Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top Ten Films of 2011

An old punchline from a dear friend and cineaste sums up this post nicely:   “Yesterday’s news tomorrow!”

Here, finally, is a list of my favorite movies from 2011.   But why now on this odd date?  January 17th?  What is that, a Tuesday?  Everything about this is unremarkable.  But I saw Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) for the first time only three days ago.  This, taken with a few more 2011 releases over the past two weeks, makes me feel sufficiently versed to submit a comprehensive favorites list.

Hugo was promptly moved to the top of a previously submitted (though not published) Top Ten Films of 2011 list through one Mr. Tativille (Michael Anderson).  His site complies the results of select film critics’ top films of the year for a cumulative ranking.   My list was in poor form when it arrived in his inbox at the 11th hour on the day of his deadline.  And as the deadline approached, apathy not urgency took over my mind state.  For all of the cinema I had missed from 2011 at that point, it became impossible to reckon these omissions with the publication of a list that implies a level of authority on the subject. 

So I scrapped together ten films that were not altogether different from a list that might be titled, “The Ten Films I Watched in 2011.”  The playing field was that small this year.  New interests and routines took me in directions away from new film—though not entirely off its track.  My vigor for the movies has been newly restored after watching Hugo, a life-affirming ode to the movies, to movie history; a capable example of what makes 3D worthwhile, and a sweet story that tenderly affirms humanity.  And those are just the platitudes!

But that’s the key: a total engagement with what cinema is—how it works technically, narratively and emotionally—is what makes Hugo the standout film of 2011.  I use it as a tactful juxtaposition to show the flaws of the films I disliked in 2011, big favorites like The Artist, for example.  I watched only half of this movie, a saccharine homage to silent cinema, before I gave up.   The Artist was content to display its knowledge of film history—as a business and technical art—without inventively saying something, anything new about it.

It is here I’d like to invoke one of Mrs. Tativille’s (Lisa Broad) great lines about Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011) as analogy.  Midnight is, she says, “light entertainment for geniuses.”  And while our sentiment for Midnight differs, her point is taken, and by extension I’d like to say The Artist is something akin to this, perhaps “light entertainment for film history students.”  Or something like that.  There’s a kind pandering or self-regard about it, like a cute show of “this is how things used to be” while it yawns one big stretch of “so what?” as it goes along.

Walking out of movies is not my typical behavior either.  I used to consider the integrity of a film and demand that I finish it whole, even if gave me heartburn to do so.  But the intervening years have taught me that time is too precious to be wasted this way.  A keen topic, time is, in the context of this note remarking on another year gone by.  It’s for this simple reason that I enjoyed Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which cheerfully asks us to love the past, to anticipate the future, but to always, always be alive in the present.  As you look through my list of the top films of 2011 below, I think you’ll find that’s a sentiment favored in them all.  Even Insidious.  But really, that movie is so good it’s scary, pun intended.  Any movie that makes me suppress terror-vomiting or that incites roller-coaster quality screams for a solid third of its running time garners the title of “Best Horror Film Since The Exorcist” in my book.

Happy belated New Year, everyone.

The Top Ten Films of 2011
  1. Hugo
  2. Insidious
  3. Drive
  4. Midnight in Paris
  5. Pina
  6. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
  7. Certified Copy
  8. A Separation
  9. Poetry
  10. Bill Cunningham New York

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