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The Sky Turns
This Rotterdam prizewinner from 2005 improbably turned out to be 2011's most poignant meditation on the passage of time. Mercedes Álvarez returns for one year to her birthplace, a corner of northern Spain whose few remaining inhabitants, all elderly, muse casually about the landscape, which has preserved the footprints of dinosaurs, as well as interred the bones of countless ancestors.
Nostalgia for the Light
Another documentary concerned with pasts both recent and remote. Patricio Guzmán's film is a somber, and politically pointed, essay on searches for the past (in the ground and in the sky) in Chile's Atacama Desert.
Into the Abyss
By now you gather that I take the story of the year to be the quality of its nonfiction films. Werner Herzog kept his own intrusions to a minimum in this crime-and-punishment story—and turned in his most engaged work in years.
A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
This everyday legal nightmare from Iran possesses all the intensity of an argument escalating right in front of you on the subway.
The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (Andrei Ujica)
A model repurposing: The official record excoriates itself.
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
"Where do I rank the flawed but staggeringly beautiful masterwork?" is a question I wish I found myself asking more often this time of year. Also of a piece with #1 and #2.
Debut director Zachary Levy finds a nearly perfect subject for this type of vérité portraiture: Stanley "Stanless Steel" Pleskun, "the strongest man in the world at bending steel and metal."
A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg)
A late-year period piece actually alive with ideas, as opposed to embalmed in nostalgia.
The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar)
Pulpy and hard-edged, this plastic-surgery thriller also asks some legitimately surprising questions about identity.
Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
It might all wash away during the course of a storm, or with the slightest change in brain chemistry. Not perfect, but a very promising sophomore effort, filled with fine-grained detail.
The Top 25 films of the year, as voted on and praised by our stable of film critics.
Jan 9, 2012