by James Hansen
At this point, there isn’t much left to say about The Year in Movies 2011 Edition. It may have been a down year for Hollywood – at a year-end party, many in my local critics group, for instance, mistakenly characterized it as a bad year for movies because of this – but, looking at this list, it is hard to remember a year with so many masterpieces. (Credit to that same local critics group for awarding my best film of the year as the most overlooked. Deservedly so.) And, considering further the films that didn’t make this particular list, it seems safe to suggest that 2011 was actually quite miraculous. Ambitious films continue to be produced; even if they are locked away for years and arrive in a somewhat fractured condition.
Then again, it could be precisely this fractured impulse which drives many of the best movies being made today. Although many of these films arrive at this through different means, pristine, perfectly polished works evoking past eras and the Hollywood “ideal” seem of less and less interest. Instead, this movies on this list deal with a sort of brokenness and disunity, often operating not only on the level of narrative, but also holding a deeper relation to questions of art, artifice, form, and life. Perhaps this is what led this critic to dismiss several acclaimed efforts to restore the picture-perfectness of the past. This isn’t meant as an inherent rejection of nostalgia, but of how the past becomes filtered through movies into our present moment. The best films this year didn’t show a desperate longing to reunite with a golden age, but of the past’s ability – through certain fracture – to explode the current moment and bring to it a vibrancy of past moments, characterizations, and ideals.
For the sake of sanity, I have limited this list to feature films. In some ways, I already regret having done this. Significant short films continued to be made – largely in “avant-garde circles" – and they deserve further recognition. Having attended both Ann Arbor and Views in 2011, and becoming more and more enmeshed with experimental film as part of my program of study, I feel more equipped to say something about these works which still don’t get the attention they deserve. But I still have a difficult time judging hand-processed 16mm films and Season of the Witch. Because of this, I have also made a (shorter) list of best short films. The list is somewhat conflated given when I saw the films (some from Views 2010 – which I did not attend – premiered in Columbus in 2011; and then I attended Views 2011, so those are included as well). If this is confusing, I apologize.
On with the show...
James Hansen's Top 13 (Features)
1. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
2. House of Pleasures (Bertrand Bonello)
3. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)
4. A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg)
5. The Pettifogger (Lewis Klahr)
6. Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
7. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
8. Make It New John (Duncan Campbell)
9. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson)
10. Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird)
11. Putty Hill (Matt Porterfield)
12. Drive (Nicolas Windig Refn)
13. Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
Bertrand Bonello - House of Pleasures
Anna Paquin - Margaret (with apologies to everyone in House of Pleasures)
Michael Fassbender - A Dangerous Method (with apologies to Gary Oldman)
Midnight in Paris
Top 7 (Shorts)
1. These Hammers Don’t Hurt Us (Michael Robinson)*
2. Cry When It Happens (Laida Lertxundi)*
3. Slow Action (Ben Rivers)
4. Ricky (Janie Geiser)
5. Words of Mercury (Jerome Hiler)
6. The Return (Nathaniel Dorsky)
7. Trypps #7 (Badlands) (Ben Russell)
*I want to make specific reference to a wonderful program at the Wexner Center – "Look At Our Life Now" – which showed these films, as well as several others which have remained with me throughout the year. It was the best curated program of shorts I saw all year. Chris Stults and Dave Filipi (and anyone else involved) deserve an award for this, or at least some recognition. Take this as the latter.