August 22nd, 2014

Top 20 films of 2011, part one

I began writing for this little blog on the second day of the Melbourne International Film Festival and, surprisingly for me, have managed to keep it going for more than a week. Now if that doesn’t deserve a celebration I don’t know what does, so to bring my first six months of Cinema Quest to a close I now present my favourite films of the 2011 calendar year.

This list is split into two to synchronise with the two episodes of the Last Picture Show podcast on which I made guest appearances this week with my buddies Adam Robertson and Simon Di Berardino. The first part of the show, covering positions 20 to 11 on the list, is available now to download from the TLPS website or iTunes, and you can also check out positions 10 to 1 in part two.

Click the image below to download part one of my episode:

I don’t want to harp on any negatives so I won’t write up a worst of 2011 list, but I will say that I was incredibly disappointed with Innocent Saturday, The Cup, Red Dog, The Help, The Triangle Wars and Route Irish. They should all be ashamed of themselves.

On the other hand, the following films either just missed out on the top 20, or may have made it into the list had I not imposed a rule that films must have received an Australian theatrical release in 2011 to be included: Cold Fish, The Hangover Part II, Michael, Our Idiot Brother, Project Nim, Tabloid, The Inbetweeners Movie, This is Not a Film, True Grit and Viva Riva!.


20. The Round-Up (Rose Bosch, France)

If there’s a genre of film that can’t fail its the Holocaust drama, and this highly stylised depiction of the Vel d’Hiv round-up of 1942 certainly brings the drama, courtesy of Jean Reno and Mélanie Laurent’s honest and heartfelt if occasionally melodramatic performances. Its reconstruction of 1940s Paris, from locations and art direction to costumes, is wondrous.

19. Moneyball (Bennett Miller, United States)

A baseball movie with virtually no baseball footage, this exploration of the sophisticated statistics behind the game – and, specifically, the 2002 Oakland A’s – is slickly written, photographed and constructed from its first frames. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is characteristically quick-flowing, and Jonah Hill proves that he’s more than a one-trick pony.

18. The Trip (Michael Winterbottom, United Kingdom)

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan are commissioned to tour a number of restaurants in the north of England, and instead spend their time bickering and attempting to one-up each other with their impressive range of comical impressions. I saw the six episode television mini-series rather than the 107-minute film version, and while there are numerous moments of sheer brilliance, after the third of fourth Michael Caine impression it starts to lose its appeal, so a shortened film version could turn out to be an improvement over the television series.

17. Red State (Kevin Smith, United States)

Kevin Smith wins the award for “biggest career turnaround of 2011″ for this visceral, visually-stimulating horror story based on the Westboro Baptist Church and the Waco Siege. Smith’s visual style could previously be summed up as “static”, but Red State is daring and unpredictable in all the ways that Smith has never been in the past.

16. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, United States)

Breathtaking visual splendour and grand ambition are all well and good, but I felt an emotional disconnection from The Tree of Life that I haven’t felt with any of Malick’s previous films. Its obtuse non-narrative framework and defiantly massive scale are alienating and erect a wall between the film and its audience, but having said that, every single frame of this film could be framed and displayed in a gallery.

15. The Ides of March (George Clooney, United States)

George Clooney the director is in thrall to films from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s where a dark, low-key aesthetic characterised films which reflected a very turbulent political landscape. The content may have been updated to reflect the modern election cycle and poisonous working environments, but cinematically The Ides of March is rooted firmly in a 1960s American visual style which places most of the focus on the exquisite cast.

14. Snowtown (Justin Kurzel, Australia)

An uncompromising, starkly Australian crime drama – and not the well-dressed, blue-tinted view of Australia seen in Animal Kingdom. Snowtown‘s Australia is working class, sunburnt and oppressively narrow-minded, just the kind of environment which may influence a young man to find himself within the orbit of a charismatic, fatherly serial killer. Uncomfortable to watch, but treats its subject with absolute respect.

13. The Guard (John Michael McDonagh, Ireland)

Part buddy cop flick, part fish out of water story, The Guard‘s appeal lies in the magnetic charm and effortless hilarity of Brendan Gleeson’s character, whose casually offensive small-town perspective brings to mind the blissful misanthropy of Larry David. While In Bruges (directed by John Michael McDonagh’s brother Martin) attempts to be both an action/crime film and a comedy simultaneously, and fails at both, The Guard goes for laughs before thrills and is therefore less constricted by its own format.

12. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, United States)

Woody Allen’s irreverent commentary on the folly of nostalgia is an inescapably joyous experience, from the painterly shots of Paris that comprise the film’s opening to the plethora of cameos from some of the 20th century’s greatest artists. Its humour is referential and elitist – see it in a public screening and you get the almost imperceptible feeling that people are desperate to express that they get the literary and cultural references – but at the same time the film pokes fun at the very people who would understand those references, with a vacuous know-it-all character who only knows how to experience life through the artistic expression of others.

11. Take Shelter (Mike Nichols, United States)

A construction worker begins to see disturbing visions of a devastating storm, and is compelled to build a storm shelter in his backyard even as he becomes aware of the fragility of his own mind. Michael Shannon’s masculine, stoic moodiness with occasional explosiveness is the performance of the year, and deserved an Oscar for best actor.


Check back on Wednesday for my top ten films of the year.

About Bradley J. Dixon

Bradley J. Dixon is a freelance writer and blogger from Melbourne.

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