Top 10 of 2011 – Allen’s Picks
The best acting performance of the year goes to Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen’s harrowing, unrelenting, uncompromising film Shame. Teaming together again after Hunger (2008), Fassbender and McQueen, along with co-writer Abi Morgan, paint a portrait of a man completely addicted to sexual encounters. Yes, this is a sex film, but there is nothing sexy about it. Fassbender’s character Brandon is a man who very neatly puts up the façade of a person who seems to be successful and well off, but bubbling just beneath the surface is an addict willing to go to any lengths to fulfill his sexual desires, apart from making any kind of real human connection. That façade starts to reveal itself when his unpredictable sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) unexpectedly shows up at his apartment, chipping away at Brandon until his true nature comes to the surface. This is a film that is completely about what is hidden underneath people’s exteriors. There is a level that goes beyond what Brandon and Sissy are showing us, and McQueen leaves it to us to make those connections. No character study this year is as penetrating as this, showing a real person with real issues, and the depths he’s willing to fall to to feed his needs. Impeccably directed and beautifully shot, this is a film worth seeing for those willing to enter the mind of a very troubled character.
7. Martha Marcy May Marlene
Writer/director Sean Durkin’s first feature film is a slow-burning look at how a young woman becomes deeply ingrained in a dangerous cult, and her desperate attempt to rid herself from that world. The accomplishment of Martha Marcy May Marlene is in how it tells two parallel stories woven together, one detailing Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) and her involvement with a local cult, and the other with her trying to re-assimilate with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and Lucy’s husband. So well are the two stories interconnected that we have no trouble placing ourselves at a certain point in the timeline, and understanding how one event directly relates to a later one. The depiction of the cult, led by a man known only as Patrick (John Hawkes), feels realistic and immensely disturbing at the same time, because we can understand how Martha would so easily be seduced by this world. Elizabeth Olsen gives a standout performance here, one that showcases a character full of anger, fear, desperation and confusion. She doesn’t know whom she should trust, and more than that, she isn’t exactly sure how to trust another person. The film moves at a steady pace, ramping the suspense up to a boiling point, as Martha’s paranoia of the cult begins to consume her. This is a very well made film by an upcoming director and actress, and I look forward to seeing more of their work.
6. Midnight in Paris
Oh, what a wonderful film Woody Allen has made! The biggest financial hit of his career and his most critically acclaimed film in years is a beautiful ode to a magical city and a nostalgic fondness of a time long since passed. Paris is at the center of Woody’s film, with an opening montage highlighting streets, buildings, and landmarks in such a loving way that it makes me recall the opening scene of his other great film, Manhattan (1979). Owen Wilson stars as Gil, a hack screenwriter visiting France with his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family. While everything in Gil’s life seems to be set in stone, he longs for something more. He yearns to live a life like those of his literary heroes, conversing among other artists, sipping coffee in a café while listening to Cole Porter, or taking a stroll along the streets while it rains. Well, he gets that very chance when, at the stroke of midnight, Gil is magically whisked away to 1920s Paris and rubs elbows with the likes of Luis Buñuel (Adrien de Van), Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Alison Pill/Tom Hiddleston), and Ernest Hemingway (a scene-stealing performance by Corey Stoll). I had a smile on my face the entire time while watching this movie, seeing Gil move within his fantasy world, and even fall in love with someone he feels to be his perfect match (Marion Cotillard). Charming and funny the entire way through, this is one of the best entries in Woody’s late-career resurgence.