Sunday, January 8, 2012

David Salazar's Top Films of 2011: Honorable Mentions

2012 is 1 week old and it's time to look back on last year's best films, in my opinion. If I could use one word to describe this year in film it would be "nostalgia." There were certainly forward looking films, but in many of the risks taken in film making were a product of this nostalgia. As I prepared to make my lists, I was surprised by how this idea or theme permeated the films in either its subject, theme, or even formal use.

Let me throw off a disclaimer if you will, opinions are ever changing with regards to art and what I think one day, will inevitably change over the time as I watch and experience films that I did not get a chance to watch to this point. I obviously did not get to watch all 600 films from this year, but I certainly watched a strong enough portion that I feel confident in making this assessment. I've also decided to do this more so for the fun of how I felt at this moment than any intention to crystallize what people should think, etc. More importantly, the intention here is not simply to impose my opinion, but simply to start a conversation and see how others feel and how my list compares to others'.

So I will kick it off with my honorable mentions in this post, which include 5. Here they are in alphabetical order:

"Beginners" Directed by Mike Mills

The film starts with an ending and ends with a beginning. Homosexuality and Hetereosexuality are juxtaposed throughout. Death and Life permeate the story and eventually intertwine. The film is both depressing and warm and uplifting in its output. I do not believe that there was a film that I saw this year that thrived on the idea of contradiction the way this one did and still end up as satisfying as it was. Add in a tremendous performance by Christopher Plummer (who should strike Oscar Gold) and strong support from Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent, plus energetic direction from Mike Mills and you have one of the most intriguing "small" films of the year.

"Drive" Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn

Winding Refn is going to have a long career regardless of whether he accepts Hollywood or stays away. Recent interviews suggest the latter and I believe that it is certainly the right call. With "Drive," Refn showed Hollywood that he  could follow its formula, but with no restraints. "Drive" takes no prisoners (literally and figuratively) and cements itself as an individual work of art on personality alone. The story is rather slim, but Refn's pacing, both stretching and moving the plot, his fantastic visuals, his use of 1980s' music more than make up for it. However, his greatest weapon is Ryan Gosling who he unleashes in one of the most fearless and strange performances from the Canadian Superstar.

Here is a link to my Review.

"Incendies" Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Sure it was nominated for the 2010 Foreign Film Oscar, but this film was released in 2011 so I will be counting it as such. "Incendies" is a French-Canadian film set in Middle East and Canada about two children attempting to discover the identity of their long lost father and a brother they never knew they had after their mother has died. The film is convoluted in many respects and its jagged structure may seem like too much at times, but there is no doubting that this film delivers with tremendous performances all around, technical bravura through and through, and a tremendous twist that leaves you fixated on the film long after it has ended.

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" Directed by Rupert Wyatt

After a list of sequels that could not live up to the fine quality of the original, and dreadful remake, many felt that this latest attempt at the Apes franchise was a joke at best. Why drag the corpse around any longer? Fortunately Wyatt and a strong team, including Weta Digital and Andy Serkis created one of the most memorable films of the year. Serkis is the highlight to be sure as he carries the film in a CG performance that trumps his work as King King and even Gollum from the "Lord of the Rings." When was the last time a CG character felt so real, in fact, more real than the humans around him? This film is not only a testament as to where digital performances can go, but to Andy Serkis' brilliance.

"War Horse" Directed by Steven Spielberg

"War Horse" is one of those films that lives and breathes nostalgic for Hollywood's Golden Age of Filmmaking. It is an epic film if there ever was one, and it delivers on all the front it certainly promises to deliver on. There are some creaks in the film's structure and a few contrivances here and there to facilitate the payoff, but most of this is easily overlooked when one comes away misty eyed from the experience. Also notable is the fact that the entire film's emotional core is carried by a horse; not a person behind a CG character (like Andy Serkis), but a live breathing animal (or many different horses that played the same role). Props to Spielberg for pulling it off and hoping that this is only a warm up for next year's "Lincoln."

Here is a link to my review. 

So there it is. In the next few days, I will post my top 10 films of the 2011. 

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