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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Cave of Forgotten Dreams – Werner Herzog is a one-of-a-kind documentarian, but, even for him, this haunting essayistic meditation on the 32,000-year-old caves in Chauvet, France, is a departure. It's his first film in 3-D and rarely has the process, which brings out the roiling muscularity of the prehistoric cave paintings, been better employed.Skip to next paragraph
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The Descendants – It's been seven long years since Alexander Payne's "Sideways," but this quietly compassionate film makes the wait (almost) worth it. George Clooney, playing a Hawaiian real estate lawyer who must cope with a tragic situation and two unruly daughters, gives one of the least star-struck performances ever by a major star.
Into the Abyss – Werner Herzog again. He states upfront in this capital punishment documentary centering on a series of small-town Texas murders that he is opposed to the death penalty. Few films about this controversial subject, however, have been as searching or exploratory or as generous to the voices of the victims.
Win Win – You might think you've seen your share of movies starring Paul Giamatti as a shlubby malcontent. The marvel, though, is that each time out he reinvents the wheel. Here he plays a good man whose moral lapses lead him down a dubious byway. After "The Descendants," this Tom McCarthy-directed drama is the year's best funny-sad movie.
Certified Copy – When I first saw Abbas Kiarostami's fantasy-reality drama I was dazzled but also a bit wary. Fantasy-reality movies, even ones starring Juliette Binoche, have a way of seeming silly in retrospect. This one only deepens in the memory.
Rejoice & Shout – A full-scale documentary about the history of American gospel music was long overdue. Producer Joe Lauro and director Don McGlynn offer up acres of astonishing footage and have the good taste oftentimes to let the music play out in full and not in snippets.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy –The cold war may be (sort of) dead but John le Carré's close-to-the-vest spy George Smiley is very much alive in this complexly compelling adaptation by the Swedish director Tomas Alfredson. It won't replace the Alec Guinness BBC miniseries, but it can stand beside it.
In addition to the films favorably mentioned in the intro to my 10-best list, here are a few others about which there is lots to like: "In Darkness," "Nostalgia for the Light," "Weekend," and "Hey Boo: Harper Lee & 'To Kill A Mockingbird.' "