by Sam Juliano
I toyed with doing a Top 20 or a Top 25 for the past calendar year. In the end, I stood with the method I have used for decades, one that is noted for the discipline that a longer list disavows. Be rest assured it was arrived at after intense scrutiny and the successful navigation of every 2011 film that I was able to see, most in theatres a small handful on DVDs. But numerical listing is like the weather or human temperament. It can change at any time, and even today’s placements would be altered if I followed up with a listing a day later. This is the list I came up when I finalized the numbers on Sunday, and this is the list I will stand by. I saw close to 200 contemporary films this year exclusive of the additional ones I saw at retrospectives, which would have taken the total to over 300. As a result I have made sure to offer up a “Honorable Mention’ list of 20 films that will follow the Top Ten in alphabetical order. After the painstaking and nearly impossible task of ranking the Top Ten, I opted to leave the follow-up 20 as relatively equal in merit. All of the titles in this runner-up 20 are films originally rated at the diaries with either 4.0 or 4.5 ratings. Another reason I preferred the Top 10 list, was because it limited the number of capsule essays. This makes the limited choices stand out and doesn’t make the presentation cumbersome.
2011 was one of the best years in cinema I’ve ever had the pleasure of investigating and enjoying. A few others have challenged me on this position, but I have steadfastly cited the newest works of venerated directors from around the world and an impressive year for American indes. I’m still not sure how many good to great films would have to release in any given year to satisfy some viewers, but it was clear from the very first months of overlap films from the previous twelve month period that the year was starting off superbly.
Of the Top 10 films, three are American, one British, and six are foreign-made with four of those is a foreign language. Five of the films first appeared in the first half, while five appeared in the second.
Here are the best films of 2011:
1) The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick) USA
The shape of The Tree of Life is more attuned to a symphony in music than it is to a story arc in literature. This is partly as a result of Malick wanting to express himself in “movements” where each evokes moods and textures, but are unquestionably tied to the larger whole of the work, where he intends everything to come full circle. Again recalling Kubrick, the director places music as the vital component to replace dialogue in enhancing his visuals with the proper aural accompaniment to bring his entrancing ideas to full fruition. Among other notable composers, Malick, echoing 2001: A Space Odyssey makes superlative use of Brahams, Gorecki, Berlioz, Bach, Holst and Mahler, which he apparently instructed Alexandre Desplat to incorporate into his own score. The sublime choral passages underline the film’s extraordinary second act, when Malick envisions the dawn of the universe include Zbigniew Preisner’s sublime “Lacrimosa” and give the film a spiritual undercurrent that oddly meshes with the astronomical truths that have always negated theological doctrine. After a planetarium-like showcase of the galaxies in flux, Malick moves back to earth and the prehistoric era, where he captures a cruel act that will later parallel the human clashes in his twentieth centry story. Further, the human fetus in the mother’s womb is a microcosm of evolution, where millions of years are compressed into a few months. There are subsequently long stretches of silence evinced in a visual holding pattern that will allow viewers to ponder the serious questions that are rarely posed in narrative films. In keeping with the central theme couched in the film’s title, Malick aims his camera up trunks to the loftiest branches and green leaves and beyond into the sky. Basically he takes up where he left off in The New World in bringing visual adornment to the the central symbol in all it’s awe-inspiring and majestic beauty.
Yet it’s clear enough that Malick’s overarching point is that mankind’s place in the general scheme is as miniscule as a blink of the eye in the billions of years since the Big Bang, and that feelings and memory are as fleeting as the onset of the next series of human events. Certainly one is reminded of the remembrances that are caught for a nano-second near the conclusion of Spielberg’s A.I Artifical Intelligence that are meant to last for all eternity.
Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who brought such visual distinction to the futuristic Children of Men, employs a roving camera to arresting effect, while imbuing the Texas sequences with a a mysterical pictorial beauty that has long become a Malick trademark. The 17 minute cosmic sequence of course immediately takes its place as one of the most astounding and spectacular segments in the history of the cinema, a fact that cements Lubezki’s place as a cameraman par excellence. Visual effects wizard Douglas Trumbull, whose work on 2001 is justly celebrated, served as a consultant on The Tree of Life, further establishing an artistic kinship with the 1968 film landmark. The meticulous and believable recreation of the film’s period was essentially the result of ongoing re-takes by Malick, and the work of production designer Jack Fisk and costume designer Jacqueline West.
The Tree of Life will inspire serious debate among cineastes for decades to come. It’s one of those rare films that has you thinking days after with the same veracity that dominated your consciousness in the hours immediately following the experience. It’s a towering work by a towering artist, and it will likely exasperate as many as it will enthrall. It’s a metaphorical voyage into the outer recesses of memory, faith and the infinite that requires far more than the logistics of order and logic. The Tree of Life is both elusive and accessible, vague and lucid, real and surreal. Its a film about the loss of faith and the renewel of belief. Malick has mustered up the audacity to survey the cycle of life and it’s origins, and we can only look on riveted and enthralled on a level one rarely experiences within the confines of a movie theatre.
2) Mysteries of Lisbon (Raoul Ruiz) Portugal
Mysteries of Lisbon is a sprawling and often ravishing period picture based on the novels of Portugal’s most prolific writer, Camilo Castel Branco, whose turbulent life and anti-conformity can be seen in the Hugo-style narrative that for many also recalls the richness of Dickens. Certainly the thrust of the search for parentage is at teh center of more than one work by the great British writer, and the connection to Hugo is lucid enough. The film’s remarkable scope is fueled by overheated emotions, and the film’s melodrama spans three generations, and Ruiz was wise to reject the notion of condencing the riveting details and nuances that paint this rapturous mystery that eventually expands to connect with a universal whole. Ruiz implies that memories rediscover lost love in a film of exquisite craftsmanship and a deep elegiac and subversive underpinning. The bookend voiceover belongs to a character known as Pedro da Silva, who is known earlier on as a 14 year-old named Joao. who presents himself as an orphan, and who lives in a boarding school run by a father Dinis. Secrets, murder, seduction, betrayal, doomed romance and a labyrinth plot- heavy examination of coincidence, chance and multiple personalities, Mysteries of Lisbon is also a story within a story, and then a story within that. yet for all the intricacies of the story, one is left more tellingly with images and moods, and the swirling emotions that haunt you weeks after the viewing. Ruiz, whose previous Time Regained, based on Proust was an example of exceeding craftsmanship, has a splendid eye for color, and he and his cinematographer Andre Szankowski beautifully negotiate light as the film moves from drawing rooms to convents to hotel rooms to captivating outdoor locations, and art director Isabel Branco makes a major contribution, with some lovely credit dividers, which makes for a novel-like presentation. The cast is distinguished, as is Carlos Saboga’s wide ranging screenplay. Mysteries of Lisbon is as breathtaking a film experience as one could ever rightfully experience and/or anticipate.
3) Bal ‘Honey’ (Semih Kaplanoglu) Turkey
A transfixing study of lost innocence mainly set in a beautiful forest in northeastern Turkey, where natural light and sounds abound, Bal (Honey) is as achingly poignant and as quietly meditative a film as middle-eastern cinema has ever produced. Certainly it recalls Kiarostami’s work, but the gifted filmmaker Semih Kaplanoglu, who won the prestigious Berlin Festival’s Golden Bear for this third installment of a Trilogy, of which Bal is actually the story’s first segment, was after something else here: a sensory showcase for a natural environment, where the viewer can actually taste, smell and feel the elements from a remarkable orchestration of the visual and the aural that heightens the capabilities of the form in a wholly immersive film experience that weds poetic realism to an exaggerated sense of what the mind can visually conjure up. Kaplanoglu’s acute focus actually enhances the physical beauty of the surroundings in this story of a beekeeper named Yakup, who risks his life scaling tall trees searching for the black honey that he covets for it’s health and taste properties, and the young stammering son, for which this this almost surrrealistic tale is envisioned by. Playing the boy, the actor Bora Atlas, with his expressive eyes, austere countenanance and ability to emote through projection, gives one of the all-time great performances by a young actor, recalling in all their glory the ones delivered by Pascal Lamorisee in The Red Balloon, Jean-Pierre Laud in Les Quatres Cent Coups and Henry Thomas in E.T. The school room scenes, when Boras is hampered by his physical disability, show the actor using resources other than his voice in a film that is in large measure a silent one, with personal connection understood through experience. Kaplanoglu implies a spiritual kinship between father and son, and authenticates the coming-of-age with some pointed humor centering around the boy’s stunted growth. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Bal is that the film is emotionally muted, and that ultimately the deepest of feelings are reached through an extraordinary orchestration of elements that seemingly are drawn up from scratch. It’s a singlar achievement.
4) Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois) France
Much like the entrancing documentary Into the Great Silence, an extraordinarily poetic study of Carthusian monks living in the French Alps in complete seclusion, Of Gods and Men delicately segues into the bucolic life of the monestary, where seven Frenchman are eventually led to their doom by “Christian,” a dogged and assertive scholar who has mastered both the Bible and the Koran. The unwavering refusal to avert disaster by rational re-location is the central conceit that turns what might have been a straightforward docudrama into a wholly riveting meditation on religious doctrine and conviction and the terrifying reach of terrorism, even among those shielded by a spiritual canopy.
What sets Of Gods and Men apart from other hostage crisis dramas is it’s concentration on the weeks before disaster strikes, a time when celestial guardianship seems to protect the men from the the Islamic fundamentalists who menace the nearby villages, and who brutally cut the throats of Crotian construction workers who were guilty of nothing more than being “foreigners.” But in a hostile environment governed by cowardly Algerian police, it is soon clear that it will be just a matter of time before the enclave is raided, and the monks captured. In the meantime, Beauvais chronicles the daily rituals of liturgic recitation, eating, farming and chanting (the latter with startling fidelity to Gregorian tradition) and the encroaching danger that is answered with a series of votes among the men, when they must decide whether they prefer to stay or leave. The issue of predestination is introduced as a kind of outgrowth of purposeful aversion of sane decision-making that probably would have waylayed disaster. For one, Christian steadfastly refuses the extremists request for medical help and supplies, asserting that they need theseresources to attend to the villagers. Then with fateful obstinance, he rejects the army’s offer for protection, setting in motion the tragic consequences of a rigid world view, forged by indominable faith. Yet, it almost seems for a while that divine intervention will ultimately thwart any dangers, like in the scene when the brothers sing as a helicopter ominously hovers over the monastery. In another close call, Christian avoids violence by disarming his would-be kidnappers with a passionate discussion of the Koran.
Xavier Beauvois and Etienne Comar’s script is loosely based on a real event that occurred about 90 miles from Algiers in 1996 during the country’s civil war. The French life of the monks is given no attention here, nor should it be: life has been simplified to embrace only their devotion to God, and their belief in the afterlife that is consistent with the tenets of their religion. This inobtrusive and single-minded devotion is best represented in the character of the elderly monk Amedee, movingly played by an 83-year-old actor named Jacques Herlin, whose world-weary face reveals suppressed pain and an air of inevitability.
The film’s piece de resistance both thematically and emotionally turns out appropriately to be a wordless scene: the monks indulge in a few bottles of wine in a gathering that suggests the Last Supper. The most lyrical segment of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is played on the soundtrack while the monks smile and immerse themselves in cameraderie and bonding. It represents in its purist form the essence of the Christian faith. Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews the film has garnered, an extreme minority has complaimed that Beauvois ‘lost grip of the material’ by using Tchaikovsky as a crutch, when the scene cried out for total silence. Truth be said the director earned his right to accentuate this crucial moment, and his tasteful choice is to be roundly applauded. It’s one of the cinema’s most profound expressions of spirituality ever filmed. While others films through the years have examined faith from various angles (Bergman’s Winter Light and Bresson’s Diary of as Country Priest are the ones that are immediately recalled, though both deal with quite the other extreme) Of Gods and Men is a riveting study of what the skeptics have always likened to a kind of ’blind adoration’, executed with little rationality or practical judgement.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the film is the manner in which it documents the uncompromising nature of fervent religiosity, and how the worst kind of impending calamity can never dislodge the power of belief. In this sense Of Gods and Men transcends it’s secular trappings to express a universality in the obstinence of purpose and principle at any price. It’s a stone-cold masterpiece of the cinema.
5) War Horse (Steven Spielberg) USA
The lush countryside settings recall the poetical works of William Wordsworth and the novels of Thomas Hardy, but the harrowing war scenes appear overseen by the spectre of Erich Maria Remarque. Steven Spielberg, seemingly mindful of the epic grandeur of David Lean’s epics, -with Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon a possible visual inspiration for cinematographer Janusz Kaminski- has expanded the scope of Michael Morpego’s novel and the acclaimed Tony award-winning Broadway stage play imported from London with a ‘bigger is better’ philosophy that miraculously retains the emotional intimacy that made the work’s previous incaranations so unbearably poignant. War Horse is a singular triumph even for a director who’s crossed the finish line ahead of his competitors more times than most.
In a plot design that recalls the central deceit in Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73, the film follows the exploits of a horse named Joey, who is won in auction by an impoverished farmer, Ted Narracott for an outlandish thirty guineas, even though the part-thoroughbred colt is useless as a plough horse. Narracott, who in large measure was out to spite his landlord, who was eying the horse, immediately lands the scorn of his wife Rose, who sees only the folly in his gamut, but his son Albert has been smitten with the creature ever since it was born on a neighboring property. After Joey is eventually trained to plough and saves the farm from closure, Albert enjoys some moments of fleeting idylic bliss, (a honking goose provides some nice comic relief) until the reality of the First World War strips him of the animal he adores, and sets his mind on a quest of re-discovery. Joey is sold to a noble, but ill-fated calvery officer named Captain Nichols, who tells the tearful Albert he will guard the horse with his life and return it at war’s end. Albert ties his father’s ‘Boer War’ flag to Joey’s bridle, after he is told he’s too young to enlist. Physically endowed with perfect bone structure and unique body marks (a star-splashed head and white-socked hooves) the horse deeply affects the lives of all he encounters. When Nichols is killed in a counter-attack ambush, the horse falls into the hands of a French farmer and his physically compromised but feisty granddaughter, who nearly replicates young Albert’s devotion for the animal before the war again rears its ugly head, winding up briefly in the hands of German soldiers, one of who risks his life to save Joey and a handsome black horse named Tophorn, who dies from exhaustion. Now possessing a thundering gallop and blistering speed, Joey escapes a tank and winds up on the front lines, where he is eventually felled in a heap of barbed wire, setting the stage for one of the film’s great set pieces.
The cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who has worked with Spielberg on some of the director’s most celebrated achievements, has contributed work here that ranks among his finest. Recalling some of the most renowned British landscape painters like John Constable and J. M.W. Turner (the former’s magnificent Dedham Vale appears to be a prime inspiration) the cameraman in his early pastoral farm sequences evokes a silent dialogue between light and dark and the relationship between sky and land, allowing for sequences of breathtaking beauty that foreshadow and serve as a stark contrast for the surrealistic intensity of the trench warfare, where light saturation and glare properly convey the madness of battle. In the trench scenes, where Spielberg poses to hint at the horrors of battle that he explored full flavour in Private Ryan, Kaminski’s stark realism documented in a confluence of mustard gas, granade explosions and endless rows of charred bodies, effectively paints an unforgettable canvas of carnage that fully corroborates the historical accounts of this terrible conflict. The composer John Williams, in keeping with the attention to the pastoral and the military bombastic, has contibuted one of his finest scores in a celebrated and prolific career, ercalling Vaughn Williams, Gerald Fizi and Gustav Holst among others. In the end, Spielberg wears his heart on his sleeve, and has played in good measure for sentiment. Anyone believeing this to an overdose of syrup, I can only say, spread mine on even thicker.
6) A Separation (Ashgar Farhadi) Iran
The most exceptional screenplay of the year was penned by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi for his searing drama A Separation, a story of marital discord, the unfair justice system and how laws are subject to human duplicity. The remarkably intense drama shows all the characters with flaws, takes no sides, and paves the way for audience sympathies to alternate. While the characters are morally compromised, they are never presented as black or white, but just working class people trying to survive. While the message here is a universal one, the film offers a fascinating look into Iranian society and patriarchal domination. and how even the judges seem to rate women as second-rate. While one can say the film wields cumulative dramatic power, it’s one that fascinates right down to the smallest details, and paints an Iran with the same kind of domestic issues faced by any other country. It’s that rare film where you are emotionally engaged with each character, and feel their individual plight. Farhadi suggests that it isn’t easy being honest, whether the resistence is noble enough, and that there is a vague line between integrity and dishonesty. Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi give superbly nuanced and deeply-felt performances, as does Shaheb Hosseini and Mahmoud Kalari’s camerwork is framed and textured exceptionally. A Separation is one of the greatest films from Iran.
7) Melancholia (Lars Von Trier) Denmark
The first eight minutes of Melancholia must surely rank among the most rapturous ever filmed. Taking his cue from the opening of his last film, Antichrist, Von Trier brought together imagery of ethereal beauty and Wagner’s musically cathartic Prelude to ‘Tristan und Isolde’ to electrifying effect. Existential dread has rarely if ever resulted in such a ravishing and transportive experience in a film that showcases the sensibilities of Bergman, Strindberg and the Scandinavian world view. The film is a psycodrama played out in a metaphorical scenario that most compellingly recalls Persona and The Passion of Anna. Von Trier’s sublime use of the aforementioned Wagner composition may be the most profound employment of classical music in a movie of all-time, and it fully supports the indellible images that bring it to visual maturation. Both Kirsten Dunst as a true force of nature and Charlotte Gainsbourg are transformative and the film bears more than a striking comparison to Tomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration at least by way of brooding anger and melancholic sensibilities. A beautiful nightmare tinged with strife and regret and dark humor the film reaches into the inner recesses of the imagination with full Von Trier flowering, destroying the world to reach ultimate artistic expression.
8) The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius) France
Winning more awards than any film this past year from critics’ organizations, one could have almost predicted the backlash from the blogging community. The ‘card’ that is always used: The Artist is a lightweight, a tasty morsel that is enjoyed and quickly forgotten. The other criticism usually employed is that it’s a ‘gimmick’ film. Translation: The Artist isn’t really my cup of tea. Michael Havanicius’ irresistible film is as entertaining and as ‘feel good’ a film as we’ve seen in many a year, and it’s title truly reflects the exceeding craftsmanship that went into it’s making from all quarters. It’s splendidly acted by Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo, superbly scored by Ludovic Bource, shot by Guillaume Schiffman, the film is a glorious homage to silent cinema, and a delightful stylization of reality, replete with the poignant loneliness of the main character on the decline. A Jack Russell terrier named Uggie gives what is probably the most extraordinary performance of a dog in the history of cinema. The main point as I see it as posed in the film is that ‘The passage of time may well alter but never really erase the unmitiagted simple joys of the past, which manifest themselves in this film in the romance of a charming hero and a lovely ingenue.” Yes, the opening sequence is brilliant, and yes the fire sequence is superlative, but there is really so much more here. By channeling the frothy aspects of the kind of silent cinema that really flourished with audiences of the period, Hazanavicious brought to the fore a persuasive honesty to the emotions that dominated nearly a hundred years ago. The Artist looks to encore the infectious exuberance through song and dance and physical actions of a period that of course also featured darker themes. So I have rejected the notion of a few others who lower the film as lightweight, when in fact that’s really the point. In the end, I’d say more than any film on this top ten list, The Artist will benefit from repeat viewings. It’s an instant classic, that years down the road may yet find it’s way to the top of the 2011 list. For now, I will pull back a bit and just say it’s a masterpiece in a numerical holding pattern.
9) Hugo (Martin Scorsese) USA
Brian Selzick’s Caldecott Medal-winning picture book The Invention of Hugo Cabret was tailor-made for Martin Scorsese’s direction, though the veteran director had never previous to this ventured out into territory that the cynics have been chiding him for broaching. Scorsese’s then 12 year-old daughter was supposedly a reason the director was interested, but the silent film homage inherent in the story was right up his alley. From the spectacular opening, when the camera glides past the Eiffel Tower during a snowfall, and moves at breakneck speed between two trains on a platform to settle on an overhead clock and teh face of a boy behind a hole by one of the numbers, you know you are in the hands of a master, a master who has finally understood the 3D form, and has given it one of it’s finest treatments. (This same year, celebrated directors Wim Wenders and Warner Herzog have also injected the form with style and substance). Scorsese gets some wonderful performances from Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley and Sasha Baren Cohen, and stunning art direction from Dante Ferretti to bring his magical vision to the screen, and the later scenes when George Melias is uncovered and showcased, are among the most moving in any film this year and in Scorsese’s career. Hugo is a coming-of-age tale with mystery and wonderment that chronicles the feral solitude of a street smart and gifted survivor that recalls Dickens, and a ravishing dreamscape of a film that connects emotionally while yielding the top level of cinematic artistry. It’s Scorsese’s best film in years.
10) Jane Eyre (Cary Fukanaga) UK
The key to a first-rate Jane Eyre is the casting. This is what primarily distinguished the Stevenson version, and some others, most notably an exceptional four-hour ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ adaptation released in 2006, which starred Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens in wholly exceptional turns. In Cary Fukunara’s new British version of the novel, Wilson is seriously challenged as the defining Jane by Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, who previously played Alice in Wonderland for Tim Burton and appeared as the daughter in Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right. Wasikowska beautifully negotiates the character’s vulnerability as well as her feral instincts in a spirited performance as the heroine unwilling to compromise her moral code. Her subtle handling of some intimacy issues adds to the depth of her portrayal. Michael Fassbender, who was wholly impressive in both Hunger and Fish Tank doesn’t attempt to emulate Welles’ outsized screen presence, instead settling to imbue the cynicism of Rochester, a man who is dangerous yet loving. Together, they are extraordinary in building romantic tension, which eventually rewards those with emotional investment.
The film spends only some perfunctory time on Jane’s early period, when she is orphaned at an early age, a time when she is coerced to live with her aunt Mrs. Reed, a spiteful woman with intense disdain for her niece. Eventually Mrs. Reed callously ships Jane off to boarding school, a place where conditions are bleak and the harsh and mean-spirited schoolmasters dole out severe pusnishments. Fukanaga opts to use flashbacks to chronicle Jane’s childhood, and then moves on to her discharge and subsequent appointment as a schoolteacher in a wealthy home in rural environs. It is here of course, in the employment of Mr. Rochester that Jane finally finds a pleasant and prosperous abode. Rochester is immediately taken with Jane’s shy nature, sharp wit and frankness, and the two inexorably develop a close friendship. Much like the relationship forged in sister Emily’s Wuthering Heights, (a novel where the the woman, Catherine Earnshaw held sway as the affluent component, while ‘Heathcliff’ was a dark-skinned adopted brother who worked as a stable boy) Jane struggles with her feelings for Rochester because of their differences in social standing. She is led to believe by society’s unwritten rules that she isn’t worthy of Rochester’s affections, and she later comes to suspect that he harbors secrets he is keeping from her. Fukunaga and screenwriter Moira Buffini are cognizant that Bronte implied that romantic love always comes with a price and happy endings must be earned. Jane uncovers secrets in Thornfield Hall and exposes herself to embarassment and derision because of her deep love for Rochester; in return his own hypocricy and nefarious maneuverings are unveiled in the name of mutual affection, and the secret in the attic is one of literature’s most potent contexts.
The perfect screen Jane Eyre should include lush and atmospheric music, a sumptuous set design and ravishing cinematography and in all three departments Fukunaga’s version is a big winner. Dario Marianelli, who won an Oscar for his rapturous work in Joe Wright’s Atonement initially captures Jane’s nervousness and uncertainty in strains of somber classicism, before seguing into rapturous romanticism. Marianelli fully supports the temperament of the narrative throughout with what is still a magnificent stand alone work that will surely contend for score of the year honors. Adriano Goldman’s weather sensitive cinematography is utterly gorgeous, though one couldn’t even imagine an adaptation of this work not coming armed with at least pictorial beauty, which in this film extends to the darker interior scenes. Both the set-designer Will-Hughes Jones and costume designer Michael O’Connor have made exceptional contributions in giving this Jane Eyre an exquisite look that brings the story to envisioned realization even with the admission that the two leads are too handsome. If Anglophiles needed yet another validation to check out this version, there’s the cherished presence of Judi Dench as the chatty housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax who imparts some questionable advice. And then there’s the perky Sally Hawkins who is most convincing as a nasty aunt as is Imogeen Poots as a rich and pretty girl who provides a real threat to Jane.But the overriding accomplishment in this Jane Eyre for all the greatness in performance and craftsmanship is the raw and often viserval vision of Ms. Fukunaga, who brings a romantic intensity and cinematic urgency to the proceedings which is unlike the general stateliness of prior versions. This is truly the first time we have seen the force of cinema applied to one of the most literary of stories, whatever it’s atmospherics may yield. It’s the first time a filmmaker has left the box, if you will.
22 Very Good Movies that contended for the main list of ten, and stand as runners up in a very rich year. As all 22 are basically equal, I listed them alphabetically. Admittedly it was exceedingly difficult/painful to keep ‘Poetry,’ ‘Tomboy’ and ‘Drive’ off the Top 10, but there just wasn’t any more room:
A Dangerous Method (Canada)
Cave of the Forgotten Dreams (Canada/USA/France)
Certified Copy (France)
The Conspirator (USA)
The Descendants (USA)
Like Crazy (USA)
The Mill and the Cross (Poland/Sweden)
Poetry (South Korea)
Le Quattro Volte (Italy)
13 Assassins (Japan)
Tuesday After Christmas (Romania)
United Red Army (Japan)
Win Win (USA)
Winter in Wartime (Holland)
Five Best Documentaries:
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
To Hell and Back
Into the Abyss
Harper Lee and ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’
Best Director: Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
Best Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi (A Separation)
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Michael Fassbender (Shame)
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Anna Paquin (Margaret)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Hunter McCracken (Tree of Life)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Vanessa Redgrave (Coriolanus)
Best Cinematography: Emmanuele Lubezki (Tree of Life)
Best Musical Score: Dario Marianelli (Jane Eyre)