Cinema Sentries Select the Best of 2011

With the Oscars just hours away from honoring the best of 2011, a few Sentries have gathered to name their selections as Award Season comes to a close.

Margaret selected by Dusty Somers

History will venerate Kenneth Lonergan’s follow-up to acclaimed 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me, even if moviegoers initially ignored it to the tune of a $40,000 gross. It’s not like you can blame the public. After a protracted legal dispute over running time and final cut — delaying the release nearly five years — Fox Searchlight unceremoniously dumped it into less than 20 theaters last fall.

But a late-breaking critical groundswell upped the film’s profile slightly, even causing it to receive a re-release in several markets, and though the existing 150-minute cut is pared down significantly from Lonergan’s original vision, what remains is a deeply involving, virtuosic study of moral and social chaos, led by a stunning Anna Paquin as impetuous, self-involved, and idealistic high school student Lisa Cohen. After witnessing a horrific bus accident that she may have been partly responsible for, she launches a kind of moral crusade that is as well intentioned as it is misguided.

The film’s troubling and affirming implications about a post-9/11 world play out against a hugely ambitious, near-operatic backdrop. Even in its slightly convoluted state (a director’s cut would be a dream come true), the film is a marvel, and it features some of the best acting work this year by Paquin, Jeannie Berlin and J. Smith Cameron.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo selected by Ron’s Reviews

Yes, many will argue that it is simply a remake of the Swedish version, but this is a fine film that clearly stands on its own. Let us not forget that True Grit (2010) was a remake, and Jeff Bridges grunted and growled his way through it. Neither the film nor the performances in True Grit were worthy of the original, yet it garnered accolades.

David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a well-crafted film full of amazing performances. Daniel Craig displays a vulnerability that we have not seen from him, and Rooney Mara delivers a performance worthy of awards as she proves that a woman can be strong, hard, intelligent, and attractive. The supporting cast is up to the task of keeping pace with the stars. Robin Wright proves she still has the appeal and talent that made her a star, Stellan Skarsgard is creepily brilliant, and Christopher Plummer is a treasure.

The pace is fast and the story deep, and in some cases leaving the audience with questions can be a bad thing, but in this case the audience is left with a simple desire to see it again, read the book, rent the Swedish version and its sequels, and plan to get in line for the midnight showing of the next theatrical release..

A brilliantly written, directed, and acted mystery with enough class to know that you don’t need to show the audience everything.

Take Shelter selected by Gordon S. Miller

This was a tougher decision than I anticipated and I don’t expect to be fully satisfied when I look back upon it. I considered Woody Allen’s wonderful Midnight in Paris about a man caught between the past and his future; Albert Nobbs, anchored by Glenn Close’s vastly underrated performance of a character who goes to great lengths to survive; and almost went with the “now ineligible because of its October 2012 release date” Butter, the very funny and at times touching comedy I saw at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. But I am going with the exceptional family drama Take Shelter featuring Michael Shannon in a captivating performance as Curtis, a man whose judgment regarding the safety and welfare of his family grows increasingly at odds with those around him.

Director Jeff Nichols has written a powerful story about a family dealing with forces out of their control and it works well because of the dynamic between the married lead characters. Shannon is impressive as a man unsure of whether his sanity is slowing slipping away or if he’s the only sane person. Jessica Chastain finds the poignancy of Samantha who understandably struggles to find the strength to hold the family together as her husband changes.

Nichols’ direction is understated but effective. The ending is very well done yet it’s so subtle it may lose some viewers because of the two ways it can be taken, yet there’s only one logical conclusion.

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