Top Ten Films of the Year 2011

2011 was a year in which we had no Nolan. We had no Cohen’s. We almost had no Fincher. To make matters worse we did have Bay, which we’ll get to on another list altogether. For now we have to maintain the happy thoughts and despite those omissions we have had some great films this year! Political thriller the Ides of March demonstrated Americans can be left wing sometimes. Spielberg reminded us of how he could thrill us like when we were kids in the light hearted adventure Tin Tin. David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo faithfully (for the most part) adapted a Swedish Crime Story whilst Swedish Director Thomas Alfredson did the same to British spy novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, both with terrific results. Breath-taking real stunts and action came from Brad Bird’s live action debut Mission Impossible 4, whilst Sherlock Holmes 2 demonstrated an intellectual hint to the genre. Terence Malik’s Tree of Life led the way with breath-taking visuals and My Week with Marilyn offered further chances for great actors to shine. Throughout all of this Jessica Chastain was lovely on several occasions. But of all the great moments of the year, which ten stood out for these particular bored nerds? Well let’s find out!

10. X-Men First Class

If this film has a problem it is that it has so much to do. It has to establish two very strong characters, then have them meet, develop the villains, have the heroes put the first class together, train them, develop a dynamic between them, demonstrate the rift between the two main characters, have them resolve the villain problem and then come apart from each other. It’s enough material for several films, including a Magneto the Nazi Hunter film, a section that clearly stands out as a highlight. But we do get the best of every section. We get the best of a the revenge plot, the best of the training underdogs, the best of the cold war espionage with mutants (the mission in Russia was pretty fun!) and the best of a character study, examining two men with different opinions on the same problem. The acting is excellent as James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are excellent in their parts and it doesn’t take much to establish a good chemistry between them. The period detail and tone of the film is perfect and consistent. The only fault is that it would have been nice to see some of these plot points spread over a few films. For now, let’s just hope they don’t fuck up wolverine again next year.

9. The Guard

In premise the film resembles Hot Fuzz and yet the style is entirely unique as it plays the material considerably darker, with a deadpan tone highlighting the quirky comedy. The story concerns a drug dealer played by Mark Strong, being hunted by FBI agent Don Cheadle who is forced to join forces with the local Irish police force “the guards” and specifically his new partner gloriously portrayed by Brandon Gleason. Gleason’s character indulges in every vice available and yet maintains an attitude of quaint country calm. The contrast of a rural Irish community cop starting the movie by taking an Ecstasy tablet found in a car crash and announcing that it’s “a fuckin’ beautiful day” is amongst the funniest things put to film this year. The movie keeps interest well through the staples of the buddy cop movie, including the big shoot out at the end. It also manages to include a great deal of emotional interest, as with Gleason’s sick mother. Really the highlight of the film is Brandon Gleason, who is effortlessly charming despite exhibiting every vice you wouldn’t want your local policeman to have, let alone one investigating a major drug deal. The film is part of a tradition of comedy drama films featuring predominantly Irish talent (usually with an English villain) including In Bruges and Perrier’s bounty and easily matches them.   

8. Tyrannosaur

It’s tough to maintain such a menacing atmosphere when you’re sharing a cinema with someone who laughs during the big rape scene. But it did! Paddy Constantine’s directorial debut is amazingly accomplished, though it may make us very concerned about Constantine’s private life. The film features Peter Mullun living in a village somewhere in the North of England who cannot help encountering violence wherever he goes, like a psychopathic Victor Meldrew. One day he encounters the sweet natured charity shop worker, played by Olivia Coleman, who is being abused by her deranged husband Eddie Marson. Coleman, who comes from a comedy background, is astonishing as the weary housewife driven closer to the violent stranger by her cold, malicious husband. All roles are played edgy and are complimented by the moody direction of the fledgling director. Hopefully this won’t be a one off like Gary Oldman’s Nil by mouth and we’ll be treated to further grim treats from Constantine. But for now we can appreciate this dark and disturbing view of life in the north (the only view one can possibly take of life up there in the mountains, with the trolls and dragons I believe they have there).

7. Hugo

Scorsese turns his hand to yet another film genre and once again is able to demonstrate a unique perspective. The film is a family movie and unlike most family movies of the year (The Smurfs, Alvin and the fucking Chipmunks (full title)) it is actually intended to entertain the entire family. It must be stressed first that we saw the 2D version, as we hate 3D. 3D killed my father. He thought the truck was much closer than it was and fell into a lawn mower. So we don’t see things in 3D and will be unable to affirm or rebuke the claim that this movie represents the future of cinema by using a tired old gimmick from the sixties. What we can confirm is that unlike Ronnie Corbett this movie is very extremely strong without the stupid glasses. The acting is great all round (except for Ray Winston who seems to be failing to impersonate himself), with particular skill from our two young leads. Chloe Grace Moretz works well with the accent and manages to be very interesting and sweet. The direction is fantastic as Scorsese once again demonstrates his flair for the visual bringing a French railway station of the 1910s to life with impressive sets and camerawork. What makes the film special though is the purpose it sets out to fulfil. The film is a love letter to cinema and the film making process in the film is portrayed as the idealised creative process, invoking feelings of joy, wonder and accomplishment. Hopefully this will become a classic as the years pass and thought of just as fondly as Cinema Paradiso.

6. Super 8

Speaking of homages to older films (though not quite as old here); super 8 recalls the early Spielberg films of the seventies and eighties and manages to be every bit as entertaining as the early summer blockbusters. The film follows a group of young friends as they attempt to make a low budget B-movie, only for their town to become involved in some sort of government conspiracy involving an implausible train crash, an insanely intense Biology teacher and a mischievous alien. The feel of the movie is very appropriate for the period of its setting with minute details placed to provoke the strongest nostalgia possible, even in people who weren’t alive in the seventies. The young actors are very genuine in their performances and successfully create the atmosphere of youthful curiosity these films thrive on. The scenes that need to be endearing are endearing, the scenes that need to be tense, are very tense! The film succeeds in reminding us of what it feels like to see young characters we care about put into considerable peril.

5. Drive

It seems that this year we had a lot of films looking backwards. Hugo took influence (and delight) from the early silent films, My Week with Marilyn revelled in its 50s setting and the next entry after this one found its stylistic and spiritual influence in the past too. Drive demonstrates a slightly sleazier flavour to nostalgia as it revisits the sleek, sexy veneer of the nineteen eighties. As bright, neon stained visuals are complimented by a pounding techno soundtrack, the atmosphere of neon noir hangs heavily over a story of crime, revenge and love! Carey Mulligan provides a great deal of heart in her performance as the love interest, just as she did in last year’s Never Let Me Go and as she’ll probably do in this year’s Shame (not to typecast). Ryan Gosling succeeded in being likeable and menacing as needed, but the real achievement is Albert Brooks as the terrifying villain. Having busty redhead Christina Hendricks on board didn’t hurt either. The action is great and often quite understated whilst lovingly prepared with physical effects. The resulting moments of extreme violence are effective at shocking the audience, paying off the masterfully built tension. If film makers can continue to find the best of the past and bring up to date with this kind of quality then we have many good years ahead.

4. The Artist

Speaking of being referential to yesteryear, the Artist is a modern silent, black and white film which takes rewarding risks with its presentation. The style works beautifully as the setting for this story of an artist finding himself at odds with the times. The film plays with its unique style making humorous or emotional references to its own limitations and strengths. It offers rare opportunities to see old fashioned slapstick comedy, dance numbers and genuine talent, uninterrupted by the overly technological habits of today. By removing dialogue we are forced to focus on the tiny details being offered by the direction and the superb actors who fill the picture, from Malcolm MacDowell to John Goodman. The leading man and lady are infinitely charming, immediately arresting the audience so that we are totally gripped by their struggles with an evolving Hollywood. With the tiniest expressions they can entirely change the mood of the piece. The main message of the film is that the past still has a lot to offer, even as times change and the film doesn’t just advocate the notion but champions it.

3. 50/50

This is often a surprising choice to anyone who hasn’t actually seen the film. The comedy elements may lead many to assume this is a very light movie with little to say beyond a few crude gags. What is being overlooked there is the amazing amount of heart this movie has. Apparently based on the true story of the films writer coming to terms with cancer with the help of his friend, Seth Rogan (who recreates this period of his life in the film) the story concerns Joseph Gordon Levitt being diagnosed with spinal cancer. We then see the impact this has on his life, often with humour but just as often with a crushing realism that made this quite a hard watch. How many comedies can actually generate a tear in its finale? This succeeds, and in no small part because of the great chemistry between Levitt (giving his best performance so far here) and his co-stars, particularly Seth Rogan who takes the concept of Bromance to a truly wonderful place. The film is ultimately about how important other people can be in our lives and how good fellowship can help us overcome huge amounts of adversity and suffering.

2. Take Shelter

Take Shelter was perhaps a little personal for me, but even out of context I really think this is one of the most emotional films released all year. Rising star Michael Shannon is the lead who increasingly believes a terrible storm is coming which he and his loved ones must prepare for. As he builds the shelter in his home a terrible strain is put on his home life and work, and as he begins to lose all the things he hoped to protect he is forced to ask some very difficult questions about his mental health. The film is about what happens when the head of a family is compromised. It demonstrates the impact this has on his loving wife, Jessica Chastain, and deaf daughter who desperately needs the money he is spending on his shelter for an ear operation that could save her hearing. A lot is at stake in this movie and if I have one complaint it is the ending which I feel goes against the moral of the story as an exercise in recognising our own weakness and trusting the ones we love. However the penultimate scene in which the family finally enter the shelter is one of the tensest and most upsetting that I have seen all year. The performances alone make this film one of the best. The atmospheric direction merely provides space for Chastain and Shannon to shine, as they will both hopefully continue to do in years to come.

1. Melancholia

One day a full length article about this film will go up on this site, probably comparing it to Tree of Life and explaining why this movie is on the list whilst Tree of Life isn’t. I am a huge fan of Lars Von Trier and consider Antichrist to be one of the most misunderstood movies of recent years. This film is a lot clearer on its message and it’s one that anyone who has spent some time thinking seriously about death will be all too familiar with. After an epically beautiful introduction showcasing the keen eye for striking shots Von Trier and his team have, the story is split into two parts. The first is a family drama in the same tradition as Festen. There is a wedding taking place but things are far from perfect as tensions between guests and hosts are played out and the veneer of control that Kiefer Sutherland and Charlotte Gainsbourg try to exert over proceedings is slipping. Meanwhile the bride, Kirstin Dunst, who initially takes a great deal of joy from the problems they have getting to the venue, becomes increasingly depressed and disillusioned with the forced ritual of the wedding and soon seeks to disrupt and spoil it in any way she can. This segment is dramatic and often amusing; sporting its ensemble cast which includes such greats as John Hurt and Udo Kier. In the second half of the movie the plot concerns a travelling planet called Melancholia (due to its deep blue colour) passing close to the Earth, only to start concerning people that it will actually collide. This worldwide panic is portrayed only through the four characters inhabiting the manor house, and the contrasting attitudes to the potential disaster range from denial to acceptance. The symbolism is worn on the films sleeve as the film is an excuse to examine attitudes towards death and ultimately the prevailing view is quite pessimistic. Our hero is totally unwilling to buy into the traditions and rituals put in place to make us more comfortable with our own mortality and instead accepts the inevitability of death with a cold sense of calm which can be very unsettling to watch. The film is a beautiful and well executed study of a very important issue and I feel is Von Triers best work and the best film of the year.

That’s our list of the best films of the year! Soon will be the considerable harder list, the worst films of the year, in which we take an opportunity to vent a year’s worth of bile and anger. Look out for it!

P for probably not going to be revised in two months…

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We're Nerds, and man, do we get bored. Our Twitter: @nerdsgetbored

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