I don't usually rank films. People ask me my favourite film ever, it changes. Top five? Okay, but I can't tell you the order. Normally, I know which film I like most in a year ... But can rarely think of a top ten. Last year, for some reason, I could. So I did. Here they are: The Ten Best Films of 2011 ... Official!
10: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
It annoyed me when they changed the name a couple of months before release – from Rise of the Apes. The added ‘Planet of the’ just seemed to make it all so unsubtle for me. The film itself, thankfully, worked a treat. It begins as a modern-day reworking of the Frankenstein story then develops into something far more spectacular. The motion-capture work with the rightly-celebrated Andy Serkis is remarkable – especially facially – but you never forget you’re watching a CGI monkey. Some of those facial expressions are heart-breaking … But you never think of him as a real ape.
9: THE RUM DIARY
Can’t explain why I liked this so much, because it is a minor work for all concerned. People sing the praises of Thompson, yet all the great lines in this film (of which there are many) are Bruce Robinson’s, who Johnny Depp successfully dragged out of retirement to write and direct this. The end result works well as a companion piece to both his Withnail and I and Depp/Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I can think of no higher complement than that.
8: SOURCE CODE
This is a real Rubik’s Cube of a fillum. It’s a mystery you enjoy solving. It takes the relatively unpromising premise of ‘let’s run the same eight minutes over and over again’ and manages to turn it into a compelling character-driven action-piece, one part Groundhog Day to two-parts Twilight Zone. After (the superior) Moon, this will be Duncan Jones’ calling card for the States. Expect exceptional things from him in years to come! There's loads more info, plus an explanatory infographic for those who still don't get it, with my review here.
7: ATTACK THE BLOCK
This is a bravura opening volley from Joe Cornish’s feature-film career. The film is unfairly compared to Shaun of the Dead because of the horror/comedy mix and the presence of Nick Frost. The only similarity is that they both understand and have great fondness for their source material – in this case early John Carpenter movies – but have not allowed that to stand in the way of their own creativity. I doubt if this will go down as well in the US as Shaun did, because they won’t understand much of the dialogue (if I’m honest, I didn’t understand all of it) and therefore won’t be Cornish’s hot ticket. But he has already got a Tintin script for Spielberg under his belt, so he’ll do alright!
6: CAPTAIN AMERICA: The First Avenger
This film is a good-natured, beautifully-designed romp with an excellent central performance from Chris Evans, who impressed me for the first time in his career. Yes, it’s a piece of mental chewing-gum, but it’s done with such panache – and is so loyal to the spirit of the 1940s source material – that it wins over the most cynical viewer. Along with Hugo, it has the best special effects of the year! And the best review of it, of course, is here.
5: X-MEN : FIRST CLASS
This film has a real panache, and looks to be Matthew Vaughn’s second stab at grooming a future James Bond (he gave Daniel Craig his first leading role in Layer Cake) because Michael Fassbender is captivating as Erik Lensherr, the avenging angel. A magical way of re-inventing the X-Men universe. Now, if only they could make a Wolverine film this well! For more info, my definitive review is here.
The trailer did not sell this to me, neither did this unimaginative poster. I just wasn't interested. Then a few friends started telling me this was their film of the year. Intrigued, I investigated further and discovered: It is so much better than last year’s much-feted multi-Oscar-winner The Fighter. This is the story of two estranged kick-boxing brothers who, independently (and rather improbably) entre the same competition with inevitable results. It shouldn’t work. The plot is ridiculous, but the performances are so committed and so involving, the writing, directing and editing so perfect that you can’t help being drawn in and mesmerised by it.
Some films are released. Some escape. I had to hunt this film down with bloodhounds. It didn’t play in any multiplex in a fifty mile radius of where I live. But it was worth the hunt. This is a minimalist, chilly film with an extraordinarily controlled central performance from Ryan Gosling (Whose always interesting but easy to miss career really stepped up a gear in 2011). Yes, the film is entirely spoiled by its contentious trailer, so don't watch that, watch the film instead. To be fair, compared to Valhalla Rising (director Nicolas Winding Refn’s last film), Drive is as action-packed as a Transformers movie.
Came as a complete surprise to me, this did. I rarely fall for the interesting, independent British films, I’m always seduced by the big, flashy Hollywood fare. But this year was full of surprises for me. Submarine is simply a delight! If you haven’t watched it yet, treat yourself, pausing only to read my review, here.
My opinion of 3D is a matter of record, yet Hugo needs to be in 3D. This is the only film yet made that made me upset that I can’t see in 3D. It is an integral part of the fabric of the film – which is a delightful fantasy set in a magical, beautifully realised world. You can feel the joy of discovery as the long unused parts of Scorsese's mind that once made him a genius, were fired into renewed life by the possibilities of this new medium. This is almost perfect movie-making for me and is a film I suspect I will revisit often on disc!