Top Ten Lists

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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby Sabin » Thu Dec 22, 2011 5:55 pm

I'd have a bigger problem with Melissa McCarthy's unhinged performance if Bridesmaids was a particularly good film, but it's not. It's a very funny, very, very uneven film that doesn't ever really decide what to do with its protagonist. She never does anything in particular to redeem herself, but rather its forced upon her. If Bridesmaids cohered as a narrative rather than a scattershot assemblage of bits, I'd have a bigger problem with the kind of insanity that Melissa McCarthy brings to the table. Because it doesn't, I enjoyed her quite a bit. She barges in from a more enjoyable film. One that Bridesmaids should have resided.
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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby bizarre » Thu Dec 22, 2011 5:16 pm

I do understand why she's winning awards, I was just trying to be bitchy. I think she's awful in the film. It's almost embarrassing watching someone beg so brazenly for laughs - I felt like I was in a studio audience being cued to laugh by a producer every time she had a scene. Her character is the low point of the script, a bundle of lame gags with a name. Rose Byrne, who has never impressed me before, was much better in the supporting cast, limning contradictory impulses and giving multiple dimensions to her character long before the script requires her to have them. And she was actually funny, too.

But of course, it is Kristen Wiig's absence from "best of..." lists that is confusing. She was marvelous and the picture's MVP.

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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby OscarGuy » Thu Dec 22, 2011 1:24 pm

I think McCarthy's winning awards because it's such a departure from her character on Mike & Molly. Plus, she plays heavily against type in a film that's all about artifice and perception creating rifts in real lives. So, that she comes down as the film's anchor and grounding element it further inforces the character's importance to the film. She also has some of the funniest bits in the film (most notably the puppy stuff...so cute).
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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby bizarre » Thu Dec 22, 2011 12:47 pm

Bridesmaids is pretty good. Wiig's writing and performance provide a quite rigorous portrait of depression that gels rather than jars with the farce.

However I don't understand McCarthy's character, I don't understand the way she plays it, and I don't understand why she is winning awards for it.

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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby Big Magilla » Thu Dec 22, 2011 9:49 am

I think it's the female critics who are primarily supporting it. To quote People's Alynda Wheat:

"I toast Bridesmaids for proving that bawdy female-driven comedy can bring in big box office, that McCarthy and Wiig are geniuses and that smart toilet humor actually exists. But not for proving that women are funny - because that we damn well knew."

As they say, whatever...

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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby ITALIANO » Thu Dec 22, 2011 6:55 am

Damien wrote:
ITALIANO wrote:Seems like Bridesmaids is a masterpiece. Too bad - I had carefully avoided it when it opened in Italy, and now I'll have to find it...


I only saw bits and pieces of it while my beloved was watching it on pay-per-view, but believe me, Marco, if you see it you will (justifiably) think even less of American taste than you already do.



I've seen it. And no, it actually didn't change my opinion on American taste - if only because honestly in Italy we make, or at least we used to make, movies in much worse taste than this one. (There are other aspects of American cinema which I find more annoying). And at least Bridesmaids made me laugh once or twice, which is still more than I'd laugh with its Italian equivalents. So not a complete waste of time.

Still, these Italian equivalents never win or are nominated for important awards, nor are taken seriously by the critics. I find interesting and a bit surprising, too, that Bridesmaids - a forgettable, overlong and disjointed, though occasionally funny, farce - is appearing on so many 10-best lists, and will probably be nominated for one or two Oscars, even. Is it because its political un-correctness (all on the surface, by the way) makes it seem new and refreshing? I have no idea.

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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby Big Magilla » Thu Dec 22, 2011 1:27 am

People Magazine

A little something for everyone...

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
2. The Artist
3. Drive
4. A Separation
5. The Skin I Live In
6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
7. Senna
8. The Descendants
9. The Adventures of Tintin
10. Bridesmaids

Most Underrated: Limitless
Most Overrated: Hugo

Best Impersonation: Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady
Worst Actress: January Jones in X-Men: First Class
Best Death: Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Worst Chemistry: Jacob with a baby nabs in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby bizarre » Sun Dec 18, 2011 5:06 pm

I like O'Hehir's #1 placement of Poetry. I'd consider it a 2010 film but it is one of the best of that year, and its ending is one of the most perfect and shattering finales I've seen in a film.

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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby Big Magilla » Sun Dec 18, 2011 9:37 am

N.Y. Times' A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis:

Old-Fashioned Glories in a Netflix Age

MANOHLA DARGIS

As we know, it’s become ritualistic for critics to whine about the end of the year being crowded with Oscar hopefuls. Oh, pity the poor movie critic forced to watch a new Martin Scorsese movie, a new David Fincher and two from Steven Spielberg in short succession! Yet while this period seems jammed with Important Movies From Harvey Weinstein, the rest of the year looks dire only if audiences count on the major studios and usual suspects for their film fixes. The problem is that the race to the Oscars now so profoundly consumes everyone’s attention that it has distorted the perception of what’s actually available.

In recent years smaller distributors and studio subsidiaries have become hip to the Oscar-driven seasons and adjusted accordingly. Now some of the best films turn up in the late winter, early spring. If you lived in New York between January and April, you could have seen “Go Go Tales” (Abel Ferrara); “Cold Weather” (Aaron Katz); “Poetry” (Lee Chang-dong); “Of Gods and Men” (Xavier Beauvois); “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” (Apichatpong Weerasethakul); “Foreign Parts” (Véréna Paravel and J. P. Sniadecki); “Certified Copy” (Abbas Kiarostami); “Le Quattro Volte” (Michelangelo Frammartino); “Meek’s Cutoff” (Kelly Reichardt); “To Die Like a Man” (João Pedro Rodrigues); “A Screaming Man” (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun); “The Princess of Montpensier” (Bertrand Tavernier); and “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” (Werner Herzog).

Not all made my list of favorites, but many are so very good and are superior to some of the most prominent Oscar front-runners and favorites that are taking up so much of everyone’s mental (and advertising) space.

A. O. SCOTT

It’s funny how abundance can sometimes feel like scarcity. Even someone who does not live in New York — a thriving metropolis of multiplexes, art houses, nonprofit institutions and pop-up screening sites — could have seen a great many of the “smaller” movies you listed and others like them, thanks to new, still-emerging forms of distribution. “Margin Call” (one of my favorites) arrived simultaneously in theaters and on video on demand, and many other movies were available to cable subscribers before opening in theaters. There will be more of this in the future as big and small companies test the digital waters to find a sustainable business model.

In the meantime I suspect many people (not only critics) will continue to complain about the dearth of movies in the midst of plenty, as what the psychologist Barry Schwartz calls “the paradox of choice” becomes more and more acute. With so much to choose from, how is anyone supposed to decide what to see, and how can anyone measure the aesthetic value or cultural importance of a given movie? Sometimes a film will assert its significance by becoming so popular that it can’t be ignored (like the “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” and “Dragon Tattoo” franchises), sometimes by pushing topical buttons (like “The Help” or “Margin Call”) and sometimes by being so weird as to compel intense arguments for and against (“The Tree of Life,” most obviously).

But there is still a nagging sense that movies — and the public discussion of movies — are not what they used to be. That kind of nostalgia informed a lot of the recent writing about Pauline Kael on the 10th anniversary of her death this year, and it also shows up in a lot of movies. Cultural nostalgia in general was the subject of Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” which just missed my Top 20, but backward-looking movie love informed some of the most interesting releases of the year: Michel Hazanavicius’s “Artist” and Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo,” which both evoked the glories of the silent era; Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” which evoked the glories of old-fashioned, wide-screen epic filmmaking; and “Super 8,” which evoked the glories of Steven Spielberg. I’m ordinarily suspicious of antiquarianism, but I have to say that in most of these cases I found the impulse to explore the cinematic past refreshing, as much about recovering the idea of the new as about worshiping the old.

DARGIS

The movies are not what they used to be and haven’t been since people started watching them on television in the 1950s, a process that made the sacred cinema object more profane. The de-sacralization continues and now seems nearly complete, which is why I cherish the ecclesiastical rituals of moviegoing even more. I like the convenience of streaming movies, but it’s transporting to sit in the dark, alone and with other people, watching bigger-than-life images. It can be especially affecting when the audience is with a movie, as they were when I caught “Warrior” a few months after it opened, and everyone burst into sustained applause at the end.

I can’t imagine, for instance, watching “War Horse” on a television, much less an iPhone: this is a self-consciously old-fashioned movie, shot in gorgeous film, which deserves to be seen projected on a big, bright screen and not via a thinner-looking “digital cinema package.” (This is the studios’ term for the compressed and encrypted digital files they use to store and distribute content, i.e., movies.) The use of the past in, say, “The Artist,” a cute gimmick stretched to feature length, is very different from how Mr. Spielberg (in “Tintin” and “War Horse”) and Mr. Scorsese (in “Hugo” and last year’s “Shutter Island”) self-consciously invoke and engage the cinema of earlier eras.

Both these filmmakers, two of the greatest of the movie-brat generation, are preoccupied, in their respective ways, sometimes nostalgically, with older movies, both European and Hollywood. (The movie brats are New Hollywood directors schooled in cinema who emerged in the 1970s; the other great being Francis Ford Coppola.) That nostalgia is sometimes inscribed both in the filmmaking and in the story, as with “Raging Bull,” a (largely) period piece shot primarily in black and white and very much a film about Mr. Scorsese’s own love of movies, with one of his touchstones, for instance, the black-and-white cinematography of “Sweet Smell of Success” (1957). With “Raging Bull” Mr. Scorsese even started a campaign to raise awareness about the fragility of color film.

The heart of “Hugo” is Mr. Scorsese’s ode to the early filmmaker Georges Méliès, a homage that’s also a tribute to cinema, which gives the movie a sense of urgency, particularly because what cinema was, for much of its history, has been eclipsed by the convenience of televised and now streaming images. Film history also matters in “War Horse,” and that’s partly why it’s so involving. It isn’t just about war and loss, which makes tears flow; it’s also about movies as they once were (and can be, as this film proves). When Mr. Scorsese was asked about the influence of Samuel Fuller’s “Shock Corridor” (1963) on “Shutter Island,” he said of the earlier film, “It’s in me.” Looking at “War Horse” you can see how John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley,” among many other films, is in Mr. Spielberg.

SCOTT

Although I admired the visual bravura of “Hugo” and was touched by its sincere affection for Méliès and his work (the gorgeous restoration of his masterpiece “A Trip to the Moon” that was shown at the Cannes and Telluride film festivals was surely a cinematic highlight of the year, maybe the century), I was not as enthralled as perhaps I should have been. Or as enraptured as Mr. Scorsese clearly wanted me to be. The many breathless invocations of “the magic of cinema” lessen the magic, and the busy, showoffy historicist aesthetic prevents a deep and powerful register of feeling from developing (except in Ben Kingsley’s marvelously melancholy face).

“War Horse,” in contrast, uses its saturation in older styles of moviemaking to stir up the sort of simple and emphatic emotions that have always been central to the collective moviegoing experience. Mr. Spielberg’s formidable technical command is very much in evidence, but it is placed in the service (as it was in “E.T.”) of forceful and almost naïve sentiment. In other words, the movie does not seem to be, as “Hugo” is, primarily about its director’s bottomless love of movies.

Still, I am happy to have seen so many senior auteurs pushing themselves in ambitious and surprising new directions. A year with noteworthy new work from Mr. Spielberg, Mr. Scorsese, Mr. Allen and Clint Eastwood — as well as Jean-Luc Godard (“Film Socialisme”), Pedro Almodóvar and Raúl Ruiz, who made more than 100 films in his life and saved one of his very best, “Mysteries of Lisbon,” for last — cannot be a bad year. And there was also a lot of ferment on the younger end of the generational spectrum, and quite a few exciting movies that were no less ambitious for being modestly scaled, intimately focused and absorbed in the present.

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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby Big Magilla » Sun Dec 18, 2011 9:32 am

N.Y. Times' Stephen Holden:

IT was the season of apocalypse. Whether your idea of the end is reconciliatory (a family reunion on a misty far shore in “The Tree of Life”) or punishing — the collision of Earth with another planet in “Melancholia”; extinction in a metaphysical tornado in “Take Shelter” — 2011 was the year of brooding cosmic consciousness in serious films. Even the mystical “Tree of Life” is shadowed with the notion of a fearsome, authoritarian God.

Movies, of course, have always flirted with disaster, but usually with a playful attitude. Remember the days of “shake and bake”? (The nickname applied to “Earthquake” and “The Towering Inferno,” which appeared back to back in 1974.) Science fiction has had no dearth of end-of-the-world fantasies, but in Hollywood most have been packaged as roller-coaster thrills for audiences who feel safe; heroes gallop in to save the day.

This year was different. The impulse of movies to think big and dark was probably spurred by the global financial crisis and the continuing recession, which have eroded a fundamental sense of material security and allowed a premonition of impending chaos to spread. That sense of insecurity coincides with movies like “Margin Call,” “Moneyball” and “The Descendants,” all of which address money with a hardheaded realism.

This eschatological mood seems the natural outgrowth of the “we’re all connected” school of movies like “Crash” and “Babel” several years ago that anticipated the hyperconnectivity of the new social media. But it is one short step from “we’re all connected” to Tom Lehrer’s grimly jolly fantasy of nuclear annihilation, “We Will All Go Together When We Go.” Back in 1959, when the song was written, we assumed our little nest eggs were secure. You couldn’t take it with you, but at least it was there.

These are my Top 10 movies of 2011:

1. ‘THE DESCENDANTS’ In Alexander Payne’s second-best movie (after “Election”) George Clooney gives his most complex and compelling screen performance (he even weeps) as Matt King, a wealthy Hawaiian landowner who learns of his wife’s infidelity while she is on life support after a boating accident. With his two daughters in tow he travels from Oahu to Kauai to confront her lover, a married, high-flying real estate broker.

The movie, adapted from a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, is rich with Hawaiian lore as Matt argues with his relatives over whether or not to sell his family’s valuable coastal property. A pitch-perfect study of middle-aged male angst and family conflict, with some sharp comic moments, “The Descendants” is one of the most adult American films ever made about love, money, betrayal and the ties that should bind but sometimes don’t.

2. ‘OF GODS AND MEN’ The wrenching French film, directed by Xavier Beauvois, is based on a true story of the life-and-death choices facing a group of French Cistercian Trappist monks in Algeria in the 1990s after a massacre of foreign workers by Islamic militants. Should they leave their monastery or stay and face almost certain death, despite their good works and strong ties to the townspeople? This study of the courage and faith that sustains a band of brothers who have renounced all worldly aspirations culminates with an indelible scene of the monks sharing a last supper to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” It is spiritually transcendent.

3. ‘THE TREE OF LIFE’ The core of a film that asks big questions about God, creation and the afterlife is its eerily accurate evocation of 1950s boyhood in the American heartland. Brad Pitt (wonderful) is a loving but sternly moral patriarch who rules his Waco, Tex., family as if he were God’s enforcer. The movie, unwittingly or not, is a troubling meditation on the weight of patriarchal tradition and its negative effect on children. Nobody could accuse its director, Terrence Malick, of having a sense of humor. But once you settle into its mood of uninterrupted solemnity, deepened by an eclectic classical score, it makes you ponder the ineffable.

4. ‘MARGIN CALL’ In J. C. Chandor’s taut, concise corporate thriller, inspired by the fall of Lehman Brothers, a stock analyst discovers information that could destroy the company if it doesn’t act immediately and dump billions of dollars in toxic assets. This devastating portrait of greed, panic and malfeasance in high places has the strongest performances in years by Jeremy Irons and Kevin Spacey. It offers a grim picture of the ruthless pecking order at an investment bank whose leaders don’t understand the destructive financial instruments they wield with a callous disregard for everyone but themselves.

5. ‘MELANCHOLIA’ In the Danish trickster Lars von Trier’s dual study of clinical depression and the end of the world as a hidden planet named Melancholia threatens to collide with Earth, Kirsten Dunst rises to the role of a deeply troubled young woman stoically facing the end. “Melancholia” is really two films very loosely connected by the title and its double meanings. The first part portrays her disastrous wedding reception; the cinematically ravishing second part puts it in despairing cosmic perspective. The majestic soundtrack for the apocalypse is the Prelude and Liebestod from “Tristan und Isolde.”

6. ‘WE WERE HERE’ Although its story is unbearably sad, David Weissman’s documentary history of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco told through the experiences of several caregivers is an inspiring communal portrait of selfless human beings who chose to face the fire rather than run away and hide. Devoid of sentimentality and self-congratulation, it is a powerful reminder that unsung everyday heroes are everywhere.

7. ‘INCENDIES’ In Denis Villeneuve’s harrowing drama adapted from a play by Wajdi Mouawad, a notary gives a twin brother and sister, whose mother (the remarkable Lubna Azabal) has died, two envelopes with instructions to deliver them to their father, whom they had presumed dead, and a brother they didn’t know existed. Interweaving scenes of their mother’s hidden story of survival in an unnamed war-torn country that resembles Lebanon, the movie has the inexorable momentum of a Greek tragedy and culminates with a shattering revelation.

8. ‘A DANGEROUS METHOD’ David Cronenberg’s portrayal of the rivalrous friendship of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) is a thoughtful film of ideas clearly articulated, with a frisson of kinkiness involving their mutual patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), with whom Jung (in the movie) had an affair. Even if Mr. Mortensen’s Freud is nothing like the father of psychoanalysis — who would know? — it is dramatically persuasive.

9. ‘CERTIFIED COPY’ The Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s first feature made outside Iran follows a middle-aged man and woman (William Shimell and Juliette Binoche) as they drive through Tuscany while discussing artistic authenticity and pondering the notion of the value of a copy versus an original. Then it applies the same concept to their relationship. Have they just met, or are they married and pretending to be strangers? The movie is a brainteaser worthy of Michelangelo Antonioni.

10. ‘MONEYBALL’ A sports movie for our time, this adaptation of Michael Lewis’s nonfiction best seller about the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who drafted major league baseball players using a computer, is mercifully free of macho sentimentality and home runs that solve everything. Although its insider’s perspective is at times intimidating, it offers a starkly accurate portrait of baseball as a big business in the age of big money.

RUNNERS-UP
1. ‘TAKE SHELTER’
2. ‘YOUNG ADULT’
3. ‘RAPT’
4. ‘POETRY’
5. ‘A SEPARATION’

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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby Big Magilla » Sun Dec 18, 2011 6:07 am

L.A. Times' Kenneth Turan:

“The Artist.” A black-and-white silent movie that creates the most modern kind of witty and entertaining fun.
“City of Life and Death.” A Chinese film about World War II’s Rape of Nanking that is strong enough to change your life, if you can bear to watch it at all.

“Like Crazy.” Director Drake Doremus and his cast bring compelling intimacy and heart-stopping delicacy to the push and pull of love, longing and regret

“Midnight in Paris.” When Woody Allen is funny, attention must be paid.

“Of Gods and Men” and “Poetry.” A pair of films, one French, the other Korean, show how compellingly dramatic moral dilemmas can be.

“A Separation.” An Iranian film unlike any Iranian film you’ve seen before. In theaters Dec. 30 and worth the wait.

Sundance gets real: More memorable documentaries come from this festival than anywhere else. This year’s group included “Buck,” “If a Tree Falls,” “The Interrupters,” “Project Nim,” “The Redemption of General Butt Naked,” “Senna” and “We Were Here.” Mention should also be made of non-Sundance docs “Circo” and “Nostalgia for the Light.”

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” A version of the allusive John le Carré novel that couldn’t be more deliciously, thrillingly, brilliantly complex.

“Win Win.” Written and directed by Tom McCarthy with an impeccable feel for off-center human comedy at its funniest and most heartfelt.

Saddest situation: The huge number of excellent foreign-language films that played in Los Angeles with hardly anyone seeing them. The list includes “Double Hour,” “Carancho,” “Conquest,” “Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life,” “The Human Resources Manager,” “Le Havre,” “Kawasaki’s Rose,” “Point Blank,” “The Princess of Montpensier,” “Queen to Play” and “The Women on the Sixth Floor.” Where were you when these films needed your help? Can you do better next year? The city’s movie community is holding its breath. We need your help.

The best film of 2011 was technically not a film at all. It never played in a commercial theater and likely never will. But those fortunate enough to have seen “The Clock” during its all-too-brief run at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art know how remarkable an event it was.

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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby ITALIANO » Sun Dec 18, 2011 6:04 am

Uri wrote:
But then this year American has given us at least one great movie (and probably several good ones, from what I read), so I feel kind towards your country. Even Bridesmaids - if it's really so bad - won't change my mood. I think.


But you still have The Help to look forward to.



:D True.

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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby Uri » Sun Dec 18, 2011 12:30 am

But then this year American has given us at least one great movie (and probably several good ones, from what I read), so I feel kind towards your country. Even Bridesmaids - if it's really so bad - won't change my mood. I think.


But you still have The Help to look forward to.

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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby ITALIANO » Sat Dec 17, 2011 6:59 pm

Damien wrote:
ITALIANO wrote:Seems like Bridesmaids is a masterpiece. Too bad - I had carefully avoided it when it opened in Italy, and now I'll have to find it...


I only saw bits and pieces of it while my beloved was watching it on pay-per-view, but believe me, Marco, if you see it you will (justifiably) think even less of American taste than you already do.



But then this year American has given us at least one great movie (and probably several good ones, from what I read), so I feel kind towards your country. Even Bridesmaids - if it's really so bad - won't change my mood. I think.

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Re: Top Ten Lists

Postby Damien » Sat Dec 17, 2011 6:22 pm

SALON -- Andrew O'Hehir

Crafting an annual top-10 list is no doubt a ludicrous exercise, and I’m not promising I’d have given you the same answers a month ago, or will give you the same ones a month from now. But over the years I’ve grown to appreciate the fact that it forces critics to stop hiding behind relativistic weasel words and high-flown rhetoric, and forces me to defend the murky and individual question of taste. The fact that I — ever so slightly — prefer “Coriolanus” to “Drive,” and “Mysteries of Lisbon” to “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” definitely tells you something about me as a person and a movie critic.

So does the fact that such prominent 2011 films as “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” “War Horse” and “The Tree of Life” do not appear in my top 20. Which isn’t the same thing, of course, as saying I didn’t like them or would not recommend them. Those are all pretty good movies! If you’re sufficiently interested, you can now read my 2011 Movie List — ranking virtually every movie I have seen all the way through this year. There are a handful of major 2011 releases I haven’t caught yet and hence are not considered either here or on the crazy-complete list, including “The Iron Lady,” “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” “Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” (As you’ll see below, one film that made this list hasn’t yet been released; I’ve been assured it will open on schedule before the end of the year.)

This was a bad year at the box office after the big commercial successes of 2010, and if you subtracted the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” franchises, it would’ve been an unmitigated disaster. I don’t assume any connection between that fact and the fact that it was one of the best years I can remember for moving, exciting, ambitious, adventurous cinema, but it does make you wonder. In a time of heightened anxiety and economic downturn, the movies typically do well, but Hollywood largely failed to provide rousing distractions this year, and art-house fare that engaged the tense national mood didn’t find much of an audience.

I’m informally declaring a tie at the top of my list between “Poetry” and “Melancholia,” which I think are both genuine masterpieces, with “Coriolanus” and “Take Shelter” just a smidgen of a smidgen behind. But ties are for wussies (well, OK, and for professional soccer, and for the NFL and NHL back when they were worth a damn), so I’ve ranked them — and if my No. 1 choice seems eccentric, I swear to Pete that wasn’t the point. I look forward to your scathing comebacks and lists vastly superior to my own (because they are yours). See you in the comments.

1. Poetry
Yes, it’s a foreign-language film from a country unfamiliar to most Americans, released last winter in a handful of cities, but there’s nothing perverse or elitist about this choice, as anyone who’s seen Korean director Lee Chang-dong’s beautiful and tragic masterpiece will attest. An elderly woman facing early-stage dementia (played by longtime Korean star Yun Jung-hee), her brooding and resentful grandson, a dead girl found floating in the river and, yes, a poetry workshop — these are the elements of this elegant, compact tale of life and death, told with the command of Bergman or Tolstoy or Chekhov.

2. Melancholia
Wedding farce meets apocalyptic science fiction in Lars von Trier’s witty, wrenching and spectacular fable of depression, a film so terrific von Trier himself tried to sabotage it by talking about Hitler. Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg are the central odd couple, as a light-and-dark pair of sisters, who threaten to destroy each other just as the eponymous hidden planet threatens to destroy ours. A tremendously rich supporting cast, prodigious cinematography (by Manuel Alberto Claro) infused with German Romanticism and a depth of human compassion previously unsuspected in von Trier. A profoundly eccentric film, to be sure (and one not overly concerned with naturalism), but an absolutely great one.

3. Take Shelter
Sadly, Michael Shannon’s massive, almost demonic performance as a working-class Ohio man possessed by apocalyptic visions will be overlooked by the Oscars, as will writer-director Jeff Nichols’ terrifying Weather Channel-meets-”The Omen” horror movie. But no other American film released in 2011 captured the desperate national mood the way this low-budget indie did. And don’t miss superb supporting turns from Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham.

4. Coriolanus
Shakespeare’s bleakest tragedy is restaged in the media age by star and director Ralph Fiennes and screenwriter John Logan, with devastating results. (Notice a certain downward aspect in my choices this year?) Fiennes gives his greatest screen performance as the turncoat Roman general who can’t play politics, scorns an Occupy-style public uprising, and joins forces with archrival Gerard Butler to make war on his own hometown. Fiennes is matched, if not outdone, by Vanessa Redgrave’s blistering performance as Volumnia, Coriolanus’ ruthless and bloodthirsty mom.

5. Mysteries of Lisbon
If you miss the fancy-dress, densely plotted 19th-century soap operas that European cinema used to do so well, then this one’s for you. In the hands of Raúl Ruiz, a vastly underappreciated Chilean director who’s spent most of his career in France, a legendary Portuguese novel by Camilo Castelo Branco about an orphan’s search for his patrimony becomes a dense and intoxicating weave of nested narratives, after the fashion of Dickens or Balzac (or, for that matter, the Mexican telenovela). Terrific cast, terrific cinematography, agreeably elliptical storytelling.

6. A Separation (not yet reviewed)
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s complex and compelling social melodrama offers a fascinating look at daily life inside the Islamic Republic, where a quarreling couple discuss their potential divorce with a bored mullah, and a seemingly minor domestic mishap opens the door to a collision of class, money, religion, morality and all the contradictions of Iranian existence. More than that, “A Separation” is a magnificent, mature and marvelously humane film with a great ensemble cast, proof that the cruelties of the Iranian regime have not crushed that nation’s artists. (Limited release will begin Dec. 30 in New York and Los Angeles, with wider release to follow in 2012.)

7. Drive
Doggone it, I can’t quite make my mind up about “Drive,” but that’s mostly a good thing — and if you feel any love whatever toward the American movie tradition, I think it’s got to make your list. Did star Ryan Gosling and hot Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn get overexposed after their Cannes triumph? Did the movie underwhelm audiences who wanted something a little less arch and film-history-related, and a little more fast and furious? Absolutely, but that doesn’t change the fact that this ultra-violent, ultra-stylish film is a sneaky, brilliant genre exercise, and a Euro-American collaboration movie geeks will study for years.

8. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
More mixed feelings: Thai art-house god Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s moody, mysterious, meditative picture about a provincial farmer facing mortality is closer to avant-garde experimental film than to the narrative tradition of almost everything else on this list. A Cannes colleague dubbed it “a Buddhist tone-poem about death,” and while he was being snarky, that’s right on the money. And it’s a gorgeous, loopy experience unlike any other, if you’ve got the patience for it. A recalcitrant water buffalo, human-catfish sex, a guy in a silly monkey-ghost costume, alternate-universe paradoxes and some very straightforward human emotion. Just don’t expect it to “make sense.”

9. Meek’s Cutoff
Along with “Drive,” director Kelly Reichardt’s pioneer-era drama starring Michelle Williams as a covered-wagon wife lost on the Oregon Trail, circa 1845, is the most divisive entry on this list. Some viewers hate it and want to flee with the first long-long-shot of people walking and not talking, while others are mesmerized by this intimate epic of racial and gender conflict among 19th-century cross-country emigrants. I see “Meek’s Cutoff” as a masterful use of cinematic space and time, after the fashion of early Terrence Malick, and also (probably) an allegory about America today. But I’ve gotten more angry WTF letters from readers on this one than about anything else I reviewed all year.

10. Putty Hill
After a long-planned film fell through, young director Matt Porterfield made this semi-improvised docudrama in the ramshackle urban-meets-rural Baltimore neighborhood where he grew up, and the result is one of the most original American indies in many years. A mixture of Robert Altman social realism and Godardian abstraction, “Putty Hill” explores the ripple effects of a young drug addict’s death, and culminates with a knockout karaoke performance of “My Heart Must Go On.” Along the way, Porterfield captures the beauty and mystery of this rugged, semi-suburban social and physical landscape with affection but without sentimentality; the list of American movies that depict working-class life with this much understanding is short indeed.

Honorable mention: Mike Mills explores his relationship with his late gay dad (marvelously played by Christopher Plummer) in the affectionate and almost miraculous “Beginners”; Christian monks face death in Algeria in Xavier Beauvois’ “Of Gods and Men”; a French neighborhood rallies around an immigrant kid in Aki Kaurismäki’s whimsical “Le Havre”; Tilda Swinton plays a mom in hell in Lynne Ramsay’s hypnotic “We Need to Talk About Kevin”; Gary Oldman hunts a Cold War mole in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”; Michael Fassbender hunts sex 24/7 in Steve McQueen’s “Shame”; an afternoon in Tuscany pushes two strangers together in Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy”; a woman comes between Freud and Jung in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”; Martin Scorsese redeems the 3-D era in the gorgeous fantasy-folly “Hugo”; two gay men struggle with love in Andrew Haigh’s touching and irresistible “Weekend.”
"Y'know, that's one of the things I like about Mitt Romney. He's been consistent since he changed his mind." -- Christine O'Donnell


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