First of all, Happy New Year!
If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you might have noticed that lists aren't really my thing. Actually that's not entirely true, I do enjoy certain types of lists, the easy indisputable kind such as the annual Oscars Best Foreign Film submissions, or lists of films from various national film movements. Just not the neatly ranked and ordered best-of lists that everyone else loves. I know they are great for attracting traffic, but they just take so much bloody effort and decision making; and I'm so used to being lazy and indecisive, which is part of the reason why I haven't posted any so far. There's also that inevitable feeling that I'm overlooking or forgetting something important, and along with that the irrational fear of being called out for it. Silly I know, but it's the truth.
Of particular difficulty for me are the end-of-year top lists. Unlike music lists which are relatively easy to sort out, film release dates are staggered making it extremely difficult to distinguish for example what should be filed as a 2010 or a 2011 release, never mind it being impossible to actually see all of the previous year's contenders in a timely fashion, unless your name happens to be Roger Ebert or Quentin Tarantino.
So I'm stuck trying to make a list having seen only a small sample of the overall titles, while also mulling over whether or not to include a certain film because its World Premiere fell in the previous calendar year (even if it was only a tiny festival with 100 viewers in the audience), or do I use its local premiere date (half of which don't even get screened locally), or the date I saw it (in which case Wings of Desire (1987) would be my film of the year), and then there's always the IMDb date... My poor head hurts just thinking about all the possibilities. Perhaps one day we will all be lucky enough to have worldwide simultaneous streaming releases of films at home and in digitally enabled theaters, it doesn't hurt to dream right?
Anyhow rambling over. After careful consideration I've decided that one of my New Years resolutions is to stop making excuses and just start doing stuff, lists included. So, using a totally arbitrary start date, and leaving it open to frequent and future revisions, I now humbly reveal to you my very first list:
Bonjour Tristesse's Top 10 Foreign Films of 2011 as of June 30, 2012
- Tuesday, After Christmas (2010) Marţi, după Crăciun Drama Radu Muntean Romania
- Café de Flore (2011) Café de Flore (2011) Drama Jean-Marc Vallée Canada
- Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010) Tropa de Elite 2: O Inimigo Agora É Outro Drama • Action • Thriller José Padilha Brazil
- Cold Fish(2010) 冷たい熱帯魚 Drama • Thriller Sion Sono Japan
- Outside Satan (2011) Hors Satan (2011) Drama Bruno Dumont France
- Bullhead (2011) Rundskop Drama • Thriller Michael R. Roskam Belgium
- Nostalgia for the Light (2010) Nostalgia de la luz (2010) Documentary Patricio Guzmán Chile
- The Salesman (2011) Le Vendeur (2011) Drama Sébastien Pilote Canada
- Pina (2011) Pina - tanzt, tanzt, sonst sind wir verloren Tribute Wim Wenders Germany
- Elena (2011) Елена Drama Andrey Zvyagintsev Russia 10.
- The Four Times (2010) Le quattro volte Drama Michelangelo Frammartino Italy A surprisingly unique and entrancing film that explores the wondrous connection between Pythogoras' four physical states. One that importantly offers no predefined religious, philosophical, or moral opinion; allowing the viewer to absorb and evaluate the mystical and mesmerizing sounds and images on their own terms. 9.
- Le Havre (2011) Drama Aki Kaurismäki Finland I think in this messed up world, it doesn't hurt to have an intelligent film that shows a bit of love, respect, and tolerance for one another; whether they be a downtrodden old shoeshine man, hard nosed detective, or illegal immigrant; and Aki serves us a charming, humorous, and magical modern day fable that does just that. 8.
- The Skin I Live In (2011) La piel que habito Drama • Thriller Pedro Almodóvar Spain A stunning, complex, and darkly demented work of art from a master director and storyteller. One that crosses genres with fluid grace and lives up to every expectation for what I can easily say is one the best films of the year. I just can't wait to see it again. 7.
- A Simple Life (2011) 桃姐 Drama Ann Hui Hong Kong A deceptively straightforward film about a man and his maid. Full of poignant detail, keen insight, and outstanding acting, which results in a truly moving story told with an honesty that echoes life itself. Firmly placing its director among the most important filmmakers today. 6.
- 13 Assasssins (2010) 十三人の刺客 Action • Adventure Takashi Miike Japan A rare remake that is actually an improvement on the original, it's faithful where it needs to be, and every deviation is a welcome change. You never know what you will get with the prolific Takashi Miike, but this is easily one of his finest works and in my mind the most entertaining action film of the year. 5.
- The Turin Horse (2011) A Torinói ló Drama Béla Tarr Hungary Hungarian master director Bela Tarr's apparent swan song is a wonderfully hypnotic and rewarding cinematic experience presented in his trademark minimalistic fashion. A triumph in direction that posits a shrewd, haunting, and introspective take on the meaning of life, and one of the most essential films of the year. 4.
- The Portuguese Nun (2009) A Religiosa Portuguesa Drama Eugène Green Portugal In this love letter to Lisbon, Green pays tribute to some cinematic greats and ignores traditional literary and film devices to give us an unconventional and stylish work that is subtly profound, amusingly comical, and maybe even a little bit heartwarming too. 3.
- The Kid with a Bike (2011) Le gamin au vélo Drama Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne Belgium Expanding on their familiar cinematic approach, and aided by wonderful performances from newcomer Thomas Doret and Cecile De France, the Dardenne brothers effortlessly deliver a touching and realistic fairy tale of Belgium's underclass that gives us a glimmer of hope in these troubled times. 2.
- Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da Drama Nui Bilge Ceylan Turkey A magnificently picturesque film with a rich atmosphere that builds quietly, and ever so slowly, but with masterful intent. Turning what first appears to be a mundane evening with average men, into an existential journey with fascinating characters and a long lasting impact. 1.
- A Separation (2011) جدایی نادر از سیمین Drama Asghar Farhadi Iran Farhadi nails it with a flawlessly written, powerfully acted, and highly stimulating drama set in contemporary Iran. One that has a deceptively simple story which unravels with multiple layers of complexity while avoiding any dramatic pitfalls or false notes. The best foreign film of the year, and quite possibly the best film outright.
I guess that wasn't so hard after all, I ended up spending far more time making it look pretty than actually sorting out the top 10, but it turned out to be more fun than I expected. Who knows, depending on the response I get, maybe I'll have a go at this more often.
So how did you like the presentation? What did you think of my choices? Which ones have you seen? Which ones did I miss? I would love to hear your thoughts below.