Matt’s Top Ten of 2011
10. Everything Must Go
Dan Rush’s sobriety dramedy Everything Must Go didn’t exactly set the world on fire when it came out earlier this year. Could be that moviegoers took one look at Will Ferrell’s sad-bastard “serious” face on the poster, remembered how bad they’d been burned by Stranger Than Fiction, and simply said “no thank you, sir!” Too bad, because Rush’s small-scale Raymond Carver adaptation is a beautiful little character study, one that will undoubtedly ring true to anyone who’s ever struggled with the highs and lows of addiction—sad, sweet, and more than a little bit funny.
Scorsese’s latest is an incendiary radical-futurist manifesto subversively disguised a lightweight family film. Masterfully deploying the latest in digital film technology, the Goodfellas maestro shines a crisp, 3-D spotlight on the pathetic futility of trying to hold on to cinema history and makes a convincing argument for the eradication of any film made before the invention of cinemascope. Laying bare the pathetic irrelevance of outmoded dinosaurs like Georges Méliès, Scorsese once again proves that film fans should always look forward, never backwards.
8. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Deconstructionist horror flicks reach at least as far back as 1996’s Scream, but Eli Craig’s Tucker and Dale comes at the equation from an entirely new (and, in retrospect, completely obvious) angle: make the bad guys good. An extended riff on what Evil Dead would be like from the perspective of the rapey tree branch, it’s the kind of premise that leaves aspiring filmmakers to slap their foreheads and wonder why they didn’t think of it first. Owing in no small part to a pair of delightful lead performances by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, T&Dvs.E is good, gory fun.
7. Bill Cunningham New York
In an alternate universe where BCNY is a high-concept studio comedy instead of an upscale arts-and-leisure documentary, I imagine the elevator pitch went a little something like this: the world’s least pretentious man becomes an integral part of the world’s most frivolous industry. Octogenarian New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham’s monastic devotion to his craft is inspiring for any creative person. It’s a surprisingly complex portrait of a man who remains effortlessly himself as an entire city, industry, and culture continues to evolve around him.
6. Meek’s Cutoff
Kelly Reichardt’s cerebral historical drama was the definitive highbrow western of the year. More Van Sant’s Death Trilogy than John Ford’s Stagecoach, Meeks was a sparse, tense pioneer story wrapped in an icy blanket of existential terror; like Cowboys and Alien, minus the cowboys and aliens, plus a bottomless reservoir of inky black dread. The perfect film for anyone who ever enjoyed playing the old Oregon Trail computer game, but wished it had more God-is-dead subtext.
5. Kill List
This movie just came out on VOD and will be released here in States next month, but since my Ottawanian colleague Danny “The Hammer” Bergamini put it on his list I figured I’d put it on mine as well. It’s been a long-ass time since I’ve actually been, you know, scared during a horror movie, but this strange tale of two hitmen following their last job down a rabbit hole into hell pushed me well into pants-shitting territory. A wholly original and effective genre film, director Ben Wheatley’s sophomore feature was by far the most intense movie going experience of my 2011.
4. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen’s breezy fantasy was the year’s most welcome surprise; another worthy entry to his better-than-you-think-it-is late-career canon. It’s also a welcome return to onscreen likeability for Owen Wilson, who after this triumph shouldn’t feel the need to kill himself again for a good, long while. A tasty slice of pop entertainment, Paris also makes an important point about the silliness of our tenacious need to look at the past through rose-colored glasses, and makes an excellent case for simply enjoying the present.
3. Certified Copy
Abbas Kiarostami’s trippy relationship drama was perhaps the biggest head-scratcher of 2011—not to mention the year’s best film about marriage. Exploring multiple languages, identities, and realities, William Shimmel and Juliet Binoche’s verbal duet was either A) the world’s worst attempt at erotic role-play, or B) a textbook case of improv class “yes and”–ing run seriously amok, all set against the beautiful orange-red glow of Tuscany. Even better than breaking up with your girlfriend at the Olive Garden, Certified Copy elevates eating breadsticks and crying to the level of high art.
2. Enter the Void
Arguably a 2010 or even 2009 release, Gaspar Noé’s metaphysical drug trip gets the #2 slot because I saw it this year, and because it’s basically the same movie as my #1 pick, The Tree of Life. Both films use unconventional narratives to explore spaces existing outside time, not afraid to dwarf the human experience and place it in context against the cosmos. At once breathtakingly innovative and completely obnoxious, Void is the cinematic equivalent of a musician playing a on the outermost edge of his ability: a few bum notes here and there, but exhilarating overall.
1. The Tree of Life
What do dinosaurs, Texas, and Sean Penn’s fleshy droopus of a face have in common? Only Terrence Malick knows for sure. Only six years removed from The New World, the reclusive, unprolific director worked at breakneck speed to create this impressionistic existential tone poem, and wound up making best film ever. Conveying big ideas and emotions through a pure kaleidoscope of aural and visual elements, Malick proves that movies aren’t really about story and character as much as, simply, pictures and sound.