My Top 10 Films of 2011.
It was a mixed bag in 2011 but a year which installed a lot more confidence than the rather disappointing 2010. The lows of the year were stuff like the insult that was Beastly, the time-slowing and unfunny Just Go With It, the llama faced return of topless Taylor Lautner in Abduction and Twilight as well as Nicolas Cage having his worst year in film possibly ever. It’s difficult to narrow it down to just my favourite ten of the year. A challenge which I accepted and will be heavily criticised.
Note: Due to cinema restrictions I did not get to see some films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Hugo 3D, Moneyball, The Thing and Senna. A crime which I will soon rectify with numerous amounts of trips to the cinema and when my Amazon order is delivered.
10. Source Code.
Source Code is Duncan Jones’s follow up to his directorial debut, Moon, and is cementing himself as a great sci-fi director. Source Code follows a soldier who wakes up as someone else and has to repeat the same minutes until he finds the bomber. What seems like a straight-forward sci-fi, action thriller turns into something which is very emotional and meshes in drama and romance but not as an after-thought. A truly great film with Michelle Monaghan hopefully rising to fame.
9. Midnight in Paris.
Woody Allen is a consistent director and although this best films are from the ’70s-’80s, this film may compete with them. Midnight in Paris is a romantic comedy about an engaged couple who tag along to Paris. As Owen Wilson travels back in time to his golden age and meets some of the greatest authors which act as a muse to his own story leads him to discover himself and his current lifestyle. It’s light-hearted and its message is clear but is a thoroughly enjoyable film that’ll leave you smiling from the story and the beauty of Paris and how wonderfully it was shot and edited.
8. The Tree of Life.
Terrence Malick is patient with making his films and that’s why this one took so long to make with its beautiful cinematography. It establishes that films are sometimes regarded as a lesser expression of art and intellect and this proves the opposite as a thought-provoking piece of magnificence. It’s the Marmite of the film world completely dividing opinions on whether it’s beautiful or pretentious but it is important for Malick as it is based on his past. It also features Brad Pitt doing another timeless performance, Jessica Chastain breaking through in one of her many films and three child actors that should be stars in the future. Full review here.
The words “cancer” and “comedy” don’t really go hand in hand. Usually, anyway. It seems that 50/50 is the exception to the rule though by being one of the funniest films of the year but still keeps it emotional. It’s written by Will Reiser and is semi-autobiographical when he was diagnosed with cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the part of Adam, the young-man diagnosed with rare form of cancer and his struggle through chemotherapy and to keep his spirits up. Seth Rogen plays the part of the best friend perfectly who tries to ignore the realisation that his buddy may not be around for much longer. Very funny yet hard to watch at times.
This didn’t get the box-office that it thoroughly deserved. Even with a 12A certificate, you wouldn’t be able to tell thanks to the brutal fight scenes and great direction of Gavin O’Connor. It focuses on introvert fighting machine Tommy (Tom Hardy) and disciplined family-man Brendan (Joel Edgerton) Conlon who enter an MMA tournament called SPARTA which reunites Tommy and his alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) who is in search of redemption. A film that balances action with drama (in and out of the ring) which divides your attention between the main characters. A true great. For my full review, click here. ★★★★★
5. Blue Valentine.
This counts as a 2011 film because it wasn’t released until the 14th of January. It’s a story of two different time periods of a relationship and it doesn’t focus on how it got there, leaving it for you to imagine yourself what happened in between. An emotional drama that is one of Ryan Gosling’s brilliant films of the year (Drive, Crazy Stupid Love, The Ides of March) cementing himself as one of the best actors of the new generation. Michelle Williams earned herself an Oscar nomination for her performance too and you can see why. Understated and under-appreciated with its perfect dialogue and hard-hitting realism.
4. Super 8.
A perfect nostalgic film which throws back to Spielberg in the ’80s - using his producer credentials to influence probably. The year is 1979 and the story focuses on some pre-teens making a film when they witness a train crash which leads to some mysterious events that intrigue and scare a tiny town. What you have is two ideas melted into one with children growing up in a small town and a monster-mystery all-in-one. It works perfectly but it can lead to complicated feelings about how it might have been better as two films. It’s entertaining and the children - if they avoid drugs and bad choices - should grow to be stars in their own right. Full review here.
It’s Empire’s and Total Film’s film of the year and it’s easy to see why. Ryan Gosling plays a driver who’s a stunt driver by day and a wheelman by night. There’s a lot of reasons why it works and one is the performance of Gosling as well as his brilliant supporting cast members. A film whose supporters are Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Albert Brookes, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman and Christina Hendricks proves how special it is. Then there’s the direction of Nicholas Winding Refn that shoots this in a retro, ’80s throwback, making this cityscape seen in a way never before. The soundtrack is also one of the best of the year. Unmissable.
2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
David Fincher does it again and although people may disagree with an English remake of this it works. Many expected it to be dumbed down and numbed a little by being more blasé for audiences but it was graphic and it was raw and had this amazing magnetism in this murder mystery, action, thriller come drama. It is a mish-mash of genres and that’s one thing Fincher is perfect at. Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is hired by a head of a family and empire to find a woman who has been missing for forty years. In his aid, he acquires a girl who is trivial and unorthodox, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) and what unravels is a mystery so intense that time’ll disappear.
My number one film of the 2011 is…
There are no words to describe this film other than perfect. It balances a lot of issues and a lot of problems - including its own problem of actually getting made. Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is in the shadow of his crack-addicted brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) and his rise to becoming a professional boxer. It has family problems, dysfunction, romance, addiction and many other great things and it’s all balanced perfectly by the direction and the perfect cast of Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. It’s just overwhelming with the storyline; the underdog story is tried and tested but it feels authentic. You’ll connect to the characters, feeling like a lost sibling which would be easy in that family. My full review is here.
Honourable mentions: Crazy Stupid Love, Tyrannosaur, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Paul, Bridesmaids, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, 127 Hours and Black Swan.
Director: Gavin O’Connor.
Running Time: 140 min.
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo and Kevin Dunn.
My goal to see every Oscar nominated film before the ceremony is seeming very unlikely thanks to me being a student. Either way, I went to the cinema last night to see a film I’ve been dying to see more than any of the other Oscar nominations, The Fighter. I’d heard great things about this film and about all the performances in it but I still went in with my no expectation view on the film. About ten minutes in, I realised that Christian Bale was amazing; it took only ten minutes for that to kick in.
A look at the early years of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward and his brother who helped train him before going pro in the mid 1980s.
This film is based on the true story of Micky Ward, the younger, cast-into-the-shadows brother of Dicky Eklund who knocked Sugar Ray Leonard down when he was in his prime and that was his last professional fight. Dicky Eklund is deluded to the concept that he can still make a comeback and so is his mother, Alice Ward - played by Melissa Leo. Although they claim that this is all about Micky and family but really it’s about having money and so Dicky can build himself back up to be a champion yet again. There is no bias in the family, according to Alice, but there blatantly is. Dicky is the star child of this dysfunctional family since he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard, the crack addicted star child that is.
The direction of the film is pretty much perfect. The film pulls you in as if you’re a helpless family member in this chaos and you get fully immersed in such a helpless manner that you want to put Micky Ward’s family in their place.
That being said, this can be quite funny at times. Weird as it is, you like the crack-addicted brother who’s selfish in his thoughts. The way he moves, talks and just acts with a brash of never ending arrogance makes you like him instead of despising his pathetic self. While the film will have you laughing, it will also send you into a spiral of different emotions and the most common one I had was frustration at the fact that Micky was getting ignored so easily. Any film that sucks you in so easily is incredible.
I noticed that Mark Wahlberg was robbed of a nomination. I haven’t seen Biutiful so I can’t comment on Javier Bardem’s performance but all I know is that Mark Wahlberg was ignored purely because he kept it all together. He didn’t have the loud, skinny addict brother but the level-headed one who has always stayed in the shadow of his half-brother Dicky Eklund. He was Micky Ward and he really performed in an outstanding manner. I still believe that Mark Wahlberg is an incredibly underrated actor ever since I saw him in Fear, Three Kings and Four Brothers; he’s just made some wrong decisions about what film to act in really. We can’t forget about the train-wreck of The Happening and the painfully bad but beautiful (cinematography wise) Max Payne. Maybe they’re punishing him for those? Hopefully, this’ll lead to him actually doing more great films again.
Christian Bale’s portrayal of a crack-addict who can’t let go of former glories like a nostalgic grandfather who rambles on about how society used to be and how he used to work his socks off for a mere tuppence is far too convincing. His performance is the most talked about but for a reason. He takes in a lot of the attention with his character who hogs the limelight from his brother, and that’s what Christian Bale does in this film. He takes centre stage from an incredible Mark Wahlberg just like their characters.
Amy Adams’s (yes, it is s’s, google it) “sexy-bitch” character - as described by David O. Russell - is an incredible all-round performance. From the rude but comical way she introduces herself to Alice Ward to the fight thanks to an “MTV girl” insult from one of the seven haggard sisters, Amy Adams shows she can do it all and shouldn’t be type-cast. Even though she’s now at the age of thirty-six she still looks in her mid 20s so hopefully we’ll see more from her. From the silly-but-hilarious Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby to the probably awful (haven’t seen it) Enchanted, Amy Adams can do it all; and she really wants to be seen as a sexy dominating girl who will fight and voice her opinion. Amy Adams deserves an Oscar for this role and her ability to diversify herself.
Another great performance from the near-perfect cast is Melissa Leo’s manager/mother depiction of Alice Ward. A terrifying, controlling mother of nine children but puts her Dicky on a pedestal that no one can eclipse. The Oscar nomination is deserved and if she won it then there’d be no complaints from anyone but I still think that Amy Adams deserves it.
There is only one complaint on my part and that is annoying Boston actress, Jill Quigg, who can’t act and annoyed me with her brief performance in Ben Affleck’s directorial début, Gone Baby Gone, and now this. Just because her Boston accent is incredibly strong doesn’t mean she has to be cast. She also looks like her face has folded in on itself and that’s not something you want to see from an emotionless and monotonous actress.
To summarise, this film is for everyone. It’s a fantastic, if not clichéd, storyline of the underdog but that doesn’t matter since it’s true. Nothing about this story seems unoriginal and David O. Russell has created what I deem to be one of the best films I’ve seen. From the authenticity of the fight scenes (by using the real HBO cameras) to the authenticity of every single character who made this film a believable spectacle which almost makes you shout in anger and cheer in happiness along.
I’ve decided to adopt the “star system”: ★★★★★