Top 20 Films of 2011

As 2011 comes to a close is it my obligation as a film blogger to put together my pick of 2011’s releases. I’ve gone for my top twenty as narrowing it down to just ten would be too harrowing a task and my only rule is that they must have been released in UK cinemas during 2011. This takes us from The Next Three Days (absolutely not in the list) to The Lady and The Artist and is only limited to films I have seen. I’ve also chosen not to speak to the wider Mild Concern team, mostly due to laziness, barring watching Waste Land at Kat’s insistence. This was a decision I have come to regret considering the rambling you will find below.

The scene properly set, let’s get onto the list. Looking back 2011 has been a great year for cinema, here are my top 20 releases of 2011:

Having Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead role will always endear me to a film, but then Seth Rogan’s presence tends to have an equal but opposite reaction. In the case of 50/50 the pairing provides a brilliant buddy comedy foundation in a film with a heavy storyline about a young man dealing with cancer and the possibility of dying.

While the comedy was relatively broad, and genuinely funny, the more tender moments were given equal weight and the disease itself was not treated in a trivial manner. Anjelica Huston is the perfect example of giving a performance which is both funny and heartbreaking in the same scene. Some may find the film misogynistic in parts but that passed me by, leaving instead a warm and funny film with plenty of substance.

You had me at: “No one wants to fuck me. I look like Voldemort.”

There had to be at least one animated film on this list and Pixar just aren’t pulling their weight this year. Instead we have the first animated feature from Industrial Light and Magic, a company normally focussed on inserting photo-realistic effects into live action films. With this talent ILM have easily made the most attractive animation I have ever seen, and in 2D too. This combined with Johnny Depp in the title role, as a Chameleon striding into a small western town and pretending to be a big shot, makes for an engrossing and endearing film.

Perhaps the film is a little too long but beyond that Rango is as near perfect as animated films go and is one which may be more enjoyable for adults than children. For once the jokes for parents aren’t limited to thinly veiled innuendo designed to go over the heads of children.

You had me at: “Stay in school, eat your veggies, and burn all the books that ain’t Shakespeare.”

With a few quirky components, including a subtitled dog, and the presence of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl Beginners is constantly in danger of becoming overly twee and irritating. Luckily, unlike The Future, it juggles these elements perfectly so that they enhance the film rather than tarnish it. The dual stories of a man dealing with the impending death of his “recently” gay Father, and his burgeoning love for a MPDG are given equal weight and importance, and the two threads affect each other in subtle ways which justify the inclusion of both.

Not out to redefine cinema, Beginners simply charmed my socks off and gave me a real urge to buy a Jack Russell.

You had me at: “I don’t want to just be theoretically gay. I want to do something about it.”

Melancholia is the film I have been waiting on for years, and one I tried to write myself; a film about the apocalypse in which people have bigger concerns than the possible end of the world and no one tries to do anything to stop it. Deep Impact/Armageddon this is not.

All the controversy about Lars von Trier’s comments in Cannes can easily overshadow just how good this film is. The opening scenes of Melancholia colliding with Earth are breathtaking and in contrast the family drama that plays out on Earth is wonderfully ugly. Kirsten Dunst finally gets the respect she deserves and we get a sense of perspective on the drama in our own lives.

You had me at: “Life is only on Earth. And not for long.”

Having come out in early January, been reviewed way back in October 2010 and sweeping up all the awards it could carry in February, The King’s Speech seems to have lost its sheen and fallen off of many people’s Best of 2011 lists. But not here!

Despite not being a particularly unique opinion to have, The King’s Speech remains a brilliant film and a career high for Colin Firth. What could have been a boring story about a minor saga in the royal family’s history is instead a charming drama about one man’s struggle with a speech impediment and the bond he forms with his speech therapist. British costume dramas are rarely this entertaining and The King’s Speech is unlikely to have a successor in 2012.

You had me at: “Fuck. Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck and fuck! Fuck, fuck and bugger! Bugger, bugger, buggerty buggerty buggerty, fuck, fuck, arse! Balls, balls… fuckity, shit, shit, fuck and willy. Willy, shit and fuck and… tits.”

My gut reaction to The Skin I Live In was one of disgust. The very special form of punishment applied by a master surgeon in the film is one on par with that delivered in The Human Centipede, it simply doesn’t bear thinking about and to discuss it in any more detail would spoil this brilliantly plotted and executed film.

While not a comfortable watch by any means, the fact that The Skin I Live In had me and my +1 discussing the film in horror for hours afterwards is a sure sign of a film with merit… or of disrepute. In The Skin I Live In Pedro Almodóvar has made the most Almodóvaresque film yet and somehow makes a very high-concept plot seem incredibly plausible. I was horrified throughout but could not look away.

You had me at: “The things the love of a mad man can do.”

At one point Senna was knocking about on this list but once I saw Waste Land a documentary about a successful racing driver simply felt too trivial, despite its tragic ending. In Waste Land Vik Muniz, renowned artist, returns to his native Brazil to give something back to the people who live there. Amongst the pickers at the world’s largest rubbish dump this documentary picks out and explores a variety of personalities as Muniz creates large-scale portraits of the pickers, made out of the very recyclable materials they search for each and every day.

While painting a sad picture of Brazil’s social problems this is one film which brings a partial solution with it as all profits from sales of the portraits go back to an association set up for the pickers. The project at the centre of the documentary is a fascinating one and the documentary itself captures this and the varied lives of the participants with a balanced eye. Very glad that Kat insisted I watch this one.

You had me at: “One single can is of great importance. Because 99 is not 100, and that single one will make the difference.”

Putting my love and admiration for Joe Cornish aside for a moment, Attack the Block remains a powerful directorial debut and a solid British alien invasion film in its own right. While Simon Pegg and Nick Frost disappointed with their light-hearted take on aliens landing in Paul, Cornish takes the situation deadly seriously and shows just what might happen if inner-city kids came up agastin alien scum. The riots we’ve experienced this year were just the warm up.

Not as funny as some people expected, Attack the Block is instead a clever, slick action film which never outstays it welcome and pulls you through the runtime with incredible force. How good were those aliens.. and the kids… and the score?

You had me at: “That’s an alien bruv, believe it.”

Take Shelter is a very clever film, serving simultaneously as a film about a man foreseeing the end of the world and as a film about one man’s descent into schizophrenia. It is only in the final scene that we find out what has actually been going on throughout the film, and even now I’m not entirely sure. With the audience thrown into the same level of confusion as Michael Shannon’s excellently portrayed blue-collar worker Curtis, it is easy to get pulled into the film and almost ignore the long running time.

With the film keeping its cards so close to its chest you are never sure who to root for or who to fear, the result being quite a draining experience as you can’t put yourself in anyone’s shoes in case they are not to be trusted. More people need to see Take Shelter, if only so that I have someone to talk to about it.

You had me at: “You think I’m crazy? Well, listen up, there’s a storm coming like nothing you’ve ever seen, and not a one of you is prepared for it.”

What was going on in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, were we supposed to be able to figure out who the mole was or as Mark Kermode has suggested is the whole film about men mistrusting each other rather than about spying? I may never know the answer to these questions but am hoping that a second watch may enlighten things a little more.

This film about a mole being uncovered at the head of British Intelligence is so achingly British it is amazing to consider that it has a Swedish director. With its dreary pallet and fine examples of British understated acting Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy oozes the style and quality lacking in many other releases this past year. It’s almost bizarre to see spies doing actual spying, rather than running around practising parkour and breaking terrorists necks. This film is too British not to adore.

You had me at: “There’s a mole, right at the top of the Circus. And he’s been there for years.”

Possibly the gentlest and most unassuming film on this list is one with a huge concept at its heart. While a second version of Earth has appeared in our sky containing identical versions of each of us, the film finds itself more concerned with the emotional fallout of a single car crash which occurred as the planet was first discovered. I am a sucker for emotions over events.

Delicately handled by debut film-maker Mike Cahill, Another Earth is a beautiful little film which lured me in with shots of dust particles and that ever-present copy of Earth in the sky. A lyrical film with an underlying tension which builds as the audience knows a lie must unravel before the closing credits. A film so textured you can almost feel it.

You had me at: “What would you say if you met another you?”

I’ll admit that on its own Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 may not truly be the 9th best film of 2011, and that to anyone uninterested in the franchise it is a pretty trivial release, but to me the film signified so much more. We gave up an entire week in celebration of this franchise which has run through my childhood and beyond so I can hardly leave the final instalment out of this list.

While still riddled with some of the acting shortfalls of the previous films, Deathly Hallows Part 2 is an epic feat of film-making filled with set pieces, one liners and all-important kisses. Maybe I have Stockholm Syndrome from spending two nights at the IMAX watching nothing but Potter films but by the end of this feature I had come to love this franchise, with its rough edges and ever darkening plots. Deathly Hallows Part 2 is not the 9th best film of 2011, but is certainly in the top 9 biggest cinematic events for me last year.

You had me at: “Not my daughter, you bitch!”

Sold as a buddy comedy, international culture clash and murder mystery rolled into one, The Guard is none of these and all the better for it. Instead we know who done the whodunnit from the get go, and rather than the humour all deriving from differences between Brendon Gleeson’s Irish Policeman and Don Cheadle’s FBI agent, instead Gleeson is a solo comedy star.

At its heart The Guard is a funny comedy (rare indeed) about one policeman who may not always play by the rules but refuses to give into corruption when all around him do. I can’t say it better than I did back in August; The Guard is hilarious without being obvious and touching without being schmaltzy. Well worth risking our lives during the riots to see the end of.

You had me at: “Listen, something’s come up, and I’m not just talking about my cock.”

After seeing Tyrannosaur I wandered Soho in a daze for a while before heading home and it was a good few days before I managed to completely clear the sad cloud it had left with me. Paddy Considine is another UK director making his debut with a bold film, this time certainly not a comedy; a harrowing drama about a violent man and his unlikely friendship with an abused woman.

The plot may have a twist but it is the characters and their relationships which give the film its clout and Considine’s direction is never anything but sharp and confident. Olivia Colman gives the performance she has never had the chance to before and Peter Mullan is a real diamond in the rough. It will be a while before I get the courage to watch Tyrannosaur again but can guarantee it will live up to my own hype.

You had me at: “Nobody’s safe with me.”

The love, the drama, the heavy knitwear and the fact that this is secretly a piece of Science Fiction all contribute to making Never Let Me Go one of the most rewarding films this year. It poses complex questions about the meaning of self and the existence of souls, all the while focussing the nature of true love and the consequences of letting your true love go to another.

Never Let Me Go is one big ream of emotion, always kept under wraps in true British style until one character allows himself a gut-wrenching primal scream. Not quite the film I expected going in, Never Let Me Go surprised me in its subtle fashion and showed that ideas best suited to Science Fiction can be explored in more than one way. Beautiful and complex, this is the film that defines the fictional Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction genre.

You had me at: “We didn’t have to look into your souls, we had to see if you had souls at all.”

While occasionally heavy-handed with the crimson imagery, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a surprisingly ambiguous and horrific drama, often choosing not to show the more gruesome acts being performed. Another harrowing cinematic experience; Kevin will leave you hating a small child, while not allowing you to forgive the child’s mother for hating her son too.

Incredible to think that this was shot on a small budget and to a gruelling schedule when with all the time and money in the world, Micheal Bay can make nothing better than Transformers: Dark of the Moon. With a plot involving mass murder and an evil child, Kevin doesn’t need to be a work of art to get bums on seats, it simply is a work of art because Lynne Ramsay can’t help herself.

You had me at: “Why would I not understand the context? I am the context.”

Sleek and smooth, Drive lures you into a false sense of security with its tense yet relaxing atmosphere before erupting into shockingly graphic violence. Ryan Gosling gives his best performance of a varied year in his career as the nameless driver. The driver is a master behind the wheel, whether performing stunts or acting as getaway driver for real criminals, yet he is bizarrely naive when it comes to human beings.

As the driver’s life becomes ever more complicated the film ratchets up to a brutal conclusion which left me reeling. In a word Drive is stunning, in every way possible. I didn’t see Drive coming and it ploughed through me like an awkward metaphor.

You had me at: “I don’t carry a gun… I drive.”

Another January release threatening to be forgotten, yet somehow this dark drama about a ballerina on the verge of insanity has left a mark on me as fresh as films I’ve seen almost a year later. Natalie Portman deserved her Oscar win for taking on the all-consuming role of Nina, a role which took her from cinema sweetheart to a terrifying woman possessed.

There is so much attention to detail in Darren Aronofsky’s (Darranofsky’s) film that the only way to truly appreciate everything Black Swan has to offer is to watch it at half speed on a huge screen in a dark room. This is of course ridiculous so we’ll have to be content with marvelling at this masterpiece and know that we will never discover all its layers and secrets.

You had me at: “I was perfect…”

Every now and then a film comes along that so suits your sense of humour and feels so pitch perfect that it is hard to believe it wasn’t made just for you. This is how I felt after watching Submarine, a film I knew nothing about, and was thoroughly entertained by the story of one socially awkward young man and his attempts to lose his virginity and save his parent’s marriage. The dry wit and dead-pan humour cannot be topped (well, almost) and as with any good comedy there’s plenty of heart in there too.

As yet another directorial debut from a British talent it makes you wonder if there’s something in the water over here. 2011 is certainly a fine year for new British directors, but out of Cornish, Ayoade and Considine, Ayoade certainly comes out on top. Oddly enough Considine is the only less than perfect element to Submarine, I call sabotage.

You had me at: To us and a wonderful evening of love making.

I was reluctant to leave The Artist as my top film of 2011 as it has become almost the default Number 1 film on numerous lists. Try as I might I couldn’t move it any lower, the reason it keeps ranking so highly is that The Artist really is that good. At first the film draws your eye by being unique with its silent black and white format but once it begins the film never becomes a novelty and never stoops to mock the outdated format it is using.

The Artist has brought me the most joy of any film released in 2011, it exudes energy and glee while not shying away from taking a serious tone when the plot-line moves to darker territory. It’s hard to imagine another film celebrating cinema so wholeheartedly whilst being an amazing example of the art form itself. The Artist is getting a very erratic release schedule at the end of this year and the start of 2012 but is well worth the effort to see it on the big screen. Who knows when we will get a treat this fulfilling again?

Worth also noting that, alongside Beginners, The Artist has a great performance from a Jack Russell and that the two dogs have met, adorable.

You had me at: “BANG”