2011 is a year of many things in cinema, however if there was one theme that defined the year it would be a lack of truly great films. I will admit from the off that I hated Melancholia and thought that the Tree of Life was preposterous, nevertheless there is a total lack of upper level films that sat above the rest like in 2010 which had Toy Story 3 at the very least. Nevertheless it comes to that time of the year when those in the game of reviewing movies, whether professionally or amateur must stop and take stock on the year that has just been in preparation for the year that lies ahead. Breaking my top 25 down into two posts 25-11 and the top 10, here are my favourite (stress on favourite) films of 2011.
“ALL THE FILMS INCLUDED IN THIS LIST AND THE FOLLOWING ONE WERE ON GENERAL RELEASE IN THE UK IN 2011. THAT MEANS NO SHAME, THE ARTIST OR MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE. THOSE ARE ALL 2012 FILMS . “
- Hanna for being an inventive and clever riff on the girl assassin sub-genre
- Kung Fu Panda 2 for being the perfect introduction to kung fu movies for kids
- Another Earth for being an inventive Sci-fi drama with real characters and weight.
- Take Shelter and Oslo August 31st, the two films I wanted to see but didn’t get the chance to.
25. JANE EYRE (Dir. Cary Fukunaga)
Jane Eyre is a shocking inclusion for an open hater of the period drama. This truly international adaptation from director Cary Fukunaga with stars Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska impressed for the simply because of it straying away from the tropes of the genre. The acting and direction were subtle which makes the eventual romantic dénouement easier to swallow in contrast to the typical mawkish sentiments of the genre. Better than that though is the ghostly appearance and colour palette of the film with its faded greens and greys which loaned a genuinely spooky aura to this much travelled literary adaptation.
24. TRUE GRIT (Dir. The Coen Brothers)
The last time the Coen Brothers were in high-profile remake territory they came out with The Ladykillers. This time around there are firing from the top of their game with one of their straightest films to date that borrows from their serious and farcical work and the result is a rip-roaring western that thrills in a way that few westerns can. This film was carried by the criminally ignored Hailee Steinfeld who outshone an incomprehensible Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. The Coen’s are back on form.
23. SUBMARINE (Dir. Richard Ayoade)
Submarine is a fantastic coming of age story by first time director Richard Ayoade, better known as the black guy with the afro from the IT crowd. The coming of age of Oliver Tate was a touching depiction of growing up in a small town as one of the outsiders. Ayoade included some of the snappiest fourth wall breaking of the year. The honesty of the film is told, the facetious performance from Craig Roberts and one of the wordiest scripts of the year (only film I know of to ever include the word atavistic) and in this we get a confident début from Ayoade and one of the funniest of the year.
22. RANGO (Dir. Gore Verbinski)
Gore Verbinski and his working relationship with Johnny Depp started with some level of success in the first pirates of the Caribbean series, after that it the became convoluted beyond all recognition. In moving away, Verbinski recharged his batteries and made his best film in Rango. If you judge this as a kid’s film which most people do in the west, then it was a catastrophic failure. Animation is more varied than that and Rango is too, playing out like a straight western with animals and an art style that is beautifully ugly. The sense of humour was bang on the money too with a chase scene soundtracked by a bluegrass version of Ride of the Valkyries and an unexpected reference to one of Johnny Depp’s earlier films. Rango is a gloriously bonkers animated film that you rarely see the likes of.
21. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Dir. Woody Allen)
In late 2011 Woody Allen recaptured his mojo with Midnight in Paris, a romantic comedy of boy meets city. Although the view of Paris in this film is charmingly limited to the tourists eye view, it’s in the premise that Midnight in Paris shines. By travelling back to the early 20th Century Gill (Owen Wilson) falls in love with Paris and the people he meets that are fascinating characters, with Ernest Hemmingway and Salvador Dali earning the top honours. Light and fluffy with a pertinent point to make about nostalgia, Midnight in Paris is absolutely intoxicating in expressing its love for both the city and the epoch which Gill disappears to during the night.
20. CAPTAIN AMERICA THE FIRST AVENGER (Dir. Joe Johnston)
The final avengers’ film before Joss Whedon’s film is the best, something that I never expected to say back when it was first announced. Joe Johnston’s film marries together a cornucopia of references and cultural beats in his development of a living breathing 1940s. An America which includes one of the best original songs of the year in the star spangled man. The combination of silliness and self-effacing humour that made Thor a return to form is perfected here and the references of many classic films framed within a superhero film that is real and believable as a person in comparison to his excessively self-loathing peers stands him in great stead. I can’t wait to see Chris Evans reprise his role in the forthcoming Avengers and future Captain America movies.
19. TUCKER AND DALE VERSUS EVIL (dir. Eli Craig)
The slasher has become ten a penny in the contemporary horror environment and one of the more commonly travelled types is the psychotic hillbilly archetype which Tucker & Dale versus Evil homages perfectly. It could be called the Black Dynamite of the year in the way that Eli Craig’s debut film makes fun of the rules and expectations that you get in these sub-genre features while still working under these rules. Playing wholly on a misunderstanding between some college students and the titular hillbillies might make Tucker and Dale vs. Evil a one joke film, but this joke is without doubt the funniest of the year. A laugh riot that will be adored horror fans.
18. THE AWAKENING (Dir. Nick Murphy)
This under seen and by extension underappreciated British horror film is chilling in all the right ways. This is thanks to that ever increasingly rarity in modern horror – atmosphere, without the aid of an intrusive soundtrack telling you what to feel and when. With great performances by Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton, Nick Murphy’s debut film makes full use of their class and decorum in this period ghost story using the period after the First World War as the age of ghosts. While the awakening may not evade the problems with the genre as a whole, instead of falling to pieces post-exposition it becomes something all the more impressive – an emotional horror film, one that feels similar to the classics in the innocents and the haunting.
17. WARRIOR (Dir. Gavin O’ Connor)
Evoking a great tradition of emotional sports movies, the warrior focuses its gaze on the brothers and mixed martial artists Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton and their relationship with estranged alcoholic father Nick Nolte. The film might be leading towards an end game of a huge martial arts event, but the real story is about rebuilding relationships and bridges in the family which is where the great moments of emotion come from. The martial arts might play second fiddle, but that’s not to say they lack weight or thrills. Hardy bullies everyone in these scenes to the point where you believe that he could pull he door from a tank and Edgerton is more of a Rocky character. Another under appreciated film and one that made me an instant fan of Tom Hardy; as far as I am concerned 2011 was his year – not Ryan Gosling’s.
16. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN – THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN (dir. Stephen Spielberg)
As the guardian and other serious film critics illustrated Steven Spielberg’s return to the director’s chair is very much a love hate film. In my opinion this is exactly the sort of thing, Spielberg does best – the big exciting adventure movie. An exciting movie with brilliant set pieces and rip roaring comedy from the writing team of Steve Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. It was also the best use of motion capture technology to date. Being a mo-cap film Andy Serkis is present and as is the case with any of these films he owns the screen.
15. RED STATE (Dir. Kevin Smith)
Kevin Smith has his fair share of haters which was only exaggerated with Red State, a film he refused to put press screenings on for instead deciding to take it on tour around America for everyone to see. This was a bold change from his typical output, taking more of a genre approach converging together horror, thriller, suspense and his typical comedy. Many argued that it lacked definition, my opinion however is that it develops organically around the centre piece which is never less than terrifying pastor Abin Cooper in a powerhouse of a performance by Michael Parks. What I loved most about it though is the farcical ending which is fantastical yet shot with an intensity that is never anything less than absorbing. Red State is one of the many films of these lists to divide audiences’ right down the middle.
14. THE SKIN I LIVE IN (Dir. Pedro Almodóvar)
The Spanish king of melodrama returned to his roots in 2011 with a challenging film in the skin I live in. While the issues were there, namely the leopard scene and the readiness for rape made it hard to take the film with the seriousness it deserved. To its credit this is one of the most contemporary and shocking re-imaginations of Frankenstein’s monster taking all the gothic imagery and tropes and replacing it with an incredibly visual flair with beautiful cinematography from regular contributor José Luis Alcaine. The film is sold on the back of its central performances from Elena Anaya and Antonio Banderas who showed he can do more than Puss in Boots and Spy Kids, by playing a disgusting, deeply nuanced man.
13. SNOWTOWN (Dir. Justin Kurzel)
A recurring theme of this year’s list is the inclusion of many dark, depressing and brutal films, however they all feel like upbeat comedies in comparison to Justin Kurzel’s masterpiece of morbid. Kurzel’s debut is a biopic on Australia’s most controversial serial killer, John Bunting who is played with a frightening simplicity by Daniel Henshall. Any film can show a serial killer being blood thirsty, in Snowtown the serial killer is a respectable enough guy, dare I say likeable. It’s through the mundane and every day that we see John Bunting mutate into a monster. Violence is shown without fanfare, observing the modus operandi of Bunting’s murders means that all you need to hear is a tape recording to understand what’s happening. Snowtown is not a film you’ll want to return to but it’s a horror film of the highest order, one of social significance and heightened reality without lowering itself to the tricks of found footage.
12. 50/50 (Dir. Jonathan Levine)
It could be called crass and insensitive but 50/50 is about as accurate a depiction of a 20-something getting cancer without being over-sentimental and manipulative. Based on the real life experiences of Will Reiser, a cancer survivor helped through it by Seth Rogen. It’s no surprise then that Rogen is on the best form of his life as Kyle, playing a character that is loud and obnoxious but shows a clear love for his best friend. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Adam, the sufferer of cancer and seeing his character fail to cope with the disease and his support network is one of the most moving performances of the year. Maybe it’s because I saw a lot of myself in Adam as a fellow 20-something who works in radio that elevated this film so high. But, there can be nothing more said about 50/50 than it balances the divide between sadness and comedy with consummate ease.
11. SENNA (Dir. Asif Kapadia)
The first documentary to hit the list and the one with the highest profile is Asif Kapadia biography of Ayton Senna. Making use of hundreds if not thousands of hours of TV footage, Senna shows what can be achieved with editing by elevating the documentary subject and constructing it in a way that easily appeals to those weaned only on narrative cinema. The championship footage is about as exciting as it comes in 2011. It has been said many times by people much more eloquent than me; Senna takes something of niche and specialist interest like formula 1 and presents it in an accessible way. That is the mark of a great documentary. Senna is a pitch perfect portrait of a brilliant man and one of those most charismatic and enigmatic sports men who ever lived.