Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Best of the Year So Far: Big Splashes in the CInematic Pool

2011 has already set itself apart from last year with a number of truly unqualified gems of the cinematic order. The medium continues to develop new voices that speak to us in fresh and original ways, and a number of masters have been able to find new takes to stretch the imagination as well. Here are ten favorites, presented in alphabetical order, so far (click on the title to read the full review):

The Arbor (United Kingdom): Clio Barnard’s strange experiment in documentary filmmaking follows the sad story of playwright Andrea Dunbar and the children who begot her sins. But more fascinating is Ms. Barnard’s unique style that only brings the voice in, allowing her to run wild with the visuals, truly accentuating the story in powerful ways.

Bridesmaids (United States): While suffering from some of the minor issues that all Judd Apatow films seem to carry, Bridesmaids is certainly the funniest movie of the year so far, with Kristin Wiig giving it all in a raunchy gross-out comedy with truly realized characters and a unique perspective on female friendship.

Certified Copy (France and Italy): Abbas Kiarostami’s first feature outside his native Iran asks a simple question: Why do we value the original, when the copy can be just as good? And thus Juliette Binoche and William Shimmel play a game across one afternoon that tests this premise, leading us in an insightful drama where the emotional stakes are equaled by the philosophical stakes.
Jane Eyre (United Kingdom): Not every British masterpiece needs ten film adaptations, but Cary Fukunaga’s gothic imagining of the Bronte classic adds a touch of reality and sensuality. Mr. Fukunaga’s naturalistic and ominous style bodes with atmosphere, along with the performances of Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, who speak volumes with each word. 
Meek's Cutoff

Meek’s Cutoff (United States): A stripped down neo-realistic take on the Oregon Trail, Kelly Reichardt has made her masterpiece, and a film that will be debated for ages. Hardened, claustrophobic, expertly shot, and brilliantly acted (especially Bruce Greenwood, hiding behind a gigantic beard), Meek’s Cutoff is an allegory about power and knowledge, and the boundaries (both physical and philosophical) that define those.

Of Gods and Men (France): Xavier Beauvois’ stunning work might sound like cheesy Oscar bait—a group of Christian monks debates whether to leave before a war torn Algeria implodes into religious violence—but his filmmaking style is lean and his commitment to showing the life and the dedication of these servants to God makes for many of the most breathtaking sequences of film this year. (Read a Q&A with Xavier Beauvois)

Source Code (United States): With a Hitchcockian lightness and a comic edge, Duncan Jones’ follow-up to Moon is a tightly plotted genre flick with a well-established tone. Never too serious (though a little too explained), Mr. Jones makes Source Code one of the most entertaining rides of the year. (Read a Spoiler-filled Q&A with Duncan Jones)
The Tree of Life (United States): Overly and impossibly ambitious, Terrence Malick’s fifth feature, a take on not only his own past but the entire universe as well, features a complete reinvention of the cinematic medium is how the camera can tell stories. The sections in Waco are among the best work Mr. Malick has ever done, as he takes us through the emotional and philosophical strides of Americana, in a work that is, if anything, monumental.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Tuesday After Christmas (Romania): Radu Muntean makes a splash with the latest gem from the Romanian New Wave, a moral tale about a man who must choose between his wife and his mistress. But Mr. Muntean never plays for the drama; instead, this is an often slyly comic tale about chaos and our attempts to make it seem ordinary.

Uncle Boomee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand): Puzzles within puzzles delight this strange look into the afterlife, which is less grim than magical, more bizarre than tragic. Apitchatpong Weerasethakul’s Palm D’Or winner is a unique look into the political and cultural history of Thailand through the return of one man into nature. (Read a Q&A with Apitchatpong Weerasethakul)

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