I started writing about films this year and have had the opportunity to watch more than ever before- which I feel grateful for because 2011 has been an outstanding year for movies. Of course, there was the bad and the ugly, amongst the good, but making this list has been a tough (but enjoyable) task. Many of the top 10 are films about an overall mood which you take away rather than plot points or dialogue. There are films steeped in nostalgia (‘Midnight in Paris’, ‘Hugo’), films that are use visual aids to scrapbook (‘Beginners’, ‘Tree of Life’) and movies full of ambition (‘Melancholia’) – all of which thrive to deal with more than just the ‘here and now’.
Passion projects that have been many years in the making (‘The Adventures of Tintin’, ‘Red State’, ‘Bridesmaids’) showed the light of day in 2011. There were great examples of motion capture technology (‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, ‘The Adventures of Tintin’) and 3D (‘Hugo’, ‘Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 2’, ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’) showcased this year, as well as the art of documentary filmmaking continuing to reach new heights (‘Bill Cunningham New York’, ‘Senna’). There were moments of innocence that made us dream of childhood (‘Super 8’, ‘Hugo’) and then chilling films that shocked us back to reality (‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’, ‘Snowtown’).
This year I saw some of the most dazzling opening sequences ever (‘Midnight in Paris’, ‘Melancholia’, ‘Hugo’) and small scale projects continued to prove that bigger doesn’t always mean better (‘Attack of the Block’, ‘Submarine’). And who doesn’t love a good sports movie- Explosions in the Sky setting the tone for tense ball games and inspiring dressing room speeches- hello ‘Moneyball’! There have been truly funny moments where you would least expect them, and deep moments of insight amidst slapstick humour. Heavyweight directors Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Lars Von Trier and Steven Spielberg returned to our screens, and the new breed, Mike Mills and Nicolas Winding Refn garnered much deserved attention for their solid efforts this year.
All of the top 10 films have tried to examine something about the human condition in a fresh way, and with a lot of heart- and for that reason, all ten have stayed with me long after the credits rolled.
10. ATTACK THE BLOCK
An alien invasion on a south London council estate was the basis for the most surprising film of the year. This is a fast-paced, exciting movie full of hilarious one-liners and also sharp commentary about the parallel between aliens and alienation. The timing of this (released just after the London riots) proved thought-provoking. Despite the violence and crimes committed, the young actors in this film are full of heart and hope. First-time director Joe Cornish depicts the aliens in a fresh, and ultimately frightening way- by suggesting what they look like rather than utilising a chunky budget on the them being the focal point.
9. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN Full review
Herge’s timeless character is brought to the big screen in this respectful adaptation. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s decision to use motion capture technology was questioned by many but it is the success of the film. Traditional animation or live action could not have captured the spirit of the comics, as well as providing the fast pace necessary for the thrilling, motion picture which they have delivered. This is the blockbuster of the year.
Martin Scorsese shares with us his love of cinema and the origins of motion pictures in his latest masterpiece. This is done through the story of Georges Méliès (the man behind 1902’s ‘A Trip To The Moon’ which can also be seen reinterpreted in the video for Smashing Pumpkins ‘Tonight, Tonight’) and is set against the backdrop of a dreamy, 1930s Paris. It is a visually stunning 3D film (the opening shot of Paris and the railway station, where much of the action takes place, is the best use of 3D I’ve seen) and features standout performances by the young actor Asa Butterfield (Hugo), Helen McCrory (Mama Jeanne) and a memorable caricature of the Station Inspector by Sacha Baron Cohen.
The opening 10-minute sequence is a sublime piece of work which acts as a slow-motion trailer for the rest of the film. More a serious of moving paintings, than ‘action’, the idea that depression feels like trying to move forward whilst being weighed down by heavy strands of grey rope is intriguing. There are two parts to the film ‘Justine’ (Kirsten Dunst) and ‘Claire’ (Charlotte Gainsbourg). I enjoyed the second part a little more and found the suspenseful climax was handled very well. Lars Von Trier’s infuriating rant at Cannes threatened to overshadow this release at one stage, but thankfully the film can now speak for itself.
6. DRIVE Full review
The incredibly cool, seductive thriller featuring ‘Babe of the Year’ Ryan Gosling will have you hooked from the gripping, opening sequence and make you fall into a pool of emotion. Sure it’s not the most unconventional story to be put to screen, but this is a slick and earnest work that gets it right. Despite being a little confused by the casting choice, I ultimately really enjoyed Carey Mulligan’s performance too. The soundtrack has also been on repeat this year.
5. BILL CUNNINGHAM: NEW YORK
This is the story of Bill Cunningham, the 82-year old street style photographer for the New York Times. He has chronicled fashion on both the street and in high society for decades. The film depicts the stark contrast of his overtly simple and functional way of life against the excess and extravagance of the New York fashion and social scenes. “He who seeks beauty will find it”, Bill says smiling. This is a touching film which will make you examine the way you lead your life and the choices you make. It has really stayed with me.
4. NORWEGIAN WOOD Full review
Haruki Murakami’s 1987 bestseller ‘Norwegian Wood’ has been adapted into a remarkable work which depicts loss with great sensitivity. It examines the stark contrasts of Japanese society: the restrained dignity which rules everyday life and the clandestine yet rampant mental illness. The orchestral score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is never overbearing but rather offers subtle hints on how we should read the intense scenarios. The actors seem perfectly cast and the director has a clever, delicate touch with his filmmaking.
3. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS Full review
Woody Allen channels his Manhattan days as he pays tributes and celebrates enchanting Paris. We follow Gil Pender (Owen Wilson)’s experience, struggling with his shallow and terribly annoying fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams), and finding his true role as novelist. There are witty touches all over this, as well as real laughs and visuals that sparkle. The film is steeped in sweet nostalgia and you’ll want to watch it again and again.
2. BRIDESMAIDS Full review
Kristen Wiig nails it in her debut as a lead and proves herself as the standout, even with a superb ensemble cast including Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy. Despite those uproarious moments being so much fun, the more sensitive and perceptive moments were actually the highlights of the film. Read: the politics of female friendships. This is the precursor to ‘Shit Girls Say’ where you just think- “they get it so right”.
1. BEGINNERS Full review
Mike Mills expertly weaves the past and present of Oliver (Ewan McGregor)’s life into a series of affecting moments, as his relationships with his parents, his girlfriend and his intersect. This is a largely auto-biographical work by the director and the tagline reads “This is what love feels like”. If that’s the case, it is unexpected, deeply touching, and rewarding.