2011 didn’t produce an overwhelming number of truely great films, but ironically it did feature the best film I’ve ever seen at the cinema in 24 years. Having said that, compiling a top 10 was still difficult, and here are some notable titles which just missed out on the final cut:
X-Men: First Class
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
Cowboys And Aliens
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn
However, here’s my list of the year’s best that I saw:
#10: A Lonely Place To Die
A small-scale thriller that I missed at the cinema but thankfully caught on DVD, A Lonely Place To Die manages to be thrilling, daring, exciting but never clichéd and has a terrific turning point at the end of it’s first act to set up the superb 70 minutes which then follow. Most thrillers these days don’t thrill me, but this one did and that’s why it makes the top 10 list.
#9: Meek’s Cutoff
Forget the over-hyped True Grit, this small budget revisionist Western was the best of its genre of the year. More of a study of the age than having any discernible plot, this film strikes the viewer from the very first frame due to it being shot in 1.33 ratio. Director Kelly Reichardt chooses not to show us the wide, sweeping landscapes that help define the genre, but instead keeps the scenes boxed in (literally with 1.33) and tight and wholly focused on the characters. It is a film any fan of the Western should see. Just don’t expect any action…
#8: The Ides Of March
Actor/director George Clooney creates a political pressure-cooker in a tale of lies, betrayal, deceit and power in this masterful film. Ryan Gosling showed his star power and the making of the ‘next big thing’ in 2011 in four very different roles alongside Drive, Blue Valentine, and Crazy, Stupid Love and held his own against acting talents such as Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Maria Tomei, and Clooney himself. Gosling should get a Best Actor nomination at next year’s Oscars, and the film should be one of the 10 nominations for Best Film. It really is that good.
#7: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
The only big budget ‘popcorn picture’ which makes the list sees Tom Cruise reprise his role as super spy Ethan Hunt in what I called “this year’s best action picture and delivers everything you could ask from a non-stop, thrill-ride of a blockbuster.” The brilliance of Brad Bird’s vision for an action blockbuster combined with Cruise’s magnetism made this the perfect film to thrill audiences in 2011. And having now seen it twice, it’s just as good the second time around!
Here’s my verdict in full from when I saw it at the IMAX on December 21st.
#6: The Skin I Live In
Upon seeing the film back in August I said“The Skin I Live In is a rare film in which it belongs to no one particular genre yet remains as an excellent film throughout” and I still stand by that. Director Pedro Almodóvar creates modern Frankenstein with sexual and psychological themes running throughout the film, making it a film which lasts long in the memory for its invention and philosophy as it does for its execution and enjoyment. The colours are vibrant, the frame always filled with detail, the camera movements are precise and patient yet he knows how to increase the tension when those scenes are needs. This one was fine film making at the highest level.
Here’s my original review from August 29th.
#5: Source Code
A science fiction film with brains is always welcome, and Duncan Jones’s follow up to the excellent Moon (another sci-fi with brains) was destined to be in my top 10 even when I saw it back in early April. At only 93 minutes, the film, like it’s storyline, makes every second count and never lets up for a moment yet strikes the crucial balance of allowing the viewer time to understand and accept the world in which it takes place. Although not an instant genre classic like Minority Report or The Matrix, Source Code is a film which I think will gain notoriety and further praise as the years go by. Cruelly overlooked at the box office, it deserves to be recognised.
Lars Von Trier’s digitally filmed tale of the end of the world is as far removed from a Roland Emmerich-type picture as you can get, but the result is one of the year’s most interesting films. Kirsten Dunst is at a career-best here in a film which tackles lonliness, depression and melancholy as a planet called Melancholia hurtles head-on towards Earth. The open few minutes of super-slow motion footage shows how the technique and technology can be very effective when done and used properly. It remains one of the best sequences of 2011.
#3: Midnight In Paris
Woody Allen. A name synonymous with quality and comedic brilliance, and one of my very favourite film makers. So with that, I am very happy to place his 2011 entry, Midnight In Paris, at number three of the year’s best films. His joyful script marries his wit and neurotic humour with his love of the 1920s and the brilliant artist which came out of the era. This is Allen at his near-best and will only get better with repeated viewings; I should know as I’ve now seen it twice.
Here is my original review from October 16th.
The best of Ryan Gosling’s four films from 2011 was a near modern masterpiece. It is a cool, slick tale of a stunt driver who is prone to some über violent outbursts when you proke his loved ones. Not without its flaws, Drive remains easily the second best film of 2011, but still a million miles away from my number one choice…
Here is my extensive review from when I saw it on September 24th
#1: The Tree Of Life
Terrence Malick’s filmmaking is on another level that perhaps no other director, living or dead, can equal. The Tree Of Life is so far removed in its sheer brilliance it is almost unfair to compare it to another film of the year. Nothing can compete, nothing even stood a chance. It is, as I said when I first saw it, flawless cinema. A perfect 10.
Here is my praise of this masterpiece in full.