ianuarie 2012
The Artist, directed by Michel Haznavicius. In a strange and wonderful way, this silent black-and-white film feels as bold and innovative a moviegoing experience as James Cameron's bells-and-whistles Avatar did a couple of years ago. And the musical score is infectiously uplifting. Retro is the new cool.

Bridesmaids, directed by Paul Feig. A welcome rejoinder to the slew of sugary 2011 romcoms, Bridesmaids is an audacious take on the joys and terrors (mostly the latter) of the ladies in waiting. While every critic and their cousin made the obvious parallel with The Hangover, it reminded me of All About Eve, only with Bette Davis pooing in the middle of the streets.

From the Sky Down, directed by Davis Guggenheim. At first sight (and sound), this rockumentary is telling the story of Achtung Baby, the 1991 U2 album, but the director's unprecedented access to the four Irishmen results in an unexpectedly intimate portrait of the arguably best known rock group since The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Let's give the last word to Edge (for once...) "Edge, are you a perfectionist?" "I'm trying to be but I'm not there yet..."

Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese. For a lay audience, this adaptation of an award-winning children's book is a haunting and visually awesome melodrama about childhood dreams and yearnings, enhanced with a pleasant introductory course in early film history. (Bring Kleenex.) For more advanced cinephiles, Hugo is a cabinet of wonders in which each shot, each experiment in 3-D perspective, and, indeed, each scene in the story's progression can be linked to what we already know about Scorsese, his work, and his well-known cinematic passions.

Incendies, directed by Denis Villeneuve. The lone Canadian entry in the list, but what a powerful, disturbing and relevant film this one is! Nominated for a "foreign-language" film Oscar 2011, this is more than a modern take of The Greek Tragedy, it's a devastating mystery thriller that grabs you and stays with you long after the end credits.

Midnight in Paris, written and directed by Woody Allen. After London and Barcelona, the latest Woody Allen is an ode to the City of Lights, its art and culture, its joie de vivre. Owen Wilson is a pleasant surprise. Rachel McAdams confirms. Carla Bruni cameos. As light as a soufflé, and almost as sweet.

Pina, directed by Wim Wenders. This documentary pays homage to the pivotal coreographer Pina Bausch the right way: with a few words, and a lot of stunning dance. Thanks to the close-ups only film can provide, the full spectrum of emotions in Bausch's pieces come alive in a way they can't from the distance of a stage. The 3-D is seamless - it's the first film that let me forget I was wearing those ridiculous glasses. "Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost." (Pina Bausch)

Shame, written and directed by Steve McQueen. Highly controversial and sometimes cringe-inducing, this story of an urban man at the nadir of sex addiction is probably THE film of 2011, because it's so about this moment in time: the nexus we're living in of social and sexual freedoms, technology that should but doesn't always make us feel more connected, and unprecedented access to porn. Swear by it or swear at it, but you should see it.

The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom. This documedy(?), largely improvised by its stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, made me laugh like nothing else this year. Not much happens: Winterbottom films Coogan and Brydon on a culinary tour of northern England. But leave it to this trio of Brit geniuses to take deadly sins (think pride, envy, lust), reduce them to their smallest iteration, and render them hilarious.

Tuesday, After Christmas (Marţi, după Crăciun), directed by Radu Muntean. While technically not a 2011 release (except in North America), this is an elegantly told and emotionally resonant drama of a middle-class couple whose 10-year marriage is rocked by the husband's illicit affair with their daughter's sexy dentist. In many respects it's an oft-told tale: a man must choose between the easy rapport and stability of his family life and the uncertainty and excitement of a relationship with a younger woman. In scorchingly intense long takes, the power dynamics among this love triangle are unpredictable and, in the end, devastating.

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