Friday, December 30, 2011

Top Ten Films of 2011: “Nothing stands still. Or keeps its place.”

I guess I’d better do this before it’s too late. Here’s my Top Ten List for 2011.

As my title suggests, it’s a tentative one. I usually don’t consider my Top Ten list finished (not that it ever is) until I file one for the Skandie Awards in February; so I’ve actually got a couple more months of 2011 left to go, lucky me. I’m not even going to begin to tell you what essential 2011 films I haven’t yet seen. Life’s humiliating enough.

 And the list has been changing already over the past few weeks – this one is a bit different from the Top 20 I sent in for the Film Comment poll, which was different from my Top Ten in the Village Voice poll, which was different from my Top Ten in the Indiewire poll.

I was going to wait until I wrote up a review of A Separation before I posted this, but, well, that didn’t happen. In cases where I wrote something pertinent (a review, or whatever) about a given film, I’ve linked to it. The excerpts below the titles…um, not sure how to explain those. Some are from my reviews. Some are from…other things. Sorry if they sound pretentious, but I'm pressed for time over here.

Okay, that’s enough throat-clearing. Onward.

1.) The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)

 “Perhaps Malick chooses this approach because he wants us to remember what it’s like to lose something. Ordinary narratives treat the loss of innocence as something tangible, locatable, quantifiable – cue the lead character’s first visit to a brothel, or his first fight, or the first time he heard about the Atom bomb, or whatever. But in Malick’s world (and, let's face it, in ours, too), innocence doesn’t just vanish. We look up one day and realize it’s been gone for a while, and we wonder where it went.”

2.) Melancholia (Lars von Trier)

 “You see these people? All of us? And all the people alive in the world today. A hundred years from now, we’ll all be dead. That is impermanence.”

3.) A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)

“Throughout recorded time, and probably since the end of the Neolithic Age, there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. They have been subdivided in many ways, they have borne countless different names, and their relative numbers, as well as their attitude towards one another, have varied from age to age: but the essential structure of society has never altered. Even after enormous upheavals and seemingly irrevocable changes, the same pattern has always reasserted itself, just as a gyroscope will always return to equilibrium, however far it is pushed one way or the other.”

4.) Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)

 “It's a very close look at somebody who learns the hard way that you can't get the world to do what you want because there are millions of others right next to you trying to do the exact same thing, and that once you've run through your idealism, all you've got is your character and your capacity for love.” (See here.)

5.) Psychohydrography (Peter Bo Rappmund)

“A premise that is simple, yet curiously hard to describe.  Rappmund charts the journey of the water in the Los Angeles River from its origins in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, on through the L.A. Aqueduct, and finally to its emptying out into the Pacific. The film is composed of a series of static frames. But each frame is also a series of stills – thousands of them, creating a time-lapse animation of what little movement (if any) is onscreen…It unifies the whole even as it fragments the particular…And so the film’s attempts to harness natural effects echo its depiction of man’s attempts to harness those same phenomena in real life…[T]his harnessing gradually becomes a kind of mediation, and by the time the water reaches the ocean, we’ve truly entered a different world.”

6.) Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)

“Her hands when she is very old: those worn hands that once held so much that was dear to them, that once he could take and hold as tightly and for as long as he wished. Soon he must lose her, too, with all that he loves.”

7.) Poetry (Lee Changdong)

To write poetry is
To remember mother’s hands,
Joint swollen,
Washing the white rice
At cold dawn during winter solstice.” (from the film's Cannes presskit)

8.) The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg)

“Few artists used the physical stillness of the comic frame as well as Herge, and few filmmakers have used the movement of the film frame as well as Spielberg. So now the characters zip past us, constantly in motion. Maybe something has been lost in the process, but dammit if it doesn’t sometimes feel like Spielberg has liberated them as well.”

9.) General Orders No. 9 (Robert Persons)

“It begins with a hand quietly contemplating objects from the past – the skull of a bird, a coin, something that looks like a bullet, a single die -- and then drifts into a deeply personal rumination on community and place, and how they have become disjointed in the modern world… [N]ature bends methodically and gently towards a kind of social organization. This world still has roots, it is still definably a place, with a center…Later, however, that sense of order is overwhelmed…[T]he almost soothing progression of counties and towns on the map of Georgia becomes, as it spreads out across a map of the U.S., a nightmarish contagion of jigsaw-puzzle-like fragmentation. What once were carefully drawn boundaries now look like a thousand cracks across a nation made of glass.”

10.) We Need to Talk about Kevin (Lynne Ramsay)

“We never remember things as they were, but rather the way we want them to have been, or the way we fear they were.”

10-11, maybe.) Potential Dark Horse (har har), pending a second viewing: War Horse (Steven Spielberg)

"If War Horse seems old-fashioned at first, that’s because it has to be. It’s about how the old world was torn to shreds by the new -- which is, after all, the ultimate story of World War I."


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