The toughness of whittling down this list to just ten films is a reflection of just how fine the year has been for cinema. Proving that punching robots and stranded singing chipmunks are unable to muddy the cinematic waters, 2011 has seen a continued upsurge for British film (a prominent feature in this list) as well as some very fine documentaries and foreign films which, as good as they were, didn’t quite make the final cut. Honourable mentions go to Lars von Trier’s “beautiful film about the end of the world”, Melancholia, which starred a strangely absorbing Kirsten Dunst, as well as Pedro Almodovar’s tightly wound The Skin I Live In, two films that sit highly amongst their respective director’s bodies of work. But, onwards and upwards, here is my Top Ten of 2011, a stellar, vintage year for cinema…
1. The Artist (dir. Michel Hazanavicius, France)
Flawless is a big word, but it could not be more aptly applied to this sumptuous, charming and expertly made razmataz of a film, a postmodern throwback to the silent era that greets impeccably observed humour with uplifting pathos, building to a finale that will staple an immovable smile onto your gleeful face.
2. We Need to Talk About Kevin (dir. Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA)
After her potentially awe-inspiring adaptation of The Lovely Bones was indefinitely waylaid, Ramsay returns with a visceral, singular and incredibly honed third feature, taking Lionel Shriver’s novel and spinning it into a visually arresting and gripping film that makes full use of its beguiling performances and haunting narrative twists.
3. Submarine (dir. Richard Ayoade, UK)
A winning and refreshing feature debut from comedian Ayoade, combining a knowing self-reflexive aesthetic with some hilariously offbeat performances, deftly balancing laugh out loud comedy with touching observations of teenage angst. (Full review here)
4. Weekend (dir. Andrew Haigh, UK)
Taking a desire for realism, Haigh’s film is a touching and believable love story of two lost souls looking for a connection. Although the progression of the relationship, between Tom Cullen’s Russel and Chris New’s Glen over the course of a weekend, offers nothing particularly new in the way of narrative, it throws a cat amongst the pigeons by being an utterly compelling depiction of contemporary gay life.
5. Senna (dir. Asif Kapadia, UK)
Perhaps the year’s best documentary, Senna is in turns insightful, honest and intense, a heartfelt portrait of the all-conquering Formula One hero, which builds to a devastating conclusion. Fan of the sport or not, this deserves to be seen by everyone. (Full review here)
6. Blue Valentine (dir. Derek Cianfrance, USA)
As debut features go, this is incredibly polished stuff, a fierce and unequivocally mature depiction of a romance gone sour, one which never skrimps on the honesty. Wrongly labelled as overly depressing, Blue Valentine is raw, intense and powerful, an example of contemporary low budget filmmaking done right.
7. Midnight in Paris (dir. Woody Allen, Spain/USA)
Despite it being somewhat of a subjective cliché to label this as a return to form, Midnight in Paris reawakens Allen’s seemingly weathered career and proves that when it comes to helming whimsical, glossy tales revelling in the rosy days of yesteryear, he is the master. As much a love letter to Paris as Manhattan, one of his finest works, was to New York back in 1979. (Full review here)
8. Tyrannosaur (dir. Paddy Considine, UK)
A rugged, unflinching debut feature from Paddy Considine, Tyrannosaur couples a trio of strong performances, especially from Olivia Colman in a revelatory role, and interweaves them within a drama that rarely lapses into stereotypical kitchen sink social realism. (Full review here)
9. The Deep Blue Sea (dir. Terence Davies, UK)
Terence Davies’ long-awaited return to feature filmmaking is a delicate porcelain of a film, featuring a trio of exquisitely fragile performances and a slowly tragic story of forbidden love and unrequited passion, played out in a wispy Post-War London. Staged to Samuel Barber’s succulent Violin Concerto, which perfectly mirrors Hester’s (a stunning Rachel Weisz) fractured and entangled character, a prisoner of her own indecision, The Deep Blue Sea is a decidedly downbeat but impeccably observed drama from a director whose pedigree lies in the frustrations of middle-class British life.
10. Tomboy (dir. Céline Sciamma, France)
Céline Sciamma’s second film is both curious and quietly observant; on the surface it appears to be a regular coming of age tale of one girl’s journey into adolescence, yet brimming underneath is something altogether more complex and puzzling, but considering the plot, by no means tactless. It is also incredibly charming. (Full review here)