Chief among these subjects will certainly be Terrence Malick's resolute masterpiece The Tree of Life, his radically unique take on a family drama centered in on a Texas clan led by a stern father (Brad Pitt) and a dreamy mother (Jessica Chastain, an actress who had a superb year with breakthrough roles in this, The Help, Coriolanus, and Take Shelter). The Tree of Life, with its dazzling tour through the world's biggest and smallest events, certainly deserves to be the third Best Picture spot I have awarded to this one-of-a-kind director. My thoughts on the film are best expressed in my review, which you can see here. But, from that review, I offer this: "Malick's filmic thoughts are resolutely unlike anything mainstream audiences of narrative cinematic storytelling have been treated to since Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. I guarantee 99% of the audience watching the film with you when you see The Tree of Life have never experienced anything like it. That includes you, and me, too, really. Most viewers will be angry at the ultimate conclusion to Malick's film, because it doesn't conform to a paying customer's plotline/revelation payoff. But those who are disappointed will be regretful, or perhaps angry with their own reactions to the film itself 20 years down the line, where it will be commonly seen as one of cinema's most unparalleled visions. So comparisons to the similarly singular, divisive, fantastic 2001 are just. This is a movie for the ages. It's rare to see such a work, but here it is, in front of our eyes."
It hurts, though, to have to ignore other great movies from this year in this process. I had to find room for Nuri Birge Ceylan's stunning Turkish crime drama Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a gorgeous and emotionally draining yarn that grabbed me from its very first well-constructed minutes and never let go (it contains my favorite shot of the year--an apple's slow motion tumble from the tree to a brook filled with rotting fruit). Asghar Farhedi's tense Iranian divorce drama A Separation likewise had me ensnared in its complex machinations early on, as its screenplay and cast were just too brilliant to ignore (Sareh Bayat, as the fractured family's caregiver who finds her family caught up in another's drama, had to emerge as my top Supporting Actress). The best mainstream Hollywood movie of the year was Bennett Miller's Moneyball, a highly entertaining account of a failing baseball team's winning foray into a controversially exacting brand of sports analysis; the movie was commanded by two fantastic performances--one from Brad Pitt, in his finest hour here as victory-hungry Oakland A's manager Billy Beane, and another from Jonah Hill, a comedic performer who achieved instant character actor status as Beane's apprehensive lead statistician.
Meanwhile, the Best Actress race was led by Kirsten Dunst as the heavily depressed bride in Lars Von Trier's apocalyptic Melancholia, Tilda Swinton as the overwhelmed mother of a psychopathic child in Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Anna Paquin as a manic teenager seeking justice for a fatal accident she had a hand in causing in Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret, an unfortunately troubled production that really wouldn't get widely seen for a couple of years. It was a tough race, there, but I eventually found for the actress that I though dug deepest into her own soul than any other (and this was not an easy decision). I should also point out my adoration for perhaps the most little-known movie in my top ten, a decade-in-the-making labor of love by Georgia filmmaker Robert Persons dealing with the changing face of the Southern United States and, indeed, the ecological transformation affecting the world entire, in his poetic, beautifully photographed documentary General Orders No. 9; if you are a fan of Malick's The Tree of Life, then you definitely must make time for this work that could stand as its wholly in-step companion piece. With other superb films like Oslo, 31st August, Footnote, Take This Waltz, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, The Kid with a Bike, Goodbye First Love, Damsels in Distress, Silent Souls, Bridesmaids, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Pina, Buck, Contagion and Martha Marcy May Marlene, we can see now this was a shining year for world cinema. Even though I would've chosen differently, I don't even have a serious issue with Michel Hazanavicius' lovely ode to silent cinema The Artist as a Best Picture choice. In its own lighthearted fashion, it, too, was a film totally in keeping with the high quality of film work completed in 2011. NOTE: These are MY choices for each category, and are only occasionally reflective of the selections made by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (aka The Oscars). When available, the nominee that actually won the Oscar will be highlighted in bold.
ACTOR: Brad Pitt, MONEYBALL (2nd: Jean Dujardin, The Artist, followed by: Anders Danielsen Lie, Oslo August 31st; Peyman Moaadi, A Separation; Peter Mullan, Tyrannosaur; Dominic Cooper, The Devil’s Double; Mel Gibson, The Beaver; Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe)
ACTRESS: Kirsten Dunst, MELANCHOLIA (2nd: Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin, followed by: Anna Paquin, Margaret; Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz; Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn; Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy Mae Marlene; Leila Hatami, A Separation; Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids)
SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jonah Hill, MONEYBALL (2nd: Lior Ashkenazi, Footnote, followed by: Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method; Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close; Albert Brooks, Drive; Nick Nolte, Warrior; Taner Birsel, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia; Christopher Plummer, Beginners)
SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sareh Bayat, A SEPARATION (2nd: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia, followed by: J. Smith Cameron, Margaret; Jeannie Berlin, Margaret; Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids; Carey Mulligan, Shame; Octavia Spencer, The Help; Jennifer Ehle, Contagion)
DIRECTOR: Terrence Malick, THE TREE OF LIFE (2nd: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, followed by: Lars Von Trier, Melancholia; Asghar Farhedi, A Separation; Bennett Miller, Moneyball; Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Robert Persons, General Orders No. 9; Kenneth Lonergan, Margaret)
NON-ENGLISH LANGUAGE FILM: ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Turkey, Nuri Bilge Ceylan) (2nd: A Separation (Iran, Asghar Farhedi), followed by: Oslo 31st August (Norway, Joachim Trier); Footnote (Israel, Joseph Cedar); The Kid with a Bike (France, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne); Silent Souls (Russia, Aleksey Fedorchenko); Goodbye, First Love (France, Mia Hansen-Love); Pina (Germany, Wim Wenders); Play (Sweden, Rüben Ostlund); Habemus Papam (Italy, Nanni Moretti); The Raid (Indonesia, Gareth Evans); The Skin I Live In (Spain, Pedro Almodóvar); In Darkness (Germany/Poland, Agnieszka Holland); Elena (Russia, Andrei Zvyagintsev); Sleeping Sickness (Germany, Ulrich Köhler); The Mill and the Cross (Sweden/ Poland/UK, Lech Majewski))
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: GENERAL ORDERS NO. 9 (US, Robert Persons) (2nd: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (US, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky), followed by: George Harrison: Living in the Material World (US, Martin Scorsese); Pina (Germany/France/UK, Wim Wenders); 5 Broken Cameras (Palestine, Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi); There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane (US, Liz Garbus); The Autobiography of Nicholas Ceausescu (Romania/Germany, Andrei Ujica); Buck (US, Cindy Meehl); The Inturrupters (US, Steve James); Into The Abyss (US/Germany, Werner Herzog); Project Nim (US, James Marsh); Disabled but Able to Rock (US, Blake Myers))
ANIMATED FEATURE: WINNIE THE POOH (US, Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall) (2nd: Rango (US, Gore Verbinski), followed by: Puss in Boots (US, Chris Miller))
ANIMATED SHORT: THE THOMAS BEALE CIPHER (US, Andrew S. Allen) (2nd: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (US, William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburgh), followed by: La Luna (US, Enrico Casarosa); These Hammers Don’t Hurt Us (US, Michael Robinson))
LIVE ACTION SHORT: THE SHORE (Ireland, Terry George) (2nd: Time Freak (US, Andrew Bowler), followed by: Bear (US, Nash Edgerton); Sati Shaves Her Head (US, Tejal Shah))
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Asghar Farhedi, A SEPARATION (2nd: Kenneth Lonergan, Margaret, followed by: Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Ercan Kesal, Once Upon A Time in Anatolia; Sarah Polley, Take This Waltz; Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids)
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Steve Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, and Stan Chervin, MONEYBALL (2nd: Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt, Olso 31st August, followed by: Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear, We Need to Talk About Kevin; Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, The Descendants; Christopher Hampton, A Dangerous Method)
ART DIRECTION: HUGO, The Tree of Life, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Artist, Anonymous
FILM EDITING: MONEYBALL, The Artist, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, Contagion, The Tree of Life
SOUND: THE TREE OF LIFE, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, War Horse, Hugo, Moneyball
SOUND EFFECTS: WAR HORSE, Super 8, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo
ORIGINAL SCORE: Ludovic Bource, THE ARTIST (2nd: Amit Poznansky, Footnote, followed by: Alberto Iglesias, The Skin I Live In; Alberto Iglesias, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Tom Rowland and Ed Simons, Hanna)
ORIGINAL SONG: “So Long” from WINNIE THE POOH (Music and lyrics by Zooey Deschanel) (2nd: “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets (Music and lyrics by Bret McKenzie), followed by: "The Sambola! International Dance Craze" from Damsels in Distress (Music and lyrics by Lou Christie, Michael A. Levine and Mark Suozzo); "Coeur Volant" from Hugo (Music by Howard Shore, lyrics by Elizabeth Cotnoir and Isabelle Geffroy); “Sparkling Day” from One Day (Music and lyrics by Elvis Costello); "Life's A Happy Song" from The Muppets (Music and lyrics by Bret McKenzie); "Masterpiece" from W.E. (Music and lyrics by Madonna, Julie Frost and Jimmy Harry); “Shelter” from Take Shelter (Music and lyrics by Ben Nichols))
SPECIAL EFFECTS: THE TREE OF LIFE, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Melancholia, Hugo, Real Steel