2011: Films of the Year

It was a bumper year of movie viewing for me. Obviously not compared to some people, but unemployment certainly does wonders for your film watching tally. Of the 172 films I saw for the first time last year, 61 were 2011 UK releases (I’ve just caught up on a couple more in 2012 already though), but here are the 10 I’ve selected for special attention. Some are very personal favourites, some more objectively better quality films than the others, and all could probably be shuffled about or substituted by my honourable mentions beneath. But for here and for now, here are ten films you should probably watch or something, yeah? Yeah!


10. KILL LIST

Intentionally infuriating ending aside, Kill List is a grim and gripping experience, made all the more upsetting through its believable, and strangely likeable, characters.

BESTEST THING IN IT: MICHAEL SMILEY JUST BEING ACE

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s DEAD MAN’S SHOES meets THE WICKER MAN!


9. THE SKIN I LIVE IN

Perhaps the oddest film of the year, Almodovar gleefully subverts genre and confounds audience expectations in what is effectively a very beautifully designed and performed piece of melodramatic schlock.

BESTEST THING IN IT: THAT TIGER COSTUME

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s WEIRD SCIENCE meets BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN!


8. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

Gary Oldman sits around thinking a lot, while Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy do all the work. All three are excellent. Probably beaten only by A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas for amount of smoke on screen at any one time.

BESTEST THING IN IT: “I FEEL SERIOUSLY UNDER-FUCKED.”

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s BOND but for GROWN-UPS!


7. SENNA

The little documentary that could, the story of Ayrton Senna is compellingly told, skilfully edited, and has a great dollop of genuine humanity and sincerity. Better car chases than Fast Five (though if it had The Rock in it, would have been an easy number one).

BESTEST THING IN IT: THE CHRISTMAS VARIETY SHOW

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: IT’S NOT JUST FOR FANS OF FORMULA ONE, YOU KNOW!


6. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

Tilda Swinton may be getting the plaudits, but its Ezra Miller’s deliciously devilish performance, plus the two mini-Kevs, which, despite the upsetting subject matter, left a big grin on my face. Its overwrought symbolism just adds to the fun.

BESTEST THING IN IT: ALL THREE KEVINS BEING EEEEVVVIIILLLL

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s NOTES ON A SCANDAL meets THERE WILL BE BLOOD!


5. CONFESSIONS

It may chuck logic and reason out of the window, but Tetsuya Nakashima’s stylish psychological thriller lingers with you like few other films managed to achieve this year. (See review)

BESTEST THING IN IT: TEACHER DROPS A BOMBSHELL

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s THE JAPANESE WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN!


4. DRIVE

Proof that the most tired plots can seem fresh and exciting when the right cast and crew are assembled. A big juicy peach of a film, lush and dreamy, with a rock hard stone at the centre. (See review)

BESTEST THING IN IT: WHEN THE NEON PINK MISTRAL TITLES KICK IN

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s COLLATERAL meets THE EIGHTIES!


3. SUBMARINE

Richard Ayoade successfully walks the precarious line between quirky charm and annoying whimsy, which completely earns its flights of fancy through its terrific cast and just plain funny jokes.

BESTEST THING IN IT: PADDY CONSIDINE’S VAN

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s RUSHMORE meets WALES!


2. ATTACK THE BLOCK

In a year of great British debuts, the director of Toytanic’s sci-fi/action/comedy/horror was the most surprisingly confident and downright most entertaining film of the year. ATB pushes the cult nerd reference buttons for sure, but with a voice and style all of its own, and in its creatures, offered seamless integration of CG and live-action (something blockbusters 10 times the budget fail to achieve) and one of the most original movie monster creations in years.

BESTEST THING IN IT: THE BEAR-WOLF-GORILLA-MOTHERFUCKERS

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: It’s KIDULTHOOD meets CRITTERS!


1. THE ARTIST

It’s easy to just slap it at the top of my 2011 film list because it means I don’t have to make a proper decision amongst all the other film favourites, but it really does earn its place. The Artist embraces and subverts its self-imposed restrictions, but ultimately it’s the performances from both its two wonderful leads which really make it an absolute treat. Marvellous and magical.

BESTEST THING IN IT: THE DREAM SEQUENCE

LAZY POSTER QUOTE: IT’S BLACK AND WHITE AND SILENT, BUT DON’T LET THAT PUT YOU OFF!


Honourable Mentions (i.e. The Next Ten – in Alphabetical/Numerical/Kind of Order):

13 Assassins – total massacre!
50/50see review!
127 Hours – gripping!
Bridesmaids – funny!
The Green Hornet – not the car crash everyone says it was!
Outrage – really violent!
Rango – really weird!
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – better than the first!
Super 8see review!
Tyrannosaur – brutal and upsetting!

Reissues:

Just a quick word on a couple of older film which got another lease of life. In particular, Deep End (see review) is just a magnificent encapsulation of adolescent tension, with all the humour and grief that entails, and a bit of the surreal too. And Zipangu Fest managed to unearth The Ghost Cat and the Mysterious Shamisen, a rare 1938 Japanese horror film specially subtitled for the festival, which while undeniably creaky, had some pretty creepy moments, and a wonderfully frenzied climax thanks to some surprisingly forward-looking in-camera effects.

Non 2011 Releases:

As is customary, I tend to highlight a few other films which I saw the first time and could possibly have made a top 10 list for whichever year they were made if I had been more on the ball/alive at the time. Pop this top 10 list on your LoveFilm list maybe (other movie rental companies available):

Black Narcissus – beautifully shot, with amazing performances!
The Breakfast Club – beloved 80’s cultural touchstone turns out to be pretty good shocker!
Bronson – Tom Hardy being scary!
The Children – wonderfully nasty and bloody (see also: Who Can Kill A Child?)!
Harold & Maude – gleefully dark, with the incredible Ruth Gordon (see also: Rosemary’s Baby)!
Phantom of the Paradise – glamtacular!
Possession – wall-to-wall insanity; think a Polish Hellraiser with Sam Neill!
Society – disgustingly hilarious satire!
The Squid and the Whale – horrible people do cruel things to each other!
Summer Wars – super-charming and touching anime (see also: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time)!

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2011: Soundtracks of the Year

SPOTIFY PLAYLIST ALERT! Before we head into the actual films of the year list itself, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect on some of the best scores and soundtracks of the year. While an unmemorable score won’t necessarily detract from my feelings toward a film, an excellent one will certainly reflect better in my mind, listening to the soundtrack post-watch perhaps elevating it in my estimation. But why shouldn’t it? And what better way to look back at the year gone by then by listening to my Spotify playlist while you skim through my top 10 for an extra immersive experience?


1. Drive – Cliff Martinez and Various Artists

A perfect combination of score and song, ice-cool brooding minimalist metallic electronica synched with bubbling retrotastic contemporary synth and breathy vocals to create the must-have soundtrack of the year. And not just the ideal soundtrack for the film, but for any night-time car journey. Once Kavinsky’s ‘Nightcall’ kicks in, you’re hooked, while College’s ‘Real Hero’ might just be the theme tune of 2011. Also works when playing Portal, I find.


2. Confessions – Various Artists

Another example of incredible visuals requiring just the right musical accompaniment, as Tetsuya Nakashima draws largely from epic Japanese rock band Boris, plus tracks from Radiohead, The xx and (yes) KC and the Sunshine Band. A sumptuous listening experience.

 

 


3. Hanna – The Chemical Brothers

British electronic and dance acts played catch-up with their French counterparts this year, and in response perhaps to Air and Daft Punk, Messrs Rowlands and Simons work on Joe Wright’s teenage killing machine on the run/comedy fish-out-of-water/fairytale parable action flick was superb. And surprisingly, it’s the quieter calmer tunes that stand out the most.

 


4. Super 8 – Michael Giacchino

If there’s one thing about Super 8 which evokes the Spielbergian family adventure film more than anything, it’s Giacchino’s score. Managing to out-John Williams even John Williams, it has some of the most heart-warming/-pounding/-string-tugging (delete where applicable) themes in recent memory.

 


5. Norwegian Wood – Jonny Greenwood

Based on a book taking its title from a Beatles track, and featuring cameos from YMO’s Haroumi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi, with Can also on the soundtrack, Norwegian Wood is steeped in musical lore, so it’s just as well There Will Be Blood composer and Radiohead member Greenwood is on hand to deliver another masterwork. Strings haven’t sounded this piercing since Bernard Hermann thought some shower sequence in some film could do with a musical sting.


6. Attack the Block – Steven Price, Felix Buxton & Simon Ratcliffe

Another fine example of a Brit beats duo turned film scoring duo, as Basement Jaxx team up with Steven Price for a pulsing soundtrack, as if John Carpenter had gone grime.

 

 


7. Submarine – Alex Turner

Arctic Monkey Alex Turner’s selection of short songs for Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut succeed on two fronts, both avoiding the risk of the familiar and cultural baggage that previously existing songs invariably are saddled with, and just being really lovely originally songs indeed.

 


8. Underwater Love – Stereo Total

2011 was not exactly a big year for musicals, but in any year, a Japanese pink sex film musical shot by Christopher Doyle about a kappa would always stand out. French-German duo Stereo Total provide the film’s barmy songs (in Japanese, no less), and they’re all wonderful fun.

 


9.  Take Shelter – David Wingo

Sometimes the most simple ideas are the most effective, and Wingo’s plinky-plonky contribution (for want of a better phrase) sounds like an ominous wind-chime, matching the film to create a genuinely unsettling experience.

 

 


10. The Artist – Ludovic Bource

It’s rare that a silent film is ever a silent experience, the musical accompaniment providing an even more essential role than it would in a ‘talkie’. So it’s just as well Ludovic Bource was around to provide such an accomplished score, nostalgic without ever sounding stuck in the past.

FILM REVIEW: Confessions

Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold. In which case, Confessions (告白) operates its vengeance at optimum temperature, as this is as chilly as revenge gets. The premise is certainly a juicy one: a high school teacher resigns when her young daughter is found dead – and two of her students are to blame. But this is not some whodunnit murder mystery. The opening scene, a lengthy and dense lecture from the teacher (played with calm and quiet intensity by Takako Matsu) to her class, sets up the story and identifies the culprits pretty early on. No, writer/director Tetsuya Nakashima (Kamizake Girls, Memories of Matsuko) is far more concerned with the repercussions and ramifications of the reveal.

And these ripples become ever bigger, spreading out in very unexpected directions. The film hops back and forth prior to, during, and after the incident in question as each of the principal characters ‘confess’ their side of the story, and explain the reasons for their dubious actions. Even so, the characters behave and situations manifest in completely unbelievable ways. What begins as a dark tale of difficult subject matter quickly chucks logic and realism out of the window and settles for the kind of suspension of disbelief you would normally expect from a Michael Bay film. In fairness though, it’s based on a book, so I can only assume it’s all there in the source material anyway. Or maybe I’m just naive in thinking humankind doesn’t operate the way it does here.

In any case, I probably shouldn’t be surprised, given the incredibly arresting visual style, that it has little grounding in reality. And by golly is this directed to within an inch of its life. The lighting, the cinematography, the editing – all remarkable. The frequent slow-motion reaches near Darkplace levels of over-reliance, but Nakashima’s film is often beautiful to behold, existing in a hyper-reality which perhaps excuse the often preposterous motivations of its characters. And anyway, Park Chan-Wook has been getting away with revenge-happy flights of fancy with no less ludicrous machinations, so I don’t know why I’m getting so hung up about it. But while it’s tempting to label this ‘Sympathy for Vengeance-Sensei‘, it has a mood and an outlook all of its own, bleak and unsettling, but not gritty or gorenographic. Likewise, there are hints of Battle Royale, Suicide Club, and All About Lily Chou-Chou in its less than sunny depiction of disaffected youth, but the adults in Confessions are hardly bastions of moral standing either (I mean, trying to outwit a couple of thirteen year olds is hardly the typical ‘against all odds’ challenge to seek retribution, is it?).

Yet for all my misgivings, there is just something about Confessions that hooks you in and refuses to let go. The unpredictable plot, the excellent performances, the big-screen visuals, the cracking soundtrack (featuring Boris, Radiohead, and The xx). It’s a film that’s hard to shake off, one that I can’t get out of my head, and now that I have a sense of where the film’s going, its tone and intention, perhaps only a second viewing will determine if I truly loved it. Right now though, it’s a very strong ‘like’ but I’m looking forward to seeing it again, and make up my mind, as soon as possible.

8/10