Top 13 Movies of 2011

Note: This list is tentative and will be constantly updated to be hopefully finalized by March at the latest due to the unavailability of many movies that are garnering critical acclaim and award traction, be it on DVD or in local theaters.

After checking my first “Top of 2011” list which dealt with music, it is time for the second one about another thing that I’m interested in and which I’ve discussed many times throughout this past year: movies.

So without further ado, let us begin.

13 – X-Men: First Class

This reboot of the franchise of which I am a fan was a very needed approach in order to keep these X-Men relevant. Showing how Dr. Xavier became as such and Magneto became, well, Magneto, the movie was really a breath of fresh air for action movies that became more reliant on screen explosions and aerobics than on a decent story to which those special effects come as a complement. (My review of X-Men: First Class)

12 – Stray Bullet

This Lebanese movie may be too short and not a very accurate reflection on the war it is supposedly set in but the acting performances in this are so gut-wrenchingly real, it can’t but be on my list. (My review of Rsasa Tayshe/Stray Bullet)

11 – The Ides of March

This political drama is my favorite of its genre this year. I may not agree with the accolades it’s getting everywhere over more deserving movies but it’s still a great movie in its own merits. It’s riveting, engaging, highly reflective and real. It can happen anytime in any political campaign. The performances are top notch as well. (My review of The Ides of March).

10 – Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s back to basics is definitely one of the better movies of the year. This Parisian comedy will make you dream. It will take you beyond the confines of whatever room you’re watching the movie in and take you aboard its own fantastical world in a trip back in time. Marion Cotillard is more than brilliant in this. The plot is very original and the movie is very enjoyable. (My review of Midnight in Paris).

9 – One Day

Many didn’t like this movie. I found it enthralling and enchanting. Telling the story of a couple revisiting each other on the day they met every year over the course of 23 years. The premise is intriguing and while I’m sure it flows more smoothly in the book upon which this is based, the movie doesn’t botch it. In fact, the transitions are very smart at times. (My review of One Day).

8 – A Separation

This Iranian movie is simply stunning. It’s a cross examination of Iranian society through the lives of  a couple getting a divorce. The emotions in this run high, they never relent. The hurt in the characters is examined and not feared. Taboos are approached and at the end of the day, it leaves you with a stereotype-breaking view of Iranian society. (My review of A Separation).

7 – War Horse

Steven Spielberg’s WWI epic is, well, an epic movie as well. Based on the children’s book of the same name, War Horse is emotional and phenomenal. It’s stunning to look at and boasts one of the most pleasurable scores I have heard this year in a movie. It is a sentimental movie that transcends age lines and turns into a story for the ages. A must watch. (My review of War Horse)

6 – Moneyball

Brad Pitt shines as Billy Beane, manager of a struggling baseball team, as he tries to get his team to survive a grueling league with a dismal budget. So he enlists Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand to help him change the whole baseball game and turn it head on heels. Moneyball might be the best sports movie made. (My review of Moneyball)

5 – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher’s take on this Swedish noir novel preserves the book’s essence and turns it into a stellar movie, fueled by a top notch performance by Rooney Mara who embodies the novel’s heroin Lisbeth Salander in spellbinding manner. I loved the book and the movie. (My review of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)

4 – The Artist

The Artist is a black and white movie which relies on the symphony playing throughout its run for its only auditory input. And it just works. It asks nothing of you as a viewer but to simply watch, not even listen. It relies on the strength of the performances by its cast to communicate the emotions it tries to convey. (My review of The Artist).

 3 – The Help

Based on the book of the same titleThe Help is easily one of the best movies this year as well. It is the tale of the quest of three Southern women in a 1960s racially segregated America for racial equality. The movie may be a work of fiction but it feels so real when you watch it, you can’t but be amazed. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important” – that’s a sentence for the ages. (My review of The Help).

2 – Where Do We Go Now? (W Halla2 La Wein?)

The Lebanese movie that could. Nadine Labaki’s latest movie is without a doubt one of the best movies this year. After being robbed of a Golden Globes nomination (Angelina Jolie, I’m looking at you), we find solace in this movie winning at the Toronto International Film Festival. Telling the tale of women who go beyond their means to get the men of their religiously-divided hometown to ease the tension, the movie tugs at your heartstring, activates your tear ducts and makes you laugh uncontrollably – all at the same time, sometimes. (My review of Where Do We Go Now?)

1 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Because there’s no other movie that deserves to be here. Because there’s no other franchise that has had such a thrillingly brilliant finale. Because no other movie has ever gotten me this close to tears and because every single award show is hell-bent on shunning this from the awards it most definitely deserves. Yes, this may be predictable to many but there’s just something about the final installment in the story of Harry Potter that transcends it being just a movie and turns into a cinematic experience that we, as the Harry Potter generation, are very lucky to have experienced. (My review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2).

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Notable mentions:

Puss in Boots, previous #13 on the list’s initial version. 

Soul Surfer (check my review) previous #12 on the list’s initial version.

Source Code (check my review) previous #11 on the list’s initial version.

A Separation – Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s new movie, A Separation, opens with an Iranian couple in court. Simin (Leila Hatami) is asking for a divorce from her husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi) because he refuses to travel with her to a European country now that their visa paperwork is in order. The visa has 40 days left to expire and Simin wants to leave now. “Has this man beaten you or cheated on you?” the judge asks her. She replies negatively. He simply refuses to leave. Why can’t Nader leave? Because e can’t abandon his father who has Alzheimer’s. “Your father doesn’t even know you,” Simin tells Nader. “But I know him,” he replies. Simin and Nader also have a daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi – the filmmaker’s daughter). Being eleven years old, Termeh can choose the parent she wants to stay with after the divorce and both want to bring her to their side.

As he goes back home, Nader is faced with the realization that he cannot tend to his father all day long due to his work obligations. So he hires Razieh, a very religious woman, to look after his dad while he’s at work. But taking care of Nader’s father will prove much more difficult than Razieh had anticipated especially with her strict religious rules. One day, Nader comes back home and finds the house empty and his father almost dying on the floor next to his bed. Razieh is nowhere to be found. Money is also missing from the drawer in his house – the exact equivalent of a day’s work for Razieh. When she comes back, he accuses her of theft and pushes her out of his house. She stumbles on the stairs. And soon, Nader finds himself in court being accused of causing the miscarriage of Razieh’s nineteen week old fetus.

Peyman Moaadi, as Nader, delivers a great performance as the morally torn father between his own family and his obligation to his own father. You can see him making the decision of choosing to take care of his dad every single day of his life with every action he does, every word he speaks. One scene in particular is so masterfully acted out by Moaadi that it will play on your heartstring. Soon after he pushes Razieh out of his house, Nader breaks down as he cleans his father in the bathroom – the father that doesn’t even know who his son is.

Leila Hatami’s role is much more limited than Moaadi. She gets much less screen-time and her character isn’t as like-able as his. She comes off as the woman who wants her husband to let go of his parents even though on one particular scene, Nader’s father holds her hand and calls her name as if telling her that no one can really take of him the way she did.

A Separation is not a movie strictly about a divorce. In fact, the divorce aspect of the movie – the separation of a couple – takes very little time to unravel compared to the other plot elements offered in the movie. The problem that arises with Nazieh’s miscarriage is most of what the movie is about – how Nader deals with it in a way to protect himself and his daughter and how Nazieh, the mother of a little girl, is trying to deal with it in her way to protect her little girl and her unemployed husband.

A Separation’s forte, however, is simply its brilliance realism. There’s not one scene in the movie that is impossible to have been acted out in real life. It also transcends stereotypes of an Islamic society and offers a cinematic experience that can be relatable to anyone who watches. It’s not simply the manifestation of male dominance in the court of law in an Islamic country. It’s the legal, political, dramatic and intriguing family dissolving that the movie is about.

A Separation is multi-layered. It’s not bland. It runs deep. It showcases its characters in a way that reveals their secrets, their vulnerabilities. It does not shy away from ripping bandages dry. It doesn’t flinch from showing the hurt. It also smartly maneuvered around obvious Iranian censorship and managed to become Iran’s official submission to the Oscars this year. It is, at the end of the day, a moral dilemma revolving around family. It takes on gender, class, social, family issues and spins them into a fabric that a sort of critical view of Iranian society. The actors and actresses in the movie stand out. The screenplay is very sharp and the directing exquisite.

And now to the part that would interest any Lebanese movie enthusiast. Is A Separation better than Where Do We Go Now? I’m sad to inform you, dear Iranians, that the answer is no. No, I’m not being biased. While watching A Separation, your emotions are roused. You feel compassion to the characters and the story is interesting enough to keep you grounded. But it doesn’t offer the emotional roller coaster that is presented by Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now. You don’t find yourself laughing and then crying. You don’t find a smile on your face while watching A Separation as tears trickle down your cheek. A Separation is more tense. But Where Do We Go Now is more universal, more heartfelt, more approachable and more genuine.

For those who are still shocked, yes… I have watched an Iranian movie. Yes, it was also spoken in Farsi.