Jerry’s Top 10 Films of 2011


1. A Separation  

Some may say I’m cheating with my #1 pick since it doesn’t open in Canada until January 20th, 2012. But, it opens in limited release stateside Dec.30th, 2011, and I got to see this movie in 2011, and since it’s MY list, I’m going to say it qualifies! ‘A Separation’ is an Iranian masterpiece about a married couple who separates and the intrigues that follow when the husband hires a caretaker to look after his father. Both the film’s title and my one-sentence plot description completely understate director Asghar Farhadi’s case, which consists of psychological, social, and moral intricacies. The separation isn’t limited to the divorce of an Iranian couple, but also father from father, parent from child, class from class, and so on. The film is specifically Iranian in the sense that it was made by an Iranian filmmaker who expresses the characters and their situations meaningfully outside the confines of censorship. And yet the themes of responsibility, gender, class, justice, honour, social and religious divisions, tyranny, and truth make ‘A Separation’ achieve universality. Every aspect of the film is perfectly handled, and the family dynamics and scenarios feel authentic, and true to life. This deeply resonant film is perfectly constructed, brilliantly performed, and beautifully photographed. It couldn’t be any more tense, dramatic, or compelling. This is a landmark achievement in World Cinema, and I predict it will remain a timeless masterpiece. It deserves a nomination for Best Foreign Film by the Motion Picture Academy. Please and thank you.



2. Certified Copy

‘Certified Copy’ is a masterpiece of writing, construction, directing, performance, cinematography, editing, everything. Set over the course of a lazy day in Tuscany, the film follows a British writer (William Shimell) and a French antiques dealer (Juliette Binoche). Initially, they appear to be strangers, but are mistaken for a married couple in a cafe. After leaving the cafe, the nature of their conversations shifts drastically. The film’s title comes from the name of a book written by the William Shimell character who argues there’s no difference between a real object and a fake one if they represent the same thing. This idea plays into the relationship of the central characters – are they strangers pretending to be a married couple? Or are they a married couple whose relationship has disintegrated and are pretending to start over as strangers? More complicated explanations about what’s taking place also exist, but I think it’s irrelevant to what director Abbas Kiarostami is trying to say. ‘Certified Copy’ is one of the least manipulative films ever made – it means whatever you want it to mean. Personally, I like the idea of being meeting a stranger and being able to fabricate a 15-year history consisting of fictitious memories. To me, the film demonstrates the power of conversation – what two people can choose to invent between each other. I’ve seen ‘Certified Copy’ three times and my interpretation of the film has changed with each viewing. Juliette Binoche won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance in this film, and it is the best female lead performance I’ve seen all year. ‘Certified Copy’ is a gorgeous, through-provoking, irresistibly romantic film about art, fraudulence, authenticity, love, and truth.



3. Incendies

‘Incendies’ is a Canadian film that was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards this year and I’m still surprised it didn’t win. The setup is as follows – upon the passing of their mother, Quebecois twins are given instructions to deliver two envelopes, as part of her will. One envelope is intended for their father whom they’ve believed to be dead, and the other to their brother who up until now they never knew existed. ‘Incendies’ is an artful combination of a mystery, political thriller, and family drama. Certain images, including that of a burning bus, will stick with you long after the credits roll. Each scene, which involves a clue or discovery into the twins’ mother’s past, has something unsettling coiling underneath it. The performances from this unknown cast, especially Lubna Azabel, are outstanding. ‘Incendies’ is very stripped down and intimate and we, as viewers, feel like we are with these characters as they unravel the mystery of their mother’s life. Rarely do we forget we’re sitting in a movie theatre (or at home watching a film), but this is a perfect example of a film complete onto itself – we disappear into the experience. ‘Incendies’ is an astonishing, admittedly disturbing piece of filmmaking, and a huge step forward in Canadian cinema.  



4. The Descendants

‘The Descendants’ is a quirky, offbeat film about a man, played wonderfully by George Clooney, trying to keep his head above water. His daughters are in full rebellion stage. His cousins (and the state of Hawaii) are relying on him to make a decision about a pristine tract of land owned by his family. He’s also been alerted to the fact that his wife was having an affair at the time of an accident which has landed her into an irreversible coma. This is Alexander Payne’s best film yet (‘Sideways’, and ‘About Schmidt’) which has the ensemble of the year. Every cast member is operating at the top of the game. Even characters that appear for brief moments are memorable. Payne’s film achieves the difficult balance of juggling all these complex emotions and presenting them in a believable manner. The film takes place in Hawaii, and we discover that it’s not all surf boards and waves. These occupants of this state go through the same problems and have the same dysfunctional families we do. The Descendants’ is perfect in depicting the imperfections of its characters.



5. Poetry

‘Poetry’ is a heartbreaking film from South Korea, directed by Chang-dong Lee, which won Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s about a 66 year old pensioner who enrols in a poetry class while dealing with Alzheimers and is forced to face a difficult decision involving her irresponsible grandson who has been accused of rape. The film stars Jeong-hie Yun, a South Korean star in the 1960s, who came out of a 16-year retirement in entertainment to play the lead role. At no point in the film does ‘Poetry’ devolve into a tear-jerker about dementia or intergenerational bonding. This is a very restrained picture – in fact, I don’t recall there being any music. ‘Poetry’ is a small film, but one that is completely engrossing, and we’re with Jeong-hie Yun’s character every step of the way in her journey. It’s the sort of picture that most mainstream moviegoers haven’t seen, but truthfully, I cannot imagine anyone walking out of this film unsatisfied. ‘Poetry’ will stick with you long after the credits roll. And if it doesn’t split you in half, check your pulse….



6. Drive

‘Drive’ had a lot of people talking about this violent, arthouse action picture upon its release. Ryan Gosling plays a 21st century Man With No Name employed as a Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a getaway driver. He finds himself a target when a contract is put on his head after a heist goes completely wrong. The supporting character’s back stories come to life on the screen, but not Gosling’s. He remains elusive. Gosling is able to do so much by doing so little – by holding a subtle glance a little longer than you might expect. It’s this minimalist approach that makes his character so mysterious and compelling. As a testament to his commanding performance, there’s a scene midway through the picture involving a takedown at a strip joint. Even with nude dancers in the frame, your eyes will be focused on Gosling. The film’s director, Nicolas Winding Refn, won Best Director for his work here at Cannes. ‘Drive’ oozes cool – yes, even with its 80s pop soundtrack and its title in a hot pink font. It is a hugely stylish, unique, dazzling, breathtaking neo-noir film whose appeal isn’t limited to fans of arthouse cinema.



7. Shame  

‘Shame’, directed by Steve McQueen (yes, that’s his real name) is the first movie in years to receive an NC-17 rating. Michael Fassbender plays a good-looking 30-something year old living in New York who seems to have it all together. Under that exterior though, he has a sex addiction. Like addicts of all kinds, he is self-destructive and goes to dangerous lengths to satisfy his cravings. One day, his sister (Carey Mulligan) moves in, and this cramps his lifestyle of pornography, masturbation, and hookers. Fassbender gives a daring, quietly intense performance that is worthy of a Best Actor nomination. McQueen has crafted an unsexy film about sex. Fassbender’s character doesn’t experience pleasure. The camera close-ups on his face make this clear. This is a man exorcising his demons. ‘Shame’ offers no easy answers – much of McQueen’s film is ambiguous and open to interpretation. Great art is that wish aspires to do something beyond itself. That means bushing boundaries, which ‘Shame’ (pardon the pun) shamelessly does. ‘Shame’ is unsettling to watch, but those inclined will likely find this to be bold filmmaking.



8. Hugo

‘Hugo’ is a big-budget 3-D family film with Dickensian overtones from master filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan living in a Paris train station in the 1930s. He tries to fix a broken automaton and ends up being involved in a mystery that will change that lives of those around him. This picture ends up being about the birth of cinema and ironically, this movie about the early days of filmmaking is presented in 3-D. This is by far the best use of 3-D, supplanting James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ – Scorsese effectively utilizes the medium to create an immersive viewing experience, drawing the viewer into this fully realized fantasy world. This is Scorsese’s love letter to the films of the early 1900s. With wonderful source material and featuring perfect performances, Scorsese has crafted a film that is delightful, charming, entertaining, and a reminder to most of us about why we love going to the movies.



9. Take Shelter

‘Take Shelter’ is a film about a husband and father, played by Michael Shannon, who has these reoccurring dreams and visions of an apocalypse. He has a family history of mental illness, and wants to seek treatment, but because he fears the truth of his dreams, he builds a storm shelter in his backyard to protect his family. ‘Take Shelter’ is directed by Jeff Nicholas – he has a meticulous eye for detail, and has made a film that excels as both a family drama and a psychological thriller. Each scene is permeated with a sense of dread, and the dreams of Shannon’s character feel so vivid and chillingly real. The lead role in ‘Take Shelter’ was made for Michael Shannon, an actor I’ve long admired, and this is his best performance yet. ‘Take Shelter’ is the sort of film that will keep you guessing until the very end, and even its ending is open to interpretation. It’s the rare sort of modern film that can trouble your sleep, not with CGI constructs of monsters, but with a more familiar dread about our days being numbered by climactic changes.  



10. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ is David Fincher’s remake of a 2010 Swedish film, which was an adaptation of Steig Larsson’s novel. A journalist (Daniel Craig) and unorthodox researcher named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) team up to solve a murder which took place 40 years ago. Fincher’s take on this story is what a film adaptation should be: he honours the source material, but presents it in pure Fincherian style. He has a crisp sense of framing, and effectively utilizes hyper-realistic lightning. He keeps his distance, and this focus on the exterior of the characters makes looking at the interior irrelevant. Fincher directed last year’s ‘The Social Network’. Both Mark Zuckerberg and Lisbeth Salander drive people away from them (though Zuckerberg does it with his rapid fire speechifying and Salander does it by being withdrawn, and not saying more than she has to in a half-monotone voice). ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ is tense, brutal, and Lisbeth Salander is one of the most fascinating on-screen characters I’ve seen in a really long time.    

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): 50/50, Beginners, Cafe de Flore, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, The Myth of the American Sleepover, The Tree Of Life, Trust, Warrior


Theatrical Trailers:

A Separation

Certified Copy


The Descendants





Take Shelter

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

– Jerry Nadarajah

Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return as Sherlock Holmes and Dr.John Watson in ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’, the first sequel to Guy Ritchie’s big intentional hit in 2009. I enjoyed many of Guy Ritchie’s previous films, including ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, ‘Snatch’, ‘RockNRolla’, and the first ‘Sherlock Holmes’ picture. Which is why I’m bummed to report that this sequel is one of the worst films of 2011 (and since we’re approaching the end of the year, I can guarantee that it will occupy a spot on my Bottom 10 films of 2011).

The plot, which will probably be of little importance to most viewers, is nonsensical and convoluted, but I’ll do my best to explain it. It’s the late 1800s and tension escalates between “those who speak German and those who speak French”, something that was plotted by Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). He owns shares in multiple war-profiting companies and plans on instigating a war to make a fortune. Along comes detective Sherlock Holmes and he’s convinced Moriarty is the culprit, but needs further data. Holmes seeks out a gypsy named Simza (Noomi Rapace from the Swedish version of the ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’), who he believes knows something about what’s happening. After defeating an assassin sent to kill the gypsy, Holmes, Simza, and Dr.Watson embark on a journey to prove Moriarty is the mastermind behind recent assassinations, bombings, and try to prevent him from starting a war.

Robert Downey Jr. is actively involved in two franchises at the moment – ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes’. Can we forgive him for appearing bored of his own character here? He spits out his lines quickly in a British accent, sports various costumes and disguises including going drag, but doesn’t seem like he’s having much fun as the title character. Or he could just be in a rush to collect his paycheque. Halfway through ‘Sherlock Holmes 2’, the audience is treated to a several-minute montage with Holmes riding a pony as his companions race ahead of him in their horses. This is one scene that illustrates a big problem with the picture. There’s no construction in the comedy – a comic scenario is set up and seems funny initially, but then it goes on endlessly until the joke becomes unfunny and annoying. It’s the equivalent of taking a good joke and telling it badly, which Guy Ritchie does repeatedly throughout this sequel.

As mentioned above, the comedy isn’t really directed, but neither is the action. Ritchie reutilizes the slow-motion fight scenes he demonstrated in the first film. We see the Holmes character figuring out what his opponent will do, thought for thought, blow for blow. Again, it’s a neat technique that’s visually interesting the first time, but Ritchie (not being familiar with the less is more approach) injects the same visual trick repeatedly through the film until it becomes exhausting. Even the grey, bleak background from the first film is used again here, but this time, it drains the action and excitement from the picture. Repetition and sameness seem to be the two major elements which hurt this film the most.

Also, this story of world dominance feels like something out of a James Bond film. There’s no mystery or suspense, and nothing really seems at stake. The main villain isn’t particularly memorable. In one scene, Moriarty rams Holmes onto a meat hook, nearly bleeding him to death. It’s a pretty dark scene that is completely out of tone with the rest of the picture (which has a campy, slapstick feel). The chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Judd Law is still present, but their constant bickering bromance grows tired rather quickly.  

My criticism has nothing to do with the spirit of the original ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories. I don’t care about that. I care about the results of the revisionist approach to this film, and unfortunately Guy Ritchie has travestied Conan Doyle’s creation of the greatest criminal investigator of the century. I should note that at the end of my screening, several members of the audience applauded the film in appreciation. This means I could be in the minority on this one, but I’m fairly certain that a second (or third or x’th) viewing won’t change my mind. Holy tedium, ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’ was one of the most boring cinematic experiences I had in 2011.

– Jerry Nadarajah


‘Hugo’ is a big-budget 3-D family film with Dickensian overtones from master filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Yes, the same Scorsese who brought us ‘Raging Bull’, ‘Goodfellas’, and ‘The Departed’. This is the first Scorsese film without Leonardo DiCaprio in 7 years, and his first PG-rated film in 18 years. The theatrical trailer for this film left me wondering what in God’s name Scorsese was thinking, but I should have known better than to doubt a master filmmaker – ‘Hugo’ is one of the year’s best films.

It’s the 1930’s, and the title character (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan living in the clocks of a Paris train station. He steals food when he’s not maintaining the station’s enormous clocks. What makes his escapades a challenge is the presence of the station inspector (and his Doberman), played by Sasha Baron Cohen. Hugo also steals mechanical parts from a toy store owner (Ben Kingsley) in an attempt to fix an automaton, which he believes to contain a message from his late father. The toy store owner’s goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz looking like a miniature star from that era) is then introduced to Hugo’s world, and his to hers. She is his first true friend yearning for the adventures Hugo gets to live but she only reads about in library books.

A number of characters in the film are craftsmen. Both Hugo and his father have a knack for assembling and repairing mechanical objects. There is also a magician turned filmmaker whose magic transfers gracefully from the stage to the screen. This character constructs a movie studio, which consists of elaborate production sets. We learn that this filmmaker was responsible for the 1896 silent film ‘L’arrivee D’un Train a La Ciotat’ (film history buffs will know I’m referring to George Melies). As silent films shifted over to sound films, Melies work as a filmmaker was dismissed to the extent that they were burned and converted into material for women’s shoes (this scene had me reaching for my Kleenex). However, one film remained unburned – ‘Le Voyage Dans La Lune’ from 1901. The second half of ‘Hugo’ shows the filmmaker’s fall from his glory days, and how the title character tries to fix this broken person by proving that he hasn’t been forgotten. In doing so, ‘Hugo’ has shown us filmmaking at its genesis as well as the importance of the preservation of film.

Ironically, this movie about the early days of filmmaking is presented in 3-D. However, unlike most films that are converted post-production, this entire project was conceived with an added dimension and is part of Scorsese’s visual aesthetic. As close friends of mine know, I am not a fan of this medium. To me, it exists solely as a gimmick to charge audiences a premium for an inferior viewing experience. My thoughts on the subject are a little more optimistic having seen ‘Hugo’. This is by far the best use of 3-D, supplanting James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’, which was the film that caused the upsurge of 3-D. The added dimension is used to create an immersive experience and the lighting is adequate enough for the viewer to derive detail from scenes in dim settings. Hugo’ opens with a helicopter shot of Paris, as the camera shoots in from above and ends with Hugo peeking out of the opening of a clock in the upper-level of the station. It’s these breathtaking visuals that remind the viewer that this is a Scorsese film. While the material is unlike anything Scorsese has ever done, his creativity and visual intelligence remains strong.

‘Hugo’ is a movie about movies that will play better to adults than kids. I noticed several kids in my screenings shifting in their seats due to film’s deliberate pacing. Cinephiles will be in for a treat, though no knowledge of silent films or film history is necessary to enjoy this picture. This is Scorsese’s love letter to the films of the early 1900s and its worthy of a Best Picture nomination and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Ben Kingsley. With wonderful source material and featuring perfect performances, Scorsese has crafted a film that is delightful, charming, entertaining, and a reminder to most of us about why we love going to the movies.

– Jerry Nadarajah