Wednesday 4 January 2012

Favourite Films of 2011 (that I've seen):

There's inevitably a delay in seeing some movies, particularly when it comes to Awards Season (as such I was months late in seeing The King's Speech, and only just over the Christmas season have I caught up on Black Swan). Plus you might not always be able to get to the cinema - indeed there was a huge gap in my cinema-going after the forgettable Columbiana in the first half of September, that was only plugged in the last days of the year with the excellent Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.

Part of me decided that, in these more restrained times, I'd only go and see films I was much more certain would be worth the trip and the ever-increasing ticket costs ... but then there are other films that you are certain you'll be buying on DVD or Blu-Ray. Kevin Smith's Red State is a must-buy for me, so rather than spend several quid seeing it in the cinema (it was barely on the screens as it was) I can put that cash towards the home video release (which, now that I mention it, is in January). Also coming out in January will be Drive - another flick I'm rather switched-on by, so there's two examples of September 2011 releases that I won't see until January 2012.

Enough of that though - what flicks (that I actually saw in the cinema) tickled my fancy in 2011? In chronological order, my Top Ten of 2011 are:

1) The Fighter - Mark Wahlberg's restrained boxer is the perfect balance to Christian Bale's far-out, wide-eyed, character-of-characters in this true-life tale of a working class boxer rising to great heights before the chance slips through his fingers entirely. If it was between this and Rocky, I'd pick Rocky, but The Fighter is well worth seeing.

2) True Grit - the Coen Brothers give us a fresh telling of the source novel. Typically classy Direction, beautifully photographed, and brilliantly performed. An absolute must-watch.

3) Paul - Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kristen Wiig, a pot-smoking alien-on-the-run, and a whole host of modern comedy legends make Greg Mottola's fanboyishly fun sci-fi-action-road-movie-comedy a total blast.

4) Fast Five - surprisingly bloody good fun. I might even go so far as to say it's the best of the series. Big in every way, the action is thunderously entertaining, the vehicle sequences thrilling, and it was just such a fun ride. A little heart, a little humour, and Justin Lin's assured ability at crafting memorable action set pieces make this a damned good time.

5) X-Men: First Class - exhibiting smarts to equal its brawn, even underwhelming side characters can't affect the fascinating central battle between good and evil that birthed the Xavier/Magneto war of conflicting ideologies. Sweeping aside the action-heavy but ever-so-dimly-written-and-directed Last Stand, Matthew Vaugh's comic book fest proved to be the highlight of a heavy crop of comic book movies this year.

6) Captain America - putting characterisation ahead of blowing shit up, Joe Johnston's comic book adaptation proved to be a thoroughly entertaining ride that actually bothered to ascribe meaning to all the spectacle.

7) Hobo With A Shotgun - without a doubt my number one film of 2011. Jason Eisener's grindhouse throw-back is gleefully gruesome, utterly barmy, and lovingly crafted with a truly independent spirit and method. Rutger Hauer brings heart and even pathos to the titular avenging street-dweller, while everyone else brings grue, guns, and gurningly over-the-top performances. It was my most anticipated movie of the year, and the Blu-Ray release didn't let me down at all - bloody brilliant.

8) Rise of the Planet of the Apes - mixing smarts with blockbuster budgets seems to be becoming a common theme nowadays, and hip-hip-hooray for that. After last year's underwritten Iron Man 2, and three ever-diminishing and ever-dumber Transformers movies, the balance has been countered with films such as this. Trading on themes ever-present in the struggle for equal rights, the spectacular visuals were coupled with a meaningful script.

9) Super 8 - nostalgia, scope, heart, and thrills galore combined to form a nigh-on perfect sci-fi that harked back to the glory days of Steven Spielberg's milestone works such as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. J.J. Abrams did a stellar job. The central child cast pull you in and feel real, joy isn't without pain or loss, and the jaw-dropping train crash compliments an accomplished sense of pacing.

10) Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol - deftly scripted and directed, nail-shreddingly tense action from Brad Bird as he makes his live-action debut. Mixing thrills with chuckles in all the right places, this is one of the best action thrillers I've seen in a long time.

The Technically-In, Technically-Out Mention (because I saw it on January 3rd 2012):

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) - side-stepping the 'perfunctory pit' that so many English-language remakes fall into (Let Me In, please step forward), David Fincher brings his uniquely gifted talent to explore the ever-more-popular international phenomena that is the opening part of the 'Millennium Trilogy'. Fincher brings his remarkable sense of poise and precision to material that's already familiar to millions globally, but still manages to match the original Swedish film punch-for-punch.

Honourable Mentions:

Source Code - certain plot holes aside, Duncan Jones' follow-up to last year's impeccable Moon, is a breezy bit of sci-fi action that may sometimes stumble with logic, but nevertheless puts ideas ahead of fireballs.

Scream 4 - this third sequel rocked up a decade after the dreadful Scream 3 and actually had a little something to say. Most of the wit of the original had returned, and there were even a few good tricks pulled out of the bag. Perhaps it struck home more with those of a nostalgic disposition such as myself: I discovered the original flick during my formative years - initially loving it, then resenting it due to the torrent of tripe cash-ins that it unleashed, only to fall back in-love with it all over again after the horror genre regained its balls in the early 2000's.

The Inbetweeners Movie - the little Brit-flick that could. More like a long episode that doesn't always fire on all cylinders, but for any fan of the cringe-inducingly-good show on E4 must have been happy with this. If you're in-on-the-whole-thing it's great fun, but if you're decidedly on-the-outside-looking-in, you might think otherwise. Personally I'm on the inside having a great old time.

Do note that I usually come to less-mainstream fare after their release year, either through Sky Movies, Film4, the Horror Channel, or DVD/Blu-Ray.

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