As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

2011 in review – pt.1 (new films & cinema visits)

Posted by Hedwig on December 31, 2011

I made a resolution this year: I would watch one new-to-me film a day on average, and I would write at least one sentence about every single film I saw. I managed both goals: I saw 389 films this year, of which only 12 were re-watches, and I wrote them all up here. It was a great experience, exploring both the cannon and more obscure entries, deepening my knowledge of noir, trying to acclimatize myself to horror, and getting back into the habit of writing.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely I’ll equal this achievement next year: my thesis is due around August 1st, and I don’t expect to have a lot of spare time in the next six months. Knowing this only makes me more grateful that I made the time for movies this year.

I plan to do (at least) two year in review posts. This one focuses on the new films I saw, ranking them all, and will close with some statistics about my cinema visits.

I saw 50 films this year that were released in 2011 in either the Netherlands, the USA, or both. I’ve ordered them all, partly to avoid all the disclaimers about the movies I have not watched.  I’ve coded them for easy reading: the top 10 for the Netherlands is simply the first ten movies on the list NOT including HUGO (which won’t come out here until February – I watched it while at a conference in the U.S.). For the U.S. top list, as much as I could make it with so many movies still out of my reach, focus on the red titles.

A final note before the list: these are not ordered by quality, nor even by how much I enjoyed them at the time. The order is determined primarily by how fondly I look back on a film, how many good/impressive/touching scenes I can remember, and how much I’d like to revisit it.

  1. Melancholia* (von Trier)
  2. Midnight in Paris* (Allen)
  3. Hugo* (Scorsese)
  4. Drive* (Winding Refn)
  5. La Piel Que Habito* (Almodovar)
  6. Black Swan* (Arononofsky)
  7. Pina* (Wenders)
  8. The Artist* (Hazanavicius)
  9. Carnage* (Polanski)
  10. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol* (Bird)
  11. Beginners* (Mills)
  12. Somewhere* (Coppola)
  13. Fast Five* (Lin)
  14. Super 8* (Abrams)
  15. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy* (Alfredson)
  16. 50/50* (Levine)
  17. Another Earth (Cahill)
  18. The Guard* (McDonagh)
  19. The Tree of Life* (Malick)
  20. True Grit* (Coen)
  21. X-Men: First Class* (Vaughn)
  22. Jane Eyre* (Fukunaga)
  23. Source Code* (Jones)
  24. Misterios de Lisboa* (Ruiz)
  25. Blue Valentine (Cianfrance)
  26. A Separation (Farhadi)
  27. Rise of the Planet of the Apes* (Wyatt)
  28. Captain America: the First Avenger* (Johnston)
  29. The Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn* (Spielberg)
  30. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 2 *(Yates)
  31. Winnie the Pooh (Anderson & Hall)
  32. Rango (Verbinski)
  33. Carlos (Assayas)
  34. Contagion* (Soderberg)
  35. The King’s Speech (Hooper)
  36. Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows* (Ritchie)
  37. Thor* (Branagh)
  38. Les Amours Imaginaires (Dolan)
  39. Submarine* (Ayoade)
  40. O Estrango Caso de Angelica (de Oliveira)
  41. Hanna (Wright)
  42. Easy A (Gluck)
  43. The Mechanic* (West)
  44. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn pt.1* (Condon)
  45. Colombiana* (Megaton)
  46. TRON: Legacy (Kosinski)
  47. The Tourist (Henckel von Donnersmarck)
  48. Bad Teacher (Kasdan)
  49. Unknown (Collet-Serra)
  50. Blitz (Lester)
Do I feel bad ranking the new Mission Impossible higher than the new Malick film, the widely acclaimed A SEPARATION, and BLUE VALENTINE? A bit… but I had a blast watching it.
I have more doubts about the top five, which could really be ranked in any order. HUGO was the one of the five that made me feel the most marvel, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS the one that made me laugh most, DRIVE the one that most caught me in its atmosphere, and LA PIEL QUE HABITO the one that managed to get my jaw to drop most often. I gave the edge to MELANCHOLIA, though, simply for the first ten minutes, which had me glued to my seat, practically forgetting to breathe. It’s majestic. The film after is good enough not to spoil its ranking, but the opening, set to the prelude of Tristan & Isolde by Wagner, is the highlight of the year for me. 
I do feel the need to defend the lower rankings, so here goes, top to bottom: I know THE ARTIST is the frontrunner for many of the awards, and  I enjoyed it quite a bit, but it was just a bit too superficial for me, both in its references and in its plot – while I got the tragedy of Melies in HUGO, here the main character just seems too stubborn for his own good. I liked SOMEWHERE a lot when I watched it, but it’s stayed with me less than Coppola’s other work, and I mostly remember the too pat opening and ending. I admired TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (and loved the pull-back shot Jim Emerson describes here) quite a bit, but it was a bit too dry to love, and the music choice at the end was truly baffling. The family sections of THE TREE OF LIFE were marvelous, but what I remember most is the ponderous, mumbo-jumbo-ey finale, that grasped for depth but only found picture-postcard spirituality. BLUE VALENTINE and A SEPARATION were both very honest and well-acted, but indulged in a kind of miserabilism I have little patience for – I acknowledge this is a flaw of mine, not of the movies, but that doesn’t make me like them more.  LES AMOURS IMAGINAIRES is promising, but Dolan still has some habits to unlearn, and he could trust his audience more (the resemblance of Nico to Michelangelo’s David is clear enough that it doesn’t need to be expressly pointed out, for instance).
With the latter three, there is another factor that might have played a role: I saw them at home, on my old huge CRT, instead of in the cinema. Aside from a smaller screen, it means you get distracted more easily, and immersion takes more concentration. I love that so many movies are now available for home viewing, especially the more obscure older ones, but nothing beats the big screen.
I went to the cinema 40 times this year: to all the starred titles above, but also to repertory screenings of:
  • The African Queen
  • Alien
  • The Red Shoes
  • La Strada

I meant to see more (I missed screenings of CHINATOWN and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, amongst others), because I almost always enjoy these screenings, especially if I’ve seen and loved the film before. The movie opens up, and if you no longer need to pay attention to plot, the cinematography and direction really jump out. Both THE RED SHOES and THE AFRICAN QUEEN were lensed by Jack Cardiff and wonderfully restored to their full glory.

Next post, I’ll try to give an overview of the other films I saw, trying to create a semblance of order in the 300+ assorted films.

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