Saturday, December 17, 2011

Top 50 (What?!) Films of 2011

Yes, this is a mammoth task. And perhaps a little bit excessive - surely, I haven't seen 50 new films that merit praise and adulation?

I haven't. And don't call me Shirley.

However, except for a small number of films in the tail end of this countdown, I am pretty confident of this list.

But I hear you saying: why not make a more concise list of films (top 10, 20, 30, 40, 49 etc) and turn this into a more legitimate countdown than a pathetic attempt at showing yourself as an attention whore / web traffic seeker / unashamed populist / laughable show off (delete as necessary)?

I don't have an answer to that question other than the fact that I just wanted to extend this list to 50. Or as one internet meme so eloquently puts it: "Because fuck you, that's why!"

So let's begin (as always) with the ground rules:
  • The said film must have been released within the last 12 months in the United K. Hence, the inclusion of several films that appeared in many an end-of-2010 list. This is a backward country when it gets to film release dates (unless your film title includes the words "Harry" or "Potter", it won't get released until the star of the film has already entered and left rehab and on his/her way to his/her second marriage of an unseasonably wet Summer). Even European films get an earlier release in the US of A. And they ban films here. All the time. Seriously, what am I even doing here? Moving on ...
  • I must have seen the film in its entirety at the cinema or at home by myself. If the said film was watched for the first time with a group of friends in a domestic situation, then it needs to be seen at least once more in solitary fashion (forever alone ...). This is so that the said film (which inevitably turns into a background distraction to beer chugging and nacho dipping in a social environment) gets my full attention. By the way, nothing wrong with watching a film in a group (I actually enjoy that immensely), but I'd rather watch something I've seen before than something I have not if I'm with company. Except for something like "Cannibal Holocaust" - that was a terrible film and watching it with a buddy of mine (hi, Andy!) actually helped to alleviate the pain of how horrendously bad the whole thing was.
  • And finally, the said film must be awesome ... or near enough ... or close enough to be good. This I covered above.
So, let's begin then. This is The Bru's Top 50 (What?!) Films of 2011. Enjoy, Cinewisers. And let me know what you think in the comments section below. And click on the titles to watch the trailer.

50- Sarah's Key

Directed by: Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Written by: Gilles Paquet-Brenner & Serge Joncour
Production country: France

Although it peaks way too early and feels like a glorified TV movie, this holocaust drama is still worth watching for another amazing performance by Kristin Scott-Thomas - one of the most underrated actresses of her generation.

49- Sleeping Beauty

Directed by: Julia Leigh
Written by: Julia Leigh
Production country: Australia

It is a little bewildering how flat this ended up being, but it is still a disturbing and yet fascinating film that clearly demonstrates what it really could have been if Jane Campion (who was the "mentor" on set) had more creative input.

48- Crazy, Stupid, Love

Directed by: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Written by: Dan Fogelman
Production country: USA

OK, one great scene doesn't make a good film, I know. And I wish the whole thing was about the story of the teenage boy and the slightly older high-school girl. But, let's face it: 2011 is the Year of the Gosling. In Gosling we trust.

47- 13 Assassins

Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Daisuke Tengan
Production country: Japan, UK

OK, maybe one extended fight sequence can make a good film. Miike still has a long way to go before I can begin to contemplate a comparison with Kurosawa, but this was a flawed step in the right direction. And it has a pretty badass villain to boot.

46- Paul

Directed by: Greg Mottola
Written by: Nick Frost & Simon Pegg
Production country: USA, UK

Although marred by the ginormous empty space in the shape of Edgar Wright, this was an enjoyable film, albeit a little disappointing. It just shows that we expect great things from Pegg and Frost. Good don't cut it no more.

45- The Thing

Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Written by: Eric Heisserer
Production country: USA, Canada

Try as they might to dispel the notion, this was a straight remake. Down to the beats, the layout of the compound, the weapons ... What was missing was MacReady and the slow, unnerving pace. Having said that, it was still heaps of fun. Special mention for the sound effects.

44- Source Code

Directed by: Duncan Jones
Written by: Ben Ripley
Production country: USA, France

Putting logic and the ludicrous ending aside, this was a breath of fresh air in a time when every film had an integer in their title (or the 're-' prefix). It wasn't perfect, but it did its job well. We need more films like this.

43- The Guard

Directed by: John Michael McDonagh
Written by: John Michael McDonagh
Production country: Ireland

Not as black as I would have liked it to be (no pun intended), this was a genuinely funny film. Although the plot itself left a lot to be desired in that it ended all too abruptly, but Brendan Gleeson shows that he is more than capable of carrying a film on his broad shoulders.

42- TrollHunter

Directed by: André Øvredal
Written by: André Øvredal & Håvard S. Johansen
Production country: Norway

This would have been way up on this list were it not for that most asinine of movie plot gimmicks: found footage. I'm sick of it. It's enough. It ruins every film. It certainly ruined what could have been the best (yes, best) film of the year.

41- Essential Killing

Directed by: Jerzy Skolimowski
Written by: Jerzy Skolimowski & Ewa Piaskowska
Production country: Poland, Norway, Ireland, Hungary

Without Vincent Gallo, this virtually dialogue-free film would have failed miserably. But the bad boy of indie film really makes this worth watching, even though you would probably lose interest halfway through. Or you can just watch the trailer above, which is like a heavily abridged version of the film itself.

40- Hanna

Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by: Seth Lochhead & David Farr
Production country: USA, UK, Germany

A fun little fairy tale, this was a fresh film told with obvious enthusiasm by Wright, led by a revelatory performance by Saoirse Ronan and accompanied by a vicious turn by Cate Blanchett. Not effective, maybe, but certainly different.

39- Super 8

Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: J.J. Abrams
Production country: USA

J.J. Abrams's love letter to Spielberg suffers from the 'J.J. Abrams curse'. You know, when the start of a film / TV show is really interesting in the beginning and then it goes all horribly wrong by the end? Yeah, this was like that.

38- Incendies

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Written by: Denis Villeneuve
Production country: Canada, France

This had 'important film' written all over it. And it certainly lived up to that promise. Though the pace and the acting could have been much better, this was an almost-on-the-edge-of-your-seat experience for its story.

37- Tomboy

Directed by: Céline Sciamma
Written by: Céline Sciamma
Production country: France

This was a sweet, little minimalist film. Unassuming and perhaps a little too timid in its execution, in a brief running time it gives its audience a chance to escape the big issues and concentrate on the small conflicts instead.

36- The Future

Directed by: Miranda July
Written by: Miranda July
Production country: Germany, USA

Miranda July's second feature will either charm you to bits, or will annoy you beyond words. I was stuck somewhere in the middle, leaning more towards the charmed end. I just wish it didn't go quite so morbid towards the end.

35- Horrible Bosses

Directed by: Seth Gordon
Written by: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Production country: USA

Kudos to the bosses, because they are incredibly funny - Kevin Spacey is a hoot; Jennifer Aniston hasn't been this funny since "Friends" and Colin Farrell is simply marvellous. Very simple, very formulaic (and I hate formulaic), but full of belly-achingly funny moments.

34- Oranges and Sunshine

Directed by: Jim Loach
Written by: Rona Munro
Production country: UK, Australia

An ugly and relatively obscure bit of history told in a sober and sombre way. Jim Loach's debut is an assured work, dabbles a little bit in TV movie category, but manages to leave you with a satisfied feeling that you have watched a powerful and moving story.

33- 50/50

Directed by: Jonathan Levine
Written by: Will Reiser
Production country: USA

Keeping the balance between cancer and comedy is a tough thing and if you go one or the other way a little too much, you're going to alienate your audience, belittle your story and end up in a confused mess. Fortunately, this managed to maintain that balance perfectly.

32- Another Earth

Directed by: Mike Cahill
Written by: Brit Marling & Mike Cahill
Production country: USA

One of the two newly-discovered-planet-having-a-close-fly-by films of the year, this was a bit mumblecore at moments. But the emotional performances of both leads and the sense of dread and wonder that permeates every scene made this quite a haunting film.

31- Potiche

Directed by: François Ozon
Written by: François Ozon
Production country: France

Ozon returns to his bubblegum, pastel-coloured world of 8 Women with a film whose heart is not as big as that wonderful musical, but full of laughter and magnificent one-liners. Catherine Deneuve is, as always, mesmerising.

30- Bridesmaids

Directed by: Paul Feig
Written by: Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo
Production country: USA

I'm not buying into the whole idea that this is finally a girls' rom-com that will dethrone the likes of The Hangover - seeing this through the filter of its leads having vaginas instead of penises (yeah, I'm going there) is belittling how good this film was. Get over it, everyone. Just enjoy the show. The more you mention that this is the girls' revenge, the more you are participating in the industry's sexism.

29- Pina

Directed by: Wim Wenders
Written by: Wim Wenders
Production country: Germany, France, UK

This ingenious documentary about Pina Bausch is bizarre, beautiful and downright brilliant. It is also the best use of 3D I have yet seen - without resorting to the gimmick, the medium is used to its full potential to tell a story that can only be told in a certain way.

28- Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Written by: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver
Production country: USA

Well, this certainly came out of nowhere to kick all of the other Summer's blockbusters' backsides. Although a prequel and based on an iconic and beloved film, it felt more original than anything that played in your local multiplex this year.

27- Midnight in Paris

Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen
Production country: Spain, USA

Woodster's non-Manhattan films always felt a little out of place, but with this one he finally sheds the Manhattan and brings the best out of Paris in a fairy tale that is refreshingly funny and bittersweet. The 'present' of the story isn't stellar, but hey ... when was the last time you really got excited about a Woody Allen film?

26- Arrietty

Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Written by: Hayao Miyazaki
Production country: Japan

With a wonderful soundtrack and the incredible magic of 2D animation, Studio Ghibli's latest film is a joy to watch (aren't they all?). Miyazaki is credited as screenwriter and his genius is all over this film as his disciple Yonebashi shows that he is capable of telling a wonderful little story.

25- Submarine

Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Written by: Richard Ayoade
Production country: UK, USA

Is Richard Ayoade the British Wes Anderson? I don't think so. Because Ayoade's film has more heart in any of its 5 minutes than the entire ouevre of Anderson. This is funny, poignant and ... well ... really quite weird at times. A novelty? Perhaps. But a very enjoyable one.

24- Red Hill

Directed by: Patrick Hughes
Written by: Patrick Hughes
Production country: Australia

This Australian Western (or does that make it an Eastern? A Southern?) is raw and compelling. An edge-of-your-seat ride from the beginning and it is cool as fuck. Also ... Ryan Kwanten is Australian?!

23- A Separation

Directed by: Asghar Farhadi
Written by: Asghar Farhadi
Production country: Iran

This is domestic drama at its finest. Wonderfully paced, this makes you keep guessing and comtemplating all the way from its awesome beginning to its sombre and satisfying finale. This is not a film to just enjoy, but to experience and talk about. Great stuff.

22- Jane Eyre

Directed by: Cary Fukunoga
Written by: Moira Buffini
Production country: UK, USA

This just reminded me what a messed up story Jane Eyre was. Not a drastically different approach to Victorian novel (more of which later), but this is a very handsome adaptation with a wonderful cast. Mia Wasikowska is absolutely brilliant.

21- Archipelago

Directed by: Joanna Hogg
Written by: Joanna Hogg
Production country: UK

Here's an artsy film that Brits rarely make. A whimsical and painfully funny observation of upper-middle-class Britain, there isn't a dull moment in a film win which the camera only moves once. Can this year also qualify as the Year of the Hiddleston? Maybe.

20- Julia's Eyes

Directed by: Guillem Morales
Written by: Guillem Morales & Oriol Paulo
Production country: Spain

Now, this was a fantastic ghost story: tense, emotional and very, very clever. But what made this really special was the third act - I don't remember a gimmick working this well since Haneke's own original Funny Games remote control trick.

19- 127 Hours

Directed by: Danny Boyle
Written by: Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
Production country: USA, UK

Yes, this came out in 2011 in my neck of the woods. Is there anything Danny Boyle cannot tackle and succeed in? I don't think so. I was very skeptical about this, but after watching it I'm convinced that Danny Boyle is the true King of British Cinema. And for lots of good reasons. And this was kinda the Year of Franco as well.

18- Of Gods and Men

Directed by: Xavier Beauvois
Written by: Xavier Beauvois & Etienne Comar
Production country: France

Not for the faint-hearted, this beautiful film will leave you in tears in a scene that was probably the best of the year. There is a point to be made that it is glorifying religion and a life of blind loyalty to faith, but regardless of your point-of-view, there is no denying its awe-inspiring and devastating finale.

17- The Ides of March

Directed by: George Clooney
Written by: George Clooney, Grant Heslov & Beau Willimon
Production country: USA

Clooney is slowly and steadily creating himself a name as a more-than-able director of smart, adult films (not that kind). And this is, as we know, the Year of the Gosling. The man is unstoppable.

16- Biutiful

Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written by: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone & Armando Bo
Production country: Mexico, Spain

This could have gone very wrong. But in Javier Bardem, it had an actor whose performance carried the film. Haunting, scary, emotional ... this film just played with your head constantly, never letting you go and dragging you to the darkest recesses of the human psyche. A film for our times.

15- We Need to Talk About Kevin

Directed by: Lynne Ramsay
Written by: Lynne Ramsay & Rory Kinnear
Production country: UK, USA

Everyone was talking about this during the Cannes Film Festival. Then they all stopped. Then it was released properly and everyone started talking about it again. The thing is, once you watch it, you don't want to talk anymore.

14- Moneyball

Directed by: Bennett Miller
Written by: Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin
Production country: USA

Whoa whoa whoa! A film about baseball? Really? Yeah, I'm going there. Because, you know what? Sometimes you need a classic story, told in a classic way, with a bona fide movie star, a happy ending and a sense of wonder. This was exactly what the doctor ordered. Oh, and Brad Pitt is amazing here.

13- The Tree of Life

Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick
Production country: USA

Talking about Pitt, can you name a film more puzzling (for all the right reasons) or more beautiful than this that came out this year? You can't. This is more more than just a 'film' - a lot to dissect and experience. Thank you, Malick.

12- Senna

Directed by: Asif Kapadia
Written by: Manish Pandey
Production country: UK

The best documentary of the year (and definitely one of the best ever), this is simply brilliant. Senna is my favourite athlete of all time, so it is difficult for me to be objective about this, but if you don't cry during that horrible crash, please check your pulse right now.

11- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Written by: Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan
Production country: France, UK, Germany

Is it just me or were we expecting way too much from this film? I did. And I have to say I was disappointed that it wasn't the best film I've seen all year. Having said that, it is still pretty fucking awesome.

10- Howl

Directed by: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
Written by: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
Production country: USA

And another wholly subjective opinion (well, isn't this list subjective?) - I'm a sucker for Ginsberg and "Howl" the poem. Having read it thousands of times since university, I wasn't sure how this was going to turn out. It turned out just fine.

9- Wuthering Heights

Directed by: Andrea Arnold
Written by: Andrea Arnold & Olivia Hetreed
Production country: UK

Dodgy acting and some curious casting aside, this was raw and in-yer-face. Brontë's novel was stripped bare in front of our eyes, without the formal mannerisms of countless adaptations. "Wuthering Heights" is a horror story and this film does justice to its source novel.

8- Kill List

Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Written by: Ben Wheatley & Amy Jump
Production country: UK

Capping off a great year for the British film (those UK Film Council productions are soon to end), this was an exceptionally well-written, acted and executed horror. Subtle, but filled with a sense of utter dread, it left me breathless and speechless by the end.

7- Melancholia

Directed by: Lars Von Trier
Written by: Lars Von Trier
Production country: Denmark, Sweden, France, Germany

The second newly-discovered-planet-having-a-close-fly-by film, Von Trier's latest is just as good, infuriating and perplexing as anything he has ever done. Finally shedding the clutches of Dogme 95, this is a joy to look at but quite a difficult film to watch at the same time. The dude's a genius.

6- Black Swan

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz & John J. McLaughlin
Production country: USA

Casting aside all of its emo qualities, this is something that Polanski would be proud to have made. Nathalie Portman finally gives a performance that is somewhat in the same ballpark as she did in Leon. But above all, it's Aronofsky's brilliant direction that makes this really special. Best director of his generation alongside Christopher Nolan?

5- Blue Valentine

Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Written by: Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis & Cami Delavigne
Production country: USA

You know films that take away your will to live, that hit you in the face and keep hitting you in the ribs as you're writhing in pain in foetal position? Yeah, this was one of them. I love those films. Oh, and this was the Year of the Gosling, remember?

4- True Grit

Directed by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Written by: Joel & Ethan Coen
Production country: USA

Wait ... a remake in Top 5?! Yes. Did you read the names above the trailer? Am I letting my heroes' involvement prejudge a film? Yes, I am. And I'm more than OK about that. Deal with it. The Coens make great films. End of story.

3- Meek's Cutoff

Directed by: Kelly Reichardt
Written by: Jonathan Raymond
Production country: USA

But, this was the best Western of the year. And I was certain that it would be the best film I would see all year. Frankly very little separates the Top 3 and my opinion on their ordering could easily change. Take this, for example: a film that rewards you with a different interpretation with every single viewing. It is bleak, haunting, mysterious and, probably, smarter than you.

2- Drive

Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written by: Hossein Amini
Production country: USA

Perhaps the only film that deserves to be called a classic from this year. A cult before it was even released, it is probably the 'best' film of the year and, by default, of the Year of the Gosling.

1- The Skin I Live in

Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
Written by: Pedro Almodóvar
Production country: Spain

Well, what can you say? His name's Pedro. His films begin with El Deseo S.A.. And he has yet to disappoint me.


Anonymous said...

Wow, my netflix queue will be immeasurably improved as a result of this Top 50...

I get that some aspects of film distribution in the UK are somewhat bothersome... but try living in the middle of NJ. They really don't show shit over here! (Foreign films least of all, naturally.)

Anyhow - just for fun, here's some year-end movies that I was looking out for in your list, all of which I've much enjoyed of late:

The Descendants
Girl with Dragon Tattoo

Also... no love for Attack the Block? Thought that was pretty great - especially for a debut feature.

Whatever, though. Very cool list + much fun to read. Am always a big fan of your blog, as you know!

Anonymous said...

PS. Totally agree about Bridesmaid - was just a very funny and enjoyable film. Period.


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