Monday, January 2, 2012

My 2011 Recap

I'm calling this post My 2011 Recap, as that's what it is. It's not a Best Films of 2011 as I still haven't seen all the new movies I would need to summarize the year in movies, and may not get there for a few months. However, I did want to take some time to do something inspired by Drew’s great post over at The Blue Vial, which is to highlight (out of the over 250 films I saw, with the vast majority of them older releases) several older films that I saw for the first time in 2011 that struck the biggest chord with me, and then also add some other thoughts on my other discoveries throughout the year. Reminder: all the films and performances I highlight in this post were films I saw for the first time.

So, these are the 9 runners-up best pre-2011 films in chronological order:

Magnificent Obsession (1954) – Sirk

Bigger Than Life (1956) – Ray

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) – Wise

Kapo (1959) – Pontecorvo

The Naked Kiss (1964) – Fuller

Love Affair, or The Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (1967) – Makavejev

Shadows in Paradise (1986) – Kaurismaki

Close-Up (1990) - Kiarostami

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) – Dominik

And the single greatest film that I saw from all the pre-2011 releases was:

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007) – Cristian Mungiu

This Romanian film, set during Ceausescu’s reign and about an attempted illegal abortion, was something I watched early in 2011, prior to blogging in March and I didn’t write a piece on it at the time. I hope to correct this in the future after a second viewing. This film approached perfection for me and is a film I’m still grappling with 10 months later.

On the flipside, here are a few renowned films that I, for whatever reason, did not connect with:

Chungking Express (1994) – Kar-Wai
Eraserhead (1977) – Lynch
The Conformist (1970) – Bertolucci
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) - Akerman

Here is a list of the best performances I saw this year:

Best Actress:
Anamaria Marinca – 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007) – Mungiu

Michelle Williams – Wendy and Lucy (2008) – Reichardt,Blue Valentine (2010) – Cianfrance

Constance Towers – The Naked Kiss (1964) – Fuller

Kati Outinen – The Match Factory Girl (1990) – Kaurismaki

Allida Valli – Senso (1954) – Visconti

Holly Hunter – Broadcast News (1987) – Brooks

Wendy Hiller – Major Barbara (1941) – Pascal

Barbra Streisand – Funny Girl (1968) – Cukor

Best Actor:
Micky Rourke – The Wrestler (2008) – Aronofsky

Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James… (2007) – Dominick

Emil Jannings – The Last Command (1928) – Von Sternberg

Robert Ryan – Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) – Wise

Lino Ventura – Le Deuxieme Souffle (1966) – Melville

Hossein Sabzian – Close-Up (1990) – Kiarostami

Volker Spengler – In A Year of 13 Moons (1978) – Fassbinder

James Mason - Bigger Than Life (1956) - Ray

Director I spent the most time with in 2011:

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

I had seen a few of this German director’s films prior to this year, like Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1973) and The Marriage of Maria Braun (1978), but had begun to realize that one of my largest gaps in my viewing knowledge of film was Fassbinder’s output. These were the 6 films that I saw by Fassbinder this year. (ratings are out of 4 stars)

Effi Briest (1974) - Fassbinder ***
Fox and His Friends (1975) - Fassbinder *** 1/2
In a Year with 13 Moons (1978) - Fassbinder *** 1/2
Lola (1981) - Fassbinder *** 1/2
The American Soldier (1970) - Fassbinder ** 1/2
The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972) - Fassbinder *** 1/2

One of the oddest things about Fassbinder’s output is the fact that his films for me are nearly always on the cusp of masterpiece status, but he has a tendency to somewhat undermine his own brilliance by throwing in an element or a few scenes that just don’t really work for me, almost on purpose maybe? It’s an oddity that I haven’t quite figured out yet, but I feel like there is more to it, because he was clearly capable of brilliance. I still think Maria Braun is his best film and I still need to see Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) among others. After seeing the six films I did, though, I feel more capable of discussing his work with a shred of intelligence. Among Fassbinder’s greatest auteurist elements I have found, is the fact that many of his stories revolve around the tendency of a certain character to try to destroy another character through love, lack of love, manipulation, or brutality. His stories nearly always couple melodrama with a certain social realism aspect.

Genre Explorations:

Musicals! As I noted here following my involvement in the Wonders in the Dark Top 70 Musicals Countdown, I spent a great deal of time catching up with both my favorite musicals and many I had never seen before. Over 10% of my total viewing in 2011 was spent watching musicals, 28 films in all.  I now believe to have a much greater appreciation of musicals and consider myself a big fan of the genre.

Some of my new favorites:
On the Town (1949)

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Funny Girl (1968)

In a somewhat related topic, over the last year, I’ve become a huge fan and proponent of artful melodrama. For whatever reason, the films that I saw from Sirk, Fassbinder, Fuller, Ray, Matarazzo, Visconti, Ophuls and many of the musicals themselves spoke to me from their melodramatic elements.

These were the glories of melodrama for me that I watched in 2011:
(Note that some of these films will see essays from me in the coming weeks)

Magnificent Obsession (1954) – Sirk

Nobody’s Children (1952)/The White Angel (1955) – Matarrazzo

Bigger Than Life (1956) - Ray

The Naked Kiss (1964) – Fuller

Senso (1954) – Visconti

Lola (1981) – Fassbinder

The Earrings of Madame de… (1953) – Ophuls

That’s basically my summary of my 2011 watching movies. Like I said, I hope to have a best films of 2011 in the future to post on after I catch up with the new releases, but in the meantime, if you have a favorite older film you saw this year please share!


Drew McIntosh said...

Jon, great post! Very cool to see a number of my favorites among your runners-up: The Naked Kiss, Bigger Than Life, Close-Up, all great films that make a case for being my favorite from their respective directors. Also happy to see a shout-out for Magnificent Obsession; it seems to in general not be as highly thought of as some of his other work, but I like it very much, and think that in terms of at least color and composition, it can stand up against anything else he made. On that front, have you seen Interlude? I think at times that it's my favorite Sirk; it's pretty dark and loose-limbed in a way the other melodramas aren't. And I don't think many people talk about that one at all.

I can't stress watching Berlin Alexanderplatz enough, Jon. It's one of my very favorite movies ever. It's a draining, intimidating undertaking for sure, but one that, at least personally speaking, is key to grappling with Fassbinder's art. It really changed a lot about the way I approach his work, and it's tough for me to think of many other movies that have affected me as much, emotionally speaking.

On New Years Eve I watched Blake Edwards' 10 for the first time; I had obviously already posted my year-end wrap-up post, but had I watched it previously it would have warranted a mention for sure, I thought it was really great.

I look forward to keeping up with the blog in 2012, Jon! Keep up the great work!

Jon said...

Hey Drew thanks for your comments. Yes I love Magnificent Obsession and really think it's brilliant, perhaps just as much as any other Sirk when I really think about it. No I have not seen Interlude. I will have to track that one down as now you're the second person who has mentioned that one to me in the last few months. Wow about Berlin Alexanderplatz that's some definite praise. I will for sure get to it, hopefully sooner than later, it's just carving out the chunk of time necessary and giving it my attention. I'm hoping to get to it this winter

Anonymous said...

Jon, a terrific list. I remember your fine review of KAPO , which I only recently got a copy of and will surely watch in the near future. BIGGER THAN LIFE is a great, great film from Ray. I am also a huge admirer of Fuller's THE NAKED KISS, Wise's ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW and THE ASSASSINATON OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROERT FORD. The other films on your list I have not seen and will have to to add to my own wish list.

BTW Michelle Williams gave a great performance in MARILYN and am surprised you did not have her listed three times!

Jon said...

Haha John! Yes if I was including 2011 performances, Michelle would have been listed again. I was only going off pre-2011 films. I do think Williams gave a magnificent turn as Monroe in My Week With Marilyn which I posted on a couple weeks ago. Glad you liked her in that too. Yes I do hope you have a good viewing with Kapo. It's not necessarily a film one likes per se, it's just so insteresting and compelling and I've been grappling with it since I saw it.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hokahey said...

Jon - This is a great idea. My 83-movies list was what I saw in theaters. But I watched about 70 movies on DVD - the classic movie I had not seen, and which I loved, was Fitzcarraldo. I'm going to try harder to catch up on classics I haven't seen. One year it was Jules and Jim and I loved that too.

Jon said...


Thanks for your comment! Oh yes Fitzcarraldo is an absolute classic. Filled with glorious madness and wonderful filmmaking. I guess I kind of mentioned that I generally watch far more old movies than new but I did wish I had better access to new releases. It would generally require a two hour drive to Chicago to see most of the interesting ones!

Sam Juliano said...

Jon, this is probably the "Mother of all posts" here at FILMS WORTH WATCHING. While I have certainly followed your film adventures over the past year (and shared the glorious musical countdown at WitD with you) it was great to get this weighted response to the prolific run you've enjoyed, a run that was even sustained through trips abroard. I wa surprised but delighted to learn that you've watched more Fassbinder than anything, as I count myself as a major fan of his work, and strongly recommend BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ and IN THE YEAR OF 13 MOONS. I couldn't agree with you more on ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW, the Sirk, Ray and JESSE JAMES, and I can't at all blame you for going with 4 MONTHS 3 WEEKS as a defining cinematic experience. Similarly I join with you in annointing THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE as one of the greatest movie masterpieces. Kiarostami's CLOSE-UP is a very great film, but to be honest there isn't one undeserving of the main list. Of those you confess didn't engage you I could certainly agree with you on JEANNE DIERLMAN, but have always found Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST as a towering work. KAPO was very fine too, though it had some issues. As I recall you framed it beautifully in your essay.

Have a great 2012 my friend. I look forward to breaking cinematic bread with you once again! Thanks for your effervescence, friendship and tireless support!

Jon said...

Sam thanks for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts. I tend to have a lot more to talk about and share, but don't have the time to devote to about more than one essay per week, hence thoughts and films that I've seen sometimes get short shrift. I did try to review all films that I gave the highest rating to though, but that leaves a lot of wonderful films still undiscussed, which was mostly the case with Fassbinder and this post seemed a great time to bring this up. Anyways, thanks as always for following along with me over the last year. You have always been my biggest supporter and I'm forever grateful for that. Looking forward to sharing a great 2012 with you!

Shubhajit said...

You sure had a pretty diverse & rich movie-viewing year this past year. I was glad to see that you watched or revisited some movies that are among my personal favourites or like a lot. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days was a terrific movie, and certainly a deserving choice for the honour. But I was also a tad surprised that you didn't react favourably to a few movies that I absolutely love, like The Conformist & Chungking Express. Great reading your personal 2011 review!

Jon said...

Hey Shubhajit thanks for the comments. I know you have an affinity for Romanian cinema and we both agree on 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. I still don't really know why Chungking Express and The Conformist don't really work for me, but they just appeared very labored and I didn't connect. I think it's probably just me, as I know there are tons of people who view those highly.

David said...

Great post on a great blog!I have watched all Douglas Sirk films released both by CC and MOC.The interesting thing is I love his B&W There's No Tomorrow the most,first-class melodrama,Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray are both brilliant in it.
Close-up is also my top 15 CC in 2011,if you are interested,you may read my post here:

Again,great work,pls allow me to add your blog to my blogroll,I will come often.

Jon said...


Thanks for stopping by! I have not seen that Sirk that you mention but I will have to track it down. Sounds great. Yes by all means you may add me to your blogroll. I will have to stop over and check out your blog very soon! Thanks again!