After compiling my list of favorite films for 2012, I was compelled to revisit some of my lists from the past few years. My interest in this retrospective was intended to be an exploration into the evolution of my tastes and interests in movie making and whether or not the films I chose held up to my present standards. The conundrum, of course, is that in another year those standards will surely change. And, to define those present standards succinctly, even to myself, seems like an imprecise, maybe impossible task. Regardless, it seemed like a fun undertaking.
Here is what I picked for my favorite films of 2011:
2. “A Separation”
3. “Tree of Life”
5. “The Descendants”
I remember picking these five films because of their relevance to the problems and insecurities of the present. It irked me that the films that garnered the most awards or received the highest box office returns from that year were nothing but escapist films designed to profit from an artificial sense of nostalgia, whether the film took place in a bygone era (e.g. The Artist, Hugo, The Help) or was simply the continuation of a franchise that clicked with the masses in previous years (e.g. Harry Potter 7-b, Transformers 3, Pirates of the Caribbean 4).
Not having seen the films since last year, the three that leave a complete lasting impression are Drive, The Descendants and Melancholia. The other two are less memorable, each for a different reason. For example, I can readily point to A Separation and its focus on the inefficiencies of a patriarchal society in a modern world, yet no image, scene nor performance stands out. Regarding Tree of Life, camera movements, close ups, dinosaurs and Brad Pitt remain fresh in my mind, yet their association doesn’t go beyond the muddled, personal exercise of the viewing experience. In short, A Separation is remembered more for ideas rather than aesthetics, whereas Tree of Life is remembered more for aesthetics rather than ideas.
The other three films last because of their combination of aesthetics and ideas represented through the main characters: the Driver in Drive, Matt King in The Descendants, Justine in Melancholia. It is the characters, rather than the star persona of the actors who played them, that remain unique and memorable. Whether it is the Driver walking with confidence in a jacket emblazoned with the image of a scorpion, or Matt King running through the neighborhood helplessly in his flip flops, or Justine acting unbecomingly as a wife-to-be in her wedding dress, the characters are the driving force for their respective films’ relevance.
Using the same five films, I would re-rank as follows:
2. “The Descendants”
4. “Tree of Life”
5. “A Separation”