Next Projection’s Top Ten Films of 2011
Best Film of 2011 – The Tree Of Life
For Malick, The Tree of Life is a culmination of a life’s work that while only five films in total is more rich and full than most who have stepped behind the lens of camera. Throughout its duration we feel we are in the company of greatness; in the hands of a man who has a better grasp on life and more to say about it than we ever will. While it offers more mysteries than answers, The Tree of Life is a poetic sermon that attempts to tackle the nature of life and death on a scale that is both micro and macro; both intimate and grandiose. It is a different Malick than that with whom we have become accustomed to; here he is more bold, more ambitious, and more abstract, but his unparallelled vision remains intact. Though frustrating, demanding, and at times impossible to penetrate, it’s an astonishing gift to cinema and art fans alike; an achievement in filmmaking that will be discussed and interpreted for ages. – CM
Runners Up: A Separation, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Drive.
Worst Film of 2011 – The Human Centipede II
Words cannot begin to express how horrendous Tom Six’s film is. Though the first installment was brutal, it had enough dimensions to explore the characters and their reactions to their situation. The Human Centipede II is hollow from the outset. The obese Martin, as well as his faceless victims, do nothing but moan and whine. There is no sympathy for anyone in this film because Six does not give the characters personalities, backgrounds, or emotions. These people are empty shells, and as a result of their emptiness, audiences are distanced from them on an emotional level. This emotional distance soon evolves into boredom as there is nothing or no one to grasp onto. Throughout the first part of the film, Martin is shown following his typical routine while the victims continue to moan and whine. The boringness of Martin’s dull life continues until the climactic operation scene, during which Martin, armed with a rusty saw, a grimy pair of scissors, and a staple gun, hacks away at skin and tendons in order to create his ungodly creation. This is the only moment in the film where the boringness is a better option. The images of torture come one after another, forcing the viewer to either look away or to fully immerse him/herself into the events that are unfolding. – JG
Runners Up: Green Lantern, The Dilemma, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
Best Foreign Film – A Separation
What makes A Separation a breathtaking work is that director/writer/producer Farhadi puts under the microscope the culture of procedure and law in which this mise-en-abîme spiral of community tensions and accusations takes place, first within a family and then spilling over to ever larger circles of people. He does so without demonising or mythifying anyone or making someone allegorical. After viewing the film, the flawless performance of the ensemble cast led by Leila Hatami (Simin), Peyman Moadi (Nader), Sarina Farhadi (Termeh), Sareh Bayat (Razieh), and Shahab Hosseini (Hodjat) should also be evident. Most evident of all: A Separation—with its intricately woven narrative whose emotional force arises organically, even stealthily—is shatteringly brilliant. – RSA
Runners Up: The Turin Horse and The Skin I Live In.
Best Director – Terrence Malick, The Tree Of Life
One could say the film is non-narrative, but that’s actually not quite true. Malick tells a clear story here – not with a traditional structure, but it is a true narrative. It is the story of Jack, who we see both as an adolescent confronting the film’s stated dichotomy between “nature” and “grace,” as well as an adult in a state of perpetual existential pondering. Malick expands outwardly from the narrative both backwards and forwards – first pulling back to conduct a visual symphony of nothing less than the creation of the universe and then flashing forward to what many have referred to as an afterlife of sorts, or a nebulous representation of an apocalypse of healing and reconciliation. – JM
Runners Up: Nihcolas Refn, Drive and Asghar Farhadi, A Separation.
Best Actor – Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Nichols and Shannon re-team for Take Shelter, an intense new film that stars Shannon as an Ohio family man named Curtis LaForche whose stable life is threatened when he begins to receive terrifying visions of a massive storm. When Curtis’ visions inspire him to begin renovating their tornado shelter, a significant emotional and monetary strain is put on the family. Michael Shannon towers over the rest with a quiet, burning intensity that does not overwhelm the fact that he is essentially a good man, trying to do right by his family. – FM
Runners Up: Gary Olman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Peter Mullan, Tyrannosaur.
Best Actress – Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin
Tilda Swinton, the most courageous, open, and honest of all actors working today, is Eva. Eva was once a celebrated author who wrote of grand globetrotting adventures; now she is a low-rent travel agent in a town filled people who hate her. Eva’s frequent dips into her gutted, bleeding subconscious are the only fragments that can bridge the gap between her former and current selves – we can only patch these fragments together to understand what led Eva into this psychotic inferno. – JM
Runners Up: Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Olivia Colman, Tyrannosaur.
Best Cinematographer – Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life may very well be Terrence Malick’s finest film, though only time will tell. As it’s stands there is only one thing in cinema that is guaranteed, and that is if there is any beauty left in this world, Terrence Malick and Emmanuel Luzbecki will find it. – CM
Runners Up: Newton Thomas Sigel, Drive and Jody Lee Lipes, Martha Marcy May Marlene .
Best Supporting Actress – Jessica Chastain, Take Shelter
Curtis, a construction worker in rural Ohio who becomes increasingly plagued by random nightmares that soon build into increasingly apocalyptic visions. Jessica Chastain is Samantha, his loyal, centered wife who notices the way her husband is changing and becomes fearful for his safety – and their family’s. This is the kind of cinematic couple that creates immense empathy in an audience because we find natural strands of ourselves in the fiber of their relationship. – JM
Runners Up: Sarina Farhdai, A Separation and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia.
Best Supporting Actor – Nick Nolte, Warrior
There is a fascinating dual nature of war, a subtle correlation between emotional pain and that unmistakably male tendency to use physical violence to eradicate the sting of those emotions. Brendan and Tommy Conlon (Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy) grew up under the debilitating weight of their father, former boxer Paddy’s (Nick Nolte), alcoholism. Now he wants redemption for his past transgressions, but maybe he doesn’t deserve it. Here Nolte and director Gavin O’Connor deliver an absolute masterwork of humanity that captures the physical and emotional crushing of the human soul, and explores the complex journey to find forgiveness and redemption. – JM
Runners Up: Albert Brooks, Drive and Shahab Hosseini, A Separation.
Best Youth Performance – Hunter McCracken, The Tree of Life
The pains, influences, and temptations of adolescence – specifically male adolescence – are fully felt through McCracken’s wide and impressionable eyes. With barely any dialogue, he conveys the internal struggle between the flowing grace embodied by his mother (Jessica Chastain, in the first of her extraordinary breakout performances in 2011) and the crushing “nature” espoused by his father (Brad Pitt, also having a career year). In a film that charts a progression from literally the beginning of time to possibly the end, the young Jack – and, in turn, McCracken’s performance – is the one clear emotional center, and it is through this abbreviated section of his life that Malick’s permits us to see that we understand what the auteur is reaching for. – JM
Runners Up: Elle Fanning, Super 8 and Ezra Miller, We Need To Talk About Kevin
Most Underrated Film – Warrior
Edgerton and Hardy are wonderful here, playing two sides of the same coin, opposing personalities long ago fractured, brought together again out of seeming chance, but more likely out of psychic need. When they finally stand toe-to-toe in the film’s finale, it doesn’t seem like a plot mechanism but a fated meeting to settle a lifetime of suppressed pain. Warrior is a staggering epic of humanity, a film capable of both rendering tender intimacy on a grand scale and finding the elusive emotional center in even the most brutal battle. – JM
Runners Up: Contagion, Like Crazy
Best Animated Film – The Adventures of Tintin
Steven Spielberg dives headfirst back into the serial-inspired giddy action fray with The Adventures of Tintin, and the result is the best theme park ride you will ever go on. That is absolutely the highest compliment – this film is the definition of “rollicking,” a big, fun, energetic movie-movie that leaves the audience whipped, reeling, and completely spent. – JM
Runners Up: Kung Fu Panda 2, Rango,
Best 3D Film – Hugo
At a stage when the use of 3D has become ubiquitous and often perfunctory, Scorsese absorbs its rhythms to create a fully realized cinematic universe, filled not with pop-up “gotcha!” moments but true atmospheric depth. Hugo’s 3D is dazzling for its subtlety, working seamlessly with the meticulous Art Direction to envelope the audience and allowing characters to occasionally emerge from the screen, their most intense emotional moments slowly bursting through its confines. Scorsese’s is the most masterful and reverent use of 3D in modern film history, made all the more appropriate that it’s used to tell a story about the magical invention of filmmaking. – JM
Runners Up: Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Pina
Best Horror Film – The Skin I Live In
The nineteenth feature film from acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, and his first collaborative effort with Antonio Banderas since 1990, The Skin I Live In is a dark tale of loss which echoes the ethical concerns of Frankenstein.The brilliant head of a skilled team of plastic surgeons, Dr Robert Ledgard—motivated by grief at the loss of his wife in a fire—synthesises an artificial “skin”, impervious to flame. Hosting this transgenic skin on a young woman whom he keeps locked in a room, Ledgard finds himself unable to resist the allure of his test subject. Amplified by muted palettes, some interestingly canted overhead shots, and Banderas’ stoic yet fragile performance, The Skin I Live In is a mediation on loss and our inability to handle it. A layered quasi-thriller narrative, it is at times shocking, horrific, and sadly moving. – RD
Runners Up: Paranormal Activity 3, Kill List, Scream 4
Best Comedy Film – Bridesmaids
Bridesmaids is an entertaining female buddy comedy that, although it sometimes lacked focus, manages to seriously compete with other movies in this male dominated genre. Not quite a “chick-flick”, Bridesmaids very funny hybrid movie whose strong (predominantly female) casting is certainly capitalized. The film makes up for its weak plot in strong comedic performances by the entire cast, and is sure to entertain male and female audiences equally. – AT
Runners Up: The Trip, Attack The Block, Rango
Best Action Film – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’s most inventive sequence is an extended foot chase through a blinding sandstorm, in which the obscured or unseen becomes the most dangerous enemy. Of course, the multi-part climax goes so intentionally over the top that all we can do is soak up every death-defying leap and percussive sucker punch with a big, broad smile. The entire movie functions in much the same way – its foot firmly on the gas pedal, reveling in spectacle, and accomplishing what seemed impossible…making this franchise vibrant and viable once again. Ghost Protocol is pure, giddy spectacle, a live-action cartoon of a movie that takes us on a willfully implausible joy ride. – JM
Runners Up: Drive, Hanna, and Fast Five.
Best Science Fiction Film – Rise of the Planet of the Apes
In spite of its tumultuous journey as a cinematic franchise, Planet of the Apes truly was quite ripe for a prequel. “Just how the hell did those apes come to control the planet?” was perhaps a question many audience members asked themselves as the first film came to a close. Behold your answer: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is the only solid Apes installment since the original. The action is exciting, the effects are remarkable, Serkis is great, and the screenplay creates a preamble to the Apes mythology that, honestly, is more effective than any of its forebears. – JM
Runners Up: Melancholia, Attack the Block, and Source Code.
Upcoming…The Top Ten Films of 2011