Far too much ink was spilled this year on the subject of whether or not people who like slow-moving or otherwise difficult art films are faking it, a conversation I felt virtuous for staying out of, but annoyed by nonetheless. Blanket dismissals of other people's taste are a perk of this profession, but only when coming, paradoxically, from a place of rigorous openness. When a critic I respect uses language that compels to praise a film, I want to see it—want to see what they saw in it. If I can't, it's hardly an indictment of consensus—unlike some people in this field, apparently, I see no reason to be intimidated to the point of gambit-tossing defensiveness by my colleagues' taste.
Good film criticism demonstrates a level of engagement—with the film, with the attendant culture and miscellaneous—to which the reader might aspire.
That, anyway, is the hope of both The L's film section, in our week-in-week-out writings and with both the numerically oriented advocacy and microcriticism that make up the package trumpeting this, our third annual poll of regularly contributing film critics who felt that they'd seen enough to fill out a ballot of 20. I do think asking for 20 choices, and not 10, makes a difference: especially for a year in cinema as strong and varied as 2011, allowing voters the room to spread the love around, and mix their sense of historical obligation with personal passion (at a ratio that is, I suspect, different for everyone), makes for results less flattened by consensus. (Our voting pool is large enough that Hugo, which placed in the bottom half of five ballots, didn't make the Top 25, and large enough that a handful of orphaned #1 picks—Super 8, Fast Five and Film Socialisme, which placed last year as an undistributed film—missed out as well.)
That said, unlike 2009 and 2010, when our #1s (35 Shots of Rum, Everyone Else) were in keeping with our relatively eccentric advocacy, our top film of 2011 will surprise no one. Only two voters picked Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life as their #1 film of 2011 (the same number of first-place votes received by our second-, fifth- and twenty-second-place finishers), but it was named on ten ballots; its victory reflects both its historically significant scope and its passionately personal mode of address.
Placing a film historically is an altogether stickier wicket in regards to our #5 film, 1991's newly poll-eligible A Brighter Summer Day: a number of voters were glad to slot a stone masterpiece high on their ballots; others thought it was cheating to include an acknowledged great movie in this year's canon-forming exercise; others, freed perhaps by its 2011 release and the instruction to consider it as such, were able to admit that, critical consensus nothwithstanding, they didn't much care for it. Which is a reaction I'll allow them, despite whatever claims certain reviewers' embellished memories of collegiate snobs would make about the cinephiliac mindset. Anyway. On the results, and write-ups, and to 2012. Mark Asch
Individual 2011 Top 10 lists from the L's film reviewers.
Dec 21, 2011