My first article here at the Maus was my top ten list for 2010, I can't believe it's already been a year and here I am writing up my top ten for 2011. Manny and I have been discussing top tens for years prior to the site and it's nice to bring the debate here to the blogosphere for everyone to weigh in. Like anything else year end lists are incredibly subjective, these aren't really the ten best films of 2011, these are MY ten best films from 2011. Films that happened to speak to my particular frame of mind or appeal to my own views on aesthetics and craft. These are films that touched me on a personal level, or that changed the way I look at film or gave me a new experience. This year was interesting in that success lay with those returning to simpler times, and often thematically, films had a sense of nostalgia and longing for the past. With films like The Muppets, The Artist, Hugo all having a deep love for the history of film and entertainment. Not a cynical thread in any of them. This was a year about dealing with your past and being able to move past it, or be swallowed up by it.. Even a film like I Saw The Devil showed the horrible consequences of a man obsessed with revenge and unable to honor his wife and move on, or with The Skin I Live In, while not the main thematic presence, what else is it but a story of a man obsessed with his lost wife and going to great lengths to bring her back by whatever twisted means possible. A much harder list to write than last year, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
10 The Skin I Live In - Pedro Almodovar
Almodovar goes places that are shocking and beautiful as he takes us into one mans damaged psyche as he attempts to rebuild the woman he loved literally. This twisted tale of revenge and demented love asks the question of outward appearance and it's relation to our intrinsic self. Are we more animalistic by wearing a leopard costume? Or do we wear an animal costume because we are feral by nature. Even the house with its grandeur and majesty hides it's true dark nature underneath. A wonderfully grotesque film that never holds back.
9 Hugo - Martin Scorsese
Scorsese's ode to film history and preservation and his first foray into 3D is a masterpiece of exuberant youth and the desire to find ones place in the world. That we all fit together like pieces of a grand clock is a great metaphor for those lost and alone. The passion for film and the joy it can bring is presented here in glorious 3D. Scorsese has done what so many have failed at these past few years and made a film that cinematically benefits from being seen in the format. Inspired by his boyhood days of seeing old horror films in 3D Scorsese's kinetic fluid style is presented here beautifully as he takes us through a dream like Paris. Incredibly personal and absolutely important, this is easily one of Scorsese's best films of the new century.
8 Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen
I really didn't mean to put these two films that present Paris as a land of dreams and wonder together but here we are. Allen is at his whimsical best in this literary lovers dream of a film. Incredibly charming and wonderfully acted by all involved, Allen bathes Paris in golden hues, giving us a beautifully warm experience that we want to repeat over and over again. Wilson is at a career best as the Woody Allen role, who roams through Paris blind to the beauty of the present and constantly dreaming of a simpler time. The journey we're taken on is so easily executed we feel like we're there mixing grain and wine along with Fitzgerald.
7 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Tomas Alfredson
Pitch perfect filmmaking and proof that Alfredson is going to be an important voice in cinema for what is hopefully a long career. With an amazing portfolio Oldman still manages to surprise with the definitive restrained performance, backed up by powerful supporting turns by all involved. With my favorite production design of the year and another great score this film is meticulous down to the last detail.
6 Melancholia - Lars Von Trier
I'm not sure if you could call this film happy, but it is a serene and powerful look at the end of the world as two sisters plagued with depression and anxiety bring the entirety of the human condition in beautiful and brutal honesty. Von Trier manages to fine tune the aesthetic from Ant-Christ and gives us his version of a science fiction epic. Like Tree of Life this is at once incredibly intimate and cosmic in scale all at once. If the wedding scene doesn't show you how much Von Trier understands humanity then nothing will. Powerful and challenging work, gets me excited for him never return to the Dogville world again.
5 Drive - Nicolas Winding Refn
The COOLEST film of the year, hands down, and another entry along with the number one spot into great films that don't make Los Angeles full of douchebags. This LA is dangerous under the surface as Gosling creates an incredibly timeless character with the driver. Refn has graduated to a whole other level of filmmaking with this film. If Bronson and Pusher showed what he is capable of this is his first fully realized piece of cinematic art. His sense of composition is so fresh and unique that he takes a simple story and turns the genre on his head, focusing on small moments and never showing you what you expect. Gosling's performance in the hotel room. Voice trembling as the shit begins hitting the fan is awe inspiring and chilling. If it weren't for Fassbender this would be Gosling's year.
4 Tree of Life - Terrence Malick
Again...this is poetry on celluloid. This is experience and life manifested on a movie screen.. Malick takes us on a path from the beginning of time to our own end and shows us how important every single moment is. There are miracles in every day life, they matter and are a beautiful example of the human experience. More than anything Malick gives us a sense of how tiny we are yet how much we impact we have on each other, the last scene is a brilliant culmination of one man's life as he walks through his life. Featuring an Oscar worthy performance by Pitt, and the most beautiful cinematography of the year(best? Eh maybe) this is Malick's most experimental yet most accessible film to date.
3 Shame - Steve McQueen
Fassbender gives the performance of the year with this tale of addiction and how it takes over one man's life. Carey Mulligan as the just as damaged sister is the catalyst which forces Fassbender to begin to acknowledge his problem an see just how troubled he is. I loved this movie and was the best film I saw at the NYFF. McQueen shoots the film in a cold beauty and takes us to some seedy places as our descends deeper and deeper into his sex addiction. It is a brilliant film and I haven't seen anything like it, next month who knows this just might be my number one. Before I go I just want to touch on the relationship between Fassbender and Mulligan. For all the emotional problems and idiosyncrasies these two have, they pull off an undeniably truthful portrayal of brother an sister. The little moments on the couch even when he first walks in on her in the shower, you never for a moment doubt that these two love each other.
2 I Saw The Devil - Kim Jee Won
Now this shows someone dealing with grief in a very unhealthy way. Granted his wife was horribly mutated by an embodiment of evil. This is a brutal film that shows the how a good man can fall in pursuit of his enemy. By the end of the film both men have gone to unimaginable lengths in their cat and mouse game with each other, begging the obvious question is there really any hero in this film. Kim Jee Won is a master craftsman and makes horrific scenarios incredibly beautiful with some smart lighting and brilliant camera work. The film is filled with great performances but would not work withoutthe twisted chemistry between Min Sik Choi's monster and Byung Hun Lee's specialagent gone rogue. This is a dark film that never holds back. Daring cinema from one of Korea's best.
1 Beginners - Mike Mills
This one just completely took me by surprise. I was going through this list and ranking the films and the last 4 here I was struggling with on placement. To be completely honest if you were to ask me a month from now maybe Shame would be here or Tree of Life. In the end I went with what spoke to me most on a personal level. Because honestly any of these 4 deserve the top spot, but right now Beginners takes home the prize. It is an effortlessly brilliant piece of cinema. Mills uses film to tell his story, composing his actors across the screen updating classical three and two shots ever so slightly, giving them the chance to produce perfectly lived in characters. With some subtle camera work, he doesn't need flash and bombast to tell his story of loss and love. He takes our hero through the end of one life and the start of a new one. This is a film with so much underneath that anyone can relate to its story of starting over at any point in your life. Then to marry the image with a deliciously whimsical score that all adds up to what I mentioned before as a melancholic triumph of a film and easily the most honest portrayal of grief that I have seen.
So that's my top ten. A tremendous year for film could not possibly be captured in ten films, but these ten speak to me more than any other. I struggled with leaving some films I truly loved off the list, so with Manny's request I will try and do a short runners up piece soon, like maybe that film that's at the top of the article...who knows?
For now though here's some more thoughts
Best first film - Attack the Block - Joe Cornish
Best animated film - Rango - Gore Verbinski
Can't wait to hear your thoughts.
One last thought - I haven't seen A Separation, or War Horse. I doubt either would have made it on here, but I'll try and catch them soon and let you know.