Top Ten Movies of 2011 — Number Seven


In the introduction to this year’s ten best list, I noted that my personal tally was filled with films that couldn’t reasonably be called perfect, but compensated with brilliantly messy ambition. I think that Melancholia from director Lars von Trier is likely the most imperfect film on this list, but it wildly, ingeniously so, every last flaw a freshly formed blister left by the scalding fearlessness of the piece. The film stars Kirsten Dunst as Justine, a woman introduced on the way to her wedding reception, dealing with an unfeasible path taken by the stretch limousine that serves as the newlyweds’ transport with persistence and good humor. It quickly becomes clear that this cheeriness is a temporary, faulty patch on a crushing depression that Justine endures, a problem that deepens as the movie shifts into a very different second half. Dunst is a marvel in the role, gazing at her loved ones with deadened eyes and murmuring about the futility of life, an overriding assessment that becomes all too clearly apt as situations progress. Dunst clearly feels the character from the depths of her soul and firmly, thoughtfully turns her inside out to get at the core of her waning being. Von Trier has taken such characters through proverbial wringers before, but the tang of sadism that sometimes colored his previous films is gone here. He seems invested in actually understanding Justine, not just punishing her, and that new empathetic approach allow him to open himself up as an artist, making the film into a work of pure feeling rather than something that grinds off into oblivion. He’s previous been able to concoct films that were pummeling, but this may be the first time he brought his considerable visual strengths to telling a story that was also piercing.

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