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Our favorite movies of 2011

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I do wonder whether the film loses its power if not seen in the theater setting though.

I don't know about The Mill and the Cross, which I've yet to see in any format, but this is certainly generally true. A couple of months ago I saw Lubitsch's Ninotchka (which I've seen before--at home) at the Castro Theater in San Francisco and it was like I had never seen a Greta Garbo film before--or a Lubitsch film, for that matter. The size of the screen completely transformed the experience.

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It depends on the film, I'd suspect. I wager that, say, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY isn't too much better in the theater than it is on my home screen. (The audience could make a difference, but I doubt the scale of the screen would affect things too much.)

But I gotta say when I saw 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY on a big screen--and I mean an enormous screen that almost overwhelmed my entire field of vision--it was like watching a whole different movie than the one I had seen so many times.

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Heh. Blade Runner will be on the big screen in GR next week. After my (somewhat mild) reversal on the film last year, man, I'd really like to go...

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It depends on the film, I'd suspect. I wager that, say, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY isn't too much better in the theater than it is on my home screen. (The audience could make a difference, but I doubt the scale of the screen would affect things too much.)

But I gotta say when I saw 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY on a big screen--and I mean an enormous screen that almost overwhelmed my entire field of vision--it was like watching a whole different movie than the one I had seen so many times.

Incidentally, last night I was just thinking what an experience seeing 2001 in the cinema would be. Surely, in the age of fathom events (live opera, live concerts, one-night only showing of classic films, Mystery 3000, etc.) we can find an occasion to get 2001 back in theaters for a day or two.

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I still have yet to see A Separation, Mysteries of Lisbon, and The Mill and the Cross (I couldn't get anyone to go see that one with me during the one week it was showing here in Portland) but I've seen everything else I wanted to see from 2011. This is my top ten list:

1. The Tree of Life (nothing else comes close, IMO)

2. War Horse

3. A Better Life

4. Moneyball

5. Midnight in Paris

6. Queen to Play

7. Senna

8. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

9. Courageous

10. Of Gods And Men

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I'm a bit late to the party here, but my list includes:

Certified Copy

Drive

Midnight in Paris

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Of Gods and Men

Poetry

The Tree of Life

The Trip

War Horse

Win Win

And I would have to throw Terri and Young Adult in as my runners-up.

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My 2011 write-up with Top 10, Runners Up and Honorable Mention

Top 10 (ranked)

  1. Of Gods and Men
  2. A Separation
  3. The Mill & the Cross
  4. Buck
  5. The Conspirator
  6. Moneyball
  7. Mysteries of Lisbon
  8. The Muppets
  9. The Tree of Life
  10. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol

Runners-up (unranked)

  • Cave of Forgotten Dreams
  • Certified Copy
  • Hugo
  • The Interrupters
  • Jane Eyre
  • Le Quattro Volte
  • Midnight in Paris
  • No Greater Love
  • Win Win
  • Winnie the Pooh

Honorable Mention (unranked)

  • The Artist
  • Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
  • City of Life and Death
  • Contagion
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene
  • My Perestroika
  • War Horse
  • The Way
  • We Bought a Zoo

Edited by SDG

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I'll add mine to the mix. It's a top 20.

1. The Tree of Life

2. Drive

3. Take Shelter

4. Hugo

5. Midnight in Paris

6. Super 8

7. Of Gods and Men

8. Cold Weather

9. Cave of Forgotten Dreams

10. Attack the Block

11. Moneyball

12. Incendies

13. Jane Eyre

14. Certified Copy

15. 50/50

16. The Descendants

17. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

18. Win Win

19. Bridesmaids

20. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

And as an honorable mention: "Winnie the Pooh" was my son's first film seen in theaters, beginning what I hope will become a life-long passion for the cinema. And it's a wonderful little film, too.

You can read more detailed reasons for the choices here.

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For me, the year peaked early with the January rerelease (courtesy of IFC Films) of Shoah. The toughness of Claude Lanzmann's postmortem on the machineries of the Nazi death camps (to say nothing of the sheer length of it—a daunting nine-and-a-half hours) is a reminder of how wimpy nonfiction films have become. As a theater experience, nothing else in 2011 matched it.

Not too far behind, however, was a retrospective (thank you, Rialto Pictures) of Cavalcanti's Went the Day Well?, a criminally underseen (at least in this country) thriller from Britain's Ealing stable. Brilliantly placed eruptions of violence affirm the sobriety of the enterprise, yet it's also wickedly funny and occasionally surreal, a testament to both English pluck and wartime duplicity. (Criterion Collection, take note.)

On the Bowery is yet another dusted off old classic (much obliged, Milestone Films), and its bold mixture of documentary technique (nonprofessional actors, real locations) and polished cinematography are reminiscent of the pioneering work of Robert Flaherty. A subtle but devastating film about drunks and drinking, it's a strong showcase for Lionel Rogosin, a director ripe for reappraisal.

As far as rediscoveries go, I would be remiss if I didn't mention The White Shadow, a partially restored (by the National Film Preservation Foundation) 1923 Hitchcock effort—the earliest known credit for the legendary director. Though unimpressive on its own, there was a sense of excitement surrounding the discovery of several cans of unlabeled film in a New Zealand basement and their subsequent identification by film archivists, those watchdogs of cinema history.

That takes care of made-over old stuff, now here's my "real" list:

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Certified Copy

Essential Killing

Le Havre

Hugo

Mysteries of Lisbon

Of Gods and Men

Rango

The Strange Case of Angelica

The Trip

Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami) is almost good enough to make you forget that we are living in a post-Golden Age era for film. So, for that matter, is Mysteries of Lisbon (Raul Ruiz), although few were fortunate enough to see all six hours of it. Both are dreamlike, large-themed puzzle narratives that demonstrate exquisite control over the medium. The Strange Case of Angelica is the handiwork of another old master (Manuel de Oliveira, 103 years of age and counting), and the beautiful, serene unfolding of its simple plotline is like a slow drink from a fresh stream. The same could be said for Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki), whose dry humor and gentle idealism amount to a personal vision.

Laughter is still the best medicine, and I am indebted to Gore Verbinski and Michael Winterbottom for providing it in such generous doses. Rango is a wittily animated Western parody and an encouraging reminder that in a year devoid of the Coen brothers, there are still American filmmakers who can provide a sophisticated chuckle. The Trip also fills a need and proves a point. Namely, that two well honed comedians (Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon) are sufficient to hold the screen if their characters are sharply defined and pitted against each other, as they are here.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Essential Killing are technically 2010 releases, having run for a full week in Los Angeles, but I wanted to include them here because they are still largely undiscovered by the masses. Werner Herzog makes sensible use of 3-D technology to give us a privileged glimpse into the distant past, while Jerzy Skolimowski delivers a virtually wordless survival story, gripping in its urgency and immediacy.

Hard won respect is also due Xavier Beauvoix, the director of Of Gods and Men, who approaches the seriousness of his subject with a corresponding seriousness of purpose, and a slowness wholly appropriate to the rhythms of the monastic life.

Martin Scorsese's Hugo, like the automaton contraption that figures into its narrative, takes some time to warm up, but when its central secret (namely, the identity of Ben Kingsley's character) is sprung, it takes on the smooth-flowing tempo of a well-oiled locomotive. Very subtle 3-D effects increase the intimacy of the experience.

Every top ten list needs runners up, and so I would tip my hat to The Artist, Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff, The Guard, Into the Abyss, Jane Eyre, Nuremburg: Its Lesson for Today, Road to Nowhere, A Separation, Sleeping Beauty (the most watchable Catherine Breillat to date), Take Shelter, Terri, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (an unsettling mixture of commanding mise en scene and cutesy-poo Eastern mysticism), Win Win and Young Adult.

List-making also means saying "no thanks" to such contenders as Carnage (a disappointingly slight change of pace from my favorite working director), Dogtooth, Drive, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Ides of March, J. Edgar, Meek's Cutoff (as eerie a film as it is dramatically stagnant), Melancholia, Shame, The Skin I Live In, Tinker, Tailor, Boredom, Why?, War Horse, and We Need to Talk About Kevin.

My conscience obliges me to reach a verdict on The Tree of Life, the most divisive must-see film of 2011. A second viewing of Terrence Malick's cosmic opus revealed few fresh insights. It merely called more attention to the director's epic indulgences, which have slowly withered his storytelling skills over the decades. Obscure symbolism alternates freely with postcard pictorialism. Will subsequent viewings yield richer returns? I'll wait a while to find out.

Edited by Nathaniel

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My brother and I post our favourite films of 2011 over at our blog.

For the record:

THE TREE OF LIFE

HUGO

CERTIFIED COPY (COPIE CONFORME)

OF GODS AND MEN (DES HOMMES ET DES DIEUX)

DRIVE

MELANCHOLIA

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2

A DANGEROUS METHOD

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

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THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

Hey, hey! I remember you liking the film in our Tintin thread, but hadn't realized it rose to Top 10 level for you (it's on my list as well). You wrote in that thread:

Basically I liked a lot of this film. It's pretty good, and I guess I can't quite see some of the issues that others have with the film as far as action sequences, etc.

That's a pretty nice endorsement, but I suspect that film may have risen a bit in your estimation since seeing it. If so, care to elaborate on your thoughts in the Tintin thread? I never did get to a second viewing.

Edited by Christian

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Rather than a top ten, a top five:

CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS

CERTIFIED COPY

MYSTERIES OF LISBON

OF GODS AND MEN

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY

Of course, there's plenty I have yet to see.

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Finally made a full list Here, after much thought and switching things around over and over and over and over. The list of what I've not seen (listed on the blog) is so huge it is embarrassing, but oh well, what am I gonna do - release a best of 2011 list in 2014?

10. Midnight in Paris

9. Letters to Father Jacob

8. Take Shelter

7. 50/50

6. Insidious

5. Amer

4. The Mill and the Cross

3. Budrus

2. The Tree of Life

1. Certified Copy

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That list is so strange to me, seeing as it includes a film that I saw in 2009 -- a film that played an indirect part in my parting ways with CT Movies back then. (Long story. But also a somewhat old one, now, which is sort of the point I'm making here.)

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Yeah. You must be referring to Budrus, right? One of the things I said on the blog was that I am including films that made their theatrical debut on a Grand Rapids screen this year. I really wanted to include Budrus, and that's the way I found to do so.

But then, every year I do this I know in advance that my year of release isn't quite exact. I'm sure Amer and Letters to Father Jacob have flaws with the year of release too. Heck, maybe more than that. When you're in a smaller city and not a paid critic, you don't do these things to the same scale as others.

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Persona wrote:

: Yeah. You must be referring to Budrus, right?

Actually, no: Letters to Father Jacob.

Don't worry, I get why you're including the films that you do; in the past, I have followed a Vancouver-centric rule myself. It's still just a little weird to see ghosts from the past pop up like this, though.

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If you saw Letters to Father Jacob in 2009, you must have seen it before it hit even a minor film festival in the US. It began hitting those in 2010, and had a limited release in the fall of that year (and in this case by limited, I mean severely limited)... When I caught it at EUFF in March last year, I thought they said that was its Chicago debut.

I guess in the case of Letters to Father Jacob, my thinking was that if it first came out in Chicago in March of 2011, then it MUST be safe on any 2011 list.

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Persona wrote:

: If you saw Letters to Father Jacob in 2009 . . .

Yep, I did.

: . . . you must have seen it before it hit even a minor film festival in the US.

Could be. It's a sort of "minor" film, i.e. the sort of film that doesn't necessarily "make the rounds" like a lot of Cannes favorites do, etc. -- so it might take a while for festivals and others to notice it, pick it up, etc.

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I can whittle it all down to one (and it isn't totally because I don't see a ton of theatrical releases).

Tree of Life is my number one with a bullet. I have not been affected by, engaged with, or been fully immersed in the experience of a film like I was with this film in years!! It was so incredibly visceral and unexpected. The last film that had such an impact on me probably wasn't even seen in a theater! I loved this film and all others pale in comparison.

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Not that anyone cares now that it's mid-February (although the Oscars are next weekend), but I have my 'final' list. By final, I mean: I've seen a good chunk of the films I hadn't when I posted my tentative list, but of course I'll see and discover more films and this will change.

Top Ten (in order):

1. The Tree of Life

2. Melancholia

3. Certified Copy

4. Beginners

5. Win Win

6. Take Shelter

7. Of Gods and Men

8. Pina

9. Jane Eyre

10. The Trip

Pretty Good (in no order):

Meek's Cutoff

Everything Must Go

Rango

Hugo

Mission Impossible -- Ghost Protocol

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

The Mill and the Cross

Midnight in Paris

Le Havre

Still Haven't Seen:

Nostalgia for the Light, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Descendants, The Artist, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Drive, stuff I'm doubtless forgetting.

Edited by Timothy Zila

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I'm way late to the party on this one. I blame the fact that I don't live near a city to catch all of the significant releases on time. Anyway, I posted an Oscar preview today over at CaPC. At the end of my list of predictions, hopes, and regrets, I list my current top ten and some honorable mentions. Two caveats: the one film that I really regret not being able to see before compiling a list is A Separation, which I have a feeling will be a strong contender for me. Also, I feel I need to see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy again before ranking it, but I could see it being a favorite from this year. Lists like this are always fluid for me, anyway...

What would be my ten favorite 2011 films right now?

1. The Tree of Life

2. Certified Copy

3. Of Gods and Men

4. Hugo

5. The Mill and the Cross

6. Moneyball

7. Martha Marcy May Marlene

8. Take Shelter

9. Meek’s Cutoff

10. Attack the Block

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): Buck; Tuesday, After Christmas; Melancholia; Win Win; Cave of Forgotten Dreams; The Muppets; Midnight in Paris; The Ides of March; Carnage; Margin Call; Drive; The Trip; Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol; Young Adult; Jane Eyre

Edited by Nicholas

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I watched that when it popped up. It would certainly have been on my list for the year. Very stunning.

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Figured you'd like it. I still haven't written up a best of 2011 list and might not until I've had a chance to see a few more films and re-view a couple others, including this one.

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