Top 10 lists are a universally reviled form of critical expression for a reason: they force the thoughtful fluidity and artfulness of criticism into the confines of ascending order. It’s an exercise as banal as arranging a class of elementary school students by height. Countless stratagems exist that allow list-makers to ease the blow of their pointless task, though the successful approach for me has always been simple irony. See my inclusion of Tron: Legacy in last year’s top 10 list, or 2012 the year before that: two really bad movies meant to serve as a middle-finger to the very existence of year-end top 10 lists.
This year, I approached the list differently. I still don’t think of it as a serious critical process. I think of it as an impression. These are the first films I remembered when I thought about the experiences I had in movie theaters this year. Any picture I couldn’t remember on my own wouldn’t deserve a place below. In fact, I’m glad to have forgotten about the films I saw in 2011 that I can’t remember. They were the high school acquaintances of my movie-going experience. Their only suitable future purpose can be to serve as obscure punchlines.
Here are the films on my top 10 list, with a few words speaking to their inclusion:
Mysteries of Lisbon – Of all the enormous, dramatic film experiences offered in 2011, Mysteries of Lisbon was the grandest.
Sleepless Nights Stories – Jonas Mekas’ new film is a moving collection of tales caught on video. The diary film is a quintessential homegrown American cinematic form, here it is at its finest.
The Turin Horse – Another monumental, apocalyptic, and beautiful vision from Béla Tarr. I am convinced this film explains the existence of the word heavy.
Melancholia – The last 5 minutes.
The Future – A lot of the time, people see what they want to see in movies. I’m hardly immune to this, in fact, I frequently sink into cushy red seats already formulating the best way to express my hate for the movie I’m about to see. The Future shattered my jaded predictions: where I had expected something unbearably adorable, I found a complicated and profound reflection on the properties of movies themselves. I heard an interview with Miranda July where she said The Future was about a couple struggling with changes in their perception of space and time. I don’t see anything twee about that.
Meek’s Cutoff – A quiet western with mythic and historical resonance.
Contagion – A lot of sleek, studio thrillers came out in 2011. Soderbergh’s vision was the most precise, haunting, and daring.
Hugo – I have always admired Martin Scorsese’s efforts to fund the protection of endangered films and promote the history of cinema. There are kids movies about every imaginable historical circumstance that turns them into fantastical, ridiculous tearjerkers. But when the subject is something already fantastic, like the films and legacy of Georges Méliès, the end result doesn’t seem nearly as sinister, say, Schindler’s List.
Le Havre & Bridesmaids – I laughed a lot at these movies.