I promised a review of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but I digress to present this best of 2011 list instead. Now, given that we are almost two and a half months into the New Year and most other best of 2011 lists have been since long done away with, it is rather odd to post this list now. But the thing about living in a place devoid of any major film festivals and/ or screening clubs etc. means one has to wait for the various bootleg editions of the films to be available. And although it has taken me few months to catch up with most of 2011(I started out genuinely looking for 2011 releases from mid-November last year), I can confidently say that I have seen a fair amount of important works from the year to make a safe top 10 list. And since most of the important releases become available towards this time each year, my best of the year lists would also probably come out around this time; as I don’t believe in jumping into making obligatory top 10 lists at the end of the year without having watched the real good stuff(I had only seen 3 films from my top 10 list in 2011!)
Now, regarding the films- it has been a glorious year for cinema. In all its ability to amaze, enthral, elegize and eulogize, cinema this year has achieved its true meaning. We have seen the birth of the universe and the end of the world and everything in between. What truly characterized cinema in 2011 was a constant attempt to reconnect with one’s history, one’s ontology and a knack to self-reflexively reconstruct one’s identity cinematically; attempts which would have made cinema’s true theorists and masters proud.
I can confidently call this year as one of the best years for cinema right since that train arrived in La Ciotat in 1895. Despite having seen many masterful works from the year, I still haven’t watched many more important works which could have a very good chance of altering my current top 10. Some of them are: my man Wim Wenders’ Pina, Sokurov’s Faust, Shame by Steve McQueen, The Loneliest Planet by Julia Loktev, Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film: An Odyssey, Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon, Mildred Pierce by Todd Haynes, Dominik Moll’s La Moine,Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea, Life in a Day, Kaurismaki’s Le Havre. A lot more happened last year which is slipping off my mind. But the sheer density of misses and hits(I had roughly 30 contenders for my top 10 list) testifies to the fact that it was simply a magnificent year for cinema. Now on to the countdown:
10.The Kid With a Bike(Dardenne Brothers): The simplicity of their craft, as always, is amazing. The narrative unfolds gradually revealing within itself layers of meaning about the characters of Cyril and Samantha until both of them, laid-bare, are reconciled. A poignant retelling of a classic fairy-tale, this one is arguably the most accessible Dardenne bros. film and was rightly awarded the Grand Prix in Cannes. And the acting of Thomas Doret as Cyril is impossibly amazing.
9.Once Upon a time in Anatolia(Nuri Bilge Ceylan): One of the weaker works of our modern expressionistic master, but that is strictly to express the immense power and spirituality the films of Ceylan withhold; here is a Chekovian crime investigation piece that delves into the very heart and mind of Turkey, both rural and urban, both the old and the new worldview. And then of course, there are the beautiful steppes of Anatolia; where the stone faces from the past haunt you, the unkempt water fountains flow for some rare tourist to wash his face in, and where the most gruesome of human crimes is pacified by the sheer elegance of journey. There is also Cemile, the divine daughter of Anatolia, who very much embodies the spirit of the valleys, who will, if luck favors, have to be given out in a negotiated marriage. Ironic, no?
8. Elena(Andrej Zvyagintsev): This intensely subtle piece that at once examines and deconstructs the notions of morality, family values and criminality in contemporary Russia is a powerful socio-political satire. One of Zvyagintsev's and Russia's finest films in recent times, this film is an effective counter-point for Ilya Khrjanovsky's devastating Chetyre(2005). Also indispensable to the film is this fine fine deconstruction of the film by Satish Naidu here
7. The Artist(Michel Hazanivicius): Fiercely misunderstood both by its supporters and its repellents, The Artist is neither a "charming little silent film" nor a hollow recreation of the 1920s; it is a postmodern cry, an outrage, an invocation for the better world of cinema that existed back in the good old days.(additional thoughts soon)
6.Un été brûlant(Philippe Garrel): It's the refined, inescapable romantic longings that get you right at the outset of the film that characterise Garrel's films. That's the thing about Garrel; his ability to capture humans, often lovers, at their most base, most immobile and make them look glorious with his special look, his framing, his lighting or whatever the hell he does. It's just...pure emotions
5. Sleeping Beauty(Julia Leigh): A counterpart of sorts to Garrel's film, in that it oozes with the impossibility of romantic moments to happen in our gloriously materialized lives, while Garrel's was all about the romantic feelings' existence; this glorious expose about how delineated our seemingly perfect lives really are, stuns one with its markedly assured approach to its aesthetic choices. Julia Leigh is THE director to watch out for.
4.The Strange Case of Angelica(Manoel de Oliviera): Mastery. Pure cinematic mastery. Not that one can expect any less from the oldest master-director working(103 and going strong!!). This oh-so-subtly crafted film about the cinema's ability to reconnect with the past and transcend reality is intense cinematic catharsis.
3.Nostalgia for the Light(Patricio Guzman): Inevitable comparisons to Tree of Life aside, this is a film whose sensual style and honest examinations immerse the viewer into the director's quest for the "meaning of it all". Deeply poetic and profoundly moving, this attempt at examining one's ontological history becomes an ontological register of unlimited possibilities itself. We wonder about the possible reciprocity of the Chilean sky, those squalid prison houses and the miles of sand defining who we are, sitting in a very different nation. The immense universality that this film hints at, is the true power of cinema.
2. The Turin Horse(Bela Tarr): The last film of a true master of aesthetic, modernist cinema cannot be expected to be less majestic.This fantastic in depth review by Srikanth Srinivasan sums up everything I have to say about the film. In it's sparse, minimalistic design, the film celebrates the end of the world; the unique cinematic world of Bela Tarr is no more, there will only be mad men rambling about the death of a god...
L'Apollonide (Souvenirs de la maison close)(Bertrand Bonello): The original french title reveals most about the film's intentions. It gives to us "souvenirs" from a Parisian bordello at the turn of the 20th century, without conforming to presenting any back story of the characters or making a psychological reading of the women. In that sense, it is the closest that a film comes in recent times to exhibit the Balazsian philosophy of cinema rescuing the existence of things; in this case, the "thing" happens to be a bordello set right at the beginning of cinema itself. In it's regard for the time and space(right outside these walls the Lumeire brothers would have possibly recorded their historic films, and their negation of the existence of such a brothel can be concluded to be the first traces of cinematic censure.) this film achieves infinite importance. These are the women that cinematic history had denied a place to, and Bonello very much negates this denial by presenting to us a document of historical value above anything else. With their dreams, lives, death eulogized within the frames of cinema, the film exhibits another amazing feat of self-reflexivity in the end that exonerates all meaning and achieves a catharsis beyond anything ever before. Cinema had saved these women. Or had it?