My Favourite Films of… 2011

Michael Prescott

24-year-old Welsh writer on all things film. Background in Philosophy. Accidentally in Sheffield for 6 years and counting. Addicted to Kevin Spacey. Tweetable: @M_S_Prescott

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January saw the first post in a series of twelve to continue monthly throughout the year, in a feature which looks at the films which have made the biggest impact this side of the millennium.

The criteria is based on a mix of impact, legacy and just how fond of them I am, leading to Margin Call, Chronicle, Martha Marcy May Marlene, You’ve Been Trumped, The Dark Knight Rises, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Shame as the first selections, coming from the class of 2012.

Now it’s time for 2011. Remember, up to ten films will be chosen (depending on the strength of the particular year). It’s important to keep the threshold for inclusion high, although it will no doubt creep lower with each passing entry.

Anyway, to demonstrate the quality of choices on offer, here’s a brief look at the close-but-not-quite brigade:

The Fighter, True Grit, Inside Job, X-Men: First Class, Bobby Fischer Against the World, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Troll Hunter, Red State, Tyrannosaur, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, The Ides of March, Snowtown, Take Shelter

Looks like a pretty strong year, because that’s an impressive mix as I see it, and there are a further ten – the maximum amount allowed – to come. Let’s hear it for the following films from 2011, listed in order of release(*)…

Animal Kingdom / Midnight in Paris / Senna

* Well, apart from the first three. These are distinguished from the rest because they’ve already been written about in Modern Greats reviews of the past. To very briefly recap, Animal Kingdom is a fresh Australian crime film with terrifying performances from Mendelsohn and Weaver, Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen at some of his most charming and comical, whilst Senna is a rip-roaring F1 documentary on the life of one of the greatest drivers of all-time. Interestingly, The Rover – David Michod’s follow-up to Animal Kingdom – last week released a teaser trailer.  Read my in-depth views on Animal Kingdom, Midnight in Paris and Senna and watch the clips below.

Blue Valentine

Derek Cianfrance of The Place Beyond the Pines fame’s stunning debut saw Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams deliver sensational performances as a couple in the various, fragmented stages of their relationship. The musical whimsical first dates are contrasted devastatingly with scenes of turmoil in later life. An endearing but ultimately heartbreaking portrayal of romance, intimacy, commitment and the many struggles that love brings with it.

The Skin I Live In

If you watch this then you won’t forget about it in a hurry, so it ticks the longevity box without question. Pedro Almodovar – even by his tastes – has rarely created something so seemingly messed up and controversial, and yet the end product is fantastic. Difficult to explain the plot without giving too much away, but suffice to say the Spaniard explores his oft-examined themes of gender and sexuality within an unconventional narrative in a fresh manner and to great effect. Antonio Banderas is twisted in the lead role – as is the film itself as it floats between flits of horror, thriller and sci-fi – but it has a lot to say, asking complex questions, and has a multitude of layered, morally ambiguous characters. It’s also currently available on iPlayer until the evening of Sunday 9th February.

Drive

Let it never be said that Drive is a cult classic or anything similar – it’s received a bucketload of praise and attention since release and, whilst it almost feels like a cliché to include it here, upon viewing it I always remember what a joy it is. Certainly the most acclaimed work of director Refn who brings together a memorable soundtrack, a minimalist performance from Gosling and a straightforward story to devastatingly cool effect. But the soundtrack and Gosling’s propensity for looking swish often overlook the fact that it’s shot really nicely and has some beautiful action scenes – plus it’s ultra-violent – and so the films of Michael Mann are evoked at every turn.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

WNTTAK is the only film on this list which I’ve watched just once. This says two significant things: (1) it’s powerful enough to linger in the memory and convince me of its deserved status after just one viewing, and (2) it’s bleak… really bleak. Kevin isn’t a film which you’d rush to watch again, but it is completely absorbing and crushing. Tilda Swinton excels as the mother who just can’t let go of hope and refuses to stop loving her son, who in turn is played by the wonderful Ezra Miller. The crushing, suffocating tone it sets which simply escalates throughout is a testament to Lynne Ramsay’s direction. It’s tense, terrifying and terrific… and it punches you in the gut repeatedly, just as it should do.

Weekend

Modern LGBT classic Weekend came from emerging writer-director Andrew Haigh whose follow-up venture, HBO’s Looking, has recently made its way onto television. The film tells the brief romantic and sexual exploits of two young guys who hook up over a couple of days. They discuss much about their lifestyle and just what it is – or at least what it means to them – to be gay in the modern day, in a way that’s honest, refreshing and unique. I’m not sure there’s a director out there at the moment who can do ‘intimate’ in the way that Haigh can, and Looking is so far a confirmation of that.

Hugo

Scorsese is also back in the limelight with his provocative Oscar-contender Wolf of Wall Street at the moment, but it was a break from gangsters, guns and gambling that provided us with one of the surprise hits of 2011. The master filmmaker turned his attention to cinema itself – in almost Cinema Paradiso fashion – to weave a narrative that combined the history of the medium with a traditional (yet updated) children’s adventure, virtually all set in a Paris railway station. All at once a celebration of the birth of cinema (as it approaches a century in the sun) and a look to the future – with young stars Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz shining brightly (as well as engaging use of 3D) – Hugo is enchanting and will surely cement its place as a Christmas family favourite in years to come.

The Artist

Initially skeptical as to whether I or audiences generally would take to the idea, the end result can be considered nothing but an absolute triumph. The surrounding story of The Artist is perhaps as great and significant as the film itself, with the seeming impossibility of a silent film winning Best Picture in 2012 being realised in true underdog fashion. Alongside Hugo it celebrated the early years of cinema in a fashion typically eccentric and dazzling for a French ‘musical’ production. Its score is obviously vital, as is the energy and charisma of the two main performers, and not one leg of this integral tripod dares to disappoint. Audiences claim that they want a diverse product, and there’s perhaps no better example of that than this film’s incredible success.

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