I think I need to preface this list by saying that I hate lists. I’ve discussed this before. I had ranking films. It’s the worst thing ever, and it’s almost always arbitrary. I could labour over my rankings for hours and then be switching things back around the next day. But hey, it’s the end of the year and if I’m going to talk about my favourite films, might as well put them in a list, rank them, and earn some praise and scorn.
(As a side-note, I tried to leave off films from TIFF that haven’t gotten a theatrical release yet, but there are a few exceptions in cases where I really wanted to highlight them.)
Also, I think it’s appropriate now to comment on what kind of year 2011 for film. Well, I think it was a pretty phenomenal year, but also an odd one. There weren’t really any films that stood out as obvious #1s, but I think a lot of that is because there were so many amazing films that were all great for very different reasons.
To give you an idea of just how good I thought this year was, while my top film is pretty well solid, any of the films in my 2-15 would likely have been Top 5 level any other year. In fact, there are a couple of films that just missed my Top 20 from earlier this year that I swore would make my Top 10. It’s been THAT good a year. Anyway…
On to the list!
20. Wuthering Heights
Here is one of of those TIFF films. It’s gotten a release in Britain, but hasn’t hit North American shores. Andrea Arnold knocked me out with her last feature, Fish Tank. This year she brought an adaptation of the famous Brontë novel, and it was unlike any that has ever been seen, I’m sure. Beautifully shot, ruminating on the landscape and the detail in objects and body parts. It’s weird, because I often reject movies of this sort, but the cumulative effect of it was quite powerful, and the film has stuck with me for months.
19. The Guard
Brendan Gleeson stars in this wonderful comedy. It’s a buddy cop movie of a different sort. John Michael McDonagh’s script and direction are superb, and the comedy is great. Comparisons to In Bruges are easy, though probably unfair. This is a much more lighthearted film, but it’s just so wonderfully funny and entertaining that it makes up a lot of that ground.
18. You’re Next
Here’s another TIFF film, this time a Midnight Madness entry. It’s a home invasion thriller, but it’s so much more. The film plays with genre tropes almost as well as the original Scream. Its hilarious, and crazy, and genuinely suspenseful. It’s also got a kick-ass female lead and some of the most fun on-screen deaths you’re likely to see in a film all year. It’s set to come out next fall, and it’s one you should not forget to seek out.
17. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
The Harry Potter series came to an end this year, with this, the second part in a single film that was split into two. I loved it, no question. That said, I felt some elements of this final chapter were slightly rushed through and overall it wasn’t quite as great as Part 1. Still, it’s a Top 20 film for me. It has wonderful action, satisfying conclusions for all the characters, and I think it’s about as great an ending to a great series as anyone could have hoped for. I have a feeling that if the two parts had been released as one, this entry in the Harry Potter saga would have ranked much higher.
This is the only documentary to make my list. Going in, I knew a little bit about the subject, Ayrton Senna, the famous Brazilian F1 racer. But the film was so much more than just a biographical portrait of the man. It managed to be an incredibly fascinating, enthralling, suspenseful and moving story about a person who lived his dream to its fullest and inspired many along the way.
15. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The first thirty minutes of this film were tough to get through. A lot of information being flung at the audience, and a slow pace that was almost overbearing, but at some point after that everything just clicked. It all started to work. When I came out the other end I had gotten so much more than I expected. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a film about spying, but it’s much more a film about spies. It’s about their lives and the toll their work takes. I expected a good spy thriller, and what I got were tears during the ending.
If it wasn’t for my absolutely hating what I think are the very nihilistic messages of this film, it surely would have ranked in my Top 10. As it stands, Lars von Trier managed to wow me with an incredibly bold film that has hardly left my mind since I’ve seen it. It’s a tough film, but one which has been rewarding in spite of itself.
13. Of Gods and Men
Some have called it martyr-porn. I don’t think that’s fair. Of Gods and Men struck me as an incredibly humanist film. It’s not so much about the religious convictions of the monks involved as it is about their love of humanity and their love for each other. The “Swan Lake” sequence in this film is truly among the very best this year, managing to be incredibly insightful and moving with nothing more than glances and an impeccable soundtrack choice.
Here is a film I was sure would make my Top 10. Even with the brilliant action sequences in The Adventures of Tintin and the glorious IMAX footage in Missions: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Hanna rises above. Joe Wright took to action filmmaking and decided to through all care for convention out the window. What he made was a film that’s weird and hilarious and has some of the most thrilling action of the year. It’s all done through brilliant visuals, perfect editing, and a Chemical Brothers score that’s easily one of the best of the year.
Wes Anderson-lite? Nah. This is total homage to French New Wave. It’s stylish and funny, but it’s also heartfelt and quite poignant. I don’t know what else I can really say about Submarine except that I think it’s been woefully overlooked, and everyone who can stand a little quirk should check it out.
10. Certified Copy
Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film is a phenomenally beautiful head-scratcher of a film. It’s never quite clear what is real or what isn’t, but that’s somewhat the point. It’s not whether the relationship we’re witnessing is real or an imitation, it’s the truth of what we’re seeing. Certified Copy is an exploration of marriage and love over a long period of time that’s as insightful as any I’ve ever seen. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking, and Juliet Binoche is stunning.
9. I Wish
And another TIFF film. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film about two young brothers separated by divorce was one of the most personally impacting and moving films of the year. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say that I was a crying, blubbering mess for about the last half hour. In fact, I was a mess even five or ten minutes after it was over. This was that sort of film. Incredibly honest, perfectly sentimental, sad, happy, simply great.
8. Take Shelter
Michael Shannon isn’t the only reason to see Take Shelter, but he’s certainly the biggest. It’s a defining performance from the year, and it’s set in one of the most deftly executed, suspenseful dramas of the year as well. Jeff Nichol’s story of a man in hard financial times and descending into schizophrenia is extremely poignant, and it’s an immaculate portrait of the struggles of holding a family together in spite of personal faults.
7. The Skin I Live
I haven’t seen a more fucked up, crazy movie all year, and that includes I Saw the Devil. Almodovar’s audacity is amazing. It’s a thriller, a body-horror film, a drama, but most of all it’s an incredible examination of how we identify ourselves and each other by our bodies versus our “souls”. Well, okay, it’s also crazy entertaining, with more big twists and revelations than you could hope for. In fact, there are so many twists that it’s hard to even talk about the plot without fearing spoilers. So really, just see it. It’s amazing.
Okay, so there’s not much substance to Drive. I don’t care. I’ve seen it four times and loved it more every time I’ve seen it. It’s an exercise in style that gets the style so perfectly right that I can’t help but love every second. The long pauses? I love them. The ultra-violence? Love that, too. It’s hard to justify my love, except to say that Drive entertains the hell out of me.
5. The Muppets
I can’t believe this isn’t higher on my list. I don’t fully know how to express how happy The Muppets makes me. And it isn’t anything to do with Muppet nostalgia. It’s a film that made me long for other films that were just earnestly joyful. There’s so much cynicism floating around these days, even in most of the films on my list, but The Muppets doesn’t have a cynical bone in its body. It’s all happiness and joy and laughter and awesome songs and I adore it all.
4. A Separation
Another film by an Iranian director, only this one is actually set in Iran. It also tackles issues of marriage, but it goes well beyond that. It’s a study of the things that keep people apart, in love, in friendships, in society. Talky dramas don’t come more intense and complex than A Separation. The hype behind this film is entirely warranted. It’s a stunning piece of human and social drama. And probably an important one, too.
3. Attack the Block
Coming back around to a film that’s almost all entertainment, but more than any other film this year, Attack the Block is perfect. It’s actually kind of insane how perfectly crafted it is. Joe Cornish clear went to the Die Hard and Back to the Future School of Set-ups and Pay-offs. Everything fits so exactly, and the characters develop brilliantly. Best of all, it all goes down in a tight 80-minute running time. Attack the Block is the kind of well-crafted entertainment that will have staying power. I anticipate it being on many Best of the Decade lists in 9 years.
Kenneth Lonergan’s troubled film was released in a form that can only rightfully be called a mess-terpiece. Yeah, it’s a total mess. Plot lines appear and disappear, edits are often jarring, and the whole thing feels either an hour too long or an hour too short. Even still, there is a power to Margaret that I can’t shake. It’s a sprawling film about the vast stage that is life. Anna Paquin is perfectly unlikable in the lead role, and like most pretentious pretentious teenagers she’s both fascinating while being entirely aggravating. Margaret is a difficult film to sum up, but even in its current form it’s a masterpiece. I can only imagine what Lonergan’s preferred cut would be like.
1. War Horse
Spielberg knows how to play an audience. Some people resent him for it. I think it’s an amazing skill. War Horse is probably the best example of his talent in a very long time, and I simply couldn’t get enough. War Horse is an incredible, emotional melodrama, and the kind of old school filmmaking I wish was more common these days. Spielberg channels his inner John Ford, but without ever feeling cloying or derivative. It’s a remarkable film he’s crafted, brimming with emotion and beauty. I love it to death and it’s my favourite film of 2011.
That’s my list!
There are some honourable mentions deserved, including The Adventures of Tintin and Mission: Impossible 4, as well as I Saw the Devil, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, The Tree of Life, Incendies and Midnight in Paris. I’m sure there are others I’m missing, but really, 2011 has had too many great films to really start listing off here.
And so we bring 2011 to a close. It’s been a wonderful year for cinema, and I can’t wait to see what next year offers. Plenty more delights, I’m sure.
See you all on the other side of New Years!