Chris' Top 10 Films of 2011
So as another year gets ready to draw to a close, it's that time again where I sit back and reflect on this year's cinematic escapades. Much like all years, there was painful disappointments particularly in the earlier stages of 2011 but incredible highs as the year got rolling. So regardless of how inconsistent cinema can be, here are my top 10 picks of the year's brightest screen experiences as well as my honourable mentions which were oh so close to making the final bill.
20. 'Senna' (dir: Asif Kapadia - UK- 106 Mins)
19. 'Contagion' (dir: Steven Soderbergh - USA - 106 Mins)
18. 'Melancholia' (dir: Lars von Trier - Denmark/USA/UK - 136 Mins)
17. 'Source Code' (dir: Duncan Jones - UK/USA - 93 Mins)
16. 'Super 8' (dir: J.J. Abrams - USA - 112 Mins)
15. 'The Tree of Life' (dir: Terrence Malick - USA - 139 Mins)
14. 'The Ides of March' (dir: George Clooney - USA - 101 Mins)
13. 'Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life' (dir: Werner Herzog - USA - 107 Mins)
12. 'Arrietty' (dir: Hiromasa Yonebayashi - Japan - 94 Mins)
11. 'The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn' (dir: Steven Spielberg - UK/USA - 107 Mins)
The Top 10
(dir: Paddy Considine - UK - 91 Mins)
Watching Paddy Considine's directorial début is a tough, uncomfortable and unnerving experience - this is not an enjoyable film, but it is a great one. 'Tyrannosaur' is an unflinching and uncompromising portrait of suburban abuse - the abuse of the self, of others and the universal effect it has upon life. Olivia Colman's performance is show-stopping - filled with fear, naivety and neglect, plus Considine has clearly picked up pointers from frequent partner Shane Meadows about how to capture such a work. This is pure kitchen-sink drama but at it's grubbiest, most unsanitary and bitter. It's a breathtaking slice of social realist filmmaking.
'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'
(dir: Rupert Wyatt - USA - 105 Mins)
Probably the surprise film of the year - Wyatt's staggeringly powerful prequel is perhaps the greatest rebirth to a franchise in cinematic history. Andy Serkis' performance as Caesar; a chimpanzee who possesses impossible human intelligence and qualities due to being frequently exposed to a drug made to cure Alzheimer's Disease is simply spellbinding. The film also features some of the most human and realistic CGI ever seen on screen. Unlike most blockbusters, Wyatt's feature asks tough questions regarding issues such as animal testing and ethics, and much like the fabulous Caesar, the film expresses it's intelligence and understanding dramatically.
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2'
(dir: David Yates - UK/USA - 130 Mins)
Equally as good as last year's first part to the final chapter of the boy wizard's adventures. 'The Deathly Hallows: Part 2' is a gripping, earth-shattering and utterly absorbing spectacle. The battles are ferocious, bloody and exciting, the performances are rounded, fleshed and sublime and it's the simply the perfect farewell to the characters and world who have changed literary history. One still hasn't recovered from saying goodbye to the 'Harry Potter' franchise, but Yates' final feature makes up for any lasting pain. This film truly deserves recognition during awards season too - it's stunning.
'Tinker Tailor Solider Spy'
(dir: Tomas Alfredson - UK/Germany - 127 Mins)
The genius that brought 'Let the Right One In' to the cinema in 2008 has provides audiences with one of the year's most compelling, dense and shatteringly dramatic pictures. Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of John le Carré's 'Tinker Tailor Solider Spy' is a masterclass of British cinema boasting a universally brilliant ensemble cast, murky yet sumptuous cinematography and complex storytelling. This is the definition of a 'thinking man's film', and what a fine choice of picture to use that brain power for. 'Tinker Tailor' is thrilling, brooding and magnetic filmmaking.
'Midnight in Paris'
(dir: Woody Allen - France/USA - 94 Mins)
Many have doubted the latest batch of Woody Allen entries whilst I have stood by the majority; he is my favourite filmmaker after all, but it seems he is back in the world's good-books with 'Midnight in Paris' and it's crystal-clear why. Allen's latest is a sweet, radiant and melodic comedy that delves into a fanatical utopia of a past world and does so with such visual and animated flair that it is impossible to deny.
The cast are all wonderful, with Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard shining brightest, plus the cinematography, score and editing make The City of Love look hopelessly beautiful and indeed magical. This isn't just a great Allen film; this is a glorious and heart-warming affair that will be enjoyed again and again.
(dir: Nicolas Winding-Refn - USA - 100 Mins)
Visceral, dynamic and relentless; Nicolas Winding-Refn's LA art-house Noir is a stunning and captivating work. Aided by the coolest soundtrack, ultra-sleek visuals and European-toned direction, 'Drive' is a violent, explicit and calculated as well as being greatly intelligent, articulate and understated.
Ryan Gosling, who is unquestionably the 'Man of the Year' gives his finest performance to date as the mute and existential Driver whilst Carey Mulligan's Irene is a timid and beautifully developed romantic interest. Explosive in it's fits of rage, awesome in it's spectacle and scale, and beautiful it it's portrayal, 'Drive' is a class-act. Buckle up for the ride of your life.
(dir: Alexander Payne - USA - 115 Mins)
If there's a writer/director who truly understands the harmony between actor and script, it's Alexander Payne and he proves this beyond doubt with his latest feature, 'The Descendants'. This is a hilarious, profoundly moving and unbelievably absorbing character study of a supposedly wealthy and steady family struck by tragedy and life-changing decisions to make.
George Clooney gives one of his best performances as Matt King - a father who must learn to build a proper and understanding relationship with his daughters and Shailene Woodley is sensational as his eldest daughter Alexandra. 'The Descendants' is a beautifully crafted, gloriously executed example of how to make character cinema - it's a masterpiece.
(dir: Martin Scorsese - UK/France - 126 Mins)
Legendary cinematic auteur Martin Scorsese provides us with his most personal, irrevocably beautiful and simply magical cinematic experience with 'Hugo'. Part escapist fantasy, part homage to the birth of the moving image, this love-letter to youthfulness and to the great 'cinemagician' Georges Melies is a stunning, emotive and tremendously uplifting affair as well as being the single film that has to be experience in 3D.
Captured with true Marty style, this is a bold, colourful adventure with breathtaking visuals and soaring camera-work which is brought to life by incredibly intimacy and attention to detail. The performances are a knock-out, with Sir Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz all stealing the lime-light. 'Hugo' is a delicate and precious filmic treasure that will be forever cherished and revisited. It's one of Scorsese best-ever films and a film-fan's dream.
(dir: Steve McQueen - UK/USA - 101 Mins)
Rarely does a film affect one so greatly that even after two months, I still cannot shake certain scenes and sounds from my mind. Steve McQueen's 'Shame' is a earth-shattering, poignant and gruelling account of addiction at it's most complex, distressing and dangerous.
Michael Fassbender gives the single best performance of the year as Brandon - a man plagued by his raging and uncontrollable sexual urges that rule his life and world. Carey Mulligan gives a second incredible and greatly bold performance this year as his equally damaged sister Sissy who arrives for a prolonged stay at his New York apartment. McQueen's direction is précised and focused; he allows the camera to linger on facial expressions and slight movements and holds the shot for as long as possible making the entire ordeal ridiculously tense and claustrophobic.
This is a graphic and undeniable film aided by breathtaking performances, assured camera motions and the most powerful score one has heard in years. I left 'Shame' speechless and stayed that way for a long time - that's how incredible it is.
(dir: Michel Hazanavicius - France/USA - 100 Mins)
A silent, black and white film about Hollywood's 'Golden Age' from a French director is my favourite film of 2011, no question, and here's why. 'The Artist' is a spellbinding, utterly joyous and truly heart-warming depiction of an era which saw the rise of American cinema; a part of film history that was actually pretty bleak for those working within the Hollywood studios.
Hazanavicius' love-letter to 35mm is not a replica of the past, it's so much more than that. The style, visuals and set designs are flawless, and the film's production fundamentally builds on the silent cinematic format. In fact, this film is so accurate that it deserves to be judged as a silent film and not a modern movie that's chosen to remove the dialogue. Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo are immaculate as George Valentin, a silent star threatened by the 'talkies', and Peppy Miller, the new go-to girl in the American film industry.
'The Artist' boasts an incredible toe-tapping score, wonderful performances, quirky cameos and a stunning blend of comedy and tragedy that many films are unable to express, even with dialogue and colour. This is the stand-out film of the year and I cannot express just how much I adore this brave, beautiful and masterful film.