The BP Top Ten of 2011

This list was compiled from the individual top ten lists of Daniel, Jack, Matt, Josh, Kyle, Scott, Jason, Tyler, and DavidHonorable mentions:  ATTACK THE BLOCK, TUCKER & DALE vs. EVIL, KILL LIST, DRIVE, HUGO10. MIDNIGHT IN PARISWhile I might consider Midnight in Paris lesser Woody Allen, it still has enough of the filmmaker’s touch to be charming. As Owen Wilson (playing the usual Allen surrogate) stumbles through the world 1920s Paris, it’s fun to see the over-the-top renditions of everyone from Hemingway to Buñuel. The romanticization of the past is a good topic for Allen, who has probably struggled with this same issue, or else he wouldn’t have made a movie about it. It’s simple in a good way. Michael Sheen gives a frustratingly hilarious performance. -JL9. THE ARTISTThe Artist could easily just be a gimmick; a silent movie decades after the genre has been declared dead. But the film goes beyond that. Besides being a lot of fun, it has a lot to say about progress in the film industry, and the artistry in the medium. There’s a beautiful scene where one character decries the “mugging” style of acting inherent in the silents, while another character overhears with a subtle, touching performance. There’s something wonderful about a film where characters’ conversations can entrance me, even though I don’t know what they’re saying. -JL
8. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENEWhat sets Sean Durkin’s debut film apart from so many is the level of restraint he shows. A lesser film would have grounded us in an objective perspective and given us a straight line through the confusion. That would have been a big mistake and a boring film. Instead, there’s a breakout performance by Elizabeth Olsen, as Martha, a young woman readjusting to reality after running away from a cult. Her actions would be acceptable if she were a little kid – wetting herself, taking off her clothes to go swimming, walking in to her older sister’s bedroom during the middle of the night. Instead, they indicate intense levels of manipulation, indoctrination, and denial. Through boomeranging flashbacks we meet the cult’s leader, played by John Hawkes, who, like the film, is much scarier because of how un-sinister he is. The real horrors of the place emerge upon reflection, as we turn over the ungodly implications of seemingly mundane details. Has someone from the cult been sent to bring her back? Have they found her? Or is her paranoia another symptom of a trauma she won’t acknowledge? The film’s power comes from the plausibility of both possibilities and we’re left in a daze not unlike Olsen’s character’s, turning everything over and over while just trying to find the ground under our feet again. -JE
7. MARGARETAlthough Kenneth Lonergan’s magnum opus has met resistance in getting in front of audiences, my purpose for putting it on this list is not different than any other – to champion an important piece of cinema that I love dearly. And I love Margaret. I don’t love it with faint praise, imagining what might be if we ever get Lonergan’s preferred cut (though should we, I’ll be the first one in line). I love it as it is – a fractured nerve, exposed and fraying at the edges, threatening to unleash hell at any moment. I love that in the week after I saw it, I couldn’t think of anything else, and I love that, months later, I still get swept away reflecting on its insane ambition and the perfection with which Lonergan attained it. This is real cinema, dense and uncompromising, a piece that functions beautifully as metaphor and viscerally as drama. It’s full of a million moments that could break your heart and a million more that beat you senseless with the unrestrained fury of oncoming adulthood. It’s big and terrifying and so smart and so very, very good. -SN6. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVINEarly in my days of discovering the magic of film, I stumbled upon a film called Ratcatcher by filmmaker Lynn Ramsay. It captured me like so few films had before, and have since. Unfortunately, since then, Ramsay has made only two films. We Need To Talk About Kevin is her third film, and one of the most accomplished of the year. From a purely filmmaking standpoint, Ramsay does what so few filmmakers do, and that is assume the intelligence of the audience. She does not hold back, and tells a story in a way that makes her truly standout. We Need To Talk About Kevin is not an easy film, but it is also brilliant and beautiful. -DB5. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPYThe spy thriller has been entirely dependent on James Bond of late and as entertaining as those movies often are, they lack the nuance or the reality of what espionage, especially during the Cold War, was actually like. Then, like a beacon of clandestine light, we get Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  A semi-retired intelligence agent has to uncover which of four top men is a mole for the Soviet Union; it’s an incredibly simple plot, yet through that basic outline, we’re treated to perfectly subtle and layered depictions of men whose job it is to lie to each other.  No one is trustworthy, and the deeper the investigation goes, the more sordid and persona things become. And what a cast! The cast list reads like a who’s who of British acting royalty, with the great and sadly underappreciated Gary Oldman acting his face off as the film’s central figure, the stoic and brilliant George Smiley. With nothing more than a simple glance, he conveys so much. In fact, one of the most thrilling sequences in the film involves Smiley doing nothing but thinking and then realizing a truth. The script is taut the characters well defined. Alfredson’s version of 1970s England is as bleak and dreary as the Cold War itself. This is one of the most satisfying, exciting, and intelligent films to come out in a good long while. I’ve already seen it twice and I’ll probably buy it the second it comes out and watch it again. I’m sure there’s something more to discover; lots going on at the Circus. -KA
4. MONEYBALLAaron Sorkin’s talent has been fawned over and will continue to be as long as he writes movies with this kind of energy and intelligence. Trade deadlines shouldn’t be this exciting. And while the collective cinematic consciousness would have cut out an eye to see what Steven Soderbergh would have done with the material, and even though I don’t think this film has as clear a signature as Capote, I’ll be damned if Bennett Miller isn’t a skilled, sure director. Where did he go for six years, anyway? The unlikely pairing of Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill (both doing some of the best work of their careers) gives their scenes an interesting texture. And I loved the heaving force with which Pitt throws things in this movie, as in the scene where he makes the entire team be silent, waits, then tells them that that is what losing sounds like; and then he all-out hurls water cart out because it looked at him wrong. The talent in front of and behind camera, as well as overall authenticity of the production, which worked extensively with MLB’s folks down to the smallest details, gave Moneyball a richness and presence that most sports movies don’t even realize they could strive for. It’s such a great film. How can you not feel romantic about baseball? -JE3. CERTIFIED COPYA woman meets a man in Tuscany. Or does she? Nothing can really prepare you for Abbas Kiarostami’s masterpiece, which takes Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Before Sunset and sends it beyond the infinite, because I’ve yet to meet anyone who can get a handle on it. But we can all talk about how remarkably pleasurable an experience it is to see two informed people (Juliette Binoche and William Shimmel) discuss and evoke everything that really matters in life, and if a careful replication of those things is good enough, or indeed if anyone would ever know the difference. -SN
2. TAKE SHELTERJeff Nichols, in his second film as writer and director, solidifies his focus on the fragility of the working class, mid-western family. The plot revolves around the violent, apocalyptic visions of its main character, Curtis (Michael Shannon), but the heart of the film is in his relationship with his wife, Samantha, played by Jessica Chastain (in her best work in a busy year). Nichols builds the tension gradually, as Curtis’ actions begin to have damaging effects on his family. Because of the scale of his visions, the big question would seem to surround their validity and its implications for his mental state, but that’s not what Nichols is driving at, here. Whether Curtis is right about the visions or not, there is severe hardship on the horizon for his family, so the big question isn’t if the storm will come, but how he’ll deal with it when it does. And the scenes that surround that singular question are tense, emotional, and quite powerful. -JE
1. THE TREE OF LIFEWeaving his childhood against the history of all life on this planet, Terrence Malick has crafted at once the most distilled and wildest version of the thematic concern that’s carried his career – that although our lives are not so impressive against the backdrop of the universe, we create meaning with every moment. Nobody has better expressed that duality of existence, nor expressed it so richly. -SN

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1 Response

  1. MrRTJL says:

    Wonderful list. It is an interesting year with a varied selection of films. If you take the honourable mentions into consideration it stands apart from the trope that this year was all about ‘nostalgia’ but actually a little experimental with a silent film utilising sound, a modern French piece with a science fiction element, a crime film with an 80’s tinge mixed with 60’s French new wave. It feels like a year that you reach the end and are happy with the choices we make on our lists rather than feeling we are filling in slots.

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