Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Walter's Top Ten for 2011 (plus one)

 I’ll agree that 2011 was a better year than most for movies, and so I’ll definitely fill out my ten plus a couple of honourable mentions this year, though I don’t think I’ll follow your lead, Vic, and comment on 15. I’ll remind readers that I don’t list movies for objective quality but for subjective value. 

Then, I’ll clarify that I have not seen several potential candidates yet. Among these I would include: Hugo, The Descendants, Moneyball and Take Shelter. My guess is that any other movies I haven’t seen wouldn’t make it. And I’ll award honourable mentions to Win Win, In a Better World, A Separation, and The Beaver.

On to the top ten:

10. Tree of Life – Terence Malick and I will never quite get along because the whole visual poetry thing doesn’t work for me, but this was certainly a whole lot better than The New World (though, paradoxically, I actually liked the visuals better in that film – it just put me to sleep). Tree of Life drew me in by awakening a simultaneous inner reflection on my own boyhood while watching the one onscreen. This was impacting enough, combined with a few thought-provoking scenes, for this film to make my list. But the whole cosmic thing left me cold, and, I find the overall style alienating – makes me turn entirely inward and imagine life from this kind of alienated, disconnected position – as if I were a spectator of life rather than a participant. 

9. It’s Kind of a Funny Story – I always have to find at least one movie like this to include – a quirky indie comedy of psychological interest. My memories of it have faded too much for more comment, but I thought there were valuable insights and enjoyable scenes. 

8. Limitless – I thought this the best of the recent soft sci-fi crowd (together with Source Code and Inception)in terms of staying closer to the real range of possibility and therefore exploring more helpful territory. I think it was misunderstood by many, unless I’m wrong in seeing it as a very relevant tragedy on where our individualist, technological culture is headed. 

7. The Help – I appreciate a good, solid story that can be appreciated by a wide audience. Interesting, amusing and well-acted, and emphasizes the great point that helping relatively powerless people to tell their story and be heard is powerful. 

6. Margin Call – I like a dialogue-rich, focused kind of film (the opposite of Malick’s visual style mentioned above). This story pulls you into an unfortunately realistic world and lets you see it from a variety of perspectives. Each of these illuminates the problem and enables a deeper understanding of those we might see as the enemies in the financial scandals of recent years – without minimizing the horrific, self-centred damage that was done.

 5. The Way – Having recently done a pilgrimage (less famous than the Camino in Spain), I was very interested and not at all disappointed in this pilgrimage tale. There were a few moments that I might have wished for more of some kind of sparkle, but it’s a great example of how warmth and connection can happen among some prickly people under the right circumstances.

4. Incendies – Very powerful film that sacrifices a little credibility in order to hit with a very clear punch. That punch is so worthwhile and important that one forgives the credibility gap. If only we could all really believe that violence tends to make us all into victims and perpetrators unless we are enabled to escape the cycle of revenge. 

3. Midnight in Paris – Perhaps I rate it higher than it deserves to make up for all the Woody Allen slamming I’ve done in recent years. This was a very enjoyable and thoughtful film that was probably especially enjoyable for me because of the study abroad trips to Europe that we’ve been leading for years now. Plus the idea of important moments in creativity and cultural ideas arising in specific times, places, and real communities of friends is an important one to me.

2. Higher Ground – A well made depiction of the kind of personal journey in and sort-of-out of faith that really needs to be understood better by the church and society. There’s enough lightness and clever moments to keep the enjoyment up in an otherwise serious and bittersweet story. 

1. Of Gods and Men – Such a beautiful movie – a great tribute to the power of a humble community. It shows the potential of a monastic life to create inward depth and outward engagement in order to respond thoughtfully and intentionally to a chaotic and confused world. It probably didn’t need any help, but when I read about how the actors felt like they were formed into a meaningful community through their learning to sing together, this movie’s no. 1 spot was clinched. It was even better when I saw it the second time, and I look forward to seeing it again. 

Finally, a special mention for an older movie that I missed when it first came out. Amal (2007) is a great Canadian-made movie set in India that tells a humble tale of a humble and honest man (an auto-rickshaw driver) layered over a story of less than humble and honest folks. Great story that has not received the attention it deserves. It also provides a rich taste of life in contemporary New Delhi. Contains some lovely and memorable scenes such as the old, dying man singing in a café.


  1. Just found this! Looks intriguing ... we will definitely check out a few of your top picks. (Randy and I found "Amal" a few months ago, and loved it as well).

  2. Thanks Walter. We should watch more movies together. I enjoyed watching Limitless with you, though I thought it was silly. Well, I thought more about it than that, but I already shared those thoughts with you. I haven't seen any of the other films... too poor to rent, though a few of these have been on my list for a while... 'The Help,' I've wanted to see since it came out... I like period films, and films that deal with civil rights, women's rights, etc... But I have to say, even though it was rife with tranhumanist values, my fave film this year was... THOR!!! (I love Thor... Captain America can kiss it, cause Thor's gonna kick butt!)

  3. great list, thanks walter, will have to give those a watch

  4. Wow! Half of your top ten are in my top ten. I don't think that has happened before. And we had the same number one! If that doesn't convince our readers to watch it... I have also seen all of your top ten this year. The only one which I might question is Limitless, but I need to watch it again. I just watched another of my top ten films of 2011 this evening - too late, I guess. I'll post my review on Thursday, so your post can be on top for a couple of days. The film, which would have come in around number five, is another Canadian film: Monsieur Lazhar.

  5. Two comments questioning Limitless as a choice make me suspect that I have probably overrated it - but in my defense I'll just say that when a movie drives home a certain idea, it can make me overlook weaknesses. In Limitless it was this: "How scary would it be if, thanks to technology, we were able to overcome the natural feedback systems built into our bodies that make us face the consequence of our addictions?"