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Family Viewing, Outside the Cry Room

Poetry-yun-Jung-hee
Kino International

A newborn in the family reduced my cinema visits to the lowest number in many years, although I did finally manage to catch up with most significant releases by the end of the year. There are a few notable exceptions, such as "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "Drive," and I’m yet to catch the recently released "The Artist" and "Las acasias." Looking back, I’d say it’s been a reasonably good year. Certainly it’s been a very good one for British cinema. I’m a bit disappointed not to have any out-and-out comedies on my list, but some fell just outside my top 10.

James Rocarols's Top Movies of 2011

POETRY I loved this because it mixed the slightly off-kilter, modernist sense of humor typical of recent South Korean cinema with a meditative, almost Ozu-esque family-focused tale. On the one hand it’s the tale of an elderly woman coming to terms with Alzheimer’s; but it’s also a crime drama that savagely dissects the hypocritical patriarchal structures at the heart of a booming democracy. As if that weren’t enough, it’s also an examination of the relationship between truth and art. Easily the year’s richest film; and the scene between Mija (Yun Jeong-hie) and the dead girl’s mother in a paddy field was also the year’s best.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN Some say British critics are parochially overpraising this film against the grain of wider opinion — whatever. Lynne Ramsay very cleverly adapted a difficult-to-film novel, using hints and subtleties to convey the discrepancies of the book’s unreliable narrator. The use of 1920s blues to suggest a distanced, detached sense of grief was a masterstroke; and Ezra Miller was a revelation.

TRUE GRIT My favorite Hollywood film was a remake, which was probably fitting considering current output. This is a rare one that’s better than the original. The vision of a brutal, empty and kooky West was pure Coens and perfect, as was Jeff Bridges’s gnarled performance.

LE QUATTRO VOLTE Slow cinema adherents take note — This is what it should all be about: innovation rather than art-house-by-numbers: a European answer to the spiritualism and biocentrism of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, perhaps, drawing upon the lineage of "Au Hasard Balthazar."

THE TREE OF LIFE Despite being a flawed and frustrating film, I can’t conceivably exclude this from an end-year poll. Similarly, while this was the only film of my 10 that annoyed and occasionally bored me, I can’t imagine not wanting to revisit it on regular occasions for its breathtaking, unabashed cinematic majesty, big ideas and inscrutability.

BIUTIFUL Alejandro González Iñárritu channeled the spirit of the Dardennes and added a touch of Latin American magic realism. It’s also great to see Barcelona so grimy.

MISS BALA I liked how this totally disoriented you while watching it, to the point where by its conclusion it’s unclear who the bad guys were anymore. And this confusion reflected the discombobulating journey the protagonist underwent in a searing and hypnotic crime drama.

NEVER LET ME GO There wasn’t much critical love for this one, but it worked for me. The unusual convergence of emotionality and passivity was clever; and I appreciated the ’80s-British-seaside-town look, which seemed to take its cues from the long-forgotten Pet Shop Boys feature film, "It Couldn’t Happen Here."

GEORGE HARRISON: LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD Not the best documentary of the year, but the best I saw which qualified for this poll (narrowly beating "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"). I’m no big fan, by the way, but I found this to be a fascinating and moving account of a modest man who had to evolve under the glare of unimaginable fame.

A SEPARATION Like Martin Tsai — who was one of the few critics to pick up on it — I had a few problems with the seemingly conservative and judgmental heart of the film so couldn’t love it as others did. But it would be churlish of me not to include it in the best of 2011, for its seriously brilliant writing, among other qualities.

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