Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Top NINE Films of 2011

As with every year, I present my own personal favorites of 2011 IN NO ORDER. As also with every years the films are those that came out in just the UK that year, while I also admit myself there are no doubt a number of films that year I have missed with a good chance of breaking this list.

And why just nine films? Everytime you do a Top 10, you're always stuck on one of them.

(Directed by Gavin O’Connor, running time 140 minutes)

Tom “soon to be Bane” Hardy and Joel “I think he was in that poor remake of the The Thing disguised as an even poorer sequel, seriously, what was the point of that film again? But I digress”... Edgerton star as a pair of estranged brothers who both enter a mixed martial arts fighting tournament for their own personal reasons, with Hardy under the training of the even more estranged father played by Nick Nolte. What reads like a predictable set up of every other sports drama definitely holds true, with more people comparing it to last... same year’s The Fighter. Yet with the MMA as the focus for once a long with a strong script and some fantastic character performances, with Nick Nolte easily topping the best of them of 2011. Couple that with some genuinely thrilling ‘Ultimate Fighting’ sequences, Warrior is a drama that doesn’t bore.

13 Assassins(Directed by Takashi Miike, running time 141 minutes)

Modern day Japanese popular culture is a confusing, baffling and even at times wholly perverted enigma, so any throw back to a time where the nation had a sense of dignity is always welcome. However with Ichi the Killer, Audition director Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins, the reign of the samurai once again feels fresh on the big screen. Set during the slide of Shogun rule, an honorable samurai plots the assassination of the heir of the shogun, a young but cruel tyrant who murders, rapes and pillages for pleasure. With it comes a build up of well constructed exchanges of dialogue that leads to a literal 45 minutes pay off of none stop professionally choreographed and shot violent action of 13 assassins against a small army of body guard. While far from the cinematic heights of Akria Kurosawa, to capture that traditionalist style to a point is in itself an achievement.

(Directed by Gore Verbinski, running time 107 minutes)

Johny Depp voices a pet chameleon lost in the Mojave Desert who stumbles upon a makeshift Old West-style community of other small dusty critters, where he inadvertently becomes something of a folk hero. With a cast packed of less than Hollywood attractive animals includes geckos, rattle snakes, naked mole rats and desert mice, the colourful ensemble makes for some more interesting characters and highly detailed animation. Even with the bland set up of a fish out of water becoming a hero scenario, the narrative is well paced supported with a good level humor, both crude and slap-stick. We’ve had a break from Pixar this year (you made a sequel to your weakest film?) so it’s good to have an animated feature that’s not necessarily ambitious but well constructed.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
(Directed by David Fincher, running time 158 minutes)

It would be fair to say that I’m usually one of the first to set themselves on fire in protest at the prospect of film remakes, particularly foreign films. However since the Swedish original was a film based on (in all honestly) a rather weak story, and with David “The Game, Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac, Social Network” Fincher, this project was innocent until proven guilt. Better what audiences received was not only a worthy adaptation of the book but also in my humble (HA!) opinion the superior of the two. While Daniel Craig is serviceable as the journalist Mikael Blomkvist hired to uncover a murder within a rich family, the latter team up with Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander easily steels the show with delightfully unhinged performance as the investigative hacker. The story is further supported by memorable supporting roles from Christopher “Greybeard” Plummer and Stellan Skarsgard, Trent Reznor’s unconventional score and Fincher’s classic flair for gritty atmosphere and subtle humor.

The Troll Hunter
(Directed by André Øvredal, running time 103 minutes)

This humble piece from Norway probably surprised me the most and is probably contender for most underrated film of the year. This fictional “found footage” style documentary follows a small student film crew as the document the exploits of a reclusive hunter of “real life” wild trolls, whose secret profession is supported yet hidden by the Norwegian government. Unlike other films of its genre, the majority of the film is presented in a structured format and escapes, for the most part, being nothing but a string of shaky cam footage and screams. After all, this is supposed to be a professional hunter. What not only saves yet propels this creature feature is an obvious yet down played tongue in cheek sense of humor and the attention to detail when attempting to present the trolls as potentially real life natural beasts, including faux biology and medical science. Otto Jespersen as the titular troll hunter is a clear break out performance as a man who is clam and collected in the face of savage beasts and is what makes his dangerous practice such a thrill ride to be apart of.

True Grit
(Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, running time 111 minutes)

Yet another remake but one that follows a cliche ridden John Wayne western. The Coen Brothers inject new life into the Western with this superior and grittier version that follows a young girl played by Hailee Steinfeld as she hires local legend gunslinger (and drunk) played by Jeff Bridges to hunt down a low life who killed her father, played by Josh Brolin. As with any Coen Brothers piece, the setting is still harsh to a degree, with most characters being straight up terrible people yet is full of wit and black humor that makes the long stretches of dialogue both interesting and fun. With supporting roles from Matt Damon and Barry Pepper, great cinematography and atmosphere, True Grit is far succeeds as a modern western classic. What still confuses me though is the last year nomination for Steinfeld for Best Supporting Actress... she’s the main character let alone actress.

Black Swan
(Directed by Darren Aronofsky, running time 108 minutes)

Aronofsky returns with his trademark theme of hopeless adversity. Natalie Portman plays a meek ballerina who is given the chance to the duel role in a theater production of Swan Lake. Attempting to achieve this given role comes at the cost of what quickly becomes a descent into madness, worsened by the presence of the more free spirited fellow dancer played by Mila Kunis. The script is dark to say the least, with additional scenes of blunt sexuality, body horror and surreal mindsets. Yet it is all in support of the film and it’s multiple twists and turns, along with some particularly striking performances from Vincent Cassel and Winona Ryder. It’s easy to see why Portman swept the awards last year as Black Swan is by far her most demanding and bleak performance yet.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
(Directed by Rupert Wyatt, running time 105 minutes)

A personal favorite as it delivers on a somewhat ridiculous premise, at least one on paper. James Franco is a scientist attempting to cure Alzheimer’s disease by improving the brain functions by testing on chimpanzees. One of his test chimps named Caesar played by Andy Serkis in motion capture quickly shows signs of human level of intelligence. However as misunderstanding leaves him in wild chimp house where he becomes bitter while also rallying the other primates around him. What makes this film fascinating is it being on of the few where big budget CGI actually supports the characters. There are long stretches with next to no dialogue, instead showing the facial expressions and body language of the apes that not only makes them believable but the more sympathetic characters of the film. In short Serkis deserves a new form of acting award his work. However even the human characters hold their own with a strong performance from John “Dick Solomon” Lithgow as the Alzheimer’s inflected father of Franco.

Midnight in Paris
(Directed by Woody Allen, running time 94 minutes)

*SIGH* Fine... you got me. Out of all of the film industry, Woody Allen: you win. I actually really like a straight up romantic comedy for once. A better yet, you actually gave Owen Wilson something credible to be in for once!

Owen Wilson plays a developing writing who takes his fiancee to Paris, which he believes was host to some of the greatest artistic and literary minds during the 1920s. Despite being shrugged off by many around him in the present, he somehow finds a way to go back to the 20s every midnight. While the prospect of time travel and interacting with famous figures of history sounds like something a six year old would conceive, Woody Allen places his protagonist amongst the famous intellectuals and creative minds of the time causing much of the dialogue and humor to be full of charm and wit. Ever present is also the theme of nostalgia and what it can mean to people personal and their work method. I’ll say it again, this is very much a romantic comedy, yet it’s also a great film that I genuinely liked. Thus, it’s probably up as one of, if not the best of its genre.

Honorable mention:
127 Hours
Captain America: The First Avenger
The King's Speech
...and any other a end up watching further done the line in 2012

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