10. Attack The Block
In 2011, two films paid tribute to Steven Spielberg and his films from the 1980s. It was a huge surprise to me and I am sure many others that the better of the two films was not JJ Abrams’ Super 8 but was rather Joe Cornish’s debut Attack The Block. The cast, composed mostly of young kids, did an excellent job and cemented the emotional heart of the film. Beyond that, however, was the fantastic tone and combination of action and comedy that is so rarely captured on film.
It is unfortunate how often style overtakes substance in film, and Drive‘s director Nicholas Winding Refn is certainly guilty of this. However, Drive is the first film I have seen by this talented filmmaker that not only balanced style and substance but also used the two elements to compliment each other. Both gorgeously shot and brilliantly acted, Drive has finally put Nicholas Winding Refn on my radar.
8. The Skin I Live In
Having never seen a film from acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, The Skin I Live In was my first true surprise of 2011. The film combines elements of horror, sci-fi and dark comedy into a brilliantly twisted drama. It was one of the few films I went to see this year with absolutely no expectations, and this only added to the experience. Full of great surprises, the film does not hinge on a twist, but instead simply grows in tension and horror, working with the twists to create one of the best horror films of the last decade.
It was no shock that I fell for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, but it was a true delight to discover that his first foray into both 3D and family films was, in fact, a film about the importance of film preservation. Featuring not only the best looking 3D of any film to date, but more importantly, it is the first film that truly needs to be seen in 3D. Scorsese is a calculated filmmaker, and while some of his films can seem cold to some, this film is simply full of love for cinema.
6. Midnight In Paris
I was a latecomer to the acclaim that has surrounded Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, and to be honest, I was somewhat suspicious. I have found his efforts as of late to be quite lacking, and even his better work is no comparison to early-Allen. Midnight in Paris brings back all of what we loved about Allen’s most acclaimed work, and in some ways, even more. While his tendency to rush a film is still evident, the magic that he captures and the hilarity of the writing and acting make up for any mistakes in the film.
5. We Need To Talk About Kevin
Early in my days of discovering the magic of film, I stumbled upon a film called Ratcatcher by filmmaker Lynne Ramsay. It captured me like so few films had before, and have since. Unfortunately, since then, Ramsay has made only two films. We Need To Talk About Kevin is her third film, and one of the most accomplished of the year. From a purely filmmaking standpoint, Ramsay does what so few filmmakers do, and that is to assume the intelligence of the audience. She does not hold back, and tells a story in a way that makes her truly stand out. We Need To Talk About Kevin is not an easy film, but it is brilliant and beautiful.
4. Kill List
The emotional reaction caused by a film is one of the most important aspects of cinema. Ben Wheatley’s Kill List certainly caused the most violent reaction in me this year, leaving me feeling nauseous but also excited that I had just seen a film as great as Kill List. The simple fact Kill List is Wheatley’s second film is impressive, but even if this had been made by a veteran, it is still a masterful piece of filmmaking. Not for the faint of heart, Kill List may be the single most intense piece of filmmaking I have ever seen, but it is also a delicate film that shows the importance of a slow burn.
3. Certified Copy
It takes a true talent to create a film composed almost entirely of two actors conversing and make it one of the most captivating films of the year. Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami did just that with his first English language film, Certified Copy. A beautiful portrait of a relationship that we the audience cannot quite understand. Leaving it purposefully vague, Kiarostami has crafted a film that not only dissects relationships but cinema and art itself.
2. Take Shelter
Having previously fallen in love with Jeff Nichols’ debut feature, Shotgun Stories, I had high hopes for his sophomore effort Take Shelter. The film once again showed me that Jeff Nichols is one of the most promising young filmmakers working today. With the control of a master filmmaker, Nichols is able to tell us a story of mental illness with more reality and horror than I believe I have ever seen on film. Michael Shannon delivers arguably the best performance of the year, and instead of the film becoming a showcase for over-the-top acting, Shannon does exactly what the film requires of him.
1. The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick is my favourite filmmaker, and is one of the central reasons why I want to become a filmmaker. His films and filmmaking style speak to me in a way no other filmmaker is able to. For these reasons, among many others, it should be no surprise that his fifth film, The Tree of Life, is not only my favourite film of the year, but maybe my favourite film of all time. It is a difficult film, in that it is by far Malick’s most stylistically extreme film. It is also breathtaking and completely original. He shoots and edits his films unlike any other filmmaker and The Tree of Life is the best example of his ever-progressing style. It would be wrong to expect everyone to see the brilliance in a film as different and difficult as The Tree of Life but I am certain if you simply let the film wash over you, that you will have an experience unlike any other.