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 7 and old and new directors delivering world-class work. Here are my thoughts on a year that embraced Iranian cinema and said goodbye to Harry Potter and Béla Tarr.
Almayer’s Folly, Drive, Footnote, Hugo, The Interrupters, I Wish, The Kid with a Bike, Le Havre, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Melancholia, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, Monsieur Lazhar, Project Nim, Shame, Weekend
Top 10 Films
10. This Is Not a Film
“If we could tell a film, then why make a film?”
How many filmmakers risked as much in 2011 as Jafar Panahi? How many were as artistically expressive under house arrest? Legally prohibited from directing or screenwriting for 20 years, the persecuted Iranian director bravely flouted his sentence, holding a middle finger to censorship, assembling a captivating drama inside his own apartment, and sneaking the footage into Cannes by hiding a flash drive inside of a cake. With a cast of fellow director Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, a garbage collector, and an iguana, This Is Not a Film is the result of creative devotion. Panahi continues his habit of tying reality and fiction into a knot and produces a film that makes the most of his restricted circumstances, with a finale that’s almost too perfect to be real.
8. The Deep Blue Sea
7. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
“Where does all this yearning come from?” “Anger fades, and it is replaced by regret.” “The fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt.”
My review of Pina, here.
My review of The Deep Blue Sea, coming soon.
My review of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, here.
6. Take Shelter
4. The Tree of Life
“There’s a storm coming like nothing you’ve ever seen.” “Millions of flies can’t be wrong.” “Unless you love, your life will flash by.“
My review of Take Shelter, here.
My review of Elena, here.
My review of The Tree of Life, here.
3. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
2. A Separation
1. The Turin Horse
“Everyone pays for the things they do. But kids pay for the sins of adults.“ “What is wrong is wrong, no matter who says or where it’s written.” “Theirs is the moment: nature, infinite silence.“
How one reacts to the knowledge that Once Upon a Time in Anatolia‘s most thrilling scene is a tracking shot of an apple rolling down a hill and into a stream will foretell one’s response to the film as a whole. An inverted police procedural in which a confessed murderer leads a group of policeman through the eponymous steppe to recover the buried corpse of his victim, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s sixth feature is majestically shot, with Gökhan Tiryaki’s CinemaScope photography lending a glowing quality to the miserable men, and contains the greatest film sequence (hint: a young girl’s face under candlelight) in years. Needless to say, it deserved the Grand Prix.
My review of A Separation, here.
An immersive exercise in temporality, The Turin Horse entraps us in intertextuality, from its inevitable Freudian allegories to its philosophical evocations to the cinematic references it organically evokes. Béla Tarr’s is a counter-zeitgeist world where one cannot forget about time: one must fight it, endure it, work through it as though it were the land. Everything seems to conspire against survival, harmony, and pleasure. It’s only in the labour of the repetition that one finds solace. Essentially, it’s a film about the death drive, what happens between the “not going anywhere” and the moment when the embers go out. What a curtain call.
A & S Year-End Awards
Picture: Gábor Téni, “The Turin Horse” (runner-up: Asghar Farhadi, “A Separation”)
Director: Béla Tarr, “The Turin Horse” (runner-up: Asghar Farhadi, “A Separation”)
Actor: Michael Shannon, “Take Shelter” (runner-up: Michael Fassbender, “Shame”)
Actress: Rachel Weisz, “The Deep Blue Sea” (runner-up: Leila Hatami, “A Separation”)
Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, “The Tree of Life” (runner-up: Albert Brooks, “Drive”)
Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, “The Tree of Life” and “Take Shelter” (runner-up: Carey Mulligan, “Shame”)
Original Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi, “A Separation” (runner-up: László Krasznahorkai and Béla Tarr, “The Turin Horse”)
Adapted Screenplay: Terence Davies, “The Deep Blue Sea” (runner-up: Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” )
Editing: Hayedeh Safiyari, “A Separation” (runner-up: Bora Gökşingöl and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”)
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “The Tree of Life” (runners-up: Fred Kelemen, “The Turin Horse”; Gökhan Tiryaki, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”)
Score or Soundtrack: Mihály Víg, “The Turin Horse” (runner-up: Alexandre Desplat, “The Tree of Life”)
Foreign Language Film: Asghar Farhadi, “A Separation” (runner-up: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”)
Documentary: Wim Wenders, “Pina” (runners-up: Steve James, “The Interrupters”; James Marsh, “Project Nim”)
Most Promising Filmmaker: Asghar Farhadi, “A Separation” (runner-up: Andrew Haigh, “Weekend”)
Breakout Performance: Elizabeth Olsen, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (runner-up: Felicity Jones, “Like Crazy”)
Spotlight Award: Jessica Chastain, “The Tree of Life,” “Take Shelter,” “Coriolanus” (runner-up: Michael Fassbender, “Jane Eyre,” “Shame”)
2012 Most Anticipated
2012 is expected to include sophomore features from Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”) and Derek Cianfrance (“Blue Valentine”), the sure-to-be-memorable Scientology drama “The Master” from Paul Thomas Anderson, and at least two adaptations of highly acclaimed novels (“Cloud Atlas” and “The Perks of Being A Wallflower”). It’s also looking to embrace Michael Haneke, Wes Anderson, Jacques Audiard, and Noam Baumbach.
One out-of-left-field possibility is Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” a drug-fueled, sex-ridden journey through Miami during that most notorious of traditions, with a Disney trio as its main cast. In addition, Quentin Tarantino’s slavery epic “Django Unchained” will be on many minds in the months to come.