I didn’t get to enough movies this year to make a definitive Top 10 list. But these are my favorites.
Tree of Life – Terrence Malick’s symphonic memoir explores the relationships of nature and grace, mother and father, modern philosophy and religious wisdom, abstraction and reality, memory and existence, man and the divine, theory and life. On the one hand a consideration of Kubrick, Tarkovsky, Heidegger, Kempis, dinosaurs, and God. On the other, a simple memoir of childhood, compassion, forgiveness, and letting go. The most hyped film is the best, by a mile.
Melancholia – Lars Von Trier’s provoctive rumination on depression and may be dealing from the usual deck of atheistic Euro-nihilism. But if you want to get filmmaking that pushes things, you have to praise filmmaking that pushes things. Kirsten Dunst awaits the end of the world, as a rogue planet named Melancholia closes in. Her somehow English sister Charlotte Gainsbourg loves life too much to panic.
Shame – Steve McQueen’s racy story of sex addiction and family has seen a backlash. Really? What I saw was a film that reaches for symphonic filmmaking but brilliantly holds its intricate family dynamic.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – What does a director do ? In the case of Tomas Alfredsson, take a crisp English spy saga and imbue it with a snowy disposition and encroaching mortality. The obsessive control of period detail, cerebral performances, and zoom-in, zoom-out episodes of storytelling makes this British spy story feel like David Fincher’s Zodiac. As John LeCarre’s regular hero George Smiley, Gary Oldman expertly hides a sense of duty and passion behind a face of cold professionalism.
Incendies – A pair of twins living in
Canada return to after their mother’s death to uncover family secrets and memories of the civil war. One twist too many, but passionate and engrossing. Lebanon
– Pure charm. Paris
Like Crazy – Is Drake Doremus’ effort a great film, or a good film with a great performance and great ending? I’ve settled on the latter, but that doesn’t diminish its power and Felicity Jones’ fantastic turn. Of all the newcomer actresses, hers feels most complete and daring.
The Artist – It might be the Shakespeare in Love of 2011. Nonetheless, this silent curio is a very strong crowd-pleaser.
Fast Five – The joy of Fast Five is its absolutely shameless commitment to the lurid pleasures that films actually are (sex, cars, masculinity), rather than what tortured cineastes think they should be. So wrong – and so right.