The Year That Was

Last Updated: January 1, 2012By Tags:

It’s that time of year when this critic must sift through the hundreds of films consumed in the past twelve months and make choices—some easy, others very difficult—about the year’s best batch of films.

A Separation – Asghar Farhadi’s marital drama snatched top prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, and for good reason. Back in February, I wrote, “One of the film’s best qualities is that it treats heavy subjects in a down-to-earth and thoroughly unlabored fashion. No detail of the intricate plot seems forced or contrived. We are free to contemplate the film’s beauty and humanistic mien while weighing the ethical and religious issues raised by a serious work of art that never seems preachy.” It’s a good idea to keep your eyes peeled and see if the Iranians will triumph at the Academy Awards in February–the movie is competing in the Foreign Film section but may also qualify for the best screenplay and best directing categories.

A Dangerous Method – David Cronenberg’s latest is a probing, sensitive and beautifully crafted film that is calculated not to appeal to his fan base. Excellent acting and fine period attention compensate for any of the script’s deficencies.

Screen Shot 2011-12-30 at 20.46.52

Heaven’s Story – Takahisa Zeze’s monumental four-and-a-half hour-long “Heaven’s Story” was shown in the Forum section of this year’s Berlin Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI critic’s prize. Wild, ultraviolent, very funny and totally unique, let’s hope that Zeze’s post-Pink opus gets wider exposure.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Tomas Alfredson’s masterful adaptation of John Le Carré’s espionage masterpiece stars an A-list of British actors as the tired, lonely and haunted men who people the upper echelons of the Circus (British Spy Network) during the height of the Cold War. What’s not to like?

Le Quattro Volte – Michelangelo Frammartino’s wordless film follows an old man who becomes reincarnated as a sheep who becomes reincarnated as a tree. One of the weirdest films in recent memory. Mysterious and transcendent.

The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick’s cosmic epic of an American family plays like 2001 as remade by Faulkner. The film’s tone is so controlled and Mallick’s hand so masterful. One false move and the film would have just dissolved into self-parody. As it stands, the film is one of the most daring and innovative films of the year, if not the decade.

The tree of life

The Clock – I might be cheating by including on my top ten a film that hasn’t been screened outside of galleries, and one which no one (I imagine) has actually seen in its entirety. But Christian Marclay’s 24-hour-long film that charts the course of a full day in real time is a gripping, clever and loving ode to movies. It snatched top prize at this year’s Venice Bienniale. Let’s hope a DVD release is in the works.

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams – Werner Herzog just keeps ‘em coming. His 3D documentary about the work’s oldest cave drawings (and possibly, oldest surviving artwork of any kind forged by human hand) is a thoughtful rumination of the human need for artistic production. It is also the best use I’ve seen yet of 3D in the post-Avatar age.

This Must Be the Place – Sean Penn is brilliant in this insane and hilarious film from Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, about an aging punk rocker who tracks down his father’s tormentor from Auschwitz. One of the best road movies in a long long time, the film deftly balances its serious and quicky content. It is also drop-dead gorgeous to look at.

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Midnight in Paris – All hail Woody Allen! His latest, a nostalgia-laden time warp featuring cameos from James Joyce and Hemingway, is further proof that Europe has put fresh wind in the director’s aging sails. The cast is perfect. The script is perfect. Paris is perfect.

A.J. Goldmann is Screen Comment’s Europe correspondent and covers the Berlin International Film Festival.