Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Taking On 2011: Top Films (Final List)

All good things must come to an end, and now I am in a position where I feel like it's time to close the page on the previous year in cinema. Alright, that's a bit of a lie.

Many of you may know that Oscar nominations were just announced, but why deal with the stuffy Academy when we (remember, read this "we" as "me," my friends) have a list of the real Best Pictures right here at Processed Grass? We don't need some silly rule that says maybe there are 10 films worth recognizing except when there aren't, we'll give you ten. In fact, there are plenty more that deserve recognition! But I have to show some restraint people, life must be lived.

This goes beyond performances. This is not a game! Who will be left standing when the music stops? It's time to find out!

10. We Need To Talk About Kevin

Lynne Ramsay's quasi-horror film caught me just as the year started winding down, and the chance to sit down with this chilling examination of a mother's fallout after horrible tragedy is as engaging as one of my favorite films all time form the same director, Ratcatcher. Anchored by Tilda Swinton firing, as usual, on all cylinders, the stunningly gorgeous cinematography in this movie and the haunting soundtrack will stick with me for years to come.

9. Drive

Movies that ooze style the way the latest from Nicholas Winding Refn are rare finds, but the ones we have ought to be treasured and celebrated. Though Drive is perfectly serviceable as a fast paced, yet oddly quiet, action film, presenting it as such would be doing a great disservice to the film's wealth of subtext. It's more of a horrifying character study of a wandering, deranged man who is always dangerously close to snapping. More of a harrowing condemnation of real human beings's unbridled terror than a celebration of real heroes.

8. Young Adult

The latest from overlooked auteur Jason Reitman seems to be the sob story of 2011 cinema: a highly accomplished character study that is witty, funny, and devastating all at once. Penned by Diablo Cody (meaning yes, this film re-teams the minds behind Juno, so feel free to insert misguided hate for a great film here, I guess), the dialogue fits perfectly within this universe when coming from Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, and other talents in the film. Between Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air Reitman has proven himself a master of fragile characters and subtly challenging traditional story telling codes in order to make increasingly heart wrenching and pointed examinations of American culture that contain more truth than I, being a part of all that he is critical of, would like to admit. At some point Reitman is going to make a film that is just a mass of sadness and harsh realities, but until then I'll continue taking top notch efforts from one of the nation's working directors. Don't be a part of the problem, go see this film immediately!

7. Meek's Cutoff

Much like Ramsay, Reichardt is responsible for one of my most beloved films, Wendy and Lucy, so my excitement for her followup to that film was immense. In many regards this exasperating struggle for survival in 1800's Oregon is, as has quickly become a staple of this list, on the surface an incredibly simplistic film that almost masks the complexity beneath the surface. A meditation on faith, trust, and community, this exercise in hopelessness builds to a stunning conclusion that shifts the entirety of the film.

6. Hugo

Though many have called Martin Scorsese's latest film a love letter to cinema in the way it plays to our nostalgic impulses, I feel that partially belittles the greater accomplishments. It's even easier to say that Scorsese is the first filmmaker working in the realm of fiction to justify the use of 3-D, assuming we concede that Cameron perfected the tech with Avatar but only had a mediocre story to tell, but even that doesn't completely highlight the way that Scorsese's latest film celebrates adventure and imagination. Hugo is a film that made me happy, delivered with the deft hand of a master filmmaker. Sometimes that's all you need.

5. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

The Cannes Palme d'Or winner of two years back finally hit US shores in 2011, and even though there's an apparent barrier to entry when it comes to grasping all of the Thai cultural intricacies (certainly I am no expert and it was intimidating to me), but there's plenty of decidedly universal qualities to engage with in what is a gripping character study. One of the year's most unique films that needs to be treasured.

4. Summer Wars

A carryover from last year's list, this beautiful animated film from Japan creates a lush digital world full of avatars and cyber warfare placed alongside a romance between two youths during, as the title may suggest, a summer. Though 2011 was not the best year for animated film (though Rango and Winnie the Pooh were notable standouts), I'm glad that Summer Wars remained a constant and hope that 2012 brings even more wonderful animation.

3. The Tree Of Life

Terrence Malick's 2011 Cannes Palme d'Or winner, much like Uncle Boonmee, takes a very traditional cultural idea (1950's suburbia America to be exact) and uses this as a jumping off point with which he is able to engage in a process of the very machinations of the world that surrounds, and shapes one way or another, each human being. It's a film where life is celebrated, treasured, mourned, and processed with the weight of the universe, brought to life with Malick's sprawling vision. The small and the large are united in the glory of Malick's latest film.

2. Somewhere

Another holdover from 2010, Sophia Coppola's tonal exercise is a film that I personally connected with on so many levels, to the point where it remains, by a wide margin, my most rewatched film in the past year. Each time I discover a new aspect about this film to love. Starting with the performance by Elle Fanning, to the magical montage set to The Strokes, and going far beyond the calculated pace through which each scene unfolds, Somewhere is an emotional, and more importantly a cinematic, triumph.

1. Martha Marcy May Marlene

I find that many of my favorite films become so intimidating that I have trouble doing full on reviews of them because they easily devolve in to me gushing over all the aspects that a filmmaker gets 'right.' Naturally that makes this list the ideal place to sing the praises of Durkin's debut feature. The title suggests a clash of identity that is mirrored through the struggle of titular main character, played by Elizabeth Olsen in one of the year's best performances, and advanced by some of the year's best editing in order to create a sense of tension that recalls Gothic literary techniques that help define this quasi-horror film. I was reminded while watching this film how much I loved A Turn Of The Screw, and any film with that power is commendable. A promising start to what I can only hope is a bright future.

And with that, the book on 2011 closes. Until the Oscars drag me back in to this trench. I'll leave some rations behind, we'll be here again. Thanks for the year, 2011! I'll always remember you for what we had, and what could have been.

As a bonus, here's a rough outline of all the other films I watched from 2011 in a (mostly) definitive ranking order. As for where the distinction between the ones I enjoyed and didn't enjoy occurs though I shall leave that task up to you dear reader. Learn me inside out!

  1. Martha Marcy May Marlene
  2. Somewhere
  3. The Tree Of Life
  4. Summer Wars
  5. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
  6. Hugo
  7. Meek's Cutoff
  8. Young Adult
  9. Drive
  10. We Need To Talk About Kevin
  11. Melancholia
  12. Shame
  13. Rango
  14. Take Shelter
  15. Jane Eyre
  16. Cedar Rapids
  17. The Sunset Limited
  18. Louis C.K.: Hilarious
  19. Winnie the Pooh
  20. Poetry
  21. The Guard
  22. Scre4m
  23. We Bought A Zoo
  24. Contagion
  25. My Dog Tulip
  26. X:Men – First Class
  27. Rabbit Hole
  28. Another Year
  30. The Art Of Getting By
  31. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
  32. The Arbor
  33. The Adventures of Tintin
  34. A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas
  35. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
  36. Umshini Wam
  37. Source Code
  38. Fred 2: Night of the Living Fred
  39. Lady GaGa Live at Madison Square Garden
  40. The Interrupters
  41. Paul
  42. The Green Hornet
  43. Lemonade Mouth
  44. Your Highness
  45. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  46. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
  47. Super 8
  48. iParty With Victorious
  49. Thor
  50. Batman: Year One
  51. Hot Coffee
  52. The Muppets
  53. Immortals
  54. Incendies
  55. The Suite Life Movie
  56. Diary of a Whimpy Kid: Roderick Rules
  58. Take Me Home Tonight
  59. Best Player
  60. Cars 2
  61. Moneyball
  62. 30 Minutes or Less
  63. I Love You, Phillip Morris
  64. Fast Five
  65. Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star
  66. The Artist
  67. Horrible Bosses
  68. Kung Fu Panda 2
  69. The Hangover Part II
So now you have it, what do you think about the list? Can you totally not believe that (insert film here) is ranked so much lower than (insert film here)? Let me know it comments!


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blogfilled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also, I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at twitter.com/FLYmeatwad.

And if you want to know what I'm watching, listening to, playing , and reading you can follow my tumblr account!
© 2011 Richard James Thorne


  1. I haven't seen Somewhere, Summer Wars,
    Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Young Adult, or We Need To Talk About Kevin,
    and I'm very mixed on Martha Marcy May Marlene. But I'd support your list any day, over the Academy's. MMMM is at least an interesting film - the Academy (apart from a few picks like ToL and Oldman)is so boring.

  2. Thanks! I hope you get a chance to catch up on some of those other films (and that Kevin opens near you soon), especially Boonmee. I think it's on Instant Watch, though it's a long film so be sure to clear some time.

    I really should write a post about MMMM, but I want to let it have a bit more distance and give it a rewatch. I have read a bunch of Gothic fiction in the past year, so I'm wondering if that colored my perspective too much (and to be fair, The Tree Of Life probably -should- be my number 1), but memory tells me it's as personally engaging as I first found it.

  3. Kevin is opening here in a couple of weeks - can't wait!! And yes, I'm planning on seeing Boonmee soon; I'm just anticipating that I'll need some extra time, as you say, and I'll need to be in an attentive mood. :)

    I'd like to see your extended thoughts on MMMM!

  4. Many I haven't seen on this list, most on my want-to-see list. But I'm very glad to see Tree of Life, Meek's Cutoff, and especially Uncle Boonmee up there!

  5. All truly great films, if I had to select three 'true' 2011 films that I think will stick with me most in to the future it would likely be those ones. Of course Boonmee isn't really a 'ture' 2011 film, so I may have to pick another.