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Blake’s Top 20 of 2011: Picks 20-11

It’s probably too early to call ‘Year of the Decade’, but 2011 is certain to be a major contender for that prize eight years from now; at the moment, it’s at least the best since 2007, which did battle with 2006 for the king of the previous decade. But I’m getting ahead of myself, jumping the gun a bit to look at the big picture, when in fact, this has been a year of many great small ones.

It’s probably too early to call ‘Year of the Decade’, but 2011 is certain to be a major contender for that prize eight years from now; at the moment, it’s at least the best since 2007, which did battle with 2006 for the king of the previous decade. But I’m getting ahead of myself, jumping the gun a bit to look at the big picture, when in fact, this has been a year of many great small ones.

Sure, you had some big guns (The Tree of Life, Samsara, and We Need to Talk About Kevin) that swung for the fences with their cosmic ambitions to (re)define life and/or art as we know them (and speaking of that Tree movie, it appears that nobody told Jessica Chastain that you only have to give one great performance for folks to decide you’ve had a good year). For me, I step back and feel as if I’ve fallen victim to some unfortunate ‘elitist’ bug – my selections for the best films of 2011 have proven to be anything but easy to find (nor, evidently, easy to like). Whether you had to petition to see it, or got snickered at on the Croisette for standing up for it, the Rottentomatoes age of love-it-or-hate-it film criticism has proven to be a difficult time for breaking away from the consensus. Alas, this has been a year of Imperfect films for me, in which I learned to stop worrying and love the rambling, messy, flawed whats-its that signify that a film was not made on autopilot, but rather with a creative consciousness too busy to dot the I’s, cross the T’s. Additionally, it tears me up to have to leave off the brilliant films I caught in Cannes and Toronto that didn’t get released in theatres this year, but 2012 will be none-the-richer when cinema-goers see the likes of Crazy Horse, The Loneliest Planet, and The Deep Blue Sea, to name but a few.

20) Le Quattro Volte
The year’s most Bazinian film is also the only one that makes a solid case for there needing to be more animal performances in movies. Shot after shot is a miracle, simultaneously spontaneous and impossibly choreographed, including the year’s best dog performance for one shot alone. It’s a bit too tidy in the grand scheme of it all, but Michelangelo Frammartino’s film is perhaps the purest example of magic realism in any art form in some time.

19) Drive
Cars, blood, slo-mo, bad guys, good guys, the 80s, pink, Gosling, Brooks – I’m not sure there’s much more than that in this cool, Nicolas Winding Refn 100-minute neon-noir. If there were, if may well have popped and gotten swallowed down the wrong pipe.

18) Take Shelter
Are his visions real or are they fake? Frankly, I don’t give a damn, as this wins the year’s award for best film about the economic crisis regardless of what that last scene is supposed to mean (for the record, 2010’s winner of that award goes to the criminally disposed-of The City Below by Christophe Hochhäusler). Add in the best leading male and supporting female performances of the year, and you’ve got winner in Jeff Nichols’ sophomore pic.

17) Moneyball
Speaking of winning. I’ll be the first to admit that I wrote this film off when I first laid my eyes on its trailer at the initial TIFF press where it was announced as a Gala title. Sorkin wasn’t exactly a draw for me since I was cool on The Social Network, but it turned out that a lot of my issues with that film were non-factors here. Under the guise of a fluffy Hollywood star-vehicle, we’re given the year’s most insightful look at the importance of intuition in our creative strategies, supported by a cast that fittingly plays much better on the screen than it does on paper. Kudos to Bennett Miller.

16) Film Socialisme
A Comment: for an Anglophile, it is essential to watch this film without those ‘English’ subtitles. Turns out the subs only distract from the delicate visual assault that Godard has orchestrated, channeling some region of my movie-watching consciousness that I’d never paid any attention before.

15) Tabloid
Simply put: consistently hilarious and unpredictably affecting in the end. That this is a non-fiction story from Errol Morris continues to blow my mind, but it’s an essential component to this particular portrait, which shows a woman who is incapable of letting go of her loved ones without putting up ambitious, ill-advised fights.

14) Leap Year
Monica del Carmen. Enough said.

13) The Robber
Benjamin Heisenberg’s film is pure adrenaline. As enthralling as it is, it only really won me over completely when our hero’s crawl to a halt re-iterated the dreaded existential endpoint that clouds all thrills.

12) Martha Marcy May Marlene
BorderLine Films may well end up leading some kind of revolution in American independent cinema, ushering the twee adolescence that plagues so much of the genre into an era of intellectual and emotional depth and maturity. Three features strong – with another on the way in Park City – these guys are one of the few production studios that functions as an auteur in and of itself. Oh yeah, and then there’s Elizabeth Olsen (is this an amazing year for American women or what?)

11) Rapt
Yes, I was rapt the whole way through, though I am also aware of the title’s bilingual entendre. It’s not as heady as some of my other favorites this year, but it serves its function beautifully as a pure, tension-laced ransom thriller. Its foreboding sense that there are certain evils that seem invincible, and will never really go away, Lucas Belvaux’s film has stayed with me, to say the least.

   
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Blake Williams is an avant-garde filmmaker born in Houston, currently living and working in Toronto. He recently entered the PhD program at University of Toronto's Cinema Studies Institute, and has screened his video work at TIFF (2011 & '12), Tribeca (2013), Images Festival (2012), Jihlava (2012), and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Blake has contributed to IONCINEMA.com's coverage for film festivals such as Cannes, TIFF, and Hot Docs. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Coen Bros. (Fargo), Dardennes (Rosetta), Haneke (Code Unknown), Hsiao-Hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon), Kar-wai (Happy Together), Kiarostami (Where is the Friend's Home?), Lynch (INLAND EMPIRE), Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Van Sant (Last Days), Von Trier (The Idiots)

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