FIPRESCI names ‘The Tree of Life’ film of the year

Posted by · 10:38 am · August 19th, 2011

Well, did anyone expect otherwise? FIPRESCI, the international association of film critics that routinely hands out its own award at film festivals, has named Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” the winner of its annual Grand Prix award — for the film voted the year’s finest in a poll of their 200-plus membership.

(Before anyone protests that it’s a little early to be dishing out Film of the Year honors, the eligibility bracket is an autumn-to-autumn deal, scheduled to fit with a presentation at the San Sebastian Film Festival. A 2010 critics’ favorite like “The Social Network,” for example, would have been up for consideration this year.)

A slight irony is that Malick’s film didn’t actually win FIPRESCI’s own award at May’s Cannes Film Festival — it was pipped to the post by Aki Kaurismäki’s still-unreleased “Le Havre.” The discrepancy, of course, can be explained by the difference between jury and mass voting patterns: the Cannes prize is determined by a select handful of members, while a collective membership vote is more likely to favor big-league critics’ darlings.

Indeed, the list of previous FIPRESCI Grand Prix winners, however classy, leans heavily toward expected arthouse hits; “The Tree of Life” is the third Palme d’Or winner in five years to take the award. (Last year’s winner, “The Ghost Writer,” was perhaps a slighter choice than usual for them, but still came from an entrenched canon filmmaker.) Here’s the rundown:

1999 “All About My Mother,” Pedro Almodóvar
2000 “Magnolia,” Paul Thomas Anderson
2001 “The Circle,” Jafar Panahi
2002 “The Man Without a Past,” Aki Kaurismäki
2003 “Uzak,” Nuri Bilge Ceylan
2004 “Notre Musique,” Jean-Luc Godard
2005 “3-Iron,” Kim Ki-duk
2006 “Volver,” Pedro Almodóvar
2007 “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” Cristian Mungiu
2008 “There Will Be Blood,” Paul Thomas Anderson
2009 “The White Ribbon,” Michael Haneke
2010 “The Ghost Writer,” Roman Polanski
2011 “The Tree of Life,” Terrence Malick

In this case, I’d say the predictable choice is the right one. “The Tree of Life” is far from my own favorite film of the past 12 months, but nothing has it beat in terms of sparking and enriching the critical conversation; it has a sense of occasion and consequentiality with which no film we’ve seen thus far in 2011 can quite compete. I expect some US critics’ groups will feel the same way come December; if the film is eventually to make a dent in the Oscar race, this is the path it will take. It’s not every year that the full force of international critical consensus lands on an American film, after all — Fox Searchlight would be wise to take advantage.

[Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures]

→ 15 Comments Tags: , , , | Filed in: Daily

15 responses so far

  • 1 8-19-2011 at 10:45 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    I love The Tree of Life, and I really hope that it comes roaring back when the Oscar season heats up.

  • 2 8-19-2011 at 11:04 am

    Speaking English said...

    I can’t imagine any film yet to come this year topping “The Tree of Life.” It’s that extraordinary.

  • 3 8-19-2011 at 11:15 am

    /3rtfu11 said...

    They’re reputable since they love Almodovar.

  • 4 8-19-2011 at 11:23 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Not that I don’t love Almodóvar, but surely there’s more to commend about this list than just that?

  • 5 8-19-2011 at 11:30 am

    /3rtfu11 said...

    I’m guilty of being an Almodovar fan boy.

  • 6 8-19-2011 at 1:18 pm

    Chris138 said...

    Good choice. I can see this film doing well with critics awards and top 10 lists at the end of the year, although I am very curious to see how it does with the televised award shows in major categories (mainly the Golden Globes and Oscars).

  • 7 8-19-2011 at 5:20 pm

    Owen Walter said...

    Having loved both “The Social Network” and “The Tree of Life,” I don’t know how you would compare a richly nuanced societal and psychological dissection with a lyrical, ambient work about death and spiritual awakening. Obviously the critics went with what was freshest in their memories. And, yes, they picked a lot of Almodóvar, but they didn’t even pick his best recent one, which was “Talk to Her.” They picked the wrong Kim Ki-duk, for that matter, or perhaps they were trying to make up for missing “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring”—I hate when awards bodies do that. And I get the importance of a banned movie about Iranian women and political repression, but “The Circle” may have been the most boring movie of the last decade, and I say that as someone who admired “Werckmeister Harmonies.”

  • 8 8-19-2011 at 6:54 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    This isn’t really the work of an “awards body” so much as the polled opinions of disparate critics — no strategy, no collective decision to reward particular issues or compensate for previous omissions. They just like what they like. (Oh, just to clarify in case other readers pick up on the comparison: I was only using The Social Network as a random example — I have no idea what kind of presence it had in the poll.)

  • 9 8-20-2011 at 10:48 am

    Owen Walter said...

    I get what you’re saying, but the problem remains with any awards organization. The Academy too is composed of disparate, often far-flung members, and yet year after year they tend to vote for Oscar bait. Similarly, critics orgs sometimes vote anonymously and yet suffer the same problem. It’s not precisely that the members are meeting when they vote and influencing each other directly (though some—like the Nat’l Soc. of Film Critics, which actually has a better track record than most—do) but that they are part of an incorrect or distorted Zeitgeist that influences how they vote. You get people of a similar background no matter what country and they chatter about the same things and vote accordingly.

    That said, I did like the choices of “The Tree of Life” and “There Will Be Blood.” And I don’t always mind the extraneous considerations. Godard, who infuriates me at times but who is always interesting, deserved some attention for late work long after he was at the center of film culture, as did Polanski, with an extremely good film that still remains another case of a film being fresh in the voters’ memories when they voted.

  • 10 8-20-2011 at 2:38 pm

    Drew said...

    I finally got to see this today. I’d need a good day or so to asess my thoughts about the whole product. However, the one thing I will say is that I’m not sure that I understand some of the hate towards Jessic Chastain. I thought she, as well Pitt, did some beautiful work with the film, and showed some tremendous range with virtually no dialogue, all introspective and internalized work that very few actors can do.

  • 11 8-20-2011 at 2:42 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    However, the one thing I will say is that I’m not sure that I understand some of the hate towards Jessica Chastain.

    Interesting — where are you hearing that from? I wasn’t aware her work had a significant amount of detractors.

  • 12 8-20-2011 at 3:22 pm

    Rashad said...

    I hated her because she isn’t a human being. She’s a naive idea compared to the more grounded Pitt. Then the movie paints him as the bad force in the family.

  • 13 8-20-2011 at 7:58 pm

    Speaking English said...

    The character is written as an idea; the way Chastain plays it suggests much more.

  • 14 8-21-2011 at 9:53 am

    Drew said...

    Thank you Speaking English. Rashad’s basically just restating what the Pitt character says about her in his narration. He’s not talking about her peformance or her choices.

  • 15 8-21-2011 at 3:03 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Rashad: I agree that what Chastain is playing is more symbol than character — but that’s clearly down to the writing, not the actress. Hate the way Malick has chosen to represent her, if you must, but as a presence, she’s perfectly effective.