Its down the final countdown of films in 2011 with this post, in which I count down by 10 favourite films. Once again, I have to stress that this list is made up of films that I enjoyed the most (or as much as one can, given the nature of a lot of 2011’s better films). In doing this it means that I won’t be copying other people’s lists film for film, that would be a fruitless task in light of the hours spent considering these things. Now, without wasting any more time here is my list of the top 10 films in 2011. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and at the very least find one new film to dig out in 2012.
“ALL THE FILMS INCLUDED IN THIS LIST WERE ON GENERAL RELEASE IN THE UK IN 2011. THAT MEANS NO SHAME, THE ARTIST OR MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE AND NO FILMS THAT WERE FIRST SHOWN IN FESTIVALS DURING 2011. “
10. KILL LIST (Dir. Ben Wheatley)
If inclusion was justified by the amount of time spent thinking about a film, this would sit heads and shoulders above everything else. Ben Wheatley’s film divides opinion more than any other entry on the list; even I love it and hate it in equal measure. To be more precise, I love the film until the climactic scene where falls to pieces a little. With an execution and editing that suggest it was manipulated to keep a truth hidden, Kill List has an air of mystery about it giving it enough depth for multiple watches. The harsh atmosphere is all-consuming and only broken by moments of dark humour and the brilliant relationship of Michael Smiley and Neil Maskell. Kill List also has the honour of being one of the most savage violence of the year, outdone only by James Gunn’s super.
9. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Dir. Tomas Alfredson)
Tomas Alfredson might never better his breakout film, let the right one in. However, to say that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy isn’t a great film because the directors’ earlier work is better would be dismissive. The beautifully shot film presents the world of the spy with the gritty realism of smoke-filled rooms. Everybody is suspicious of each other; there is no affection or trust which captures the unease of the time. Tinker Tailor’s values stillness, the exchange of glances reveals deep characterisation. It’s through such an approach that actors like Tom Hardy, Toby Jones and Colin Firth can disappear into their roles, but still be one of many. It might be hard to follow and slow-burning but the style and subtle lead performance from Gary Oldman elevate this out of the shadow of the 1970s BBC mini-series.
8. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (Dir. Rupert Wyatt)
Revisiting the territory of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Rupert Wyatt’s re-imagination does what very few summer action blockbusters do – value drama. It might open with a huge plot whole (how did scientists not notice a money was pregnant), but what follows is a coming of age story for Caesar who is played beautifully by Andy Serkis, floating somewhere between Chimp and Man, with his commanding psychicality and ability to emote through simple gestures. The traits of the blockbuster (explosions & action) come after the 70 minute mark are exciting (especially the battle on the golden gate bridge), much more so than its blockbuster brethren because of the dramatic leg work put into the build-up. Blockbusters which punch as hard with their drama as they do with their set pieces are of a rare breed.
7. ANIMAL KINGDOM (Dir. David Michôd)
Jackie Weaver won a best supporting female Oscar for her performance in this unrestrained Australian Crime drama. In the final days of the Cody crime family, we see the brash violence of other gangster and crime thrillers traded for a lower key. Animal Kingdom may not escape the crime movie clichés at the same time it could never be accused of being predictable, as the film constantly sets up a comfort zone only for it to be shattered. With its dynamic dialogue and intense performances from Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Jackie Weaver and Guy Pearce, David Michôd has announced his arrival as a great writer and director and kick started another vital era for Australian cinema.
6. THE GUARD (Dir. John Michael McDonagh)
The magnificent Gene Wilder once said in an interview that comedy performers and performances aren’t respected in the same way, comedy is looked down on. In the Guard, Brendan Glesson puts in the best performance of his career as the unorthodox policeman Gerry Boyle, who is what can only be called an equal opportunities offender, literally everything with a pulse is insulted by Boyle. It’s never once played for laughs either which makes his performance all the more sweet. It’s naturally going to be compared to In Bruges, as the two directors are brothers. John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard is the superior film in its anti-American homage to westerns, with character led comedy and genuine characters contrary to every film of its type. And most importantly the guard has warmth and depth.
5. ATTACK THE BLOCK (Dir. Joe Cornish)
Attack the Block has a lot in common with the Twilight series, an odd statement perhaps, but both of these films suffer from people deciding that they are horrible films that deserve to be scorned even though people haven’t seen them – shocking. Watch Attack the Block though and you’ll find characters who undergo growth and become more than stereotypes in the perfect Saturday night horror film. With a brilliant breakout performance from John Boyega, a script that sparkles with horror literacy and laughs, Joe Cornish’s debut presents an archetypical American film with a British lens. The invading forces are brilliantly realised too, glowing teeth shining out the darkness of the inner London streets is an inspired creative decision. Not only is Attack the Block great fun, it injects the ability to imagine back into the British film industry.
4. 13 ASSASSINS (Dir. Takashi Miike)
Taking a break from his, gung-ho and inconsistent approach to film making, Miike calmed down with 13 assassins by making his most restrained and beautifully choreographed film of his hyper-prolific career. The money shot of the film is a prolonged 40 minute action sequence which consumes a town; it’s one of the very few occasions where I have been audible in expressing how amazing something is. Not just once either, time and time again. Just like in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the action paid off because the time was spent investing in the plight of the samurai. Relentless action would be meaningless without the investment of story and character and Miike puts an equal amount of effort in both, whether it’s an explosion of blood and the typically awesome samurai badass or the social mores in the dying embers of the age of the samurai.
3. DRIVE (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
Not as immediate as you would think from its high placing, Drive took two viewings for its brilliance to sink in. Nicolas Winding Refn’s hyper-violent film has two wildly conflicting juxtapositions, on the one hand it is a violent tale of a man falling into the world of crime and on the other it’s the only film of 2011 to truly transport as you are watching it. What I mean is that feeling after being totally absorbed by a film that you feel like you have just got back from a long journey as you walk through the cinema foyer. With a career making performance from Ryan Gosling as well as equally brilliant but under-appreciated turns from Oscar Isaac, Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston. Drive is also the coolest film of the year, with an effortless performance from Gosling and the perfectly timed use of Cliff Martinez’s throbbing score.
2. THE INTERRUPTERS (Dir. Steve James)
Steve James’ documentary the interrupters is pretty much the perfect documentary. In following around the violence interrupters, men and women who prevent people from killing their fellow Chicago citizens we see a portrait of a city suffering from violence, a disease passed down from generation to generation. The job they are doing is brilliant, there is no doubting that, especially with some of the most intense face-offs the have to mediate and the positive effects that they have on people’s lives. Where James excels is through presenting the violence interrupters with complete objectivity, When they fail at their job, we see their fragility of the community that is contrary to their otherwise strong fronts, the inefficiency of the media and the political world. And most importantly for a dramatic piece the true investigation of the complexity of the human spirit and mind. Very few documentaries address their issues with such openness and intelligence.
1. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Dir. Lynne Ramsay)
The endless years we waited for Lynne Ramsay to follow-up Morvern Callar was greatly rewarded with the unconventional horror adaptation of a difficult novel. Another misunderstood film which is also bleak, the two running themes of these lists, we need to talk about Kevin plays around with narrative to present a recollection of events surrounding her relationship with her son and the eventual atrocity he carries out. What is real, how much is exaggerated; it’s all down to personal interpretation in this dramatic channelling of the evil child horror sub-genre. Tilda Swinton is already a talented actress with a career of strong performances as Eva, a character who is used to study the nature of guilt, and the damage her character has suffered in brought to life magnificently. The titular Kevin is fantastically cast too, with the two children both looking like Ezra Miller (teenager Kevin) and being little anti-Christ’s too. This brings it to Ezra Miller who could easily have a brief career playing psychopathic teenagers. Ramsay shows through the tropes and ideas of Horror that nobody makes movies like her.
That’s it for 2011 in review posts. Stay tuned for the usual reviews. If you want to hear more from me, subscribe to my podcast on iTunes here – DOUBLE TAKE.
Happy new year, I hope 2012 treats you well and that the movies released in the new year treat us well too.