Top 10 List: Adapt or Die

One glance at the movies of 2011, in the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and it was obvious that it was the year of coping with dramatic change and having to shift gears to survive. We were all Scrooge with time running out to embrace humanity. My top 10 list  (which is still in a state of flux, fittingly enough) certainly reflects this, and I will delve more deeply into the thematic threads after the Academy announces its best picture nominees.

1. Hugo

Martin Scorsese looks back and forward at the same time with this love letter to French film of the early sound era, the forgotten and embittered George Méliès, 3-D, and film preservation (with a little Michael Powell thrown in for good measure). A dreamy, Dickensian fairy tale with game-changing 3-D and emotional catharsis.

2. The Artist

Michael Hazanavicius looks back and forward at the same time with this love letter to Hollywood, silent films, the forgotten and embittered silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who can’t make the transition, and black-and-white. A dreamy, Victorian fairy tale with anachronistic techniques and emotional catharsis. Like Hugo, though, The Artist reminds us that movies remain timeless, in spite of changing technology.

3. The Tree of Life

Terrence Malick’s summation film about nature and grace and the need for emotional connection and creative expression. A philosopher’s view of life, told in fits and starts, and wrapped around childhood memory and adult regret. Oh, yes, there’s emotional catharsis.

4. War Horse

The antithesis of Jaws in which an unstoppable beast unites people rather than destroys them. Steven Spielberg, coming off Tintin, is like a child again with this fable about love and hope between a young man and his horse. Like Gone with the Wind, The Quiet Man, and Ryan’s Daughter, the land is everything, which is never more apparent after the waste of World War I. The essence of Spielberg’s classicism applied to another story of conscience.

5. Moneyball

Bennett Miller follows Capote with another literate and mournful biopic of a creative iconoclast on a life-changing journey. Only in this case, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt at his most fascinating and charismatic best) is spiritually adrift because baseball has broken his heart (he blew his chance as a player). But that doesn’t prevent the driven and resourceful Beane from reinventing himself with a revolutionary way of evaluating players with computer analysis, which rekindles his life of life and baseball.

6. The Descendants

No one does irony better than Alexander Payne (a latter day Mike Nichols), and he gets the best out of George Clooney in this melancholy tale of an emotionally barren land baron in Hawaii confronted with death and betrayal, who gets a second chance at fatherhood and proud land owner as a descendant.

7. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

John le Carré’s insightful Cold War dissection gets reinvented by Tomas Alfredson, and Gary Oldman carries it off as a quiet, pensive George Smiley. There’s a Soviet mole at MI6 and Smiley slowly weeds him out among a cast of characters at “The Circus” (including Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, and Mark Strong), but not before reflecting on his own failings. Lovely layers of authentic ’70s textures with compositions emphasizing claustrophobia and paranoia. Espionage was never chillier.

8. A Dangerous Method

David Cronenberg conjures a fascinating rivalry between Michael Fassbender’s romantic Carl Jung and Viggo Mortensen’s rigorous Sigmund Freud. But A Dangerous Method is really about the woman that comes between them: Keira Knightley’s tortured Sabina Spielrein, who’s a brilliant psychoanalyst in her own right. Human nature doesn’t change, and you can’t hide from it. Cronenberg’s spare visual style pulls us into the sly narrative without us even realizing it. He’s like a skillful psychoanalyst.

9.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Our favorite boy wizard completes his harrowing rite of passage in this action-packed finale directed with operatic flair by David Yates. It was worth the journey just to see Harry and his pals fight for Hogwarts and his surreal encounter with Dumbledore. But, most of all, the sublime payoff with Snape (the very reason you cast Alan Rickman in the first place) and his secret tale of unrequited love provides an unexpected twist that makes you want to watch it all again from the beginning.

10. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

While all the other films deal with 9/11 metaphorically, Stephen Daldry’s fable confronts it head on. In fact, it’s a little like Hugo, in which an overly sensitive boy (newcomer Thomas Horn) sets out to unlock a secret left behind by his deceased father (Tom Hanks) and settle unfinished business. Along the way, he encounters a mysterious old man (Max Von Sydow) in need of repair and redemption. And like War Horse, sentimental yet powerful.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX

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