Film, Lists

Top 55 Films of 2011

I watched an ungodly amount of films in the cinema this year. Me and the silver screen are now close friends; we had some great times, we had some not so great times. But there’s nothing quite like losing yourself in a movie, surrendering to the world displayed before your eyes; whether I enjoyed each trip is a different question, however. So here I run down my favourite (followed by my least favourite) films released in the UK in 2011 – some of my choices may be considered questionable, others may be unheard of. Fuck you, this is what I liked. Enjoy.

(Click the titles to watch the trailer.)

55. The Green Hornet

Most people were disappointed when a Michel Gondry-directed superhero flick turned out not to be a dreamscape arthouser, but instead just a superhero flick. And it was a damn enjoyable one, with a tangible relationship between Seth Rogen’s Hornet and Jay Chou’s Kato forming the core.

‘You are blowing this guy completely out of proportion.’
I will blow this guy in any proportion I want! ‘

54. The Deep Blue Sea

No, it’s not the one about CGI sharks. Instead, this is a slow-burning post war drama, played out with much the same aplomb as a funeral march. But this wasn’t supposed to be flashy; the attention-holding central performances from Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston are the film’s cornerstones.

‘I did it for the Monet.’

53. The Tree Of Life

What the fuck is going on? I still can’t answer that question, but travelling through 1950s suburbia (and briefly stopping by the Cosmos) never felt so existentially affirming. And frustrating.

‘The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by. ‘

52. Wuthering Heights

Filmed in a boxy 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Wuthering Heights still managed to capture the generations-wide scope of the Yorkshire landscape, and the fortunes of those who dwelled there (or at least in Emily Bronte’s batshit novel).

‘You broke my heart. You killed me.’

51. Puss in Boots

Who thought a Shrek spin-off would turn out to be this fun? Carried by a truly touching relationship between Puss and Humpty Dumpty (yes, that’s right) and an unyielding sense of swashbuckling adventure, this cash cow actually has heart.

‘You know what they do to eggs in prison? I’ll tell you this: it ain’t over-easy! ‘

50. The Help

Emotionally manipulative but bolstered by impressive performances, it’s hard to pin too much contempt on this hopelessly uplifting picture.

‘Eat my shit.’

49. Horrible Bosses

Lightweight, but zips along thanks to its captivating cast and a script that keeps you second-guessing, despite its silly premise. A lot of fun.

‘You can’t win a marathon without putting some bandaids on your nipples! ‘

48. Inni

Artistically shot in vivid monochrome, a concert film capturing a band at the surreal height of their powers.

‘Did you start out playing this kind of music, or did you start out as a more regular-sounding band?’

47. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

This would probably be higher up, but David Fincher’s remake presses mainly the same buttons as the fantastic Swedish original – albeit with his glossy flair. Also, Daniel Craig’s non-existent accent is consistently jarring.

‘I want you to help me catch a killer of women. ‘

46. Limitless

Silly, but surprisingly well put-together. Bradley Cooper shows he can pull off the lead role.

 ‘I was blind, but now I see.’

45. Life in a Day (full movie!)

The world came together on 24th July last year to bring a collage of a single day in video form. Will bring tears to your eyes – an equal amount of happy and sad ones.

‘It’s the 24th July… it’s the best day ever!’

44. The Adjustment Bureau

An oddball mix of science-fiction, conspiracy thriller with a real romantic heart, its glorious goofiness is actually a pleasure.

‘We… are the people that make sure things happen according to plan. ‘

43. The Hangover: Part II

Most hated it, I laughed. Essentially a carbon copy of the original, there are still a few original gags in here that made me laugh more than I should. Plus, Zach Galifianakis’s Alan is a character that’ll go down in comedy history.

‘I do blow all night. Monkey jerk me off while I watch Stu make fuck with lady-boy.’

42. Contagion

Very realistic, very scary. Steven Soderbergh’s restrained yet stylised direction makes sure you’ll wash your hands. All the time.

‘Blogging is not writing. It’s just graffiti with punctuation. ‘

41. The Ides of March

H’wood legend Clooney squaring off against NKOTB Gosling in a political shitstorm, where motives and allegiances always require a second look. Stirring stuff.

‘All the reporters love you. Even the reporters that hate you still love you. ‘

40. Kung Fu Panda 2

The disarmingly emotional backbone of this inevitable sequel assures it’ll stand comfortably next to its ridiculously fun predecessor.

‘Ah. My old enemy… stairs! ‘

39. Foo Fighters: Back and Forth (full movie!)

Dave Grohl’s life has been an eventful one. Smartly letting the Nirvana years take a backseat to the Foos lifetime, this is a straight-told yet moving documentary of a much loved band.

‘Honestly, if I’d taken this whole career thing seriously I would’ve named it something else – ’cause it’s the worst fucking band name in the world. ‘

38. Super 8

JJ Abram’s love letter to Speilbergian 80s movies, the director managed to pull off his own compelling piece of science fiction / family drama.

‘Production Value!’

37. Snowtown

Uncompromising, explicit, chilling. ‘Australia’s worst serial killer’ is depicted on-screen with all the compelling vulgarity you’d expect from a subject so base and devoid of compassion. The performance I attended was met with a few walkouts; it was also met with many sighs of relief when the credits rolled. Evidently, our breath had been taken away for a full hour and a half.

‘You comin’, mate?’

36. Jane Eyre

Period piece? Boriiiiiiing. Wait a minute, this is actually good. Made great by Mia Wasikowska’s plain and dreamy Jane and Michael Fassbender’s wickedly charismatic yet troubled Rochester.

‘To marry you would kill me.’

35. Crazy, Stupid Love.

This one was a surprise. Amid the endless dirge of unbelievably bad rom coms, this wonderfully-written take on a relationship going foul is enlivened by great characters and an unaccounted-for sense of heart. A breath of fresh air.

‘ The skin under your eyes is starting to look like Hugh Hefner’s ball sack.’

34. Captain America: The First Avenger

Fuck you. This film was ridiculous fun – Chris Evans helped save CA from the bland character he is in the comics, and turn him into a hero you could really root for. Plus, it was Tommy Lee Jones’ first film since No Country for Old Men where he wasn’t wasted. Again, fuck you.

‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing?’
‘Yeah. I punched out Adolf Hitler 200 times.’

33. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Stratospherically lauded, this critic’s darling is a suave yet deep account of the lives of a group of cold war spies. The performances are reliably fantastic, but it’s Let the Right One In‘s Tomas Alfredson’s virtuoso direction which is the real star of the show.

‘There’s a mole, right at the top of the Circus. And he’s been there for years.’

32. Tucker & Dale vs Evil

What if you were a couple of rednecks, going for a relaxing vacation in your log cabin in the woods, when a group of college students begin accosting you because they think you’re murdering them slasher-flick style? Tucker & Dale… takes its single core joke and knocks out one fantastically gruesome gag and scare after the other.

‘He’s making her dig her own grave!’

31. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Though breezy on character, Spielberg’s Tintin is the definition of fun, fun, fun. That chase scene toward the end is superb.

We’ve got bad news. We’ve only got one bullet. ‘
‘What’s the good news?’ 
‘We’ve got one bullet. ‘

30. Fright Night

Yet another remake… but wait. This is blood-soaked brilliance. Colin Farrell makes for one memorable vamp.

‘That is a terrible vampire name. Jerry?’

29. Stake Land

Another vampire movie, but a world away from the semi-comic tone of Fright Night. This is a genuinely chilling indie flick, splicing The Road with blood-sucking psychopaths. Highly recommended.

‘I was like any other kid; I didn’t believe in the boogeyman. Then the world woke up to a nightmare.’

28. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Brad Bird’s first live-action outing since his work with Pixar (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) sees Tom Cruise back in the action saddle with the best MI in the series. Wildly enjoyable set pieces and a team of characters that actually work make sure the explosions never get ahead of the smarts and heart (I’m a poet and I definitely know it).

‘Why am I Pluto? It’s not even a planet anymore! ‘

27. Bridesmaids

Two hours of genuine laughs and pathos, this Kristen Wiig-driven comedy does a lot for females on film. Sincerely likeable and pretty much all-out hilarious.

‘We would like to invite you to no longer live with us.’

26. Hugo

Despite the awful trailer, genius (or rather, cine-us) Martin Scorcese brings us his first family film – and it’s about something that the marketing almost entirely omits. Hugo is a metaphorically layered ode to cinema itself.

‘I’d recognize the sound of a movie projector anywhere.”

25. Paul

That alien sure has a potty-mouth on him. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play a couple of ultra-nerds on an American sci-fi road trip, and happen to stumble upon Paul – the friendly extraterrestrial on the run from the FBI. Hilarious film references ensue.

‘This is America. Kidnapping a Christian is worse than harbouring a fugitive.’

24. True Grit

Overrated yet still packing a wallop, the revered Coen Brothers brought us a Western starring an inebriated Jeff Bridges as Rooster, the gun-slinging Dude who serves justice his own way.

‘Missed my shot?’

23. 50/50

Cancer? Comedy? Yes, they can be mixed, and to hilarious and touching effect.

‘No one wants to fuck me. I look like Voldemort.’

22. Dreams Of A Life

When Joyce Vincent’s body was discovered in 2006 after three years of decomposition, it sparked some disquieting questions: why didn’t anyone check on her? Do we really care about the people we profess to love? This talking heads-driven docu-drama is poignant and powerful.

‘You’d like to think that everyone’s got someone.’

21. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

This could’ve been disastrous. What were those CGI primates doing looking all moody in the trailer for? Thankfully, this prequel is sprinkled with the right amount of Planet of the Apes mythos, and is bolstered by a terrific performance-capture from Andy Serkis as the hairy protagonist Caesar.

‘No!’

20. Midnight in Paris

Wouldn’t it be great to have lived a few generations ago, when your favourite art was being forged? Woody Allen’s latest offers an insight into such a thing when Gil (Owen Wilson) finds himself in pre-war Paris, surrounded by his idols such as Ernest Hemingway and Ella Fitzgerald. Delivered with the correct levels of whimsy and character, this time-travelling dream picture is a feast for the culture-loving part of you.

‘Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present…’

19. The Inbetweeners Movie

Dick jokes and puke. After a poor third series (come on, admit it), the writing was back to its ballsy best for the lads’ trip to Malia. The funniest thing about The Inbetweeners is that you can always remember the same things happening to you – well, perhaps not all of them. Also includes one of the best dance scenes in film.

‘So smelling like an industrial accident in a Lynx factory and looking like the world’s shittest boyband, we hit the town.’

18. Thor

The comic-book movie got the Shakespearian treatment this year, when thesp Kenneth Brannagh took the reigns for one of Marvel’s mightiest heroes. What we got was a superhero flick on a literally cosmic scale: Norwegian myth and lots of explosions combined to make Thor the best comic adaptation of 2011. Bring on The Avengers.

‘Your ancestors called it magic… but you call it science.’

17. Submarine

The ‘indie’ causes much derision; you either love it for its self-assured quirkiness, or hate it for its smug pretence. Richard Ayoade’s debut was, fortunately, filled to the brim with teenage angst anecdotes, all of which are gleefully funny. Being a teenager in Wales must’ve been tough.

‘My mum gave a handjob to a mystic.’

16. Rabbit Hole

Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) have lost their son. Despite this tragic loss, the film never dwells on making you feel gloomy; instead, it’s virtue lies in its willingness to progress, so you can feel at least a fraction of the resolution that this heartbroken married couple attempt.

‘At some point, it becomes bearable. It turns into something that you can crawl out from under and… carry around like a brick in your pocket.’

15. Moneyball

Sports and statistics not your thing? How about the struggle of one man, going against the odds, to change the world of baseball forever? That sounds a bit more exciting, for sure. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill give the performances of their careers, buffered by Aaron Sorkin (of The Social Network fame) and his terrific screenplay.

‘There are rich teams and there are poor teams, then there’s fifty-feet of crap, and then there’s us.’

14. Never Let Me Go

Unrelentingly merciless. In a love story that’ll resonate with anyone who’s ever cared for someone else, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley’s turns as emotionally damaged but inherently good people (who have already accepted their awful, impending doom) are the cogs with which this depressing yet at times uplifting film works. Just when you think things will be okay, another terrible thing happens. This will kill you.

‘Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.’

13. The King’s Speech

Easily dismissed as Oscar fodder, Tom Hooper’s first feature got the entire academy chirping – and for good reason. Each exquisitely shot frame, every wonderfully crafted plot point only helps but buttress Colin Firth’s commanding performance as the reluctant king. Though still not quite as good as most people would have you believe, that last segment set to the second movement of Beethoven’s fourth symphony is pretty much as awe-inspiring as cinema gets.

‘Fuckity, shit, shit, fuck and willy. Willy, shit and fuck and… tits.’

12. A Seperation

Beginning deceptively as a simple break-up dramedy before transforming into something a whole lot more psychologically complex, this small Iranian film made big waves in 2011 – and for very good reason.

‘Didn’t you say it’s not serious?’
‘It got serious.’ 

11. Take Shelter

Chilling. That’s the one word to describe this family drama which also acts as a smart horror; images of impending storms, intense paranoia and dreams of ominous events happening to the central character litter the movie. Thankfully, it all boils down to the struggle of one man facing something much bigger than himself.

‘There… is a storm coming!’

10. Senna

The best documentary of 2011 hands-down, this superbly crafted film will get your blood pumping whether you’re a Formula 1 fan or not. Charting the life of the passionate, enigmatic Ayrton Senna, the driver who won the heart of his native Brazil and became a racing champion the world over. The unflinching real-life footage of his demise astounded viewers, and provided us with a doc that portrayed a people’s hero in all aspects, including his end.

‘Ayrton ran out of luck.’

9. Drive

Of course this is in the top ten. Since breaking out with his Pusher trilogy back in 1996, Nicolas Winding Refyn went on to dazzle everybody with his neo-noir tarantino-bloodbath real-hero-for-hire picture. Supplanting typical LA gritty reality with a fairy tale code, Ryan Gosling’s super-stylish nameless Driver is a character who rains fury down on any who threaten his loved ones in an ultra-violent manner. We’ll be seeing a lot more of the Gosling-Refyn pairing in the future.

‘I give you a five-minute window; anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours, no matter what. I don’t sit in while you’re running it down, I don’t carry a gun… I drive.’

8. Warrior

Widely overlooked upon release, this is the film The Fighter should’ve been. Making you truly care about the characters and what they’re (literally) fighting for is a rare feat, and by the time we get to the final showdown, you wouldn’t be blamed for getting to your feet and shouting at the screen. But please don’t do that, other people probably wouldn’t appreciate it.

‘I think I liked you better when you were a drunk.’

7. X-Men: First Class

You know I said Thor was the best comic book movie this year? I was lying to you. That’s a good plot twist, where’s my Pulitzer? This movie took the first three X-Men films and destroyed them in terms of character, story and spectacle; who could want anything else but to see Magneto lift a goddamn nuclear submarine out of the sea? Also includes the best cameo of 2011.

‘Go fuck yourself.’

6. Rango

The best animation to grace our screens yet, this crazy tale follows a lonely Johnny Depp voiced reptile who finds purpose in a Wild West town. While the references were a bit heavy for some, this was marketed as a kids movie: instead, it was a Western with the genre’s best conventions at heart, with existential dread as the undercurrent.

‘One time I coughed up an entire tribe of pygmies. They started lookin’ at me funny.’

5. The Artist

Why do we need this film in this day and age? Huge transforming robots hitting each other, that’s why. Playing with cinematic conventions we’re so used to is the draw of The Artist: the absolute charm and heart of the picture is the staying power. Endlessly clever and overflowing with insanely good performances, I’m glad I live in a universe where someone had the balls to make something like this in 2011.

‘With pleasure.’

4. We Need to Talk About Kevin

Lynne Ramsay’s latest masterwork is a narratively fractured window on the life of Eva (Tilda Swinton), whose own son appears to be the spawn of Satan. While there’s no literal demonic goings-on, this is a horror film all the same; turned out with the same psychologically complex nature of an arthouse but with all the compulsion to watch of a mainstream thriller, this will equally move and shock you right up until the heart-stopping denouement.

‘Hey, Kev. Listen buddy, it’s easy to misunderstand something when you hear it out of context.’
‘Why would I not understand the context? I am the context.’

3. 127 Hours

Danny Boyle is the best maker of feel-good films working today. His pop-art, quick edit style was a weird initial pairing for Aron Ralston’s long, long weekend. To watch Ralston (played by a fantastic James Franco) coming round to be a real human being, trapped in that canyon, is a life-affirming thing: even more so when you have Sigur Rós’ ‘Festival’ blaring out over the arduous, show-stopping last few minutes.

‘This rock has been waiting for me my entire life.’

2. Source Code

Thanks to the success of Inception last year, blockbusters have been given a bit of freedom to actually make the audience think. Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) has to relive the last eight minutes of another man’s life in order to save a terrorist attack. This high-brow concept is never condescending; instead it’s pure adrenalin-packed fun, leaving you second-guessing at every ridiculous turn. But Source Code‘s real triumph was director Duncan Jones (famous for Moon) knack for adding emotion to his sci-fi flick – we actually cared every time Colter went back. It’s exciting to see where he’ll go next.

‘Everything’s gonna be okay.’

1. The Skin I Live In

And so, we arrive at my favourite film of 2011. Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s latest is at once a grisly horror, a psychological thriller and an acute family drama. Thanks to its flashbacks and staggered act structure, we get something uniquely compelling – and weirdly, moving. Instead of using its unbelievably horrifying plot point as a sudden, tacky twist, Almodóvar gives us a slow reveal: you dread what’s coming, but can’t quite believe it’ll pan out the way your subconscious thinks it will. I actually almost walked out of the theatre because of this – but I stayed. Thankfully I stayed seated, because that’s what the best films do: they take us somewhere we’ve never been before. Pure fucking cinema.

‘The things the love of a mad man can do.’

About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Top 55 Films of 2011

  1. Very good list, but missing Bridesmaids 🙂

    Posted by Emma | January 23, 2012, 6:21 pm

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