I guess it wouldn’t be far off the mark to suggest that, as far as film releases go, 2011 was, on the whole, a relatively mediocre effort with a few handfuls of goodness thrown in at random, and often where you’d least expect it. And as far as the blockbusters went, there was nothing that could hold a candle to the dizzying greatness of 2010’s Scott Pilgrim and Inception.
Well, as much as I enjoy the presumption of distilling an entire year’s worth of film output into a single paragraph, let us not dilly-dally any longer. Here are my favourite twenty films of 2011 (in the order I saw them), because I’m too indecisive to choose ten (and because twenty allows for nuance!)
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
I Saw the Devil
Attack the Block
Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil
Crazy Stupid Love
Okay, so let’s get the controversy out of the way first. Why the hell is Sucker Punch up there? Well, I will be the first to admit that the cinematic cut had narrative issues, and the action eventually became a bit samey, but, as with so many films, because of this fact, folk started hating on every aspect of the movie, but I don’t think you can detract from the remarkable visualisation of the production. It’s a phenomenal looking movie, and at the end of the day it had dragons, clockwork zombies, robots, goblins, war, mech,
a kick-ass soundtrack, fifteen-foot samurai warriors and comely young ladies, which combined, excited my inner fourteen-year-old nerd. Revisit it on the extended blu-ray, the extra scenes really add to the characters.
As for my other mainstream choices, Black Swan is obvious, read the gushing reviews and I pretty much agree with ‘em. Thor was my favourite of this year’s superhero movies; it had an actual ending and an unexpected edge of humour that put it above Captain America. Crazy Stupid Love had a great cast and was just adorable from beginning to end, Real Steel was corny and daft but genuinely had me wanting to punch the air by the end (I enjoyed it more than The Fighter! Seriously!), and The Help my have been criticised for being overly sappy and a little black and white (no pun intended) with it’s view on history, but it hit all the emotional cords in a pitch perfect fashion, and I was right there with it.
Probably my favourite film of the year came from the mainstream canon too, and that was Warrior. The Fighter was a sports film with award baiting bad neighbourhood, junky relatives, local-boy-done-good, based on a true story leanings that in all honesty we’ve seen before and was relatively forgettable. Warrior, however, had equally intriguing characterisation, a Crying Fist-a-like two-perspective storyline/tournament, Nick Nolte doing his best work in years and twenty minutes of bone crunching combat at the end.
My horror picks of the year were only partial horrors at best. Stake Land was a post-apocalyptic road movie, a-la The Road, only with added feral vampires (read the full review), Tucker and Dale was a comedy horror of the highest order, that oozed originality, smarts and affection for the oft mistreated genre (read the full review), and Red State (Kevin Smith’s best film in years… or ever?), a truly bizarre mix of ingredients, is only a horror through lack of any other genre that it might fit into.
The indie (or indie-ish) scene was a little light this year, but we were treated from time to time. It’s kind of a Funny Story passed most by, but it was a sweet and funny tale about a suicidal teen who had been sectioned (honestly, it is pretty sweet), Cedar Rapids proved one of the most likable films of the year with it’s nice-guy-being-lead-astray-at-an-insurance-convention yarn, it also had the dude who plays Clay Davis in The Wire, quoting Omar lines. The biggest surprise of the year was the Emilio Estevez written/directed The Way, a touching travelogue film that starred his dad (Martin Sheen) as a man walking the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage after his son died in the attempt. I’m not too proud to state that I may have shed the odd tear come the end. Win Win was a return to form for The Station Agent’s Tom McCarthy; it’s equal amounts touching and whimsical with fine performances from Paul Giamatti and the rest of the cast.
From England and Ireland came skewed twists on genre fare. Attack the Block, a fine directorial debut from Joe Cornish, saw South London delinquents thrown into a Carpenter-esque alien invasion/siege story, though it must be said that the characters don’t ever become that likeable (read the full review). The Guard, one of the funniest films of the year, made by John Michael McDonagh, the brother of In Bruges’ Martine McDonagh (and very much the same pedigree), gave us Brendan Gleeson’s foul-mouthed, idiosyncratic Galway police officer and teamed him up with Don Cheadle’s American FBI agent to take down drug traffickers (read the full review). Buddy comedies are not dead.
Over to Asia, and we had three absolute corkers. First one of my all time favourite directors (Kim jee-Woon) switched genres again and gifted us with sick and unpredictable serial killer flick, I Saw the
Devil (read the full review), then Japanese madman/auteur, Takashi Miike, stunned with perhaps his most mainstream film to date, the feudal based 13 Assassins, which climaxed with an epic forty minute battle sequence (read the full review), and finally Benny Chan’s back to basics’ Hong Kong flick, Shaolin, to my mind, outdid Ip Man in every respects except action, and the fact that it starred Andy Lau and Jackie Chan didn’t do it any harm either (read the full review).
And then we come to animation, which, for the most part, was middle of the road. I enjoyed Tangled and Puss In Boots enough, but the only real standout animated film of the year was Studio Ghibli’s Arrietty, a massively overlooked and wholly beautiful and charming retelling of The Borrowers. I’m not just picking it out because I’m a Ghibli snob either, I genuinely loved the film and would go as far as saying it’s my favourite of the studio’s output since Princess Mononoke (and, yes, that includes Spirited Away… read the full review).
It’s traditional when I do these things, to give a few dishonorable mentions for the year. This doesn’t just mean bad films, but films that have been way over hyped or turned out to be crushing disappointments. It’s no secret to those that know me best that I am avers to pointless/faux intellectualising, especially when it’s for its own sake and even more especially when it’s acted out through vagueness in the hopes that it will disguise the fact that the work boils down to being a none-entity, and the biggest perpetrator of that this year is Kill List, loved by the critics, loathed by me (read the full nasty review). I will also mention, though I quite enjoyed Drive as a film, I don’t really understand why it’s being held in such high regards. It has a good cast, great instances of violence, and a fab soundtrack, but when you think about it, the story is sub your standard Statham movie with added extended scenes of LA landscape and no end of folk staring silently at each other, which extends the running time by about fifteen minutes, and Ryan Gosling not responding to questioning to such a degree that at points he actually comes off as retarded.
The big let down of the year was Green Lantern. I didn’t have much hope to start with, then we got some excellent trailers, but then the film came out and it was a duff. The concept IS a little kooky, but the narrative (especially the senseless and letdown climax) did it no favours. With a character that can physically realise anything his imagination can conceive, you’d expect some imaginative visuals at the very least, but what we got was green swords and shields and chains. Not a total car wreck, but not at all good enough!
Not wanting to finish on a negative note, here are a few films that were very close to making it on to the list but were just piped to the post for one reason or another. The Adjustment Bureau, 50/50, Immortals, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. I also saw the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake yesterday, which was very good.
So that’s what last year brought. This year has a lot to look forward to, including The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus and The Hobbit, so here’s hoping we have a fine time at the cinema. I can’t wait.