Monday, January 2, 2012

My favorite films of 2011

It’s been a busy year, which means I’ve probably missed a good deal of wonderful films (I have yet to see The Artist, Le Gamin au Vélo, Melancholia and A Seperation, to name a few), but I’ve seen plenty enough to make my yearly top 10 list. Actually, it turned into somewhat of a top 20 countdown. Here goes:

First the runners-up:

20. The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg, USA/New Zealand)
While 3D as a film format is slowly being destroyed by rubbish horror and sci-fi films, Tintin shows how stunning 3D can be in the right hands. While the tone (especially the humor) was a bit off for my taste here and there, I found Tintin great entertainment.

19. X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaugh, USA)
My favorite of this year’s big superhero flicks. Makes me loath X-Men: The Last Stand even more.

18. The People vs. George Lucas (Alexandre O. Philippe, USA/UK)
It might be a geeky topic, the discussion whether Lucas still owns Star Wars and can do with it what he wants (including refusing to release the original version to the public) or if it belongs to the fans now is relevant for all interested in participatory culture and the like.

17. Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, UK/France)
South London teenage street gang meet alien invasion: “This is too much madness to explain in one text!”

16. Super 8 (J.J. Abrams, USA)
If only the final 30 minutes or so weren't somewhat of a letdown, this film would have been in my top 10. It's one big love letter to Spielbergian 80s cinema.

15. The Tree of Life (Terence Malick, USA)
I love Malick’s work, but for me, this beautiful piece of cinema crossed the line between philosophical and pretentious a bit too often, with its rather corny (oh, sorry, spiritual) finale not doing it any good either.

14. True Grit (Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, USA)
More westerns please!

13. The Arbor (Clio Barnard, UK)
This documentary does not just offer a portrayal of the tragic life of British playwright Andrea Dunbar, it does so in a fascinatingly experimental form, blurring the lines between documentary and fiction, and between film and theater.

12. Rango (Gore Verbinsk, USA)
Much weirder than expected from a big studio animated feature, and with beautiful animation from ILM. Excellent surprise.

11. A Stoker (Aleksey Balabanov, Russia)
I’m fascinated with Balabanov's brand of pitch-black comedy and with A Stoker (Kochegar) he's once more on a roll. Balabanov fills even the grimmest situations of human misery with dry, wry humor.  

Which brings us to my top 10 favorite films of 2011: 

Whereas Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the antithesis of a spy action film, Brad Bird shames even the best Bond’s with his take on Mission Impossible. This is not Tom Cruise’s, but his film. It reminds us what action films can become under the right direction: an often awe-inspiring, beautifully choreographed rollercoaster ride. See it on IMAX.

9. RUNDSKOP (Michael R. Roskam, Belgium)
Year after year, it are the Flemish who must remind the Dutch how to make good films. This year's prime example is this bleak journey into the world of the hormone maffia, with a great Matthias Schoenaerts as a tormented (and, due to steroids, huge) cattle farmer Jacky.

While I'm not in the Oscar for Andy camp (such an award should be given to or at least shared with the animators), Andy Sirkis' Ceasar is a terrific (and terrifying) creation. Ceasar's rise to freedom and power is done so well that it made me forgive the bland performances of James Franco and Frida Pinto (though John Lithgow is great, but he is always great). The smart and cheeky ways in which the film is tied to the original Planet of the Apes make it a strong addition to the series. Also, we can now just forget Tim Burton's awful remake.

7. BALADA TRISTE DE TROMPETA (Álex de la Iglesia, Spain/France)
De la Iglesia has delivered a biting commentary on Spain's Franco years, and has chosen sad clowns do to so. Violent, disfigured, armed sad clowns. Did I mention the violent, disfigured, armed sad clowns? A wonderfully grotesque and unexpectedly epic black comedy/drama which has future cult classic written all over it.

6. INSIDE JOB (Charles Ferguson, USA)
Director Ferguson said it best when we accepted a deserved Best Documentary Oscar: "Forgive me, I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that's wrong".

5. THE GUARD (John Michael McDonagh, Ireland)
"let me slip into something a bit more uncomfortable" - Brendan Gleeson's sergeant Gerry Boyle is one of this year’s best - and endlessly  quotable - comedic creations. As a film, it's this year's In Bruges.

4. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Tomas Alfredson, France/UK/Germany)
Not many films made such an impression on me in terms of its impeccably detailed look and feel. Its stylized (but for some understandably annoying) refusal to be intelligible, with much of its narrative more implied than explained, actually makes me want to see it again soon. I also loved to see Gary Oldman doing the opposite of chewing scenery.  

3. TYRANNOSAUR (Paddy Considine, UK)
Considine's directorial debut is a harsh social drama of the Ken Loach variety. Peter Mullan might have gotten most of the attention, playing such a convincing self-destructive wreck of a person, Olivia Colman as the Christian charity shop owner grudgingly helping him out, made quit the impression too. Why this film didn't reach Dutch cinemas is beyond me. (EDIT: apparantly, it is coming out in the Netherlands - this week even. A bit late, but hey, better late than never). 

2. 13 ASSASINS (Takashi Miike, Japan/UK)
Miike Takashi makes a lot of truly crazy and experimental films and I try to catch as many of them as possible, but to be honest, his films are usually more miss than hit. And then he suddenly gives us 13 Assasins. It's an epic sumarai film which, aside from a few Miike trademarks like the occasional gore and crazy stuff (hello, explosive cow stampede!), feels like a film in the classic tradition of the samurai film by the likes of Kurosawa. A modern Seven Samurai then, only bloodier. 

1. DRIVE (Nicolas Winding Refn, USA)
I've been a fan of Nicolas Winding Refn's work for years (his Valhalle Rising made it to my top 10 last year) but Drive is his most solid, lush and plain cool film yet. In fact, this film lover’s film feels like an instant classic. I came across a review comparing it, among other things, to samurai films, calling it a lovely companion piece to 13 Assasins. A good excuse to see both again. 

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