Copyright MainstreamMatt/Mainstream 2005-2011
10. Midnight in Paris
With every new Woody Allen release it’s a perceived “return to form” which with hindsight is never really justified. But this fantasy flecked love letter to Paris and the Arts was a delightful slice of pitch perfect magical whimsy which will sit more comfortably on the shelf, alongside Annie Hall and Manhattan Murder Mystery. An infectiously likeable cast, led by Owen Wilson at his languid best, and featuring standout turns from Tom Hiddlestone as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, all combining to weave an old-fashioned tale that wore its heart firmly on its sleeve. It’s an utterly charming comedy for the existentialist in us all.
Perhaps not as mind bogglingly inventive as some of Studio Ghibli’s back catalogue, Arrietty flourished largely thanks to its childlike simplicity. With multi-coloured hued backgrounds for the eyes to drown in and some beautiful hand drawn artistry, it was the perfect canvas for the Borrowers influenced story to unfold against. An intimate take on an age old story, providing a direct antithesis to crass, studio machine 3-D animations which are churned out with alarming regularity, and with none of the effort which goes into making something as delicately enchanting as this. With Cars 2 stalling, this is unarguably the best animated film of the year.
Shakespearean in themes, and in choice of director, Kenneth Branagh’s take on one of the lesser known Marvel characters was a hammer strike to the start of the summer, and a refreshing origin story at a time when the conveyor belt of Superheroes was threatening to become tedious. Imbuing the fish-out-of-water story with a healthy dollop of wit, humour and well-etched characters, it superbly managed to balance spectacle and story. The gamble of casting unknown Aussie actor, Chris Hemsworth, for a studio franchise starter also paid off; his welcome chemistry with Natalie Portman and generally charming demeanour anchors Thor and makes the prospect of future adventures a MARVELous one.
7. We Need to Talk About Kevin
Bleak and uncompromising. Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s acclaimed novel is a piece of work that imbeds into you consciousness and refuses to surrender its grip, even once the credits have rolled. Detailing the absence of a matriarchal bond between mother and son, the nature vs. nurture argument is tossed aside quite early on; Kevin is evil, and an unsettling entity brilliantly manifested in Ezra Miller’s shark eyed performance. The perennially praiseworthy Tilda Swinton has never been better, playing the tortured soul who earns every ounce of the audience’s sympathy. I’m not sure you’d ever want to watch it again, the indelible impact it makes was enough for me, and therein lies the power of the movie.
Further discrediting the value placed upon the Academy Awards, this kinetic documentary about the late, and truly great sporting icon, Aryton Senna, has failed to make even the shortlist for the 2012 nominations. It’s a disgrace considering Asif Kapadia’s film is more evocative, emotional, and expertly assembled than most Hollywood features, and deserves recognition beyond number 6 on my list. Transcending the motorsport context, it chronicles the life of an individual with such powerful results that no prior knowledge of who Senna was is required. It’s much more exhilarating and heart-thumping than tuning into 80-odd laps for the modern incarnations Sunday afternoon parade.
5. The Skin I Live In
Pedro Almodovar’s freaky Frankenstein drama is a truly unique viewing experience. The signature performance from Antonio Banderas is more OTT than his Puss in Boots voice duties, but brilliant as he is, it isn’t the weirdest thing about this perfectly stitched together tapestry. That’ll be the man in the tiger suit or the endless amount of twisted twists, which in another director’s hand may have spiralled out of control, but the bar is set so early on here that everything that feels wrong still seems narratively right. It also features my performance of the year in the form of Elena Anaya, her vulnerable suffering is a thing of understated beauty in a film of insane horror.
4. Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky’s gaudy, balletic, intensely melodramatic, psychosomatic horror polarised audiences with its schizophrenic style, but there was no denying that creatively it remained unrivalled. The manipulative camerawork which forced the audience to share in the nightmarish descent into insanity which Natalie Portman’s titular swan was enduring, and the box of trick techniques that twisted faces and conjured up Faustian imagery. A journey which was ultimately satisfying if you’d suspended belief and stuck with the directors ambitious bravado, and one made all the more impressive by Portman’s Oscar winning role and Vincent Cassell’s deliciously leery dance instructor.
The coolest performance in the year’s most hallucinogenicly brilliant film. Seduced from the outset by that that scorpion jacket and the best soundtrack to caress the eardrums in this orbiting of the sun, Drive was beautifully brutal. Fluid, shocking, and inherently human at its core, mainly thanks to Mulligan and Goslings less than understated turns, no film on this list will have rivalled it for heart monitor battering intensity. The story may have been slight, but with no idea as to the direction that Refn was taking you in it was a movie that made you want to follow Gosling down every corridor or street light flecked alleyway. It hasn’t been said enough, but for a movie about disenfranchised young males in modern America, this is Taxi Driver for our generation.
2. The Tree of Life
“Years in the making” and “eagerly anticipated” must pre-fix every release for the elusive Terence Malick, and both are applicable here. This was in fact billions of years in the making, charting the birth of the universe right through to a reflective modern day Sean Penn (possibly the weakest section of the movie), via the core story of Brad Pitt’s 1950’s family man, and the anticipation was completely rewarded. Non-linear, overly meditative, and at times a little indulgent, The Tree of Life is an ambitious visual and thematic delight which will strike a profound chord with each individual who is lucky enough to watch it. A rousing piece of art which is unlike anything you might have seen before.
1. Super 8
It’s highly unlikely you’ll find Super 8 sitting atop many “best of” lists as we wave goodbye to what’s been a very good year for film. Possibly down to snobbery or being adverse to sentimental nostalgia, but JJ Abrams “Ode to Spielberg” was, in terms of what cinema going has meant to a certain generation of film enthusiasts, one of the most joyous big-screen experiences of the past decade.
An echo from a time when story was important and the spectacle accompanied it rather than substituted for it.
A remarkable cast of youngsters, ably supported by strong turns from a group of unknowns, evoking memories of The Goonies, all anchored by Elle Fanning’s stunningly mature performance. Forget the chaotic orchestration of the train crash, the wonderful end-credits movie-within-a-movie, or the B-monster movie mechanics of the alien showdown, because very few scenes in 2011 were as powerfully moving as her train station audition. Super 8 works because beneath the dazzling but sparse effects beats a big emotional heart and an obvious love for moviemaking.
So what if there’s a few too many lens flares and the Spielberg nods are as subtle as a sledgehammer, they are just references to those with a certain predilection for a time when movies were “fun”. And lest we forget, this wasn’t inspired by a graphic novel or a remake/reboot; it was an original piece of work from a director coming into his own but acknowledging those that set him on a path all those years ago.