Best Films of 2011, so far

What's the name of that disorder where you see someone doing something and immediately do it. That's what happened here. I've been noticing critics already beginning their year-end listology by telling everyone what their favourite films of the year far. It's only July, after all. So I thought I'd do the same with my film-going friends and contributors here. So, without further ado, here's our late-midyear round-up.


Super 8
Water for Elephants
Cowboys and Aliens
Harry Potter & Deathly Hallows, part 2

Mr. Danvers:

Certified Copy
13 Assassins
The Trip
Midnight In Paris


Black Death
Super 8

Laura Jorgensen:

Bibliotheque Pascal

Tucker Johnson:

13 Assassins
I think I'm a lot more a fan of Takashi Miike's technical skill and personal demeanor than I am of his films. Audition and Ichi the Killer are a little too...juicy for my taste and Sukiyaki Western Django is fun but its best feature is creating Bloody Benton who only gets a little bit of screen time. But luckily 2011 allowed the world to get a glimpse of Miike's newest obsession. Samurai films. Good ones. 13 Assassins is one of those flicks that I actually take pride in recommending to people. I treat it like I made it myself (and openly wish I did). This movie does everything correctly. The serious scenes are as sharp as the swords that are fated to appear later on. The over the top villain is built up on some truly horrifying pedestals which allows the film's audience to feel as much blood lust as the villain himself. The action is as good as any film can boast and even though there are 13 main characters to remember and care about, the film is executed in such a way that you'll love then all and truly feel for them in their moments of triumph and torment alike. This film is simply a triumph.

Wes Anderson's visual style had a baby with Robert Downey Jr's frenetic speech pattern. The result is one of the coolest flicks to hop the pond. Driven by some of the best narration in film, the story of an English teen's first crush is so funny you have to treat it like your best friend. But with ups come downs. Not in quality though. The downs come in the form of the main character's parents imminent divorce but even in a film that features heavy humor, the divorce is treated with true gravity and if you've ever experienced such a thing, you'll know that Richard Ayoade, the director must have too. He captures the mood perfectly and even though you come out of the theater quoting line after line, what really sticks is how well they treat the more serious and tender moments.

Super 8
If America had to be famous for a certain kind of film, Super 8 is the prime example for what I'd vote for. Its action packed, has kids, pets, monsters, and you don't really have to think to enjoy it. But even though this one is easy on the cerebrum, JJ Abrams definitely busted ass creating a film that nails being a kid just as well as it nails being an amateur filmmaker. The child acting is great, the special effects are explosive to use a pun, and the lens flares are rampant. I instantly fell in love with JJ's amazingly well written characters and his fast paced but never rushed story telling. Its an Amblin Entertainment Ode but I think its just as good if not better as anything that house ever put out.

Tree of Life
Long before it was polarizing audiences at Cannes, I really wanted to see this one. Terrence Malick is famous for creating overly thought out films about everything from murder and war to love and farming. Based on subject matter alone Tree of Life pales in comparison to the others. Its just about a family run by a strong willed, angry and jealous man. But because Malick disguised this pretty normal story in a near 3 hour film that also features the dawn of civilization portrayed in beautiful imagery and whispered narration audiences became outraged for some reason. We aren't talking about Un Chien Andalou or Meshes of the Afternoon here. All I know is that if I trapped these same people in a theater with a dvd of Stan Brakhage material, they'd be clamouring for Malick's “impenetrable” film. The whole reason this movie exists for me however because of Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography. With his camera work and Malick's unparalleled ability to capture the most pure and life like moments, this film stops being about the story its trying to tell and instead becomes a kind of visual poem. An entity that taunts you into relishing its craft rather than the message its trying to sell you. It's the most beautiful film I've ever seen. Period.

Tournee (On Tour)
Mathieu Amalric plays actor/director in this documentary style film about a burlesque tour of France. At first fairly straight forward, it soon steps away from the traditional narrative in the way that only European films can do. This isn't a problem but I figured I'd mention it. All of the performers in the film are actually who they say they are and their acting is so naturalistic that at times you forget its a narrative film. The entire cast hops in and out of English and French like its nothing and to anyone else but Americans, this is pretty much the case with being bilingual. Christophe Beaucarne's cinematography is definitely worth mentioning. There's no unorthodox camera moves or angles. Instead, he makes sure to consistently fill the frame with things to look at. Every frame is splendidly colorful and there is always someone moving, talking, or both. Each frame becomes a strange work of art and its definitely something that should be emulated. And though the film doesn't rely on it, the soundtrack is perfect and definitely helps to empower many scenes and characters. I had to fight with myself to pick this one over Beginners by Mike Mills which is definitely deserving of such a list so I'll give it an honorable mention here.

Films I'm Most Looking Forward To:
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Sean Van Deuren:

5. The Trip
There’s more beneath the surface of The Trip than just hilarious impersonations and witty, improvised banter – it is a Michael Winterbottom film, after all. What really makes the The Trip exciting, just as with all of Winterbottom’s work, is the way it explores the psychology of its characters. Under examination is the semi-fictionalized friendship between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, who just so happen to be two of the funniest people alive today. There are no heavy plot mechanics in The Trip, instead the film relies on capturing the subtle status interactions at work within male friendships, and from beginning to end it’s a delight to watch.

4. Meek’s Cutoff
Not only is Meeks Cutoff the best existential/feminist western ever made, it’s . . . well, probably the only existential/feminist western ever made. With only her third feature, Kelly Reichardt has proven she’s one of the most exciting auteurs working today. Meeks Cutoff, her most meticulously made film yet, is slow burning and tense throughout. It is also one of the most riveting, beautiful, and surprisingly political films of the year – with an ending that’s as startling as it is inevitable, and above all wholly satisfying in it’s stark view of life.

3. Certified Copy
Rare is the art film that manages to simultaneously challenge and invite its audience in. Certified Copy – with its impenetrable relationship between a man and a woman who may or may not be married, or may or may not be complete strangers pretending to be married, or may or may not be anywhere in between – is that just kind of gem. What matters is not the specific details of the relationship anyway, but instead the examination of the universal qualities in all intimate relationships. In his first feature made outside of Iran, Abbas Kiarostami has created one of the most playful, puzzling, and emotionally honest films of the year.

2. Silver Bullets/Art History
With the wonderfully self-conscious double feature of Silver Bullets/Art History, Joe Swanberg has pushed his filmmaking to the next level. Both thematically and in terms of craftsmanship, these films display an impressive artistic growth for Swanberg, whose accomplishment may go under the radar of the uninitiated. However, for those familiar with the polarizing director’s work – and the negative reaction from his harsher critics – they prove nothing short of astonishing in their ambition and quest for honesty. In both films, we see Swanberg toying with and openly questioning his own persona as a filmmaker. These are two of the most direct and personal feeling films I’ve ever seen about the process of making movies. Silver Bullets/Art History are dark, uncomfortable films made by a filmmaker dealing with the ramifications of his obsession for capturing moments of honesty.

1. Tree of Life
Despite all the hype and curiosity surrounding Tree of Life, Terrence Malick’s long gestating film stands on its own as the most ambitious and beautiful of the year so far. Though Tree of Life is not nearly as experimental as the film’s naysayers state, what it does accomplish is so stunning because of the delicate balance between how breathtaking and yet completely familiar feeling it is. Malick is the master of threading moments together to recreate the sensation of life, and with Tree of Life he has captured a boy’s childhood. The real power of the film, though, lies in its universal quality. It’s not just one boy’s childhood, it’s everyone’s childhood; and it is awe-inspiring.

Scout (these are excerpts from what will be year-end review):

I'm not sure whether to give credit to Joe Dunthorne's novel or Richard Ayoade's script/direction for totally understanding the things that happen inside the head of a troubled, obsessive teenage boy, but I'll go ahead and give it to Ayoade because his visual representation of these events is what hits me the most. Take for instance his decision to give Yasmin Paige's Jordana the Louise Brooks/Anna Karina/Melanie Griffith hair cut. In an instant we know everything about her we need to. She's no good, but she's the one he has to have. Zoe Preece deserves the nicest version of Oliver, but he's too damaged to be that for her. He wants Jordana and more importantly he deserves Jordana because they need to mature together. They'll never age and be better people if they don't get all the horrid out of their system at once. And that's what Submarine attempts to do: get all of the dysfunction out in the open.

13 Assassins
And then Kôji Yakusho smiles. Not only is he happy to hear that a gang has come together to overthrow the shogun, he is fucking thrilled that they've chosen him to be the one to kill him. He's been living idly, fishing, getting by, resigned to the idea that he'll die for nothing. And now this. His twisted happiness is also ours because we then spend the rest of the movie just fucking itching to watch him tear the shogun a new asshole. It's a movie that is approximately half build-up and half delivery, a near perfect treatment of the Jidai-Geki.

Tree of Life
In order to get the 'why' of Tree of Life, you don't need to get Tree of Life. Picture this if you will. It's opening day in New York in a theatre literally underground. It's the only theatre in town playing this movie so far as my search concluded, which means that it was the only screen in the north east playing it (it wouldn't open in Boston for another week and nowhere else had it yet). So naturally the theatre is full, me and my dad had to sit separately as it was too full and the movie was still twenty minutes from opening. Everyone seems to be biting their nails in anticipation. The people in front of me couldn't stop talking, but there was a nervousness to it, like they were afraid to sit in silence in anticipation. I for one couldn't keep my legs from shaking. One of the theatre employees came out at about five minutes to show time basically to remind us that we could buy food at the counter we'd all past on our way down here. Even the staff was nervous. Why? The movie had just won the Palme d'Or for christ's sakes, what did anyone have to be nervous about. I can't speak for everyone else there, but I knew this movie meant something.

Just when you have the film pegged and you can play out his nightmare descent into drugs, Jesus steps off the cross. First to dance with him, then stab him. And then there's the knives taped to his hands and the trip to the zoo. It's entirely unpredictable and boy christ is that something I was grateful for. As wily and foolhardy as its protagonist, Peter Mullan's style and incendiary take on English life is reminiscent of the best of Lindsay Anderson in its cool viciousness and black humour. Mullan's voice tears through convention like a tornado through a trailer.

Norwegian Wood
Seeing a boy go from spending what looked like carefree time with his girlfriend to filling a car with exhaust and slowly dying from it and then seeing a spider on the forest floor did it. The spider has nothing to do with what goes on around its inclusion, but having the narrator talk about moving on after his friend's suicide while watching an image so beautiful and disorienting drew me in immediately. A few scenes later Watanabe walks through his college surrounded by a rampaging Vietnam protest, the period detail spot on, but relegated to set dressing, even less pronounced than the graffiti in Children of Men. Trần Anh Hùng had gotten every detail right and his camera was so assured, his gaze so intensely focused, yet he chose not to show off the work that they had done. All the signifiers that the film's 1969 setting had been done justice are hidden away from our view thanks to The swift editing and piercing camera work. Trần rightly sees that there is far more importance in damaged beauty Rinko Kikuchi's face as she meets with Watanabe after long absences. She's heartbreak itself and though the film moves at an unstoppable pace, throwing out one totally flooring image after another, it slows down enough to capture what infatuation and frustration feel like when mixed.

Films I'm Most Looking Forward To:

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