updated at 11:30 pm on 30 January after someone pointed out that I titled this post "Top Ten Movies of 2012." It only took a little more than 4 days for someone to alert me to my error.
updated at 4:30pm on 26 January to reflect the glaring oversight of having accidentally left off The Tree of Life.
updated at 10:45 am on 3 May 2014 after seeing Senna
I still have a handful of movies from 2011 to see, but nothing that is likely to make any real impression on this list. Of course these lists are arbitrary, but I like to put together a list of the films that had the strongest emotional effect on me.
First, some honorable mentions. These are movies that I really admired, but I like to stick to the tradition of a top ten: 50/50; Contagion; Martha Marcy May Marlene; Moneyball; Rango; Warrior; We Need to Talk About Kevin.
11. Take Shelter dir. Jeff Nichols - A disturbing portrait of a man succumbing to severe mental illness and the effect it has on his wife and child. Michael Shannon gives a brave performance that isn't afraid to go to some very dark human places. (3 May 2014 update: the addition of Senna to this Top Ten effectively bumps Take Shelter off, but for historical purposes I'm leaving it in 11th position.)
10. Shame dir. Steve McQueen - Speaking of brave performances going to dark places, Michael Fassbender is a kind of nonchalant Casanova in New York City who blinds women with his intense gaze. He's almost debilitatingly addicted to pleasures of the flesh - sex with women he's just met, with prostitutes and with himself. A beautifully realized portrait of an emotionally broken man.
9. The Artist dir. Michel Hazanavicius - A beautiful and moving little ode to silent film that is not only silent and in black and white, but adheres to the storytelling conventions of that bygone era.
8. La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) dir. Pedro Almodóvar - A brooding psychological melodramatic thriller. Almodóvar continues exploring his pet themes of identity and sexuality with one of the best efforts of his career.
7. Hugo dir. Martin Scorsese - Another ode to early cinema, this one stretching all the way back to the birth of narrative film making and early special effect. All of this is presented in a film that utilizes the most up-to-date effects. Scorsese uses 3D better than anyone has to date, even if I still think it's mostly pointless.
6. Senna dir. Asif Kapadia
5. Pina dir. Wim Wenders
4. The Tree of Life dir. Terrence Malick - A beautiful, lyrical, poetic rendering of the meaning of life. In many ways this is the apotheosis of what Malick has been trying to achieve with his movies previously. Not satisfied to use traditional narrative conventions, he employs experimental film techniques to give an impressionistic view of a boy's relationship with his father, using a stern hand, and his mother, providing the nurturing forgiveness that everyone craves sometimes. I admire this film for its grand vision, even with its imperfections. It's bold and daring in its scope, made by a director who isn't afraid to reach for big ideas.
3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy dir. Tomas Alfredson - A wonderful labyrinthine spy thriller that defies convention to present not the thrills of the spy business, but the human toll on those who commit to the daily slog of sifting through intelligence and embedding themselves in other lives for the benefit of their country.
2. Des hommes et de dieux (Of Gods and Men) dir. Xavier Beauvois - I saw this well over a year ago and it opened in the United States in early 2011. I use US release dates to make my top ten lists, so that's how a movie that no one is talking about now made it. This is a film of tremendous power and empathy about an order of Trappist monks who were kidnapped and murdered in Algeria during the civil war in 1996. It's not so much about the events that occurred as it is about these men in this time and place and how they come to see their role in the world. Pensive, studied, focused, brilliant and moving.
1. A Separation dir. Asghar Farhadi dir. - For a year I thought I had my number one film, but this excellent Iranian family drama bumped it down to second position. My review is coming soon, so I'll save my comments.
All feature films seen from 2011 (based on US commercial release dates)
+ from my collection
*50/50 dir. Jonathan Levine [USA]
*The Adjustment Bureau dir. George Nolfi [USA]
*The Adventures of Tintin dir. Steven Spielberg [USA]
*Albert Nobbs dir. Rodrigo Garcia [UK, Ireland]
*Anonymous dir. Roland Emmerich [UK]
*The Artist dir. Michel Hazanavicius [France]
*Beginners dir. Mike Mills [USA]
*A Better Life dir. Chris Weitz [USA]
*Blackthorn dir. Mateo Gil [Spain]
*Bridesmaids dir. Paul Feig [USA]
*Captain America: The First Avenger dir. Joe Johnsto [USA]
*Carnage dir. Roman Polanski [France, Germany, Poland, Spain]
+*Cars 2 dir. John Lasseter [USA]
*A Cat in Paris (Une vie de chat) dir. Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli [France]
*Chico & Rita dir. Fernando Trueba, and Javier Mariscal [Spain]
*Contagion dir. Steven Soderbergh [USA]
*Cowboys & Aliens dir. Jon Favreau [USA]
*Crazy, Stupid, Love. dir. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa [USA]
A Dangerous Method dir. David Cronenberg [UK, Canada]
*The Debt dir. John Madden [UK]
*The Descendants dir. Alexander Payne [USA]
*Drive dir. Nicolas Winding Refn [USA]
*Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close dir. Stephen Daldry [USA]
*The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo dir. David Fincher [USA]
*The Guard dir. John Michael McDonaugh [Ireland]
*Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II dir. David Yates [USA]
*Hell and Back Again dir. Dennis Danfung [USA]
*The Help dir. Tate Taylor [USA]
*Horrible Bosses dir. Seth Gordon [USA]
*Hugo dir. Martin Scorsese [USA]
*The Ides of March dir. George Clooney [USA]
*If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front dir. Marshall Curry [USA]
*In a Better World (Haevnen) dir. Susanne Bier [Denmark]
*In Darkness dir. Agnieszka Holland [Poland]
*Incendies dir. Denis Villeneuve [Canada]
*The Iron Lady dir. Phyllida Lloyd [UK]
*J. Edgar dir. Clint Eastwood [USA]
*Jane Eyre dir. Cary Fukunaga [UK]
*Kung Fu Panda 2 dir. jennifer Yuh [USA]
*Margin Call dir. J.C. Chandor [USA]
*Martha Marcy May Marlene dir. Sean Durkin [USA]
*Melancholia dir. Lars von Trier [Denmark]
*Midnight in Paris dir. Woody Allen [USA]
*Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol dir. Brad Bird [USA]
*Moneyball dir. Bennett Miller [USA]
*The Muppets dir. James Bobin [USA]
*My Week With Marilyn dir. Simon Curtis [UK]
*Newlyweds dir. Edward Burns [USA]
*Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux) dir. Xavier Beauvois [France]
*Our Idiot Brother dir. Jesse Peretz [USA]
*Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory dir. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky [USA]
*La Piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) dir. Pedro Almodóvar [Spain]
*Pina dir. Wim Wenders [Germany, France, UK]
Puss in Boots dir. Chris Miller [USA]
*Rango dir. Gore Verbinski [USA]
*Real Steel dir. Shawn Levy [USA]
*Rio dir. Carlos Saldanha [USA]
*Rise of the Planet of the Apes dir. Rupert Wyatt [USA]
*A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) dir. Asghar Farhadi [Iran]
*Shame dir. Steve McQueen [USA]
*Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows dir. Guy Ritchie [USA]
*Take Shelter dir. Jeff Nichols [USA]
*También la lluvia (Even the Rain) dir. Iciar Bollaín [Spain]
*Thor dir. kenneth Branagh [USA]
+*Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy dir. Thomas Alfredson [UK]
*Transformers: Dark of the Moon dir. Michael Bay [USA]
*The Tree of Life dir. Terrence Malick [USA]
The Trip dir. Michael Winterbottom [UK]
*Undefeated dir. Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin [USA]
*War Horse dir. Steven Spielberg [USA]
*Warrior dir. Gavin O'Connor [USA]
*We Bought a Zoo dir. Cameron Crowe [USA]
*We Need to Talk About Kevin dir. Lynne Ramsay [USA]
*X-Men: First Class dir. Matthew Vaughn [USA]
*Young Adult dir. Jason Reitman [USA]