An American Film Geek's Top 10 for 2011

2011 was a great year for one to get increasingly serious about one's film writing, which was the case with me.  As I was welcomed into my local critic's official organization, the film year was offering a wealth of cinematic riches (cultural vegetables and healthy franchise entries), more than one of which had a profound emotional effect on me.  Besides the many apocalyptic visions, there was also much joy to be found - all of it resonating beautifully and honestly in the cinematic zeitgeist. In assembling this list, I consider not only each film's emotional impact, but also its importance and artistic success.   A lot of thought (maybe too much) goes into this, but even then, it must be remembered that subjective film rankings such as this must always be taken with a small grain of salt (the writer may feel differently next week).

All that to say that I'm proud of this list, and feel that it's the most "complete" year-end list that I can present. I've seen most every major U.S. domestic release - blockbusters and prestige films, buzzed-about indies and foreign imports.  That said, no critic could ever see everything. A few that I was unable to get to that may've made a mark with me are "Certified Copy", "A Separation", "Point Blank", "Another Earth", "The Mill and the Cross", "Take Shelter", "The Skin I Live In" and "Le Quattro Volte". (The italicized segments are sampled from my own previously published reviews. In cases where I didn't cover the film in question, I link to another Twitch writer's whenever possible.)

Tree of Life poster (400 x 593).jpg1. The Tree of Life - [Terrence] Malick has given us one of the most purely personal and audacious works of film art ever put forth on such a scale. The miraculous truly meets the mundane in "The Tree of Life", one of the most purely spiritual films you will ever see... Like any great work of metaphysical wonder, multiple viewings are not only rewarding, but essential.


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for TheArtistPoster.jpg2. The Artist - Go ahead, just try and hate "The Artist". If you love cinema, it's simply not possible. By actually embodying the era it's depicting (a black and white silent movie), Michel Hazanavicius's film (evoking "A Star is Born" and "Singin' in the Rain" without ever being derivative) not only one-ups Scorsese's "Hugo" in terms of being a love letter to the silent era of filmmaking, but dances it's way to being the most competent, clever, and joyous film of the year.

harry-potter-deathly-hallows-2-poster-350.jpg3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - After four "Harry Potter" movies, each one better than the last, I still don't know who this director David Yates is, or how he got handed the keys to the final half of the biggest film franchise of the past decade. But whoever he is and however it happened, I'm glad it did. I'm no "Harry Potter" fan freak by any stretch (haven't read the books, and not big on all the movies), but this one was spot on. Simply spot on, I say.

melancholia.jpg4. Melancholia - Not a day has gone by since "Melancholia" that I have not thought about it. For a film to have that kind of impact on my day-to-day consciousness is exceedingly rare... "Melancholia" is a dire yet infinitely approachable work... [Lars von Trier] has made one of the most unforgettable, unshakably unique films of this year.


13-assassins-poster_2.jpg5. 13 Assassins - Although I'm no expert on the complete works of the often audacious Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, I know enough to declare "13 Assassins" a triumphant deviation of sorts. His tale of peacetime samurai charging gloriously into the bloody face of death is Kurosawa by way of Peckinpah, and it just might be a masterpiece.


The-Future.jpg6. The Future - [Miranda] July's mystery mix of a film takes us places and shows us things without ever leaving the confines overshot Los Angeles... We're shown that life, as we each long for elusive belonging and purpose, is full of things that, sometimes amusingly, sometimes frustratingly, and sometimes both, cannot be explained or understood... "The Future", whatever you make of it, is not to be missed.
 

WinterInWartime.jpg7. Winter in Wartime - As a war film, it beautifully captures the heroics of war with no hint of artificial glory. As a coming of age film, it treads in the realm of that rare "Toy Story 3" emotional "growing up" territory, albeit the dark side - being forced by circumstances and conditions beyond ones control to confront adulthood way to fast, and way too soon.
 


Bellflower-poster.jpeg8. Bellflower - Evan Glodel's meandering, low-budget handmade ode to muscle cars and flamethrowers is actually a hyper-saturated fever dream of insecure male aggression. As gut-punchy as it is unstable, "Bellflower" is nevertheless perhaps the most important film since "Fight Club" to probe the frighteningly fragile male psyche. Just be sure to wear a helmet when you watch this one.


RangoPoster.jpg9. Rango - "Rango" is... a Western,... full of the kind of Depp-driven quirk that audiences have come to love. And while it is essentially a more audience-friendly, conventional hero's journey at its core - fused with a healthy dose of clever comedy - "Rango" thrives, even as it mildly challenges the notion of what mainstream animation should be.
 


Thumbnail image for descendants-poster-300.jpg10. The Descendants - Alexander Payne emerges from cinematic hibernation with a film as authentically moving as it is enjoyably witty. George Clooney's suave persona is reduced to a veneer thinly veiling the uncertainty of a crumbling family life even while living under the local media microscope in a refreshingly unglamorous depiction of Hawaii. A humble work, yet great all around.



Very Honorable Mentions: Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Higher Ground; Martha Marcy May Marlene; Page One: Inside the New York Times; The Housemaid; Crazy, Stupid Love; Midnight in Paris; Drive; The Other F Word; Shame.

My Bottom 10 Films of 2011

- Jim Tudor





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