What a Year…2011 in Film
2011 doesn’t seem so long ago but a lot has changed in the landscape of film media. Blockbuster Video still had stores around, Best Buy still had a large area dedicated to movie purchasing, and Netflix streaming services was just beginning to take over the landscape of how consumers connected with movies.
Amidst these changes, filmmakers were transforming the way they made films. Martin Scorsese made his first 3-D film and a black and white silent film called “The Artist” won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Doesn’t seem so strange looking back through the lens of 2018 however.
This week the Phoenix Film Festival wanted to take a look back at 2011, here are the films that made my list of favorites for this unique year.
10. We Need to Talk About Kevin
Director Lynne Ramsey has 4 feature films under her belt since 1999. Needless to say, the director takes her time crafting her films. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a film that spends much of its time on a mother’s frustration, regret, confusion, and anger towards her son and family. It's crushing to watch this mother self-destruct amidst the turmoil of caring for a child who develops a pattern of strange and evil behavior over the course of his young life. This is a horror film that doesn’t rely on jump scares or clever editing, but rather well written characters and a focus on a relationship between a mother and child.
9. Another Earth
The idea that there is another earth that could be a mirror of the earth we are living in lends much to the mystery of “Another Earth” from director Mike Cahill. Lead actress Brit Marling co-wrote the script for this film and offers an exceptional performance. Although the film doesn’t concern itself with actually science fiction beyond the concept, it does explore the nature of relationships and existence, and achieves an effect of asking indirect questions of the audience.
One of the most underrated films of 2011. Nicolas Winding Refn crafted a movie thick with atmosphere, and positioned within a world seemingly lost in time. The 80’s influenced synth pop soundtrack accommodates the film but doesn’t date it strangely enough. “Drive” is still one of the best soundtracks of the last 10 years. It’s the kind of film that lends itself to numerous viewings and has garnered itself a strong fan following since its release in 2011.
“Rango” may not be your kid’s favorite film, but I know a few adults that absolutely love it. With a heavy emphasis on the American western genre, “Rango” plays like a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western filled with telling nods to the history of cowboy cinema. Johnny Depp voices the lead character Rango and is supported by other seasoned film veterans that compose an exceptional cast of voices. Famed director of photography Roger Deakins signed on as a visual consultant, his eye for action and the scope of his framing is stunning here.
6. A Separation
“A Separation” composes an unorthodox mystery regarded the aspect of “truth”. The facts are all present for an Iranian couple arguing about a pending divorce but their exploration of what “truth” means to them is at odds. If that sounds confusing I promise you it’s not, “A Separation” at its’ core is an analysis of religious law and how people fall into dissonance when trying to live in accordance of those laws. Time has aged this film exceptionally well, it’s the one film on this list that I would rank higher, closer to the top spot.
5. The Artist
Who would have thought that a black and white, silent film would have made such an impact on the film scene in 2011? Many of the qualities that make this film so good are so simplistic it seems too easy. But every piece of this film is a calculated step in filmmaking. Director Michael Hazanavicius utilizes space and set design so well, actor Jean Dujardin conveys so much emotion with just his expressions. “The Artist” is pure nostalgia in motion.
4. Take Shelter
Michael Shannon is still one of my favorite actors; he is able to embody so many different kinds of characters with such a natural ease. “Take Shelter” is a simple premise for a film, however Mr. Shannon and the supporting cast elevate the narrative into something spectacular. Paranoia, along with elements of survival, desperation, and confusion play an important role to how each character deals with the range of emotions exhibited. Predictability typically ruins films that focus on apocalyptic themes, however, “Take Shelter” feels ambiguous, the viewer is never sure footed in their assessment of how the film will end, and that’s great credit to the film.
Martin Scorsese’s passion for film is displayed in every frame of this film, it’s as much a love letter to the genesis of filmmaking as it is a story of his own life. The film plays in two parts, showcasing the adventures of the young boy surviving in the train station and the career of the great filmmaker Georges Méliès. The combination of fantasy and reality is played upon and executed masterfully in both the reality of Hugo, who watches the world as a great fantasy, and the life of Méliès who succumbs to reality but embraces peace in the fantasy of film. Mr. Scorsese embraced technology for this film, composing it in some of the best 3-D of recent memory, and proved again why he is a master of the filmmaking craft.
Director Lars Von Trier creates abrasive films that push viewers in demanding ways with content that is disturbing and uncomfortable. This year the director crafted a bold personal work that is equally appalling as it is completely mesmerizing with the serial killer focused “The House That Jack Built”. But in 2011 Von Trier explored themes of loss, despair, tragedy, and conflict through the family dynamic and romantic relationship of a young woman with severe depression. All this transpires while also telling a story of Earth’s imminent apocalypse. Kirsten Dunst should have been nominated, if not have won, an Academy Award for her portrayal here. 7 years later and Lars Von Trier is still one of the most interesting and compelling filmmakers working.
1. Certified Copy
The battle of authenticity and imitation has been explored in films before, however not with the passion and depth that director Abbas Kiarostami exhibits with “Certified Copy”. The story follows two somewhat unlikable characters as they journey through the streets of rustic Italy discussing issues of copies; weaving through art, architecture, emotion, and humanity, these two people compose a fascinatingly complex relationship. What is real and what is manufactured? “Certified Copy” offers no easy answers, and it doesn’t need to.