#cinefile: 2011 in reflection

although it is fairly

clichéd, i still feel that there is value in using the start of a new year to reflect on the experience of the year that has passed.

i’ll understand if you have an aversion to reading yet another person’s rundown of the year; but for those gracious enough to humour me, here are my reflections on 2011 in film.


2011 in film was, very much like Libya, a land of contrast. on one hand it saw the unceremonious dismantling of the UK Film Council, whereas on the other lots of critics thought it made sense to juxtapose that with the success of The King’s Peach, which made Harvey Weinstein pots of cash.

of course as anyone who stops to think about it will learn, we won’t realise the implications of the end of the Film Council era for some time, but it made a neat story to pretend otherwise.

i saw some wonderful films this year, at least two of which have already floated to near the top of my all-time favourites, and a couple more that would fare well in a list of my favourite films of this century. alas, as ever, looking at the list of the top ten grossing films of the year leaves my heart cold and full of dread.

here are the films that we in the UK patronised the most:

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt II ..................... ($117m)
2. The King's Speech ......................................................... ($75m)
3. The Inbetweeners Movie ............................................... ($71m)
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides .................. ($54m)
5. The Hangover Part II ..................................................... ($53m)
6. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt I ........................... ($46m)
7. Transformers: Dark Of The Moon .................................. ($45m)
8. Bridesmaids .................................................................. ($37m)
9. Tangled ........................................................................ ($33m)
10. Rise of the Planet of the Apes ..................................... ($32m)

i don’t know about you, but i have to run my eye down to number eight before i find a film i even half enjoyed. these are not the sort of films that i want to be made, and yet that is precisely what the number$ indicate will happen.

i had the spirit-crushing experience of being at a New Year’s Eve party with a well-educated ‘chap’ in his late twenties who told me that The Inbetweeners Movie was his favourite film of the year, and that was at about 8 o’clock. #face as the kids say #palm.

beneath, i have listed, in reverse order, the ten films released last year that moved, challenged, amused, touched and/or entertained me most, with a short description of how or why. please feel free to take me to task in the comments section.

11. Source Code: not as captivating as Moon, but a solid and engaging, if more mainstream, follow-up from Duncan Jones. i like Jake Gyllenhaal.

10. Hanna: beautifully shot, intensely paced, impressively acted (esp. Eric Bana) and raising some interesting issues. ultimately a little overblown in places. warning: some girls will kill you dead.

9. The Adjustment Bureau: suffered from comparisons to Inception and its links with Mad Men, but still stands for me as a crisp, smart pulp-sci-fi-thriller. nice wardrobe. nice Anthony Mackie.

8. Rango: smart, funny and enjoyable across the age spectrum without being overly stratified and relying on the tired slapstick-for-the-kids-innuendo-for-the-adults formula. a cartoon film for film lovers. my family film of the year.

7. Super 8: an excellent movie slightly spoiled by something of a blown-out ending. when it’s good it’s sweet, full of the hopefulness of youth, superbly acted and soaked in the love of the film camera and what it makes possible. a movie made by the Spielberg that Dawson from Dawson’s Creek loved.

6. Friends With Benefits: a smart, well made, genuinely touching and fairly believable Hollywood rom-com is a very rare thing. this felt loose and self-deprecating enough to be amusing and uplifting when it wanted, but also packed a subtle emotional depth. it won’t change the world, but i left surprised and charmed.

5. The Skin I Live In: something of an homage to Eyes Without A Face, this is an intense and emotionally thick drama about repression, pride, revenge and damaged people. Almodovar if not at his very best then certainly close to it, in what stands as a successful and long-overdue reunification with Banderas.

4. Blue Valentine: simple in the best ways. aesthetically beautiful, technically near-flawless, emotionally devastating and fleshed out by brilliant performances from two wonderful actors. warning: some films cut deep.

3. Snowtown: based on the infamous ‘bodies in the barrels’ murders, committed in South Australia in the 90s, this is a hefty, hard-htting, gritty crime-pic (in the true sense of the word, like grit in your eye – and i don’t know if they grade grit, but if they do, coarse). dark and brutal, it shines harsh light on some uncomfortable truths about the shadow-side of community and the nature of the human condition. warning: intensely Australian throughout.

2. The Artist: while it’s not yet on general release in the UK, Michel Hazanavicius’ silent masterpiece was officially released last year, and besides, i saw a preview screening and this is my list, not yours. just a wonderful movie – uplifting cinema at its best. technically daring, crisply and intelligently shot and edited, superbly acted and joyful through and through. a real old-school treat with a dark, powerful truth at its heart.

1. Drive: masterfully shot and edited and thus shockingly contrasting in its tone, it’s both languidly ponderous and deliciously terse in just the right mix. the edgy, über-cool tone of the first 3/4s gives way to a brutal final section. the destructive internal logic of violence and vanity is laid absolutely bare and apparent passivity is re-cast as moral agency. the combination of an achingly good use of light and lens, a wonderfully taut script, pitch-perfect performances from golden Gosling and the utterly lovely Mulligan (with great support from Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman among others) and genuinely profound insight make this a neon-noir treat. the film Quentin Tarantino has been trying to make his whole career.

honourable mentions:
– Melancholia
– Biutiful
– Another Earth
– Senna
– Bridesmaids

*edit films i thought of too late
– Norwegian Wood (which i saw in 2010, but, as i was reminded today, actually came out in 2011 and is superb.)

some films that might have impacted this list if i’d got round to seeing them yet:
– Tree of Life
– Cave of Forgotten Dreams
– Neds

thanks for reading in 2011, please stay for a chat below and be assured that you are warmly invited to engage with all entries in the #cinefile that 2012 offers up.

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  1. Okay here goes. This is NOT in order of anything but just my favourites of 2011: Drive, Biutiful, Tyrannosaur, NEDs, Tree of Life, Archipelago, Pina, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Bendabillili, To be honest those were my best films. I don’t think there were ten new films that blew my mind in 2011. I will share out the last place between two films I really enjoyed: Tron, and Bridesmaids.

    This has made me realise how little rep cinema I saw this year. Because of my job it’s a bit of a luxury to have time to see something that isn’t new or about to come out. This year I saw Alphaville for the first time, and also La Piscine. I also watched Irreversible 5 times in one week. I had tried to watch it several times before, and finally when I was able to make myself watch the rape scene, I got to see the second half of the film. It’s now one of my all-time favourite films. Oh, I saw In the Mood For Love x 3, how had I not got around to seeing this before, I loved it, of course and had to watch it again, and again. As always I rewatched a lot of Mamet, and any violent film set in Boston.

    And now I’ll be a self indulgent know-it-all and tell you some films I’ve seen already that are out in the first half of 2012 and that you should try and get to: Shame (I’ve actually seen this twice now and really loved it both times. More existential than Hunger. Not remotely sexy so don’t be fooled by the trailer. This is very bleak), Martha Marcy May Marlene (the tension was slowly layered up by the cinematography, really nuanced performances…it’s an arthouse thriller, if there is such a thing. It’s long and slow – expect to be satisfied and intrigued rather than on the edge of your seat. I thought it was stunning. Really un-showy, self-assured, if that makes sense.), Into The Abyss (Herzog being his usual disarming genius self, the guy is a saint, what can I say), Bombay Beach (enchanting mix of documentary and choreography – I’ve never seen a film quite like this) and finally Breathing (my favourite kind of film, this is contemporary European cinema at it’s best. See this if it’s playing near you. I expect it will get a very limited release outside London. Seriously, watch this if you don’t see anything else).

    • Some excellent recommendations, cheers.

      Ps. I don’t mean to sound like a psychiatrist , but Irreversible is a very odd film to watch five times in a week. I found it hard to watch it twice in two years, and am pretty sure I don’t want to watch it again.

  2. PS. I love Drive (saw it 4 times at the cinema plus one illegal home viewing last week. ahem, piracy sponsers terrorism, by the way, kids) but I don’t agree this is the film Tarantino has been trying to make his whole career. I see the similarities, of course, but Tarantino is much more subversive (and his dialogue is better – come on, Drive had a few clunky lines). They are both very cross-referential and I guess it’s a matter of taste whether you like your filmo references in your face or more subtle. Drive blissed me out for days but don’t diss Tarantino.

    • Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of several Tarantino films, and Pulp Fiction is the film I’ve seen more than any other (22 times). However, despite how good they are, his films always strike me as being too smooth to be truly incisive. He has always come across as an egoist, and, especially in the last decade, his style has often become a little too ‘showy’ and deliberate for my tastes.

      I do not at all agree that he is “much more subversive”, in fact quite the opposite – but then I know we read the politics of Drive very differently. I can never escape the conclusion that, despite his wit and incite, Tarantino fundamentally thinks violence is cool. The violence in Drive, by contrast, is harrowing, brutal and expertly juxtaposed with (rather than complimentary to) the theme of heroism and the ultra-stylish tone.

      The dialogue thing is a fair point. Tarantino does do sharp dialogue for sure, but again, for me, his writing tends towards artifice. I didn’t notice any real clangers in Drive, but there is certainly a neo-noir (or neon-noir – i thought of that all by myself) sensibility at work, which demands a certain suspension of dialogical disbelief.

      Overall, however, the thing I loved about Drive is that in some ways it’s so raw and stripped-down. Despite all the neon and hipster-shit, it has an intensely visceral quality that I think Tarantino has never quite achieved.

      Tarantino’s films are like the heavily lacquered-veneer interiors of the 40s cars he loves so much. Drive, by comparison, is a sheet of brushed aluminium (through the chest).

  3. Friends with Benefits? That surprises me. I don’t think I could watch it to the end, but then, I’m also really quite tired (except when I’m not).

    Bridesmaids may have been the first “chick flick” I’ve watched and laughed out loud. Question is, is it really a chick flick, or something more ambiguous? That is to say, not subtle, but maybe subversive. I watched it based on the New Yorker’s review, and o.k., to enjoy myself while still getting credit with my girlfriend.

    Random question not relevant to any of the above: are cable hour-long series programs making it to the U.K.? Breaking Bad? Walking Dead? Portlandia? And while I’m being random, do you have Instant Watch on Netflix or something like it there? –I ask because I’m beginning to watch programs like this (of course, without the commercials when they are free and instant) for the first time since (hesitating to suggest to those gifted in maths my age…) the 1970s (Kung Fu, of course; AND, Monty Python’s Flying Circus–which we had here in the States on our one & only Public Television Station (what is that, some kind of socialists of the entertainment industry owned by the government international cooperation?).

    Sorry to ramble on. G’night Europe, I mean, that is to say–I don’t even know what the hip way to refer to your country is…. the U.K.? the British Isles? I know England is out, right? Add that to my list of ignorant things this American–well, not a Native American–oh, to hell with it. This is clearly the path that leads us to anarchy.

    • Hey Doc J, great to have you along!

      I have to say, liking Friends With Benefits really surprised me too, but I genuinely did.

      As for US drama, it has varied over the years which shows have been picked up by free-to-air UK channels. Many have – e.g. Murder One (BBC), E.R. (Channel 4), The Wire (BBC), West Wing (Channel 4), The Shield (Five), Mad Men (BBC), etc. – but many haven’t.

      More show up on Sky (the Murdoch-owned popular satellite TV option), which last year launched a channel called Sky Atlantic, specialising in US drama.

      I’ve blogged about my love for shows like Treme, Breaking Bad, Carnivale, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones and several more. In order to watch these and other choice US shows I’ve had to rely on a US VPN and Hulu or other online streaming/hosting sites.

      We don’t have Netflix here at the moment, although they keep talking about launching here. We have a service called LoveFilm which is similar, but has less online content (mostly a DVD postal service). In addition, most UK channels have online catch-up services, e.g. BBC iPlayer, ITVPlayer, 4OD, etc.

      We get quite a lot of good quality British/European drama too. The last year has been enriched by The Killing from Denmark, Spiral from France and Brit-drama like The Hour, Page Eight, Luther, Misfits and Black Mirror.

      Some of those have headed/are heading across the pond as remakes, but I’d recommend you seek out the originals.

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