Here at the Walker Art Center, we asked staff members from all over the institution to assemble a top ten list. This is what we got. *spoiler alerts throughout*
Top Picks – The 10 Most Mentioned Films
1. The Skin I Live In (El piel que habito) – 8 votes
2. Melancholia – 6 votes
3. Bridesmaids – 5 votes
The Tree of Life – 4 votes
Cave of Forgotten Dreams –4 votes
Shame – 4 votes
Drive – 3 votes
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – 3 votes
Weekend – 3 votes
The Future – 3 votes
Hugo – 3 votes
Midnight in Paris – 3 votes
Moneyball – 3 votes
Senior Imaging Specialist
(in alphabetical order)
The Tree of Life
(in no particular order)
The Skin I Live In (El piel que habito)
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
The Hangover: Part 2
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Puss in Boots
Curatorial Assistant, Visual Arts
1. The Skin I Live In (El piel que habito)
2. Fright Night
3. The Clock
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
8. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
9. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
10. Margin Call
Assistant Director, Visitor Services
To judge this “giallo” (colorful, sensual, psychedelic murder mysteries) for its authenticity is to miss the point completely. While many die-hard minions of this already annoyingly obscure genre call this a bastardization of the genre, I think this film by Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani brings giallo to completely new territory. The directors assert that they wish to bring the viewer inside the protagonist’s skin and feel what she feels, which is exactly what you get. An experience in synesthesia. (Screened in February at the Trylon)
2. Martha Marcy May Marlene
This film could have easily succumbed to gimmicks and clichés as to the psychology of cults and the stifling effects of post-traumatic stress. But Martha… seductively flows from dream to reality, past to present, creating the immense anxiety that the two will eventually come together.
3. The Skin I Live In (El piel que habito)
Almodovar is easily one of my favorite directors, but over the past few years I was beginning to fear that he was getting a little…soft. The Skin I Live In is an utter relief. While I raised my eyebrows at some of the sexual politics in the first half, the sudden twist (one of the better Almodovar twists in years) forced me to question my assumptions.
A friend of mine succinctly noted that this film is great, if for no other reason, because it shows the stark difference between depression and anxiety. Call me a misanthrope, but in tackling the cosmological greater chain-of-being, I’d choose this over Tree of Life any day.
5. Green Porno
While not technically a feature film, I have to applaud these genius Isabella Rossellini shorts. The way in which she projects human sexuality onto other animals and insects is both hilarious and smartly analogous.
I love how the title relates to the characters; a middle-aged son (Ewan McGregor) copes with the death of his father who came “out” just months before his death. Without being too twee, the movie follows McGregor as he learns from his father’s example by pursuing a new relationship. Christopher Plummer not only gives an incredible performance but also gives us a timely character who demonstrates the bravery of being oneself.
7. The Hedgehog
Quiet and contemplative, this bittersweet adaptation of a Muriel Barbery novel (and one of the better page to screen efforts that I’ve seen) reflects on what it means to be a misfit.
As tired as the adage “a chick flick for dudes” is, I loved this subtly subversive take on wedding culture, as well as the juxtaposition of precious with crude.
9. The Imperialists Are Still Alive!
While this film makes some smart observations on the privilege of citizenship, my favorite part is the parody upon the cache of being a New Yorker. Ex-patriots, models, and trust-funders traipse from fashion parties at the Met to dull and vacant speak-easies, saying to themselves “it’s too bad that this place has become so popular.”
10. Bill Cunningham, New York
This documentary’s strongest point is that it never pretends to understand its subject. The life of this lovable street style photographer is beguiling but also hints at a deeper, possibly darker reality that we’ll never see.
Online Content Specialist, Performing Arts
1. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
2. The Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975
5. The Skin I Live In (El piel que habito)
6. A Dangerous Method
8. The Imperialists Are Still Alive!
9. The Future
1. Certified Copy
Love Story for postmodern theorists? Kiarostami’s cerebral quasi-romance is put together in jigsaw-puzzle fashion, but the finished product is something beautiful, humane, and endlessly fascinating.
2. Meek’s Cutoff
The best director in America right now transplants us to a brutally arid Oregonian desert in 1845; the quiet tension as a group of pioneers struggles to survive reaches an almost unbearable level. A naturalistic evocation of a foreboding and alien world, Meek’s Cutoff simultaneously pushes realism and stripped-down impressionism to their breaking points.
3. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
No one charts alternate realities as beautifully or hypnotically as Apichatpong Weerasethakul. A miraculous image seems to arrive once every few minutes in Uncle Boonmee—even if you don’t always know where you’re going, you feel blissful by the time Weerasethakul gets you there.
It sounds hyperbolic to claim that Hugo could change the way movies are made, but it may be true: no other 3D movie has ever immersed us in a fantasy world as completely and meticulously as this one. The first twenty minutes or so, when seemingly endless tracking shots forge a new kind of cinematic space for us to inhabit, are literally jaw-dropping, and the 3D recreations of Georges Méliès fantasies more than a century old could only fail to penetrate the stoniest film lover’s heart.
5. The Skin I Live In
Maybe the most shocking and viscerally astounding movie of Almodovar’s career, which is saying something. Many films question, at least implicitly, what it is that makes us who we are—the brain, the heart, the body, or some intangible thing somehow connected to us—and explore what happens when we’re trapped in a flesh that doesn’t seem to accommodate us. But few of them are as vivifying, complex, agile, or audacious as The Skin I Live In.
For a movie about depression and the apocalypse, Melancholia is surprisingly invigorating. It also features a group of characters who, despite their overwhelming faults and nonstop misery, seem more human than almost any ensemble Lars Von Trier has ever depicted before: among all of Melancholia’s gorgeous end-of-the-world visions, the most surprising thing to observe is the director’s bleak empathy.
Dumont’s controversial 2009 French film had its Twin Cities premiere at the Trylon this year; when I saw it, there were about six people in the audience, all of whom seemed to be gasping repeatedly throughout. Volatile and cryptic, Hadewijch is an uncompromisingly ambitious confrontation with faith and fanaticism; its ending, an inversion of Bresson’s Mouchette, is either majestically reverent or completely blasphemous.
8. Martha Marcy May Marlene
A powerful debut for both director Sean Durkin, who builds a pitch-perfect atmosphere of dread and fragile identity, and its star, Elizabeth Olsen, who manages to be both dead-eyed and tragically poignant throughout. Visually distinct, with its faded colors, underexposed lighting scheme, and tactile grain, it’s the most unsettling semi-horror movie of the year.
It takes guts (and maybe a little arrogance) to title your film Poetry, but it takes even more skill to follow through on and ultimately transcend that title. The last ten minutes of the film may comprise the most unexpected and stimulating ending this year: a breakdown of character, narrative, and audience address that is at once heartbreakingly sad and euphoric.
10. A Dangerous Method
The sly feat pulled off here is to correlate A Dangerous Method’s aesthetic—refined and meticulous on the surface, yet overflowing with intimations towards sadomasochism and power dynamics—to its characters’ psychological drives, invisible yet, at the same time, so powerfully manifested through their behavior. Cronenberg proves once again that, even in scenes in which characters simply write letters to each other or converse on a park bench, he’s one of the most visceral and meticulous directors around.
1. Meek’s Cutoff
More than just a western, Kelly Reichardt’s solemn meandering film speaks death on the follies of the American spirit. We follow a group of ignorant midwesterners wandering around the Oregon desert in search of water and a new life, but all they find is . . . nothing. Plus we get to see Michelle Williams as a badass cowgirl in a bonnet. What more could you want?
2. Tree of Life
Epic in scope, what I found most remarkable about this film was not its summation of the human/life/Earth experience, but that which was not said. So many beautiful scenes and shots were such abstracted examples of dialectical montage that I still don’t know what they mean. Where was that wooden attic room? Who was swimming through a door underwater? I was also enchanted by Terrence Malick’s rewriting of the famous “monolith scene” from 2001: A Space Odyssey; Tree of Life‘s origin point is tacked back to one dinosaur stepping on another dinosaur’s face.
3. The Skin I Live In (El piel que habito)
Terrifying, thrilling, gripping, and totally immersive. I will never be able to watch Antonio Banderas again without fear. Zorro will never be the same.
4. Take Shelter
Never have I walked out of a theater so paranoid. Everyone was out to get me. The film was good too. Beautiful and harsh, the nightmare sequences were so powerful I felt myself wincing throughout much of the film, afraid things were about to go wrong.
There are oh so many ways to read this film’s content, but among them I like two best: as a science fiction film and as a marxist film. Among world-ending scifi epics, I think this one is certainly better than Armageddon, and can place up there with the greats. As a Marxist film, you can see the bourgeoise decadence of the first hour put into context by the end of the world. Put simply, when it comes to wealth, none of it matters.
Elegant and violent. I couldn’t help but be enchanted by a film that spawned a lawsuit because there was “very little driving in the motion picture.” Ryan Gosling is making himself THE up and coming babe in hollywood, but Carey Mulligan gave a nuanced performance that really tied the film together.
Martin Scorcese’s nuanced adaptation of a children’s book becomes an excellent homage to one of the most important and least recognized directors of all time. The one and only, Georges Méliès is both a character and a filmmaker, since much of his original footage is used lovingly in Hugo. And do yourself a favor, see it in 3D.
8. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
An adaptation of the surprise super-hit novel, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is fast-paced and simultaneously contemplative. Rooney Mara’s performance as the title girl is, what A. O. Scott calls “an outlaw feminist fantasy-heroine, and also an avatar of digital antiauthoritarianism.” David Fincher’s obsession with place (San Francisco in Zodiac, Harvard and Stanford in The Social Network) continues as he paints a Sweden that is part socialist paradise, part industrialist capitalist stronghold and part winter wonderland.
9. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
To say that this film uses 3D in more interesting ways than anyone else so far is not saying much. It’s like saying that Werner Herzog is a better director than James Cameron (duh). Cave transforms the camera, and in our viewing it transforms the theater. The screen becomes less a substance and more an absence that we are welcomed to dive into. However long we actually spend inside that well-guarded cave in Normandy, it feels like a blissful eternity.
10. Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen has made (almost) one film every year since 1965 and all the practice has apparently payed off. That is perhaps too much adulation for what is admittedly a silly film, but it is so charming one can forgive its inadequacies or cheezy clichés and just jump into the joyful portrait of some imaginary Paris. Midnight also made me realize that the character that Owen Wilson played in all of those Wes Anderson films was really just his Woody Allen impression. Who knew?
Honorable Mentions: Shame, Le Havre, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, The Muppets, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super 8
(listed in the order seen)
1. This is Not a Film
3. The Tree of Life
4. Le Havre
5. A Separation
6. The Turin Horse
7. The Island President
9. Take Shelter
Click here for Sheryl’s full list of The Films of 2011
Associate Curator, Film/Video
1. The Clock
In a brilliant installation reflecting films temporal nature Christian Marclay tracks 24 hours of cinematic time captured in film clips.
This thrilling adaptation of Brian Selznick’s book tracks the origin of cinema and the early years of film preservation. Catch the last weeks of screenings of George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon—an essential part of the film—in the Walker’s Midnight Party exhibition.
3. A Separation
Asghar Farhadi’s tense family drama tests the assumptions of truth and responsibility as the story enfolds. Perhaps the success of this film will spur the release of his earlier film About Elly which had a rare U.S. screening in Walker’s Views from Iran series.
Wim Wender’s documentary completely changed my mind about the use of 3-D in film.
5. We Were Here
This documentary about how the San Francisco community came together to deal with the early years of the AIDS crisis had me in tears. It’s been shortlisted for the Best Feature Documentary Oscar.
6. The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye
This documentary by Marie Losier shows one of the most loving relationships that I’ve ever seen.
7. Slow Action
Ben River’s faux ethnographic film was a revelation.
8. The Turin Horse
Béla Tarr’s final film was haunting and moving reminiscent of silent films like The Wind.
9. The Return
16mm is still alive in Nathaniel Dorsky’s mesmerizing film.
10. Abberation of Light: Dark Chamber Disclosure
Not exactly a film, rather a performance involving light and live music by Sandra Gibson, Luis Recorder, and Olivia Block. They altered the projection of film through crystals, prisms and other forms. In an era of crisp HD projection, it was refreshing to lose myself in abstraction.
Honorable mention: World on a Wire. The restoration of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 70s rare sci-fi detective film received a short, but well-deserved local screening at Kathie Smith’s essential series of films that were passed over for commercial releases in the Twin Cities at the Trylon Microcinema.
Member Relations Coordinator
1. The Skin I Live In (El piel que habito)
After Broken Embraces I started to get worried about Pedro Almodovar. This film was so brilliant and twisted and sick and demented. So creepy!
2. Bill Cunningham, NY
3. Tiny Furniture
A funny and kind of sad but very real description of what graduating from college is like right now. Minus, of course, the wealthy artist mother.
This film was nice and understated and managed to hold my attention even though it really only has two characters in two different apartments the entire time.
I found myself tragically seduced by this film. It’s kind of a cheesy movie about desire but it has it’s comical moments and is meticulously styled enough to make it my guilty pleasure of 2011. Very French.
6. The Future
Mailroom Services Coordinator
I loved everything about this film.
2. Meek’s Cutoff
I love westerns and Kelly Reichardt films and this had the best of both.
3. The Kid with a Bike
Another classic from the Dardenne Bros. with so much weight packed into an hour and twenty-seven minute film.
4. Tree of Life
Absolutely beautiful, its place at 4th reflects how many good films were released this year.
5. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
I only saw this in 2D on a regular theater screen. An amazing subject matter and the usual Werner Herzog documentary charm left me thinking about this film for months.
What a great opening sequence. The feel of this film was perfect.
This was a well executed film on an interesting subject.
I thought this was hysterical during its funniest moments.
9. X-men: First Class
I’m normally disappointed with superhero movies but I really enjoyed this one.
10. Midnight in Paris
I liked this better than other recent Woody Allen films.
(in alphabetical order)
Midnight in Paris
My Afternoons with Marguerite
The Skin I Live In
Director, Human Resources
2. Win Win
3. My Afternoons with Margueritte
4. Ides of March
6. The Way
9. The Help
10. Cedar Rapids
Honorable Mentions: The Conspirator, Young Adult, Margin Call, Beginners, Lincoln Lawyer