I’m borrowing this blog post idea from my friend Chris at Kriofske Mix. As most of you know, I run an independent film society, the Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film. Tonight marks our 18th annual Chlotrudis Awards Ceremony, when the winners of our 2011 awards are announced. You’ll find out who won after tonight, but I am going to post my votes here as an addendum to my favorite films of the year. Like Chris, I will also include some favorite choices that didn’t quite make this year’s ballot. My choice in each category is in bold.
Midnight in Paris
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
The Iranian film A Separation blew me away, and was my favorite film of 2011. The mix of professional and non-professional actors did an outstanding job telling this challenging story in a visceral and emotional way.
Should have been nominated: Meek’s Cutoff. Led by strong turns by Michelle Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Paul Dano and Shirley Henderson, this ensemble truly captured the pioneering spirit and the hardships of walking across this grand country.
Last Circus, The
Midnight in Paris
Lars von Trier’s Melancholia was sumptuous in it’s look and feel, from a grand, old estate tricked out for an expansive wedding, to the amazing experience of the end of the world, the production design on this film was mind-blowing.
Should have been nominated: Heartbeats. Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats vibrated with a hipster vibe and a colorful palette that truly captured the tangle web of young people in love.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Tree of Life
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
The dreamy camerawork capturing the jungles of Thailand, and the dream landscapes of Uncle Boonmee’s past lives create a surreal tapestry in the latest film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Should have been nominated: Weekend. The intimate camerawork of Urszula Pontikos in Andrew Haigh’s Weekend works seamlessly with the charismatic performances of the two leads to create a believable portrait of two men meeting for a one-night stand and slowly falling love, or something very close to it over the course of a weekend. From long hours in a cramped apartment to an evening in a traveling amusement park, Pontikos captures the feeling in the visuals perfectly.
Music Never Stopped, The
This adaptation of Carolyn S. Briggs’ memoir beautifully captures one woman’s struggle with faith. The devout Christians in this community are three-dimensional, finely nuanced characters, and Corinne’s journey as she starts to question her faith is deftly and powerfully explored.
Should have been nominated: I’m satisfied with the nominations we got.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Andrew Haigh’s screenplay for Weekend was beautifully scripted, although both Martha Marcy May Marlene and Poetry gave it a run for its money.
Should have been nominated: I’ve got several films I would have liked to have seen nominated in this category; most notably Another Earth, The Future and Meek’s Cutoff – all amazingly original films that I loved last year, all of which didn’t get nominations for anything. I also think the astounding screenplay for A Separation deserved a nod.
Christopher Plummer for Beginners
Jean-Pierre Darroussin for Havre, Le
John Hawkes for Martha Marcy May Marlene
Shahab Hosseini for Separation, A
John C. Reilly for Terri
No contest here for me. Shahab Hosseini was riveting as a short-tempered man caught in a untenable situation. The entire cast of A Separation was amazing, and I was glad to be able to vote for one of them in this category.
Should have been nominated: I particularly enjoyed performances by Bruce Greenwood in the ensemble of Meek’s Cutoff – that man can play anyone – and Scott Speedman in Barney’s Version – he really captured the self-destructive, suicidal artist/writer perfectly.
Lesley Manville for Another Year
Shailene Woodley for Descendants, The
Frances Fisher for Janie Jones
Kristin Scott Thomas for Love Crime
Kim Wayans for Pariah
Melissa Leo for Red State
Most of my choices didn’t make the ballot in this category, and while Lesley Manville and Kim Wayans were incredibly strong in their respective roles, it was Frances Fisher, in a single scene of Janie Jones that stuck with me the longest.
Should have been nominated: My choices in this category were radically different, but my top choice for this category would have been Amy Ryan in Win Win. She is such a natural and gifted actress, and in this film she perfectly captured the New Jersey housewife without coming off as a stereotype. Other standouts in this category include Sarah Polley in a brief but memorable role in Trigger, Charlotte Gainsbourg in Melancholia, and Sarah Paulson in Marcy Martha May Marlene. Additionally, I saw Take Shelter after nominations were submitted, but had I seen it earlier I would have been hard-pressed to leave Jessica Chastain’s sublime performance out of this list.
Jean Dujardin for Artist, The
Javier Bardem for Biutiful
Chris New for Weekend
Stellan Skarsgard for Somewhat Gentle Man, A
Michael Shannon for Take Shelter
Tom Cullen for Weekend
I was sure I was going to go for one of Weekend’s superb leads, and I was leaning toward Chris New, but after seeing Take Shelter late in the game I was blown away by Michael Shannon in the underrated Take Shelter.
Should have been nominated: Alessandro Nivola is an underrated actor, and his rock ‘n roller who discovers he’s got a teenaged daughter was beautifully handled in Janie Jones. Stephen Spinella also put in a terrific comic turn in Rubber.
Berenice Bejo for Artist, The
Elizabeth Olsen for Martha Marcy May Marlene
Kirsten Dunst for Melancholia
Adepero Oduye for Pariah
Jeong-hie Yun for Poetry
Tracy Wright for Trigger
This was a very difficult decision, with powerful performances all around. Adepero Oduye nailed in in Pariah, and Jeong-hie Yun conveyed so much in Poetry, but Tracy Wright not only got the sentimental vote from me, but it was a career high for the incredibly talented actress.
Should have been nominated: You know I love my actresses, and there were a handful of extremely worthy contenders that didn’t make it. Britt Marling was astounding in the overlooked Another Earth, as was Michelle Williams in the similarly skipped over Meek’s Cutoff. Trieste Kelly Dunn really shone in the tiny indie Cold Weather, but my top choice for this category was Vera Farmiga – so perfectly understated and three-dimensional as a woman questioning her faith in Higher Ground.
Martha Marcy May Marlene
No contest here either. A Separation was my top film of 2011, as director Asghar Farhadi was a master at bringing this uncomfortable story to the screen. There isn’t a misstep in this film.
Should have been nominated: I have a short list of directors that should have made this list including Bruce McDonald for Trigger, Miranda July for The Future, and Aki Kurismkai for Le Havre, Vera Farmiga for Higher Gound, but my top choice for director that was overlooked was Kelly Reichardt who really showed her mastery of the art in Meek’s Cutoff.
Bill Cunningham New York
Into the Abyss
Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls
I waffled between Buck and Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls but ultimately I couldn’t resist Buck‘s powerful, charismatic pull
Should have been nominated: No problems with this list.
My New Year resolution for 2012 is to read more. While I felt that I didn’t read enough in 2011, after creating my top 15 books of the year, I see that I read quality. Obviously, I couldn’t quite limit myself to a Top 10, and I had a hard time ranking the books I loved. (When a Stephen McCauley novel doesn’t end up in my Top 10, you know the competition is fierce!) I do have to say that I’ve got a pretty terrific job. Looking at my list of top books of the year, I have met twelve of these talented writers because of that job. I am constantly exposed to hundreds of really great books; so many that I just can’t read them all! But I’d sure like to try.
Before I announce my #1 book of the year, here is a quick recap of #’s 2 – 15
15. The Leftovers by Tom Perotta
14. We the Animals by Justin Torres
13. Half Empty by David Rakoff
12. The Babysitter Murders by Janet Young
11. Insignificant Others by Stephen McCauley
10. For the Win by Cory Doctorow
9. The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
8. Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon van Booy
7. The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
6. Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire
5. Faith by Jennifer Haigh
4. The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar
3. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
2. The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia A. McKillip
Patchett takes us from Boston to the deepest hidden realms of the Amazon in this layered, haunting tale of biomedical exploration and the search for ourselves. Outstanding writing is Patchett’s hallmark in this intricately layered novel. Deep, complex strands of narrative all come together beautifully and characters, both main and incidental are fully explored and brought to life. This is a masterful work. I’ve only read one other book by Patchett, Run, which I also love. This book just grabbed me instantly and wouldn’t let go. I read it on a trip to the Canary Islands and was totally absorbed as I sat by the pool and sipped cocktails. The relationship between the two central characters is complicated, challenging, multi-layered and a joy to read. It’s one of the things I love about fiction as opposed to other media; that two women are allowed to have the central roles and be explored. This one took me completely by surprise, and while I’m late to the table, I’m sure glad I’ve discovered such a commanding writer.
This superb debut novel explores the depths of human emotion and family. Victoria is a troubled young woman. Passed from foster home to foster home until finally deemed a lost cause, she finally gains her freedom at age 18. But she is an emotionally damaged person whose only interest is the language of flowers, a Victorian construct where people learned to communicate using the meanings of flowers. Victoria’s journey through childhood, and as a young adult on her own is heartbreaking and fulfilling. Vanessa Diffenaugh tells this story with a mastery that is thoroughly rewarding. Picked up this galley at BookExpo 2011 and was intrigued after hearing the author speak at a breakfast meeting, but had no idea it would end up being one of my top books of the year. Powerful and emotionally resonant.
Like the bards in her novel, Patricia McKillip enchants readers with her lush, lyrical writing. Alternating between two stories, one set generations ago, the other in this world’s modern day, Patricia tells the tale of two competitions to choose the kingdom’s bard. The first ended in tragedy, and it looks like the second is heading the same way. Patricia is at the top of her game with this novel that drips with magic, romance, mystery, and history. At first I was surprised to find this genre title appearing to high on my list of top books read for the year, but when you’ve got a writer like McKillip, whose use of language exquisitely rises above even an admittedly imaginative and rich story to dizzying literary heights, it’s no surprise at all.
Talented author Jennifer Haigh tackles the Catholic priest abuse scandal with grace and skill. She brings to bear her forte of familial relationships to a splintered family living south of Boston. Don’t be put off by a subject that you might have heard enough of, Haigh’s take is refreshing and powerful. After reading two of Jennifer’s novels, this one and the outstanding 2008 work, The Condition, it’s clear this is an author to be reckoned with. I look forward to going back and reading some of her earlier work, even as she moves forward to tackle ever more-complicated and powerful subjects.
Thrity Umrigar’s The World We Found is a powerful look at four Indian women who shared a galvanizing and complex friendship during college and are now facing mortality some thirty years later when one of their number is discovered to have cancer and given months to live. While the three who remain in India do what they can to reunite and travel to America to see their stricken friend, the depth and complications of their relationships are revealed. Thrity doesn’t just give us four wonderfully drawn women in this novel, she creates a couple of surprising male characters as well. And in what is perhaps most surprising, a story about bringing four friends back together after decades evolves into something so much more – a lost woman’s liberation. Bravo, Thrity! The World We Found is a fantastic book!
I am embarrassed to report that I forgot one of the books I read in 2011, and it should be represented in my Top 15. So, I am sad to report that Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One has dropped off my list, and Justin Javier’s We The Animals, and Tom Perotta’s The Leftovers have shifted down to #’s 14 and 15 respectively. I have a new title that now comes in at #13. It also happens to be my friend Chris’ #1 book he read of 2011.
David Rakoff tackles pessimism in his usual sardonic and funny way. His acerbic and self-depracating wit make the topic of pessimism a funny yet thought-provoking read. This collection of essays does involve a sobering twist that makes it one his most personal and moving efforts.
Oh, and while I’m sure that sharp tongue is not an act, Mr. Rakoff is one of the sweetest most charming authors I’ve had the privilege to meet. And he was blown away by the art and architecture of the Boston Public Library.
In the tradition of Jane Eyre, Gemma Hardy is a strong-willed, determined orphan living in Scotland who endures the kinds of trials only orphans in literature can endure before growing into the young lady that we would all love to be. Livesey explores many of the tropes of this type of tale, but includes surprising detours, including Gemma’s exploration of her heritage in Iceland, a kindly lesbian couple who show her kindness andrefuge at a particularly low moment in her life, and a development of her character that goes far beyond the genre and into a more realistic growth. Margot Livesey writes beautifully and while her story of the orphan mistreated by her adopted parent who escapes to boarding school only to be disappointed by the harsh cruelties of growing up is familiar, she avoids the melodrama that often accompanies these tales. Her settings are unique and fascinating, and her characters rich and fully drawn. In a different year, this one would be near the top of this list. This book is due out at the beginning of February.
Gregory Maguire wraps up his epic Oz series with a grand, complex journey centered around Rain, grand-daughter of the famous? notorious? Elphaba, self-styled Wicked Witch of the West. As usual, Gregory weaves Baum’s original tapestry into his work, while commenting with insight on politics, morality and human nature. The cast of characters is large, with just about all the players from the previous three books making appearances again, but Gregory skillfully brings them in without your having to go back and reread the books from years past to remember what’s going on. His Dorothy Gale is a strangely ridiculous and heroic character all at once. It’s a tour de force, and it’s a very satisfying conclusion.
Kevin Wilson was a new discovery for me in 2011, but his latest novel, The Family Fang, is a revelation. Annie and Buster are the children of Camille and Caleb Fang, two performance artists who value their art perhaps more than their children. When Annie and Buster finally escape their immediate family after growing up as Child A & Child B in their performance art troupe of a family, they think they’re done with all of that. But when hard times force them back to the family home, they find themselves embroiled in one of the most complicated pieces their family has ever launched. Insightful, touching and bizarre.
Three wanderers find each other in Athens. Rebecca is young and beautiful, but lost. She meets and befriends George, a translator who is lost in past worlds of language and Jack Daniels. Both their lives are irrevocably changed when they meet Henry, a carefree archeologist who charms them both. Spun with care using language that is rich with texture and emotion, Simon van Booy creates a nearly mystical exploration on love, grief, and heartbreak. Truly a testament to a full year of fine novels, this book deserves to be much high on this Top 10 list.
Known for his acerbic wit and well-drawn characters, Stephen McCauley sixth novel is a funny, insightful and ultimately poignant look at the long-term, slightly off-the-rails relationship between two men in Boston. The endearing yet slightly ridiculous characters in Insignificant Others struggle with love, adultery, work relationships, health and growing older, with Richard, human resources manager, compulsive gym-goer, and slightly past his prime in the center of it all. I knew I would be amused; i was surprised at the emotional heft.
Cory Doctorow’s epic novel is really, really good. It features complex characters in their teens and explores such diverse and important issues as class, labor unions, economics, globalization, the Caste system in India, commerce, gaming culture, underground journalism and more, all without sacrificing a taut, exciting thrill ride of a novel. If there can be one slight complaint at all, it’s after building up to a really tense and powerful conclusion, the book’s conclusion is slightly (and only slightly) unsatisfying. Still – an epic for the ages.
A vibrant new voice in literature exploded on the scene in 2011. Justin Torres creates a highly personal and fierce fictional account of three brothers growing up with a slightly lost white mother, and a macho Puerto Rican father. Justin Torres creates some powerful imagery as the boys range, play, fight, and grow up trying to figure out their place in the world. The language is eloquent and uncompromising. This slim volume packs a powerful punch. I am looking forward to this young author’s next novel.
Janet Ruth Young does it again, taking a difficult mental and emotional condition and turning into an entertaining, educational, and powerful young adult novel. In her first novel, The Opposite of Music, Janet tackles depression. In The Babysitter Murders, main character Dani struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The problem is, because she doesn’t understand her disorder, people think she’s a potential murderer, and that doesn’t play well in this sleepy, coastal New England town. Janet effectively shows how information (and misinformation) travels with such immediacy via the web, and kudos to her for slipping in Shelley’s storyline. Shelley is Dani’s best friend who is just coming to terms with her sexuality. The Babysitter Murders has more of a young adult feel to it than The Opposite of Music, but its accessible and disturbing at the same time, and well worth the read.