Okay, so it’s February and the vast majority of these lists came online in December, but there were still one or two movies I wanted to check out first before deciding on my ten. To be honest, there’s still a few I haven’t seen and (obviously) I didn’t catch every film released in 2011, as I’m just one man and (sadly) this isn’t my job. I managed to watch 152 films in 2011, but whilst that might not sound like a lot to some cinema geeks, I reviewed each and every one of them as well as completing 39 seasons of different TV shows (also reviewed) and all the other articles I contribute elsewhere. Go me.
As always, I find it important to note that this is MY favourite ten movies of the year. Me. Personally. This is the ten I enjoyed the most, the ten I was most excited to see again and the ten that would easily qualify to make it onto my DVD shelf. As such, not all of them are critic’s movies, but these are the ones I responded to most. Oh, and just to clarify (as I’m anal), I’m counting Margin Call, The Descendants, The Artist and Shame as 2012, as that’s both when they were released cinematically and when I saw them.
Anyway, here’s my list, which isn’t in any particular order.
Source Code (Duncan Jones)
Right, so even though I literally just said that there was no particular order to my list, Source Code was comfortably my favourite movie of the year. Intelligent, exciting and deeply involving, the central idea (where a man is transported into another man’s body in the past to right a wrong) is exactly the sort of high-concept sci-fi premise I respond to, whilst also reminding me of my all-time favourite TV show, Life On Mars, and childhood favourite Quantum Leap. Jake Gyllenhaal is ace in the lead, whilst director Duncan Jones doesn’t sacrifice the smarts he showed in indie debut Moon despite moving into mainstream waters. It was largely well-received throughout critical circles, so I’m hugely disappointed at how few of them actually included it in their end of year lists.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson)
Despite all the early ravings about it being a shoe-in to grab awards left, right and centre (which now doesn’t look the case), I wasn’t expecting to like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy nearly as much as I did. But soon after settling into the glacial pace, Tomas Alfredson’s masterful reworking of John le Carre’s novel (which was previously a TV series with Alec Guinness) had me fully captivated with its mesmerising, oddly-involving atmosphere. Arguably more about deception than actual spying, the relentlessly low-key approach will likely disappoint anyone hoping for an explosive Bondian actioner, but it’s a welcome treat for anyone in the market for some cerebral espionage. And of course, the cast is as good a British ensemble as you’ll find this side of a Harry Potter movie, with everyone from Gary Oldman to Colin Firth to Benedict Cumberbatch to Tom Hardy on top form.
X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn)
Though one of four big comic book adaptations released in 2011, Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class was the best of the bunch. The first half in particular was fantastic, opening more like a ’60s espionage thriller than a CGI-stuffed superhero blockbuster, with the mix of Cold War plotting, neat retro setting (producer Bryan Singer’s idea) and Michael Fassbender’s single-minded man-on-mission playing like pure Connery-era Bond. But while Fassbender was predictably spot-on as Magneto, James McAvoy surprises most as the young Charles Xavier and totally proved my initial doubts wrong in the process. Overall, Singer’s X2 remains my favourite X-Men movie, but First Class is a close second, not to mention the fact that it offers the best cameo of 2011.
Tyrannosaur (Paddy Considine)
As a big fan of the social realist movies of Ken Loach (and, to a lesser degree, Shane Meadows), Tyrannosaur is very much up my street. Some will view it as too bleak and depressing, but it’s a powerful and truthful portrayal of anger and how wrong our initial assessment of someone can be. More than just another British council estate drama to add to the collection, Tyrannosaur is a tough and powerful piece of filmmaking which is harrowing, brutal and absolutely nothing to do with actual dinosaurs. Peep Show‘s Olivia Colman has rightly received widespread recognition for her portrayal of an internally-suffering housewife (even if the majority of award bodies have criminally ignored her), while Peter Mullan (a fellow favourite of mine) aces another boozy hardman role. An assured and compelling directorial debut from British actor Paddy Considine.
Stake Land (Jim Mickle)
Both a post-apocalypse movie and a vampire flick, Stake Land is a superior example of both. Playing like a straight and deadly-serious Zombieland, it’s dark, thoughtful and refreshingly unpredictable, whilst director Jim Mickle really makes you feel like the world has been overrun by horrid creatures in spite of a low-budget. Showing the big blockbuster boys how to do it, Mickle’s indie piece demonstrates how to make vamps creepy again (see the attention-grabbing opening where one of them chews on a small, defenceless baby) and proves that action scenes don’t need cash thrown at them to be this effective. Highly recommended for horror fans.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher)
Unquestionably, it was odd to remake a European hit merely two years after it was released to widespread acclaim (particularly when Noomi Rapace had already nailed the eponymous heroine so definitively) and I’m sure some film snobs will have written the English language version as a cash-grabbing Hollywood hack-job. But filmmaker David Fincher is neither Hollywood nor hack, and his take on the popular novel series is a worthy addition to the Dragon Tattoo phenomenon. Infusing it with his own dark sensibilities, it’s a mysterious, gruesome and atmospherically-bleak psychological thriller comparable to the likes of Se7en or Zodiac, whilst both Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara are superb as the two leads.
Adjustment Bureau (George Nolfi)
Though many film fans will question its place on my list, The Adjustment Bureau was one of the year’s most pleasant surprises for me. As someone who’s always felt frustrated at the way life sometimes works against you and how the fates relentlessly keeps something out of reach, George Nolfi’s high-concept genre piece spoke to me on a personal level. The sort of Twilight Zone-ish premise I love (a man is kept from a woman he meets by a team who, essentially, ‘design’ fate), the script is full of neat ideas and the relationship between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt has more chemistry than about a dozen Hollywood rom-coms combined. Both John Slattery and Terence Stamp are perfectly cast as the charming chaser and doom-voiced hardass respectively, while Thomas Newman’s score is typically poignant. Action fans will be disappointed, but it’s a talky, credibly-played and refreshingly soulful sci-fi thriller.
Moneyball (Bennett Miller)
The sort of movie which would have undoubtedly starred Robert Redford in his heyday, Moneyball is a baseball drama which takes place largely off the field. It might’ve been marketed as a mainstream crowd-pleaser, but director Bennett Miller offers a talky backroom drama and quietly-intelligent study of what happens behind the scenes when someone attempts to change the game. Truthfully, as a huge fan of co-writer Aaron Sorkin I didn’t hear enough of his ‘voice’ in the script as I was hoping for, but the slight undercurrent of quirky dialogue was a nice occasional contrast to the relentlessly restrained and low-key approach. Jonah Hill is outstanding playing against type as the anxious number-cruncher, but Brad Pitt dominates in the lead with one of the best performances of his career. A superior sports movie, despite not actually being a ‘sport’s movie’.
Fright Night (Craig Gillespie)
Horror-comedy is a tricky genre which I rarely enjoy, but for me Fright Night nailed the perfect balance. Though consistently eerie and witty, it’s perhaps best described as a suspenseful genre piece with bags of quirk, with director Craig Gillespie veering between scares and laughs seamlessly. Offering a welcome antidote for anyone who’s fed up with the recent trend of brooding, misunderstood bloodsuckers, Gillespie orchestrates a few stylishly-executed and surprisingly tense set-pieces, while the main cast are superb too. Anton Yelchin is enigmatic as our lead, Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays yet another softly-spoken nerd without it feeling stale and David Tennant very nearly steals the whole shebang, but undoubtedly the movie belongs to the animalistic Colin Farrell (Colin Feral?), who’s note-perfect as the remorseless vampire.
Limitless (Neil Burger)
Like The Adjustment Bureau, Limitless is another pleasant surprise which snobbier movie fans will question, yet I thoroughly enjoyed it thanks to a interesting central concept which, again, struck a chord with me. Whilst ambition-less viewers will merely find a techno thriller with some chase scenes, the idea of a prototype pill which allows the user full access to their mind is a hugely intriguing notion, and one which director Neil Burger handles (for the most part) rather imaginatively. A stylish ride full of neat tricks and energetic visuals (loved those dizzying zooms through the streets), Bradley Cooper nails his first notable leading role and Robert De Niro – while not ‘back’ – is as good as he’s been in years. Okay, so it doesn’t quite live up to its own potential (that sound you can hear is the irony alarm going off), Neil Burger’s trippy experience is a pill definitely worth swallowing.
In true Mark Kermode style, I couldn’t narrow this down to ten, so just gave in with eleven.
Submarine (Richard Ayoade)
Rango (Gore Verbinski)
Neds (Peter Mullan)
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn)
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (Rupert Wyatt)
The Inbetweeners Movie (Ben Palmer)
Troll Hunter (Andre Ovredal)
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird)
Warrior (Gavin O’Connor)
Fast Five (Justin Lin)
Crazy, Stupid, Love (Glenn Ficarra and John Requa)