Best Films of 2011 Part 2 (#10-#1)

10. Martha Marcy May Marlene 

There is an unsettling feeling throughout Martha Marcy May Marlene that something is just not quite right. That uneasiness continues even when all seems ok and our main character, Martha, is safe at home and away from the cult with which she used to associate with. Martha Marcy May Marlene is an intriguing story of a young woman who is battling the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder. Set part in the past and part in the present, Martha Marcy May Marlene is an anxiety riddled 102 minutes with built up tension getting ready to break at any moment. Elizabeth Olsen is excellent as Martha and John Hawkes is terrifying as the leader of the cult. Sean Durkin’s first feature is paced beautifully and fleshed out perfectly. He is an emerging talent and someone to look out for in the future.

When the film is over it is evident that Martha Marcy May Marlene is a tragedy. Martha has just been through too much to ever feel safe again.

9. Submarine

If there was a list of my favorite characters of the year, Oliver Tate would be amongst the top. Submarine is a quirky and fun comedy about a smart boy dealing with the transition to adulthood. The fun of Submarine is watching Tate describe the world around him and make sense of some of the senseless things that life throws his way. Richard Ayoade wrote a beautiful script that is as funny as it is poignant and his direction is well done as he balances the world of Oliver Tate and the real world. Submarine is one of the funniest films of the year and is a perfect film for all those who value creativity in our modern society.

8. The Artist

What at first looked like nothing more than a novelty comes a movie that is much more than just nostalgia. The Artist is a celebration of film’s past and its future by incorporating silent films with the pace and feel of a modern movie. Set during the bridge between silent movies and the “talkys” The Artist is a tale about a man lost in the transition. It is a sad story but I don’t think I stopped smiling from the very beginning. It is just a feel good film. That’s were the Artist succeeds. The Artist isn’t just that cute silent movie but a feel good love letter to the cinema. Then, there is that ending. I don’t think I have ever left the theater smiling that much. The Artist is purely just a magical trip to the cinema.

7. Margin Call

When the recession hit, a lot people started playing the blame game and while they did that other people were losing their homes and their way of life. Margin Call isn’t about the politics or about the people affected. It is about the businesses that played hot potato with America’s mortgages. Supplied with a sharp script and an entertaining cast, Margin Call is a well-proportioned drama. It is a movie that has sort of flown under the radar, which is frustrating. While America watches a bunch of politicians throwing mud at each other, they are missing a smart film about America’s most recent predicament. Margin Call may not explain everything, nor does it offer solutions, but it is a great film about the people who started this whole mess. I loved watching the firm, including all of its levels of management, realize that things are turning south. It’s as if they found out that the money tree is starting to die. Forget Wall Street, watch Margin Call.

6. Poetry

Poetry is a sad and elegant sort of film. It reminded me a lot of William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying”. It is about an elder woman (Ms. Mija) who gets involved in a local tragedy while also trying to learn to write Poetry. Yoon Jeong-hee plays Ms. Mija with a sort of naivety. She has been alive for a long time but the troubles that she finds herself in are almost too big for her to deal with. Mija is forced to deal with the more ugly sides of life while also trying to find the right words for life’s more beautiful moments. Poetry is a deep meditation on finding the right words. Just like As I Lay Dying, Poetry never finds the perfect words for all the pain and grief but it finds the right ones for all our uncertainty. In the end Ms. Mija finally makes some decisions and is finally at peace with events beyond her control as well as the one who had to pay for them. Like its main character, Poetry revels in the calm and tries its best to ignore the commotion.

5. Shame

Shame is a very uncomfortable experience. Early on we are introduced to our main character, Brandon, who is attractive, professional, and a sex addict. Brandon spends his days and nights trying to feed an urge and his whole world is turned upside down when his sister moves in with him and sees him for what he really is. Michael Fassbender has done some daring roles in the past, but this has to be his bravest performance yet. He plays Brandon as a regular man dealing with an addiction that has long since been a pleasure to him; sex is his burden, sex is his life. He is brilliant in the role. Steve McQueen directs a beautifully tragic tale of man vs. vice and the result is something so painful that it’s hard to watch. This is the second film that he and Fassbender have teamed up on and it is the duos best. Shame never glorifies its subject and always shows things as they are; a wasteland of animalistic urges. It is a harrowing look at the pain of self-destruction. Sometimes being you is the hardest thing to be.

4. A Separation

We live in an increasingly gray world and I don’t think any movie in this modern era has ever captured this as well as this Iranian masterpiece, A Separation. A story about a divorce and an event that creates a bigger void between our main characters, A Separation is a skillfully paced drama about the human condition. The script is written in such a way that each character is given justification while also creating doubt. The conflict that is the center of the film’s plot seems simple at first, but turns into it’s own beast. Soon everyone starts questioning each other and a resolution seems impossible. Asghar Farhadi has created a truly original and compelling film. He never takes things into the melodramatic, nor does he make the drama too stale. He has created characters that are colorful enough to carry the weight of the picture. His script deserves every bit of accolade it has received.

A Separation is the best foreign film of the year and a true mirror to our modern society. No one is right and no one is wrong; we’re all just somewhere in between the two.

3. Midnight in Paris

I have never been a big fan of Woody Allen. His films just don’t appeal to me in the way that they have appealed to many others, so I was surprised by how much I loved Midnight in Paris. The story of a man drifting in between the present and the past of Paris is a nostalgic experience. Not only do we get to walk the main streets of Paris in the glorious 1920s but we also get to meet some of the generation’s immortals (Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald). Midnight in Paris is my favorite Allen picture and is a delightful visit to the past. Owen Wilson is perfect here as the man who has fallen in love with the city of Paris. He walks the streets at nights, meets new people, and gets lost in the idea that he came from another time. Woody Allen has made a heartwarming fable about what it is to live in the moment and to not fall into the past.

2. We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk about Kevin follows a woman who has to deal with the fact that her son is a psychopath. Shown in flashbacks and in the present, We Need to Talk about Kevin is a gut wrenching experience. Eva (Tilda Swinton) lives her life in a haze in the aftermath of her son’s actions while also remembering raising her son. Is Eva to blame in how she raised her son or is Kevin inherently evil? We Need to Talk about Kevin questions where our personalities and perceptions come from. Lynne Ramsay has made some other highly praised films but this is the first one of her films that I have seen. She tells the story in two halves that intercut each other (much like Martha Marcy May Marlene) and creates a tension that isn’t resolved until the two climaxes clash together. She is a masterful talent and lets the film flow with a wicked malice. Then there is Tilda Swinton, whose performance may be the best performance by an actress in the last five years. It is an injustice that the Academy Awards choose not to recognize her. This film isn’t about Kevin; it’s about Eva and the turmoil of her guilt. Her performance is devastating and in a class all of its own.

At the end of the film Eva still wonders whether she caused her son to be who he is and probably will never be able to function properly ever again. No matter what though, Kevin is her son and he is her burden. It’s not about what Kevin did, its why and who’s to blame, and unfortunately for Eva those questions will never be answered. We Need to Talk about Kevin is an extraordinary film about a woman being smothered in a world operating at face value.

1. Take Shelter

When I finally sat down to do this list, it was pretty evident how close 1-5 were. So ordering them was a task, and the order that I put them in honestly could shift tomorrow pending my mood. It was hard to place my 2-5, but it was never hard figuring out what was the best film. Take Shelter is a masterpiece and a devastating look into the mind of our anxiety filled world. Take Shelter follows Curtis who has a wonderful family and is plagued by either mental illness or visions of the coming apocalypse. The rest you’ll have to see for yourself as this gender bender leads you to many frightening places. It is a film unlike any that I have ever seen; it mixes almost every human emotion to create a prism of self-doubt and fear. I remember watching Jeff Nichols’s debut film, Shotgun Stories, and thought that he may be a director to watch out for but I didn’t expect this. This is a work of pure genius of the terrors of our own time. The primal fear that all we know and all we have can be taken from us from something far bigger than ourselves. And then there is Michael Shannon who gives the best performance of the year. He is devastating as Curtis. Watching him self-destruct isn’t frustrating, it is like watching an old friend lose his grasp on all that is tangible. It weighs on you as the film goes on.

Take Shelter is a haunting experience into the world of doubt. Is Curtis crazy or does he see what no one else sees? The answer to that question is something that I wish I knew myself. You can easily look at the film in two ways. On the one hand you have a film about a man against the world and on the other you have a story of man against himself. Both won’t bode well for Curtis, which is a tragic conclusion. There is a scene where reason and fear clash together and Curtis has to choose between indulging in his dreams and facing reality. It is the best scene of the year and one of the most heartbreaking moments of the movie. Watching a man choose between his head and the ones he loves is painful. Curtis will never be the same again whether or not he chooses to take shelter. Take Shelter is the best film of the year and an echo of all things beyond our comprehension.

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About Brian Rector

I am 22 years old and I go to school at Missouri State in Springfield, Missouri. I have always been an avid filmgoer and I have always wanted a place to share my views and opinions on modern film. This blog is to give reviews on new release, thoughts on other artforms such as music and books, and to discuss the happenings of the film industry. View all posts by Brian Rector

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