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The Best Film (To Write About) of 2011

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by Matt Singer
March 5, 2012 10:23 AM
8 Comments
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"Certified Copy."

I was looking through the articles, essays, and reviews that Criticwire readers have submitted to our email address -- Critic@indiewire.com, plug plug plug, send send send -- and I came across an interesting essay by Melissa Tamminga entitled "A Place 'spacious and strange': Abbas Kiarostami's 'Certified Copy.'"  Tamminga's piece compares Kiarostami's latest work to a "long and winding sentence" and explores at length the myriad mysteries and contradictions it contains.  It also comes from an interesting perspective, that of an English professor:

"I encourage my English 101 students, when they approach dense texts and when they need to say something in response to those dense text, to embrace what John Keats described as 'negative capability,' that is, the capacity or ability 'of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.'  Keats, of course, wasn’t promoting throwing aside facts or reason, and I certainly do not wish my students to do so, but he was implying that when we have the ability to resist panic in the face of uncertainty, to remain calm when confronted by mystery, we then have the ability to dive into the complexity, to see a thing from delightfully multiple angles..."

It occured to me reading Tamminga's piece that as much as I enjoyed "Certified Copy" -- ranked at #5 on my own list of the best films of 2011 -- I have enjoyed observing the discussion about the film even more.  Watching the film was really only the first step on an ongoing journey of discovery and satisfaction.  "Certified Copy" is like a bad case of food poisoning: it's the gift that keeps on giving.  Just when you think you've shaken it, you find yourself releasing a whole new wave of, uh, revelations.

No film, in fact, prompted more thought-provoking writing in 2011 than "Certified Copy" and that is why I am belatedly and unceremoniously bestowing it the title of "The Best Film (To Write About) in 2011."  And now that I've bestowed it,  no one can unbestow it.  That's just how arbitrary and meaningless titles given by an authority-less week-old blogs work.

There's really no competition either.  What else would you give the title to? "The Artist?" Pfft.  "The Artist" was a fine piece of filmmaking, a canny work of movie nostalgia, and a showcase for one impressively obediant dog.  It presented some interesting opportunities to examine Hollywood's relationship with -- and obsession with -- itself, and some writers took advantage of those opportunities (Karina Longworth's smartly argued post on why "The Artist" was sure to win the Oscar for L.A. Weekly, for example).  But it's not as if "The Artist" was open to wildly divergent interpretations; it's not like your understanding of the film was greatly enhanced by the pontifications of a film critic.  "The Artist" gets the Best Picture Oscar, but it does not get "The Best Film (To Write About) in 2011" trophy, which is far more prestigious (just trust me on this).

There were a few other 2011 movies that offered ambiguities for writers to mull over, and might be considered runners-up in this competition.  An open-ended conclusion left critics plenty of fodder with which to dissect my favorite film of 2011, "Take Shelter."  The similarly vague ending of "Martha Marcy May Marlene" provided its own set of intriguing questions.  The underrated sci-fi film "Source Code" was loaded with more thorny moral issues than many of its critics cared to notice, much less unpack.  And Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" inspired great philosphical musing in some of its viewers.  But even if you total up all the finest writing about all four of those superb films, they still wouldn't equal the body of critical thought on "Certified Copy," like this or this or especially this.

Some people didn't enjoy Kiarostami's film for the same reason I'm giving him this career-changing award: namely that "Certified Copy" refuses easy answers.  But films that refuse easy answers inspire some of the best writing.  Like any great work of art, authentic or copy, "Cerified Copy" will continue to stir its viewers to think big thoughts about it.  Here is one more for you: in the minds of some characters in the film, a blog post like this one might, in fact, be just as valuable as the post which inspired it.  

"Certified Copy" is currently available on Netflix Watch Instantly. What film would you pick as "The Best Film (To Write About) of 2011?"  And what's the best so far in 2012?  Tell us in the comments below.

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More: Melissa Tamminga, Certified Copy

8 Comments

  • Thomas | March 5, 2012 10:16 PMReply

    I tend to agree, especially as it was "surprisingly" good in the sense of "how can that film be so entertaining, thought provoking and utterly enjoyable at the same time???" The one caveat I would have is: was it not the best film (to write about) in 2010 rather than 2011? In that year, it was my third favourite film, but certainly the one that was most interesting to discuss: http://thomas4cinema.wordpress.com/2012/02/25/the-official-list-of-the-best-movies-ever-in-particular-those-of-the-last-years-and-i-had-to-have-watched-them-of-course-thomas-2011/

  • Sajid Hussain | March 5, 2012 5:03 PMReply

    I found the political, social and religious aspects of Iranian life were well portrayed in 'A SEPARATION' and provided great food for thought for debate.

  • Steven Gaydos | March 5, 2012 3:51 PMReply

    I should also provide you with the original piece by Fabio Andrade in Portuguese to translate in a more serious way than the kind robots at Google can manage. But also this key line in English makes one point clear:

    "This is the case of ROAD TO NOWHERE by Monte Hellman and CERTIFIED COPY by Abbas Kiarostami - not by chance, two films that are born destined to fulfill a painful ritual of being misunderstood." http://www.revistacinetica.com.br/oprocessodaverdade.htm

  • Steven Gaydos | March 5, 2012 3:46 PMReply

    You are absolutely right and I'll bet no one here has read Fabio Andrade's "THE PROCESS OF TRUTH: Hellman, Kiarostami and some vices of the contemporary."

    Here is a rough English translation (thnx, Google) from the Portuguese below the piece's last line:

    "As in ROAD TO NOWHERE, CERTIFIED COPY is a film that presents its characters with endless possibilities of escape. But they can only escape into the movie. And in this statement of mystery and beauty, both films transcend grandiosity to become infinite."

    http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001718236808&sk=notes#!/note.php?note_id=344101122297961

  • Seen Said | March 5, 2012 11:33 AMReply

    Just how exactly is TAKE SHELTER "an open-ended conclusion"? All reviews make this claim, but I cannot help but see this ending as entirely clear and definite. Please explain.

  • Katy | March 5, 2012 10:56 AMReply

    I stumbled upon this film on Netflix and was blown-away but it took almost the entire movie for me to get there. I cannot think of another film that made me think and rethink what I was watching. And today I still doubt some of my conclusions. Great choice! Here is my review if you care to take a look. http://expatspost.com/entertainment/movie-review-certified-copy/

  • Tomris | March 5, 2012 10:39 AMReply

    Margaret. So much to say about it; from the backstory of how it almost didn't make it to the theaters; and how it disappeared; and how it came back thanks to the critics who demanded to see it and insisted on placing it in their Top 10/Top 20 of 2011 lists. But mostly, how its absence from the theaters all those years (knowing it should have been out 6 years or so ago) made us watch it with an entirely and unintentionally different set of eyes, having hit the 10th year anniversary of 9/11. The film aged & matured on its own meanwhile ; but so did we. I would go as far as calling it a masterpiece (Lonergan's You Can Count On Me is more deserving of that label, in my opinion)- however, there is so much packed in there that Margaret needs to be talked/written about.

  • Tomris | March 5, 2012 10:40 AM

    Correction above: I *wouldn't* go as far as calling it a masterpiece....

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