It was the best of times … 2011

31 12 2011

As the few minutes left in 2011 quickly wane, I wanted to reflect on all the good that has come from this trying year of 2011.  As Lester Burnham said in “American Beauty” – and I quoted on my senior page in the yearbook – it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world.

No matter the general consensus of film in a year (and I don’t think it takes an expert to tell you this wasn’t a stellar one), the top 10 list is a reminder to all critics and readers that there will always be something to celebrate.  Even amidst all the chaos of the year, we found reasons to be happy … and thus a way to be happy.

Much was said about high profile divorces – Demi and Ashton, Sinead O’Connor, Kim Kardashian – but the whole world tuned in for the Royal Wedding.  Even with the American divorce rate soaring and half of all marriages are unable to last, it was love that brought us together.

Much was said about our military’s inefficacy in Iraq as we pulled out the last troops in December, but Seal Team Six gave Americans something to be proud of as they flawlessly took down the elusive Osama bin Laden.  Failure and cynicism may make for an interesting editorial page, but it was success that captured the attention and the heart of America.

Much was said about the dumbing down of youth with mindless blockbusters like “Transformers” grossing a billion dollars worldwide and mindless literature like “Twilight” flying off the shelves.  Yet the young generation – my generation – proved it was hardly an empty one by turning out in record numbers on the opening day of the final “Harry Potter” movie.  If you couldn’t feel a real magic from the movie, you had to take comfort in seeing that the experiences of reading a book and going to a movie theater, thought be many to be endangered, were alive and well.

So while our president may have abandoned hope and change for 2012, I, for one, am full of it.  I am confident that all will pan out for the future, especially given how willing filmmakers were in 2011 to tackle some of the toughest issues facing our society.  In my top 10, you will see movies committed to showing us how to live, how to love, and – most importantly – how to change.  Like Owen Wilson’s Gil Pender from “Midnight in Paris,” living in the past only works as a fantasy.  We have to live in the now; we have to face its challenges; we have to accept pain as a natural part of progress.

So, without further ado, here were the 10 best movies I saw in 2011:

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REVIEW: In a Better World

6 10 2011

Many times, critics try to write the film history books by declaring movies groundbreaking, innovative, daring, or bold.  We note trends, developments, and overall moods in the field of cinema at large.  We have little power to affect artistic merit, but we have a great deal of power in affecting how much cultural merit a film has.

It’s all too easy to make our ultimate standard of good filmmaking those movies that we can declare relevant.  Sometimes, though, it’s nice to get a reminder like “In a Better World” that these aren’t the only criteria for great movies.  Susanne Bier’s film is a powerful and moving testament to cinema’s ability to engage us through authentic portrayal of primal human emotions.  It’s unlikely to shake the earth with its ingenuity, but it’s almost guaranteed to make your heart shake in your seat.

While the title “In a Better World” conveys a sense of almost utopian optimism, perhaps the original Danish title, which translates to “Revenge,” better conveys the film’s exploration.  Across two continents, Bier weaves a parable about the forces that bring about one of our ugliest, deepest, yet most primordial instinct and how the strength and resilience of the human spirit can resist caving into it.  The story may have been told before, but it’s one of the greatest cinematic feats when someone like Bier can make the narrative just as captivating as if we were experiencing it for the first time.

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