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)!

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.

London Film Festival 2011 – “This I Gotta See!”

The London Film Festival line-up was revealed last week, and BFI members across the country have been stroking their chins and eagerly circling their choice selections in the vague hope they might be successful getting tickets for every single one they want to see. This is just an overview of the 10 films I’ve circled with my SPECIAL BIG PEN, plus a few others that piqued my interest. Oh, and I left out We Need To Talk About Kevin because that’s like released a couple of days later, and if you can’t wait that long and want to pay an overpriced festival ticket cost to see it, you’re a mug (so too have I highlighted confirmed release dates where applicable so you can make up your own mind).

In alphabetical odour:

Alps

The latest from Yorgos Lanthimos, who last gave us the devastatingly brilliant Dogtooth, promises more unsettling description-defying weirdness.

The Artist

I love the OSS 117 films primarily because of Jean Dujardin, who successfully manages to pull off hilarious, charismatic and stupid all at the same time. So it tickled me to see him take the Best Actor award at Cannes for his performance in The Artist, probably the most loved film of the festival. Looks damn near perfect.

Carnage

Yes, it’s bad man Polanski, and yes, it’s just four people talking in a room (as you may expect from its stage origins), but when those four people are Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz, expect some thespy sparks to fly. Looks like fun at least.

A Dangerous Method

Cronenberg. Mortensen. Fassbender. Cassel. Okay, so we do have K.K. thrown into the mix, but she can up her game when she wants to. Early word isn’t as thrillingly optimistic as the pedigree would suggest, but it’s still a combination that’s hard to resist (10th Feb)

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Experiencing something of a resurgence in international recognition after 13 Assassins (despite still being one of the most prolific directors around today), Takashi Miike’s 3D samurai movie remake features a Ryuichi Sakamoto score and looks like a classy piece of work – even if it’s just filler until we get his Phoenix Wright (!) adaptation.

Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life

New Werner Herzog, especially documentarian Herzog, is always something to get excited about, and while this focus on life on death row may seem on the surface like nothing that Louis Theroux hasn’t covered already, you can count on Herzog to provide his own idiosyncratic take on the subject.

Let the Bullets Fly

The highest-grossing film in Chinese history is something of which we should all take notice, being that it is fast becoming one of the most important territories in terms of both film consumers and producers. But beyond that, it looks the business, with guns, gags and Chow Yun-Fat.

Shame

Those wishing to go on a Fassbender-bender are in luck with his Venice Film Festival-award winning performance as a sex addict in his new collaboration with Hunger director Steve McQueen. Though Hunger didn’t necessarily bowl me over quite as I expected it to do, I have high hopes for this (13th Jan)

Surprise Film

It’s always a gamble. 2007 and 2008 saw No Country For Old Men and The Wrestler, then when I finally bothered in 2009, I got Capitalism: A Love Story. Looking at the release calendar, there aren’t actually a lot of films beyond the LFF I’m desperate to see, but it’s worth a shot just to get overjoyed/angry about.

Take Shelter

Michael Shannon does ‘unhinged’ better than anybody at the moment, and the concept (man starts to have visions of an impending disaster) has the potential for some serious hinge AND bracket disruption. (11th Nov)

The others…

The Awakening – Dominic West and Rebecca Hall investigate bumps in the night in this period ghost story…The Other Devil’s Backbone? (11th Nov)

Coriolanus – Ralph Fiennes both calls and takes shots as director and star of this contemporary warzone update of Shakespeare’s play with the most Beavis and Butthead-baiting title. (20th Jan)

50/50 – Joseph Gordon-Levitt leads a pretty great cast in what promises to be the most hilarious cancer comedy of the season. (25th Nov)

I Wish (Kiseki) – Hirokazu Kore-eda (best known for Still Walking and Nobody Knows, but Air Doll‘s my favourite) returns with another tale of family matters.

Last Screening – everyone loves a film about cinema, and everyone loves a film about psychos, so mixing the two together, in this French offering about a projectionist cum murderer, should at least be entertaining.

Tales of the Night – it’s the Family Gala, so expect pushy parents forcing their children to go, pretending their kids aren’t into Beyblade or Digimon or whatever’s popular nowadays. But this fairytale anthology piece uses 3D to recreate a beautiful shadow puppet aesthetic, so I’ll let it slide.

This Must Be The Place – Sean Penn goes a bit kooky as a washed-up goth-tinged rock-star on a trip across the States to visit his dying father, plus added David Byrne on co-soundtrack duties.

Wild Bill – of all the smaller Brit-flicks on offer, the combination of Son of Rambow star Will Poulter and Babyface himself Dexter Fletcher writing and directing is an interesting one, even if it’s nothing original.