The Ten Best Movies Of 2011

1. The Tree Of Life

It isn't always for me to call a movie a "masterpiece" or "great" but Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life is just that - a mosaic of a film that tests an audiences limitations but more importantly the cinematic medium's limitations. No matter what faults you may have with Malick's movie, you cannot deny the sheer chutzpah and originality that went into its creation. There has never really been anything quite like it and I highly doubt there ever will be. Malick tries to transcend the boundaries of life itself by trying to find a kind of meaning that can possibly bind us with a higher power. His search is for transcendence, in the little moments that make and shape us. Death, morning, rebirth, transcendence are just a fraction of the themes being tackled here, suffice to say I don't think the Transformers 3 crowd will very warm up to the film's non linear narrative and constant use of abstract shapes and colors representing a kind of big bang.

2. Drive

Drive is not a perfect movie but it has all the traits and reasons that had us watch movies in the first place. Or at least the majority of us. It's a violently artsy action picture that doesn't meander to a particular audience. It has a way of being unique and uncompromising in its visionary dreaming. It knows what it wants to be from the get go and goes along with it. Its 100 minutes zip by like a bursting fuel drag-racing at night & Gosling -along with an incredibly villainous Albert Brooks and a heartbreaking Bryan Cranston- brings a kind of coolness that lacks in most pictures these days. By the time The Driver puts on his stunt mask and makes all hell breaks loose in the film's over the top but scattering finale, it is clear that Drive is a movie that can haunt your dreams.

3. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Grasping a film such as this one may require some major attention from the viewer himself and even when the attention is there, frustration may come about as a result of the film's abstractedness and non-linear narrative. This is all not so surprising when you consider Apichatpong Weerasethakul's filmography and his constant acknowledgment of nature and the way it binds to us as human beings. Have I lost you yet? snoozing? That's how some folks might react when watching Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Coming out of the screening I attended earlier last year, there was a kind of head scratching vibe in the air. It was as if Weerasethakul's film had not only confused to the general public as to its overall praise but actually angered them in frustration with what they had witnessed. After all, a word of caution is always necessary before going into any of his films, because this is really the definition of an art film, capital A in art of course. I dug it for the its mystery and its dream like tendencies.

4. Melancholia

Melancholia isn't a film for everyone but it is a thinker's movie. Love it or hate it, there is something that is being said here. Von Trier might be a madman but he's not an idiot. He is an auteur first and foremost and attention does need to be paid. In fact this would be a very interesting companion piece to 2011's best movie, Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life - two totally different works of art but both statements about human nature and creation itself. The second half is incredibly hypnotic. The apocalypse is here and yet Justine's sister Christine is told by her oblivious husband -a playful Kiefer Sutherland- that she need not worry, nothing is coming and the mysterious planet Melancholia will just bypass earth. Dunst -knowing death is near- starts coming off her depression and Christine knowing death is near starts going into depression. It's a brilliant switcheroo that proves to us Von Trier has not lost his ability to be a real thinker. He knows how to manipulate then hit his audience hard. His images are memorable and his film a complete work of art.

5. Incendies

Canada's official entry for this year's Best Foreign Picture Oscar is a masterwork of visual and narrative storytelling. It is about family, tradition and the new world order. Directed by Quebec's Denis Villeneuve, here's a film that transcends its ambitions and becomes an incredible experience for the viewer. Featuring one of the better twist endings of the past 10 years of movies.

6. Bellflower

A general theme of my top ten list this year is explaining the unexplainable. Some of these films are too hard to explain yet resonate deeply. In Bellflower director Evan Glodell has made a shamelessly relentless pop masterpiece. As Two friends spend all their free time building flame-throwers and weapons of mass destruction in hopes that a global apocalypse will occur and clear the runway for their imaginary gang "Mother Medusa". Yet one of them falls in love and then the girl breaks his heart, what he feels afterwards is the definition of the apocalypse. Glodell wants to show us just how apocalyptic a broken heart can be and just how our hero loses track of himself in the process . The images don't always make sense and the ambiguous ending only adds to the frustration, yet Bellflower is a beauty for that very reason. it stands alone in a sea of Hollywood muck as a true visionary work that will get more fans as the years go along.

7. The Skin I Live In

Disappointment was met with Pedro Almodvar's latest yet there were a few - like Glenn Kenny and myself included- that felt like this was prime Almodovar. No kidding. The Skin I Live In was a hell of a ride that had more twists per minute than any other movie last year. Yes it was trashy but it was trash made with resonance, feeling and -above all else- real elegance. Antonio Banderas' plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, creates a woman that pleases his fantasies and urges. His guinea pig: a mysterious and dangerous patient that has secrets we the audience do not know about and are scared to find out. The eventa that binds both of these tortured souls are the true heart of the picture. Featuring one of the best twist endings I've seen in a good, long while. A film that would make one hell of a great double feature with Chan-Wook's Park's Oldboy, Almodovar dares us to go along for the ride like a true master of his craft. Go with it.

8. Source Code

In Duncan Jones' followup to Moon -a great 2009 movie- Jake Gyllenhall is a dead American Soldier who's brain is used to go back in time and find clues as to where a terrorist might be. It doesn't help he has to repeat the same 8 minutes throughout the whole film in a train, which has the said terrorist as a passenger. Have you lost me yet? Don't worry. Jones infuses his movie with enough smarts and entertainment to justify its mediocre third act. Here's a film that not only trusts its audience but rewards it with some extra high octane action in the process. Gyllenhall's Captain Colter Stevens does not really know where he is yet he keeps getting transported back in time to the same event. Think Groundhog Day meets Minority Report and you might see what Jones is aiming for here. I doubt there was a smarter, more visually appealing big studio action film out there. Source Code is the kind of layered science fiction I like best; brainy and entertaining.

9) Margaret 

 Margaret" is an absolute masterpiece. It's thematically going for the tone of a grandiose opera, but in a modern day context, filtered through the emotions of a teenage girl in association with a tragedy. It expresses the emotional teenage mind-set like no other. Every performance is astounding and every character it so compelling and fully-realized. I would compare it to the likes of "Requiem for a Dream," "Magnolia," "There Will Be Blood," "Synecdoche, New York," "The Tree of Life," and other movies that tell sprawling emotional melodramas that just hook you in and don't let you go. If you're into that kind of thing, this is for you. There's no doubt in my mind that if this movie hadn't been tangled up in lawsuits years ago, it would have been a huge Oscar contender and Anna Paquin surely would be winning tons of awards for her performance. It's such a shame that a movie of this size and scope was overlooked.


10. Bridesmaids 

Bridesmaids tried to bring humane femininity to a multiplex lacking in it. Of course there's pussy jokes and a hilarious, disgusting wedding dress sequence but what The Hangover 2 lacked in human emotions Bridesmaids more than makes up for it in its witty, keenly written script by Wiig and Annie Mumolo. Bridesmaids has a contemporary freshness that brings it all the way home. No wonder it made more than 100 million dollars at the box office and has become a critical darling. Enough with the artificial numbers. Feig's film was a competition between the maid of honor and the bridesmaid, a roaringly funny rivalry that made me laugh more than anything else in 2011. Movies like these are far and few but when they do show up they really feel like one thing and one thing only; a breath of fresh.

11. The Lincoln Lawyer, Brad Furman

12. Limitless, Neil Burger

13. A Better Life, Chris Weitz

14. Pariah, Dee Rees

15. Hugo, Martin Scorsese

16. Like Crazy, Drake Doremus

17. Terri, Azazel Jacobs

18. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, David Fincher

19. Policeman, Nadav Lapid

20. Cafe De Flore, Jean-Marc Vallee

21. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Rupert Wyatt

22. War Horse, Steven Spielberg

23. Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami

A note on "21 Jump Street"

★★★ (R)

Every once in a while a comedy can actually work and make you laugh. For me it happens only a few times a year. Last year we had Paul Feig's delirious Bridesmaids in previous years we've had stuff like There's Something About Mary, Meet The Parents, The Hangover, Wedding Crashers, The 40 Year Old Virgin .. You know, comedy that actually works and doesn't need to be deep or full of substance but just really fun. The already mentioned films became mini phenomenon's of sort as word of mouth usually quickly spreads like gangbusters on these movies and they eventually become big, well deserved hits. Anyways to put a long story short, the newly released 21 Jump Street is that kind of movie. It's a game changer. The jokes work, the actors are perfectly cast and the script is insanely fun. Oh and check out that absurd cameo near the end of the movie. Just don't take it too seriously, this isn't the second coming or a high work of art it's just pure, brainless fun with incredibly well-timed jokes. I just wish they had cut first ten minutes and the last ten which were really not needed and didn't add up to much in the end. But what am I being a douche for, this is fun stuff that has -deservedly so- made a splash at the box office. No Kidding.

The strange life of Robert Crumb

Terry Zwigoff's documentary on the profanely controversial underground comic artist Robert Crumb is both amusing and disturbing. Crumb is not a person that one would call average or of normality. He is a man that has real distaste for the people around him and the perceived craziness that is his surroundings. He's Kinda right. He sees the plastic-ism that has made us into an industry and his comic art - groundbreaking stuff- has made him known for his uncompromising vision. He draws his own traumas and fantasies with relentless assault. He doesn't compromise nor is he afraid to shock. Women's rights groups have called a jihad on his ass and his haters are peeved off. For good reason. His views on women in his art can be qualified as sexist by some but I would call it honest. He draws what's on his mind, his honesty is his therapy especially when you realize where he's come from. His sisters refused to get interviewed for the documentary but his two brothers take the test. Especially Charles, who strips himself naked on camera as we slowly, inch by inch uncover deep, dark secrets about the Crumb's childhood. A manic depressive that rarely takes showers and is on high dosages of medication Charles is an incredibly disturbing sight to see, a kind of underground vision of an American life gone bad.

Robert is the lucky one and has gotten fame through the art that Charles taught him at childhood. Robert refuses to sell out, even with lucrative six figure offers coming to him. He's one of the few undisputed talents that hasn't sold himself out. His art speaks for itself. Stories so ridiculous yet so brilliantly satirical they sting. His women drawn sensually and dominantly, all with big thighs and other particularly original traits that need to be seen. He was bullied as a kid and drawing was his way of getting back. He took revenge on the bullies and the women that rejected him through his drawings. The autobiographical aspect of his work brings a new meaning to personal artistic statements. The film may have a repetitive flow to it at times but it springs surprises that sting. Crumb is the true definition of a maverick and definitely not what Sarah Palin's dictionary would define that word as.

Better late than never ...

My 20 or so favorites of 2011. I know it's coming a bit too late but I really tried to watch everything that was worthwhile. Commentary should be included very soon and so will other neat stuff. In the meantime, this is a rough sketch of how it looks like.

01. The Tree Of Life (Terrence Malick)
02. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
03. Melancholia (Lars Von Trier)
04. Uncle Boonmee (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
05. Bellflower (Glodell/Dawson)
06. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar)
07. Source Code (Duncan Jones)
08. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
09. Bridesmaids (Paul Feig)
10. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)
11. A Better Life (Chris Weitz)
12. Limitless (Neil Burger)
13. Policeman (Nadav Lapid)
14. The Lincoln Lawyer (Brad Furman)
15. Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
16. Terri (Azazel Jacobs)
17. Cafe De Flore (Jean Marc Vallee)
18. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (Ruper Wyatt)
19. War Horse (Steven Spielberg)
20. Moneyball (Benneth Miller)

Project X

If Project X proves anything it's that there still is a place for a raunchy, coming of age, immature movie in the movies today. Albeit it also proves how films like Road Trip and Old School got it right the first time out and there didn't really need to be any other follow-ups to these frat-brat classics. Project X -no matter how badly written, directed and acted it might be- can sometimes be a real guilty pleasure to watch. There isn't a boob missed, a shot of rum not taken or a hell bent teenager not seen. Hell you can't call this high art but it is nevertheless a diverting experience for the most part - a teenage parent's true worst nightmare on full display. A film like Project X is rarely something that should be accepted in theatres. It's rude, profane, ridiculously conceived and doesn't have much in the way of plot of character. You might feel dirty for semi-liking it once the credits start rolling but what the hell, you only live once.

Lately the trend for movies involving coming of age teenagers has been the use of hand-held camera. I'm thinking of last month's underrated Chronicle or even the teenage film lovers from last year's excitable Super 8. It's almost like it's a cool thing now for a movie to have hand-held. The protagonists in Project X are being filmed by a friend we never see, he just loves his camera and to film his buddies as they try to up their street cred in High School by throwing the biggest party imaginable. This isn't a party like any other and -for a moment there- you feel like you're right in the heat of the action. The party, which was supposed to be of decent size, goes viral all the way to craig's list in fact, and there ends up being close to 1500 people by the end of the night. A real big recipe for disaster. There are midgets, nudity, next door neighbor complaints, cops, sex, drugs and -well duh- skinny dipping. It all doesn't add up to much and once the party starts shutting down the movie goes MIA and loses its grip but then again did we expect much from this movie in the first place?


✭✭✭ 1/2

American Beauty
Being John Malkovich
The Blair Witch Project
Boy's Don't Cry
Bringing Out The Dead
Eyes Wide Shut
Fight Club
The Insider
The Limey
The Sixth Sense
Summer Of Sam
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Toy Story 2


Office Space
American Pie
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
The Green Mile
The Iron Giant
Man On The Moon
The Matrix
The Dreamlife Of Angels
South Park: Bigger, Longer And Uncut
Three Kings
The Hurricane
All About My Mother
Arlington Road

✭✭ 1/2

Analyze This
Blast From the Past
Blue Streak
Deuce Bigalow Male Gigolo
Galaxy Quest
Double Jeopardy
Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai
Holy Smoke
Mystery Men
Run Lola Run
Never Been Kissed
True Crime


Bicentennial Man
Big Daddy
End Of Days
The Mummy
The Ninth Gate
Sleepy Hollow
Star Wars: Episode I
The Straight Story
The Out-Of-Towners
The Winslow Boy
Stir of Echoes
The Boondock Saints

Any Given Sunday
The Deep End Of The Ocean
The Story Of Us
Detroit Rock City
The World is Not Enough
She's All That

David Gordon Green's strange career

My oh my how the mighty have fallen. Just around 12 years ago a total no name of a director David Gordon Green debuted his first feature film George Washington to wide and -albeit over the top- acclaim. The film, about a group of rural urban kids in a the mid-west who try to cover up a tragic mistake, even made Roger Ebert's Top Ten List that year and had people comparing Green as a sort of up and coming Terrence Malick-like talent. The follow-up just 3 years ago was All The Real Girls which pitted Zooey Deschanel and Paul Schneider as shot struck lovers in -again- a rural mid western town. It also got great reviews and further advanced word that Green was the next Malick. What with the way he would shoot a particular scene and explore the deepest and simplest parts our very nature. Pretty deep stuff and incredibly artsy too. Gordon Green followed that one up with another simple slice of life Undertow and finished off this incredible run of praised films with Snow Angels in 2008- a scathing and dark look at the dark underlinings of a small town, the film was filled with divorce, murder, a lost child, adultery and a desperate stalker. It's a knockout of a movie that only grew better with repeat viewings.

This is where Gordon Green started to make our heads scratch. He followed Snow Angels with Pineapple Express. I'll admit it a good, funny, memorable movie but definitely not something I ever thought Green would end up doing ditto the follow-up which was the much less successful Your Highness. Yea you heard right Your Highness, a film that made my worst of .. list last year and represented career lows for all involved including Nathalie Portman and James Franco. A trend was starting to show. The "stoner movie". Gordon Green has resorted to making raunchy, stoner movies that don't have anything at all to do with his first four subtle feature films.

His latest came out just a few months ago. The Sitter is mindless, brainless fun yet we expected so much more from him. In it a newly thin Jonah Hill has one messed up, crazy night accompanied by these little brats that try to spoil the party. Of course drugs is involved so are other illegal activities. Yet where are the handprints that first made Gordon Green such a hot commodity in the indie circuit? Has he sold out? Should we even blame him for going to the other side? It's such a strange turnaround for a career that promised so much in the way of artistic prowess. I haven't given up, especially since Gordon Green is just a mere 37 years old, and this odd career is -I'm sure- only going to spring up more surprises.

An Image

If ever there was a film director that has created endless, unforgettable, surreal images in cinema it's Jean Cocteau. Take for example his film Orphee loosely based on the story of Orpheus, an incredibly strange journey into a dark, twisted world created by Cocteau. I wasn't too sure what was happening half the time but the images and story structure here are remarkably done, so's the crisp black and white cinematography. Not a movie for all tastes but a real treat for cinephiles.