Row Three’s Favorite Films of 2011
10) Winnie the Pooh
- I hoped against hope that Disney would do right by the beloved Pooh bear, and they surpassed all my expectations. With a simple but charming story pulled together from a few of A.A. Milne’s most beloved entries in the series, lovely hand-drawn animation, and a sense of wonder and childlikeness that’s missing from most overly hip children’s films these days, Winnie the Pooh is like a breath of admittedly nostalgic fresh air. Little bits of cleverness like the integration of physical text and the animation style shift for the Backson song just add to the joy of this unpretentious delight.
- Joe Wright, of high-quality but relatively staid literary adaptations like Pride & Prejudice and Atonement, is doing an action movie about a teenage assassin? O…kay… But Wright pulls it off in spades, crafting one of the finest genre mashups of the year. With influences from James Bond to La femme nikita and from Run Lola Run to M (okay, it’s a stretch, but it’s there), plus a healthy dose of well-played coming-of-age story, it’s easy to accuse Hanna of not knowing what it wants to be, but on the contrary, it knows exactly what it wants to be – everything. And it manages all that with panache and an exhilarating sense of cinematic space in the action sequences. Great performances, action, editing, music, and immensely entertaining to boot.
8 ) The Artist
- It’s no secret I’m a fan (an emerging one, anyway) of silent cinema, so I’ve been eagerly anticipating 2011′s B&W silent throwback since I heard about it. But films that attempt imitation like this can fail in so many ways, either getting things subtly wrong or failing to capture the thing that made the original so pleasing. Thankfully, The Artist comes through with flying colors (or lack of color, heh), pairing its simple romance and tale of silent cinema’s demise with a charm and vivacity that approximates the joys of silent films quite well. The acting is stylistically believable without feeling forced, the film tone-switches like a pro (as many silent films do), and the bits of gimmickry related to sound end up working better than I feared. It’s ultimately a breezy film, though not without its bits of melodrama, but there hasn’t been as charming a celebration of 1920s Hollywood since Singing’ in the Rain.
7) The Innkeepers
- If you want to know what kind of horror hits all my buttons, look no further than Ti West’s supremely enjoyable haunted hotel film. Not only does it succeed with jump and reveal scares as the two ghost-hunting hotel employees spend the inn’s final days investigating the potential presence of the rumored ghost, but it’s just as solid in the more comedic sections of the film, bringing these two characters to life so when shit starts going down, it matters. In addition, West proves a wonderful understanding of cinematic space, using the character and location set-up in the beginning for some fantastic payoffs in the rest of the film. I don’t outright love very many horror films, but I loved this one.
6) Attack the Block
- By the time I finally saw this, it had been so hyped by bloggers around the country that I was sure I would be in for disappointment. Not this time, though; the hype is pretty much deserved. From the gutsy move of having our heroes be South London thugs who start the film by mugging a young woman to the fantastic creature design of the monsters, Attack the Block succeeds on all levels. The character arcs work, thanks to solid writing and performances from the mostly unknown cast, the social commentary works even when it’s a bit on the nose, the thrills and chills work, and the comic relief works as well, for the most part. Sure to be a staple for genre-lovers for some time to come.
- Leave it to Lars von Trier to somehow make a film about depression that is gloomy as hell, but actually NOT that depressing, when it comes right down to it. In a role that finally showcases that talent that she’s shown so fleetingly throughout her career (how’s that for a backhanded compliment!), Kirsten Dunst plays Justine first as flighty and fun, but that’s just a veneer shallowly covering her deep depression, which is soon paralleled (manifested?) in the approaching blue planet dubbed Melancholia. Yet it is she, in the second half, who is far better equipped to deal with the end of the world, an eventuality that formerly stable Charlotte Gainsbourg is unprepared to face. It’s self-consciously arty, but that’s part and parcel of the von Trier experience, and this is probably his most accessible and overwhelming film to date.
- One of the most stylish films of the year for sure, and maybe it’s a case of style over substance, but I don’t really care. From the hot pink title lettering to the movie-LA locations to the mishmash of genre film references to the laconic main character himself, I was totally enthralled with this film. Ryan Gosling cements himself as an actor to be reckoned with, doing a lot with a very subtle role, and managing to stand out against a stellar supporting cast of more over the top supporting characters. Already an arthouse favorite thanks to his earlier films, Nicholas Winding Refn delivers a slam-dunk calling card to Hollywood without losing the personal aesthetic that he’s known for. I’ve seen this twice in theatres, and that wasn’t enough.
3) Certified Copy
- A heady yet emotionally grounded inquiry from Abbas Kiarostami into the nature and value of originals and copies played out in a most unusual way – a couple of strangers (or are they) who have been discussing the ramifications of copies in an academic fashion suddenly begin acting as if they’ve been married for years (and perhaps they have). How does a simulcra of a marriage related to a real marriage, and if the fake becomes real, what is real? The film is thoughtful, cerebral, and academic, yes, like its male protagonist. But it’s also warm, heartfelt, and resonant, like its “Elle” (a wonderful performance from Juliette Binoche) – though these roles are no more set in stone than their relationship. I’ve still only seen it once, but I’ve pondered it perhaps more than any other film I saw in 2011, unable to get it out of my head.
2) We Need to Talk About Kevin
- My first Lynne Ramsay film, but certainly not my last, and hopefully not hers, either. (One worries when filmmakers take 9-year breaks in between films.) One of the most disturbing and terrifying films of the year, yet with essentially no on-screen violence or gore – Ramsay conveys everything through unsettling sound design, jarring structural juxtapositions as she tells the story out of chronological order yet with a perfect thematic flow, and the wonderful central performance of Tilda Swinton as a woman who embodies the worst fears of parenthood in one tightly wound little ball. The film is assaultive in many ways, and one thing’s for sure – whether the parents who need to talk about Kevin do so or not, audiences certainly are and will be.
1) The Tree of Life
- The Tree of Life is an intensely personal film, despite its ambitious scope. It depicts the whole history of the universe, yet affirms the importance of humanity even when faced with the enormity of the cosmos – we are tiny, but an endless summer in small-town Texas can be all-important. The film is clearly a passion project for Terrence Malick (as all his films are, really), and much of its pleasure is in how much it resonates personally with the viewer – it hit me dead-on, to the extent that I drank it all in and couldn’t really process anything else for several hours or even days. It was one of the great cinematic experiences of the year for me (and that’s really what it is, an experience, privileging associative resonance over narrative drive), and that’s why it’s remained at the top of my list all year.
Note: I saw Blue Valentine just after our Top Films of 2010 was posted, so it’s not in that official list, but since I saw it so early, I still counted it as a 2010 film. I just realized it tragically missed both lists. It would’ve been about #4 on my 2010 list at the time (probably higher now), as I mentioned in the comments on last year’s top ten post, and probably #3 on this list, if I had included it.
Honorable Mentions: Attenberg, Cafe de Flore, Meek’s Cutoff, The Dynamiter, The Adventures of Tintin, Kill List, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jane Eyre, This is Not a Film, Rango, Extraterrestrial, Midnight in Paris, The Guard, The Future, Captain America, Contagion, Headhunters, Take Shelter
Didn’t See But Should’ve: Hugo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Skin I Live In, A Separation, Carnage, 50/50, Shame, The Muppets, The Descendants, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Tyrannosaur, Hobo with a Shotgun, Beginners, Project Nim, Incendies, Win Win, Bellflower
- For Ryan Gosling’s restrained performance leading an all-around game cast of characters in a film that exudes craft and style. Want to know why going to the movies is different than reading books or watching theatre? Drive is as compelling an answer to that question as anything else in 2011.
- Young Irish Saoirse Ronan proves the most unlikely but watchable action star of 2011, playing a Bourne-type educated in secrecy by her rogue-CIA agent father (Eric Bana.) An empty vessel taught the specifics of self-sufficiency with the option for revenge on the CIA handler, Marissa Weigler (Cate Blanchett sporting a feminine power-suit and a crocodile smile) who killed her mother. It all sounds patently ridiculous, but a driving Chemical Brothers score, a change-up of the action hero mould and a nuanced series of long-take set-pieces from director Joe Wright make this potential guilty-pleasure, simply a pleasure.
8 ) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
- Forget the labyrinthine plot, you don’t have to sweat it – that is the job of the characters and it is less the point than the clothesline in which Thomas “Let the Right One In” Alfredsson essays the decaying snake of England’s former superpower eating at its own tail for 2 hours. The Glengary collection of great British actors don’t even need dialogue, as this movie is all about the facial tick, the subtle gesture. Gary Oldman give a master class in icy precise performance as he waltzes in the lock-box of Le Carre’s soul-sucking take on the cold war spy game.
7) Project Nim
- As much as the motion capture of Rise of the Planet of the Apes received all the attention in that surprise hit, the real gem in simian cinema was James Marsh’s Project Nim. A talking heads documentary that is framed like a he-said-she-said custody battle, the filmmaking takes it one step forward in further using Nim as a vessel to understand all the foibles of the human condition. Project Nim makes PETA look like the kindergarten farce that it is.
- As Shinya Tsukamoto and Sion Sono duke it out to be the leading Japanese auteur in extreme-art-house drama, Tsukamoto won round 2010 with his character study on parenting and paranoia. One of several films in 2011 to tackle this theme – one might argue that every film in the top 5 above touch on this in one way or another – Kotoko has the loose and chaotic cinematography which is the directors signature used marvelously to depict a mother who is ill equipped to care for an infant and a man who comes into her life to fix her at the cost of himself.
- Steven Soderbergh re-invented the celebrity studded disaster film with this one that got lost in the shuffle of Moneyball and TIFF and back-to-school. As ABC’s telemovie The Day After Tomorrow attempted to showcase nuclear war in as realistic a manner as possible, so does Contagion examine the avian-bird flu pandemic which shockingly good results. Seeing this in a public cinema, every audience member sniffle or cough is magnified into ominous signifier, hell your own seat is crawling with germs, and the way Soderbergh lingers on the objects we touch elevate this into a great horror-show. See it with a hypochondriac for better effect. But see this damn movie.
4) Café De Flore
- Music is an emotional balm, music is an emotional bomb, and director Jean-Marc Vallee never lets you forget this two-edge sword or the power of music on people’s lives with his existential drama that is the standout in Canadian cinema (barring Incendies which was released last year in Canada) for 2011. The story asks a lot of the big questions with gusto and style: “Are you Happy?” “When does love and care become suffocating?” “Is the whole soul-mate thing real, is it unique, or merely a numbers and chance?” Also, Café De Flore is the best edited film of the year, how the editing hits the emotional beats and plot points might as well make the craft a character in the film.
- Lars von Trier’s disaster masterpiece: part vérité drama, part blockbuster end of the world special effects spectacular and all earnest satire of the human condition. The earnest-satire is a particular von Trier contradiction that has been on display for much of his career, but this is the first time that doesn’t feel like he is poking the audience in the face with it. Ultimately, it’s a pretty great use of an obvious depression metaphor, and the film is one of the drop-dead gorgeous big screen experiences.
2) We Need to Talk About Kevin
- Instead of issuing birth control pills or contraceptives, one needs only to show Lynne Ramsay’s superb film to high school classes as a deterrent to early pregnancy. Front as a drama, but really, a horror film in arthouse clothing, the eponymous Kevin is a distillation of the collective fears and anxieties of the challenges of new parents. The film itself seems to reside in Hades, I suppose Tilda Swinton’s headspace after giving birth, and is in equal measure, soaked tomato juice, ink and bodily fluids – all bathed in harsh red filters. There hasn’t been this much red in a film in some time and there is enough compulsive scrubbing on display to make Lady MacBeth blush. The film is not meant to be literal, and it pushes its metaphors into a memorable miasma of moviemaking brio. With We Need to Talk About Kevin, Ramsay has surpassed both Jane Campion as the premiere female auteur of the new feminisim.
1) Tree of Life
- There was simply no other movie made in 2011 that looked or sounded like Terrence Malick’s cosmic opus. Conflating the personal and the cosmic, Malick seems to re-write the book on how to make movies, even in light of his own previous works. Looking at memory and existence as being as infinite as the universe itself, it makes the film that is very, very earnest and but aims for the profound. Hell, this film figuratively and literally reaches for the stars, and comes as close as cinema has ever came. You, as a viewer, may have to do a lot of the leg-work while watching Tree of Life, but that doesn’t make the film any less magnificent, possibly moreso…
Honorable Mentions:: Rango, Carnage, The Innkeepers, Shame, ALPS, Attack The Block, Page Eight, Tyrannosaur, Take Shelter, A Lonely Place To Die, Another Earth, The Artist, Sleepless Night, Kill List
Didn’t See But Should’ve:The Skin I Live in, A Dangerous Method, Certified Copy, Beginners, The Future
Worst film: The Moth Diaries
- This Russian sci-fi is a throwback to another time; it feels and reminded me of a far reaching 70′s sci-fi with too much ambition and a few too many plots. There’s so much going on that I don’t believe I fully took it in on first viewing but I was ready to see it again immediately after it finished. I’ve been chewing on images that it left with me since I saw it in September and I can’t wait for the opportunity to see it again. I will not be surprised when, in 10 years time, someone re-discovers this and it becomes either a cult film or an underappreciated classic.
9) Jane Eyre
- Austen films are event movies for me. Apparently so are Brontë adaptations. Though everything leading up to the release of Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre suggested good things to come, I wasn’t prepared for the delicacy with which this script was crafted and the chemistry between Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. I loved this tragic romance when I saw it on the big screen and after repeat viewings am still discovering new moments to love.
8 ) X-Men: First Class/ Thor/ Captain America: First Avenger
- The super hero tripple bill. I don’t think there’s ever been a time I was excited for three super-hero movies but here you have it. Though I didn’t love all three unconditionally (they each have their strengths and weaknesses) I had a heck of a good time with the heroes at the movies this year. Pair a few of these together, throw in Joss Whedon and you have my money in the bag.
- I love Nicolas Winding Refn. He’s one of these directors who manages to infuse his movies with flashes of arthouse flash that border on genius. There’s also something extremely flamboyant yet unquestionably male about his films and his leads. The mix is one I’ve come to love and eagerly anticipate.
- I first saw Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen’s feature film debut and when it was announced that the pair would be re-teaming for a new film, I was on board before ever hearing any details about the plot. I loved the every uncomfortable silence in Shame, every heavy lidded look and each moment of heartbreak – of which there are many – but what I loved most of all is that it made me think about broken families, broken people and how, regardless of how bad things get, you can always pick yourself up and try again.
- If last year you’d told me that I’d have a movie led by Bradley Cooper on my top 10, never mind top 5 list, I would have laughed in your face. Well, I take it back. Cooper is very good as the washed out author turned overnight genius in this sci-fi thriller about a little drug that will make you a genius but the real win is the concept and story itself which explores, some more fully than others, the implications and cost of being ten steps ahead of the game.
4) Nuit #1
- Anne Émond’s feature film debut is a marvel of the intimate drama. Set almost exclusively in an apartment, Clara and Nikolaï’s one night stand evolves, over the course of a single night, to encompass all of the emotions one experiences in a long term relationship. Not only does the film feature an insightful, often painfully spot on, script, the performances from Catherine de Léan and Dimitri Storoge are unforgettable.
3) Take Shelter
- Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon re-team for this quasi-apocalyptic tale of a man who foresees the end of the world or maybe he’s just crazy. Part family drama and partly a look at a man who may be suffering from psychosis, Nichol’s film kept me guessing at every turn.
2) We Need to Talk About Kevin
- As with Dogtooth, Lynn Ramsay’s new film is a disguised horror film. It?s been well publicized that the film stars Tilda Swinton, in another brilliant performance, as the mother of a boy involved in a school shooting, but what’s unexpected is the personal hell that Eva suffers on a daily basis as she struggles with the fact that she brought a monster into the world. It’s a staggering performance in an unconventionally told story that had me squirming with each passing scene.
1) Tree of Life
- Someone recently made the comment that the plot and story of Malick’s new offering is confusing. It’s certainly not linear and even after half a dozen viewings, some of it is a bit murky, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that every time I see it, I’m left with a feeling of profundity, of being connected to the world around me in a way few other films have managed to do. I watch Tree of Life and it leaves me thinking about how I fit into the larger scheme of the universe. I can’t think of any other film that does that and I have a gut feeling that in five or even ten year’s time, it will still have that effect on me.
Honorable Mentions:: Elena, Michael, House of Tolerance, Carnage
Didn’t See But Should’ve: Melancholia, The Artist, The Descendants, Midnight in Paris, The Skin I Live In
- Style over substance is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. That coupled with my newly found man crush on Ryan Gosling solidified this as a nice round out of my top ten. Masterful stroke of casting with pretty much everyone involved (Cranston, Brooks, Perlman in particular). I could’ve done without some of the truly gratuitous violence and it’s a “shame” (see what I did there) that Carrie Mulligan was so utterly wasted. But quite honestly, the first eight minutes of this movie pretty much made it worth the price of admission.
9) The Descendants
- A much better and somber film than the marketing campaign would have you believe. Alexander Payne surprised me again with interesting storytelling and setting said story in an interesting locale. The far above acting didn’t hurt anything with a possibly “best performance of his career” turn from Clooney and new-comer Shailene Woodley making a very, very strong first impression. This is the little movie that can.
8 ) Moneyball
- Like last year’s The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin takes a subject (baseball statistics?) and makes it impeccably watchable. Brad Pitt does his usual bit of awesome and Jonah Hill surprises with some actual acting chops other than outright goofy, fat kid. It looks good, it’s acted well, it sounds great and in the end, the Minnesota Twins won the game. Perfect.
- Everything about this film screams, “Andrew! You will hate this!” Yet I loved every bit of the clichéd and hackneyed hipster bullshit. The performances by all three of the main players are pitch perfect for this warm, friendly drama that seemingly wants to wrap you up in its arms and give you a big squeeze.
- Most everyone else saw this back in 2010 or very early in 2011 when it was nominated for a best foreign language Oscar. Since I was among those that saw it very early in the year, quite honestly I don’t remember a lot of the details. I do remember the general thrust of the film and the gut punches that you must take along the way. I put it on my reminder list for best of the year and the emotional impact and some of the visual imagery alone is enough for em to confidently put this right here at #6.
5) Another Earth
- Great drama shrouded in a Sci-fi “what if” scenario. Aka Andrew’s wheelhouse. Really that’s all I can say for now. I liked the movie a lot. And by the very very end (the last shot), I adored it.
4) 13 Assassins
- 60 minutes of a balls to the wall, bloody, over-the-top action sequence preceded by 60 minutes of fantastic, extremely smart set-up and character introductions. It’s the best action movie I’ve seen in a long long time and I look forward to many upcoming rewatches.
- I can’t believe this is sitting so high up on my list. But goddammit does it deserve it for so many reason. Not the least of which is its ability to make me cry – a tough endeavor to be sure. But this movie works on all cylinders trying to deliver a message that is cliché yet hardly touched upon if that makes any sense at all. Tremendous performances from a bunch of actors I’m not usually all that keen on helped amp the surprise of this hit dramedy. I’d be elated and unsurprised to see 50/50 make its way all the way up to an Oscar nomination (several possibly).
2) Midnight in Paris
- Joy joy joy joy joy joy joy joy joy. With tears of invigoration streaming down my cheeks during a good chunk of Woody Allen’s latest film, I internally declared to myself, “this is why I go to the movies!” And so I went again the next night… and again the following week. The pomp of this movie is in its surprise. Once the movie lets you in on its secret it is all golden from then out. Dali!
1) The Skin I Live In
- Proclaiming this as Pedro Almodóvar’s best film is really a bold statement after his many many critically praised triumphs. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Sort of a horror wrapped in a mystery wrought with drama and maybe even a dash of comedic quirk (just a dash), I can’t remember a genre film so beautiful in its execution that still manages to have a lot to say about so many things. It’s dark and twisted as all hell – especially the more you think about it – yet remains somehow accessible and easy to digest. I had feared Pedro might tread into caricature waters but no, Almodóvar uses great pacing and flow to add to yet another gorgeous looking film that never goes too far over the edge with his signature style. Maybe it goes over the edge thematically and psychologically, but that’s a good (nay, great!) thing in this case.
Top Ten not in the Top Ten:: The Artist, Cracks, Melancholia, Win Win, Hanna, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Limitless, Take Shelter, Meek’s Cutoff, Winnie the Pooh
Just Great Fun:: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Fast Five, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Troll Hunter, Stakeland, Hobo with a Shotgun
Didn’t See But Should’ve/Will:Carnage, The Help, The Interrupters, The Raid, A Separation
10) We Need to Talk About Kevin
- A heart-wrenching tale of a very difficult subject. The film is just as great as the praise would have you believe.
9 ) I Love You, Philip Morris
- Long overdue, but well worth the wait. The movie had Jim Carrey again acting at a level that only he does so well. If I have a complaint, it’s that this movie leaves me yearning for more of this Carrey and less of the Mr. Popper’s Penguins Carrey.
8 ) Crazy Stupid Love
- One of the best relationship dramadies to come out in years – large in part due to it’s incredibly talented cast.
7) Tree of Life
- Coming from one of my favorite filmmakers, I was left feeling somewhat hollowed out after watching this. It was emotional. It was good. It was real good even. But something about it still, after a second watch, some important element seems to be missing. I just cannot put my hand on it.
6) Midnight in Paris
- This is Woody Allen’s love letter to the writer. Woody’s films have always been divisive (warning: I’m in the love his movies camp), but regardless of one’s feelings, if a person loves literature or considers themselves a writer, I cannot imagine them not loving this film. Following a screenwriter turned novelist during a trip to Paris with his fiancée, he one night drunkenly discovers during a midnight wandering of the city that every night at midnight he can travel back to his ideal time period – the 1920s. The protagonist soon meets and becomes intertwined with many famous figures of the era, including F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Josephine Baker, Gertrude Stein, Juan Belmonte, Salvador Dalí, Cole Porter, and T.S. Eliot. It’s a plot so absurd that only Woody Allen could pull it off – and he does. And the more you know and appreciate the characters portrayed in the film, the better and more amusing, I imagine, you will find the film. If you love the time period, if you love literature or art, if you’re a fan of Woody Allen, do yourself a favor and see this fantastic film.
- Intelligent and hauntingly realistic, this is a film about relationships during hardships and it is a movie that homeboys can sit around together to watch, laugh, tear up, and then deny it ever happened and shift focus to the pube joke.
- Even if in the back of my mind, I still wonder how Soderbergh’s vision of this would have turned out, Bennett Miller’s more conventional take on the book about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane was still a wonderful love story to the game of baseball, with plenty of style, and some great performances all around, particularly by Pitt, who again breaks his strangely lingering image of being little more than a pretty Hollywood face.
3) The Descendants
- This is Clooney again demonstrating why he simply on another level. He has a knack for taking an otherwise good film and making it great, simply as a result of his presence..
2) The Sunset Limited
- After reading the published play by Cormac McCarthy, how could I possibly want to watch a film adaptation of a one-room, two-character story with dialogue about religion and life and death lifted verbatim from the play? Credit the strength of Cormac’s writing and the talents of stars Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, who capture the spirit of the play in a way that left me only wanting more conversation.
- I tend to yawn my way through such hyper-stylized films, but instead, I never ceased grinning. I was absorbed by the rich colors, the hypnotizing music, the band of misfit characters, and the understated screenplay. If there is a film from this year that I know that I will watch over and over again throughout the years, this will be it.
Didn’t See But Should’ve:The Artist, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Muppets, A Separation, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Win Win
10) The Muppets
- I’m in the Muppets-can-do-no-wrong camp on this one. Critical facilities be damned. Apart from the rap song by Chris Cooper, I smiled the entire length of this movie.
9) Attack The Block
- Working within the limitations of not only budget, but also the confines of a single apartment complex, Joe Cornish has put together an incredibly fun and surprising action film. The characters aren’t overly likable, but they are consistent and you might actually achieve some semblance of an understanding of them by the end.
8 ) Dreileben
- Last year I started my TIFF marathon with an existential Italian film called The Four Times (Le Quattro Volte). This year, I decided to kick things off with the 4 and a half hour, 3-part, 3 different director-led, German experiment Dreileben. I’m 2 for 2.
- A quite remarkable first feature film from Quebec director Guy Edoin anchored by an incredibly tough performance (my favourite of the year) by Pascale Bussieres.
6) Win Win
- I know it probably shouldn’t have a bearing on my enjoyment of the film, but I really liked the characters in Thomas McCarthy’s latest film. It’s not just that they feel like “real” people, but they are people I would want to meet and stay in touch with for the long haul.
5) The Raid
- I can’t wait for this to have a wider North American release then attend a screening to watch as everyone’s jaw unhinges and crashes to the ground like one of the many losers of the hundreds of astonishing fights in the film. Then I’ll know what I looked like the first time I saw it.
4) Tree Of Life
- I wouldn’t know where to begin to describe what I think Malick is trying to do here – I can only state what I get out of this gorgeous film. And that’s the ability to not only be transported back to my childhood, but to reflect upon it and get lost in the wonder of those years. A very spiritual film (though not specifically religious).
3) Beauty Day
- The best documentaries use their subject matter as a springboard to bring you closer to fascinating and interesting people. In Jay Cheel’s case, he followed the attempt to launch a 20th anniversary special for an old cable TV show of pre-Jackass stunts, found the man behind Cap’n Video (Ralph Zavadil) and gave us this wonderful, detailed character-based story.
2) I Wish
- Several critics labelled this “Kore-eda Lite” and I think every single one of them is off their rocker. This is top notch Kore-eda – profoundly humanistic, gentle, charming and a delight from start to finish. Minor characters have complexities that allow them to linger on in your mind along with numerous bittersweet, life-affirming moments.
1) Cafe De Flore
- A technical and stylistic marvel from Jean-Marc Vallee that is also deeply touching, delicate in its character portraits and personally resonates for me clear off the scale. I won’t see a better film next year.
Honorable Mentions:: The Artist, Beginners, Midnight In Paris, The Interrupters, ALPS, The Guantanamo Trap, Wiebo’s War, The Story Of Film, Super 8
Didn’t See But Should’ve:A Separation, Carnage, The Descendants, Hugo, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Melancholia, Shame, The Skin I Live In, Take Shelter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, We Need To Talk About Kevin
10) Take Shelter
- A wonderful showcase for Michael Shannon’s astonishing acting skills but even apart from that this is a raw, powerful film that gives you a feeling of uneasiness that mirrors what the main character is going through. Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham give fantastic supporting performances as well.
9) The Artist
- A black and white silent film made for 2011? Surely not! This captivating, intricate and just downright charming flick has passion oozing from every seam. Director Michel Hazanavicius clearly understands how silent cinema works and stays true to that while at the same time still having fun with audience expectation and whatnot (for instance, there are two key instances where sound is used to astonishing affect). With great performances from Jean Dujardin (who has an expressive face for film like I’ve never seen before) and Berenice Bejo, this is just an utter joy to watch.
8 ) Tyrannosaur
- Undoubtedly one of the most powerful films of the year, Paddy Considine’s directorial debut is a stunning piece of work with amazing performances from fellow Scot Peter Mullan (when is he ever anything short of brilliant?), Olivia Colman (whom I know mostly from British comedy series Peep Show but also as the foul-mouthed lady cop in Hot Fuzz) and the incomparable Eddie Marsan. It’s definitely not an easy watch but also highly rewarding.
7) The Skin I Live In
- I am fairly new to the strange world of Pedro Almodovar having watched five of his films (All About my Mother, Talk To Her, Volver, Bad Education and Broken Embraces) in preparation for seeing his newest, The Skin I Live In. And while Talk To Her might still be my favourite of his so far, this may take the crown upon more rewatches. A bizarre, twisted, compelling and stunningly made film.
6) 13 Assassins
- I have been a huge Takashi Miike fan for a number of years now (so much so I am currently writing my disseration on him!), with films like Ichi the Killer, Audition, Visitor Q and Happiness of the Katakuris proving he is truly a one-of-a-kind director. It was a surprise, then, that 13 Assassins contained almost none of his trademark strangeness and was rather a stripped-down, no nonsense samurai epic with a truly astonishing 45 minute-long battle sequence as its latter half. There wasn’t a better action film this year as far as I’m concerned.
- I am so surprised this isn’t ending up on more year-end top 10 lists. This is the first feature from Richard Ayoade (AKA Moss from The IT Crowd) and it strikes a balance of charming and insightful without being twee. A lot of people have compared it to the work of Wes Anderson but while it shares some characteristics I think this is its own brand of idiosyncratic. Aside from the savvy dialogue and compelling performances, it has what is not only my favourite movie soundtrack of the year but my favourite album of the year period.
4) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
- This one surprisingly split audiences; some found it to be boring and pretentious (I heard one person call it “Critic porn”) while others deft and exquisitely executed. I most definitely fall into the latter category. With a cast that seemed to be aiming for the title of “one of the all time best” – Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Kathy Burke – this was one of the most richly rewarding films of the year for me and one of only four I gave the full 5/5 stars to.
- What can I say about Nicholas Winding Refn’s film that hasn’t already been said? Great performances, a terrific soundtrack, explosions of shocking violence to punctuate the generally (and surprisingly) quiet nature of the film and an air of cool unlike any other film this year. If you haven’t seen it yet you’ve done yourself a great disservice.
2) We Need To Talk About Kevin
- It shows just how great of a year 2011 was for film when this only made it to number 2 on my list. Lynne Ramsay has already had a great little career so far with her two previous efforts Ratcatcher and Morvern Callar. Almost a decade later (after a messy tried-and-failed attempt to get an adaptation of The Lovely Bones made) Ramsay returned with this, an astonishing exploration of nature versus nurture with a phenomenal central performance from Tilda Swinton. A horror film in disguise.
1) The Tree of Life
- Amid the summer blockbuster domination Terrence Malick’s fifth film absolutely floored me. No other film in 2011 affected me in such a primal way as this did; beyond the breath-taking visuals, terrific performances and sprawling narrative, there was just something about this film on a raw, visceral and human level that really got to me. A complex exploration of life, the universe and everything… and the answer isn’t 42.
Honorable Mentions:: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super 8, Kill List, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Troll Hunter, 50/50, Contagion, Attack the Block, Albatross, Tomboy
Didn’t See Because They Weren’t Released in the UK in 2011: Shame, War Horse, Carnage, The Iron Lady, Martha Marcy May Marlene, J. Edgar, The Descendants, Like Crazy, A Dangerous Method, The Muppets, Young Adult, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Didn’t See But Should’ve: Dreams of a Life, The Future, Weekend, Snowtown, Resistance, Sleeping Beauty, Texas Killing Fields, The Yellow Sea, Miss Bala, Sarah’s Key
10) The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
- I say ‘up yours’ to all the naysayers, I really enjoyed Tintin. Who needs rich characters or a finely crafted mystery when you’ve got such a fun and immensely likeable mix of old fashioned adventure and gloriously extravagant set-pieces.
- So much has been written about this and again it had it’s detractors, but although it lost me in moments, overall this was a masterclass in fusing the generic with the artistic. It may be a case of style over substance, but when it’s this stylish and this damn cinematic I don’t care.
8 ) Tree of Life
- Terrence Malick’s bold labour of love may be rather self indulgent, but you can’t fault his perfect encapsulation of youth and memory or his eye for jaw droppingly gorgeous visuals.
7) True Grit
- The Coen brothers rarely put a foot wrong and this is another solid addition to their cannon. It didn’t grab me like some of their other films and is more classic in approach than their quirkier offerings, but it’s still a vastly entertaining and finely crafted western.
- I’ve not seen many documentaries this year, but this one helped make up the gap. By avoiding talking heads and focussing on only a few elements of his life, it’s very much going for the narrative led ‘cinematic’ approach to documentary and does so brilliantly. An emotionally powerful and intensely dramatic portrait of an F1 legend.
5) Blue Valentine
- Yes I know, you Americans and Canadians all saw this (and True Grit) last year, but I couldn’t skip it just because it came out in the ‘grey area’. If you follow the site you’ve heard all the praise. It’s beautifully performed and utterly devastating (if overly so at times).
- This is a film that has had some decent reviews here and there, but not nearly enough love as it deserves. That’s not all that surprising though being as the film is incredibly tough to watch. It’s not graphically violent as such (other than one or two horrific scenes), it’s just relentlessly grim. It’s also stunningly well constructed though and the power it achieves through restraint is incredible.
3) Kill List
- After the low key, ‘rough around the edges’ but otherwise great Down Terrace, Ben Wheatley upped his game for his sophomore effort, delivering an incredibly tense experience like no other, mixing kitchen sink drama with classic British horror. He even proved he could pull off action set-pieces with the terrifying climactic sewer chase, which felt a bit out of place but could be excused because it was so damn good.
- I had no plans to see this exceptional film from Lee Chang-Dong originally. I only went because the group I was with wanted to watch Tree of Life which I’d already seen that week, so I went for something else. I’m so glad I did though, because Poetry was the most beautifully poignant and subtly heartbreaking film I saw all year, if not further.
1) 13 Assassins
- My cinema experience in watching 13 Assassins was a bit of a shambles. The small cinema I attended showed quite a beat-up print and wedged an interval at the worst possible moment. However this was a film that was pretty much made for me. I love samurai movies and this encapsulated pretty much everything I love about them and more. It’s all slow burn for the first two thirds but done exceptionally well with some great cinematography and a tension building ‘assembling the team’ vibe that I loved. Then all hell breaks loose and my jaw hit the floor as I was treated to 45 minutes of ultra-violent, over the top, but stunning carnage of the highest order. It may lack the finesse of some of the other films on my list, but no other film plastered as big a smile on my face this year as 13 Assassins, so I couldn’t keep it from the top spot.
Honorable Mentions: Hobo With a Shotgun, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Super 8, Black Swan, Meek’s Cutoff, Stake Land, 50/50, Harold’s Going Stiff
Didn’t See But Should’ve (or they haven’t yet been released in the UK): Hugo, We Need to Talk About Kevin, A Separation, The Artist, The Descendants, Shame, Tyrannosaur, The Skin I Live In, The Interrupters, Melancholia, Project Nim, Moneyball, The Raid…
10) THE YELLOW SEA
- A slow burning thriller for the first half, an all out action movie for the second, The Yellow Sea is a chaotic South Korean crime movie in the vein of Oldboy and I Saw The Devil, filled with audacious and often blackly comedic violence, as well as savage social commentary about immigration, modernity and the dogfight of urban decay.
9) MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
- Woody Allen’s best film in years is a fantastical comedy about art, artists and the beauty they inspire. Bolstered by wonderful endearing performances, and set against the splendour of the most romantic city in the world.
8 ) ATTACK THE BLOCK
- The debut film from British comedian Joe Cornish manages to balance laughs, suspense, and heart-pumping extra-terrestrial action, and is also one of the most genuine portrayals of contemporary youth put to the screen in quite some time. A blast from start to finish, with an awesome soundtrack to match.
- Stylistic chameleon Steven Soderbergh balances a multitude of characters, plotlines and ideas in this methodically shot and emotionally chilly medical thriller that features an all-star cast and is driven along by Cliff Martinez’s electric metronome of a score.
- My inner cynic urges me to dismiss this clichéd story of two brothers fighting out their differences in the ring. But I can’t deny the boldness of the performances – nor the raw emotion they provoke – in this heart-pounding sports movie about family, loyalty and mixed martial arts.
5) WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
- Even without a single moment of onscreen violence, We Need To Talk About Kevin is one of the most viscerally unsettling movies of the year. But while the viewing may not be pleasant, it is certainly rewarding, both for the craftsmanship displayed by director Lynne Ramsay, and for the bravura performance from Tilda Swinton as the mother of the titular teenage sociopath so desperately in need of discussion.
- This documentary about famed Brazilian Formula One driver Ayerton Senna is as moving as it is exhilarating. Constructed entirely from archival footage, even those with no interesting in racing will find themselves swept off their feet.
3) RED STATE
- This complete departure from Clerks director Kevin Smith – about a church versus state showdown of bloody biblical proportions – is every bit as broad, unpleasant and cynical as its critics proclaim. But it is also thrilling, visceral, mercilessly satirical and completely and utterly unpredictable. A messy film, but a compelling one.
2) A SEPARATION
- A gripping, unpredictable, tragic and sublimely moving drama, A Separation uses its intimate human story of two families on the brink of falling apart to explore issues of religion, gender and class in contemporary Iranian society.
- A film that hypnotizes with slow burning intensity and drips with glossy neon artistry, Nicholas Wending Ryfn’s version of an action movie is a vibrant mural of colour, music, graphic violence and sly cinematic homage. It is also the most thrilling, fascinating and mesmerizing motion pictures of the year.
Honorable Mentions:: None. 2011 has been a pretty disappointing year for me.
Didn’t See But Should’ve Didn’t Come Out Where I Live:The Artist, The Descendants, J. Edgar, War Horse, 50/50, Shame, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tyrannosaur, The Muppets, Young Adult, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Hugo
1) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
- The Potterdammerung takes one last magnificent gamble, playing out its emotional peak on the accrued momentum of not one, not two, but all eight of the movies. It thereby lays plain the grand machinery, and lasting value, of the Harry Potter Film Project: it was a beautiful thing watching these kids grow up and save the world.
Rest of the list in alphabetical order:
- A tweenblecore triumph out of TIFF, this small, small, microscopically small movie about a 12-year-old boy just… being a 12-year-old boy, is a kind of tiny gem. Beautifully observed. Micro-budget cinema at its best. Unless it’s…
- As close as a first-timer gets to a masterpiece. Evan Glodell’s roaring ode to wet-blanket masculinity – to all the lies men tell themselves about their own maleness – is also a technical marvel, shot on homemade cameras and featuring a homemade Road Warrior car and flamethrowers n’ shit.
- Martin Scorsese spins a watchwork lesson in classic cinema by way of the bleeding edge of modern cinema, in a digital, CGI, 3-D, emotional wonderland.
A Lonely Place to Die
- As a genre piece, this is nearly perfect. Perfectly constructed and executed, a two-hour tumble down a mountainside, about which no plot details should be learned prior to viewing.
Position Among the Stars
- A two-hour documentary chronicle of a small, poor family living in modern Indonesia is, amazingly, the most absorbing film of the year.
The Story of Film
- The only time I’ve put a film in my best of the year list without having seen all of it! I drifted in and out of this beautiful dream throughout the last two days of the Toronto International Film Festival, and took some of Mark Cousins’ sepulchral meditation on the totality of cinema away with me.
- The best film of TIFF 2011 and likely the best-made film of the year. Michael Shannon has yet to falter, performance-wise, but he takes his art to a new level here, unleashing a hellstorm of building paranoia (and eventually, unleashed fury) which would seem insane if it didn’t, also, seem so profoundly, terrifyingly sane.
- I don’t think I’ve ever put a short film on my best of the year list, but here’s one. Teamwork’s story could tend towards the clichéd – as an elderly woman lies dying in her hospital bed, attended by her wailing family, her adult granddauter remembers a relay race they ran together when she was a child – but in its execution, Teamwork marks the work of a great director.
- Paddy Considine’s first film as writer/director has profound insight into its characters, but more importantly, profound sympathy for them – even lead character Joseph, who, having kicked his dog to death in the first scene, nonetheless becomes nearly cuddly when compared against Tyrannosaur’s landscape of stunningly evil, destroyed, and/or myopic people.
- A timeless piece of pure cinema, and an enchanting return to form from Steven Spielberg, who hasn’t made a film this good since Schindler’s List. War Horse feels assured, complete, risky, effortless, and masterful. And it’s about a horse!
Honorable Mention: Thor
Midnight in Paris
The Skin I Live In
The Story of Film
10) The Turin Horse
- This probably belongs significantly higher on the list, but I cannot find good cause to bump it ahead of anything in the forthcoming nine slots. It is a masterful work, to be sure, but it lacked the certain something that defined all of the films yet to come. I suppose the fact that it is the only film that I have not watched (or re-watched, as it were) over the last two months or so could play a somewhat disingenuous role here.
9) Boy Wonder
- Boy Wonder vaults over the line previously toed by Kick Ass, actively questioning social norms, morality, and the simplistic perception of violence that permeates the media (including the big screen medium that we all know and love). Caleb Steinmeyer’s turn as the lead may well be the best big screen debut in recent memory, to boot.
8 ) The Muppets
- I contemplated chalking this up as an honorable mention, but that would be a disservice to the fine work of Jason Segel (and my childhood). The songs were delightful, the cameos hilarious, and the characters lovable. I don’t think anyone could have asked for much more, and I don’t think I enjoyed any film quite as much as I did this.
- Due to my personal circumstances, this was an intensely personal film. Suffice it to say that 50/50 does not pull any punches, serving as one of the most emotionally honest films I have ever experienced.
6) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
- A fantastic cast and tight pacing allow for a rather challenging narrative to unfold seamlessly. Gary Oldman’s nuanced, almost desperate performance reminded me just how wonderful an actor he is – a fact that has sadly been overlooked with startling frequency, perhaps due to his underutilization in a couple of blockbuster franchises (and no, that is not a knock on said franchises).
5) Midnight in Paris
- I don’t particularly care for Woody Allen, Owen Wilson, or Rachel McAdams. With that in mind, it would seem that this ranking alone encapsulates how much I adored this film.
4) Le Havre
- Sweet and tender. Bleak and realistic. Dark and humorous. A wonderfully human film that doesn’t pull any punches, Le Havre left me lamenting the human condition … yet hopeful at the same time.
3) The Artist
- An exceptionally well-made film, The Artist left me wondering why more directors don’t venture into the realm of silent films more often. It’s certainly a risky endeavor, but it seems worthwhile, allowing the mannerisms of the actors, the intricacies of black and white photography, and the like shine through, truly captivating the avid moviegoer.
- Michael Fassbender is … magnetic, for the lack of a better word. I cannot think of a word that better encapsulates the sort of emotion Fassbender’s turn evokes, as his character is vulgar, and oftentimes reprehensible – but the beauty and clarity of his conviction leaves him eminently likable, if not desirable. Carey Mulligan is raw and passionate, complementing Fassbender perfectly. In my mind, Shame may well have the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress of this past year.
- Is it too much of a cop-out to link to my review? To summarize – Drive simply felt like a film that was made for me, tailored to my whims and wants on celluloid. And I am currently listening to the soundtrack.
Honorable Mentions:: Tree of Life, Take Shelter, Submarine, A Separation, Tyrannosaur, The Mill and the Cross
Didn’t See But Should’ve:The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, War Horse, A Lonely Place to Die, Sleeping Beauty
10) Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
9) The Human Centipede 2
8 ) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
7) Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows
4) I Saw the Devil
4) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
3) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
19) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
18 ) Contagion
17) Attack the Block
14) The Story of Film
11) The Artist
11) (tie) Melancholia
11) (tie) Shame
10) The Skin I Live In
9) Café de Flore
8 ) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
7) 13 Assassins
6) Take Shelter
4) Midnight in Paris
3) We Need to Talk About Kevin
2) The Tree of Life