Making the list

Our film critic names her top 10 favorite films of the year.

Israeli film 'Footnote' 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Israeli film 'Footnote' 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There’s no getting around it – this hasn’t been a great year for Hollywood movies. When was the last time someone told you about a wonderful mainstream movie they’d seen that you had to check out? Chances are (especially if you’re over the age of 12), that it’s been at least a year, if not longer.
Of course, it’s always difficult compiling a year-end 10-Best list in Israel because most of the movies topping the critics’ lists and awards in the US have not yet been released here. And while I know that watching movies online is commonplace, it doesn’t compare to seeing them in a theater, so I won’t jump the gun and watch them on the small screen in pirated versions (that often consist of someone in a theater filming the movie with their iPhone). To balance that, I’ve included a few films on my list that hit Israeli theaters in 2011 but were eligible for Oscars last year because they came out in America in late 2010.
For example, George Clooney starred in two big films this year, The Ides of March (which he directed as well) and The Descendents, but only Ides has reached Israel. Now, I always enjoy watching George the way you might enjoy seeing a great painting, but The Ides of March is a bore that plays like a mediocre episode of The West Wing.
Even Pixar let us down this year. Cars 2 was their weakest movie ever, and a muddled plot about greener cars was too confusing for many young viewers.
This year I really had to scratch my head when people asked what good films I had seen lately – unless they were asking about Israeli movies. Israeli films continued to scale new heights in 2011. If I had to name the most memorable movie I saw all year, it was undoubtedly Joseph Cedar’s Footnote. But there were a number of other polished and interesting Israeli films in theaters as well.
Other film industries outside of the US made enjoyable films this year. My list includes movies from Spain, Italy, Ireland, Bulgaria and China. Perhaps the best writers in America are gravitating toward television these days. Some of the sharpest, funniest and most moving work was done for the small screen in the US, on series such as Boardwalk Empire, 30 Rock, The Good Wife, Treme, Big Love, Glee and Parenthood, all of which starred and were written and produced by many talents best known for their work on the big screen.
That said, here are what I consider the year’s most enjoyable films:
Amador – This story of a pregnant Latin American illegal immigrant caring for an elderly man in Spain should have been unspeakably depressing but was moving and often funny.
Contagion – Not for the faint of heart, this film tells the frightening story of a worldwide epidemic. It was skillfully directed by Steven Soderbergh and stars Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow and Laurence Fishburne.
Footnote – Joseph Cedar’s film about a father and son who are Talmud scholars working out their rivalry somehow has universal emotional appeal and real suspense.
Habemus Papem – Nanni Moretti pokes gentle fun at the Vatican and psychotherapy in this story of a cardinal who is elected pope, has a panic attack and flees.
Incendies – A tough film about one woman’s struggle to overcome sectarian violence in a country modeled on Lebanon. It may be wildly improbable at times, but it’s well acted and gripping.
Moneyball – A great screenplay, co-written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), and a great cast (Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jonah Hill and Robin Wright) are the main attractions in this story of baseball and big business.
The Flood – A film about an Israeli family coping with the sudden return of their teen autistic son transcends the obvious sadness in its story to become a truly moving tale of a family’s redemption.
The Guard – A strange, snarky story of a drunken, foul-mouthed Irish cop and an African-American FBI agent that was quite funny.
The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner – The title says it all in this sentimental but believable Bulgarian story of a grandfather and grandson on a road trip.
Under the Hawthorn Tree – Zhang Yimou’s latest film, about forbidden love during the Cultural Revolution, features sparkling performances by its two leads, especially by Shawn Dou, who may well become the Asian George Clooney.