A scientist (Eva Green) and a chef (Ewan McGregor) meet and start the first fumblings of a relationship just as an odd epidemic begins to spread. People have a brief but intense emotional reaction then lose their sense of smell completely. Another overwhelming sense of emotion, another loss of a sense. It’s an end of the world where the world itself escapes unscathed. This little film from the UK was quickly forgotten during its almost non-existent theatrical run here in the States, but it packs an emotional punch as big as any film this year. It’s tragic, romantic and apocalyptic, and it’s anchored by two stirring lead performances that bring humanity and heart to the chaos around them. [Available on Blu-ray/DVD now]
Silver Linings Playbook
Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just gotten out of an institution determined to get his life on track and win back his estranged wife, but reality, his condition and an attractive but equally wacky brunette (Jennifer Lawrence) get in his way. There may also be a dance competition involved. Writer/director David O. Russell loves exploring eccentric and dysfunctional families, and he’s never done a finer job than he does here. Pat’s mental condition gets glossed over a little, but it doesn’t lessen the emotional impact the two leads earn through their banter, outbursts and silence. One of the rules on great filmmaking is that you should never feature an important dance competition in the third act, but when Russell and friends break that rule you’ll be too busy smiling to care.
Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) and his sister Louise (Léa Seydoux) live at the base of a Swiss mountain that houses a popular ski resort during the winter months. Their parents are not around so while she spends much of her days and nights with any man who will have her he “works” up at the resort stealing skis, gloves, visors and more to keep food on the table for the two of them. Their world and relationship begin to fracture, and viewers’ hearts begin to crack. Director/co-writer Ursula Meier‘s film is a spiritual (but less hopeful) sibling to the Dardenne brothers’ The Kid with a Bike (itself on of the best films of 2011) in its tale of a child essentially abandoned and forced to grow up too fast. Seydoux reminds that she’s not just a pretty face, and Klein reminds that some child actors are actually damn good at what they do.
Take This Waltz
Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) are a happy enough married couple who live lives of routine and simplicity. But all of that is called into question when she finds herself falling for a new neighbor (Luke Kirby) who promises greener grass on the other side of the fence. Writer/director Sarah Polley continues to mine the layers of emotion inherent in relationships for all the melancholy they can muster, but this time her focus widens to include the painful subject of infidelity. It hurts to watch a supposedly committed heart wander, but like Mike Nichol’s sharply brilliant Closer it’s impossible to turn away (especially if you yourself have been on either side of the experience). Williams gives a wonderful but difficult performance even as our understanding of her behavior doesn’t make us hate her any less. [Available on Blu-ray/DVD now]
Honorable Mentions: Amour, Black Out, Cloud Atlas, Django Unchained, I Declare War, I Wish, The Imposter, Indie Game: The Movie, The Innkeepers, Intouchables, Lincoln, Looper, Michael, The Raid: Redemption, Safety Not Guaranteed, Seven Psychopaths, Sightseers, A Simple Life, Sound of My Voice, Your Sister’s Sister
Notable films I haven’t seen yet: Compliance, Les Miserables, Wuthering Heights, Zero Dark Thirty
Notable films I have seen that are okay/interesting at best: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, The Master
Notable foreign films that hit US theaters this year but were were actually on my best of 2011 or 2010 lists: Headhunters, Kid With a Bike, Kill List, A Separation, Sleep Tight, Sound of Noise