Finally, an extensive look at my Top 23 Films of 2011 and why. ‘But it’s February?’, I hear you ask. I know, I know, I’ve been slack, ok! Better late than never I say. And besides, the list kept changing! Before we begin, I ask that you please forgive the fact that some of the writing will seem pre-dated. I began putting this particular blog together well over a month ago (yikes). Off we go then, Thisfilmisonners!
Easily the funniest film of the year, and not a Rogen or a McBride in sight! Having said that, ‘Bridemaids’ continues the Apatow tradition, but for the first time with women at the forefront. It has proved to be a phenomenal vehicle for long-time Apatow favourite and SNL vet Kristen Wiig, but even more so for Melissa McCarthy (whose previous TV credits include ‘Gilmore Girls’ and more recently ‘Mike and Molly’) in her first major feature film. McCarthy is unforgettable as Megan, and as the critics associations of America start to announce their end of year awards thick and fast, it’s looking increasingly likely that McCarthy will secure an Oscar nomination for her bold, hilarious turn that single-handedly launched this film to ‘The Hangover’ heights. Wiig’s screenplay is sharp as you like, and she along with a brilliant Rose Byrne are both fantastic, but it’s McCarthy’s film from the moment she appears on screen.
22. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The initial trailer for this film really didn’t sell the overall quality of the picture. At first, I found myself thinking, ‘Franco! What on earth are you doing?’ After a stellar 2010, I was fearing a slight sell-out. I was to be entirely incorrect. ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ is THE blockbuster of the year. It features arguably some of the strongest visual effects ever seen on screen and an award-worthy supporting performance from Andy Serkis as Caesar, the first ape to experience threatening levels of intelligence. Serkis has long been the king of mo-cap performance, but this really needs to be seen to be believed. He gives Caesar just the right amount of humanity that he needs to anchor the story, and contrary to how the trailers may sell the movie, it really is in the story that ‘Rise’ excels. Personally I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun gawking at visual effects and extensive action set-pieces while being completely gripped story-wise and entirely invested in all of the characters, most of all a CGI one.
Nice try, Cameron.
21. The Guard
‘The Guard’ definitely caught me off-guard. Literally. Though aware of it’s existence and the positive reviews it was pulling in, it was only on a word-of-mouth recommendation that I felt the need to seek it out while it was still on a cinematic run.
Directed by John Michael McDonagh (brother of ‘In Bruges’ director Martin McDonagh), he more than follows in his brother’s footsteps when constructing the ultimate buddy-cop comedy. The wild brashness of ‘In Bruges’ is played upon to great effect, with Brendan Gleeson’s ‘Gerry’ being both perhaps the funniest and most politically incorrect character you will see on screen this year. He’s borderline racist, full of contempt, a drinker, and a regular frequenter of escort girls. What more could you ask for in a police sergeant?!
Strong complimentary performances from Don Cheadle as the initially unwilling American partner, and Mark Strong as the baddie round off ‘The Guard’ as THE European comedy of the year, hands down.
20. Super 8
J.J. Abrams is pretty much the prince of advance viral marketing (Nolan is the king). People were talking about ‘Super 8′ for well over a year before it’s release. The teaser trailer was excellent, and the plot was a tightly guarded secret. Abram’s homage to Spielberg sci-fi was always going to be a huge deal. And it is! But as special as it felt when I was watching it, it didn’t quite live up to it’s hype. I don’t think that’s Abrams fault though, or executive producer Spielberg’s for that matter. These days, when a film is promoted with such fervour, everyone expects the best film ever made. Hell, even I was chatting Best Picture nominations before I’d even seen it.
‘Super 8′ has unlimited strengths. The 70′s sheen is untouchable, the younger actors are pretty much perfect (and I’m not a fan of kid actors), and the story is wonderfully solid by Spielberg standards. My only two teeny-tiny gripes are that perhaps it is slightly too much (at times) of a Spielberg homage rather than a J.J. Abrams stand-alone piece, and that I felt that the alien was a teeny-tiny bit too Cloverfield/Star Trek-y. Neither of these criticisms are 100% negative, as I’m aware of the intent of the film and the creature style that Abrams has developed for himself. I guess I just felt like I’d seen this creature before, in some shape or form.
Nevertheless, a wonderful family film that I warmed to instantly, and carried with me long afterwards.
19. Source Code
To put it lightly, there was no way that I was ever not going to like ‘Source Code’. ‘Moon’ had been such a revelation in terms of modern sci-fi, I was always eager to find how how he would follow it. The answer is ‘Source Code’. While Jones didn’t self-pen his second feature, he certainly played a massive part in creating the world of the source code. As with ‘Moon’, it takes place in a perfectly feasible near future. And, as with ‘Moon’, it is the subtlety of fictional science that elevates Jones’ film into his own stylistic realm. Rather than cloning and moon mining, ‘Source Code’ sees Jake Gyllenhaal unwilling solider replaying the last eight minutes of the life of a man who died in a terrorist train bombing. Through this admittedly far-fetched experimental process, he is able to use his skill set to try and identify the source of the attack in the hope of preventing a second, all through relentless, tailorable flashbacks. Think ‘Vantage Point’ meets ‘Back to the Future’ but in a far more appealing manner than you could ever imagine.
It’s a mind-blow to try to explain, but well worth the time and consideration. It leaves you with questions that will never be answered, but for me that was part of the fun. Parallel universes aren’t necessarily meant to be questioned. Overall, it is a total blast and further proof than Duncan Jones has a massive future ahead of him.
18. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
I had all but written off the Harry Potter franchise until late last year. My girlfriend pleaded with me to give them a go as I had previously turned my nose up at it, deeming it ‘kids stuff’. I reluctantly agreed to give them a go, starting at the beginning, more because I wanted to join her for the ‘event’ that would eventually be the release of the final chapter; ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2′.
Here I am holding my hands up. I was completely off the mark with my views of this world-beating film series. It is astonishing not only in its storytelling, but in its technicality, its character development, humour, action set-pieces, the whole nine and then some. Once you get past the first couple of films, it all kicks off. ‘Azkaban’ descends in to a darkened maturity and never looks back.
While I personally prefer ‘Part 1′ as a piece of filmmaking, ‘Part 2′ is pretty much all you could ask for in a final chapter of a phenomenon that has dominated the box-office for the last ten years. Where it doesn’t quite have the reflective delicacy of ‘Part 1′, that was never the point. The action comes thick and fast, giving you more than enough time with each of your favourite characters, discovering various fates in the process. When viewed as an ‘action’ film, it presses all the buttons. It is all out final war. Good and evil clash in a way never seen before on-screen, and a fine use of Imax 3D means that you are right in the thick of it.
And to think, I almost missed out on this entirely memorable spectacle.
If awards were given out for the most overlooked films of the year, Gavin O’Connor’s ‘Warrior’ would probably be at the top of most people’s lists. While at first glance it may look like potential straight-to-dvd, testosterone fuelled nonsense, I’m hear to tell you that that’s about as far from the truth as you could get. I was speculative of a MMA film too, don’t get me wrong. What transpired though was an epic tale of disconnected families, financial hardship and redemption.
No one would have ever predicted such an emotional film. Fantastic performances from Tom Hardy and (possible Oscar contender, no shit) Nick Nolte provide the initial strength of the story of two brothers who end up fighting professionally for different reasons, but peel back the layers and this is not just “‘The Fighter’ goes UFC”. It is a beautifully acted and beautifully executed film about the powerful effect that sport can have on a family. The characters are solidly anchored separately, and offered the chance to build and build to the eventual climactic clash.
If any film pleasantly took me by surprise this year, ‘Warrior’ was most definitely it. Stunning.
16. The Ides of March
You know a film is solid when it falls slightly below your expectations but is still easily one of the finer films of the year. My opinion of George Clooney is so high that I guess I just expect everything he touches to turn to gold. Unfortunately for ‘The Ides of March’, its not even George Clooney’s best film of the year, nor Ryan Gosling’s or Paul Giamatti’s or Philip Seymour Hoffman’s (though it was Hoffman’s strongest performance and one that will be forever overlooked). Saying that, all of these individual dramatic strengths still contributed to one hell of a movie.
You either love or hate political thrillers, but when they are presented so masterfully without being over-preachy, they sure are hard not to appreciate. More than a Clooney film (though he plays a central character, it is a supporting role), this is a massive Ryan Gosling vehicle. It almost, in a way, feels like a slight mantle passing from father to son. Gosling is the youth among all the ever impressive experience, and holds his own fantastically well, more so than he did in ‘Drive’ earlier in the year.
All in all, it will confirm your love for Gosling and solidify the idea you had that if Clooney ran for president, you would probably vote for him.
As if ‘cancer-comedy’ is a sub-genre now? I mean, hell, Seth Rogen’s done two of them now. This is far and away the better one. If any movie ever found the balance between hilarity and sensitivity, ’50/50′ is that movie. Penned from the real-life experiences of Rogen’s friend (and soon to be Golden Globe nominated screenwriter) Will Reiser, it tells the story of 27-year old Adam’s (Joe Gordon-Levitt) struggle with ‘type-4 back cancer’. With a spot-on supporting cast of Rogen, Anjelica Huston, Bryce Dallas Howard and the enchanting Anna Kendrick, it’s as funny as it is heart wrenching. You honestly laugh as hard as you cry. In all my movie going experiences, I’ve never come across a film able to evoke contrasting emotions so admirably. Where Adam is hit with bad news, Rogen’s Kyle is right there to share a joint and make a dick joke. It all just works so well that you can’t help but fall in love with it. Claiming original screenplay awards across the board already, prepare your box of Kleenex for real-life survivor Will Reiser accepting that Golden Globe in January.
14. Another Earth
‘Another Earth’ is a beautifully constructed piece of low-budget indie sci-fi, comprising the elements of many of its influences to create a modern beauty. I would write more about a film that I have come to love over the past year, but as it turns out, I already have!
Click here to read a more in-depth appreciation of Mike Cahill’s Sundance darling, ‘Another Earth’.
13. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Whilst David Fincher’s follow-up to 2010′s ‘The Social Network’ (easily the best film of that year) has managed to crack my Top 15, let it be known that after one viewing, ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ picks up the prize for biggest letdown of the year. It’s not that the film was in any way ‘bad’, it just didn’t tick all the boxes that I was expecting it to. For example, much of the dialogue is just too sharp for my expectations of this story that I have come to know so well. While that worked perfectly in ‘The Social Network’, I had a lot of trouble buying into the quips of this script. It was wonderfully written, no argument there, but it was awfully light in places considering the dark content with which it deals. Not to mention the way it was marketed. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I was expecting a new level of bleakness that only David Fincher could have provided, and fanboy though I am, part of me feel like he compromised. Why appeal for bleakness you ask? Why not appreciate the lighter lifts that the script provides for relief when it all gets a bit much? Because for me, that’s not what the story of Lisbeth Salander is. It is a painful, harrowing journey that is entirely uncompromising, and thats exactly what Niels Arden Oplev’s adaptation had going for it. It literally pulled no punches.
Those gripes aside, this is a fantastic film. The cinematography is typically stunning, the acting ensemble is strong (even Daniel Craig), but this movie is all about Rooney Mara. She is incredible from start to finish disappearing into a role that could have just as easily destroyed her career before it ever really began. Thankfully though, Fincher was right. Mara was the right choice, even if she is a teeny tiny bit too cute to be 100% convincing as the modern legend that is Lisbeth.
12. Midnight In Paris
I’m new to Woody Allen. He is the product of a generation slightly removed of mine, unfortunately, but I am taking great delight in revisiting that era though his countless films. ‘Annie Hall’, ‘Manhattan’ and ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ have all been thoroughly educational from a screenwriting point of view, but with his 2011 offering ‘Midnight in Paris’, I was able to truly enjoy Woody Allen at the cinema for the first time.
What I didn’t realise when taking my seat in the auditorium was that I was going to be watching a film about fantastical time travel! And what a treat it was watching Owen Wilson charmingly travel night after night to Golden Age Paris for frolics with the likes of Picasso and Hemingway. Ridiculous you say? Well, sure, but when its all put forward in such a joyous fashion, why question it? I, for one, certainly didn’t find myself asking any questions regarding how this all came to be. Why ruin it? The film looked great, was written great and acted great by a smorgasbord of talent that includes (*deep breath*), Rachel McAdams, Marion Cottilard, Michael Sheen, Alison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, Adrian Brody and everyone’s second favourite character actor behind J.K. Simmons, Kurt ‘Wayne’s World’ Fuller. Oh yeah, and Carla Bruni?
With just enough Allen to easily be able to regard it as Allen, and enough Owen Wilson to satisfy even the toughest of exteriors, ‘Midnight in Paris’ is Allen’s best film in years, and certainly one of the best films of this year.
11. Margin Call
Taking place on the eve of the 2008 Wall Street crash, mega-indie ‘Margin Call’ was a pleasant surprise as 2011 drew to a climactic close. The debut feature from JC Chandor, it tells the story of one man’s startling discovery and the controversial efforts of the many that strived to combat the impending financial doom. For the record, I didn’t really have any idea what anyone was talking about in ‘Margin Call’, but I certainly had no trouble feeling the impact of it. That impact specifically, the accessibility that it allows, is what makes this film impressive. The same way that no one really understood anything Mark Zuckerberg was banging on about in ‘The Social Network’, or Billy Beane in this year’s ‘Moneyball’ (if you were clueless about baseball statistics which most of us are), ‘Margin Call’ enables the viewer to feel the power of the foreign land of Wall Street.
While the jargon is indecipherable, the way in which the characters respond to it is almost Shakespearean in its valour. Zachary Quinto shines as the junior analyst who develops the underused Stanley Tucci’s discovery, while big shots Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons turn this zeitgeist-fest into something that pans out more like a Broadway stage play than a Wall Street boardroom drama.
With terrific performances all round and one of the screenplays of the year, be sure to keep an eye out for ‘Margin Call’ when it makes an extremely limited cinema run in the UK next year.
‘Snowtown’ was probably the toughest film to watch all year. Basing my expectations on a beautifully crafted trailer, I expected the worst. A film that deals with the relationships between a mass murderer of suspected pedophiles and homosexuals and his unwitting accomplices was never going to be an easy watch. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a film and been as personally upset by what was transpiring.
This is for many reasons, and all to do with the filmmaking.
First of all, the two lead performances are nerve-janglingly real, to the point where I could barely stand the sight of John Bunting (Australia’s most notorious serial killer), let alone try and process what it would have been like to share a room with him. There is an awkward threat that surrounds his character from the moment he appears on screen, a terrifying sensation that lingers into the afterglow of the film as a whole. You long for Jamie to find a way out of John’s manipulative clutches as the situations grow darker and more violent. But this is not a film about justice and redemption. What makes the scenes these two characters share all the more uneasy is the lack of scoring. Unsure silences fill your ear canals as Jamie slowly becomes sucked into John’s twisted world. As a viewer, you could not feel more involved in this journey, right there beside Jamie as he goes from victim to potential accomplice in the space of two hours.
The cinematography is poetic and the writing sharp, creating all the more reason to fear the barren open spaces of Australian suburbia. Not for the faint-hearted, ‘Snowtown’ is a film that I would encourage any budding filmmaker to watch once.
I got really excited for ‘Moneyball’ months before its release for a few reasons. The main one being that strong, memorable baseball movies are extremely rare. When I heard that Aaron Sorkin was co-writing a movie about baseball statistics and strategy, it became an instant must-see. And it didn’t disappoint.
Brad Pitt is effortlessly brilliant as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane who managed to turn one of the poorest (financially) teams in baseball into a genuine contender, using brains rather than bones. In a sport dominated by money, and making plenty of enemies in the process, Beane developed a scouting strategy that has now been adopted by most of America’s major league teams. ‘Moneyball’ tells the powerful human story of that development with the help of an Oscar-worthy screenplay from last years across-the-board victor Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian (Oscar winner for ‘Schindler’s List’). A powerhouse writing combo if ever there was one.
Featuring superbly solid supporting performances from Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman (and a cameo from Spike Jonze), ‘Moneyball’ is proof that Bennett Miller is worth his salt as a filmmaker.
Don’t like baseball? Doesn’t matter. If you like storytelling, you’ll like this.
I’m absolutely over the moon that I liked ‘Melancholia’ as much as I did. As a previous blog will evidence, I saw ‘Antichrist’ at the cinema and hated it. I found it’s pretension and unflattering use of infantile shock tactics to be offensive and tasteless. ‘Melancholia’ though, is an entirely different monster whilst still employing many of the pretensions that put me off Lars Von Trier in the first place. Almost as if watching and hating/not quite understanding ‘Antichrist’ was a necessary preface to prepare me for my appreciation for ‘Melancholia’. Simply put, it is a masterpiece. Through a gorgeous use of apocalyptic personification and music, Von Trier has gone from offensive nut job to artful genius in one fell swoop creating a lasting piece of work that will affectionately reside long in my memory.
Kirsten Dunst gives the performance of her career as the depressive Justine, capturing the harsh realities of an affliction that prevents her from feeling anything given that the world is coming to an end. She is stunning in every scene from start to finish, outshining equally solid turns from Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt, Charlotte Rampling, the Skarsgards and Von Trier regular, Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Beautifully blending art, music, character study and sci-fi, ‘Melancholia’ is one film that I would recommend seeking out at all costs if you’ve passed it over up to this point.
7. Take Shelter
Back in September, I saw a trailer that gave me all kinds of funny feelings. ‘Take Shelter’ immediately rose to the top of my ‘must-see’ list, so imagine my disappointing rage when November 25th came and went without the slightest suggestion of a screening at any of Norwich’s cinemas. I moaned and I cried and scoured the internet for hi-def screeners (desperate times, desperate measures), but none were to be found. Then, in mid-December, our lovely friends at Picturehouse cinemas decided to give it a six-day run. Thank the Lord.
In ‘Take Shelter’, Jeff Nichols has managed to reintroduce Americana to the cinema going public. He could not have recruited finer talent in Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, and they are put to fantastic use. The film tells the story of Curtis, a man who is either an unwilling prophet or a paranoid schizophrenic. Or maybe both? Maybe that’s the point? Either way, Nichols has struck every available nerve with a modern classic that addresses the zeitgeist of the nation. The subtle use of an ‘impending storm’ as a metaphor for social decline never wavers and never seems in any way obvious or over political as we watch Shannon’s Curtis slowly destroy himself and his family in the blind hope that his decisions will eventually save them all from what he deems to be certain doom. It all sounds a bit heavy, and believe me, it is.
As far as though provoking, independent American cinema, this is where the bar now lies. In a fair world, Michael Shannon will squeak in with an Oscar nomination having already fared better than expected with the critics associations, while Jessica Chastain can assuredly add her performance to an already stellar 18-months in which she could easily garner multiple Supporting Actress nominations. While she won’t win for ‘Take Shelter’ (more likely, ‘The Help’), her performance in this powerhouse of a psycho-thriller is simply further testament to the fact that Chastain is an acting legend in the making.
6. We Need To Talk About Kevin
‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ is the most overlooked film of 2011. Hands down. No arguments. In a stunning adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s 2004 novel, Lynne Ramsay has gloriously crafted what I think was the most impacting film of the year. The subject is simple. Imagine how awful it would be to find it hard to love your first born child? From birth, Kevin is difficult and cold. Cue puberty, and he becomes a demonic domestic force, a shadow of traditional parental expectation as he manipulates his family and attempts to sabotage his mother’s mindset at every available opportunity. This journey through childhood and into adolescence all climaxes in a mesmerising way, and it is through one element of this film that ‘Kevin’ is able to peak with such untouchable intensity. Tilda Swinton.
I know a lot of people have mixed feelings for Swinton, more often than not because she’s ‘a little strange looking’, but no one can deny that her lead performance in this film is incredibly powerful. The bravery of her character is echoed in the bold and relentless charge that is her performance, not for one second allowing anyone to doubt her perseverence. Behind closed doors, he character is tortured and destructive, but in public she is untouchable.
There is a lot to be answered for in terms of how women are portrayed in modern cinema (I’m pointing my finger at Michael Bay), but this year has seen the likes of Rooney Mara and Meryl Streep in assertive female roles, laying waste to male rivals in the process. This year though, with all the female revival, no one came close to Tilda Swinton who gives the performance of her career in a film she can call her own. Perfect acting. More or less perfect film.
5. Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy
Are actors working for less money these days? Is that it? It certainly seems like a lot of movies in the last few years have had a lot of talent in them. Just look at ‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘New Year’s Eve’ for example. Or don’t. Please, don’t.
‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’ involves the most male talent since ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’. Headed up by the masterful Gary Oldman, the movie also features Colin Firth, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch and everyone’s favourite big shot and in this instance, scene stealer, Tom Hardy. They all come together to create a uniquely underplayed thriller that aches for repeat viewings. At the same time, it is an exhausting watch. A quiet, thoughtful piece of work, ‘Tinker’ thrills the mind rather than the senses, leaving you feel like you have been challenged by what you’ve seen. With a thriller, that’s all you can ever ask for. Whilst hard to follow in places if you don’t already know the story, it is a beautifully shot, beautifully written and impeccably acted le Carre adaptation that commands the attention of any serious film lover.
Anyone who has read an interview with Martin Scorsese over the last few years knows the passion he has for the preservation of our cinematic roots. Year after year, precious celluloid prints are left to be lost or destroyed while films like ‘Clash of the Titans’ and ‘Transformers 3′ pollute our screens.
‘Hugo’ returns us to the birthing point of the golden age and tells the story of a delightful young orphan (Asa Butterfield) with a love of the movies who forms an accidental but crucial relationship with real-life filmmaking pioneer George Melies (an effortless Ben Kingsley). The film as as visually stunning as anything released in the past few years, and the single most affecting use of 3D technology that (personally) I have ever seen. This use of 3D, I think, is what makes the film that little bit more impressive.
Martin Scorsese is a known champion of traditional cinematic technique, so to opt for what is largely a recently fashionable technology to tell the story of modern cinemas humble beginnings was a bold and out-of-character choice indeed. It turned out to be a magnificent decision and made for perhaps the most immersive experience I had at the cinema all year.
With hugely impressive support from Sasha Baron Cohen and Chloe Moretz, ‘Hugo’ is something unmissable that if you didn’t catch at the cinema, you must be sure to experience at home with the family.
3. The Tree of Life
Cue controversy! I thought that ‘The Tree of Life’ was one of the single best pieces of filmmaking that I have ever seen. My experience of this film at the theatre is certainly something I will never forget, namely because I have never been exposed to anything like it in the mainstream before.
This film is hit-or-miss with everyone who’s seen it, sure. Half of it’s viewers marvel at it’s intelligence, personality and overwhelming cinematography as it addresses the issues of family and religion head on. It asks huge questions about ‘what it all means’, and challenges viewers to perceive the ‘why’ on a whole new plain. Doesn’t it?
The other half hated it, describing it with such words as ‘vacuous’, ‘pretentious’ and (the hands-down favourite) ‘boring’. So let’s just be straight for a second here. Terrence Malick is pretentious. He is an artist! ‘The Tree of Life’ is not a film made for your entertainment, it is a film made to satisfy his own personal longings to visualise life; adolescence, innocence, questioning your very existence. A huge undertaking for anyone, Malick presented his views on this issues through beautiful cinematic form and (for want of a better phrase) visual poetry.
Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain excel in their supporting roles, Pitt representing ‘nature’ and Chastain, ‘grace’, alongside a fine, young group of actors who adapt to their director with maturity beyond their limited years, offering effortlessness in their realism.
2. The Artist
Where to start with ‘The Artist’? It is, without a shadow of doubt, a truly fantastic film. The inevitable backlash has begun though, with a majority of blogger and online critics coming down hard on it’s silent film ‘gimmick’ and asking the question; had this film actually been released during the silent film era, would it be receiving even half of the praise that it has been receiving for the simple fact that it was released in 2011? The answer is, of course not.
Sure, the fact that it is a majoritively silent film is somewhat of a gimmick, but isn’t it a refreshing and joyous one? As far as filmmaking goes, ‘The Artist’ doesn’t touch some of the other fine releases of 2011, but as far as a cinematic experience and pure, innocent enjoyment goes, it is untouchable. Should it win Best Picture at the Oscars? Probably not. But it will, for the simple reason that is has reminded the public of the charm and importance of silent films as part of our film heritage while telling a warm, funny and impeccably presented story of two people falling in love; one representing a dying age and one representing the future. As far as any silent film goes, the score in unrivaled in its brilliance, while the acting for this time as place is delicately wonderful.
Oh, ‘Drive’. You really do get more unbelievably freaking awesome with every watch. What began as cult anticipation turned into cult appreciation. That transmorphed into unrelenting critical acclaim, and with it’s blu-ray and DVD release this week it is already a cult classic.
There are so, so many reasons why ‘Drive’ is the best film I saw last year. The main one being the commanding performance from Ryan Gosling as the central character. As far as acting opposite extremes goes, you’d be hard pressed to find a performance this year that offered as much range as Gosling’s. At times he is fragile, soft-spoken and caring, selfless in his dimeanor. In the flick of a switch though, he quivers with a buried rage that leaves bodies mutilated in his defensive wake. With a range of death-tools from curtain rails to bootheels, ‘Drive’ employs the most effecting use of mainstream sporadic extreme violence outside of Tarantino.
As a film student, I am already hearing whispers of projects being influenced by the films cinematographical style. Newton Thomas Sigel’s unforgettable visual construction is something already being cited as reference through a fashionably stylistic use of angle and colour filtering. I bet that none of us expected to be using the term ‘modern-day 80′s noir’ this year, but alas, there you have it.
What Nicolas Winding Refn has done is pretty much reinvent the genre film in the way that, ‘Drive’ isn’t a genre film (?). It spans everything from the romantic to the ultra-violent, and most things in between. It’s a mob film and it’s a love story. Win win?
With Refn employing Gosling for his follow-up, Bangkok-based mob/MMA film ‘Only God Forgives’ which will be hitting our screens later this year, I think it’s safe to say that this particular partnership will continue in it’s solidity and provide the necessary cure to mainstream cinema’s current ills through it’s coupled strength and vision. Who knows? Maybe we’ll find the same director and leading man at the top of this list this time next year?
That’s all from me, folks. Ignore all of those that penned 2011 as a duff year for films. If I had to make my Top 10 a Top 23, someone was doing something right. Apologies again for this belated annual review. Hopefully, it has in the least invited you to check out a film that you may have missed this past year. Here’s to a top-notch 2012!