2011 Retrospective

Following the strongest 12-month period in years, 2011 was destined to be a disappointment. The “year of sequels,” it sorely lacked originality and relied on microwaved ideas to keep the box office humming. As always, however, there were jewels to be found, with an unusually-strong Berlin premiering 3 of my top 8 and old and new directors delivering world-class work. Here are my thoughts on a year that said goodbye to Harry Potter and Béla Tarr and hello to Iranian cinema.

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Pina

Exuberant, sparkling, and wondrously surreal, Pina is a spectacular show of stagecraft; a richly cinematic homage to modern dance and one of its premier authors; and an inspired simulacrum – a jewel-box that contains more of choreographer Pina Bausch’s kinetic soul than film has any right to. Lively and haunting, it’s filmmaking as glorious music.

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This Is Not a Film

Humble, clandestine, refreshingly modest, and truly extraordinary in its own quiet way, This Is Not a Film is a courageous act of documentary provocation; a poke in the eye of political oppression; and a small but extremely significant message-in-a-bottle from a restless, persecuted artist.

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Calvary

Trenchant, puckish, and ruminative, Calvary is a wonderfully uncomfortable blend of high drama and dark humour; a wicked, gimlet-eyed revelation of Catholic dogma; and a compact and biting tale of a righteous man being tested by his peers and his predicament. Too ghastly in its flippancy to be simply comedy, it’s a bruising beauty of a film that earns its sour stripes.

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Elena

Spare, somber, gripping, and acutely observed, Elena is a slow-boil Russian noir; a grim, effective allegory of the daily whirl in Putinland; and an acidic portrait of an unhappy marriage in contemporary Moscow. It’s Russian New Wave cinema at its best.

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2012 Retrospective

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Cannes dominated 2012, handing Michael Haneke a well-deserved second Palme d’Or and sending several other near-masterpieces scrambling for distribution and spiralling to the various corners of the world. Documentaries also had a terrific stint, with two works of genius landing in the top 5. Here are my thoughts on a year that started weak, ended strong, and had plenty to offer in between.

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White Material

Elliptical, convulsive, poetic, and mournful, White Material is a haunting, poignant study of well-intentioned folly, embodied by a doomed heroine whose bravery renders her blind to the world that is crumbling around her. It’s a powerful and frightening commentary on the heart of darkness.

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