The best films of 2011
Monitor film critic, Peter Rainer, remembers the hundreds of movies he watched in 2011, and highlights his favorites ... and some he thought were overrated.
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The lesson here: If you're making movies about the "real" world, it's tough to compete with the real world. Maybe this is why there were blessedly fewer films this year about the Wall Street meltdown. One of them, "Margin Call," wasn't bad, but who wants to see yet another movie about this stuff while we are still soldiering through the wreckage? (Probably the best movie about the money culture, "Moneyball," wasn't about Wall Street at all.)Skip to next paragraph
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I would have wished for more first-rate family-entertainment films this year, but at least the Muppet franchise got a boost and "Hugo" had its moments and "Arthur Christmas" was a 3-D delight. There were slightly fewer male-bonding slobbola comedies than in recent years, maybe because Seth Rogen has decided to go soulful. Women, however, are starting to take up the slack. I'm not sure "Bridesmaids" is the big feminist breakthrough so many are claiming for it. So now women can be as raucously disgusting as the guys? Yippee.
And speaking of breakthroughs, I'm not in the cheering section for likely Oscar front-runner "The Artist," a faux silent movie, sweet but innocuous, that peddles its charm with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. And Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" got a free pass from most critics because it was, well, directed by Terrence Malick. Larded with high-toned philosophic voice-overs that wouldn't pass muster in a college dorm bull session, this impeccably shot movie stirred rural anomie, urban anomie, the origins of the planet, and dinosaurs into a mélange resembling nothing so much as a World's Fair family-of-man documentary gone berserk.
With all this high art and low art gumming up the screens, I was grateful, as always, for the documentaries. Nothing like a good documentary to provide a reality check. There were fine films about a gentle-souled horse whisperer ("Buck"), a spirited gaggle of inner-city high school poets ("To Be Heard"), Neapolitan musicmaking ("Passione"), shellshocked journalists in war zones ("Under Fire: Journalists in Combat"), neighborhood violence mediators ("The Interrupters"), and a fanatically adept Steinway piano engineer ("Pianomania").
And now, let the superlatives begin!
A Separation – Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's powerful drama is a prime example of how a small-scale domestic crisis can stand as a microcosm for a much larger crisis within society. The film inexorably gathers force until the full range of human interaction seems to play itself out before our eyes.
Of Gods and Men – Xavier Beauvois's drama is about a band of Cistercian monks in the Algerian mountains in the 1990s who must decide whether or not to flee their monastery after Islamist militants have invaded the area. A film of almost supernal grace, it closes with a sequence I will never forget, as the monks share a makeshift Last Supper while Tchaikovsky's grand theme from "Swan Lake," a favorite piece of music, plays on the Victrola.
Like Crazy – Few movies have expressed as well the thrills and anxiety of young love, or the disappointments and weariness and sadness that often come with its dissolution. Director Drake Doremus and his stars Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin all come into their own here.