Best films I saw in 2011 (not necessarily from that year)

Note: I write this article in English, because the majority of titles are, too. Also most of my colleagues I work with and possibly read this will have no problem with it. On the other hand if it wasn’t for the epd-Film magazine I used to read, there wouldn’t be a need for writing a list like this one anyway. Wherever I could I linked the trailers or the mentioned scenes, so when I write SPOILER, it’s exactly that. Watch the films first, or don’t blame me, ok? So, without further ado, here’s my 2011 winner:

Drive

It was sort of a tie with THE TREE OF LIFE by Terrence Malick, but Nicolas Winding Refn (is that a real name?) is my winner, because he cut this one down to the bare bones of the story. Don’t get me wrong, I dig the length (and height) of TOL, but Malick is a true master already, and Refn now proved to the last doubt, that he himself is one too.

THREE of Tom Tykwer? No, come on. I don’t watch Tykwer anymore, since he was „broken“ by Franka Potente (that’s just my theory). Until WINTER SLEEPER he was my great hope for German cinema, than RUN LOLA RUN came along, and it just got worse ever since. Want to see a real movie on running? Than go and watch Benjamin Heisenberg’s (yes, this is his real name) THE ROBBER. Watch it a second time, if you want to know which was the best German language film I saw last year. That’s a German Refn-erence, so to speak. A filmmaker who knows what he is doing. No compromise. I like that.

Thinking of German cinema makes me melancholic. „But Lars von Trier is from Denmark“, you might say, but he relies heavily on German money to produce his films. Good. So at least it will be something watchable like MELANCHOLIA. Take this one on ending the world in style, Mr. Emmerich. And to all of you out there, who complain that TREE OF LIFE and MELANCHOLIA appear in the same list – yes, I happen to like both of them. In case you haven’t noticed: there are more similarities between them, than the 2001-style cosmic shots to classical music. Malick even worked with the same guy on these, Douglas Trumbull. Come on! Get over it! Von Trier is manipulating as ever, and I don’t buy the SPOILER unbelievable suicide of Kiefer Sutherland’s character – he’s a dad who loves his son as much as Brad Pitt loves his sons in TOL! Or the cheap bag of tricks beans thing to back up his philosophy in the mouth of Kirsten Dunst… oh, come on, grow up! Or what about the raging on the „religiousness“ of TOL, when he opens the movie with the blasphemy of evolution and world creation – have you even watched the film or are you just repeating the same poor complaints you’ve heard everywhere else? Oh, yes, the dinosaurs don’t look real. The don’t, but that’s not the point. Even small brains can show compassion. That’s it. /SPOILER TREE OF LIFE is more about how we learn and/or remember (or how we think to remember) things. That’s what keeping it together. No, it’s not about Religion, or how to come over the death of a beloved one, it’s about life. How it grows and comes to be what it is. And it proposes nothing else, than making the best out of it. Not like the manic depressed von trier, where everything is senseless and without meaning. Malick tells you: go out and make your own! And he tells this is great pictures, and even better editing. It’s NOT explained in the voice overs used throughout the film. Which is against expectations, I know. Watch less TV and let yourself be surprised for a change, ok?

Talking about TV – my favorite show in 2011 was TREME by David Simon and Eric Overmyer. I liked the first season, and I fell completely in love with it halfway in season 2. Why? Because it kicked in. Character development takes time. Some bombs, planted carefully over a year ago went of. It’s like in THE HURT LOCKER, you get addicted to this kind of storytelling. This series got me crying several times. Not because it was so sad, but because it really moved me inside, what I saw. Yes, it’s tough to watch sometimes, but everybody struggles with his or her demons, and if they show us anything, than this: not to give up. And what keeps us going? In one word: culture. Great music, great food, great people around us. We will survive, if great culture survives.

And there was GAME OF THRONES. Kind of LORD OF THE RINGS for adults. Well, thinking of Boromir… yeah, sorry for the obvious joke. Do I really need to say something about this great show? Well, she has our great German actress Sibel Kekilli in it. If you haven’t seen her in the masterpiece HEAD ON, go check it out. Both shows will pick up with new seasons in April, and I will be there in the front row.

But back to the movies. SHAME on me, that I interrupted my best-of-2011-films with television, just to have an excuse to properly introduce this new masterpiece of Steve McQueen. And Carey Mulligan again (she appears also in DRIVE), but here she is singing. Not very good, but that’s exactly the point, because it does to „New York, New York“ what Dennis Hopper did to „In Dreams“ in BLUE VELVET – it turns it upside down. You understand that she won’t make it here – or anywhere else for that matter. Brilliant. Touching. A song I will never include on a mix of mine, because it’s just to sad. Well done, Mr. McQueen, and I never liked the original in the first place… but the score and music are beautiful in this film.

Special mention of the year: Gary Oldman’s glasses in TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY – Until this film I never noticed glasses in the same way, like they are presented here.

My favorite animated film was by far THE ILLUSIONIST by Sylvain Chomet after a script by my hero Jacques Tati. If you haven’t seen the film of the same title with Edward Norton, check it out, it’s an entertaining watch. But this one breaks my heart. It has Tati written all over it, and I love it.

Most memorable performance by an actress was Jennifer Lawrence’s in WINTER’S BONE by Debra Granik. I’ll never forget that face. See? That’s exactly why I’ve never been to the US and probably never will. We all know it’s exactly like in the movies we grew up with…

Best performance by a male actor was Christoph Waltz in CARNAGE by Roman Polanski. What an asshole! But great fun to watch – his smile is carved in stone.

One moment I’ll never forget (DOUBLE SPOILER!!) is Jeremy Renner in THE TOWN, who takes a sip from a milkshake somebody dropped on the floor, just moments before he faces his end. That’s a big, epic moment, and it breaks my heart how he plays it. Thanks to Mr. Affleck, who should stay behind the camera, and put his brother in front of it, like in GONE BABY GONE – that’s how things should be. Oh, and Pete Postlethwaite was fantastic, too. One of his last performances. Never to be forgotten.

What else? Well, I enjoyed THE KING’S SPEECH, PAUL, HANNA, HEREAFTER, CONTAGION, THE OTHER GUYS, THE KILLER INSIDE ME, TINTIN, BREAKING BAD and TRUE GRIT. But talking of the Cohen Brothers: I enjoyed discovering Preston Sturges because of them. Check out the masterpiece SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS and you’ll get to know the origin of the title O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU, if you didn’t already anyway. Great films, and even better scripts. You need to read them to catch all the jokes – that’s how dense everything is there.

Missing something? BLACK SWAN? Are you kidding me? Go watch THE RED SHOES by Michael Powell and shut up. I don’t watch Aronofsky anymore, never got warm with him… THE WRESTLER maybe… I remember seeing PI which I wanted to like so hard – but there was nothing in there for me, just hints, no substance. And it’s been that way for me ever since. Feel free to like him, but please consider to compare him to true masters as Sturges or Powell. Enough said.

Talking about disappointments: BOARDWALK EMPIRE is overrated – I’m not getting caught by it at all. I don’t feel a thread by Steve Buscemi as villain here… and it’s so much like MAD MEN, just not with the 60ies as historical backdrop, but the 20ies, and gangsters instead of advertisers. Even the female lead is similar in both – modern, smart women in a world that is not ready for them yet. Sorry, I’ll wait for season five of MAD MEN instead. I do appreciate the look and feel of it though. But I’ll never forgive what HBO did to Thelma Schoonmaker’s cut of the pilot. No wonder she’s only mentioned as „consultant“ after they butchered her pace and style, with over-editing back and forth… it’s a shame. The later episodes were better than the pilot. Editing wise that is.

The other big disappointment is a German one called DREILEBEN. Three directors, three movies linked by the same event and the same place. Great idea, but executed poorly. Just the middle one by Dominik Graf stands out, because as usual he is taking some risks. Forget about it anyway.

So finally I want to mention SUBMARINE by Richard Ayoade of IT-CROWD fame. A directorial debut, wisely executed, great cast, great DP, great music, and an excellent sense for what he was doing. Very well done, enjoyed it very, very much.

That’s it. I forgot plenty, that’s for sure. But I am tired and have to go to bed.

Thanks for reading and watching if you made it this far.

Films on my list to watch in 2012:
1) HALT AUF FREIER STRECKE by Andreas Dresen, a truly great German director.
2) The new films by Wes Anderson and Jacques Audiard. Hooray!

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