The Best Films of 2011
TT3D: Closer to the Edge
Proof that documentaries can be more thrilling, humorous and entertaining than anything fiction can dream up – a bunch of motorcycle enthusiasts on the Isle of Man, a mad chap from Lincolnshire and 3D technology collided to produce my Top Film of 2011.
This glorious antidote to the saccharine romance of The Notebook saw Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ young marriage go into cardiac arrest. I watched with a heavy heart while marvelling at the incredibly accomplished direction, artful camerawork and achingly real performances.
Even if Formula One isn’t your thing, this documentary about legendary Brazilian racing driver Ayrton Senna will have your heart in your mouth and tears in your eyes. Simply by compiling archive footage of Senna’s races and interviews, director Asif Kapadia made one of the year’s most affecting pieces of cinema.
On the death of their mother, grown-up twins are prompted to search for the father they thought was dead and a brother they never knew existed. Flashing back and forth between their mother’s Middle Eastern upbringing and their contemporary quest, the film is enthralling to its last, devastating denouement.
For two hours of pure, effortless, laugh-out-loud comedy, nothing beats watching two of Britain’s finest comedians trying to outdo one another’s impersonations of famous actors. Situating them in fine restaurants in the quaint English countryside somehow made it all the sweeter.
The King’s Speech
Colin Firth ditched Darcy once and for all as he stammered and swore in a very un-Royal manner, aided and abetted by a superb Geoffrey Rush, in this true story of one man’s triumph over a speech impediment. The Academy loved it too.
For a movie that seems to exist solely on the references/nods it makes to the best of its genre, Drive had a bit of a cheek to expect our admiration. But, rather like its no-named protagonist with his toothpick and his shiny bomber jacket, with pure panache it out-cooled its way onto the Best Of list of critics all over the world.
Brother Number One
Tracking New Zealander Rob Hamill’s mission to discover the fate of his murdered brother Kerry, this local documentary deservedly won festival prizes and left audiences reeling from its humble, expertly-told intensity. A quarter of Cambodia’s population was massacred by Pol Pot’s callous regime in the late 1970s, but it’s an international issue to this day and Brother Number One is a film that must be seen.
In A Better World
Deeply moving in its honesty, realism and charm, this Danish story of two families, two schoolboy friends and the impact of bullying in all its forms garnered the film an Oscar and more kudos for its director, Susanne Bier.
Of Gods and Men
Rather like an extended period of contemplative meditation, this exquisitely languid film managed to ratchet up the tension as a group of Christian monks living in Algeria stood firm in their beliefs against the prospect of kidnapping and death by Islamic terrorists. Less about God than the godliness in your fellow man.
The Kid with a Bike
A lousy dad deserts a troubled kid who is in turn adopted by a caring hairdresser. The Dardennes brothers brought us yet another story of devastation and heartbreak, but this time carried with such love and optimism that we left the cinema feeling warmed.
Bill Cunningham New York
An elderly man rides around the Big Apple on his bicycle, snapping photos of people on the street. Lauded by fashionistas while shunning material gain, Bill Cunningham proved to be the best type of documentary subject – a paradox of humility and celebrity who quietly tells his story while we hang on his every word.
Kirsten Dunst got married in a haze of depression and bad behaviour, while her sister Charlotte Gainsbourg worried about a planet colliding with Earth. Trust Lars Von Trier to come up with something so gloomy – but also trust in him to make it exquisitely beautiful, confronting and bravely surprising. Melancholia drowned us in stunning visuals, sublime music and a thumping heartbeat, inducing screams of “This is what cinema is for!”
Paul Giamatti played Barney Panofsky, whose three marriages, various business ventures, exotic travels, characterful family members and a murder accusation provide ripe fare for cinema. The ensemble cast seemed to be having the time of their lives, notably the glorious Rosamund Pike as the wife whom Barney meets at his wedding to Minnie Driver’s Jewish princess.
Control’s Sam Riley reprised Attenborough’s seminal 1947 performance as Pinkie Brown, a scooter-riding nasty piece of work who inveigles the innocent Rose into falling in love with him so he can keep her quiet. Stylistic and atmospheric, it divided critics over its ending, but nonetheless proved a gripping gangster flick.
X-Men: First Class
Ever wondered how the X-Men came to be? This expertly told prequel gave us all the clues dished up asOxfordgraduates and Holocaust survivors, laced with the dulcet tones and intense stares of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Clever and hugely entertaining, it was one of the year’s few quality blockbusters.
Early on in the year, a little boxing movie made a lot of noise as two superstars gloved up to play real-life brothers whose fortunes took very different trajectories. Bale won an Oscar for his drug-addled, toothless brawler, and Wahlberg won respect for letting Bale steal all the scenes.
Little White Lies
French wunderkind Guillaume Canet brought a group of his talented, beautiful acting friends together to play a group of talented, beautiful friends who go on holiday while their mate lies injured in hospital. Secrets, lies and recriminations unfold as the week goes on, thanks to a superb script and naturalistic performances.
Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen is back! and this time we can say “bienvenue” and open the champagne. Dopey Owen Wilson takes the Allen role as a screenwriter on holiday in Paris with his fiancée, who longs for the golden age of writers and artists and miraculously manages to live out that dream. Charming wish fulfilment at its most magical.
Natalie Portman deservedly won her Oscar for this tortured portrayal of a young ballerina pushed to physical and psychological limits. Some thought it melodramatic and laughable, while others found it compelling, disturbing and exquisitely photographed. Personally, I was breathless to the last hysterical moment.