Monday, 2 January 2012

Films of the Year 2011

Hi folks, it's just about time for my FILMS OF THE YEAR 2011.  I said I'd switch to a top five this year, but it turned out that involved too much decision making... so top eleven for twenty eleven it is.

Thankfully, there's not so many U.S. films awaiting release in the UK this year (The notable ones being "War Horse", "The Descendants", "Young Adult", "The Muppets", "A Dangerous Method" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"), so the list should have less obvious omissions than last year. I've been sticking to the official U.K release dates, which means films that we're high on some 2010 lists have faded in my mind a little and have probably ended up lower on my list than maybe they should have been.

It's been a good year and the overall quality has been pretty high, with a diverse range of movies that I hope I've reflected in my list.  Feel free to ridicule my choices, they've not been made objectively, but chosen in terms of my enjoyment and the emotional impact they had on me.  So, in a very loose order here's the list.

Top 11 for 2011

11. Hugo
It's been a year of movies about film making and this one by Martin Scorcese really shows the early magic of cinema.  It really tugs at the heart strings throughout, with talented (and more importantly, not annoying) child actors holding their own against the likes of Sir Ben Kingsley and Ray Winston.  

Mixing a tale of friendship and family with early, wildly inventive film making, the story manages to balance the two elements remarkably well, combining them into a satisfying whole.  I'm not sure how well it's gone down with the intended children's audience, but I imagine it has enough charm for all ages. The 3D worked well, but as with most films in which it is well utilised, it's subtle and I'm not sure how much it added. 

10. The Tree Of Life
Certainly the most divisive film of the year, I can fully understand how many people hate this film. Meandering and slow, it can sometimes seem like it's going nowhere, but it also manages to have some perfect moments that are both beautiful and emotional.  

It's at it's best when it is reflects memories of youthful confusion, pain and anger.  The parents are not rendered in a realistic manner, more as child-like impressions of adult hood, turning them into caricatures that enhance the best and worst effects of their parenting.  

I found the creation of the universe section enthralling, but I'll admit the dinosaurs don't really work, except to highlight the film's theme of the struggle between grace and nature. It does have a lot of problems, most will hate it, but I think it's worth a watch.

9. Black Swan
It's been a long time since I watched it early this year, but I remember it being a compelling watch.  It has great performances throughout the core cast, with Portman justly winning last year's Oscar. The film evokes the vividness of a Dario Argento giallo horror, but has more coherence and drive, with added Aronofsky unease.  

8. The Artist 
Incredibly charming throughout, "The Artist" manages to capture your attention without the need for spoken dialogue.  Like "Hugo", it's another movie about film making and echoes the storyline of "Singin' in the Rain", but re-imagined as a traditional silent movie.  It strives for authenticity and even uses the extremely narrow for modern cinema 4:3 aspect ratio, which is a bit of a culture shock. Without dialogue the film can focus purely on visual storytelling, which leads to incredibly creative exposition. 

7. Bridesmaids
The best American comedy of the year has a lot of heart but it's also consistently funny, with a great central performance from Kristen Wiig. She's manages to play "quirky" without becoming too frustrating or annoying, which is a rare talent.  The rest of the cast are great too, with the "I.T Crowd's" Chris O'Dowd appearing in one of the few male roles in this refeshingly female oriented film.  

6. Captain America
My guilty pleasure this year was "Captain America: The First Avenger".  It was great to see a period super hero film and it's World War 2 setting really set it apart, creating an "Indiana Jones"feel to the movie.  Chris Evans manages to make this symbol of American patriotism sympathetic to a global audience and you really root for him.  Hayley Atwell provides the perfect acerbic foil to his earnestness and Tommy Lee Jones steals every scene he's in as a grizzled General.  

The effects are on the whole excellent, with Evans hulking frame convincingly shrunk down in the pre-Captain scenes, but the "Red Skull" looks too rubbery to be taken too seriously.  Hugo Weaving's performance thankfully makes up for this and he's menacing throughout, mimicking Werner Herzog's flat, weary accent.  

I was already looking forward to next year's Marvel super hero ensemble "The Avengers" and "Captain America: The First Avenger" makes me even more excited by the prospect.

5. Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive" gives Ryan Gosling a platform to give a stand out Clint Eastwood-like performance in this stylish movie.  Low on dialogue and high on great soundtrack choices, this film is a modern western with Goling's "Driver" filling the role of the lone gunman.  

At times the film's styling can come across as a little cold, but this juxtaposes brilliantly with moments of extreme violence and emotion, best summed up by the beautiful but then shockingly violent elevator scene.  The trailer gave away too much plot and so there weren't many surprises lying in wait for me, but it was still compelling watch, just don't expect a whole lot of actually driving in "Drive'.

4. Blue Valentine
The second film to star Ryan Gosling on my list, he gives far warmer performance than in "Drive" in this atypical romance.  A brilliantly acted film that details both the start of a relationship and further down the line once they're married and the early optimism has faded. Both Gosling and Michelle Williams give emotional performances as both the young lovers and tired married couple, with genuine chemistry between the pair.  The time between the two periods is subtly but convincingly conveyed, with minor changes in dress, personality and hairline.  With his unkempt thinning hair, the older version of Gosling seems to have based his look on Nicolas Cage in "Raising Arizona."

3. Submarine
It's been over a year since I saw it at Brighton's Cinecity film festival, so I'm struggling to remember all of the details again.  The film deals with the travails of growing up, viewed through the eyes of the pop-culturally obsessed young Welshman Oliver Tate.  Like Blue Valentine, the film features the beginning of a relationship and a troubled marriage, but this time features the young protagonists first relationship and the marital discord of his parents. Richard Ayoade's debut feature is very funny, has great style and is beautifully shot, but it's main advantage is it's emotional clout.  The cast are excellent, from the two young leads Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige, to the gifted character actors Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor and Paddy Considine, who plays a sleazy mystic life coach.
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The reason I've waited so long to write this list is because I was giving myself a chance to see this.  I've been shielding myself from any plot information from either the books or the original film, so I could just appreciate this as a work on it's own.

So with no knowledge going in, I thought this was a gripping thriller with a brutal storyline that doesn't seem to have been toned down in it's Hollywood conversion. I don't think it's as good as Fincher's "The Social Network" or "Se7en", but he's still crafted a tight whodunnit, with unease and suspicion strewn throughout, although the ending is slightly anti-climatic.  His leads are both excellent, Daniel Craig is as good as you'd expect, while Rooney Mara as the titular character really convinces too.  It's a pretty exposing role to play and she's not found wanting.

Trent Reznor's score is a perfect fit as you'd have expected from the excellent trailers, although the Bond-like intro sequence set to his and Karen O's rendition of "Immigrant Song" seems a little too glamorous for the subject matter. This is a minor quibble though and I'm now eagerly awaiting Fincher's take on the rest of the trilogy.

(NB: My brother who's a fan of the original Swedish film, was less impressed, feeling it didn't add enough to warrant the remake, so I'm not sure how well this version will go down with fans of the series.)

1. Hanna
I never expected "Hanna", to be my favourite film of the year, but having now watched it twice, I'm convinced of it's quality.  A film that definitely deserved far more praise and success than it got, it seems to have slipped under the radar a bit.  Directed with great skill by Joe Wright (a name more commonly associated with the period dramas "Atonement" and "Pride and Prejudice"), it manages to be a fantastically well-balanced action thriller, with all it’s elements weighing in equally to make a fully rounded film. It's a unique blend of espionage, conspiracy and fairytale, that combine to create an offbeat coming of age tale.  Fantastically paced, beautifully shot and acted with great conviction, it has a diverse talented cast.

Saoirse Ronan is great as the lead, conveying Hanna's wide-eyed wonder at a world she has grown up isolated from, whilst also convincing us that she could defeat adversaries twice her size.  Eric Bana plays the stoic father perfectly and Cate Blanchett creates an obsessive villain with depth, but the film's scene stealers come in the form of Tom Hollander and Jessica Barden. Hollander plays the whistling bleach-blond German psychopath Isaacs, who has a camp menace far removed from his recent bumbling performances in "Rev" and "In the Loop".  In contrast, Barden brings some of the best comedic moments of the film playing Sophie, Hanna's equivalent in age, but a celebrity obsessive who's motormouthed teenage spiel is almost as confusing to the audience as it is to Hanna. The film's sense of humour is a major asset, lightening the tone at just the right points instead of allowing it to become too angst ridden.

The soundtrack is another string to it's bow, with a brilliant propulsive score from "The Chemcial Brothers" that works just as well in the contemplative moments as it does in the high tempo action sequences.  A top quality blend of all the film making elements, I highly recommend you check it out.

Worthy Mentions
Not quite on the main list...
Melancholia, Another Earth, Take Shelter, 13 Assasins (best battle scene of the year), True Grit, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, 127 Hours, Midnight in Paris (for once, a proper Woody Allen return to form), Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Never Let Me Go, The Fighter, Fast FiveSuper 8The Skin I Live In, Kill List (most tense film of the year), X-Men First Class (if there'd been more time to add a little polish to the script this could have been great), We Need To Talk About Kevin (which had my favourite first half hour of the year - a visceral montage of imagery spanning the past and present)The King's Speech, Attack the Block, Animal Kingdom, Tyrannosaur

Worth a watch
Fun films worth a look -
Rango (my favourite animation of the year), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (more of the same, but with more explosions and cross dressing), The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn (not a fan of it's design or mo-cap, but it's not as "uncanny valley" as I thought it would be and it's a fun adventure), Fast Five (just because Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is awesome in it.)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - I had far too high expectations for this film, so it was bound to fall short.  I wasn't a fan of the first half, but felt it grew as it went on.
Thor - Mostly enjoyable, but cluttered with needless characters like the "Warrior's Three" that caused problems with the tone and pacing.
The Ides of March - Usually films dealing with political elections move at a break-neck pace that reflects the crammed schedules of the politicians and aides, but this has a languid pace that drains the film of urgency. 
Source Code - I had high hopes after Duncan Jones' debut "Moon" but this seemed fairly run of the mill in comparison.

Better than I thought...
The Future - I hated seventy percent of it, but the final thirty percent made sense of the preceding section and I ended up appreciating the film.

These films are awaiting release in the U.K, but I saw them at preview screenings, so I thought I'd write my thoughts on them. Some of them might make next years list...
Marcy Martha May Marlene - A look at life in a cult and it's lingering effects, definitely check it out.
Carnage - A bit uneven and stagey, but entertaining.
Coriolanus - Worth watching just for Ralph Fiennes performance in his directorial debut.
Shame - Not as good as McQueen's debut "Hunger", but still has great sequences.

The ones that got away...
I'm still annoyed I missed these -
A Separation, The Deep Blue Sea, Margin Call, The Descendants,Troll Hunter, Beginners, The Interrupters, Jane Eyre, Tangled, Biutiful, Meek's Cutoff, TT: Closer to the Edge, Neds, Moneyball, Weekend, Sleeping Beauty, Crazy Stupid Love, The Guard, Rubber, Incendies, 50/50, My Week with Marilyn, Senna, The Inbetweeners Movie, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Hope you enjoyed reading my breakdown, Happy New Year!

2010 Update
The ones I caught up with I missed last year...
Exit Through The Gift Shop (Brilliantly entertaining), Splice, Tron: Legacy, Catfish (After hearing so much hype, I was a little disappointed)

The ones I didn't..
Green Zone, Let Me In, Easy A, The Town, Buried, Mesrine, Robin Hood, Greenberg, Piranha 3D, Another Year, The Killer Inside me, Perrier’s Bounty, Centurion,  Cyrus, Heartless, Cemetery Junction, Fish Tank, Made in Dagenham, The Ghost Writer

1 comment:

  1. I think it's a toss up between Thor and Captain America for the number six spot. Thor had more heart I think then CA. Also, how come rise of the planet of the apes did not make it?