Filmbalaya’s Top 15 Films of 2011

Well, folks, it’s about that time again.  The new year has come, and it is up to us to tell you what the best movies were last year because, let’s face it, we’d hate to force you to think for yourself.  We tried to do this as objectively as we possibly could, and, in using the scientific method, employed such tools as our trusty alembic, abacus, and many systems of levers and pulleys to finally arrive at the definite conclusions presented below. Make sure to comment and let us know what you think!

The Artist

The Artist is pure film making.  A silent film about the end of silent films.  Michel Hazanavicius‘ self aware movie is a tribute to the end of an era.  His direction is masterful as the films’ dramatic story is heartfelt yet will make you laugh out loud without a seconds notice.  Jean Dujardin and Missi Pyle are phenomenal and Dujardin picked up the Best Actor award at Cannes for his performance.  If you are a filmmaker or a fan of film history, The Artist is a must see.

Carnage

Great acting, directing, and writing aren’t always enough, but with the team behind Carnage it would have been extremely difficult not to make an extraordinary film.  Roman Polanski directs Jodie FosterKate WinsletChristoph Waltz and John C. Reilly in the adaptation of  Yasmina Reza‘s God Of Carnage.  The plot is simple: two couples meet to discuss an altercation that occurred between their sons in the school yard; what happens next, however, is not.  As the couples’ insecurities start to come out, their polite facades are quickly abandoned and chaos ensues.  The film is over-the-top hilarious yet it plays on emotional conflictions that we all have.  Although not a horror or suspense film, I would have no problem counting this as the fourth installment of Polanski’s apartment series as it is also focused on the stress and anxiety of city living.

Drive

The whole feel of drive is as if Stanley Kubrick rose from the grave to direct the screen adaption of popular video game Grand Theft Auto. Drive is a poem composed of love, graphic violence, fast cars, and an awesome jacket. Director Nicolas Winding Refn brings the beauty of an “art house” film into the action/suspense genre and by doing so he has created one of the best films of the year. The film stars Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan with brilliant support from Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman.

In Heaven Underground

I am always amazed when a documentary about such a simple subject as a place can be so moving and leave me so emotional.  That is not to say that a place is necessarily simple, of course, as this film more than proves.  In Himmel, unter der Erde perfectly displays this, and in such a beautiful style.

The film centers around the Weißensee Jewish Cemetery in Berlin, a cemetery founded in 1870 and which survived World War II by some stroke of fate – the Allies’ bombing of Berlin actually damaged it more than the Nazis did.  Throughout the ages, it has gone from mass amounts of wealthy burials to relative disrepair, during Second World War and the resulting socialist DDR regime.  The cemetery’s history is thoroughly discussed, but what is captivating is not the location itself, but the people who are shown and their personal connections to it, as well as their connections to the tragic history of the European Jewish Diaspora. Full review…

Into The Abyss

…what Herzog does with Into The Abyss is he gives the death penalty a human face.  He interviews everyone involved with the death penalty – the two murderers (one of whom is to be executed, the other has a life sentence), the relatives of the victims, the police officers, a Texas executioner, etc.  This film will very likely not alter your opinion of the death penalty – but you will not leave the theater without being forced to consider very deeply the human aspect of executions, and of death overall.  While this film does revolves around a triple homicide and the resulting incarceration and execution, even more does it peer into the casket of death, and force us to look at how death affects everybody. Full review…

Kid With A Bike

Fantastic.

This film presents itself in as unassuming a way as its title – subdued in tone and seemingly so as well in scope. But underneath its exterior lies a very intense, human story of a child at risk of becoming lost.

The story is rather simple: a child is abandoned by his last family members, goes into a foster home, is more or less adopted by a hairdresser, and becomes involved with the darker sides of society which are so alluring and welcoming to the down-and-out. But the way the film is portrayed is what allows it to shine – that is, the directors feel no need to hurry and drill into our skulls that this film is a story. There is no senseless verbal exposition. Rather, the characters are allowed to breathe. Full review…

The Last Circus

Finally, a film to shatter all notions that clowns can only be seen as entertainment for the kiddies, or creepy costumed figures whose sole purpose for existing to scare the shit out of me.

I’m inclined to describe this film as a mash-up of Sam Raimi‘s often overlooked Darkman meets Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight meets Tod Browning‘s Freaks, but none of those comparisons even come close to describing the wonderful lunacy that is the world of Alex de la Iglesia‘s The Last Circus.  This film is not only one of the best good clown vs. bad clown revenge/comedy/romance films of 2011, but will most likely be on my top 25 best films of the decade come 2019.

Le Havre

“I heard about your husband. My condolences.”
“What for? He was a fatalist.”

This is what cinema is about.

Aki Kaurismäki is a singularly unique filmmaker. He is a master of tone, and the tone in “Le Havre” is so complicated and beautiful which adds further to the excellence of the film. It is full of counterpoint, that old concept adapted to film by Eisenstein and perfected by Kurosawa – but the counterpoint in this film goes further than just sound to image. It also is stylized so heavily, with such bright, vibrant colors, which contrasts with the often dark themes. This darkness itself contrasts with the charming and wittiness which the film is full of. Full review…

Melancholia

An extremely depressed newlywed, Kirsten Dunst, becomes a burden on her sisters family as a planet approaches on a collision course with earth in Lars von Trier‘s anything but happy film Melancholia. However depressing the film may be, it’s also refreshing to see this subject tackled in an artistic manner as opposed the Hollywood version where an elite team of specialist would somehow manage to save the planet. Melancholia instead looks at what a normal family might be going through while the future of the human race is jeopardized by forces it can’t control.

Midnight In Paris

Midnight in Paris might be Woody Allen‘s first great comedy in decades but it was worth the wait. The film follows an author (Owen Wilson) on an unexpected journey through different eras in Paris’ history. As he travels through the years and meets some of histories most eccentric and hilarious characters, he tries to find validation of his book and meaning in his life. Midnight in Paris is a surreal, intelligent comedy that’s as entertaining as it is meaningful.

Miss Bala

It is no wonder director, Gerardo Naranjo‘s fictional account of a very urgent non-fictional situation currently taking place in Mexico is the country’s official submission into this year’s Oscars for Best Foreign Picture, and for good reason too.

Shot mostly from an intimate over the shoulder viewpoint, this film gracefully dragged me through the turbulent muck currently being caused by the Mexican drug cartels, and the murderous corruption found within the country’s government.
The film follows a Tijuana beauty pageant hopeful, played brilliantly by the beautiful Stephanie Sigman, as she becomes swept up in the chaos of the drug cartels.  The execution of suspense and dread are rarely as cinematically rewarding as they were in Miss Bala.

The Muppets

I had never seen a Muppets movie in my life until now and I must say that I’m now a huge fan. I was skeptical at first as I really dislike most made for family movies (I even tend to dislike fun or happy movies in general,) but I loved this movie. The jokes never missed and the songs and dance bits were spot on.  In fact, this is by far my favorite Jason Segel and Amy Adams film (that will change next year when PTA’s The Master comes out.)  I never thought I would say this, but The Muppets is the best pure comedy film of the year so far.

Of Gods and Men

Des Hommes et Des Dieux is a very unique film.  The more I reflect upon it the more I realize I have never seen anything like it, and the closest similarity I can conjure is very little like it – Cimino’s The Deer Hunter.  The similarity is one of storytelling style; they both allow you to live with the characters on screen, creating a sort of emotional bond to them.

The film takes place in the late 1990‘s, in Algeria, around the start of the brutal Algerian Civil War, and centers around a monastery.  The monks each have unique personalities, and the acting brings them alive.   Music is used in this film almost to denote chapters, and is exclusively monastic chanting with two exceptions.  One of them is near the beginning, when we see Koranic chanting, which draws a beautiful contrast between this monastic song, and paves the way for a continuous investigation of the main cultures – Muslim extremist, Muslim religious, Muslim secular, and Christian monk; this contrast is continuously cultivated throughout.  The other is Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”, and this sudden use of ominous music and the placement creates one of the most emotionally intense scenes I have ever seen. Full review…

Shame

This powerful, sad film shows us a man’s (Michael Fassbender) struggle with sexual addiction. This struggle is amplified when his younger sister (Carey Mulligan) shows up and needs a place to stay.  Once his privacy is taken away from him, his stress level sky rockets and he is forced to find other ways of dealing with his addiction and trying to remain sane.  Fassbender gives a powerful performance and Mulligan is great with what little screen time she has.  Director Steve McQueen is someone film fans should keep and eye on.

The Tree of Life

I’ll start this bluntly: the Tree of Life is one of the best films I have ever seen.

Terrence Malick is a unique artist, and displays his filmmaking ability with absolute control. This film, if you allow it, will remove your ability to think and replace it with complete domination of your emotions, allowing you to, for some time, live through it. It is a great achievement in world cinema.

The Tree of Life uses the medium of cinema in a way that few directors have ever done – he allows it to be a format for creating a work of art; a great canvas, if you will, to create a piece of self-expression. He has full mastery of the primary elements of film and uses them to the limit of their potential.  As brushes, he uses image and sound and juxtaposition are his brushstrokes. He recognizes that a plot needs not be a burden to a work – the plot is and should be subservient to the work as a whole. This isn’t to say that the film is plotless, but it is sprinkled over the work as an integral seasoning is applied to a recipe. The seasoning is necessary to create the specific taste desired, but is just one of many flavors. Full review/essay…

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Categories: Best Of Lists

2 Comments on “Filmbalaya’s Top 15 Films of 2011”

  1. January 25, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    its always great to see a promising suggestion .. nice post

  2. shinkisarang5
    October 31, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    awesome, I’m definitely watching a couple 🙂

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