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Finish Line, With a Lick and a Promise

Senna-aryton-senna
2011 Los Angeles Film Festival

I’m going to caveat my choices with this: These are probably not the 10-best films of 2011. I suspect that the list lacks much-admired critical darlings — "Drive," "Melancholia," "Margaret" and "The Artist" — but for whatever reason, these and others have passed me by; and so while risking critical castigation for neglecting them, I simply cannot pass judgment on what I have not seen. What this list is, though, is the best of what I have.

Alex Beattie's Top Movies of 2011

SENNA Asif Kapadia’s remarkably emotive love letter to Aryton Senna was this year’s personal standout. It was a beautifully composed, poetic, masterful portrait of the glittering life and ultimately tragic career of one of sports’ greatest champions. This is raw, brutal, heart wrenching filmmaking of the very highest order.

BLACK SWAN Cruelly denied the glut of Oscars it deserved by the somewhat inferior "The King’s Speech," Darren Aronofsky’s stylish study into the disintegration of the psyche of ballet dancer Nina (a quite brilliant Natalie Portman) is a veritable masterpiece. Tonally dark, brooding and intense, "Black Swan" is a totally captivating, masterfully constructed and visually stunning piece of work.

DREAMS OF A LIFE In a strong year for documentaries, Carol Morley’s investigation into the desperately sad and eerie case of Joyce Vincent — who died alone in a bedsit and lay undiscovered for over two years — stood up with the very best of them. Ms. Morley’s respectful direction and focus on celebrating Vincent’s life ensured that she was at least provided with a fitting epitaph.

BLUE VALENTINE "Blue Valentine’s" uncompromisingly honest depiction of the fragmentation of a relationship was a brave and refreshing take on the love story. Derek Cianfrance’s raw and natural directorial style was perfectly complimented by the improvisational and completely credible relationship of the superb leads, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

THE YELLOW SEA This bloody South Korean revenge thriller firmly cemented Na Hong-jin as a master of the genre. His gloomily atmospheric tale of a desperate Joseonjok tasked with carrying out a gangland hit in Seoul was perfectly crafted and utterly compelling. A fine pair of performances from Ha Jung-woo and Kim Yun-seok helped elevate this violently visceral tale to the upper echelons.

LIFE IN A DAY The film that defined the YouTube generation: Kevin Macdonald’s project invited amateur filmmakers from all over the planet to film a moment in their lives on July 24, 2010. The results were a breathtaking, emotive snapshot of the world we live in and a timely reminder that we all have a lot more in common than we might think — truly life-affirming.

TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY This taught, tense, meandering and furiously intelligent thriller represented a welcome change of pace from the de rigueur frenetic pace of recent spy films. Swamped in a bleak fog of atmosphere, this beautifully constructed, superbly acted and fiercely traditional detective story was an absorbing delight.

TREACLE JR. Jamie Thraves’s third feature celebrated the absurdity of accidental friendships and the dichotomy of unashamed hope and broken dreams. Theatrical and improvisational in form and feel, "Treacle Jr." was charming, heartwarming and a fitting reminder of the pleasures of small-scale cinema — a real indie treat.

THE KING’S SPEECH This Weinstein-backed, awards-friendly biopic enjoyed unprecedented success, primarily due to a towering central performance from Colin Firth as George VI. Strong support from Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter helped raise the bar of Tom Hooper’s solid — albeit conventional — tale of said monarch’s intensely personal travails with a speech impediment.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN Far from perfect it may be, but Simon Curtis’s feature debut did boast one of the finest performances of the year in Michelle Williams’s stunning interpretation of Marilyn Monroe. Ms. Williams, making her second appearance in my top 10, firmly established herself as an actress of real class and range with a vulnerable and magnetic turn that more than made up for any other shortcomings.

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