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Best 11 Films of 2011

Posted by Charles Reece, January 8, 2012 11:25pm | Post a Comment
Last year wasn't too good for movies, but it was great for scores. I can't remember a year where I listened and re-listened to so much music from films: Cliff Martinez electronic-based Drive, Contagion and The Lincoln Lawyer; Alexandre Desplat's The Tree of Life and The Ides of March; Alberto Iglesias' The Skin I Live In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy;  and, probably my favorite of the year, The Chemical Brothers' Hanna (much better than Daft Punk's overrated TRON: Legacy). I'll be surprised if any but Desplat gets nominated for an Oscar, though. Another likely Oscar candidate is Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor's The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, which I really liked, but haven't yet had a chance to listen to it independently of the film. And Jeremy Schmidt's analog sound designs for Beyond the Black Rainbow are amazing (somewhere in the territory of Wendy Carlos' The Shining), but I'm not quite sure what's diegetic and extra-diegetic until an album is released.

As for my list of best films: most of these I enjoyed some parts of, while not exactly the whole. I'd say the overall best of the bunch are Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Meek's Cutoff and Super, but my favorite sequences of the year came from Hanna, Drive and Beyond the Black Rainbow.

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13 Assassins - Takashi Miike

I never seem to tire of action films questioning when it's appropriate or moral to use violence. As I previously discussed, 13 Assassins does a good job of critiquing the aestheticization of violence while aestheticizing the violence. 

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Drive - Nicolas Winding Refn

Unfortunately, the character of Driver is given more of a heroic purpose than the automaton of James Sallis' novel, but the film is still solid diversionary entertainment. Where it truly excels is in the visual pleasure of the opening chase sequence in which we follow Driver's coolly ritualized movements as he eludes cop cars and a helicopter's pervasive search light. This scene is every bit as great as the more action-oriented one from William Friedkin's The French Connection. After Driver switches cars, the credits roll as he drives around a Michael Mann-colored LA to Kavinsky's emulation of Italian softcore music, "Nightcall." This is icon-creation on a par with John Travolta's strut at the beginning of Saturday Night Fever. Pure cinematic bliss.

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Hanna - Joe Wright

This is a fairly average girl with super-abilities tale (Colombiana is another example from 2011), except Hanna's escape from an underground, concrete prison. The rapid cutting and acute camera angles against geometrical architecture create an expressionistic  action sequence that I predict will one day be considered classic.

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Meek's Cutoff - Kelly Reichardt

As I previously discussed, some critics confuse arduousness with boring. The difficulty that Reichardt conveys of a few settlers crossing an uncompromising landscape creates an affect of dread that no other Western has before. Usually, there would be a cut with the horses appearing in the next town as the cowboys size each other up. Here, there are no short cuts -- the wide-angled long shots always keep the possibility of death on the horizon. 

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Super - James Gunn

For those who think superheroes are our modern day myths (cf. Grant Morrison), you should be mocked (here's my review).

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The Skin I Live In - Pedro Almodóvar

Almodóvar applies his abstracted melodrama to body horror. While it's the most sanitized and sterile example of this squishy and sanguinary genre, it's also the most comically perverse.

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Carré Blanc - Jean-Baptiste Léonetti

Capitalism as cannibalism is a timeless theme. See my previous (brief) review.

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Martha Marcy May Marlene - Sean Durkin

Psychological character studies aren't exactly my cup of tea, but this one about the cult mindset is well-executed and about something that's more interesting than yet another fucking failed relationship (Blue Valentine) or sexual dysfunction (Shame).


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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Tomas Alfredson

The story is so compacted that without having read the book or seen the BBC 5-hour adaptation, its resolution feels like one of Raymond Chandler's, a MacGuffin that's beside the point. I enjoyed the individual look of each character, how most of them were getting on in years, with implied stories of their own. George Smiley's version of events take precedent, but it never comes across as the absolute truth. The film delights in the objects and muted colors of the 70s, when brown was shit, green was puke and orange was burnt. And there's plenty of wide-angled spatial shots that seem to open onto other spaces from where someone else might be aiming a bullet. A beautiful rendition of ugly, late-Cold War paranoia.




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Young Adult - Jason Reitman

If you're one of those people who still wishes Duckie had wound up with Andie at the end of Pretty in Pink, Young Adult provides you your pound of flesh. The nerd gets with the popular kid in the most base, pathetic way possible. The film has nothing but contempt for middle America, for both its haves and have-nots. The characters dream of being popular, or of being with the popular, or have ceased to dream altogether. This is nothing but mean-spirited elitism -- as refreshing as being splashed with cold urine. We could use more rom-coms like it.

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Beyond the Black Rainbow - Panos Cosmatos

The opening of this film suggests Orwell's Big Brother as he would've actually occurred in early 80s America: a self-help guru on a late night informercial, verbally controlling us over gentle New Age drones. I'm not quite sure what Black Rainbow is about, but it involves an alien mama's boy trying to mentally dominate a telepathic girl in a series of visualized mental duels à la Charles Xavier. Maybe he wants to harness her power for a more effective adspeak. It unfortunately devolves into a conventional "last girl" escape sequence at the end, and is a bit too repetitious in places, but pot will help with all that. Don't miss it if you get the chance to see it.

Relevant Tags

13 Assassins (2), Martha Marcy May Marlene (1), Meek's Cutoff (1), Super (3), Young Adult (2), The Skin I Live In (3), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2), Best Films (10), Best Of 2011 (17), Hanna (2), Drive (11), Carré Blanc (3), Best Films (10), Beyond The Black Rainbow (5)