Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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 Post subject: MY 2011 BEST MOVIE LISTS
PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2012 12:42 am 
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(These Best Movie Lists also appear on the website Filmleaf.)

There were two grand and epic films in English his year, Malick's and Von Trier's, which seemed to present warring world views at Cannes. Von Trier's isn't really American but since there were not quite enough American films for a list of ten best, and it goes so well with Tree of Life and has American actors in it I put it in that list, which replaces my usual "Best in English" lists. It's also kind of fun to list Lars, who won't set foot on American soil, as an American. There don't seem to be as many good foreign US releases. (This is partly because I prefer not to list films I listed in previous years even if they got a US release in 2011.) But there were a few fine new ones. The Dardennes' Kid with the Bike tells an abandoned boy's story with overwhelming moral authority and simple emotional force; not unusual for them but inconceivable for almost anybody else. Submarine is exceptionally witty and articulate. Tyrannosaur is a work of searing grim power. Weekend is a surprisingly vivid and honest little film of a few intense days between two gay men who've just met. Like L'Exercise de L'Etat but for different reasons, the theater was packed when I watched it, to electric effect. Audiences matter, and the shared experience in the dark still means something special. The degernation of the blockbuster cineplex experience with its chattering commentary (like lip readers, unable to watch without mouthing comments) and texting and rattling popcorn bags goes with the degeneration of the blockbuster film; of the larger commercial movie industry product. I listed a few good ones though. But I don't see the point of including them with films that were made for other reasons than to make money.

There were some strong new American indie films this year, including the very pure and kind-hearted Terri, the alive and fresh Pariah, and the triumph of bad boy gadgetry, Bellflower. Of course Take Shelter is an indie film in some sense too, but on a different level, with actors emerging as major, Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon, and a perfectly constructed screenplay by the director, Jeff Nichols, which you don't get very often in any film. It's interesting to see a writer-director emerge into the first rank. That happened also with the Mexican, Gerardo Naranjo, whose use of long takes in Miss Bala is remarkable and underlines its claustrophobic intensity.

Other directors made strong comebacks. Wes Anderson's belated return is a big-heated, grown-up tale about a man child playing father. It's a pleasure to herald a movie by Woody Allen that is both accomplished and kind hearted (despite the dislikeable fiancee and her materialistic parents). Margaret is a real indie film too: so much so that almost nobody got to see it, even after the six-year delay over editing. It's truly independent because it won't fit any mold and it emerges as rough, over-the-top, and exceptionally rich, novelistic, and exciting to watch.

Brad Pitt astonished this year, not only appearing in two of the best movies, but delivering fine and wholly different performances in each of them. His wife also impressed: though her harrowing Bosnia film in the BHS language with subtitles In the Land of Blood and Honey isn't an unqualified success in the writing department, it's serious and accomplished and very well directed. So much for the prejudices against "Brangelina."

In the case of the documentaries one could list many more than ten. As long as a non-fiction film provides useful information it may be worth watching. But those that are real works of art are few and far between, and would include Nostalgia for the Light and The Tiniest Place, both Latin American; and the unreleased English film The Arbor and the limited release The Mill and the Cross. Those two both incorporate acted elements and special visuals. The unique Werner Herzog's documentaries are quite naturally in a class by themselves. His new one about executions in Texas is enriched by his exceptional commitment and moral sincerity; his rapport with his interviewees is also impressive. I was not impressed by his cave paintings film in 3D (which except in the new Harold and Kumar film seemed pointless this year, as before). As usual a lot of stuff impressed the critics that contained at least one terrible flaw: I put major examples of this in my "Overrated" list. The marketplace and the downgrading of the culture mean that there are many heralded new films that seem pointless to me.

There was a terrific range of unreleased foreign films, everything from the simplicity of first love in Un amour de jeunesse (Mia Hansen-Love) to coming of age in time of war (Black Bread) to the woes of being a government minister (L'Exercise de L'Etat) to a corporate thriller (The City Below) to a tense drama about a father and son who're Talmudic scholars! And I'm sure many more from exotic sources that I have missed. All the following lists are alphabetical except the first two, which are best first. P.s.: I had to move The Kid with a Bike from Best Foreign because it won't be released in the US till March 2012. But it's my favorite foreign film of the year.

Tree of Life (Terrence Mallick)
Melancholia (Lars von Traier)
The Descendants (Alexander Payne)
Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)
Moneyball (Bennett Miller)
Martha Marcy May Marlene Sean Durkin
Margin Call (J.C. Chandor)
Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
Crazy, Stupid, Love (Glenn Ficarra, John Requa)
Warrior (Gavin O'Connor)

Incendies (Denis Villeneuve)
Submarine (Richard Ayoade)
Miss Bala (Fernando Naranjo
Tomboy (Céline Sciamma)
Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine)
Attack the Block (Joe Cornish)
House of Tolerance /L'Appolonide (Bertrand Bonello)
Weekend (Andrew Haigh)
A Useful Life (Federico Veiroj)
Queen to Play (Caroline Bottero)

Bellflower (Evan Glodell)
Cold Weather (Aaron Katz)
Higher Ground (Vera Farmiga)
Pariah (Dee Rees)
Target Practice ( Richmond Riedel)
Terri (Azrael Jacobs)
Win Win (Thomas McCarthy)

Black Bread (Agustí Villaronga)
The City Below (Christoph Hochhäusler)
Corpo Celeste (Alice Rohrwacher)
L'exercice de l'État (Pierre Schoeller)
Footnote (Joseph Cedar)
Goodbye First Love (Mia Hansen-Løve)
The Kid with the Bike (Jean-Pierre, Luc Darnenne)
Outbound (Bogdan George Apetri)
Outside Satan (Bruno Dumont)
This Is Not a Film (Jaafir Panahi)

The Arbor (Clio Bernard)(Not released in US)
Bobby Fischer Against the World (Liz Garbus)
Buck (Cindy Meehl)
Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (Werner Herzog)
The Interrupters (Steve James)
The Mill and the Cross (Lech Majewski)
Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzman)
Page One: Inside the New York Times (Andrew Rossi)
Project Nim (James Marsh)
Public Speaking (Martin Scorsese)
Something Ventured (Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine)
Tiniest Place, The (Tatiana Huezo) (unreleased)
We Were Here (David Weissman, Bill Weber)

Colombiana (Olivier Megaton)
Fast Five (Justin Lim)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (David Yates)
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird)
Rise of Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt)

Beginners (Mike Mills)
Bridesmaids (Paul Feig)
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
My Joy (Sergei Loznitsa)
Le Quattro Volte (Michelangelo Frammartino)
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
Shame (Steve McQueen)
Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichart)
Pina (Wim Wenders)

WORST OF THE YEAR (just that I saw)
The Darkest Hour (Chris Gorak)
I Melt with You (Mark Pellington)
The Ledge (Matthew Chapman)
New Year's Eve (Gary Marshall)
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 (Bill Condon)

Faust (Alexai Sokurov)
In a Better World (Susanne Bier)
The Time That Remains (Elia Suleiman)
(And others I'm forgetting or don't even know about.)

You'll find a list of films I saw and reviews I wrote in 2011 at

Last year's lists here.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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