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Predicting the 20 Best Films of 2011

Every year in January or February I put together a predicted list of my favourite films of the year. Not only am I usually completely wrong, but about half of my predicted picks never even see a release. It is, nonetheless, a fun little project and is a good exercise in getting a sense of the upcoming year. This list is ordered.

20. The Broken Tower (James Franco)
Hollywood’s Golden Boy writes, stars and directs this story of American poet Hart Crane, who committed suicide at the age of 32 by jumping off the steamship SS Orizaba. With Michael Shannon attached, the film will at the very least be a compelling watch. It will also be interesting to see how Franco, who seemingly excels at just about anything he puts his mind to, fares at directing. I don’t know much about the poet in question, but the synopsis has captured my interest.

19. Take this Waltz (Sarah Polley)
One of Canada’s leading talents, Polley always astonishes with her daring choices and she certainly surprised with her restrained direction in her feature debut Away from Her. I am not completely convinced she can compete against other more established auteurs, but she is certainly someone to look out for. Any doubts I may have in the story or cast is further dispelled by the appearance of Michelle Williams, an actress who can do no wrong.

18. Rango (Gore Verbinski)
I refuse to believe that Cars 2 will be anything other than a forgettable mess. Rango, on the other hand, looks like a child’s take on Hunter S. Thompson. It could be absolutely horrible, but I won’t pretend my interest isn’t piqued. If this manages to live up to its trailer and my expectations, it could easily find its way on my list by the end of the year.

17. My Week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis)
The second Michelle Williams vehicle to make my list, and it won’t be the last. I don’t have too much optimism for bio-pics, but this one already seems to avoid a lot of problems. It is focused on a very specific time period, has an interesting cast and explores a time period that we is not necessarily well trodden territory. I am not very familiar with Simon Curtis’ work and a quick glance at his filmography doesn’t promise too much, but here is hoping for a bio-pic of the same quality as Capote, the pinnacle of high-end Hollywood biography films.

16. On the Road (Walter Salles)
I have high hopes considering the material at hand, not necessarily because I think the film will be any good. I am afraid it will fall very quickly and easily into romanticism and false-nostalgia – two things that will betray the novel. I have similar reservations about the lead actor, who was stiff at best in Tron: Legacy. The rest of the cast is pretty great though, so here’s hoping I’m proved wrong.

15. Jane Eyre (Cary Fukunaga)
I am not a huge fan of the original novel, but approaching the gothic horror present in the material definitely piques my interest. The strong trailer, which promises something dark and dirty – a feature missed in many adaptations — really sold me on the film. The presence of the sexiest man in the whole wide world, Michael Fassbender, doesn’t hurt my expectations either.

14. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)
I am one of the few people who has never so much as picked up a copy of this book, though my cross-section of friends have promised me it’s either the best or worst book I will ever read. If this film is in any way reminiscent of the Fincher who made Zodiac, it could easily rank towards the top of my list. That being said, it could also go the other way and we could have another Curious Case of Benjamin Button on our hands. At the very least, we want another Social Network – something with mainstream appeal, a bit of pizazz and an engaging cast. I have high hopes for Rooney Mara.

13. The Skin that I Inhabit (Pedro Almodovar)
It’s Almodovar, it should be reason enough. Plus, it’s a plastic surgeon’s revenge tale with a bit of rape. And a lot of Antonias Banderas.

12. Farewell, My Queen (Benoit Jacquot)
Jacquot is an unfortunately underrated and underseen french filmmaker, and his film deserves a bit of love though there’s no saying when
or even if it will even see a North American release. I am able to overlook the presence of Gerard Depardieux, who inexplicably gets on my nerves, because it stars Diane Kruger as Marie Antoinette. It also (apparently) features my favourite up and coming actress, Lea Seydoux.

11. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay)
A very heavy subject – a mother deals with the grief and guilt after her son goes on a high school killing spree. Directed by Lynne Ramsay and starring Tilda Swinton, the film promises a unique and exciting approach to material largely unexplored. The film’s vantage point is a privileged one, and offers a perspective that is not only unexpected, but offers an opportunity to explore difficult questions and issues. Ramsay is probably one of the few filmmakers working today capable of doing this subject matter justice.

10. Haywire (Steven Soderbergh)
I am something of a Soderbergh fan-girl and of the two films that he is supposed to release this year, this one looks the most promising. What has me most excited is that the screenplay is penned by Lem Dobbs, who also wrote The Limey, Soderbergh’s best film. It should be at the very least an interesting take on genre. Oh, and it has Michael Fassbender. Check #15 for more info on why he is super important for a film’s success.

9. Melancholia (Lars Von Trier)
Despite my lofty reservations about Lars Von Trier’s work, everything else this film promises outweighs any feelings I may have for the few films of his I’ve seen. The plot seems to be still very much a secret, but it is science fiction and unlike his other films it won’t have a “happy ending.” I am really afraid as to what that may mean, but I can’t deny being equally intrigued. The cast looks spectacular.

8. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Steven Spielberg)
This film seems to represent everything I hate about popular mainstream entertainment, which is probably why I’ll love it. This year’s Tron: Legacy, but better.

7. Mildred Pierce (Todd Haynes)
Sure it’s made for television, but it seems the need for a divide between great TV-miniseries and great cinema has long been erased. I predict that Mildred Pierce will have far more acclaim than this year’s TV darling, Assayas’ Carlos. Not only is Todd Haynes one of the most adventurous American filmmakers, along with Pedro Almodovar he is probably the only filmmaker to properly understand the allure of melodrama. Based on the work of James M. Cain, the script will be very difficult to “mess up,” and this could very well be the role that Kate Winslet was born to play.

6. Faust (Alexander Sokurov)
I won’t profess being particularly involved or familiar with Sokurov’s work, but Faust is an incredibly interesting work which will no doubt be re-interpreted like it never has before. I can’t imagine this film not offering something completely new and exciting.

5. A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg)
As much as I love Cronenberg’s dark and dirty body horrors, I don’t think he has compromised any of his obsessions in his most recent work. The opportunity to explore the early days of psychoanalysis seem like a very reasonable progression of his themes and promises to be emotionally gruesome. All snapshots I’ve seen of the production so far look amazing, and the cast features many of my very favourite working actors.

4. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
Rumours about this film first popped up in 2008, but it seems to have finally went into production recently. The film seems a strange fit for Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s long takes and slow meditative style – it is a martial arts action thriller (well, sorta). Hou himself has already likened the film to the work of Hayao Miyazaki, which is strange but all the more promising. I have no idea what this film will finally offer, but it should be good.

3. Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
I realize many have already seen this one on the festival circuit, it has yet to make it’s way to either DVD or Montreal screens, though, so it will be a 2011 release in my books. Not only is the western one of my very favourite genres, this film seems very much centered on the experience of its female characters. Add Michelle Williams to the mix and you have a film that seems tailor made for my cinematic sensibilities. Also, Reichardt’s work on the remarkably touching Wendy & Lucy has put her very high on my radar.

2. The Grandmasters (Wong Kar-Wai)
Is there a more divine contemporary filmmaker then Wong Kar-Wai? The answer is no. Though I have my doubts that this will see a 2011 release, I am putting on my list as incentive for him to finish the film on time so it can top or nearly top my year-end list. Obviously, I don’t want him to rush but I don’t want to wait forever either. It’s been a while since his last feature length film, and I am not prepared to wait another year. Especially not for a film that has Tony Leung, and apparently a rain-fight sequence that took weeks to shoot. Please Cinema Gods, help Wong Kar-Wai finish this film.

1.  Tree of Life (Terence Malick)
Easy number one, but it IS Terence Malick and he seems to be getting better and better as years go by. For what it’s worth, I think the New World is far and away his best film. Even if Tree of Life is half as good as his last picture, it will probably be better then just about everything else released in 2011. Judging from the trailers, this may very well be his most experimental film to date and it will be very interesting to see how he integrates the science-fiction/fantasy elements within his distinctive filmic style. Will 2010’s best trailer make for 2011’s best film? Let’s hope so.

Justine Smith