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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FILM REVIEW: Deep End

Restored and re-released as part of BFI’s Flipside label, unearthing overlooked alternative and unusual British cinema, Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End is as bold and brilliant now as it’s ever been, over 40 years since its initial release.

It’s London at the end of the sixties, and fifteen year-old Michael (John Moulder-Brown) leaves school to make his own way in the world of work. He is hired as an attendant at the local swimming baths, where he is shown the ropes by the feisty Susan (Jane Asher). It’s not long before a mix of naivety and hormones causes Mike to become increasingly attached to his co-worker, and the two begin a teasing game of sexual tension, repression and rejection which quickly spirals out of control. However, this isn’t some ‘Confessions of a Pool Attendant’ sex romp or puerile ‘end of the pier’ smut, but a frequently funny and pitch-perfect encapsulation of adolescent obsession.

Mike’s first steps into the adult world are faltering ones. There are only brief glimpses of his life outside of work and no real indication why he has left school, even when his parents and former fellow pupils pay a visit. And for a good long amount of the film, we rarely venture outside the baths themselves, feeling trapped amongst the sometimes peculiar clientele in the strange world of shampoo and saunas. But when jealousy takes hold and he interferes with Susan’s complicated love-life, his hilariously petty acts of sabotage reveal just how inexperienced he is when it comes to relationships. He’s aware of the gulf between him and Susan, but buoyed by her continual mixed messages, he presses on regardless, his childish attention-seeking behaviour carrying a painful undercurrent of desperation.

That’s not to say that Deep End is a sombre experience. Rather, it is energetic, lively and highly enjoyable, filled with amusing quirks, smart dialogue and some pretty bawdy humour. A game cameo from former blonde bombshell Diana Dors as a lascivious customer obsessed with George Best is especially memorable. And in certain respects, it recalls Richard Ayoade’s Submarine – not enough to stand up to scrutiny beyond general themes and an aquatic title, but enough to suggest a good double-bill.

But it’s a stand-out sequence set in Soho which really captures the mood, as Mike waits impatiently on the streets for Susan and her fiancé to emerge from a nightclub, getting involved with strip club proprietors, ladies of the night, and Burt Kwouk as a hot dog salesman. And all this to Can’s excellent, sprawling, bubbling ‘Mother Sky’ (while Cat Stevens provides the title theme ‘But I Might Die Tonight’). Indeed, it’s one of the few outdoor locations to actually be shot in London, with the majority of filming taking place in Munich, adding an interesting but perfect veneer of oddity to an already fairly international production – many members of the supporting cast were actually German, adopting very convincing accents.

It’s the two lead actors, however, who really anchor the film. Mike is unsure of himself or his emotions, and though a veteran child actor, Moulder-Brown’s fumbling performance carries across the uncertainty of youth remarkably well. And Asher (more famous then for being Paul McCartney’s former fiancé than a purveyor of quality cakes) is impressive and confident. The unsettled and uneven relationship that builds between them feels real, thanks to their investment in their characters and often improvised interplay. And Skolimowski’s skilled direction has lasting impact, particularly as the film enters darker territory; as innocence is eroded by the grubby bathhouse surroundings and its regulars, and obsessive infatuation spills over, the film becomes a more surreal and transcendent work.

In the end, Deep End thoroughly deserved its status as ‘a long-forgotten classic’, and now can thankfully be considered simply as ‘a classic’.

9/10