Tuesday, 10 January 2012

My Top Ten Favourite Films of 2011

[Note: This isn’t intended as a definitive ‘best films of the year’ list but personally ones that I most enjoyed the most and would watch (or have already watched) multiple times. You are free to take them as recommendations of what to watch and/or disagree with my choice – it’s just an opinion.]

Now read on for a top ten countdown of my favourite films of 2011…

10) Thor

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston
Summary: Family drama on an epic scale. Impressive costumes and set design in Asgaard, fish out of water humour down on earth. Manages to avoid the cheesiness that the source material could have fallen foul to – Loki’s plight being especially effective.
Choice moment: Thor in a hospital surrounded by medical staff, “How dare you attack the son of Odin!”

9) Attack The Block

Directed by: Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Nick Frost
Summary: Aliens vs Hoodies. Succeeds in making heroes of those that are at first presented as villains – really a story about learning responsibility and earning redemption - just so happens to be funny and thrilling too.
Choice moment: “This is too much madness to explain in one text!”.

8) Captain America: The First Avenger

Directed by: Joe Johnston
Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones
Summary: Charming period set Superhero adventure. Full of witty exchanges and presents the Cap in a new light – not just as a larger than life patriot. Also I still can't get over how well they did the ‘skinny’ Steve Rogers…
Choice moment: The montage of Captain America selling war bonds.

7) Source Code

Directed by: Duncan Jones
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright
Summary: Mind-bending, thought-provoking sci-fi. After this and Jones’ previous film Moon, he’s definitely one to watch.
Choice moment: The slow motion kiss.

6) The Guard

Directed by: John Michael McDonagh
Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong
Summary: Witty, hilarious, and irreverent and constantly surprising – and that's just Gleeson’s character. Gem of a film that you may never have watched but would be glad when you did.
Choice moment: “I’m Irish. Racism is part of my culture.”

5) Hanna

Directed by: Joe Wright
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett
Summary: Mesmerising fairy tale with a unique performance from Ronan. Stylishly shot and scored and filled with memorable characters, both hilarious and terrifying.
Choice moment: The single take ‘tail down to the subway and fight’ shot.

4) Rise of The Planet of the Apes

Directed by: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow
Summary: A prequel/origin story to a franchise that stands on its own two feet. The masterstroke of the film was to present the Apes as the heroes and not as fodder for a monster movie. This film should be watched just for Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar alone – in my opinion it eclipses even that of Gollum.
Choice moment: “Noooooooo!”

3) Hobo with a Shotgun

Directed by: Jason Eisener
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey
Summary: Sure it’s shlocky, B-movie and Troma-esque in its deliberate trashiness, but Eisener’s homage to a bygone era of 80’s video nasties is also a ton of fun. Filled with colourful characters and hammy performances – only Rutger Hauer plays it straight – but is more effective for it. An iconic role for him comparable to Blade Runner’s Roy Batty and The Hitcher’s John Ryder.
Choice moment: The introduction of ‘The Plague’ and their entrance to the hospital.

2) Drive

Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks
Summary: Slick slice of 80s styled neon noir. Rather than frantic noise and fury of most ‘car’ movies, this one is quiet, restrained and cool in its driving sequences. With a growing sense of inescapable menace punctuated with ultra-violence, the characters edge forward, often knowing they can’t escape their fate. Ryan Gosling is the mostly silent ‘western’ hero of the piece, his character a movie icon in the making. The gorgeous lighting and slick camera work and 80s-flavoured yet modern electro soundtrack are just the icing on the cake.
Choice moment: The cool and calm getaway driving of the opening heist.

1) Black Swan

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey
Summary: The film that took me by surprise and blew me away. Comparisons to Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue aside, the story is rich with themes and motifs and is played out masterfully – both simultaneously haunting (at times downright terrifying) but also beautiful and uplifting. Part mystery, part psychological thriller, part Cronenberg body horror with an extra splash of sex and death – the film is consistently keeps you on the edge throughout – the extreme attention to detail that Aronfsky employs requiring multiple viewings to fully appreciate.

There are excellent performances all round too, with everyone hitting the right notes of ambiguity when called for, creating a tense unsettling feel. Is Mila Kunis a friend or an enemy? Is Vincent Cassel really lusting after Nina or is he just trying to coax the best performance out of her? Barbara Hershey teeters from suffocating coddling to suddenly flying into a rage.

Of course Natalie Portman in the role of Nina suits the material perfectly – her performance that covers both the roles of the virginal white swan and the sultry black swan as well as the mental breakdown throughout are spot on – and the Oscar she won for the role is well deserved (and I usually don't even like Natalie Portman in films!)

Other aspects such as the cinematography, lighting, production design, costume design, music and the dance choreography are all amazing too.

Some viewers were disappointed by the lack of a clear (ironically) black and white explanation at the end of the film, others who watched it expecting a film about ballet were left horrified and confused at what they just witnessed – for me though, Black Swan was my favourite film of 2011.

Choice moment:
There are so many: all of the dance scenes, the horrific nail file scene, any of the Barbara Hershey scenes – just watch the film already!

9 Jan 2012

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