2011 would seem to me to be a great year in film. Many quality films (Submarine, Take Shelter, Melancholia, etc.) didn't even make my top ten, so I think that pays testament to those that did. It also seemed to be a down year for Australian movies. My favourite local film was Red Dog, which was very enjoyable but hardly revolutionary cinema. Of course Hollywood continued to push out the 'comedies' and sequels, many of which proved to be uninspired and uninspiring. The year started with a poor decision in the shocking win of The King's Speech at the Academy Awards. A solid and enjoyable film to be sure, but hardly in the league of the remarkable The Social Network. February's awards should honour the landmark film of 2011 in The Tree of Life. Should I say, but no doubt a much safer pick will prevail. Which is a pity because Malick's visionary masterpiece towered above the pack in 2011.
Happy new year and here's to a great 2012 in film!
1. The Tree Of Life, directed by Terrence Malick.
This is not film as we know it. It transcends film and all other film makers. Beguiling, confusing, sublime, luminescent, cryptic, emotional, stunning. All words to describe this masterpiece. Terrence Malick makes films like no others and I am truly grateful. In a nutshell, The Tree of Life concerns the life of a family in 1950s Texas. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain play the parents of 3 boys who are alive to the experience and lessons of life. In fact I don't think I have ever seen a better portrayal of burgeoning adolescence. But this film is much more than that. Coupled with flashbacks, flash forwards and voice over and an extended sequence on the earth's creation it tries, very successfully, to imbue us with the feeling and pain and joy of life. There is not much plot here, rather it is a million tiny images of life. It is feeling and meaning rather then exposition. If you like easy viewing steer clear. If you desire blinding originality then see this wonder at least three times.
2. Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller.
Superb film about the true story of the economics of baseball. Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane with deft humour and great humanity. Beane tries to shake up traditional ways of baseball thinking by introducing stats and science to picking players. A supremely intelligent film that is superbly written by Aaron Sorkin and expertly directed by Miller. His direction is in fact seamless as the film as an effortless flow that superbly picks up the shades and nuances of life itself.
3. Black Swan, directed by Darren Aronofsky.
Ambition, ambition, ambition! That's what makes a great film and this most assuredly is one. Director Aronofksy has crafted a compelling and near flawless film that grips you from start to finish. Totally captures the mind battle that lead ballerina Nina is undergoing. Her psychological battles are intense and totally disturbing. Natalie Portman has never been better in the lead role. Her journey is quite remarkable.The ballet scenes are handled beautifully and evoke, to a novice, a wonderful reality. Only slight drawback is the rather one dimensional character of the ballet company director. The score by Clint Mansell is also superb.
4. Drive, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
Brutally stylish and stylishly brutal, Drive is a thrilling and cerebral journey of determination and betrayal. Ryan Gosling is stunning as 'the driver' who becomes entangled in a violent game of cat and mouse. This is the ultimate genre piece, it dissects and lays bare human nature and weaknesses. A slow burn of a film, it erupts into violent acts in the second half. Precise direction, superb cinematography and flawless acting make for a exhilarating ride.
5. The Fighter, directed by David O. Russell.
A surprisingly wonderful film. Great performances and brutal honesty lead to a rich and rewarding experience. Christian Bale is sublime as the hopeless brother who holds back his more earnest sibling. David O. Russell evokes classic Scorsese, with long panning shots, gritty dialogue and instinctive use of music. Cliches are on the back burner here and thankfully even the boxing scenes are bearable. A film with great heart and humour, it will totally involve you from start to finish.
6. Howl, directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.
An avalanche of words becomes a paean to the power of poetry. Simply, Howl is the story of Allen Ginsberg and the obscenity trial of his famous poem Howl. But this is much more then that. With its brave and unique style of animated poetry, court room scenes, flashbacks and interviews it weaves a stunning portrait of the 1950s. Of liberalism, censorship, art and creation. Franco is great as Ginsberg and there are nice cameos from Daniels and Parker. This is a short film, but there is much packed in its beautiful screen time.
7. True Grit, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.
The Coen Brothers do not make bad films. Fact! Very often they are masterpieces. True Grit is not one, but it is a very fine film that is entertaining and at times engrossing. The story of the young girl teaming up with the grizzly old man is timeless and classic. With fine performances all round, the Coens play it remarkably straight. The dialogue is crisp and witty and the story arc is well rounded. Beautifully shot in New Mexico and Texas this is exemplary film making.
8. Catfish, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.
Utterly fascinating and ultimately moving doco about the web of modern relationships. Nev, a New York photographer, builds an online relationship with a Michigan family. At first he befriends the 8yo daughter, but soon he becomes close with the entire family. I can't reveal much more, but I can say that the film will touch you to the core and become a sad and insightful peer into the human mind and heart.
9. The Ides Of March, directed by George Clooney.
This film has quite possibly the best cast of actors seen in recent memory. Thankfully they are aided by tight direction and astute writing to form an intelligent, timely expose of the grubby and dark side of politics. Men with essentially good ideals compromise their beliefs to meet their political ends. This is film making that is prescient and thought provoking. Gosling shines and, if possible, Hoffman yet again shows that there is no finer actor in the world today.
10. We Need To Talk About Kevin, directed by Lynne Ramsay.
Startling, unsettling and quite unique, this film unravels with gripping tension and sheer dread. The story of a family dealing with a problem child/adult is told with utmost care and attention and no sensationalism. Tilda Swinton is astounding in this superbly directed and edited film.
Films I plan to see in 2012-
The Iron Lady
Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy
My Week With Marilyn
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close