The best use of 3-D I’ve seen yet: it was unobtrusive – no dancers kicking legs into our space – and simply made the dances come alive. Like the documentaries at the Film Festival, there was no plot and no dramatic arc, just a series of dances and interviews with the dancers. It didn’t take long to catch on to the choreography of Pina Bausch, even for someone like me who’d never seen it before, and her artistry is certainly worthy of respect, even admiration. But well before the movie’s end I was checking my watch, wondering how much longer it would be before I could congratulate myself for having absorbed this experience.
Top Ten 2011
2011 was, at best, a middling year, with no standout like No Country for Old Men, and among the Oscar favorites, all of which we saw, no favorite like Hurt Locker. I do count 15 very good movies that, in the ultimate test, I had no trouble recommending to others. Rather than rate them individually, which would involve too many close calls, I can stick to tradition by listing a Top Ten and will then add five runners-up. (I am not copying the NY Times critics, although astute observers will note that this was their m.o. this year, as well.)
The Double Hour. My top discovery from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, this Italian mystery-thriller did play in Edina for a week later in the year, and I would’ve liked to have seen it again, not only to judge the plot twist that flips the mirror at the end but to spend more time in the company of the two stars, who were both attractive and real in the manner of anonymous-to-me European actors.
Margin Call. The anonymous stars here stood for you and me, the regular people working under Jeremy Irons and Kevin Spacey. How would we fare in the crucible of a collapsing business? While the story was purportedly inspired by the demise of Lehman Brothers, it echoed in news stories for weeks to come. Together with Michael Lewis’s The Big Short , this film explained the implosion of the American economy – and the character of Wall Street – better than anything else that came my way.
Just Go With It. Frothy yes, but everything one could want in light entertainment: romance, humor, cute kids, hysterical secondary actors and the best and prettiest comic actress going, Jennifer Anniston. Adam Sandler infused the story with a kindspirited tone that allowed me to relax and laugh out loud, which I did at scene after scene, especially the one with the goat.
Of Gods and Men. At the opposite spectrum end from Adam Sandler, what could be more serious than a movie about monks in a foreign land, evaluating their vows in the face of rebel fanatics intent on their destruction. The cinematography, music, costumes and characters’ faces all matched the beautiful severity of the largely true story.
The Mill and the Cross. Answering my own rhetorical question is this reenactment of a Breugel painting. Making better use of silence than The Artist, the movie explains little while it wraps you into the world, and the horror, of daily existence in the year 1570. I could’ve done without Michael York and Charlotte Rampling, but the peasants captivated me as the movie confounded life and art, just as Breugel confounded 1st century Palestine with 16th-century Belgium.
Drive. A taut, tingling, stylish and supercool action thriller, with background drumbeat and technomusic that push suspense and violence that is shocking. Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan (the “It” actors of the moment) are brilliant, and generate their own electric charge without saying a word. The ending rather resembles Hamlet, surely no coincidence from a Danish director.
The Help. Along with Bridesmaids, the best female ensemble cast of the year, only this movie has a legitimate pedigree, a serious subject, an identifiable locale and a hard-won feel-good ending. To those who found it corny, I’m happy to show my softer side, and I trust some of these actors, if not the film itself, will be around come Oscar-time.
Incendies. The bridge between the West and the Muslim world is, today, one of the hardest and most necessary to cross, and this film vividly showed how hard that can be. It personalized the sectarian strife that tore apart Lebanon, making us imagine how different life in that world is from ours, while at the same time neatly reminding us that we do inhabit the same planet, if barely.
Bobby Fischer Against the World. A mesmerizing subject, told with appropriate drama and objectivity. The talking heads were uniformly insightful and the historic clips were fascinating, reminding us of a bygone era when the two most famous athletes in the world were the heavyweight champion and a chess player.
Super 8. E.T. updated for the video-game age, five youngsters making their own movie get caught up, a la Blow-Up, in bigger game. The kids were wonderful actors, except in their own movie, and the adolescent romance was the hottest love affair I saw all year. This movie was as full of cinema clichés as Hugo, The Artist and War Horse, but without taking itself seriously. What fun!
My Week with Marilyn. No King’s Speech this year, but this came closest.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Next to Bobby Fischer, the best doc of the year.
Cedar Rapids. A feel-good farce, bested only by Just Go With It.
Jane Eyre. A perfect period piece, if less original than The Mill and the Cross.
Hanna. Second only to Drive for intense, non-stop action and stylishness.
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