Saturday, December 31, 2011

Favorite Movies of 2011

As some of you may know, this blog is on hiatus while I recover from major reconstructive surgery on my left hand. I couldn't resist, however, returning to weigh in on the films that rocked my year. As I'm only just beginning to re-enter the world of two-handed typing, apologies are offered for not providing commentary along with my list choices (thank goodness for Copy and Paste). Where available, I've hyper-linked titles to any capsule reviews I've written previously.

I saw 290 "new" films this year – 230 narrative features and 60 documentary features – plus 39 repertory/revival screenings. Only 194 films were viewed in some kind of public setting, my lowest number in a decade, with the rest seen via commercial DVDs, festival screeners and on-line streaming. This is a personal trend I expect will continue as home viewing becomes increasingly attractive and the communal experience of movie-going further deteriorates. The films on the these lists were all seen by me in 2011 and make the cut regardless as to whether they first played festivals in 2010 or will be theatrically released in 2012. As in the past, I've separated documentaries onto a separate list. Not sure that's the right thing to do, but it works for me. Finally, these are my "favorite" films of the year, i.e. the ones that gave me the greatest pleasure and not necessarily those I'd choose, if forced at gun point, to anoint as 2011's "best."

2011 Ten Favorite Narrative Features
1. Heartbeats (Canada, dir. Xavier Dolan)
2. The Imperialists Are Still Alive! (USA, dir. Zeina Durra)
3. Cirkus Columbia (Bosnia/Herzegovina, dir. Danis Tanovic)
4. Tomboy (France, dir. Céline Sciamma)
5. Aurora (Romania, dir. Cristi Puiu)
6. Drive (USA, dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
7. A Separation (Iran, dir. Asghar Farhadi)
8. Le quattro volte (Italy, dir. Michelangelo Frammartino)
9. Gold and Copper (Iran, dir. Homayoun Assadian)
10. Old Cats (Chile, dir. Pedro Peirano/Sebastián Silva

2011 Ten Favorite Documentary Features
1. The Tiniest Place (Mexico, dir. Tatiana Huezo)
2. The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (Romania, dir. Andrei Ujica)
3. Angel (France, dir. Sebastiano d'Ayala Valva)
4. Project Nim (UK/USA, dir. James Marsh)
5. Tabloid (USA, dir. Errol Morris)
6. Gainsbourg: The Man Who Loved Women (France, dir. Pascal Forneri)
7. I Wish I Knew (China, dir. Jia Zheng-ke)
8. Senna (UK, dir. Asif Kapadia)
9. The Red Chapel (Denmark, dir. Mads Brügger)
10. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Canada/USA/France, dir. Werner Herzog)

* (For the record, I saw David Weissman and Bill Weber's astounding We Were Here: Voices from the AIDS Years in San Francisco back in 2010)

10 Favorite Repertory/Revival Screenings
1. Deep End (1970, UK, dir. Jerzy Skolimowski, Castro Theatre)
2. Battleship Potemkin (1925, USSR, dir. Sergei M. Eisenstein, Castro Theatre)
3. La Dolce Vita (1960, Italy, dir. Federico Fellini, Castro Theatre, San Francisco International Film Festival)
4. Dance Hall Racket (1953, USA, dir. Phil Tucker, Roxie Theater, "I Wake Up Dreaming" Film Noir series)
5. The Leopard (1963, Italy, dir. Luchino Visconti, Castro Theatre)
6. World on a Wire (1973, West Germany, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Pacific Film Archive – San Francisco International Film Festival)
7. L'argent (1928, France, dir. Marcel L'Herbier, Castro Theater, San Francisco Silent Film Festival Winter Event)
8. The Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948, USA, dir. John Farrow, Roxie Theater, "I Wake Up Dreaming" Film Noir series)
9. Sunrise (1927, USA, dir. F.W. Murnau, Castro Theatre, San Francisco Silent Film Festival)
10. All eight films I saw in the "Southern Discomfort" series at the Pacific Film Archive and Roxie Theater: God's Little Acre (1958, dir. Anthony Mann), The Intruder (1962, dir. Roger Corman), Moonrise (1948, dir. Frank Borzage), Swamp Water (1941, dir. Jean Renoir), Hurry Sundown (1967, dir. Otto Preminger), Poor White Trash (1957, dir. Harold Daniels), The Beguiled (1971, dir. Don Siegel), Shy People (1987, dir. Andrey Konchalovskiy)

3 Dozen Honorable Mentions – Narrative Features
The Adventures of Tintin (USA, dir. Steven Spielberg)
The Artist (France, dir. Michel Hazanavicius)
Bachelor Days are Over (France, dir. Katia Lewkowicz)

Biutiful (Mexico/Spain, dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Carnage (France, dir. Roman Polanski)
A Cat in Paris (France, dir. Jean-Loup Felicioli, Alain Gagnol)
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (China/Hong Kong, dir. Tsui Hark)

Eastern Plays (Bulgaria, dir. Kamen Kalev)
Essential Killing (Poland, dir. Jerzy Skolimowski)
Even the Rain (Spain, dir. Iciar Bollain)
Hahaha (South Korea, dir. Hong Sang-soo)
Hell (Mexico, dir. Luis Estrada)
Hobo with a Shotgun (Canada, dir. Jason Eisener)
Honey (Turkey, dir. Semih Kaplanoglu)
I Saw the Devil (South Korea, dir. Kim Jee-woon)
The Kid with a Bike (Belgium, dir. Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)
The Last Circus (Spain, dir. Álex de la Iglesia)
Le Havre (Finland/France, dir. Aki Kaurismäki)
Leap Year (Mexico, dir. Michael Rowe)
Life, Above All (South Africa/Germany, dir. Oliver Schmitz)
Living on Love Alone (France, dir. Isabelle Czajka)
Neds (UK, dir. Peter Mullan)
Nothing's All Bad (Denmark, dir. Mikkel Munch-Fals)
October (Peru, dir. Daniel Vega Vidal, Diego Vega Vidal)
Poetry (South Korea, dir. Lee Chang-dong)
Puzzle (Argentina, dir. Natalia Smirnoff)
A Screaming Man (Chad/France, dir. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun)
The Sleeping Beauty (France, dir. Catherine Breillat)
Submarino (Denmark, dir. Thomas Vinterberg)
Take Shelter (USA, dir. Jeff Nichols)
The Tree of Life (USA, dir. Terrence Malick)
The Trip (UK, dir. Michael Winterbottom)

Tuesday, After Christmas (Romania, dir. Radu Muntean)
Ulysses (Chile, dir. Oscar Godoy)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
We Are What We Are (Mexico, dir. Jorge Michel Grau)

A Dozen Honorable Mentions – Documentary Features
Bill Cunningham New York (USA, dir. Richard Press)
Buck (USA, dir. Cindy Meehl)
Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (UK, dir. Craig McCall)
Cinema Komunisto (Serbia, dir. Mila Turajlic)
The Desert of Forbidden Art (Russia/USA/Uzbekistan, dir. Tchavdar Georgiev, Amanda Pope)
The Green Wave (Germany, dir. Ali Samadi Ahadi)
The Interrupters (USA, dir. Steve James)
The Mouth of the Wolf (Italy, dir. Pietro Marcello)
Nostalgia for the Light (France, dir. Patricio Guzmán)
Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune (USA, dir. Kenneth Bowser)
Pina (Germany, dir. Wim Wenders)
Summer Pasture (China/USA, dir. Lynne True, Nelson Walker III)