As you’ve probably noticed, 2011 is over and we’re heading forth on a new year of film discovery. It’s this transitional period when everyone likes to look back at what has been released over the last 12 months and try and figure out what was the best of the bunch and we here at Blueprint: Review are no different.
I asked all of our writers to send me their lists of the 10 films they most loved from 2011 and below are all of those that I received. The dates can get hazy as some readers and writers live in different countries or catch early screenings of films at festivals, but I’m open to interpretation. So long as you can come up with an excuse to why you’re classing it as a 2011 film then I’m ok with that.
As always let us know your thoughts in the comments section and feel free to include your own top 10.
10 – The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
I say ‘up yours’ to all the naysayers, I really enjoyed Tintin. Who needs rich characters or a finely crafted mystery when you’ve got such a fun and immensely likeable mix of old fashioned adventure and gloriously extravagant set-pieces.
9 – Drive
So much has been written about this and again it had its detractors, but although it lost me in moments, overall this was a masterclass in fusing the generic with the artistic. It may be a case of style over substance, but when it’s this stylish and this damn cinematic I don’t care.
7 – True Grit
The Coen brothers rarely put a foot wrong and this is another solid addition to their canon. It didn’t grab me like some of their other films and is more classic in approach than their quirkier offerings, but it’s still a vastly entertaining and finely crafted western.
6 – Senna
I’ve not seen many documentaries this year, but this one helped make up the gap. By avoiding talking heads and focussing on only a few elements of his life, it’s very much going for the narrative led ‘cinematic’ approach to documentary and does so brilliantly. An emotionally powerful and intensely dramatic portrait of an F1 legend.
5 – Blue Valentine
Yes I know, you Americans and Canadians all saw this (and True Grit) last year, but I couldn’t skip it just because it came out in the ‘grey area’. It’s beautifully performed and utterly devastating (if overly so at times). Not a fun watch, but powerful nonetheless.
4 – Snowtown
This is a film that has had some decent reviews here and there, but not nearly enough love as it deserves. That’s not all that surprising though being as the film is incredibly tough to watch. It’s not graphically violent as such (other than one or two horrific scenes), it’s just relentlessly grim. It’s also stunningly well constructed though and the power it achieves through restraint is incredible.
3 – Kill List
After the low key, ‘rough around the edges’ but otherwise great Down Terrace, Ben Wheatley upped his game for his sophomore effort, delivering an incredibly tense experience like no other, mixing kitchen sink drama with classic British horror. He even proved he could pull off action set-pieces with the terrifying climactic sewer chase, which felt a bit out of place but could be excused because it was so damn good.
2 – Poetry
I had no plans to see this exceptional film from Lee Chang-Dong originally. I only went because the group I was with wanted to watch Tree of Life which I’d already seen that week, so I went for something else. I’m so glad I did though, because Poetry was the most beautifully poignant and subtly heartbreaking film I saw all year, if not further.
1 – 13 Assassins
My cinema experience in watching 13 Assassins was a bit of a shambles. The small cinema I attended showed quite a beaten-up print and wedged an interval at the worst possible moment. However this was a film that was pretty much made for me. I love samurai movies and this encapsulated pretty much everything I love about them and more. It’s all slow burn for the first two thirds but done exceptionally well with some great cinematography and a tension building ‘assembling the team’ vibe that I loved. Then all hell breaks loose and my jaw hit the floor as I was treated to 45 minutes of ultra-violent, over the top, but stunning carnage of the highest order. It may lack the finesse of some of the other films on my list, but no other film plastered as big a smile on my face this year as 13 Assassins, so I couldn’t keep it from the top spot.
Honorable Mentions: Hobo With a Shotgun, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Super 8, Black Swan, Meek’s Cutoff, Stake Land, 50/50, Harold’s Going Stiff
Haven’t Got Round to Watching Yet (or they haven’t been released in the UK): Hugo, We Need to Talk About Kevin, A Separation, The Artist, The Descendants, Shame, Tyrannosaur, The Skin I Live In, The Interrupters, Melancholia, Project Nim, Moneyball, The Raid…
5 – Rise of the Planet of the Apes
4 – Never Let Me Go
3 – Senna
2 – Thor
1 – True Grit
10 – 13 Assassins
Miike Takashi’s violent riff on Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” is an exceptional testament to classical Jidai-Geki Asian cinema. Miike uses the political instability of Feudal Japanese history as a backdrop to an extraordinarily staged assassination of a sadistic warlord and his large cohort of bodyguards. Unlike Kurosawa, Miike purposefully sacrifices characterisation in favour of pure suspense and action, and the resulting film is the most intense, exhilarating and bloodily visceral film of the year, with an eloquently melancholic undertone to boot.
9 – Incendies
This French-Canadian mystery was one of two superior Middle Eastern treatises in cinema this year, the other being the provocative morality piece “A Separation”. What elevated this film for me, aside from the intrigue and stark treatment of the socio-political backdrop of the story, was the boldness of the final revelation: a catharsis that lifted the whole endeavour into the lofty realms of classical Tragedy, especially in relation to Ancient Greek drama. A superbly executed dramatic mystery and a stunning metaphor for the generational turmoil and familial destruction the political climate of the Middle East is wreaking upon its people.
8 – Drive
One of by far the best directed films of the year, Nicholas Winding Refn takes a taut, stripped-down narrative and creates an ultra-violent, ultra-stylish Getaway Driver Exploitation film par excellence: it is hard to imagine any better foray into the subgenre. Boasting subdued and tough performances, a gritty and unflinching screenplay, and the best soundtrack of the year, Refn’s thriller is by turns bloodily beautiful, visually expressionistic, morally troubling, terrifyingly uncomfortable, unnervingly tense and hauntingly tender: and the set-pieces are uniformly masterful.
7 – The Skin I Live In
A typically bravura and boldly dangerous work from the Spanish maestro, Almodovar’s trademark concerns with unconventional sexuality, labyrinthine narratives and twisted morals are inflected with highly idiosyncratic treatments of the science-fiction and horror genres. Almodovar uses colour, flashbacks and subtle mise-en-scene to produce an aesthetically beautiful piece about familial horror, dark desire and the warped nature of identity when an individual is pushed to traumatic emotional extremes. Even by Almodovar’s standards, this is absorbing, complex, shocking and surprising.
6 – Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky’s latest is far more than a companion piece to “The Wrestler” concerning the psychological dangers of intense commitment to physical performance. Powered and centred by a startlingly courageous and dedicated performance from Natalie Portman, Aronofsky and his crew take inspiration from the hyperbolic theatricality of their balletic subject and use this to craft a stunningly choreographed and photographed body-horror opus textured by Freudian metaphors and impressionistic flights of fantasy. This may well be the director’s best film, combining the trippy visuals of his early work with the depth of character that has emerged in his more recent films.
5 – We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay makes an auspicious return to filmmaking after years in the wilderness of development with a bravura expressionistic masterpiece, as exemplary in its use of colour, music and slow motion as it is in its relentless and honest presentation of deeply troubling emotional issues. Tilda Swinton gives a nuanced and tortured performance as a mother whose selfish, unloving upbringing of her son may have sown the seeds of his psychotic acts, and Ezra Miller is as brilliant in creepily suggesting that maybe Kevin was simply born evil. That the conclusion, an act of repentance for both, is so moving and empathetic is a tribute to how complex the piece truly is
4 – Tyrannosaur
Paddy Considine’s directorial debut is in tone heavily akin to his acting style: brutal, raw, tough and uncompromising with deeply moving flashes of redemptive goodness. Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman, giving the performance of the year, are troubled souls struggling with deep-rooted torments, who find in each other a delicate yet tender spiritual connection which gives them the strength to survive their mutual existences. The film is grim and disturbing, and immensely difficult to watch, but it might just be the most powerful piece of drama this year, and the conclusion manages to be movingly uplifting as well as unsettling and unexpected. A triumphant addition to the rich British cinematic tradition of social realism.
3 – Hugo
The enduring genius of Martin Scorsese is that unlike the other giants of his generation he is still producing magnificent and cutting-edge work, in this instance rethinking the very grammar of cinema to prove that certain specific works can provide the basis for truly artistic use of 3D in film. The colourful fantasy design of the film is jaw-dropping and bright enough to compensate for loss of light through 3D lenses, and the shot composition makes dynamic and original use of both the positive and negative space. Yet for all the technical brilliance on display, this is a moving and engrossing children’s fable and a celebration of the pioneering wizardry of early cinema which is, in every sense of word, magical.
2 – The Artist
An incredibly fitting companion piece to “Hugo” in the way it also takes a considered and energetic approach to film form to celebrate the early masterpieces of the art, this stands out as the most joyous and wonderfully entertaining film of the year. It is a subtle and richly detailed masterpiece: superbly acted and highly visually inventive, which is funny without resorting to broad slapstick, and moving without the use of hyperbolic melodrama, relying instead upon naturalism and intricate choreography of gesture and expression. The story is a resonant fable of the rise to power and fall from grace of a flawed yet charismatic star and a resplendent testament to the power of the visual image, supplemented by a glorious musical score.
1 – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
This exquisite, immensely fine adaptation of John Le Carre’s magnum opus has at its heart a remarkable screenplay by Bridget O Connor and Peter Straughan, who succeed in both restructuring and distilling the novel’s labyrinthine plot without compromising on suspense, density or intrigue, and in teasing out the central themes of the story. The result is an eloquent and sorrowful elegy to the deterioration of the British Establishment during the Cold War: the resilience and fortitude our society displayed in WW2 having been replaced by distrust, malaise, secrecy and betrayal. Thomas Alfredson’s direction strengthens the clandestine tone and immaculate period detail of the piece through purely visual means, with his controlled camera seeming to float through smoke-filled offices, grotesque domestic chambers of grim greys and mooted colours, and crumbling decrepit ante-rooms of a corrupted secret service. Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy lead an exceptional cast of character actors giving subtle and repressed performances perfectly in key with the style of the work. An extraordinary adaptation and an ambitiously magisterial British film.
Honorable Mentions: A SEPARATION, THE GUARD, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, SENNA,
Haven’t Got Round to Watching Yet: MISS BALA, SLEEPING BEAUTY, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, THE HELP, CONTAGION,
10 – The Descendants
Writer/director Alexander Payne is at the top of his game as one of the best at seamlessly moving from the heartbreaking to the hilarious. Clooney gives one of his best performances and newcomer Shailene Woodley breaks out as an up and coming star.
9 – The Guard
So glad I was able to catch this one. The Guard’s plot is fun to figure out, and the films finale is enjoyably and unexpected, but the real joy is watching Bredan Gleeson own the screen.
8 – Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Easily the best action film of 2011 and the best film of the Mission Impossible series. My Tom Cruise crush soars as his talent rises to the top of the world’s tallest building in one of the most spectacular action sequences you’ll ever see.
7 – Midnight in Paris
I’m not a die hard Woody Allen film but “Midnight in Paris” is a whimsical treat for the moviegoer. So delightful and funny in it’s celebration towards life, you can’t help but fall in love with the film.
6 – Drive
The Coolest film of the year that most of you didn’t see. Stylistically bold and very confident, Director Nicolas Winding Refn balances a subtle 80’s synth romance wonderland with shocking violence without ever letting it get silly while Ryan Gosling pulls off dreamy psychotic.
5 – Hugo
Martin Scorcese’s first foray into the family film genre Hugo” is not only my fifth best film of the year but is easily the best family film I’ve seen in this young century. A fantastic film that shows a deep love for film itself. Even tough guys need to see this one.
4 – Take Shelter
Jeff Nichols’ “Take Shelter” is terrifying in an all too real sort of way. Michael Shannon gives the best performance of 2011 of a man afraid he’ going insane while having contentment at his feet, spiraling downward with his family at risk. Take Shelter has a powerful ending that will have you talking.
3 – The Artist
A black and while film that also happens to be a silent one, and it works? You bet it does, enough to leave you speechless. My pick for best director of the year, Michel Hazanavicius’, makes The Artist a fantastic film achievement.
2 – Warrior
Cliche in so many ways but I fell for every single one of them. Warrior is a gut wrenching film with tremendous performances from Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte. Warrior made me cry like a baby and is the best sports film I ever seen.
1 – Bellflower
I’m not making the 304th grossing film of the year my number one film to look cool. Bellflower is my number one because I haven’t been challenged from a movie like this since Fight Club. Brutally gorgeous, visually all it’s own, and impossible to classify or define, writer/director/star Evan Glodell has created a landmark in American cinema. GO SEE IT!!!
Top 8 (in alphabetical order)
The Dead Inside
IP Man 2
The Perfect Host
Honorable Mentions: Colombiana, The Killer Elite, Drive, Faster, Drive Angry
10 – Hugo
Blown away by the sets, design, colour and general world created by the film. Also it’s a film that shifts what it’s about and whose story it is, normally when that happens something’s gone wrong but this was deliberate and nicely done by Scorsese – shows his skill and puts the film ahead of a lot of others.
9 – Page 8
This film had no violence, no chase scenes, no sex scenes, no fights, no scary moments and yet I was in the story the whole way through and appreciated the neat ending – must be clever writing.
8 – Attack the Block
Funny, scary and possibly a sub-genre first? Plus you come out of the cinema speaking street – what could be better?
7 – King of Devil’s Island
Surprisingly engaging and moving Norwegian film that manages to make its characters, even the bad guys, somehow deeper than black and white and therefore keeps you guessing even though the ending is fairly conventional after all.
6 – 127 Hours
Making a watch-able story about a guy who sits in a hole for 127 hours is probably beyond most film makers or they would just resort to telling an entire story in flashbacks but Danny Boyle manages to avoid this cliche and keep you glued and the arm coming off was more upsetting than gruesome because it was just so bloody realistic!
5 – Hanna
A part made for the slightly wooden Saiorse Ronan plus it’s always good to have Cate Blanchet in anything and Tom Hollander’s little shorts provided the comedy.
4 – Super 8
It was never going to be ET all over again but thanks for trying to make us feel that way Mr Spielberg anyway.
3 – Troll Hunter
Surprised me again. Any comparisons with Blair Witch are totally off the mark. I’m not a horror fan so when this turned out to be a fantasy instead I was pleased. That and the dry humour in it won it for me.
2 – Another Earth
Unusual, different and pretty incredible when you see how small the team was that made it. That and the fact they found a good way to end a nearly impossible to end story.
1 – Crazy Stupid Love
Because it totally surprised me. Not my kind of film at all but the quality of the writing just blew me away and I laughed out loud a lot.
5 – Super 8
4 – Troll Hunter
3 – Drive
2 – Bridesmaids
1 – Senna
9 – Rise of Planet of the Apes
In for the refreshing surprise, other Hollywood remakes take note.
8 – We Need To Talk About Kevin
Inside the mind of a decaying mother, a harrowing fresh perspective on a mass-murderer…
7 – Moneyball
Social Network in baseball form. Like 127 hours – moving because the scale of the acheivement is true.
6 – Another Earth
Grounded low budget sci-fi with a touching story.
5 – Senna
Captivating documentary of the man who loved to race, lovingly produced.
4 – Drive
Stylish, mis-marketed moody character-thriller where Ryan Gosling says little and drives a lot.
3 – Tyrannosaur
Touching, difficult story of man versus himself and others. Olivia Coleman gets plaudits well deserved.
2 – True Grit
Coen Brothers back on song as Jeff Bridges remakes John Wayne.
1 – 127 Hours
Danny Boyle is Mr Versatile. Astonishing on the big screen.
Missed and regret: Submarine, Hugo, Project Nim, Tree of Life, many many more
Fully aware of: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Skin I Live In
10 – Insidious
I could never make a 2011 list and not even mention this movie. For me, Insidious is everything that I would love in a horror movie. It’s creepy, suspenseful and the best part of the movie is the fact it can scare you without the over-usage of blood and guts. Genuinely one of my favourite horror movies.
9 – Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
A fantastic twist on the horror movie idea. Usually it would be the hillbillies who go mental and try to kill the ‘helpless’ teenagers but instead, it’s the complete opposite. A very funny and clever horror comedy.
8 – True Grit
With amazing performances and a fantastic, gripping storyline, True Grit is simply one of the best of 2011.
7 – TT3D: Closer to the Edge
This was a whole new experience for me. TT3D is simply gripping and really spoke about how these bikers put their lives at risk for something they’re very passionate about. Great stuff!
6 – 127 Hours
This absolutely touched my heart and really had me gripped throughout. It’s very reflective and thought-provoking with quite a few messages that can be applied to real life.
5 – Sucker Punch
Many people will be wondering why the heck I put this above TT3D and 127 Hours but Sucker Punch gets the fifth spot purely because of it’s style and art. Visually, it’s such an amazing movie but if we also include the story and the characters, it brings it down a little. Still, it looks amazing on blu-ray.
4 – Scre4m
It might be because I’ve been waiting for a sequel to come out for years but Scre4m really delivered for me. One of the things I had always wanted was to make a Scream sequel in the world of today and, in a sense, Scre4m is a true remake of the first (you may get the reference if you’ve seen the movie)
3 – Black Swan
Truly a magnificent and graceful movie by Darren Aronofsky. Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman were both terrific and the story itself was just superb. Truly a stunning watch.
2 – The Inbetweeners Movie
This has to be one of the best comedy movies I have ever seen. I’ve never laughed and cringed so much at a movie in my life. Even on my fourth viewing of this movie, I still laughed and cringed in all of the right moments. A dirty teen comedy with heart.
1 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
After ten years, the Harry Potter franchise comes to an end. It was tough to say goodbye to the boy wizard that has become not only a literary legend but also a cinema legend as well. It finished with such style with some unforgettable moments.
Top 3 Movies To Look Out For In 2012: War Horse, The Woman in Black and The Muppets
(Calculated by placement so 10 points for 1st, 9 for 2nd etc.)
Wow, a late entry from Darren Camponi pushed True Grit into the lead. Sorry Senna, but you’re relegated to second place. The bottom end of our votes were wide-ranging so some diverse opinions coming from the team. Be sure to listen to our end of year episode of the Blueprint: Review Podcast too to hear a more detailed discussion of some of our favourites (and least favourites).