
20. Melancholia – Denmark – Lars Von Trier
21. City of Life and Death – China – Lu Chuan
22. Crazy Stupid Love – USA – Glen Ficarra & John Requa
23. Circumstance – France/USA/Iran – Maryam Keshavarz
24. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – Thailand – Apichatpong Weerasethakul
25. Cinema Verite – USA – Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini

Special Award: this year’s Enter The Void award goes to Sucker Punch. I am convinced that whether he knew it or not, Zack Snyder dissected the id of Fanboy Culture and forced the audience to ponder why such tropes as cute girls with katanas and video game narratives are catnip to much of the ComicCon set. The film paid a price for being more than fan service.

Performances (a few performances that have stayed with me): Kim Wayans & the cast of Pariah, Albert Brooks in Drive, Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love, Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Reza Safai in Circumstance, the entire cast of A Separation, Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, Patton Oswalt in Young Adult

Great Comebacks of 2011:
1. 3D- just as everyone had turned their back on the format as a gimmick or an excuse to gouge the customer, several filmmakers (minor figures like Spielberg, Scorsese, Herzog, Wenders) took up the format and proved that (like sound, color, or widescreen) 3D is a tool in the filmmakers kit that can be used very effectively.
2. Lynne Ramsay- after almost abandoning her craft after the heartbreak of having The Lovely Bones hijacked by Peter Jackson, the Scottish director returned, with a vengeance.
3. Iranian Cinema – The Green Revolution finally caught up with the beleaguered filmmaking of Iran. Some were exile films, one was a film about house arrest. But all are galvanized by the movement of the people against their government.

Animation: Bad year for the medium, but Uncle Steven deserves special mention for doing things with MoCap that no one else has (sorry Zemeckis). Somehow Spielberg is the first filmmaker to make his MoCap figures not look like dead-eyed zombies (even though some idiot critics decided it was easier to dismiss them as such).

Big Damn Genius Award: Giorgio Moroder- the Austrian composer didn’t compose a note to any films in 2011, but his sound was inescapable.
Runner up: Kit Nolan didn’t release a single film this year, but the shadow cast by Inception was long and his trailer to 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises has caused a ruckus. He proves that great filmmaking is more important than marketing rainmaking alone.

Best Trailer: David Fincher’s crackling teaser to his ultimately unnecessary remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was far superior to the film itself.

Steel Drum (for the person who should be sealed into a steel drum and dropped into the deepest part of the ocean): Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. What were they thinking? They cornered a market, put out of business much of their competition, then decided to implode. The corporate brand of capitalism is akin to a junkie’s need for drugs. It made Netflix damage their brand and overreach. Just gives us our DVDs and streaming and stop trying to conquer the world.
Films to also be placed in the Steel Drum:
The Artist – vacuous, manipulative dreck, sure to win Harvey another statue.
J. Edgar – facile, middle of the road, amoral nonsense by one of my idols.
Red State – woefully stupid, ideologically incoherent, the work of someone terminally immature.

Best Retrospective: Hands down, it was UCLA Film & Television Archive’s exhaustive look at the L.A. Rebellion. It was an embarrassment of riches that left a mark on me.

In Memoriam: LACMA’s Film Program (thanks Ian), Rocket Video, Laemmle’s Sunset 5.