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A Year For The Ages: The Best Films of 2011



Courtesy Photo
  • Heartbeats
  • Meek's Cutoff
  • Drive
  • Hugo
  • Margaret
  • A Spearation
  • Certified Copy
  • The Tree of Life
  • Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
  • Mysteries of Lisbon
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Poll the adventurous film critics who consistently ventured outside the stranglehold of downtrodden Hollywood cinema in 2011 and you’ll probably find a smiling bunch. In fact, most of them might respond with the same jubilant response: “What a year!” When you watch upwards of 200 new releases a year, it’s easy to get jaded by the Jack and Jill’s of the world. So an understandable sense of collective shock and awe about this year in particular has developed, not only at the consistency of greatness coming from foreign countries like Thailand, Canada, and Iran but also the impressive debuts from young independent filmmakers at home.

If we’re being honest with each other, there were so many excellent films in 2011 that making a list like this was nearly impossible. So consider the following titles my honorable mentions, but in truth, in any other year these films would have been Top 10 material. Gore Verbinski’s Rango, a cagey, dark, and intelligent riff on Western themes and iconography, was by far the best animated film of a down year for the genre. Newcomer Sean Durkin and his hypnotic Martha Marcy May Marlene steamrolled audiences when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May (myself included), mostly because of it’s restrained examination of a cult victim’s final battle for psychological balance.

Take Shelter, which stars the great Michael Shannon as a blue-collar American slowly slipping into mental malaise, also deals with emotional trauma in fascinating ways, confirming director Jeff Nichols as one America’s brightest young film artists. Also worth mentioning is Craig Gillespie's dynamically kinetic Fright Night remake, Steve James' timely documentary The Interrupters, Lee Chang-dong's sublime drama Poetry, Takashi Miike's raging 13 Assassins, and Canadian auteur David Cronenberg’s superbly subtle take on the Carl Jung/Sigmund Freud relationship entitled A Dangerous Method.  

Before we get to the business at hand, a little something on a pressing issue in this business of ours. Exhibition practices and technologies continue to change and evolve, as they always have, making digital format presentations more of a staple than a novelty. While this has pushed 35mm prints to the fringes, there’s a place for both formats to exist side-by-side, contrasting canvases for various film artists to express themselves. I want to live in a film world where both David Fincher and Martin Scorsese can paint freely, and picking one over the other this day and age seems like a backward step.

One closing remark: isn't it downright exciting to be excited about the movies? I think so, especially when so often there’s an oppressive feeling that each year is a downward slide toward the nightmarish pop-culture deformity of MIke Judge’s Idiocracy. Hopefully, this trend will continue into 2012. Now, for your enjoyment and/or debate, here are my favorite films that played locally in San Diego during 2011.

Page 2 - Top 10 Films of 2011