As I have done every year since 2005, I keep a list of every film I watch for the first time in a year. Here are the ten films that topped my list:
10) Super 8 (2011, dir. J.J. Abrams)
This was my most anticipated summer movie and it definitely delivered what I wanted: a return to the wonder filled Spielberg-ian cinema of the late 1970s/early 1980s. It wasn’t a perfect film in terms of an tightly written script, but it was a technically strong film. It also showed Abrams deft hand at recognizing the core elements of a style of filmmaking. I’d like to see him attempt to recreate other iconic mainstream directors’ styles in the future.
9) Blood Simple (1984, dir. The Coen Brothers
This was the only Coen Brothers film I hadn’t seen and I had avoided it for a long time. From production stills I was wary due to the very 80s specific production design. Being so used to a more stylized approach in their modern work, I assumed Blood Simple would be an inferior work whose purpose was more to develop what would be their future style. Was I wrong! Its as if these two men were born with an inherent ability to make perfect films.
8) Dogtooth (2010, dir. Giorgos Lanthimos)
I only became aware of this film with his Oscar nom in the Foreign Language category and was a bit apprehensive at first. What I discovered was a dark allegory that perfectly captures life in a “free” society. Depending on your perspective the film is about governments or the church or authority in general. Its also a great example of the strength of quiet European cinema. The events that unfold in the final minutes will linger with you longer than the majority of films coming out in your local cineplex.
7) Melancholia (2011, dir. Lars von Trier)
I am not a von Trier fanboy, more I admire the idea of what he attempts. I enjoyed Antichrist but didn’t fall in love with it. Melancholia is a different story. I expected a subversion of the sci-fi genre, but what it is here is actually a more faithful ode to science fiction literature than film. This is a short story made film, a perfect example of the fantastic being used as an overlay for a human story. It also has some of the most beautifully composed shots you’ll see in a film this year, particularly the opening montage.
6) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978, dir. Steven Spielberg)
This is another of those films that got away from me for a long time. I was very glad I watched this mere days before Super 8, as it got me in the perfect mood for that film. It also reminded me of what an amazing filmmaker Spielberg can be. Since the 1990s, he seems to have become a different filmmaker. While the work he does now isn’t terrible, there is a nostalgic side of me that misses the cinema of wonder. His films now seem more horrific (War of the Worlds, Minority Report, AI) or experimental (The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can, War Horse). Part of me would like to see this Spielberg come back one more time.
5) Rubber (2010, dir. Quentin Dupieux)
You will not see another film like this in your life: A tire comes to life and proceeds to go on a telekinetic killing spree in a world wherein the inhabitants seem to know they are fictional. There is very little to say about this film other than, just got to Netflix and watch it.
4) Red, White, & Blue (2010, dir. Simon Rumley)
This film is the perfect antidote to the mindless torture porn horror craze that seems to be a large part of cinema these days. The opening acts of the film are torturously slow and methodical. But there is a reason why we are introduced so completely to the three main characters. When the violence begins it doesn’t let up and it devastates the audience. Everyone is guilty, yet everyone could plausibly claim innocence. A horror film that will truly haunt you.
3) Amer (2009, dir. Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani)
This almost wordless homage to the Italian giallo horror genre is one of the most beautiful looking films I saw all year. The film follows one woman from childhood through adolescence to adulthood using the framework of classic 70s European horror. Its incredibly interpretive and hypnotic. I popped it on one Sunday afternoon, expecting something that would simply serve as background noise. I quickly dropped everything I was doing and was fully absorbed.
2) Drive (2011, dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
I first became familiar with Refn when I saw Bronson (2008) and was fairly impressed. Little did I expect a film of this level of style to emerge years later. Drive was able to capture the atmosphere games like Grand Theft Auto pray they can. Everything about the film felt exactly right, as if all LA Noir type films must be set in an 80s synth inspired environment from now on. It was particularly nice to see Bryan Cranston and a highly out of character Albert Brooks.
1) The Tree of Life (2011, dir. Terence Malick)
Tree of Life is a perfect example of film as art. First, its an incredibly personal work that shows how, as an artist becomes detailed and specific, they in turn become universal. Secondly, it has produced highly passionate and differing reactions. Its the sort of film that upsets some viewers because it asks them to participate on an intellectual level, something many films today do not. It does this, because it respects the audience’s intelligence. Malick is almost more of a composer than a narrative filmmaker, and he produces some very sweet music.