Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Best Movies of 2011, and your Best Picture

The Grumbach Awards 2011
I thought this might be the appropriate moment to discuss the one title that has managed to make the transition from my wish-list of movies-to-see to things-to-do, although it is still a fair distance away from things-to-do-before-I-die. Nevertheless, I have fantasized all year, since the day I read David Bordwell’s blog, to one day pack my bag with portable food, take my wife and spend a whole day watching Christian Marclay’s The Clock. And talk. And watch. I say, that’ll be the day. 

Best Picture

The Nominees are (In alphanumeric order):

Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da (Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan) (Review forthcoming)
The mayor’s daughter sure is beautiful. I mean, she’s divine. Not since Inglourious Basterds’ opening has there been a scene that has achieved such precise connection with the audience, being both with it and ahead of it. It’s magical and amusing working on so many different levels, motivating explaining and mystifying the entire film. Not many movies remind us of Stalker, and Mr. Ceylan’s film does. My guess is it isn’t merely the most perfectly crafted film of the year, but its most perfectly realized. A masterpiece. 

Budanggeorae (Dir: Ryu Seung-wan) (Review forthcoming)
If somebody ever wanted to make a sequel to The Departed, here is a film infinitely more skillful and precise. What’s more, it is readily available. Arguably the year’s most dynamic film, and easily its most stylish. From its opening of a city enclosed within and under a media-controlled apparatus, to its skyrises, to its golf-courses, Mr. Ryu Seung-wan, much like Elena below, creates the year’s keenest layout of a city in a social context. This is what we call an absolute stunner, the kind of genius we seek from the Koreans in the genre department. This is a filmmaker we need to keep a track of. At least, I need to. 

Elena (Dir: Andre Zvyagintsev)   (Read review)
 Mr. Zvyagintsev’s best film, and I absolutely agree with what I believe to be the film’s central political stance. I mean, why the hell should he? But leave all that, and relish the sheer mastery of some of the shots here, especially the opening, where new spaces are revealed in a way as if the history of a nation is being re-created. I do not think any other film this year builds a keener more insightful layout of a city in a historical context. And yeah, those three-way mirror shots not only reveal a novel way of staging that cliché but greatly intensify the Macbeth-ian angle. Killer, I say.


El Primio (Dir: Paula Markovitch)
The autobiographical film of the year. Filled with so many moments so detailed it could not be fiction. The way a name is to be pronounced, to the way a chessboard is to be used, to the way words are understood, to the way an essay is written, Ms. Markovitch’s incredibly moving film doesn’t let the shaping of a childhood be oblivious of a country’s politics, or the society, or the family. My guess is that linguists, and maybe even anthropologists, would be thrilled. And in the mother’s breakdown piece we’ve the sort of honest and heartbreaking moment James M. Cain would be proud of.

Ha-Shoter (Dir: Nadav Lapid)   (Read review)
In Mr. Lapid we probably (there’s Ms. Julia Leigh as well) have the hottest new talent. For topicality alone (Israeli social unrest), this movie achieves the kind of significance few others this year have. Very political, and very critical, my guess is this movie probably finds Israel at a very critical juncture in its history. Or maybe…I don’t know. Whatever it is, this film gets macho. And that is an A+ in my book. 

Hwang hae (Dir: Na Hong-jin)  (Read review)
Sergio Leone once said of Once Upon a Time in the West“The rhythm of the film was intended to create the sensation of the last gasps that a person takes just before dying. Once Upon a Time in the West was, from start to finish, a dance of death.”  All of the characters, apart from Jill, seem to be conscious of the fact that they wouldn’t arrive at the end alive. In Mr. Hong-jin’s film, everyone seems to be destined to their death, and yet they are resilient to survive at any cost. It’s a dog’s life, they say. This follow-up to The Chaser is a massive epic, slowly building and spreading into some sort of a contagion, affecting everybody. Arguably the most intensely physical film of the year, and certainly it’s most visceral.

Meek’s Cutoff (Dir: Kelly Reichardt)
The tension here is unbearable. Your mind runs in a thousand directions, and as opposed to Mr. Ceylan’s masterpiece, we do not even have the comfort that everybody would end up safe. It runs something like an extended Hitchcock experiment, observing the everyday details, but ticking the bomb in the background. Ms. Reichardt uses the academic ratio to killer effect, essentially boxing what would have been Lawrence of Arabia widescreen, and somehow manages to create claustrophobia from that expansive landscape. Oh yeah, there’s the year’s most astonishing dissolve. 

Mildred Pierce (Dir: Todd Haynes)   (Read review)
I hated this film. I mean, I was filled with hate while watching this film. For its characters. Mr. Haynes, channeling Fassbinder here, creates such carefully constructed frames, where you’re watching and reading the stuff at the same time. Womenfolk are in full control here, and men are constantly used. And re-used. At the end of it, you want to strangle somebody. Probably the strongest I reacted to any movie all year.

Nostalgia De La Luz (Dir: Patricio Guzmán Lozanes)
If The Tree of Life was the film Rise of the Planets should’ve been, than Nostalgia for the Light is what The Tree of Life should’ve been. From the earth to the moon to its craters to plates to wheels to telescopes, Mr. Guzmán makes us see the cosmic in every little bit. An order so to speak. At once specific and cosmic. If you haven’t seen it, I wouldn’t reveal to you the film’s central connection, except for that it is probably impossible to identify which is the metaphor between the two. Whatever it’s worth, one of my personal favorites. It is a movie I shall be losing myself in with some regularity now. 

 Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Dir: Rupert Wyatt)  (Read review)
In a year that would historically be remembered for the revolution-virus, and where this film reminded us of moments from our own consciousness, this Ape film thundered across with blockbuster filmmaking of the awesome kind. A moment that serves as a victory for sound in cinema, a moment where an animal learns to control another animal, a moment where an animal looks at another sleeping peacefully, a moment where an animal achieves chilling cruelty (as against grace), and they all serve to hail one of cinema’s greatest accomplishments – Caesar!

Senna (Dir: Asif Kapadia)  (Read review)
The humanity in here is overwhelming, and more than movie I’ve ever seen, this documentary really gets what sports is all about. Yes, it is about us v/s them, but historically sports movies tend to stop there. Mr. Kapadia doesn’t leave Prost as a rival but an integral part of Ayrton Senna, as much as his father was, or as much as McLaren was. Involving arguably the greatest tracking shot ever…okay, let us keep it down to my favorite tracking shot, it is a shattering film and a humbling experience.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Dir: Tomas Alfredson)   (Read review)

Ah, that killer ending! To which I stood up and applauded. To which the film itself applauds. There’s that faint smile on George Smiley, and trust me here when I say that if Mr. Alfredson had made Smiley declare – It’s just you and me now, sport – I would’ve taken my shirt off and waved it around like a madman. Who knows, given all the frenzy, even running around the auditorium would’ve been a distinct possibility.

And the Grumbach for the Best Motion Picture of 2011 goes to:

Word of advice: Ideal time to watch it – 0400 to 0630. As the night breaks into dawn into morning, the film shall be a memorable experience. Take my word.

Oh yeah, just in case you’re wondering, The Tree of Life is some sort of achievement, if not a masterpiece. The editing is something monumental, the way it picks up tiny fragments and associates them all. And so is A Separation, which is one giant moral mess, just as its frames are.

Movies I’m looking forward to:
Myshkin’s Yuddham Sei, Bertrand Bonello’s House of Tolerance, Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty, Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film: An Odyssey, Life in a Day, Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre, Johnnie To’s Life Without Principle and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film, David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, Steve McQueen’s Shame, Jeff Nichols Take Shelter, Mariano Llinas’ Extraordinary Stories and Raul Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon.

Oh yeah, if you’re thinking there’re as many titles to watch as there have been nominated, that’s a bingo.


Bonjour Tristesse said...

Great list. Anatolia is fantastic, and it's nice to see some love for Elena, I haven't seen it appearing on very many lists.

There are some others here that I have to catch up on, aren't there always?

man in the iron mask said...

Thanks Bonjour!
True, there are always films to catch up on.

Anonymous said...

Sir, would love to see your views on this unreleased marathi film 'Vihir'. Though it's from 2010, it surfaced online in 2011.
It's available here..


There is a version in piratebay, but not with subs, i guess. You can download this using real player.

Thank you

man in the iron mask said...

Thanks anonymous (or is it Mr. Sudhish?)

I would really love to watch this one..Thanks for the tip...

Anonymous said...

Why did you strike out the Sleeping beauty??

man in the iron mask said...

Oh, that was because its off my to-do list. I've watched it, and there is some serious formal prowess on display.

Anonymous said...

Oh Okay..

Good. I enjoyed the movie too.

Anonymous said...

What about Hugo?

man in the iron mask said...

Haven't seen it yet. Waiting for its theatrical release..