Here’s a list of the movies I saw this past year, sorted by rating (and within rating, just the chronological order in which I saw them). In 2011 I mostly gave up on Hollywood, so I didn’t see as many films as in 2010 as I was sometimes too lazy to walk to Vancity Theatre or Pacific Cinémathèque!
★★★★★ – All-Time Best Movies
2001: a space odyssey, 1968 (trailer): The Granville 7 showed this just once in August and I almost missed it. I hadn’t seen it in a theatre for decades. A movie about the evolution of intelligence, and one of the best ever made in any genre. Doesn’t seem to lose any of its impact over time. I used to wonder why no one seems ever to have attempted anything like it, but when you think about it it’s obvious. Stunning.
★★★★ – Best movies I saw this year
Small Town Murder Songs (trailer): Underrated outside the indie circuit, this film, very Canadian in a good way, sports a solid story arc supported by a stunning soundtrack and an excellent ensemble. Reminiscent of Cohen Brothers and perhaps Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter.
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake: Not conceived as a movie, perhaps, but I saw all the videos, by Seamus Murphy, presented together at the Vancity Theatre. An already striking record becomes absolutely devastating. The best popular music can still amaze, and these are brilliant pieces of video art. There’s no trailer, but a good sample video would be In the Dark Places, perhaps my favourite track from the album.
Stalker, 1979 (trailer): Not for the meek or easily “bored,” that’s for sure. There is no good way of explaining this movie: it is an exploration that spares no expense in the service of time or “entertainment.” It’s essentially a journey to a mythical place of magic promise and what happens to three people—a guide (the Stalker) and his two charges—along the way. Science fiction/philosophy. Incredibly engaging and absolutely fascinating. I have to see it again.
Melancholia (trailer): I hated a couple of Lars von Trier’s movies of 10-15 years ago (Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark—though the latter was due partly to my aversion to Bjork) enough that I’d avoided seeing anything since. (I won’t get into his stupid Nazi comments at Cannes.) But this is a masterpiece of characterization, puzzlement, and sci-fi dread done right: simultaneously a bang and a desperate whimper.
Café de flore (trailer): Another movie I have to see again: there’s more here than meets the eye; or maybe I was just too dense to fully grok all the connections the first time through. Even without fully being onside with any supernatural bullshit, this is a great exploration of dealing with just being adrift. And maybe found again, but you’re never really sure.
★★★½ – Definitely worth seeing
- Blue Valentine (trailer): Excellent tracing of a marriage breakdown.
- Biutiful (trailer): Slightly disappointing, but I always like Iñárritu‘s style.
- Win Win (trailer): Great character study. The year’s best closing titles music—The National: Think You Can Wait.
- Bill Cunningham New York (trailer): Endearing character. Ultimately I’m just not that interested in fashion, so it probably didn’t have the impact it would for those who are.
- The Miles Davis Story (trailer): Felt a bit cobbled together, which of course it was. But with Miles’ music, there’s a certain quality that is achieved by default.
- 180º South (trailer): Inspiring adventure movie. I’ve always wanted to go to South America. Perhaps not precisely in this way, but it has its pull.
- Pianomania (trailer): Fascinating exploration of piano selection, tuning, and repair; but what really makes it stand out is some of the performances.
- Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (trailer): Slightly disappointing, perhaps because some of the religion and politics wasn’t of as much interest to me as the—sometimes resulting and related—music. Which is amazing.
- Drive (trailer): A stylish, ripping crime yarn.
- Andrew Bird: Fever Year (site): The best music documentary I saw last year. Bird really is brilliant, and this was well put together. I can’t wait to see him when he comes to Vancouver this year.
- The Descendants (trailer): Represents much of what I think is wrong with Hollywood. Despite its quality, it has a children’s storybook feel: everything is spelled out very carefully, and there are no real subtleties, nothing to think about. I grant it an extra half star for George Clooney’s surprisingly powerful performance in the final hospital scene, in which he says farewell to his comatose and terminal wife, who had been cheating on him.
- The Artist (trailer): Similar to The Descendants, very straightforward. But also very well put together, and you have to credit all the actors for their silent performances, which must have been very demanding.
★★★ – If you’re bored and you’ve seen the above, rent these
- Source Code (trailer): Fell flat as a sort of sci-fi Groundhog Day, perhaps because even within its genre it simply wasn’t believable.
- Foo Fighters: Back and Forth (trailer): The first film I rented on my iPad. It’s a shallow and uncritical overview of the band’s history, as it’s told by the band. I’m not sure why I have an occasional attraction to their music. Perhaps it’s what Pitchfork said: the Foo Fighters are “excellent at being mainstream.”
- Die Stille for Bach (The Silence Before Bach) (scene): Manages, somehow, to make Bach boring, despite a few good performances.
- Take Shelter (trailer): Docked half a star for its pat ambiguous final scene. Good performances but it falls apart a bit.