My list is below: the 10 best films of the first half of 2011.
But an even more intriguing question: Which of the films that make this list will still be under consideration at year’s end? I’ve got my favorites but, of course, it depends on what the post-Labor Day crop is like. Here goes:
1. “Incendies”: How did this movie NOT win the Oscar as best foreign film instead of “In a Better World”? Shakespearean in its sweep, Greek in its primal tragedy, this film blended a gut-wrenching family story with the horrors of war and fate. It won’t be Oscar-eligible – but it will wind up on year-end 10-best lists.
2. “Midnight in Paris”: Woody Allen’s wonderfully clever ode to Paris in the 1920s was, at the same time, a witty indictment of nostalgia as a blinkered approach to life. Woody’s most commercially successful film ever, it showed that Owen Wilson was born to speak his dialogue.
3. “A Better Life”: Demian Bichir, so dominating in “Weeds,” is heartbreakingly humble and, at the same time, self-possessed in this quiet but compelling story about an undocumented Mexican immigrant in L.A., reaching for the American dream to help his son.
4. “Super 8”: Here’s the movie where J.J. Abrams graduated from being an exciting TV guy who also directs movies to a full-blown filmmaker. His story of a group of movie-obsessed middle-schoolers in 1979 Ohio was exciting, funny and full of heart.
5. “The Last Mountain”: Filmmaker Bill Haney, working with Robert Kennedy Jr., tells the story of Coal River Mountain, an Appalachian peak in danger of being flattened by Big Coal. This movie had as strong a message as “An Inconvenient Truth,” and even more implacable villains.
6. “Cedar Rapids”: For those who believe that Ed Helms stole “The Hangover” from Zach Galifianakis, here’s the movie that offers proof of his genius. He’s perfect – and perfectly hilarious – as a small-town insurance salesman out of his depth at a big-time convention in, yes, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
7. “Win Win”: Paul Giamatti was reason enough to see Tom McCarthy’s delicious film of morally complex comedy about a lawyer and part-time wrestling coach trying to make ends meet. Add a cast that included Bobby Cannavale, Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor and newcomer Alex Shaffer and you’ve got a win-winner.
8. “Beginners”: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent teamed up for a film of great wit and sadness, told with enough whimsy to be charming and enough reality to never be cloying, in the story of a man recalling his elderly father’s decision to come out of the closet.
9. “I Saw the Devil”: Kim Jee-Woon directed what may be the most intense movie since Gaspar Noe’s “Irreversible” – a battle between a chilling serial killer (Choi Min-Sik) and the cop (Lee Byung-Hun) whose fiancé he murdered. Gruesome and bloody, yes – but also excruciatingly suspenseful.
10. “The First Grader”: Based on a true story, this simple but profound tale – of an elderly Kenyan, a former freedom fighter, and his quest to learn to read – was an emotionally and dramatically satisfying story, told with economy and soul by director Justin Chadwick.
There are several more films, many of them foreign language, that made my runners-up list for the year’s first half: “When We Leave,” “Applause,” “Even the Rain,” “Bridesmaids,” “Hanna” and “The Lincoln Lawyer.” My vote for most underrated film of the year so far: “Sucker Punch.”
As for the year’s worst, well, it’s too early for that, but I do have nominees for the year’s most overrated films: “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” “Certified Copy” – and, of course, “Tree of Life.” That list undoubtedly will grow longer; after all, Lars von Trier still has a film coming out this year.Print This Post