DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Best of Cinema 2011

Friday 30 December 2011

Best of Cinema 2011

It’s been a decent but not outstanding year for cinema. There was a lot of very good movies and few, if any, ‘great’ ones. And so, after compiling my 10 best list, it unfortunately results in a series of mostly dark and grisly films about death or other tragedies of some sort. Sorry.

As well, usually I separate my fiction films from documentaries to create two separate lists. But this year there were so many fantastic docs, three in particular that were so memorable, they needed to be included with the others. So here goes:

This independently produced documentary, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, stayed with me for months. It still does. John Foy's procedural conspiracy film attempts to unravel the 20-year-old unsolved mystery of a series of tiles stamped onto the streets of dozens of cities across America, secret coded messages written with a unique artistic penmanship that can be attributed to only one person. Foy creates a magnificently suspenseful and engrossing investigative Sherlock Holmes-worthy mystery following three young men, equally obsessed, as they go about solving the case. He matches Errol Morris for his rigorousness and his ability to parse out information in a clear and dramatic way, but with a sharp sense of humour. This is pure cinematic storytelling at work.

As a second film, writer/director Jeff Nichols shows remarkable confidence with a story less easily definable than the ‘revenge’ drama of Shotgun Stories. Take Shelter is ambitious, complex and deceptive, the type of film M. Night Shymalan used to make.

A two-and-a-half hour tete-a-tete revenge film, Korean style. Jee-woon Kim takes influence from the Korean landmark genre thriller Old Boy. It’s so grisly, disturbing and relentlessly violent, but it’s something you can’t help but rubberneck your head around to watch.

You may know the story already – the strange case of a seemingly normal, well-adjusted middle-class mom travelling home from the cottage with her two young kids and three nieces. She inexplicably loses her sense of direction and starts speeding the wrong way on the highway before tragically killing eight people, including herself and all but one of her passengers. Under the careful direction of Liz Garbus, Aunt Diane resounds as a fascinating documentary so tragic and confounding it has haunted me ever since.

Sure, this isn't news now. And pretty soon French director Michel Hazanavicius's love letter to the silent film era will be over-hyped, but we can't deny that this is a remarkably entertaining film.

McQueen's odyssey of a sex addict, while narratively sparse and controlled, is a triumph for its astonishing visceral and emotional power – a technically stylish and emotionally intense experience on par with Black Swan.

Pitch perfect anti-romance about a long distance relationship plays like Going the Distance made by Michael Winterbottom, presented with a pretension-free hip style from director Drake Doremus.

Don’t let this fascinating, thrilling and wholly thought-provoking new millennium political thriller fall through the cracks. It's a superb character study that ambitiously strives for an arc as grand as The Godfather. In almost half the running time, Clooney crafts a cynical tale of corruption and the effect of career ambition, jealousy and revenge on one’s moral conscience.

Paddy Considine's directorial debut is a chronicle of the cycle of abuse in the grand tradition of great British kitchen sink dramas. It’s a deeply emotional story of two lost souls, victims of the cycle of abuse, who find solace with each other from their working class shitholes. But through Peter Mullan’s and Olivia Colman’s superlative performances and mutual chemistry, Considine succeeds in making us want to spend 90 minutes in the lives of these tortured characters.

Perhaps only Michael Apted's Up series could compare to the effect of Berlinger/Sinofsky's 15-years-in-the-making documentary. This third film surrounding the now famous West Memphis Three case is a triumph, a powerful compendium of all three films combining evidence compiled over the years, which ultimately brought justice to three men wrongly accused.

Honourable Mentions:

Drive - a unique creative collaboration between director Nicholas Winding Refn, Ryan Gosling and composer Cliff Martinez

Moneyball - a surprisingly accessible sports drama about the effect of the science of statistics on the sacred American game

Myth of the American Sleepover - think Dazed and Confused or American Graffiti as made by Gus Van Sant. An under-the-radar winner that signals a new voice in American indie cinema in David Robert Mitchell

Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil - a fun horror comedy with a wicked hook and two great comic performances from Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II - for someone who had given up on this series after the third episode, I was won back by this surprising final chapter, which manages to connect all the previous films for a satisfying and emotional conclusion

Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within - this Brazilian cops and robbers action film, which aspires to have the same epic weight as Michael Mann's Heat, was the highest grossing domestic film of all time in Brazil

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Niels Arden Oplev's version of this story played like a solid David Fincher rip-off. Now we have the real thing, executed with cold, pulpy perfection and everything we wanted to see from this well put together cinematic collaboration

Senna - an uplifting turned tragic documentary about the life of world champion Formula One driver Ayton Senna, who died on the racetrack in 1994.

Bridesmaids - hands down the comedy of the year, featuring the supremely talented Kristin Wiig as both writer and actor.


Blair Stewart said...

No "Miss Bala"? Boooooooooo!

Thanks for the list.

Alan Bacchus said...

Sadly I missed Miss Bala at TIFF and it hasnt been released domestically here yet. So maybe next year's list.