Thursday, January 5, 2012

Top 10 Films Seen in 2011

I've done this several times in the past already. A lot of critics at this time of year have been releasing their Top 10  lists. Since there are still tons of late-releasing major 2011 releases I still need to see, I can't do a conventional Top 10 of 2011 list yet so instead, I'm going to release a Top 10 films SEEN in 2011, regardless of release date. I've well over a hundred new films last year and I've liked, even loved, a huge chunk of them. Here's the 10 of the best of the best arranged according to the order I've seen them along with my initial review:

BLACK SWAN (2010)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

The best way I can describe this film is "pretentious camp" but I personally don't mean it in a negative way at all. Quite the contrary. This absolutely thrilling and intriguing blending of highbrow (classical ballet) and lowbrow (psychosexual horror) and the beautiful and grotesque to depict a young ballerina's descent into madness. I can see how some people would hate this. The film blends many recognizable elements from filmmakers like Powell/Pressburger, Polanski and Dario Argento and throws them all onscreen in a way that will probably turn some people off. But as for me, I was on board with this from the first scene onwards. But then again, I'm a bit of an Aronofksy fan boy (I even liked The Fountain). This is best I've seen from Natalie Portman since The Professional.

VIOLENT SUMMER (1959)
Directed by Valerio Zurlini

I have not heard of this film until it was strongly recommended to me and I've only vaguely heard of the director. It's about a love affair between a draft-dodging son of a fascist and an older, recent widow of a respected navy officer. It at times feels like a Douglas Sirk film transplanted into an Italian World War II drama and that's a compliment. It features excellent performances between the two leads and contains some brilliantly directed scenes which made me wonder why director Valerio Zurlini isn't quite as well-known as other Italian directors Fellini, de Sica, Rossellini, etc.

A STAR IS BORN (1954)
Directed by George Cukor

I was totally blown away by this film. This is Judy Garland at her absolute very best. She sings, she dances, she acts, it's absolute showcase and it completely and totally works. What really puts this film over the top is that she is complemented by the great James Mason and the stunning direction of George Cukor (I daresay this is probably my favor Cukor film I've seen so far). Beautiful technicolor cinematography where the colors really pop and the subtle changes in the devastating last 20 or so minutes. The queer in me (which all film buffs have anyway) was crying and applauding. This definitely has a place on my all-time favorites and it's truly an enthralling cinematic experience.

WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN (1988)
Directed by Pedro Almodovar

I'm a huge fan of director Pedro Almodovar and that's why it's frustrating for me that it took THIS long to see one of the films that's considered his most major works. Better late than never, I say. This a great film that deftly combines broad farce with soap operatic melodrama, in other words, CLASSIC Almodovar. Add to that the fantastic cast led by Carmen Maura and the beautiful cinematography where every color just pops. It's one of those films that I'd love to see again and again. This was recently made into a Broadway musical but honestly, I can't imagine it being one.

WEEK END (1967)
Directed by Jean Luc Godard

This film will bore and infuriate some and thrill and fascinate others. This is a difficult film to describe. The plot (if you can call it that) concerns a couple driving cross-country to receive inheritance from a dying relative. From there, it's almost literally anything goes on the road, where people wax poetics on philosophy, politics, literature, music, pop culture and film, often breaking the fourth wall deconstructing film form in a series of vignettes (including an impressive tracking shot of a traffic jam). The film is quite unpredictable and absurdly hilarious at times. This is often cited as a very significant film in Godard's filmography because it bridges the distinctive phases in Godard's career. His films were never the same after this film. This is a film definitely not for everybody.

THE TREE OF LIFE (2011)
Directed by Terrence Malick

This film did to me what 99 out of 100 Masses and other religious ceremonies try but fail to do: Move me spiritually. It is not EXACTLY a religious film by any means but it does contain many religious themes and imagery. It is one of the major themes tackled in this film both very intimate and personal yet also wildly ambitious and epic, along with love and the nature of existence. Lots of heady themes as it places the intimate drama of what really is an average suburban family with a mother, father and three boys living in Texas in the context from the creation and the evolution of the universe and the planet to the present day. It contains beautiful, stunning visuals and cinematography and remarkable performances from the cast including Brad Pitt, giving his one of his career-best performances. The real star of this film is writer-director Terrence Malick who masterfully and poetically essays all these big, bold themes in ways that will take paragraphs to tackle, describe and dissect. This film move me and got me misty-eyed in some parts in a way I really can't begin to describe in this paragraph. It's not only the best film of 2011 so far, it's probably also the best film of this century so far, if I'm so bold to declare it. Be forewarned: It is not a film for everybody. I can see somebody hating it. But it is definitely NOT a film to be dismissed.

PARIS, TEXAS (1984)
Directed by Wim Wenders

A man resurfaces after disappearing for four years in order to put things right with his estranged son and wife. This is a film whose concept could have easily have been played for either cheap laughs or cheap sentiment. But script by Sam Shepard and the direction by Wim Wenders gives us a film that's genuinely moving and even sweet at parts but never feeling the least bit manipulative or phony. Harry Dean Stanton and Natassja Kinski both deliver great performances especially at that climactic scene in the end. Extra points for Robby Muller's great cinematography.

WOODSTOCK (1970)
Directed by Michael Wadleigh

I got this as a present for my dad because he loves classic rock music. Since I've only seen parts of it, I might as well catch up on my classic documentaries (one of the few genres of film which I'm dreadfully behind) and my music at the same time. This is an extraordinary documentary. The breathtaking editing and cinematography are matched only by the amazing musical performances captured forever, thankfully, on celluloid. The historic event has very much a "it's-as-if-you-were-there" feel to it.


KISAPMATA (In the Blink of An Eye) (1981)
Directed by Mike de Leon

When a young man and a young woman get married, the woman's super-overprotective father meddles in their relationship. But family secrets underneath are much more sinister than what it seems. Now, I know why it's considered a landmark in Filipino cinema. Vic Silayan is absolutely terrifying as the "overprotective" father. I love that he never plays him as a one-dimensional monster but a full human being which makes him even MORE frightening. The film is extremely well-shot and features some stunning direction which produces an aura of uncomfortable tension althroughout. It's definitely in the running in my Top 5 best Filipino films of all time.

Z (1969)
Directed by Costa-Gavras

Someone recommended that I blind-buy this during the Barnes & Noble Criterion DVD sale. I'm glad I did. It's an amazing film. It's intended to be a bold-faced indictment on the situation of the Greek government at that time but it's still very much relevant today. This film will thrill you, intrigue you and also has the power to get you mad, no matter what your politics are. Great performances by the cast, amazing editing and cinematography.

Runners-up: Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington (2011) directed by Jade Castro; Django (1966) directed by Sergio Corbucci; F for Fake (1972) directed by Orson Welles; Young Frankenstein (1971) directed by Mel Brooks; They Were Expendable (1945) directed by John Ford. 

9 comments:

The Angry Lurker said...

When I saw Weekend all those years ago it shocked me into watching the more weird and diverse in cinema ever since.....

YeamieWaffles said...

Very interesting list buddy. There's actually a few of those I haven't watched or even heard of yet so I'll need to check them out on your recommendation.

Mark said...

You watch a lot of films. I'm not sure how many I watched this year myself, but I don't think it was that many.

Bersercules said...

Wow! I need to watch more movies! Many of these seem awesome! And the WEEK END seems like the kind of movie I'd love! But I too realize most people would get bored.

My 2 Pesos said...

Such good movies!

Jerricson said...

Hooray, for the THE TREE OF LIFE! :)

MRanthrope said...

I agree, still so many top notch films of 2011 I haven't seen yet...it kind of bums me out when I think about =/

still looking forward to your list when you compile it.

terminal-b.org said...

Black swan is the number first, that's obviously

msmariah said...

Admittedly I'm curious about The Tree of Life. It seems to cause such visceral reactions in people. Either you love it or hate it.