Mar 28, 2012

Pictures: My Top Dozen Favourite 2011 Films

So here it is, finally. My top dozen favourites of 2011. I wanted to dedicate a post to each of the films and write about them in detail, but this has taken long enough (3 months!) and school work never seems to be over. I’ll just go ahead with a small list for now, and hopefully in the future, I’ll get to give some space to each of them separately.

Though I’d like to think that I have a pretty good taste and my favourite film equates the best film, I’m not confident enough in my academic knowledge of cinema to claim such a thing – and generally, I don’t think anyone should be. So what I’ve written here is a list of my favourite films of 2011. A film like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, which I respect much more than I love, couldn’t find a place here, for example, because having seen it twice now and despite absolutely,wholeheartedly being floored by its central performance, I can’t say the film as a whole touches me in any way.

There are a few titles I wish I hadn’t missed but as I said, it’s already late March and definitely time to move on to the new year. Ultimately, the entire year can be summarized in 18 films for me. As per tradition – and by that I mean an arbitrary rule I made up just last year – this blog only awards a Top Dozen so as much as it pains me to do so, I’ll have to leave six films off the list. Ask me on a different day and these honourable mentions can swap places with any of the films in the bottom six of my top dozen. No matter the placement, I love all these films and I’ll be going back to them in the future. And if you haven’t had the chance to see any of them yet, I really hope I can encourage you to do so.

Honourable Mentions
Miss Bala (dir. Gerardo Naranjo), Young Adult (dir. Jason Reitman), Weekend (dir. Andrew Haigh), The Skin I Live in (dir. Pedro Almodovar), Attack the Block (dir. Joe Cornish), Tomboy (dir. Celine Sciamma)

12. Moneyball (dir. Miller)
There are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there’s fifty feet of crap. And then there’s us.

11. Sleeping Beauty (dir. Leigh)
You are very beautiful, very talented. But we are going to make you even more beautiful, even more talented.

Mar 17, 2012

Visionaries: 2011's Best in Writing and Directing


6. We Need to Talk About Kevin

by Lynne Ramsey and Rory Stewart Kinnear based on the novel of the same name by Lionel Shriver

5. Young Adult

written by Diablo Cody

4. Moneyball

written by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian based on the novel Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis


written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou

2. Oslo, August 31st

written by Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt based on the novel Le feu follet by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle

1. A Separation
written by Asghar Farhadi

The writers of Kevin did the undoable by completely reshaping the tone and structure of such an unadaptable book to create a visual narrative. In Young Adult, Cody gave us a refreshingly uncompromising character with no redemptive qualities and left us with memorable quotables like psychotic prom queen bitch. In Moneyball, Zailian and Sorkin added emotional depth and charm to the layered texture of their sport story and gave us an abundance of terrific lines like fifty feet of crap. ALPS is another uniquely humorous and conceptually original entry in Lanthimos’s resume and doesn’t shy away from examining our deepest fears. Oslo, August 31st treated its hopeless protagonist with grace and told a universal story with such spatial and temporal specificity. Finally, A Separation has a focused but multi-faceted narrative that illuminates the social constructs of Iran with utmost subtlety. It also features an ensemble of characters that deserve their own full feature. Wouldn’t one about the judge be most interesting?


Honourable Mentions
Terrence Malick (Tree of Life), Andrew Haigh (Weekend), Pedro Almodovar (The Skin I Live in)

6. Sleeping Beauty

directed by Julia Leigh

5. Melancholia

directed by Lars von Trier


directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

3. A Separation

directed by Asghar Farhadi

2. Martha Marcy May Marlene

directed by Sean Durkin

1. Drive

directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

In Sleeping Beauty, Leigh shows an impeccable understanding of colours and spaces and creates tension by manipulating her elaborate mise-en-scene. Lars von Trier universalizes his internal feelings, and brings together the grandiosity of earth’s destruction and the intimacy of a wedding in his allegorical take on depression in Melancholia. Lanthimos’s formal control and confidence in ALPS reaffirm his position as an auteur with a visually distinctive voice. In A Separation, Farhadi shows once more that he is one of the world’s most capable hands in directing ensembles. That in the maze-like structure of his film, the pacing never falters is a miracle. In Martha Marcy May Marlene, there were no signs of naiveté as newcomer Sean Durkin held on tight to his careful framings and seamless transitions between past and present, and dream and reality to keep us on the edge of our seats. Finally, Nicolas Winding Refn’s pulpy, tacky, hot pink ode to Los Angeles and the cinema of the 80s in Drive has to top the list because as I wrote in my original review, the film has his fingerprints on every frame. And what a stylish film this is to have your mark on!

Previously on Best of 2011

Mar 13, 2012

A Night With A Rock Band (And Their Music Videos)

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of watching my favourite Iranian band, Kiosk, play an amazing show at Toronto's Mod Club. Even as an ardent fan of the band who was sure they wouldn't disappoint, I was still surprised at the astonishing quality of their show. Everything came together so well; the lively gypsy-inspired tunes, the incredibly smart political satire, the bitter love songs, the atmosphere of the club (but for the drunk girl who repeatedly hit me in the head), everything was ripe for a great night, and indeed, it ended up being one.

Anyway, after the concert my sister pointed me to one of their music videos that, strangely, I hadn't seen before. And I absolutely love it. For those of you who don't speak Farsi, you might guess from the title and the video's theme that this is a break-up song. It's a poignant post-mortem on a failed relationship and the words describe the difficulty of letting go of the shared memories. I love how the minimal animation quite literally materializes the memories in the shape of shared "stuff" and utilizes the band's cheeky brand of humour even though the lyrics don't show a trace of it in this instance.

Mar 8, 2012


Because...well, who needs a reason to post a picture as beautiful as this?

Mar 6, 2012

Thespians: 2011's Best Performances

Honourable Mentions
Tom Cullen and Chris New (Weekend), who gave us the year’s most believably romantic pas de deux, and Michael Fassbender (Shame), whose raw emotional turn marked yet another intriguing collaboration with Steve McQueen, came really close to making the final list. Similarly, Ryan Gosling (Drive) and Stephanie Sigman (Miss Bala) as two semi-silent anti-heroes gave perhaps the most iconic performances of the year that deserve to show up on every such list. On a related note, Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy) would have been on this list (all the way at number 2) had she not been mentioned on the list last year. I got around to the film on the festival circuit so I count it as a 2010 film.

12. Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin)

For conveying terror, helplessness, misery and confusion, all without words; for her thoughtful and balanced examination of a flawed character; and for continuing her streak of challenging performances in auteur pieces

11. Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead)

For his commitment; for gradually opening up years of pent up tension, inferiority and vengeance; and for an uncompromising portrayal of bruised virility and pride

Mar 2, 2012

Craftsmen: 2011's Best Technical Achievements

Honourable Mentions
Costume Design and Visual Effects of Immortals, Cinematography of Jane Eyre, Production Design of Pa Negre, Editing of Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Production Design of Hugo

12. The effects team behind the Visual Effect of Attack the Block

For compensating for the tight budget with creativity, for creating memorable monsters, and for serving the story without being gimmicky

11. Jacqueline Durran for the Costume Design of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

(also noteworthy: Production Design)
For understanding the intricacy of men’s clothing, for building character from the threads, for conveying the different classes of MI6 agents, and for working beautifully in tandem with the production design team

10. Dana Glauberman for the Editing of Young Adult

For the impeccable comic timing, and for perfectly balancing the laughs with the drama

9. Udo Kramer and Bernhard Henrich for the Production Design of Chicken with Plums

(also noteworthy: Costume Design)
For nailing every aspect of the period in Iran without losing the directors’ playful vision, for using colours and shadows to perfection, and for the broken violin

8. Alberto Iglesias for the Original Score of The Skin I Live In

(also noteworthy: Production Design)
For the thrill in every pulsating moment, for working within the atmosphere to create mood, for the range, and for continuing his collaboration with one of the world’s most exciting directors

7. Robbie Ryan for the Cinematography of Wuthering Heights

For capturing the beauty of a butterfly on the ledge of a window and the mane of a horse in the field, for the intimacy, and for shaping the story with image

6. Hayedeh Safiyari for the Editing of A Separation

For creating a maze without getting lost, for taking the audience right to the edge of discovery and pulling back, and for shaping the narrative and visual structure of the film through her cuts

5. Emmanuel Lubezki for the Cinematography of Tree of Life

(also noteworthy: Visual Effects)
For the picturesque imagery, for capturing the intimacy of a mother’s affection for his son with as much mastery as he does the grandiosity of genesis, and for giving us thousands of postcard perfect images

4. Matthew Newman for the Editing of Drive

(also noteworthy: Costume Design)
For heightening our tension, for releasing that tension with explosive bursts of violence, and for allowing the subtleties of the performances and Gosling’s cool charisma to sink in

3. Gokhan Tiryaki for the Cinematography of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

For endlessly broadening his range with a limited palette, for continuing to intrigue in the most monotonous locale, and for crafting a beautiful film out of an excruciating lighting exercise

2. Chris King and Gregers Sall for the Editing of Senna

For producing a coherent narrative entirely from existing footage, for transitioning between family videos and racing footage with ease, and for controlling our heartbeats and tear glands at once

1. Manuel Alberto Claro for the Cinematography of Melancholia

(also noteworthy: Visual Effects and Production Design)
For the complexity of the relationship established between scenes, for the thematic significance of every shot, and for the striking beauty of every frame

Previously on Best of 2011