Top movies of 2011: Mark Harris
Despite a rather downbeat opening, 2011 was a fairly good year for films in Vancouver. The list that follows is arranged in declining order of artistic merit. Each rationale should be read as a response to the repeated question: “Why this movie and not something else?”
Because it loves Italy as much as I do while showing the world what Abbas Kiarostami can do when outside the mullahs' control (which includes granting Juliette Binoche the freedom to glow like an incandescent star).
Because it combines the formal beauty of Last Year in Marienbad with the family dynamics of Celebration in a silver-screen narrative that should have been called (even though the title was already taken) When Worlds Collide—not least because it is the film's prime pessimist, and not one of its two unconvincing optimists, who gets the last word.
In a Better World
Because Danish director Susanne Bier manages to explore what the concept of manhood really means in a modern world where borders are porous, adultery is problematic, and ideology-free guerilla groups are locked in lethal combat with theoretically defenceless NGOs, and also because it deserved its Oscar for best foreign-language film even more than my next pick.
The home-team production in last year's Academy Award competition, a stirring drama based on Wajdi Mouawad's brilliant play about the roots of conflict in a land that is almost Lebanon—but not quite—as filtered through the prism of younger, less involved, Québécois eyes.
Also Danish and a major prizewinner (this time at Cannes), Janus Metz Pedersen's nonfiction account of what, at first, appears to be a heroic act prior to devolving into a possible war crime dramatically—and tragically—demonstrates just how much good documentaries depend on the timely bad luck of others to arrive at a satisfactory climax.
Because Mike Leigh makes fidelity, sanity, and normalcy look both cooler and wiser than dysfunctional behaviour and flamboyant personal eccentricity, a difficult act to pull off in a medium that depends so heavily on escapism and illusion for success.
Because it's more like a Jacques Prévert poem than a Jacques Prévert script.
Winter in Wartime
Because this is one Second World War resistance movie where the pangs of adolescence take precedence over such larger themes as courage, collaboration, patriotism, and duty.
The Bang Bang Club
Because it speaks volumes about South Africa, apartheid, photojournalism, and the exhilarating, suicidal rush that comes from documenting other people's pain at the risk of one's own life.