The Best Films of 2011 #15-11

As the number of films I watch has grown so has the number of films I rank among my best of the year. Essentially what matters to me is not so much the number of films included amogst the best of the year but rather the proportion. When I started these picks as a teenager I’d pretty much only be guaranteed a Saturday matinee at the local UA so that amounted to about 52 films a year. Meaning the five Best Picture nominees were equivalent to the top 10%. It’s not a bad rule of thumb. Granted only picking 10 Best Picture nominees of about 222 films deemed eligible equals about 4.5% of the total films I viewed. Therefore it’s not much of a stretch to take my Best List which goes beyond just the nominees from 15 to 25. In fact, I just had to pick the first few that came to mind. Some that wouldn’t show up on another list I did because 30 would be easily achievable.

Without much further ado here is the continuation of my Best Films countdown, you can find the beginning here:

15. Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams in Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics)

This film in my mind doesn’t mark a renaissance for Woody Allen. I never declared him creatively dead so he had nothing to rebirth from necessarily. Each trip into an Allen film is an uneasy balance for viewers. We want “old, funny” Woody in a new way but those films of which we think are nearly, if not more than, 40 years old at this point. Things have changed and so has Woody. He always does, that’s the thing. So while this hearkens back to some of his more inventive works and comments openly on a man caught in the past; he’s also playing with new techniques in a new city. Allen has always been unafraid but he’s in a full on experimental mode. He’s not just playing with new techniques, he’s playing with house money, and after all he’s done, why shouldn’t he? You may not like some of his films but any director who always gives you cause to discuss his work, perhaps even heatedly, is worth noting.

14. Crazy, Stupid, Love

Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell in Crazy, Stupid, Love (Warner Bros.)

In the previous list section there I discuss Bereavement which is likely my favorite horror film since the release of Frailty. This is a film I have not yet seen a second time so whether I like it more than such-and-such is difficult to say but what I can say is what class I believe it’s in and that’s the likes of Love Actually, French Kiss and maybe, maybe When Harry Met Sally… It’s equal parts funny and insightful, it’s all heartfelt and it weaves love plots deftly when most would be clunky. Too many missed this film, see it now.

13. Win Win

Alex Shaffer and Paul Giamatti in Win Win (Fox Searchlight)

This is the kind of film that you hope and pray will stick in people’s minds as the year goes on as it deserves to land on lists of this type regardless of release date. I’m glad to see it along with some of the performances have been recognized. Win Win in a lot of ways flies in the face of conventions of escalating incidents, constantly raising stakes and climax. Not to say it doesn’t have these things but it plays them differently. It deals in reality and subtext. It has palpable drama and humor but doesn’t always feel the need to remind you of it but you feel it, always.

12. Take Shelter

Michael Shannon in Take Shelter (Sony Pictures Classics)

To see how I feel this film qualifies as a horror film please see my Horror Film list (to be posted).

Take Shelter is a great film. In a few regards it’s the best kind. It features a powerhouse performance by Michael Shannon one that needs to be as great as it is in order to drive the story. If you believe him as an actor there’s a chance you believe maybe what he sees is in fact real and not delusion despite evidence to the contrary. If you believe him, or at least that he believes it, you fear for him and for his family and not just by proxy either. Another way in which this film is great is that it can be interpreted in a few ways and regardless of which path you choose as your own its great either way, the view is just a little bit different on that road is all.

11. X-Men: First Class

Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox)

Were I one for quotas I may have pre-designated this year as one which would need to have a superhero film representative. However, I didn’t hold my breath for any of them and came away blown away by this one. The one most near and dear to my heart that I needed to succeed to continue to have faith, or optimism, in those with powers on the big screen. I discussed much of what love about this film in my review so suffice it to say that X-Men clearly did not get here because I needed a superhero film and conversely it’s not a slight that it ends up at number 11. Precisely the reason I started to make lists to accompany my awards is because it would allow me to echo or restate my affections for certain film regardless of how they fall down the ladder when separated by an iota or two from one another.

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The Best Films of 2011 #20-16

As the number of films I watch has grown so has the number of films I rank among my best of the year. Essentially what matters to me is not so much the number of films included amogst the best of the year but rather the proportion. When I started these picks as a teenager I’d pretty much only be guaranteed a Saturday matinee at the local UA so that amounted to about 52 films a year. Meaning the five Best Picture nominees were equivalent to the top 10%. It’s not a bad rule of thumb. Granted only picking 10 Best Picture nominees of about 222 films deemed eligible equals about 4.5% of the total films I viewed. Therefore it’s not much of a stretch to take my Best List which goes beyond just the nominees from 15 to 25. In fact, I just had to pick the first few that came to mind. Some that wouldn’t show up on another list I did because 30 would be easily achievable.

Without much further ado here is the continuation of my Best Films countdown (for the beginning go here):

20. Tropa de Elite 2: O Inimigo Agora e Outro (Elite Squad 2)

Wagner Moura in Tropa de Elite 2: O Inimigo Agora e Outro (New Video)

This is the rare case of a sequel not just being better than the original but worlds better. I stated ten times better in social media and that seems about right when you think about it. Despite the fact that voice over is as present in the version as in the original it’s still a more visually rendered divisive, unsolvable puzzle than the first one is. The acting is spectacular earning a lead actor nomination for Wagner Moura (who may or may not be the next Robocop) and a Supporting nod for Irandhir Santos, whose character is fascinating. He begins the film seeming like his character is just a platform on which to discuss some sociological factoids but then he becomes very involved in the story not only as a political opponent of the Elite Squad of police but a man trying to help the city but is also married to Wagner’s ex-wife and they tussle for his son’s affection. It gets immensely more personal than the film before it did while still telling a big tale of systematic corruption wherein one band of crooks supplants another for control of Rio, brilliantly rendered and important. It’s a brave film for Brazil to make and even a braver one to submit to the Academy and on top of that it’s great.

19. Bereavement

Spencer List in Bereavement (Crimson Films)

Usually it’s not until after a seeing a film that you start to think grandiose and perhaps hyperbolic thoughts about it. With Bereavement those thoughts started during my first viewing and they were re-affirmed upon a nearly complete second viewing (my friends weren’t in the mood for such a tale). Perhaps what’s most unique about my experience with Bereavement is that I didn’t go into it knowing it was a prequel and that had no adverse affect on my viewing, as it should not. The score by writer/director Stevan Mena underscores the tension of the film and is potentially iconic given time and the same can be said for the dialogueless performance of Spencer List. Alexandra Daddario plays a horror heroine to utter perfection it might be possible to backtrack a decade or more to find a more charismatic, talented and likable genre lead in the ingenue mold. It’s the kind of film that really sneaks up on you. It implies greater atrocities than it shows and as time goes by I can only hope its fanbase will grow.

18. Incendies

Lubna Azabal in Incendies (Sony Pictures)

If ever there was a film that’s a testament to sticking it out this is it. That’s not to say I ever disliked this film at any point during it or that I came close to stopping it. However, it’s not until after the midway point and actually closer to the end that this film goes from good to very good and then great. The narrative unravels itself slowly, It travels through time and place. It is seeking answers which are hard to find and that no one will give willingly due to the implications therein. When answers do come the affect is great and when the last peace falls you may not even be certain what just happened. When you do finally close the circle you will be left gobsmacked. It’s a tale as old as time updated with new players and modern implications about a family that grows more pained as it gets closer and has to leave home to discover their mother but can only do so after she has passed. It’s a film about specific locales and conflicts with a global reach.

17. A Screaming Man

Youssouf Djaoro in A Screaming Man (Film Movement)

I am one who can be swayed but a very restrained and minimalist tale. This is a perfect example of that. Here you have the very simple story of a man who works tending to a pool in a posh hotel in the central African nation of Chad. Since he used to be a swimmer the pool is his life. He says as much. As civil war encroaches on the routine of his life and tears his family asunder he tries to keep control of things. You never learn too much about the conflict. War is war. Civilizations get caught it in it whether in the crossfire of by some form of collateral damage. Events are at times implied and others commented upon, facial reactions are restrained or non-existent but it gets you. I was brought to tears by this film. When it ended with a gorgeously languid fade to black I was completely gutted and left wanting another scene for more closure but knew another scene would not be right. The film had ended and we the audience like our protagonist would have to live with what had transpired.

16. Fireflies in the Garden

Hayden Panetierre and Cayden Boyd in Fireflies in the Garden (Senator Entertainment Co.)

In the linked article I discuss the only real issue this movie presented me which was one of casting more than anything else. That issue is exacerbated to an extent by the unusual family dynamic wherein an aunt and her nephew are very close in age and then we’re also playing in two different time planes. However, those things happen and that’s the part of this movie I love. Aside from the persistent use of flashback its one of the more emotionally wrenching films of the year. Now granted it’s not the only time I cried three times watching a film this year, so that barometer isn’t what it once was but it’s the fact that it so carefully mixes melodramatic traits and pulls back with just enough restraint when necessary to make it identifiable. The film is a family drama that is essentially about letting go of past pains and hurts that families can cause one another and while any story of this nature will have its histrionic set pieces, this one more than most, it’s with clarity and conviction that the details can be overcome and the emotional truth of the piece can drive home to any audience member, which is to say I never dealt with anything like what occurs in this movie but there’s a universality to it at its core that made it a beautiful and wonderful experience where I related to many of the dramas and characters involved in them.