|2011's done and dusted, but will Animal Kingdom top my list?|
Let's clear up, as ever, these are the films I consider to be the best of the year, but they're tempered by my personal favouritism as well. If you can see many appreciable flaws in, let's say, The Adjustment Bureau, that I haven't mentioned, it doesn't mean I didn't notice them, just that I liked the film irrespective of any reasons why you didn't like it, especially with the number 1 film. And anyway, snark about my choices when YOU'VE watched 150 films. I even watched Something fucking Borrowed!
Here's the video- sorry if the voiceover doesn't sound hugely energetic, but it's largely because the festivities of New Year have taken it out of me a bit...
Now then, more commentary--
The Adjustment Bureau (dir. George Nolfi)
I only decided that this one deserved to be on the top ten list very late in the day, but it fits the criteria by being a film I very much enjoyed, and have revisited multiple times since seeing it in the cinema. The best of a number of creative and not overly expensive science fiction films from last year, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt's unforgettable chemistry makes for a film that perfectly toes the line between romantic comedy and paranoid sci-fi parable.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (dir. David Yates)
Outside of the obvious implications of the saga finally ending, for a fully paid-up Potterhead like myself, there was clearly no bigger event film in cinemas last year, than this bittersweet finale. Where Yates excels is in his single-minded assault on Hogwarts, turning the final chapter into a thrilling action extravaganza with relatable characters from the past seven movies, and the stakes raised higher than ever before. Plus, it boasts the single most dramatic action scene of the year, as Harry, Ron and Hermione race through their devastated alma mater, past fallen friends and pissed-off monsters.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (dir. Eli Craig)
Like most other people, I'm sick of seeing "the best horror comedy since Shaun of the Dead" being bandied around by reviewers, so you should know that I really mean it when I say it about this film. With a premise so good that it seems impossible to think it hasn't been done already, Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson's smart script overturns the tired formula of camping horror movies at every possible opportunity. They take the horror and the comedy equally seriously, which means the horror is darkly funny and the comedy is slightly scary. The lead performances by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are very likeable, and the actors playing the college kids are all very self-aware parodies of similar characters in more risible gore flicks.
The Guard (dir. John Michael McDonagh)
Sergeant Gerry Boyle is truly an iconic character, and Brendan Gleeson's performance is one of the best I saw all year. He's so good that I kind of want them to bring this character back for sequels, like a grumpier, more Irish version of Harry Callaghan. Essentially a Gaelic western, McDonagh's film is ribald and philosophical. It doesn't bear any resemblance to In Bruges, which was made by McDonagh's brother, Martin, but instead stands on its own merits as one of the funniest comedies of 2011.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (dir. Rupert Wyatt)
One of the two biggest surprises of last summer was this truly excellent reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, and the fully-formed arrival of Wyatt as a superb blockbuster director. Wyatt uses the excellent special effects to take the film in two unexpected directions- focusing on the emotional connection between Caesar the chimpanzee and his human family, and a prison break in an inhumane primate facility- before completely paying off what everyone wanted to see from a film called Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and setting events in motion that will lead to the end of human civilisation by angry monkeys.
Never Let Me Go (dir. Mark Romanek)
Don't ever mistake the passive narrative of this film for any sort of emotional coldness, because this heartbreaking alternative-reality tale just doesn't gel with any such criticism. Based on Kazuo Ishiguro's novel, this film sees a cast of established and upcoming actors at the peak of their powers- Keira Knightley has never been better, Andrew Garfield bears extraordinary pathos and Sally Hawkins is so good that if she appeared for any longer, she might steal the show. It's a sci-fi drama in the classic sense, showing how the human condition relates to a huge scientific development. The students of Hailsham might not be as uppity as Caesar and the apes, but that is what makes them such effective and tragic characters.
Attack the Block (dir. Joe Cornish)
With unparalleled ambition, Dr. Cornballs' directorial debut injects British cinema with a shot of adrenaline, and always lets its prickly social conscience be its guide. By opening with five kids who mug an unarmed woman at knifepoint, Cornish puts his trust in the cast, who do a brilliant job of winning viewers back over the course of the film, and the audience, with the faith that they won't dismiss the characters because they're not as clean-cut as, say, the kids from Super 8. Also, the film's creature design is unique, and its fidelity to both the characters and to sci-fi action intertextuality is remarkable.
Red State (dir. Kevin Smith)
Smith has made a lot of noise about his film, and the publicity fiasco around this and his previous film, Cop Out, turned many amongst the film press against the likeable writer-director who created Jay and Silent Bob. Happily, Red State is much more interesting than any of that, sustaining seismic tonal shifts for its duration and deploying a terrific ensemble cast, led by a sinister Michael Parks and a craggy John Goodman. It's far less serious than it appears, because Smith quite deliberately and mischievously confounds the audience throughout this genuinely unpredictable and dramatic horror film.
Animal Kingdom (dir. David Michôd)
Another film that left me unsure about whether or not I actually liked it, but this is actually the film I watched the most times last year. Michôd plunges us into a despicable world, where a family of bank robbers and criminals come undone, and the gung-ho police force closes in. I think I found the film so compulsively terrifying because of how subdued it is. The characters played by Ben Mendelsohn and Jacki Weaver are particularly scary, and the film constantly becomes more and more intense, right up to its even more disquieting ending.
Captain America- The First Avenger (dir. Joe Johnston)
It could easily have been quaint, or campy, but Marvel Studios' best film to date succeeds by completely committing to being a rollicking wartime romp in the vein of the Indiana Jones movies, and making a virtue of any perceived cheesiness. I think it speaks volumes of the film that everyone in the cast, from Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell, to Dominic Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones, is fantastic- even the smaller roles are given weight by the excellent ensemble cast. It's almost completely pitch-perfect, only slightly rumpled by the obligatory Avengers-related bookends, and it continues to get better and better all the way through. This was the biggest surprise of the year for me- the star-spangled man with the plan comes out on top, for 2011.
There we have it then. To agree or disagree, or talk about my choices in general, leave a comment below! It's most likely that I won't be posting anything now until January 9th, when I review The Iron Lady or The Artist. However you celebrated New Year's, I hope you had a good time. Let's do this again next year and see if The Dark Knight Rises can live up to the list-topping form of its predecessor...
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.