2011 was a turning point for me. Two films--Red Cliff and The Tree of Life--did it, the one returning to me a measure of my identity, the other giving me a sense that I'd avoided asking ultimate questions about my relationship with film from the start. My stances that there are right and wrong answers in the liberal arts and that people are only entitled to an educated opinion held steady--but I'd never asked why it was that the things I liked were the things I liked. Around this time, I read Jonathan Lethem's monograph on John Carpenter's They Live and was consequently inspired to write one of my own, on Steve De Jarnatt's Miracle Mile. I chose that movie not because--perhaps I should say, not only because--of its relative obscurity, but because it was a movie I've been evangelical about since first seeing it in 1989. The process of writing that monograph consumed much of the last half of 2011. I skipped screenings because of it, and found myself incapable of reviewing the films I did see very well, if at all.
At the end of the year, a larger-than-usual stack of FYC screeners and a calendar quick-clicking its way to 2012 finally buried me. The good news is that 2011 produced probably my best work as a critic (however low that bar might be); the bad news is that the fruit of that labour won't be public until later this year. As problems go, it's not a bad one to have. So, here's the epitaph on the best films of a transitional year for me. Funny how so many of them speak to new beginnings and resurrections.-Walter Chaw