2011 was a great year for the cinema at large, but especially the art house. There’s been increasing complaint about the polarization of the cinema between the extremely commercial-commodity film and the extremely subsidized art house film (see Michel Ciment’s terrific SFIFF State of the Cinema address from 2003,) but so far, the polarity suits me fine.
For your consideration, 2011 gave to the international art house cinema:
Shame (McQueen) UK
The Skin I Live In (Almodovar) Spain
Certified Copy (Kiarostami) Iran/ Italy
Melancholia (Trier) Denmark/ US
Meek’s Cutoff (Reichardt) US
The Future (July) US
Tabloid (Morris) US
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Ceylan) Turkey
Elena (Zvyagintsev) Russia
The Turin Horse (Tarr) Hungary
Miss Bala (Naranjo) Mexico
Hors Satan (Dumont) France
House of Pleasures (Bonello) France
The Tree Of Life (Malick) US
Long-takes, the continuing affectation of the Contemporary Cinema of Contemplation, were used to a variety of ends. Although, for most devastating, soul-rending long-takes, the award continues to go to Bela Tarr (this time for The Turin Horse,) they were also weaponized anew for some (somehow) Tarantino-esque existential banter in Ceylan’s incredible Once Upon A Time In Anatolia.
2011 also included new career highs for a number of prominent names/auteurs. Lars von Trier arguably doing his best work in years (and completely reclaiming science fiction as a genre) with the at once operatic, novel-esque and ceaselessly cinematic Melancholia.
The “thriller” got the art house treatment from Gerardo Naranjo, with his breakout political-adventure-suspense ride, Miss Bala (working overtime as a critique of body commerce and a send-up of girl-as-object psychology.) Miss Bala follows a would-be beauty-pageant entrant on a harrowing journey into the underbelly of a prominent drug cartel.
Almodovar and Kiarostami both delivered the perfect ratio of their usual preoccupations to the completely unexpected (The Skin I Live In, and Certified Copy respectively.) The latter: romance as narrative puzzle. The former: colorful saga of lust, revelation, punishment, and… art-design.
Miranda July outdid herself completely with the underrated The Future. The film merrily lampooned mumblecore self-indulgence by holding it tight, and mobilized that particular breed of hyperbolic narcissism to comment on a couple of tragic laptop-loners.
Shame was another home-run for Brit Steve McQueen: part soaringly lyrical take on hyper-modern malaise, part pitch-black character study of a handsome-urban-sex-addict.
Kelly Reichart continued to be the big-fat brain of the American indie scene. Meek’s Cutoff is a hugely effective as the most ascetic travelogue to ever be describable as “ very fun.” It’s also capable of making you very, very thirsty.
And of course, The Tree Of Life won the Palm d’Or. Terrance Malick’s long-awaited epic-of-epics offers the most expensive exploration of metaphysics in memory (although by no stretch the most interesting or the most fun.)
And that’s just the (glorious) tip of the iceberg!
With 2012 drawing to a close this month, we’ll be able to see how the years measure-up.
2011 was also the year of Drive, The Forgiveness of Blood, Contagion, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, A Dangerous Method, the ill-fated but storied Margaret, and the fucking The Color Wheel, all of which borrow (some) from the art house tradition.
And this is all on the European/North American front!
Unless I’m missing something huge, where were the Asian auteurs in 2011? I’m looking at you Lee Chang-dong, Bong Joon-Ho (Korea,) Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Tsai Ming Liang (Taiwan,) Wong Kar Wai (Hong Kong,) Shunji Iwai (Japan,) Jia Zhangke, Wang Xiaoshuai (China,) Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand) to name a few!