Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Taking on 2011 - Top Films (Q2 Quarterly Review)

It seems like it was only yesterday I was writing up my Top Tracks and Top Albums of 2011 so far. In fact, it was a couple of days before yesterday. Despite the year being phenomenal for music, as I was looking over the list of movies I have seen in 2011, the abridged list (so the one that excludes all the 2010 releases that I am carrying over because of Filmspots eligibility purposes) is incredibly top heavy. So much so that I almost considered just doing a Top Five Movies list at this point in time because I did not think I have seen ten 2011 movies that were worth dedicating entire paragraphs to at this point in time. The trade off, I think, is that the movies that are at the top of the list are, in many cases some of the millennium's best films. Be sure to look back on the Q1 Top Films list to see how things have shaken up since then. Now dim the lights, grab the old fashioned popping corn, and let's make a list.

10. Source Code - Duncan Jones (NE)

I had high expectations for this film, as Jones's first movie, Moon, quickly became one of my favorite science fiction films. Here he goes a bit larger in star power, slightly higher in concept, but also slightly lesser in thematic scope. Still, he has crafted a riveting action movie that situates itself as a superior version of Inception. One that is equally concerned with the ideas and world the filmmaker has crafted as it is with the emotional core of the movie and the characters who inhabit this world.

9. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never - Jon Chu (NE)

A documentary about the rise to stardom of one of pop's most overexposed figures is not the prime target for one of the year's best films, and honestly I do not see it hanging around by the time I get around to the next Quarterly Review, but even as a casual fan of Bieber I was almost swept up in the teenage dreams of Justin Bieber fanatics. The performances that Bieber gives are entertaining enough, but what really impressed me was the early footage of how he seemingly was born with more rhythm than I have accumulated in almost twenty two years on this earth. That kid can drum, and sing...and dance. As was the case with the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus concert films, I wish that the cultish super-fan aspects were explored more in depth, but as a document of Bieber's assault on America, it makes for an insightful look at a cultural icon.

8. X-Men: First Class - Matthew Vaughn (NE)

Not much has changed since I first reviewed X-Men: First Class, but I suppose with a bit more time to digest it I can admire the successful parts of the film more and really appreciate the nuances of the performances that anchor the film. I have seen a good number more action films this year than I have in the past, and what really makes this one stand out above all the others is that the action, while satisfying enough, becomes almost secondary to the relationships that propel the script forward, which allows for much more exploring of thematic ideas than I have found in similar films. It's not the flashiest film, but as a balance of entertainment and enlightenment, you can't do much better at a nationwide theater this year. Mainstream or otherwise, it's just a really good movie.

7. Scre4m - Wes Craven (NE)

Leading up to this movie I actually watched the first three films in the Scream series for the first time and became quite enamored with the concepts. Part of me kind of wishes that I had the long gap between the third and fourth entries because it would have allowed me to really let the differences sink in, but either way I was glad to see Ghostface back in action. I still feel like this is the strongest entry in the series, making great use of the modern context while playing on the tropes of a genre that is mostly extinct. As I wrote before, I would have enjoyed more commentary on contemporary horror films, but as an exercise for the franchise this entry gets to the point of what makes Scream so great.

6. Poetry - Chang-dong Lee (-3)

Though I think that Poetry may actually work better as a collection of scenes, incredibly evocative and beautiful scenes, I actually look back on it and find myself reminded that it does stand as a beautifully heartbreaking portrait of growth and loss. Memory is one of the greatest mysteries of the human body, the way it becomes completely changed from individual to individual. How it is constructed and reconstructed in order for us to reaffirm our own identities. Poetry doesn't just tackle these concepts though, it casts a wide net over the importance of art, the approachability and the elusiveness. Korea, the world of film is now in your hands.

5. The Sunset Limited - Tommy Lee Jones (-1)

What can I say? I admire this film's balls. Do we need more than one set to film an entire movie? No! Do we really need great patches of action or over the top drama? Absolutely not! Sometimes all we really need are two people exploring and contemplating the deepest questions that have weaved their way through humans for ages. Few films demand that you pay attention to each and every line of dialogue the way this one does, and for those who do the payoff is superb mental stimulation. That's the audacity that cinema needs more of. Why can't Cormac McCarthy write every script?

4. Cedar Rapids - Miguel Arteta (NE)

As much as I love comedy, my list seems to have a severe lack of overtly funny films. Thankfully Cedar Rapids balances the funny with the serious so well that I am completely comfortable calling it the year's best comedy that I have seen. I wrote in my review that Ed Helms impressed me, but it honestly go far beyond his performance. I love the small town look that, even in this getaway, is completely filled with stakes. It's a coming of age story way after the age has arrived. Those are the twists on genre staples that excite me, and that earn Cedar Rapids a spot in my top five.

3. Jane Eyre - Cary Fukunaga (-1)

It seems like many of my favorite films from this year are elevated by fantastic performances, even more so than my favorite ones from the past couple of years. While it would be easy to sing the praises of the actors and actresses in this adaptation of the literary classic, what I really find stunning about the movie is the way it so beautifully captures the Gothic aesthetic. The lines that are directly extracted from the novel spring to life in the world that Fukunaga captures in his movie give them meaning, while the actors give them emotion. It's not an incredibly loud film, but all the individual elements are firing on all cylinders and make for a technically compelling experience and a riveting journey that has eluded the period piece for years.

2. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives - Apichatpong Weerasethakul (-1)

When we get to these top two films I honestly believe they are in a league of their own. The scope of this Cannes winner is both vast and so incredibly focused and specific that I am surprised I was able to derive so much from it despite being so far removed from the cultural markings that it relies on during the run. A universality is achieved through a very direct, incredibly specific land that is as foreign as it is recognizable. It seems only appropriate that Uncle Boonmee is able to sit past, present, and future all together in a room and still work. It's a film that transcends all the boundaries that should prevent it from being accessible, and in doing so it finds greatness.

1. The Tree of Life - Terrence Malick (NE)

Many people have said that Terrence Malick creates poetry and puts it to film, and that claim (which the poet inside me does not completely agree with) seems completely appropriate with the way he constructs his latest masterwork. The use of repetition, of sensory images, and metaphor to explore the deepest recesses of humanity. I wrote in my review that it would compare perfectly with Uncle Boonmee because they both use incredibly specific points in time to tackle the most complex of ideas, though Malick is a good deal more overt about it. What stands out most to me about The Tree of Life is the way it has had its hooks in my mind ever since seeing it for the first time about a month ago. I am constantly drawn back to contemplating it, even at the most obscure of times. And it seems as if each time I refocus on it I discover something new. That's without even rewatching the movie. If that's not the mark of a great film, then I'm not sure I want to be watching great films.

Unabridged List:

1. Summer Wars
2. Somewhere
3. The Tree Of Life
4. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
5. Jane Eyre
6. Cedar Rapids
The Sunset Limited
8. Poetry
My Dog Tulip
X:Men – First Class
Rabbit Hole
Another Year
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
16. Source Code
17. Umshini Wam
18. Paul
Lady GaGa Live at Madison Square Garden
The Green Hornet
Lemonade Mouth
Your Highness
23. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Super 8
iParty With Victorious
The Suite Life Movie
30. Take Me Home Tonight
Best Player
32. Cars 2
I Love You, Phillip Morris
Fast Five
Kung Fu Panda 2
The Hangover Part II

Until October when we review the quarters all over again, keep processing, friends!


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure. Or if video games are more your thing, I have a blog dedicated to all gaming news, reviews, and opinions.

Also, I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

© 2011 Richard James Thorne

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