Top Films of 2011

A Dangerous Method, Aurora, and more

Miranda July, U.S.

The best of 2011's many Sundance-hits-turned-box-office-bombs. The reception accorded Miranda July's second feature—a deeply personal and unique hybrid of hipster relationship drama, lo-fi sci-fi, and filmed performance art—only affirms its courage as a would-be commercial endeavor.

10. MONEYBALL

Bennett Miller, U.S.

Am I biased as a baseball fan? Maybe, though as a faithful follower of the Dodgers—whose 2011 season offered a gripping seesaw of tragedy and triumph—I hardly needed to go looking for baseball drama elsewhere. Less an adaptation of Michael Lewis's bestseller than a cinematic rendering of the unlikely marriage between passion and fiscal ration that motivated the sport to put its faith in sabermetrics, Moneyball moved me to tears. Twice. My vote for most satisfying popcorn movie of the year.

The following films (listed alphabetically) almost made the cut: The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu, Beginners, Certified Copy, City of Life and Death, A Dangerous Method, Dragonslayer, Fast Five, Go Go Tales, House of Pleasures, Jane Eyre, The Lincoln Lawyer, Love Exposure, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Mysteries of Lisbon, Rubber, Silver Bullets, Take Shelter, The Trip, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and Winnie the Pooh.

10+

J. Hoberman's favorites of 2011

The past 12 months brought a number of powerful, introspective, big-theme cine-statements, many of them by old masters. Some pondered history—as well as its end. A few upended the old-fashioned movie-house paradigm. In recognition of the medium's ongoing mutation, my annual list ends with two such extra-theatrical projections.

1. A DANGEROUS METHOD

David Cronenberg, Canada

Cronenberg's viscerally cerebral, historically scrupulous science-fiction romance teleports the viewer back to the birth of psychoanalysis. Europe's 20th century is the subject, given form by Sabina Spielrein (and Keira Knightley's electric performance). Consummate classical filmmaking, A Dangerous Method has an exaggerated Masterpiece Theatre patina that is regularly fissured by geysers of desire (as well as dreams and ideas) and ultimately blown away as Spielrein, Freud, and Jung meet their respective fates.

2. MELANCHOLIA

Lars von Trier, Denmark

On any other day, this might have ranked first. Melancholia's first five minutes are like a formal invitation to the end of the world; the next two hours allow you to live through the run-up. We are all ultimately alone, and yet this thrillingly sad, beautiful movie dares to imagine (and insists we do as well) the one event that might bring us all together.

3. MYSTERIES OF LISBON

Raúl Ruiz, Portugal

Ruiz, who died this summer after a nearly 50-year career, dramatizes every outrageous plot twist in a classic 19th-century novel with serene equanimity—treating the hopelessly old-fashioned as the new avant-garde. After some four hours, Mysteries cuts its own Gordian knot to wrap with a magnificent, looping closer that metaphorically conflates the end of literature, theater, and cinema. The nothingness is Olympian.

4. AURORA

Cristi Puiu, Romania

Ionesco meets Jim Thompson: This murder mystery, shot vérité-style, is less a psychological case study than a philosophical treatise—or better, it's a case study as philosophical treatise in which the killer's identity is known but his motives are not. Aurora dramatizes the Sartrean notion "shame of self," rooted in the recognition that we are "the object which the Other is looking at and judging." With Puiu playing the killer, the audience ponders the filmmaker looking at the protagonist who just happens to be himself.

5. SEEKING THE MONKEY KING

Ken Jacobs, U.S.

Shown twice as part of the New York Film Festival (and again at Zuccotti Park the night before the mayor and police broke the occupation), Jacobs's incantatory, hallucinated, apocalyptic screed is a deeply troubling combination of stunning abstract imagery and enraged political analysis.

6. TO DIE LIKE A MAN

João Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal

Fado music makes something wistfully jaunty out of inconsolable loss, and so does this mysterious, fabulously sad fable about the final months of a fado-singing, pooch-pampering drag diva. Such a surplus of melodrama might have prompted an Almodóvarian frenzy, but Rodrigues is neither hysterical nor maudlin. To Die Like a Man is playful, unpredictable, and incongruously verdant.

7. UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand

The acme of no-budget, Buddhist-animist, faux-naive, avant-pop magic neorealism is a movie in which conversing with the materialized spirits of the dead and watching the so-called living on TV exist on the same astral plane.

8. HUGO

Martin Scorsese, U.S.

After decades in the business, Scorsese finally makes a kid's film, and it turns out to be the best Spielberg movie that Spielberg never made. Hugo is distinguished first of all by its genuinely dramatic use of 3-D and second by a cinephilia that has nothing to do with a belief in Hollywood happy endings.

9. J. EDGAR

Clint Eastwood, U.S.

Like most Eastwood productions, this densely woven historical tapestry is frugal and underlit. Like his better films, it has an undercurrent of nuttiness. Just as Leo DiCaprio's Hoover is regularly accused of fabricating media stories and posing as a fictional hero, J. Edgar is a self-aware production, filled with its own textual signposts. (At a kidnapping trial, the word "nelly" leaps out of a courtroom display.) Dirty Harry turns himself inside out: The film even provides a near credible theory on Hoover's sexuality. It too might have been called "To Die Like a Man."

10. UNITED RED ARMY

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
5 comments
Rebecca Fine
Rebecca Fine

Loved the movie "Drive" with Ryan Gosling.He was absolutely amazing in this movie...and this from a person who loved the character he played in the movie "The Notebook".He deserves an Oscar for his performance in this movie. His talents have barely even been tapped into as anyone who has seen the movie could say.Loved the soundtrack!

guest
guest

Love the fact that the headline in the printed version has the wrong year!

Gers
Gers

Lars von Trier is genius! My vote for Melancholia.

No
No

Melancholia was garbage.

Complete garbage.

 

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!

Loading...