Friday, 16 March 2012

Encore Awards (2011 in Review): Picture, or Goodbye 2011

Whew, done with that! Yup, 2011 is officially over for me now. Well, of course, it shall never be over until I see each 2011 release which is unlikely, but I’ve finished grading, assessing, re-assessing then agonising over the assessing of the films the last year had to offer and even though I’ll probably continue to say I didn’t love the year I take a look at my top 10 films, and all the films I’ve cited in my “awards” over the last few weeks and I think, hmmm. This is a good lot, so herein lies the final 2011 in recap post. My top 10.

#10 Contagion (d. Steven Soderbergh)
Soderbergh is excellent with his casts – not just in Traffic but in the films where the cast are actively working against each other (Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s Twelve, for example) and even though this takes the Traffic route where the high-profile stars are separated by borders, much of the film’s goodness comes in the moments where the cast interacts (like Fishburne’s and Law’s taut on-camera face-off). The antiseptic aesthetic of the film (excellent use of music, editing, photography) is so in keeping with its overarching horror-like vibes, its implications about contemporary society and the basic tenets of how people react in crises. Good stuff. review

#9 Rampart (d. Oren Moverman)
Moverman’s follow-up top to his excellent The Messenger (2009) was worth the wait. It wins the prize for the most visceral character study of the year (even better than Take Shelter at getting into the head of its protagonist). The way that Ellroy and Moverman’s screenplay espies its potentially despicable protagonist with a paucity of judgement is a welcome change from the norm. But, it’s more than the story; the film’s atypical technicalities are such a fine encapsulation of Dave’s own inclination. It holds back nothing, but pours out of itself like an irresistible, but still somewhat repulsive symphony. review

#8 Melancholia (d. Lars von Trier)
Even amidst Justine’s very pessimistic outlook on life, which ultimately seems to – in a de facto way at the very least – become the film’s own outlook, Melancholia never descends to gratuitously miserablist cinema. Granted, Von Trier still brings his usual somewhat insular vision to this end of world tale, but it works. The backdrop of the very universal concept of the world’s end as seen through the very narrow lens of these two sisters turns this into a film that’s about so much more than the end of the world and as we watch lives destroyed – metaphorically in the first half, literally in the second – not a single false note is played. review

#7 Winnie the Pooh (Stephen J. Anderson & Don Hall)
True, its 2D format does not reveal anything revolutionary in the animation format. Moreover, I even hate to herald it for simplicity because than it in itself is not a particularly high praise. And, I’m not even someone who immediately applauds films that are ceaselessly joyous (I’m drawn to the opposite), but in a year over-teeming with attempts – both good and bad – at capturing nostalgia the way Winnie the Pooh so effortlessly evokes the sweet innocence and naïveté which comes from being very young and hopeful is like punch to the gut, but a punch that keeps you smiling for the rest of the day. review

#6 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (d. Thomas Alfredson)
From my review: “The journey towards finding the mole is paralleled and complemented by the inherent isolation which hangs over the characters in the film. It doesn’t bode well for cinema to keep pitting film against film, but I will say (and this is, of course, because of its intricate source material and the very compact adaptation courtesy of Straughan and O’Connor) unlike the more noted films in the spy oeuvre Tinker Tailor does an excellent job of de-glamorising the world its characters inhabit, and touching on the intrinsic sadness of their lives. So that, when the final strand falls into place and the aha moment comes, it’s devastating not specifically because we’ve fallen in love with the characters (although we might have managed to feel for them) but because the mood Alfredson cultivates is one which emphasises the wholly melancholia.” review

#5 Hugo (d. Martin Scorsese)
I think the part of me that didn’t love this at first was confused at how sad I was after seeing it. It’s deliberately synthetic sheen and its ostensibly happy ending belie the fact that this is a movie about dashed dreams as the eponymous Hugo battles with issues which have a strident existential crux. Perhaps, I’m overemphasising its sadness but even with its title’s indication that the film has a singular focus Hugo’s assessment of the issues plaguing its entire cast reaffirms the sweet, but not depressing melancholia reverberating through this fairy-tale France. review

#4 Take Shelter (d. Jeff Nichols)
What will Jeff Nichols do next? I’m so anxious to see what he does next. I warrant that among the group of people who saw it, its true meaning might be something we wrestle with for years to come. And, like so many of the finest films this year it’s this strident lack of certainty which makes this such an ultimately rewarding experience. What to zero in on in my love for it? The way it blends elements of horror, drama and melodrama seamlessly? The way it avoids abusing the motif of losing one’s senses? The supplementary, but still tender, view of parental love? Or the ultimate – if tenuous – hope one can derive from existing in the world with someone who cares for you, regardless of the extraneous. Find your allies and stay there, that’s what its ambiguous title is telling me. review

#3 A Separation (d. Asghar Fardahi)
It rivals only my #1 film as the one film of 2011 that I’m desperate to re-watch continuously over time. I rather suspect that the film’s level of complexity is deeper than I might realise. For me, a societal drama is at its best when what makes it specific ends up making it a universal social commentary and that’s what happens with Farhadi’s narrative. The issues of relationships with parents, dissolution of marriages, class differences, religious turmoil and gender relations all come to head in this pervasive look at the lives of its characters sympathetically, but not saccharinely rendered. review

#2 Beginners (d. Mike Mills)
From my review: “Ebb and Kander have a song that goes when “it” all comes through it’s a quiet thing. I like to think that that elusive “it” is more than just love, but a fuller appreciation for life and all that it’s worth and both Oliver and his father find “it” late. Appreciative of the life he’s forged, but tired of living in theory and a widower at 75, after a 40 year marriage he comes out to his son. It’s not incidental that in all the moments of Oliver as a child we never meet his father, but instead spend them with his eccentric and subtly sad mother (beautifully brought to life by Mary Page Keller). He’s grown up learning to keep people at a distance, an existence he’s stuck to and one which the sprite-like Anna threatens. The love story at the heart of the film, then, is less of one specifically between Anna and Oliver and one between humans and life.” review

#1 Certified Copy (d. Abbas Kiarostami)
The issues of what makes for truth and authenticity which the film struggles with make it immediately one that seems up my alley, complete with its multi-language palette, artistic discussion and Juliette Binoche. And, because Kiarostami so directly addresses these unsolvable issues the film might seem more cerebral than it is. Because Certified Copy is a playful romp. It is not a copout to conclude that the questions we might be moved to ask at the film’s end are irrelevant because the question is the movie. There is no solution, and in that way it’s not a standard cinematic presentation but then to see the film and still be miffed about not having a solution might have been akin to missing the delightful brilliance of Kiarostami’s major theme. review

Honourable Mentions: The Beaver; Carnage; Drive; Hanna; The Ides of March; Midnight in Paris

ASIDE: Merely miscellaneous in existence, but humour me. Incidentally, I’ve been commenting on a number of line-readings I enjoyed over the past few weeks and you probably heard an excess of them like “It’s called catharsis” or “I love your sweater….”, so I’m branching out. More line readings that made the year for me. They’re less about overall good writing, and perhaps not even excellent acting, but those moments where it’s an actor’s cadence that completely makes a rudimentary line turn into something you keep remembering (for example, Juliette Binoche’s way of saying “I don’t know anything.” In The English Patient is hardly seminal, but I always remember it).

Can you guess them all? (They’re arranged in alphabetical order, by movie.”

“My poor husband? What?! He’s so exhausted?”

“He’s a very composed child.”

“Is that a rhetorical question?”

“This is so much fun!”

“You have that word in England, too?”

“You want me to speak?”

“Why am I so fucking angry?”

“Well, a man should know when to leave the party.”

Here’s a recap of the films that got winner, and runner up, citations:

Beginners: Best Original Character (Georgia – Runner Up) / Best Supporting Actor (McGregor – Runner Up) / Editing

Captain America: Original Song

Certified Copy: Best Ending (Runner Up) / Directing / Original Screenplay (Runner Up) / Best Actress (Binoche)

Coriolanus: Best Supporting Actress (Redgrave – Runner Up)

A Dangerous Method: Makeup

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: Best Adapted Character (Oskar Schell)

Hanna: Best Choreography / Bodywork / Sound Mixing (Runner Up)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: Best Choreography & Bodywork (Runner Up) / Visual Effects / Sound Editing

Hugo: Visual Effects (Runner Up) / Makeup (Runner Up) / Costume Design (Runner Up) / Art Direction / Cinematography (Runner Up) / Sound Mixing / Original Score

The Ides of March: Adapted Screenplay (Runner Up)

Jane Eyre: Costume Design

Rango: Sound Editing (Runner Up)

A Separation: Original Screenplay / Ensemble Cast (Runner Up) / Best Actress (Hatami – Runner Up) / Best Opening

Take Shelter: Best Ending / Best Supporting Actress (Chastain) / Best Scene / Best Actor (Shannon) / Original Song (Runner Up)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Directing (Runner Up) / Supporting Actor (Firth) / Adapted Screenplay / Best Adapted Character (George Smiley) / Art Direction (Runner Up) / Editing (Runner Up) / Cinematography / Ensemble Cast / Original Score (Runner Up) / Best Opening (Runner Up)

We Need to Talk about Kevin: (Miller – Runner Up)

Young Adult: Best Scene (Runner Up) / Best Original Character (Mavis Gary)

(All the awards: Openings / Forgotten Characters / Sound and Music / Actress / Audacious Cinema / Ensemble Acting / Visuals (Editing, Photography, Editing, Costumes, Choreography, Art Direction, Makeup) / Actor / Writing / Supporting Actor / Supporting Actress / Director / Ending

So, thoughts on my top 10? Can you guess the line-readings? What of my movie biases (look how Tinker Tailor and Hugo stoles so many awards, for example)? 2012 has been going on for some time – but how was 2011 for you?


Squasher88 said...

Nice top ten!

"This is so much fun!" is Celia Foote in The Help.
"You have that word in England, too?" is Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn.
"You want me to speak?" is Jonah Hill's character(don't remember his name) in Moneyball.

Paolo said...

My favourite lines of the year:

It smells like FISH SHIT HERE!
Help me I'm POOR...!
The paper is not your friend. The pen in not your friend. WE...are your friends.

That was difficult to compile because I don't remember one liners and this list will change in time.

Runs Like A Gay said...

You embarass me with your cinematic literacy and thorough approach to summing up the season.

Fantastic list - I don't agree with all your choices but there are enough masterpieces in there for me to commend your work.

I just hope 2012 can produce films of this quality.

Stevee Taylor said...

I love this list! Mainly because I've seen the large majority of it. I wish that Contagion could make it on my list - it only just misses out. But I love how you included Winnie the Pooh!

Your top four is so cool, though. I love all of those films to bits. Especially Beginners. I could watch that film over and over and over.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

squasher seems like you're the only one willing to take a guess, and yup you got all right (i also find it hilarious that you can't recall jonah's character name since it's the rather simple "peter")

paolo oooh, love that one from beginners. i just tend to remember things like that, further proof of my imbalanced state of mind, i'm sure.

ben oh, you are MUCH too kind, but i'm chuffed at your complement. let's see what 2012 brings (insert ominous score.)

stevee glad you like, beginners really is an incredibly watchable film.

Paolo said...

If Beginners has a flaw, it's that those characters aren't explored enough. But I guess six characters is enough of a workload for Mike Mills to juggle and he does that well enough.

Alex in Movieland said...

Some I haven't seen, some I didn't like that much. I'll definitely get to see Certified Copy before summer-time... :) Though hard to predict how much I'll like it.

Nice to see Melancholia & A Separation in the Top 10, they'll definitely make my list.