Connect with us


2011 Midway Point: Ryan’s Top 10

#10. Of Gods and Men – Xavier Beauvois (February 25th)
Select sequences are almost worthy of comparison to Bresson, including head monk Lambert Wilson’s conflicted hike into nature, or the monks’ final, close-up filled suppertime farewell. The film needed a more ruthless editor, however — many scenes come across as mundane and unnecessary. Could easily be an hour shorter, and better for it.

#10. Of Gods and Men – Xavier Beauvois (February 25th)
Select sequences are almost worthy of comparison to Bresson, including head monk Lambert Wilson’s conflicted hike into nature, or the monks’ final, close-up filled suppertime farewell. The film needed a more ruthless editor, however — many scenes come across as mundane and unnecessary. Could easily be an hour shorter, and better for it.

#9. Le Quattro Volte – Michelangelo Frammartino (March 30th)
A film that proves that the protagonist of a film need not be a human being, or even be animate. At times, however, its resistance to traditional storytelling fells more like a cop-out than a radicalism. The possibility of an inanimate object being a fully realized character is never fully explored. Still, an absorbing and unusual two hours in the movie theatre.

#8. The Sleeping Beauty – Catherine Breillat (Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (FSLC)
Perverse, bizarre, sexy, funny, provocative. In other words, signature Catherine Breillat. More scattered than her superior “Bluebeard,” but still fearless and fun. Real, uncompromised insights into the female psyche and sexuality, without any pat prescriptions or audience pandering.

#7. Aurora – Cristi Puiu (June 29)
Puiu’s hovering, peeping camera never pretends to be anywhere but outside his killer main character. As a result, we feel helpless in the face of his pathology, which is how we encounter violence in life. The movie creates suspense not so much through narrative, but through constant unpredictability from scene to scene and shot to shot. The threat of violence simmers throughout, and is all the more terrifying because there isn’t a comfortable cause for the audience to latch onto. Some movies barrage you with gunplay to no effect at all; here a single shot from a 12-gauge is bone-chilling.

#6.13 Assassins – Takashi Miike (April 29)
Rousing, old-fashioned samurai craft at its finest. Watching this movie will make you feel like you’re 12 years old again, stirred by the elemental power of the cinema. Miike’s numerous fight sequences all exhibit a rare, Kurosawa-esque spatial coherence mixed with velocity. Moral complexity, multiple decapitations, and an elaborate, bravura final fight sequence that will go down in the all-time movie climax annals.

#5. Essential Killing – Jerzy Skolimowski (NY Polish Film Festival)
Famished Taliban refugee Vincent Gallo suckles on the enormous lactating teet of an unsuspecting female Polish bicyclist. Vive le cinema! A thrilling survival adventure and a cryptic hallucination: Only Jerzy Skolimowski (‘Deep End,’ ‘The Shout,’ co-writer of Polanski’s ‘Knife in the Water’) could pull this off. After a long departure from filmmaking, Skolimowski graced us with ‘Four Nights with Anna,’ a disconcerting, heart-wrenching movie that is one of the ten best from the previous decade, but which confoundingly never received U.S. distribution. The fate of ‘Essential Killing’ has been equally underwhelming. It so completely avoids political agendas of any kind that it might as well have been made by an alien from another planet. Is there any actor in film more captivating than the great Vincent Gallo?

#4. Certified Copy – Abbas Kiarostami (March 11th)
“I don’t deserve to be tested like this.” So protests slick pedant James Miller in the final scene of Kiarostami’s deceptively profound incrimination of Western culture’s status quo. As enchanting as ever, Juliette Binoche’s beauty is less ethereal here than earthy. Her performance, maybe the best of her career, is made up of small, momentary fragments of impulse and urge. She doesn’t worry about what it all adds up to, but is willing to “meander with no goal.” But no matter what her character tries, she cannot break through the arch evasions of Miller, a man defined by his refusals. Is Miller Kiarostami’s scarecrow symbol of Western culture as a whole: self-absorbed, overly groomed, intellectually frivolous, spiritually razed … a manicured corpse? And the final death twitch: the hand absently re-staging the hair, as church bells toll his doom.

#3. Miral – Julian Schnabel (March 25th)
Criminally unappreciated. Schnabel’s moving, sensual film embodies humanist art at its most vital and elevating. It’s a film that revels in the difficult art of merging aesthetics with didacticism, a craft evolved from Greek drama to Shakespeare. For blind taxonomist critics, such an alchemy can be celebrated only when it is at a safe historical and geopolitical distance, as with the brilliant films of R.W. Fassbinder. But when it rears its courageous head in 2011, it’s misread as “unrealistic” by audience sensibilities degraded equally by mumblecore inanities, Aaron Sorkin-esque vapid verbosity, and TV’s faddish elevation of inflection over content. This is a movie that operates outside of propaganda or political agenda, whose guileless hypothesis is that human life is valuable and should not be taken lightly or sacrificed for incestuously knotted nationalisms. How does mainstream opinion greet this universal expression of compassion? Predictably — with spiteful derision and scorn. Welcome to the 21st century! (Added Schnabel bonus: there are two (!) Tom Waits songs on the closing credits.)

#2. The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick (May 27th)
The Sistine Chapel of cinema. Leathery Sean Penn finds himself trapped in an inhuman, over-engineered environment, echoing the mutant alligator returning our stares at the end of Herzog’s ‘Cave.’ Malick is more hopeful, maybe … he finishes with Penn’s bemused, Buddhistic smile of acceptance. The urban world is filmed as if it weren’t real, just a projection of modern Man’s inner repression. Malick liberates cinema, as only few have done before him, from all conventional film grammar. The movie follows the fractured, associative logic of memory — mesmerizingly, both personal and cosmic. The final shot of the bridge chimes beautifully — and perhaps intentionally? — with what might be 2011’s greatest cross-medium work of art: R.E.M.’s epic, all-encompassing album ‘Collapse Into Now,’ on which Michael Stipe assures us that, musically and figuratively, “I’ve got a bridge for you …”

#1. Cave of Forgotten Dreams – Werner Herzog (April 29th)
Perhaps the first movie ever made that is inconceivable without 3D, as opposed to using 3D as a revenue-generating gimmick (even pioneering uses of the technology, from ‘Dial M for Murder‘ to ‘Avatar,’ fall into the latter category). Herzog’s movie accomplishes what all great art strives to do: wrench us from out of the entrenched armor of our mundane solipsisms and give us a glimpse of the eternal. As estranging and soul-stirring as his mysteriously beautiful, though mainly ignored, masterpiece, “The Wild Blue Yonder.” The mutated albino alligator writhing aimlessly in a vast, expensive simulation, its natural impulses irrelevant and forgotten, is the perfect symbol for contemporary humanity.

Ryan is a New York City based film writer.

Continue Reading
You may also like...

Ryan Brown is a filmmaker and freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY. He has an MFA in Media Arts from City College, CUNY. His short films GATE OF HEAVEN and DAUGHTER OF HOPE can be viewed here: With Antonio Tibaldi, he co-wrote the screenplay 'The Oldest Man Alive,' which was selected for the "Emerging Narrative" section of IFP's 2012 Independent Film Week. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Live Flesh), Assayas (Cold Water), Bellochio (Fists in the Pocket), Breillat (Fat Girl), Coen Bros. (Burn After Reading), Demme (Something Wild), Denis (Friday Night), Herzog (The Wild Blue Yonder), Leigh (Another Year), Skolimowski (Four Nights with Anna), Zulawski (She-Shaman)

Click to comment

More in Retro

To Top