By Justin Senkbile
For the movies, 2011 was full of immense highs and equally vast lows. In short, it was similar to 2010. Or 2009. Or virtually any other year. The great stuff was really great: engaging, enlightening and often challenging. And the rest was typically bad: amusing at best and insulting at worst.
We had everything from romantic spirituality (“The Tree of Life”) to apocalyptic existentialism (“Another Earth”, “Melancholia”). There were successful franchise reanimations (“The Muppets”) and disastrous ones (“The Smurfs”). “Harry Potter” made his last dent at the box office, and the “Twilight” series finally started rounding the same corner. There were lots of strong documentaries too, especially for us Lincolnites: The Ross showed “Summer Pasture”, “Tabloid” and “We Were Here”, to name just a few great titles that didn't make the list below.
On that note, since it's impossible to fit all the good into a measly ten spots, you'll also find a handy group of ten other honorable mentions below, most of which are either still playing in town or are now available on DVD.
Several of my picks were technically released in 2010, but didn't reach us until this year. And a few much-hyped titles are still unseen by this reviewer for that same reason. Steve McQueen's “Shame”, David Cronenberg's “A Dangerous Method”, and Aki Kaurismaki's “Le Havre” all received kind words when they opened elsewhere earlier this year, but won't reach us until January (The Ross already has them booked). “The Artist”, Michel Hazanavicius' silent picture, and the espionage thriller “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” will presumably reach a Marcus screen in early 2012 as well (Omaha's Film Streams has “The Artist” starting January 13th).
So here they are, the ten best films released in Lincoln this year, roughly in order of preference. Happy new year!
- Another Year - If you'll pardon the use of an unpardonably corny phrase, Mike Leigh films are like chicken soup for the soul. His latest, which reached us in early January, follows an older couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) through the four seasons of an average year. They're a happy pair, but life comes much harder for many of their friends (including one played by the amazing Lesley Manville). This film's performances and its flawless simplicity are almost overwhelming.
- Young Adult – Jason Reitman's “Up In The Air” was one of last year's best movies, and his latest is even better. Here, Charlize Theron stars as a writer of young adult novels who returns to her hometown with plans to whisk away a happily married ex-flame (Patrick Wilson). Not for the faint of heart (painfully awkward and embarrassing moments abound), Theron here is as stunning as she is deplorable.
- Nostalgia for the Light – Patricio Guzman's essay film ties together Chile's violent political history and the work of astronomers, out in the desert, searching for the earth's history by looking to the stars. An amazing reminder of the potentials of the sound and image relationship, and, even better, a reassurance that there are still filmmakers interested in that relationship. A movie so personal, specific and true that it becomes universal.
- The Tree of Life – Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Sean Pean all appear in director Terrence Malick's intensely poetic web of feelings and sensations. Tracing human life from the earth's beginnings, through a Texas family in the fifties, and on to the cold, hermetic modern world, this is the art film for people who didn't think they liked art films.
- Le Quattro Volte – As ambitious as “The Tree of Life”, minus the majestic scale and A list stars. Michelangelo Frammartino's second film follows a soul through four incarnations: human, animal, vegetable and mineral. Seriously. It's an incredible, completely unique experience.
- The Descendants – Alexander Payne's beautifully textured film is about a descendant of one of Hawaii's first white landowning families (George Clooney). His pressures – financial, paternal and marital, among others – are real. But the Payne touch makes it all feel like the most effortless of comedies while retaining every ounce of dramatic weight.
- Certified Copy – Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's latest, set in Italy, is a deceptively accessible film, a web of impressions about relationships, history and art, all wrapped up within a warm and frequently funny tale of two people who may or may not share a past (Juliette Binoche and William Shimell). The restaurant scene towards the end is one of Binoche's finest moments.
- Hugo - As with “My Week with Marilyn” below, Martin Scorsese's 3D outing might be most appealing to movie freaks like myself. This story about the later life of Georges Méliès is, besides being one giant love-letter to cinema, the first film I've seen that really embraces 3D technology as something more than an expensive novelty.
- The Skin I Live In – Pedro Almodovar's latest is about a demented plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) and his unfortunate patient (Elena Anaya). It's a classical tale of revenge and madness, a bigger-than-life horror story filtered through Almodovar's brand of high melodrama. Also gets the award for best, craziest plot twist in recent memory. Avoid spoilers at all costs!
- My Week With Marilyn - A young man (Eddie Redmayne) breaks into the film industry in London. He spends his days with Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and his nights with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). If not a perfect movie, this is a perfect movie experience and an irresistible fantasy for film lovers. Williams channels Marilyn's spirit like no one else I've seen.
Honorable mention:“White Material”, “Senna”, “Putty Hill”, “The Trip”, “Bridesmaids”, “The Muppets”, “My Dog Tulip”, “Carlos”, “The Black Power Mixtape, 1967-1975”, “The Time That Remains”