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!

 

“The Fall” — A Mind-Bending Marvel

The visual splendor and breathtaking imagination of “The Fall” made me actually dream of some of the scenes, an experience I rarely have. Reality and fantasy blur into a magical realism that so dazzles the eyes, it suggests a psychedelic otherworldly, perhaps drug-induced journey. This movie is a magical, mystery tour–“The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen” meets “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”.

“The Fall” (2008) is two movies in one–and I don’t mean the story within a story that grounds the mind-blowing imagery. I mean the visual story: the sumptuous fantasy world of 1920’s Los Angeles. Filmed in Fiji, Bali, Brazil, India, South Africa, and thirteen other countries, I could have viewed this movie on “mute” and still have loved it! Captivating scenes of a butterfly-shaped island; a warrior shot so full of arrows he falls backwards on them like a bed of nails; an Escher-like staircase to nowhere; costumes with lotus-shaped headdresses and fan-shaped veils; russet-colored mountains with Crest-toothpaste aquamarine skies I thought were colorized; faces that melt into the mountainside, with faint, lingering shadows of eyes.

Genius for the understatement works its magic from the opening scene and continues through close-ups of a little girl’s hands, her vulnerability and innocence revealed by soft, seemingly boneless fingers. Footage of a massive elephant swimming in the ocean, with the cameramen shooting from underneath causes cognitive dissonance. The elephant had to be “animatronic”, not a living, breathing mastodon-sized pachyderm. But I was so wrong. Astounding, mind-boggling scenes trick both the eye and the mind.

But there is also an epic story to tell. Languishing in a hospital, stuntman Roy Walker (played by newcomer Lee Pace) is grievously injured from jumping off a bridge onto a horse far below. Not only is his body broken, but also his heart. To entertain the little girl Alexandra (the unforgettable Catinca Untaru, a six-year old with a soft whisper of a Romanian accent), Roy tells a fantastical tale of heroes, warriors, and a princess in scenes conjuring “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights”. However, his ulterior motive is not to entertain a little girl in a body cast, but to coax her to steal morphine so he can “sleep”. A free-fall feast for the eyes, Roy’s drug-induced stupor is recreated by the stunning imagery of the tale-within-the-tale. Alexandra’s imagination becomes the catalyst for Roy’s story, and her purity and innocence ultimately overpower him. Roy is her perfect storyteller, she is his perfect listener, and together they imagine a new world–one of beauty and art…and heal.

Catinca Untaru is the heart and soul of this movie! She is so natural as the wide-eyed innocent child, I thought her dialogue was unscripted. Only the out-takes convinced me otherwise. Colin Watkinson, the cinematographer, in some sense shares the director role with Tarsem Singh because his portraits of art in motion are a parallel universe as addicting as the morphine that Roy craves. “The Fall” is, above all, visual storytelling. Without Wilkinson’s evocative visual effects, the narrative would not have flourished.

Unfortunately, due to delayed and poor distribution, “The Fall” did not reach the wider audience it deserves. With less than $4 million worldwide in gross receipts, this is a gross injustice! Treat yourself to this cinematic work of art and relish in its marvel and splendor!

View the trailer