The Best Films Of… 2011?

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The Best Films Of… 2011?

Welcome MUBI‘s first monthly roundup of need-to-know news from the world of film. The month is November, which can only mean that critics and fans alike are already tinkering with their lists of what they consider to have been the best films of the year. It’s a daunting task ― so daunting, in fact, that IFC’s Matt Singer recently tweeted a little pop quiz to his nearly three thousand followers: “Finish this sentence: ‘The movie you need to see before making your 2010 best-of list is ____________.'” From the deluge of responses, he’s compiled a list of 59 films, a sort of crowd-sourced first draft of the highlights of 2010.
Funny thing, though. The film that’s probably sparked more heated discussion at MUBI than any other in quite some time ― and that’s saying something, considering that MUBI is swarming with literally hundreds of thousands of passionate cinephiles ― is not on that list. Whether or not Tony Scott‘s Unstoppable will be considered one of the year’s best a month from now, a year from now, or a decade from now, there’s no denying its potency as a conversation-starter. Check out the debates here, here and especially here.


Rather than wallow in instant nostalgia (after all, there’ll be plenty of that going on next month once awards season gets rolling in earnest), let’s take a sneak peek forward to 2011. British writer Tom Shone has already sketched out a bare bones schedule for us, so I thought I’d draw up ― yes, that’s right ― a list of what may be the best films of next year. Or at least the most interesting, going by the buzz and whispers they’re generating so far. In approximate order of the most eagerly anticipated…

  1. The Tree of Life. Each of Terrence Malick‘s films (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World) has entered the pantheon, either immediately or eventually. This one stars Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Fiona Shaw and somehow combines the story of a family in a small town in 50s-era America with, well, as Pitt’s put it in an interview, “a little, tiny micro-story of the cosmos, from the beginning of the cosmos to the death of the cosmos.” Okay. In a break with his usual pace (that is, averaging about a film a decade, give or take), Malick’s already at work on his next project, which might be called The Burial and will definitely feature Ben Affleck, Rachel Weisz, Javier Bardem, Olga Kurylenko and Barry Pepper.
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  3. Hugo Cabret. Adapting Brian Selznick’s bestselling work of historical fiction about a boy who befriends that magical pioneer of cinema, George Méliès (creator of that iconic image above), Martin Scorsese ventures into 3D for the first time ― and evidently, it’s a challenge. Recently asked how the film’s coming along, he replied, “It’s going, it’s going. It’s an experience. The geometry of it, everything, you’re really redefining. You’re trying to figure out how to tell the story again in pictures with this 3D, which is really interesting.” That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s running into troubles, but it probably doesn’t mean he’s having a blast. If nothing else, he’s got a wide variety of star power to fall back on: Chloe Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lee, Emily Mortimer, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law, Ray Winstone and, as the boy, Asa Butterfield.
  4. Spielberg vs. Spielberg. Not a movie, of course, but rather, a situation. Dueling studios have scheduled The Adventures of Tin Tin: Secret of the Unicorn and War Horse within days of each other in the final weeks of 2011. Of course, there’s plenty of time for one of those studios to blink, but in the meantime, if I were a betting man, I’d put money on the combination of Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson inspiring an appreciation for Hergé in the States that he’s long enjoyed in Europe. As for War Horse, it’s an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel about a young man who fights in the trenches during World War I while in search of his beloved colt. The one-two punch echoes similar pairs of crowd-pleasing blockbusters and awards-baiting historical dramas in Spielberg’s career: Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List in 1993, for example, or War of the Worlds and Munich in 2005.
  5. Two by Soderbergh. The oeuvre of that other big Steven of American cinema is usually far more eclectic than Spielberg’s, but next year sees him directing two action thrillers. Haywire, with Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor and Channing Tatum, is a tale of a soldier seeking revenge, while Contagion, with Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard and Laurence Fishburne, is pretty much what it says on the tin: a team of doctors fights a rapidly spreading fatal disease. A third project is still in the maybe stage: Soderbergh just might re-team with George Clooney for an adapation of the 60s TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
  6. Source Code. Duncan Jones‘s Moon was an impressive debut, an atmospheric bit of sci-fi built on a modest budget and a furious performance (or rather, a couple of furious performances) by Sam Rockwell. This next project features Jake Gyllenhaal as a soldier who has to experience a bombing on a train over and over until he finds out whodunnit ― so that he can keep the next terrorist attack from happening.

And then there are always those iffy projects that may or may not be in the works. Would we like to see Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) direct Carey Mulligan and Jodie Foster in the mysterious thriller Stoker? You bet. Or how about Adieu au Langage? That’d be the film Jean-Luc Godard, recently awarded an honorary Oscar for his life’s work, has been dreaming up. The New Yorker’s Richard Brody translates his pitch: “It’s about a man and his wife who no longer speak the same language. The dog they take on walks then intervenes and speaks. How I’ll do it, I don’t yet know. The rest is simple.”

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