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. This is the second part of the show, covering positions 10 to 1 on the list, and is available now to download from the TLPS website or iTunes. If you haven’t already you should first check out part one, covering positions 20 to 11.
Click the image below to download part two of my episode:
10. Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, United States)
No, it’s not very original. Yes, it’s similar to most of Judd Apatow’s other recent productions. But who cares? Bridesmaids is funny, and isn’t the single most important goal of a comedy to be funny? The chemistry between cast members is unbelievable, particularly between Kristen Wiig and her male counterparts Jon Hamm and Chris O’Dowd, and its comedy set pieces will be remembered for years to come.
9. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain)
Just sneaking into the eligibility window with a Boxing Day release, Pedro Almodóvar’s psycho-sexual drama builds such high tension and delves so deep into issues of identity and the self that it took a considerable amount of time for me to fully digest it. Visually dense and featuring one of the year’s best scores, this film would lend itself well to in-depth academic study.
If it weren’t for Senna, this film would get my vote for best editing of the year for the way it sets up its main character, Tom (Matthew Goode), as an entirely unlikeable dick, and drip-feeds the audience just enough information about his past to set up one almighty redemption of his character.
7. Catfish (Ariel Schulman/Henry Joost, United States)
Released in January, the feeling of shock and awe that took hold of me during the second half of Catfish stays with me even today, a full year later. Like the wonderful The King of Kong, it is a documentary with a story that feels like it was devised by a screenwriter, because surely real life could not be this fascinating.
Na Hong-jin’s debut film, The Chaser, sets the tension to 11 for its entire two-hour running time. His follow up, The Yellow Sea, is far more varied in its pacing, but its action sequences are without peer for scale and violence among action/crime film of the 21st century. Take one impossibly determined protagonist and a virtually indestructible antagonist, pit them against one another, and the result is an explosive example of the very best of Korean genre cinema.
A single-room drama set in a group therapy session for Wayne (Luke Ford), who assaulted his employer Greg (Vince Colosimo), Face to Face allows its audience to make assumptions about each of its characters and slowly subverts each and every one of them through some of the strongest ensemble acting of the year. Low-key direction clears space for its performers to carry the film, and carry it they do.
4. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, United States)
It’s been said many times, but Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance as a ballet dancer whose dedication to her art slowly destroys her mind is one of the all-time greats. But in addition to that, Black Swan is a surprisingly harrowing mix of psychological and body horror, with a brilliant Swan Lake-inspired score and some of Darren Aronofsky’s most visceral and visually kinetic direction (and that’s saying something).
As a Lars von Trier hater, I could not have been more surprised by this rumination on the simultaneously destructive and empowering aspects of depression and mental illness. Kirsten Dunst deserves all the accolades she receives for her turn as Justine, whose misanthropic resignation when faced with her own mortality is uncomfortably true-t0-life. Apologies to Terrence Malick, but the high-contrast, super slow-motion vignettes that bookend Melancholia are the most visually stunning sequences in any film of the year.
Presenting the life of Ayrton Senna from three perspectives – his own, his parents’, and that of the Brazilian people in general – Senna paints such a complete portrait of the athlete that when his death inevitably comes, you mourn not just Ayrton Senna the famous athlete, but Ayrton Senna the human being you’ve come to know over the previous hour. Senna is ineligible for the Academy Award for best documentary through a ridiculous quirk of the Academy’s rules, but it is so much better than any other documentary released in 2011.
Drive may be the most perfectly-formed argument in favour of the notion that style is substance. Every single frame just oozes cool, from the retro opening titles rendered in electric pink Brush Script, to the soundtrack’s wonderfully expressive synth pop and ambient electro, to Driver’s scorpion-emblazoned jacket; this is the zenith of western culture’s repurposing of 1980s style. Decidedly anti-Hollywood, in 30 or 50 years time I believe Drive will be the film that is most immediately associated with the year 2011.