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  • Top 10 Films of 2011

    By | December 29, 2011

    So what were the top films of 2011? It’s a really tough question to ask, and a pretty bold one to answer among peers with equally strong opinions. I’ve been reading through a lot of the 2011 film retrospectives, top 10’s, and best of lists with many critics complaining about 2011 being a light year for great film. I personally disagree. Sure the mega-plexes didn’t offer much substance in 2011, but cheer up Charlie because if you stuck close to the arthouse theaters then you found the golden tickets.

    The nominations and votes of the Smells Like Screen Spirit staff have been tallied and scored to represent the collective opinion of the total results. As always we encourage you to agree or debate in the comments section; so without further ado I give you Smells Like Screen Spirit’s Top 10 Films of 2011:


    10. Bellflower

    “Painfully discussing the highs and lows of love, as well as revealing the horrors of acting on impulse alone, writer-director Glodell utilizes some not-so-traditional cinematography techniques (thanks to cinematographer Joel Hodge), magnificently penetrating sound design, and a seemingly haphazard non-linear plot structure to convey Woodrow’s psychologically decaying perception of the uncompromising world around him.” –Don Simson’s Review

    “Hands down one of my favorite experiences at the theater in 2011. Bellflower presents viewers with a hyper stylized and intense look at the emotional and mental chaos that erupts in the mind of someone who is suffering with the pain of a failed relationship. With their combined efforts, these cinematic mad scientists have turned their shared passion into a wonderfully gritty and  raw experience.” –Dave Campbell’s Review


    9. Incendiary: The Willingham Case

    “What Incendiary: The Willingham Case does, and extremely well, is tell this story in a compelling, relatively unbiased manner. While the majority of screen time is given to those who feel the case was mishandled, a range of people involved in the case are interviewed and express varying views.” “Where the film has the biggest impact is showing the government’s inadequate and disturbing response when faced with tough questions.” –Linc Leifeste’s Review 


    8. Shame

    Shame is one of those rare modern films that I would love to construct a hearty critical analysis of, mainly because the perspectives and framing of every scene convey as much purpose as the characters themselves. But a discussion of this film at that level will require several more viewings and a significantly higher word count.” “As much as I admire the writing, direction and performances of Shame, I do not know how many repeat viewings I could endure. Shame is an emotionally exhausting film; it is certainly not a film that is intended to be enjoyed.” –Don Simpson’s Review


    7. Drive

    “Like Nicolas Winding Refn’s previous films Bronson and Valhalla Rising, Drive is illustrated with heavy stylized violence. The violence isn’t mindless, but rather “drives” the points of the narrative and development of its characters forward. Winding Refn’s thoughtful direction is a harmonious hybrid of Michael Mann and Quentin Tarantino that brilliantly bridges the gritty revenge thriller genre film with the dramatic sensibility of art-house cinema.” –Dave Campbell’s Review

    “Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is nothing short of amazing. Refusing to fall prey to any classic tropes of Hollywood thrillers, Refn’s approach to Drive is sort of like Miami Vice on Quaaludes, right down to the electronic soundtrack (featuring Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx, Desire, College, and The Chromatics) that sounds like 1980s pop music being played on quarter-speed; and after the pastel pink opening credits, I was half expecting to see Gosling dressed up like Don Johnson’s Crockett. Unlike any thriller, heist or revenge tale from this side of the Atlantic, Drive boasts a uniquely European style and pacing.” –Don Simpson’s Review


    6. The Tree of Life

    “An over-reliance on voiceovers has always been Malick’s one weakness and The Tree of Life seems to rely even more heavily upon voiceovers than his other four films. Understandably, Malick utilizes whispery and ethereal voice-overs to place the audience inside Jack’s mind as he regurgitates his childhood memories and waxes existentially (Malick is a disciple of Martin Heidegger), but Malick is simultaneously synopsizing the Book of Job for us, and this is enough to clear the seats of any atheists in the audience. There will certainly be accusations that The Tree of Life is a shameless proselytising of Judeo-Christian doctrine, but I interpret The Tree of Life as being quite the opposite.” –Don Simpson’s Review

    “It’s exhilirating, if a  bit disconcerting, to watch a film and see your own mental images flash by on the screen. I’m not talking about what it must feel like for an actor to see their filmed work on the big screen or even the sensation of watching the results of having your creation (novel, screenplay, etc) turned into a film. No, I’m talking about the sensation of seeing your own deeply internalized childhood memories and impressions flashed on the screen in perfectly captured detail. For me, Terence Malick has managed to do no less than that with his ambitious new masterpiece, The Tree of Life.” –Linc Leifeste’s Review


    5. The Artist

    “Shot on luscious black and white (of course!) 35mm by Guillaume Schiffman, Hazanavicius’ film is incredibly beautiful to watch. Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, James Cromwell, and John Goodman prove to be amazing silent film thespians; in fact, The Artist is able to rely upon very few title cards, thanks solely to the keen pantomime skills of the actors. I have said it before and I will say it again, silent films require much more than mere “mugging” for the camera (personally, I think it takes a lot of talent on behalf of the actors and directors to tell a coherent story without spoken dialogue).” –Don Simpson’s Review

    The Artist is a movie-lover’s delight, managing to achieve the rare feat of transporting its audience to another time and place, of injecting a couple of hours of pure magic into an otherwise mundane day. And isn’t that why most of us fell in love with movies in the first place, for their ability to take us away from the real world to a better place, even if for only an hour or two?” –Linc Leifeste’s Review


    4. Take Shelter

    Take Shelter is brilliantly cast from bottom to top. With a supporting cast that truly look and sound like the working class people they’re representing, Nichols gets the details of this story of middle-America right. Michael Shannon’s expressive face, with its deep lines and character (imagine a younger Ray Liotta with better acting chops), perfectly conveys Curtis’ ever-increasing anxiety, fear and despair. Jessica Chastain, the only person in the movie with Hollywood-good looks, so inhabits her role as the faithful and loving mother and wife, courageously fighting an unseen enemy destroying her family’s well-being, that you never doubt her.” –Linc Leifeste’s Review


    3. Martha Marcy May Marlene

    “First-time director Sean Durkin has the sure hand of a master director, establishing a mood and a psychological state through a precise orchestration of script, performance, image and sound.  This is not a thriller at all. At the center is the stillness of a neo-neorealist film like Wendy and Lucy, but Durkin adds one more chord: a strain of menace and relentless tension that creates a searing and all-consuming emotional experience.” –Dave Wilson’s Review

    “For me, the real payoff of MMMM can be found in the ending, which is rivaled only by Meek’s Cutoff and Green in terms of sublime ambiguity. The comparisons between MMMM, Meek’s Cutoff and Green do not end there. All three films toy with the audience’s preconceived notions of cinematic genres and traditional narrative tropes, while they also rely solely upon their infinite layers of subtext to communicate their significance. Most importantly, all three films proselytize the unique power of the cinematic art form. These are stories that could never be properly conveyed via any other medium — that right there is precisely why MMMM, Meek’s Cutoff and Green are some of my favorite films of 2011.” –Don Simpson’s Review


    2. Beginners

    “Masterfully constructed, the endless barrage of flashbacks mesh with the present seamlessly and naturally. Whereas most films that are this heavily reliant upon flashbacks are riddled by a herky-jerky rhythm, the non-linear structure of Beginners is practically unnoticeable. Most importantly, the flashbacks serve a major purpose in the narrative. Hal may not have lived long enough to witness Oliver as he finally follows his father’s “it is never too late to make a fresh start” example, but it is Oliver’s memories of his father’s waning years that motivate him to try to make his relationship with Anna work.” –Don Simpson’s Review


    1. Meek’s Cutoff

    “Filmmakers tend to forget that cinema is first and foremost a visual medium, and they rely on the crutch of dialogue rather than images to convey messages; but in this purely visual experience, Reichardt chooses not to explain anything. There are no concrete facts, everything that we are to take away from this film is purely left up to our interpretation of the images. The conclusion is a prefect example of just how far Reichardt will go in order to avoid conveying any absolutes. Nothing is resolved as Reichardt cleverly (though probably frustratingly for many viewers) leaves all of the film’s fundamental questions dangling in the arid Oregonian air.” –Don Simpson’s Review

    Meek’s Cutoff is artisan film-making that challenges the analytical radius of the viewer. This isn’t a film for the “Captain Obvious” movie-goer that needs everything spelled out for them and who relies on the superficial for entertainment. With the absence of a traditional climax and with the low volume of dialog and action, the viewer is placed in the minimal shoes of the very characters we are here to connect with. Meek’s Cutoff is a perfect example of film-making that seems very minimal on the surface. The script “arguably” only has the bare essentials, the setting is baron, the tone is dreary and the 4:3 framing closes the audience in on these lacking elements. But wait…once we scratch the one-dimensional surface, the profoundness of Meek’s Cutoff erupts from brilliant subtlety and deep symbolism buried below.” –Dave Campbell’s Review

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