I was floored by Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" the first time I saw it, though (as is usually the case for me, even with movies that don't negotiate complex plots in slyly evasive/elliptical styles), I couldn't have told you exactly what happened. That didn't concern me at all, however, because like its central character George Smiley (Gary Oldman), the movie is so meticulously observant that I never felt I was missing out on anything important, even when I wasn't sure exactly what was going on. It kept me in the emotional moment, and I knew I could figure out the details later on.
The stories behind the relationships at the Circus (nickname for Britain's covert intelligence agency) were tangled -- and yet clearly delineated -- enough to deliver a cumulative emotional payoff. And the more I lived with the vivid memory of the movie (it has stayed with me, unshakably), and the more times I've seen it (thrice, so far), the more my appreciation of it has grown. It has slowly climbed up my list of 2011 favorites, and by the second time I saw it, I was absolutely sure it had eclipsed any other English-language movie I'd seen during the year.
(For gaffe squadders who enjoy those fits of righteous indignation that only award nominations can truly provide, let me suggest that the most egregious oversight in this year's Oscar batch is the lack of acknowledgment for "Tinker Tailor" in the categories of best picture, supporting actor (anyone), supporting actress (Kathy Burke), cinematography, art direction, editing, costume design, and so on down the line. Screenplay, actor and music -- all well-deserved, though.)
First-rate movies often inspire first-rate criticism, and it's been thrilling to read some of the year's best writing inspired by one of its best movies. Here's a sample of some of the finest stuff I've read (all of it after I saw, and wrote a little about, the movie -- so beware of spoilers), with links to the full pieces, which I strongly recommend you follow.