Jason’s Top Ten of 2011

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6 Responses

  1. Robert H. says:

    I couldn’t agree more about Take Shelter. It’s the one movie this year that got past my brain and into my gut. Anyone who’s paid attention to anything that’s happening politically, economically, socially, can see this movie for the harbinger of reckoning that it is.

    I couldn’t agree with you less, though, about TTSS. I’m one of those, like most, who hates when someone derides a movie because the book or the original was better. In this case, I have to speak (after reading so many rousing reviews across the web). I saw the original 6-part BBC version before heading to the movies to see this one. The original reveals the new version for what it is: willful confusion in place of living, breathing mystery, real people in real spaces feeling real feelings and sweating real sweat instead of broad sketches moving through a spit-shined art department, and — it has to be said — actual acting instead of performance. One quick glance of Alec Guinness’s eyes tells as much if not more than a paragraph of Oldman’s hand-pocketed dialogue. Most of all, the original is a full-frontal indictment, from the first sequence on, of institutional corruption, paranoia, blithe disloyalty, where the new one seems to only use the themes as a reason to use a different filter. In comparison to the original’s final scene between Smiley and Bill in the brig, the new version is a peck on the cheek. I would never call this new version bad. It has a look, you’re right, that is easy on the eyes. But as a story, if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s deeply gutted, pocked with hobbling shortcuts, and is, ultimately, not much more than a monumental ode to style over substance. I would beg anyone who saw this movie and liked the story (and not just the bells and whistles) to rent the original BBC version.

  2. Robert H. says:

    The middle of my comment, much like the movie, got kinda garbled. But hopefully, like the movie, you still enjoyed it.

  3. Aaron Pinkston says:

    I love this list.

  4. Robert H. says:

    Here’s Emerson’s roundup of polished prose for a movie he says is the best English language film of 2011, unless I read that wrong.


    Reading all of it, and some of it for a second time here, I’m shamed — you should know, I’m easily shamed — because the praise makes me feel like I must’ve missed something. I’m going to see it again soon (as I did with Super 8, to give it a second chance, too, in the face of overwhelming praise [it failed twice for me]), and hopefully I’ll have a better opinion of it. Something tells me I won’t, so long as that gorgeously nimble and, for my money, more deeply *real* BBC version exists. But I’ll give it a shot.

    Meanwhile, I’d love to hear more of what you liked and loved about the movie… more, that is, than just the paragraph you wrote here. I’ve had that experience of being so aligned with a visual storytelling style that I was left nearly in tears, or at the very least in a deep funk for being beaten to the punch, but unable to articulate exactly what it is that I was just so aligned WITH. These are valuable conversations to have.

  5. Jason Eaken says:


    You mentioned close-ups. I thought Oldman was extremely communicative, even when he wasn’t moving a muscle. I felt like I tracked with his character throughout the entire film, even as it goes off into some other directions.
    I haven’t seen the BBC series, but whether it’s great or good or whatever, this is a 135 minute version that tells a cohesive, intricate, engrossing story. All the supporting performances worked perfectly to me. This might be my favorite Mark Strong performance, I identified with his isolation completely. There are less than whispers of a relationship between his character and Colin Firth’s, and it’s handled with a very deft touch, as is the Benedict Cumberbatch character, as Smiley’s right hand man for the operation. His sequence going back into The Circus was incredibly suspenseful even in its total mundanity. It’s been called the anti-Bond, and a sequence like that solidifies the idea.

    There is the entire unspoken theory about homosexuals as spies, and if you consider how controlled and specific the smallest bits of their behavior would have been at that time in their everyday lives, it makes sense that they would be quite good spies. That thread feeds into the idea of the personal wreckage in Smiley’s life in his relationship with his wife. Then you have Ricky Tarr living on the opposite side of the spectrum and all of a sudden there is a very interesting thematic connection having nothing to do with the pieces of the plot, but just as fully developed, just as intricate, and I thought Alfredson handled it all with just the right tone.

  6. Robert H. says:

    I will be boring in any back and forth on this movie — a back and forth which I started, of course. Because anything I say will always be a vis-à-vis sort of thing. I agree and enjoyed most of what you describe above (easy to track Smiley throughout, Strong’s strong performance, fun suspense via mundanity), but it all feels like artifice by comparison. I’ve been spoiled by the original, which gives you all the things you liked, but more truthfully. I’ll be forever pulled out of any deep appreciation for Alfredson’s by memory of the infinitely more fascinating people and places in the original. The ’79 rendering of Connie Sachs, for instance, is so infused with sadness, loss, regret, that the new scene can only be an affront with its titillation played for laughs.

    Re: gay themes meeting Smiley’s personal wreckage. There are many connections to find and enjoy in this movie. I think it was simply not as invigorating for me to find and relish those in this version, versus watching the stories unfold around those themes and connections in the original. This is the trade off when you condense a sprawling story into a couple of hours. (BBC gave Tarr nearly a whole hour’s episode to develop.) And no one can say Alfredson didn’t achieve something by getting most of the big strokes in, and stylishly. I’m a fool to dismiss this movie for that reason. Yet there’s no escaping the comparison for me– oh… what am I doing? It’s a good movie. I’m just doddering. I’ll stop now.

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