Monday, May 28

Random Cinematic Year in Review - 2011

A Random Cinematic Year In Review

Preface: I have decided to write this series at least in part because I don't make it out to see new films very often and I've found that I spent too much time at the end of the year attempting to see all the big releases (many of which I'm not even interested in) for no other reason than to make an obligatory 'year end list'... This is a way that I can continue writing about films without feeling the pressure to see a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise take the time to. I'll still see most of them eventually, just on my own time. I use a random number generator to pick a year and I use to determine the actual release year.


I’m writing this as I coincidentally watch LeBron James take the Cleveland Cavaliers to his 8th consecutive NBA Finals appearance.  2011 was actually his 2nd appearance overall, he had previously lost with Cleveland to the San Antonio Spurs in 2007. A few years later he “took his talents to South Beach” and began a personal streak (with Miami then back to Cleveland) that has even his haters admitting his accomplishments. The 2011 appearance wasn’t a good showing however, specifically for James. They lost to the Dallas Mavericks 4-2 and it was apparent that James was struggling, especially in the 4th quarters. That Miami team was stacked, flashy and heavily favored. So when they lost and lost badly, critics were quick to put the blame on LeBron. Even members of his own team said that he had quit on them. The jury was still out on his legacy back then. But absolutely no one would have predicted his subsequent dominance over the entire Eastern Conference for the next 8 years.

Now, I usually like to steer clear of the GOAT debate that forces fans of the game to compare Jordan’s numbers in the 90’s to James’ current career accomplishments. I guess I don’t really even believe in GOATs, I think more in terms of a GOHT (greatest of his/her time). Both Jordan and LeBron fit this category. Anything more comparative requires you to ignore far too many constantly fluctuating variables. The way that the game is played as well as how it is called has been constantly evolving. I truly believe that what we see right now in the NBA is the greatest collection of athleticism ever compiled. This means that when you look at how much better Jordan’s career numbers were compared to James’ and how much more successful he was in the playoffs, you have to understand that Jordan was simply not in the same league that LeBron is right now. Jordan was the most dominant player of his time. Not even Bird or Magic really compared with his abilities. James is also the most dominant player of the current NBA, but not by nearly as wide of a margin that Jordan enjoyed. In conclusion, Jordan was amazing and there will never be another like him. But LeBron’s inevitable legacy shouldn’t be tarnished just because he has stiffer competition.

There was also an entire world of stuff going on in 2011 involving people that probably didn’t care anything at all about the NBA. On May 2nd, Seal Team Six shot and killed the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama Bin Laden. His death was a strategic and moral victory for the U.S. His direction had led to the deaths of almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and The Pentagon ten years prior and it appears that even until his dying day, he was continuously in contact with his terrorist network. His lifeless body was then unceremoniously dumped into the ocean somewhere. This and the investigation that led to the strike were immortalized in Katheryn Bigelow’s ZERO DARK THIRTY the following year.

Elsewhere in the world, 2011 was the year of the “Arab Spring”. Starting with protests in Tunisia in late 2010, this movement would send a shockwave of change throughout the oppressed Arab world. This movement carried throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa with a wide variety of causes sited for the uprising. Its true connecting theme was the inspired recognition by an oppressed public that they in fact, possess the power to hold their elected officials accountable. Modern technologies have been making the world smaller for decades. It is now far more difficult for a corrupt government to keep its people in the dark. The same social media tech that has been proven the capability to inspire these uprising also proved useful to facilitate some of the actions taken as we found out when NATO admitted to using information and coordinates it gleaned from Twitter to identify targets for air strikes in Libya.

By the end of 2011, the governments of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt had been overthrown. Yemen would be soon to follow as well as a whole host of concessions, resignations and other governmental changes in Jordan, Oman, Iraq, Kuwait and several other countries. Years later, the collective aftermaths are still extremely real. Syria, Yemen and Libya are still in the midst of violent civil wars. The instability is currently serving ISIL more than its intended purpose. And wherever the U.S. pulls back from intervention, Russia sees as opportunities to build bridges for trade and commerce with whichever government ends up prevailing, human rights violations notwithstanding.

I don’t pretend to know how this all is going to be resolved. As of right now, I really don’t think that the public here in Western “civilization” has the stomach for the boots-on-the-ground type of intervention that may actually be necessary to fight this. But we’re miles away from that anyway and we’re getting further and further. We get further away from peace in the region when we refuse to implement meaningful sanctions against a country that props up dictators in the region like Syria’s Assad or Turkey’s Erdoğan. We do so when we move our Israeli Embassy into a territory disputed by 4.5 million Palestinians and ask nothing of Israel in return. And we do so all while significantly lowering the number of refugees we take in from these torn up countries. Our current and resounding message to the region is that we simply don’t care.

As it seems, 2011 was an important and impactful year. Many of its historical chapters remain open today. This is was makes the art produced of this or any time so important to study, consume and empathize with…. 


10 – MARGARET (Directed by Kenneth Lonergan)

Kenneth Lonergan seems to have a knack at setting up very emotional conflicts and writing dialogue to exploit and explore this conflict. Guilt and remorse are held together by a glue made of teenage angst. Anna Paquin’s performance is close to flawless. She’s not exactly likeable but yet still invoking an empathy that all great storytelling has. 

9 – ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

This is a slow-burning, nourish mood piece from Turkey. The first half or so takes place at night in the windy rolling hills of the rural villages outside of Kırıkkale. Its setting, cinematography and sounds all carry its characters through their deliberate and tedious night, searching for the body of a murder victim. Slow, melodic, monotonous and beautiful, this is the film that cemented Ceylan in the international cinefiles community. I’d really like to see Turkey’s filmmaking industry catapult into a stronger position in the world. Since this film, we’ve seen Ceylan’s 2014 follow up, WINTER SLEEP, Diniz Gamze Ergüven’s Oscar nominated MUSTANG (2015) and 2014’s absolutely insane horror film BASKIN. This isn’t quite enough to constitute a ‘new wave’ but it’s still a strong possibility for the very near future.

8 – SAMSARA (Directed by Ron Fricke)

Just because a film doesn’t have a story, doesn’t mean that there is no narrative. This is Fricke’s follow up to his critically acclaimed BARAKA (’92). The filmmakers traveled far and wide searching for and capturing some of the world’s most beautiful imagery on 70mm. These images are cut together into a 102 minute montage about humankind’s connection to nature and our cyclical evolution away from and back to it…. I think. This film could probably be understood to have many reasonable meanings. The important thing is that you will be moved by the beauty of the images on screen.
7 – THE SKIN I LIVE IN (Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)

I was so excited when this film came out. I had been a fan of Almodóvar’s work since 2002’s TALK TO HER and had already fully immersed myself in his filmography. And although I liked his previous two films VOLVER and BROKEN EMBRACES, I missed his older and much darker work. This one felt like somewhat of a return to form for me. It had a darker subject matter reminiscent of 80’s Almodóvar like TIE ME UP, TIE ME DOWN (’89) or MATADOR (’86) mixed in with a body horror element that reminded me of Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960). It mixed all of this up to tell the story in a fairy tale like manner that holds up with the best of Guillermo Del Toro… well almost.

6 – WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Directed by Lynn Ramsay)

Hell yeah we need to talk about Kevin!!!... There’s a lot of brilliance about this film but for me, I see it as a great performance piece first and foremost. I know, I know… it’s a prescient and disturbing cautionary tale that seems more and more relevant every week this year. I can’t take anything away from its message. I guess I just found myself a lot more sensitive to its subject matter when it came out in 2011. So instead, I cling to Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly’s work here as the young parents, flawed and distraught, desperately hoping that their problem will grow out of it… Fun fact: This was actually the working title for Home Alone. 

5 – ATTACK THE BLOCK (Directed by Joe Cornish)

It’s truly a testament of how strongly a film’s characters are written when you find yourself in the third act, cheering for the clear antagonists of the first act. In a lot alien/monster invasion flick, the poor people of color in the slums only serve as fodder until the military, team of scientists or rag-tag group of suburban kids save the world. I actually wasn’t too keen on this one when it was first released. But after multiple rewatches, I can’t even remember what it was I didn’t like about it. 

4 – THE RAID (Directed By Gareth Evans)

It’s almost as though the simplicity of the plot gave room for the overwhelming complexity of its cinematography and choreography. I’ve always been into martial arts films. They are the first movies I ever fell in love with. Apparently, I still haven’t grown out of them. The eighties and nineties were full of JCVD, Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris flicks on the UHF dial. I spent a lot of Saturday afternoons watching these guys defeat armies of various oppressors and saving the girl. But I never saw a movie like this one back then. This film, maybe more than any other is a testament to the value of the technological advances we’ve made in cameras. There’s just no way that this could have been shot just a few years prior. But what is really special is how the camerawork is choreographed into the fight scenes. It’s creative and kinetic and frantic, all while somehow avoiding the discombobulated shaky-cam feel that confuses and violates your sense of space. 

3 – FIVE BROKEN CAMERAS (Directed by Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi)

This documentary actually has a lot in common with 2016’s infamous ‘Access Hollywood’ tape. They are both harrowing evidences of things that certain people have assured us don’t actually happen and they both should have made more of a difference. This is not what you would typically consider a ‘well-made film’, even by documentary standards. But there is a certain poetry to its narration, especially when considering the entire metatextuality. This is not the boisterous cries of an activist. It’s a collection of documents gathered by an olive farmer who wanted nothing more than to just be an olive farmer. 

2 – ANOTHER EARTH (Directed by Mike Cahill)

This is a quiet little sci-fi film that’s actually about regret more than anything else. What if a place existed that occupied a carbon copy version of you. The only difference is that the other you may or may not have made the same decisions and mistakes that you have. Would you be terrified at the prospect of finding out or would you even be able to help yourself from seeking the answers to all of those ‘what if’ questions that conquer so much of our attention? 

1 – TAKE SHELTER (Directed by Jeff Nichols)

Well I’ve found myself talking about this one yet again. I just wrote about it here. So, rather than copy and paste what I’ve already written, I’ll just reiterate. This is absolutely one of my favorite films of the 21st century. And although it is championed by cinefiles, I would love to see it get more attention from the everyday film goer. 

No comments:

Post a Comment