Saturday, 7 January 2012

Top Ten Films Of 2011

Final tally for the year’s film viewing was 501, of which 418 (83%) were films I’d never seen before.

This list represents the best new films I saw throughout the year and includes feature films that received a UK release between January 1st and December 31st 2011, on any format, but doesn’t include festival showings.

It also includes the 11-20 spots, just for context:

20. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)
19. Animal Kingdom (David Michôd)
18. Beginners (Mike Mills)
17. I Saw The Devil (Jee-woon Kim)
16. Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance)
15. Cell 211 (Daniel Monzón)
14. Cave Of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog)
13. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
12. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
11. NEDS (Peter Mullan)

Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold)

A list of adjectives I'd use in describing Andrea Arnold’s take on Emily Brontë’s frequently-adapted novel: vital, visceral, modern, immediate, sensual, charged. There’s a raw energy to her earthy take which retains the gist but takes many artistically justified liberties. Boxed-in by the film’s intensely focused 4:3 frame, there’s a real sense of being part of Heathcliff and Cathy’s world, which makes it all the more touching when their close bond begins to fray.

Rango (Gore Verbinski)

What’s been missing from Hollywood studio animation lately? A peyote-fried, psychedelic Western homage populated by a cast of freakish animals. The cry of ‘it’s not really for kids’ has never been as apt as it is applied to this. When it isn’t spending its time hat-tipping Hunter S. Thompson it’s revelling in grisly, morbid detail and following a chameleon on an existential journey. This is as close as Johnny Depp will get to a spiritual sequel to Dead Man.

Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine)

This tale of two lost souls both troubled by violence, as either aggressor or victim, is an assured feature directorial debut from Paddy Considine. It’s often bleak and troubling but absolutely never treats its characters with anything less than utmost humanity. It’s an exploration of what drives our baser emotions. Peter Mullan imbues Joseph with a fragility at odds with his threatening veneer while Olivia Colman gives an understated tragic performance that completely belies her comedy roots. This is heartbreaking, but ultimately beautiful, stuff.

Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky)

Darren Aronofsky continues apace with making each subsequent film a markedly different beast from that which came before with this masterful psychosexual thriller. Taking elements of The Red Shoes and mashing them with giallo tropes and Cronenbergian body horror, it creates a dark melodrama about identity and repression. A film ostensibly about ballet becomes a hysterical, shrieking nightmare through the use of an intricate soundscape, cunningly engineered jolts and horror prosthetics. It’s not subtle but it’s not required to be.

True Grit (Joel & Ethan Coen)

The Coen Brothers inject more grit into True Grit with this retelling of the grizzled tale which is not without the occasional flash of their usual oddities (witnessed most prominently in the striking image of what appears to be a bear on horseback appearing from the distance). For the most part this plays out as a surprisingly straight-up Western with Jeff Bridges’ shambling souse, Marshal Rooster Cogburn, rallying brilliantly against the impressive Hailee Steinfeld’s buttoned-up, determined child. Its elegiac qualities make way for elements of mismatched buddy comedy as the tone subtly shifts against the backdrop of the beautifully captured landscapes.

Trollhunter (André Øvredal)

From the simple premise of following the jaded employee of a bureaucratic agency dealing with Norway's native troll populace, there's a lot wrung from this mock-doc which proves found footage is not a spent force. Troll mythology is scientifically explained with a straight face but there's still room for sly allusions to the fairytales of yore and perfectly-pitched comic moments. Full of suspenseful vignettes, subtle effects and just the right amount of gore, it's a refreshing European take on the well-worn monster movie genre.

Melancholia (Lars von Trier)

The film starts with a rupturing bass rumble, which signifies Earth's atmosphere is being invaded by the eponymous celestial body, and immediately sets you ill at ease. A constant disquieting thrum pervades for the duration as the focus shifts from galactic affairs to a focused tale of depression as a family disintegrates at a country house wedding. Kirsten Dunst captivates as the morose Justine and the cinematography, framing moments like a Pre-Raphaelite painting, is astounding. This is a riveting human drama from Lars von Trier which also happens to feature the annihilation of Earth.

Bridesmaids (Paul Feig)

More than just another ensemble comedy, this is an acute deconstruction of the nature of friendships and a treatise on faded glory and life expectations. It's also an ensemble comedy. Not enough for you? It manages to find time to fit in one of the most charming romantic subplots of recent years, and features a grown woman punching her way through a 4 foot cookie.

Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)

Without doubt this is the year's classiest actioner, which coolly underplays the little action it does have with restraint. It's a throwback in electric pink, underneath a neon glow and shot through with flashes of burnished gold. Ryan Gosling's stoic turn as he tentatively couples with Carey Mulligan means this is really a brutal, damaged love story as much as it is a stylishly rendered tale of botched robberies and vengeful mafiosi.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay)

This is powerful, stunning filmmaking and a welcome return from Lynne Ramsay after nine years in the wilderness. The back-and-forth structure and recurring symbolism intensifies the psychological torment and leaves your guts torn out by the time the film’s lynchpin action finally occurs. Tilda Swinton has never been better and through both her and Ezra Miller’s performances, difficult questions are left untainted by easy answers. This is a confident mixture of heart-wrenching and horrifying, which impresses on every front.


The worst films of the year list is again dominated by comedies. The notable trend among those in 2011 appears to be raunchy romcoms that want to have the appeal of their sweeter counterparts but also want to be able to say “vagina” every 4.67 words.

Here's the bottom ten:

10. Friend With Benefits (Will Gluck)

By the time an Alzheimer’s subplot rears its ugly head, this vapid mess will already have offended every sensibility.

9. Colombiana (Olivier Megaton)

A few impressive moments creep through the fug of all-consuming stupidity and ineptly-handled action but not enough to redeem it.

8. How Do You Know (James L. Brooks)

A string of contrivances held together by navel-gazing, from a cast and director who really should know better. It can’t even be bothered to punctuate its title.

7. What's Your Number? (Mark Mylod)

One. Out of five.

6. Zookeeper (Frank Coraci)

What’s the only thing worse than an Adam Sandler vehicle? An Adam Sandler stooge vehicle. With talking animals.

5. Sleeping Beauty (Julia Leigh)

Nihilistic erotic drama that’s neither erotic nor dramatic. The film itself is as blank and empty as its characters.

4. Anuvahood (Adam Deacon, Daniel Toland)

Woefully misjudged knockabout comedy that veers wildly between wacky romp and scenes of brutal violence.

3. No Strings Attached (Ivan Reitman)

Friends With Benefits without the relative charms of Justin Timberlake or Mila Kunis. Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman exchange fluids but not chemistry.

2. Just Go With It (Dennis Dugan)

Just don’t. Middle-aged Adam Sandler wank fantasy where he splurges hundreds of thousands of dollars on duping a model into having sex with him.

1. The Change-Up (David Dobkin)

A morally and emotionally bankrupt, misogynist body-swap comedy. High concept; lowest common denominator.