The Fifties for 2011: Drivers and Vehicles
Patricio Guzmán for Nostalgia for the Light, for only seeming to force awkward metaphors, then slowly cajoling us into the full, conflicted logic of the poem he has written to his country;
Abbas Kiarostami for Certified Copy, for folding his usual fondness for metafilmic puzzles within a romantic plot and emotional throughline that feel as immediate as a fond caress;
Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life, for the warmth and immodesty of his daring, for seeing in a man a child, and in a child grief, and in grief and grace the origins of the world;
Mike Mills for Beginners, for making a film about a cartoonist, a kooky actress, a dying gay man, and a chatty dog that is not a sitcom but a roomy, melancholy valentine; and
Aleksei Popogrebsky for How I Ended This Summer, for using image, sound, edits, actors, tempo, and locale so electrically that story bumps don't matter, and the experience brims with energy.
Honorable mentions, filling out an irritatingly male-only roster, are Michelangelo Frammartino for Le Quattro Volte, Cary Fukunaga for Jane Eyre, Benjamin Heisenberg for The Robber, Steve James for The Interrupters, Lee Chang-dong for Poetry, Radu Muntean for Tuesday, After Christmas, and Michael Rowe for Leap Year.
Beginners: Tactful, tender, and generous, rich in humor and characterization. Joins the Junebug Hall of Fame for exquisite modesty;
Certified Copy: Disarmingly lived-in, even warm for a study of romantic skepticism and ambivalence. Concepty, yes, but rings with truth;
The Interrupters: An achievement fully comparable to Hoop Dreams, with some of the year's most indelible moments and characters;
Nostalgia for the Light: Even when forcing analogies a bit, a humbling blend of awe, empiricism, history, reverie, and mourning; and
The Tree of Life: A brother's grief kiln-blasted and glazed into a grand, restless, ecstatic lament for a living and dying world.
Honorable mentions, in order, to How I Ended This Summer, Poetry, Tuesday, After Christmas, Le Quattro volte, and The Robber.