My Top Ten Movies for 2011–Reviewed, Not Necessarily New

Happy New Year–the Year of the Dragon in 2012!  Most of all, I want to thank all of you for your comments and email!

With 2011 coming to an end, I wanted to take a look back at the movie reviews I wrote this year.  I am an unabashed cinephile– 500 films (maximum allowed) in my Netflix queue with another 88 in my Instant Queue.  So, when I counted the reviews I have written this year (=26), I wanted to see what would be my top ten favorites.  It wasn’t easy!

This list is not ranked –only my top ten for 2011, grouped by genre.

INDIES:

1) Restrepo (January 24 review)— This was an unforgettable film of Middle East-US conflicts.   No other film–with perhaps the exception of “Hurt Locker”– has portrayed such a visceral view of modern battle.  The cinematographer, unfortunately, died earlier this year while filming in the Middle East for another movie.

2) Departures (February 15 review) (Japanese title: “Okuribito”, lit. “a person sent out or dispatched”)–  This little beauty of a film takes a look into the in-between of life and death.  What Tibetan Buddhists call “bardo”. The humor and pathos are never saccharine or juvenile, an extraordinary accomplishment!

3) Bliss (April 25 review) –This Turkish movie is a beautifully acted cinematic gem that pits village customs against modern urbanization, religion against secularism. Without cultural stridence or judgmental condescension, “Bliss” moved me in ways that other films about injustice towards the helpless have not.

4) The Conspirator (May 23 review)— “In times of war, the law falls silent,” one of the military tribunal commissioners states matter-of-factly in this film  about the unconstitutional acts Americans do when feeling collectively frightened.

5) Rabbit Hole (July 4 review)— Never mordant, though painful, this taxonomy of grief is like no other I have seen in recent memory.  It taps a reservoir of feelings common to anyone who has experienced the reality-shifting vacuum left by a death in the family.

6) The Fall (August 16 review)— Portraits of art in motion in a parallel universe “The Fall” is, above all, visual storytelling but defies easy categorization!  I keep playing with the imagery–in my writing and my art.

BIG STUDIO MOVIES:

Comedies:

7) Bridesmaids (June 20 review)— Comedy is, I think, the most difficult form of scriptwriting and this script proved to be brilliant in the most unexpected moments.   It is vulgar physical comedy that doesn’t appeal to anyone who cannot channel his or her “inner teenage self”. However, if you want to see a comedy that heals wounds while making you laugh, this is it!

Political and Sociological:

8) Ides of March (October 18)— A gripping drama, the “Ides of March” is not a narrative of hope but of the blood sport of politics, especially campaigning.  Every time I see a political commercial, I think of this movie and the lost souls involved behind the scenes.

9) Margin Call  (December 8 review)– Among the excellent films and documentaries about the 2008 financial meltdown, this one humanizes the headlines–through the eyes of a trading floor manager, whose curdling resentment of who he is, results in a deeply tragic, heartbreakingly lonely figure.  Superb acting with Kevin Spacey never disappointing!

Action:

10) The Debt  (September 20)— Pure adrenaline rush, this is no typical espionage thriller.  Helen Mirren is stunning as the sixty-something action hero in this testosterone-drenched gritty film.  I have not seen an action movie as riveting as this one, punctuated even further by the Holocaust back-story.

While celebrating the New Year’s Weekend, why not watch one of my Top Ten? Can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2012!  Cheers!

 

“Restrepo” – Dangerously Close to the Action

Movie Review for Restrepo, Diana PaulThis haunting documentary, winner of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary, chronicles very young soldiers (some younger than twenty years old) during their fourteen-month deployment in Afghanistan’s Korengal valley. A visceral view of modern battle, you cannot watch this riveting, real-life “Hurt Locker” without having your heart pulsate, tears catch, and compassion lodge in your throat for these boys and for the Afghan villagers they do not understand.

Sebastian Junger (author of A Perfect Storm) and Tim Hetherington (cinematographer) focus on a remote outpost named in memory of a platoon medic, Juan Restrepo, who was killed in action shortly after arrival in the valley. Considered one of the most dangerous assignments in the US military, the Korengal valley is a hellhole. At the end, Outpost Restrepo is shut down, after many soldiers have been killed in Korengal.

This movie is about the eloquence and courage embedded in the human face: the glowing eyes of red-bearded Afghan elders who are trying to understand—through the words of interpreters—why the US soldiers are there. Their light-colored eyes glisten so much, they seem to glow in the dark. It is an indelible and unforgettable capture of eyes like no others the American viewer has ever seen.

And the tender-skinned faces of soldiers so vulnerable and so bewildered by combat, boredom, and fear, this viewer felt the exposure was almost too much to watch. These young men—teenagers really– heartbreakingly reveal themselves in their down time—wrestling each other, displaying muscular, tattooed bodies, dancing and listening to music with the easy, comfortable physical contact of a fraternity while peril lurks down the hill. What are these guys doing there?

The cameramen (embedded journalists Junger and Hetherington), relentlessly film close-ups of soldiers and the Afghan community –in dangerous cave dwellings so narrow I wondered how the cinematography took place so smoothly and professionally. Sometimes the camera lens is no more than six inches from the jaw line of a soldier, revealing each gulp and emotion trapped in his throat.

The story of Restrepo is told completely without commentary: through photography and the soldiers’ own voices. Interspersed throughout the combat footage is a series of interviews after the tour of duty ends. Each young veteran gives his own take on what has happened–how he has to move on. One talks about how he can’t sleep, even after sleeping pills, and isn’t sure if it’s better not to sleep than to sleep with the nightmares he inevitably experiences. Another soldier, “Pemble”, perhaps the youngest, with the spare, lyrical force of a tragic hero, comments that he cannot forget what has happened to him, however much he would like to, because he doesn’t want to forget what the other men have meant to him. In defining each soldier’s life after battle, through the subtlest changes in each youth’s liquid eyes, twinges, and catches in their voices, “Restrepo” witnesses war in the 21st century through faces not words, allowing each of us to see what we want to see of how war wounds us all.