What originally started out as a simple list of my personal top 10 films of 2011 soon escalated and expanded into a top 30. Truth be told it could well have gone beyond that as 2011 has been a great year for movies in my eyes with a whole host of very different but equally fantastic films hitting the big screen. From action thrillers, to heart-breaking drama and eye-opening documentaries, there really has been a great array of movies to choose from.
I look forward to hearing where you all agree and disagree, though I imagine it will be mainly the latter rather than the former.
To start things off with, here’s the movies I ranked 30-16.
30:/ Never Let me Go: Bleak and depressing in the extreme, this chilling dystopian vision of the future is a truly haunting experience. The story is set in a small-town Britain, all rolling hills and country houses, yet the exact time period is left deliberately vague. Events revolve around the lives of three friends who meet at a strange private school and begin to form a strained love triangle. As more pieces of the puzzle are provided, it becomes clear that the School is withholding a shocking secret. I almost don’t want to say too much more about the plot as its better if you can experience the film with as little prior knowledge as possible. Obviously if you’ve already read the Kazuo Ishiguro novel then you are already in the know regarding the film’s plot but if you are completely unaware it can hit you pretty hard. Let’s just say these seemingly bright young things don’t have the bright future ahead of them they may have hoped for. The film touches on love, friendship, mortality and what it truly means to be alive. It’s a tough watch but still strangely compelling.
29:/ We Need to Talk About Kevin: Will do for having kids what Jaws did for the seaside. Lynne Ramsay’s nightmarish vision of parenthood is a moody and atmospheric piece which chronicles one mother’s struggle to forge a bond with her son. As despairing mum Eva, Tilda Swinton captures the sense of desperation and frustration superbly and young Ezra Miller is suitably menacing as the devilish Kevin. The film is told predominantly in flashback as we look back at how Eva struggles to connect with her son and slowly comes to believe that Kevin is deliberately setting out to cause her pain and misery. We see a young Kevin refusing to toilet train and damaging his mother’s things. Then later there’s an incident with his younger sister and some cleaning fluid which appears to confirm Eva’s worst fears. The evidence begins to mount up and the film slowly drives towards a horrifying conclusion which is slowly revealed via little snippets throughout the movie. When the full extent of Kevin’s evil is revealed though it really is a shocker.
28:/ Rise of the Planet of the Apes: One of the finest Hollywood blockbusters of the year and a real unexpected treat. Not a whole lot was expected from this Planet of the Apes reboot, yet it received widespread critical acclaim and was a smash hit at the box office. ROTPOTA benefits from strong central performances from both Andy Serkis as top chimp Caesar and James Franco as pioneering scientist Will Rodman. Serkis in particular deserves great praise for once again leading the way when it comes to motion-capture technology. The plot revolves around Caesar’s time in captivity and his rapidly developing intelligence and growing desire to escape captivity. Director Rupert Wyatt does a great job of keeping you engrossed throughout and on this evidence is clearly going to be one to watch out for in the coming years. The film’s special effects deserve a lot of credit too with the climactic attack sequence set on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge being particularly well executed. There are few things more exciting than seeing a Gorilla hurl itself at a helicopter, as I’m sure we can all agree.
27:/ The Tree of Life: Terence Malick’s latest offering was not universally loved upon its release and granted, it is perhaps a touch on the pretentious side for some. There is something about Tree of Life though that really lingers with you long after it has finished. The great breadth of story which Malick attempts to cover is admirable taking in as he does the formation of life on earth itself en route to modern times. The central story thread revolves around a typical small town family in 1950’s America and the experiences of their children as they grow up and begin to try and understand the world around them. As one would expect of Malick the film looks gorgeous and contains some really visually impressive shots. The reclusive director also creates a genuine sense of mood and the sense of wonderment connected with childhood that few other films can muster. It can get a little too self-indulgent at times, but there’s still much to enjoy here.
26:/ The Fighter: Arguably the finest boxing movie since Raging Bull, The Fighter combines visceral fight scenes with intense family drama in this retelling of the rise to prominence of boxing legend ‘Irish’ Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). Filmed on location in working class Lowell Massachusetts, the film has a great authenticity to it which is helped in no small part by a strong cast each putting in magnificent performances. Amy Adams is great as Micky’s girlfriend Charlene and Melissa Leo likewise as matriarch Alice. Mark Wahlberg looks every bit the brooding pugilist and Christian Bale is just superb as Micky’s drug-addict brother Dicky Eklund and fully deserved his best supporting actor Oscar. A gritty and inspiring story that may touch on the odd predictable underdog sporting movie cliché at times but it gets away with it thanks to the simple fact that it’s all true!
25:/ Bridesmaids: Far from being just a Judd Apatow comedy for the ladies, Bridesmaids is a genuinely funny and well-written movie that just so happens to star women. Any men who were put off seeing the movie as they felt it would be aimed solely at femmes, most definitely missed out. Writer and star Kristen Wiig is one of the hottest comic properties in America right now thanks to Bridesmaids and quite rightly too. Wiig’s Annie is a loveable 30-something who is down on her luck after losing her job and apartment and is dealt a further blow when her best friend Lillian announces she’s getting married. After being asked by Lillian to be her maid of honour, Annie keeps getting upstaged by the pretty and perfect Helen, a new friend of Lillian’s, and she struggles to keep everything together. Some scenes such as the disastrous aborted flight to Vegas and Annie and Helen’s competing engagement toasts are pure gold and it’s no surprise that this is the highest grossing Apatow film yet.
Harrowing and unrelentingly bleak. That’s the honest description of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s movie and yet as depressing as it may be, it is still an incredibly captivating film. Javier Bardem is outstanding as Uxbal, a single father who is entwined in the dingy criminal underworld of Barcelona. The standard tourist vision of Barcelona is nowhere to be found as the director shows us the grim backstreets and seedy alleys where crime and poverty are rife. Uxbal works as a go-between and fixer for various underworld gangs and shady characters. He also has a supernatural gift that allows him to speak to the nearly dead, a burden that lies heavily on his conscience.When he finds out that he has cancer and only a short time left to live, he sets out to get his business in order. Bardem gives a truly special performance and creates a character wracked with guilt and struggling to do the right thing both for his children and with his estranged bipolar wife. Powerful stuff, but make sure you watch something funny afterwards though, else you may spiral intro a pit of depression yourself.
23:/ Midnight in Paris: One of Woody Allen’s finest films in years, Midnight in Paris is a sweet and heartfelt romantic comedy set in a picture postcard Paris. Screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson) is struggling to finish his first novel and wallows in nostalgia for bygone eras of artistic creativity. One night when out walking the Paris streets he is met by an old car filled with strange characters in 1920’s dress. It then emerges that he has somehow gone back in time to a golden age of writing and is mixing with literary greats such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. When he gets back to his own time, Gil begins to question his relationship with long-term fiancée Inez as he begins to realise they want increasingly different things from their lives. The movie is also love letter to Paris and the magical romantic properties of the city are highlighted beautifully. It’s a funny and poignant film and the supernatural aspect really adds a lot to the finished article. Woody back to his very best.
22:/ The Inbetweeners Movie: I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. Film adaptations from TV series have a decidedly chequered past and I wasn’t sure the Inbetweeners TV formula would translate to a feature length film. Luckily though I was proved very wrong and the movie was not only packed with laughs but also the odd touching moment as well as the four friends realise their carefree school days are now at an end. The plot sees our intrepid heroes venture off to Crete on a lad’s holiday and inevitably there’s plenty of debauchery along the way. The humour will not be to everybody’s taste and if you didn’t like the TV series, you’re not going to find much to enjoy here. If you do like the TV series though, you will be in hysterics at moments like when the boys decide to dance their way over to some unsuspecting young ladies in a seedy bar. As Jay noted, “This girl’s so wet for me I can hear the waves breaking in her fanny.”
21:/ X-Men: First Class: In a year full of superhero movies that ranged wildly in quality, Matthew Vaughan’s X-Men First Class stood out as a breath of fresh air. The movie is an origin story which relocates the action to the X-Men’s formation in 1960’s America. Set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the winning combination of Cold War politics and Superhero fantasy is well handled by the Kick-Ass director. First Class revolves around the relationship between its two central characters, James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr (aka Magneto). Both actors are powerful presences and really capture the differing outlooks their characters espouse. The film’s plot, which focuses on the X-Men’s formation and their role in stopping nuclear conflict during the Cold War, is both clever and well written and the special effects are extremely effective to boot. For me this just edges out Captain America as my Comic-Book movie of the year.
20:/ Armadillo: This little known documentary follows a group of Danish soldiers who are posted to the front line in Afghanistan. We see the group saying goodbye to their loved ones and then arriving at Armadillo, their base camp, in the Helmand Province. From then we follow them out on patrol as they come into contact with Taliban resistance fighters. The filmmakers get right up to close to the conflict and the movie never shies away from depicting the terror of war. One stand out sequence which caused controversy back in their native Denmark shows some of the soldiers seemingly breaking the rules of engagement and illegally killing enemy soldiers. The film really does delve into the psychological impact that war can have on young men and it is noticeable how different the fresh faced boys are at the beginning of the movie to the battle-hardened men at its end. Armadillo is an eye-opening documentary with some especially powerful moments.
19:/ Melancholia: Lars Von Trier’s latest movie was a memorable and visually striking movie that is half tragic family drama and half apocalyptic science-fiction. The first half focuses on the wedding of troubled Justine (Kirsten Dunst) who is seemingly losing her ongoing battle with depression and sabotages her special day at very turn. It’s the second half where the film comes into its own however as a now severely depressed Justine returns to the location of her failed nuptials, her sister Claire’s luscious countryside mansion. It then emerges that a rogue planet called Melancholia could well be on a collision course with earth and Von Trier ratchets up the tension as we experience the increasing fear which surrounds Claire and her family. It’s no spoiler to say that the planet does indeed plough into the earth , this is shown at the films outset, and the contrast between Justine’s serenely calm acceptance of the inevitable compared to Claire’s blind panic is telling. Von Trier was seeking to show that in times of disaster, people with depression are actually the calmest heads and Dunst puts in a wonderful performance in the lead role. As the planet closes in, it’s a genuinely nerve wracking experience.
18:/ Inside Job: Director Charles Ferguson turns his attention to the causes and effects of the late-2000’s financial crisis in this powerful and passionate documentary that will truly get your blood boiling. The film is truly eye opening as the true scale of the corruption and malpractice which engulfs the banking sector is laid bare. When the facts are presented in the cold hard light of day it is a sobering experience for any right minded viewer. The presence of Matt Damon as narrator adds some star power to proceedings but really this is a documentary which speaks for itself. Smart, passionate and informative, what more can you ask from a documentary?
17:/ 127 Hours: Much like other 2011 Oscar big hitters The King’s Speech and Black Swan, it’s easy to forget that 127 Hours actually came out this calendar year. Danny Boyle’s tense drama centres on the real life experiences of dare-devil climber Aron Ralston who spent 127 hours stuck in a remote canyon’s crevice with his arm trapped under a boulder. Played superbly by James Franco, Ralston’s ordeal is a triumph of human will but also a story of redemption and learning to fully embrace life. A film focusing purely a man trapped in a small crevice may not sound particularly entertaining but thanks to Boyle’s direction and Franco’s magnetic charisma, you find yourself gripped throughout. There are of course some gut-wrenching scenes which are difficult to watch. I don’t think it’s spoiling the film to say that Aron is ultimately forced to carve off his own arm in order to escape and this scene is shown in very graphic detail. The intensity of the scene though is something that stays with you and will really get you thinking as to whether you’d be able to do likewise if such a fate befell you.
16:/ Hugo: Martin Scorsese is not the most likely candidate for a heart-warming family friendly film but sure enough the master proves he can turn his hand to pretty much any genre he wishes. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphaned boy who lives in the walls and clocks of a grand Parisian station. His late father leaves him a half-finished automaton and Hugo resorts to stealing from a toy shop owner in the station to finish the contraption. The shop owner turns out to be legendary silent film maker Georges Meilies (Sir Ben Kingsley) who has fallen on old times and remains forgotten and unappreciated in his own time. Hugo and Georges’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), become friends and seek to restore the long forgotten master to his former glory. Visually the film is incredibly striking with Scorsese producing one of the most effective 3D films to date. The shots of the bustling train station especially have exceptional depth and detail to soak in. The director has a deep love of silent and early cinema and this movie is definitely a personal labour of love for Marty who delivers a charming and captivating family movie which seeks to remind us of the magic of cinema.