Monday, January 30, 2012

2011 Year in Review: An Introduction

It seems like every critic’s top 10 list that I read begins with an introduction like this one, and every year it starts the same way “This was a weak year for movies”. They’ve said it so much that it has lost its meaning for me now. No, 2011 was not a great year for movies. The last truly great year was 2007 where no less than 5 films could have been my number 1 of the year (There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Zodiac, The Assassination of Jesse James, I’m Not There). But neither was it the weakest year in memory (that would be 2008). So just like 2009 and 2010, I think 2011 was an average year for movies – some great, some not so great. Few years are truly exceptional – maybe one a decade – so why keep harping on it?

2011 brought the biggest change in my life ever, as my wife gave birth to our first child, Natalie, in August and I couldn’t be happier. It did mean I saw a few less movies this year – around 200, down from my usual 230-250, but I caught almost all of the most acclaimed films. Out of the top 50 on my annual critics top 10 survey, I missed only 3 – Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, which closed in Toronto before I even knew it had opened, Aki Karismaki’s Le Havre, which did play in Toronto for most of December, but had I seen it, I would have missed something else equally or more acclaimed (and besides, it will play in Waterloo in February and I’ll see it then), and Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, which as far as I know didn’t play here at all. My list is later than most critics, as I am not a professional critic nor do I live in New York or LA, so films come to me later, and I want to give as many acclaimed films as possible a chance to make my list before I release it. I feel the need to point out that 3 films that did very well on this year’s survey – Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Film Socialisme and Incendies – were included in my summary for 2010 – as that is when they had commercial releases in Toronto. Uncle Boonme and Incendies were in my runners-up section last year, and I called Film Socialisme the 2nd worst film of 2010. Make of that what you will.

Did having a daughter change my movie tastes? Perhaps. My top 10 list does contain a few more lighter titles than normal, and a few of the darker movies lurk just outside the top 10, but you could not call all of the films on my top 10 list light – in fact the two darkest films of the year, in my opinion anyway, are on there. But she has changed my outlook on life, so she probably changed my movie tastes as well without my even knowing it. I’m okay with that.

Every year, I keep waiting for the new guard to completely take over for the old one, and every year they don’t seem quite able to do it. Yes, I thought 2007 may just mark the year that they did, but looking at my top 10 list from this year we have 2 directors who made their debut in the 1960s, 1 director who made their debut in the 1970s, 3 who made his debut in the 1990s, 3 director who made his debut in the 2000s and one debut director from this year, so it’s clear there’s still a mixture going one. The older generation of directors are refusing to go quietly – and we should be grateful for that.

This year, I paid less attention than ever before to the noise all around about movies – in particular, I didn’t listen to any Oscar prognosticators this year. The effect has been that I have enjoyed awards season more than ever before. When you get to a point like Jeffrey Wells, who seemingly has at least one post a day bitching about how The Artist is winning everything, when it is clearly not the best film of the year (in Wells’ opinion), it’s time to step back. I was there a few years ago, and did just that. Now, I can observe the awards season from a distance – and find it more enjoyable than ever before. No, I don’t think The Artist deserves to win all the awards it has, but does that truly matter? Does winning awards make it a better film, or my own favorites not winning awards make them any worse? Of course not. This year is the first year I’ve released this list after the Oscar nominations came out – and while I knew before that my choices would differ greatly from the Academy’s – especially in the acting categories – I had no idea they would differ as much as they ultimately did. Yet, I still think I’m right – of course.

I’ve also stayed away from comment sections on most boards, because I find that they are filled with people who don’t want an honest debate about movies but simply to scream at the top of their lungs about their favorites or least favorites. I used to be there right alongside them, screaming, but I don’t have the energy anymore. My opinion is just that – an opinion – and is just one of many on any movie. I am comfortable with that, and don’t feel the need to try and change anyone’s mind, or have my own mind changed. You wanted a good, old fashioned debate about a movie, I’m all for it, but if you just want to call others stupid for having an opinion that doesn’t align with yours, that’s where I start to tune out.

So let’s get to it. First up is my list of the best films of the year – the top 10 and a host of runners-up. Then will come the top 10 performances in each Oscar category, the top 10 ensemble casts of the year, the top 10 documentaries, the 15 biggest disappointments of the year, the worst performances of the year and finally the 10 worst films I saw in 2011.

I’m not done with the films from 2011 yet – and most likely never will be. There’s always films you miss, and ones you didn’t even hear about during the course of the year. So, for now anyway, this is how the saw the year in film for 2011.

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