Looking Back at 2011

As the year draws to a close that time honored tradition of compiling best of the year is upon us. These lists are inevitably limited by the films viewed in a particular year, and  skewed  towards the list maker’s taste. Mine tends towards the somewhat esoteric, mainly because they’re films I saw traveling the festival circuit. they usually land on NWFF screens the following season. Several in my list this year will do just that.Here’s my list.

1. Two Years At Sea
A lonely man never whistled so much! Ben Rivers beautifully lensed portrait of man and his chosen environs, is finest occupation project of the year. Offering a portrait of Jake, living out his dream of living off the land, a dream that appears to be the most elegant, peaceful and frugal occupation of space ever conceived.

2.  Mysteries Of Lisbon
I watched Raoul Ruiz’ final masterpiece in Rotterdam in one of the most flawed projections of the year; a blu-ray screening that froze every 20 minutes. The mystery of course of the screening was not found in Lisbon, but in the theater. Nearly all audience members, myself included, made it to the end of the film. We forgave the technical problems because the work was definitely strong enough to withstand their failures.

3. Alps
Giorgos Lanthimos’ follow up to Dogtooth, about a nurse, an EMT, a gymnast, and her coach known to each other as team “Alps” who offer each other a novel, if disquieting, technique for grief counseling. Structured like your traditional narrative, the film gradually creeps under your skin because of its content. Beautiful, absurd, and haunting, this is a film you’ll find hard to forget.

4. This Is Not A Film
What happens when an artist is prevented from making his art? In Jafar Panahi’s case, he continues to try to do so. Filmmaking has never been so urgent.

5. The Turin Horse
Bela Tarr closes out his filmmaking career with one of his finest, another  black and white, sad, windy movie. I caught the film in a small theatre at the Berlinale Market back in February, and I never looked at a potato the same since.

6. Dreileben
The Berlin School delivers a trilogy of intersecting stories, all revolving around a murder in a small German town. The films aren’t sequels in the traditional sense. The three are in the vein of Rashomon – overlapping stories from different perspectives, but not of the same event, instead about the same area. Each stands on its compelling own, but taken as a whole create a fantastic trilogy. Christian Petzold’s (Yella, Jerichow), is my personal favorite contribution, an uneasy study of young romance, and a Hitchcockian exploration of a relationship that is not all it seems.

7. You All Are Captains
Part Kiarostami, part Truffaut, and part Rouch, this extraordinary work of black and white cinema, found a filmmaker expelled from his own film by the children he was working with. It also delivered us one of the freshest voices of the year.

8. Jean Gentil
A Mexican helmed Domincan shot hybrid doc-fiction feature starring a displaced Hatian professor who wanders into the woods.  The films quotidian obsessions resemble some of Lisandro Alonso’s finest work. Look for the filmmakers and the film this April at NWFF.

9. Intolerance
In a year where Hollywood became obsessed with the silents (The Artist & Hugo), Northwest Film Forum’s screening of one of the giants from the silent era made my list. DW Griffith’s spectacle laid the groundwork for an editing style that has dominated Hollywood filmmaking ever since.

10. James Turrell: Meeting  November 26 at sunset
For a glorious 15 minutes, through the frame of James Turell’s permanent installation at PS1, the Saturday after Thanksgiving offered a frame reminiscent of James Benning’s Ten Skies, peppered with the sounds of museum patrons entering and departing the room, the muffled New York urban symphony, and the unseasonably warm winter air blowing onto my face, this was one of the finest experiences of cinema this year.

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