Parallax View’s Best of 2011

Welcome 2012 with one last look back at the best releases of 2011, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View. Critics listed in reverse alphabetical order

Andrew Wright

(as posted at Salt Lake Weekly)
1. Melancholia
2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
3. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
4. 13 Assassins
5. Drive
6. The Tree of Life
7. Take Shelter
8. Hugo
9. The Descendants
10. Stake Land

Bruce Reid

1. World on a Wire: The gleaming surfaces and monotone bureaucrats are a dig at 2001. The eternally recurring reflections are Fassbinder’s own, Dietrich and gay hustlers and rapacious businessmen stalking a virtual Germany warped by funhouse mirrors. Giddy, heartbreaking, endlessly inventive, and (forget the copyright) absolutely of-the-moment.

2. Tree of Life: It’s not the brutal slaps of nature that birthed you, nor the ways of grace so ethereal they threaten to float away to the sky. It was both of them, and everything else. Malick’s illimitable camera summons grand and mysterious creative forges ranging from cosmic fires to a grandfather’s face.

3. Hugo: The first few reels (those gears; those pipes; the city so close you could reach out and feel its pulse) are so marvelously dense and rich they’re practically retraining you to see in a new way. Which I suspect is pretty close to Scorsese’s personal definition of cinema to begin with.

4. A Dangerous Method: In the past (Spider, Crash) Cronenberg has flung sperm at the camera; here he’s captured by the silky gleam of hymenal blood. Which is less feminism than a sign things have forever changed. A chronicle of dangerous plagues coming to ravage the 20th century: as new as Freud’s talking cure, as ancient as anti-Semitism.

5. Certified Copy: I’d always found something monstrous in Kiarostami’s serenity, a hint of disinterest so profound he could find driftwood as fascinating as people. This study of flowing identities, both playful and devastating, corrects my misapprehension; it’s the drift itself that captivates him, and how we’re all dragged along by the surf.

6. Take Shelter: The first great horror film of post-prosperity America, where job insecurity and HMOs and government therapists fuel the nightmare no less than the claps of thunder or the ominous skies. Almost the polar opposite—in style, in effect—from Nichols and Shannon’s previous collaboration; which suggests they’re capable of anything.

7. Mysteries of Lisbon: The best joke of the year is how the final revealed history in Ruiz’s delightful rebuff to stately period dramas bears no relation to the first, but was entirely dependant upon it all the same. One last labyrinth from the master, the paths this time laid out in human lives.

8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Fincher’s breakneck pace has assumed a frictionless confidence that gives you a heady, almost comic charge to see. Which might seem entirely the wrong tone here, but brings a much-needed fleetness to the exposition while making the horrors ever more jarring.

9. Contagion: Its narrative propelled so breathtakingly by the actors plenty and Martinez’s score, Contagion’s emotional heft can be overlooked. But this is a shattering argument for grief as our overwhelming commonality, and a lovely salute to those brave enough to suit up against it when needed.

10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: So guarded and chill you barely notice its beating heart. Till it surges, and wrecks nearly everyone forced to live lives so rigorously, ruthlessly compartmentalized.

Kathleen Murphy

(as posted on MSN Movies)
1. Melancholia
2. The Artist
3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
4. A Dangerous Method
5. The Tree of Life
6. Certified Copy
7. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
8. The Descendants
9. Drive
10. Meek’s Cutoff

See also MSN essay on A Dangerous Method

Richard T. Jameson

My list submitted to MSN.com on Dec. 9 could just as well have had some of these titles on it. In some cases their omission was chiefly a matter of my not having got round to a second viewing that likely would have put paid to any reservations I harbor. Worthy films all, and enough of them to make the year a better one than it felt like from week to week, month to month. Order here is random:

Melancholia
The Tree of Life
Le quattro volte
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
A Separation
Of Gods and Men
Midnight in Paris
Carnage
Stake Land / Small Town Murder Songs

Midnight in Paris is the only one I hadn’t seen by Dec. 9.  Still haven’t seen Poetry, Mysteries of Lisbon, Film Socialisme, The Road to Nowhere….

See also list on MSN, and essay on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Robert Horton

(as listed at The Herald)
1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
2. Certified Copy
3. Melancholia
4. A Dangerous Mind
5. Meek’s Cutoff
6. Drive
7. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Remember His Past Lives
8. Poetry
9. Into Eternity
10. The Descendents / Le Havre

See also his list at indieWIRE

John Hartl

Not necessarily the best movie of 2011, but certainly the one that most memorably captured the pervasive sense that the planet is going to hell, was Jeff Nichols’s hauntingly ambiguous doomsday drama, Take Shelter. Michael Shannon gave another of his Cassandra-like performances as a distraught family man who has apocalyptic visions that may or may not be tied to reality. Duncan Jones’ Source Code used its Groundhog Day plot to imagine another kind of catastrophic future. J.C. Chandor’s brilliantly cast Wall Street tale, Margin Call, fictionalized the Lehmann Brothers disaster into a showdown between casually wicked Jeremy Irons and the only slightly less evil Kevin Spacey. John Sayles went back to the turn of the last century to reveal another form of duplicity in Amigo, his best work in years. Lu Chuan’s City of Life and Death transformed the 1937-1938 Nanking massacre into an astonishingly reflective drama. Andrew Haigh’s Weekend used Brief Encounter as the inspiration for an affecting gay love story, while Chris Weitz’s A Better Life lifted the plot for The Bicycle Thief and set it in East Los Angeles. Alexander Payne’s The Descendants deftly transformed its Hawaiian setting into something less than paradise. Among the year’s most provocative documentaries were James Marsh’s Project Nim, about a chimpanzee raised (and sometimes enraged) by humans, and Kenneth Bowser’s carefully researched Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune, about the epoch-defining 1960s singer whose ambitious activism was ultimately overwhelmed by his self-destructiveness.

A Second 10: Arthur Christmas, The Artist, Incendies, Moneyball, Hugo, Beginners, Vito, Le Havre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and about two-thirds of The Tree of Life.

Award-winning movies that have yet to be shown in Seattle: The Iron Lady, A Separation, Carnage, Pariah, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Margaret, Coriolanus.

Sean Axmaker

The first three films could swap spots without much anxiety on my part. In the arbitrary, often shifting border between aesthetic principle and personal appreciation, I choose to honor the passing of Raul Ruiz and favor my predilection for labyrinthine storytelling and cinematic weaves of character and narrative across time and space, which Ruiz accomplishes with such grace and beauty I find myself in awe of his art and his insight into human nature and the contradictions that define us.

Three of the films on my list I first saw in 2010, and I construct this list without having seen two films which, by all accounts, are among the year’s best: Margaret, which did not screen in Seattle and which did not play as the film festivals I attended, and A Separation, which screened for critics opposite an end-of-the-year deadline. The rest of the choices and absences are all on me.

1. Mysteries of Lisbon (Raul Ruiz)
2. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
3. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
4. Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
5. Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
6. The Descendents (Alexander Payne)
7. Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
8. Le quattro volte (Michelangelo Frammartino)
9. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
10. Hugo (Martin Scorsese)

Ten More (in alphabetical order): The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius), A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg), Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn), Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki), Melancholia (Lars von Trier), Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvais), The Princess Of Montpensier (Bertrand Tavernier), Road to Nowhere (Monte Hellman), The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson)

I also very much appreciated a year of smart, well-crafted and clever genre films – Attack the Block (Joe Cornish), Limitless (Neil Burger), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt), Source Code (Duncan Jones), Stake Land (Jim Mickle) – and one marvelous mess of a personal project: Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder).

See also lists on the MSN and Village Voice polls and essay on Certified Copy, plus a uniquely Seattle-centric survey of Top Ten cinematic events for Seattle Weekly.

Plus…

Video: 2011 Film Critics Wrap at the Frye (Robert Horton, Jim Emerson, Kathleen Murphy, Andrew Wright)
Audio: Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy discuss the movies of 2011 on KUOW.
Village Voice / LA Weekly Film Poll
indieWIRE Critics Survey
Movie City News Top Ten List compilations
BFI 2011 Critics Poll
Senses of Cinema 2011 World Poll
Best Movie Posters of 2011 (Adrian Curry)
Last year’s lists: Parallax View’s Best of 2010
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s Top Ten films of 1921
and the 25 Films chosen for the National Film Registry in 2011


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