January 1, 2012

2011: 10 Favourite Films

This is not a "year's best" list as such. Rather, this is a "year's favourites". Unless you see close to every film released in a given year, it's almost impossible to gather a list of best films. This list is instead the films I liked the most out of the 2011 films I saw. You may note that several films in this list were produced in 2010, and were released internationally in that year as well. In Australia a lot of these films were released in January and February 2011, hence their appearance here - for Australian viewers they were 2011 films.

10. The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
The narrative structure isn't perfect (a flashback sequence goes on way too long, and the three climaxes really needed to be condensed into two), but The Adventures of Tintin is overall a gloriously fun adventure film. It boasts great performance capture animation, strong performances and ridiculously funny dialogue by Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright. The action scenes are also great, which isn't too much of a surprise - for the director of Indiana Jones, Tintin is like playing a home game.

9. Being Elmo
It's not too hard for a film to make its audience cry - it's a lot harder to bring them to tears through sheer happiness. Being Elmo is a remarkable and uplifting documentary about creativity, achieving goals and living one's dreams - and then helping others to do the same. The fact that it's about a guy who plays a furry red puppet is almost beside the point.

8. Life Without Principle
Hong Kong director Johnnie To is in the middle of a tremendously active period, with two films released in 2011 (this and Don't Go Breaking My Heart) and another two coming in 2012. This ensemble drama weaves multiple storylines to explore Hong Kong's cultural obsession with money and wealth. Like much of To's output, the pleasure of Life Without Principle is in the ease with which the tone and genre shifts from drama to comedy to thriller and back. It's by far To's best film, but it does demonstrate a master filmmaker firing on all cylinders.

7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II
The eighth and final instalment of the Harry Potter saga is the last piece of an exceptional achievement in popular filmmaking, and director David Yates makes sure the franchise goes out on a high note. The film is helped to no end by the previous part going through all the tedious adolescent doubt and self-pity, leaving nothing left here but the lengthy and thrilling climax.

6. Rango
To my mind, the best animated film produced in 2011. If Rango fails to win the Oscar come February, an injustice will have occured. It's funny, tightly written, resonant and well performed. I particularly loved Timonthy Olyphant's cameo performance towards the film's climax.

5. Black Swan
An inventive modern-day take on Roman Polanski's Repulsion. Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis both give knockout performance in this tightly wound, deeply paranoid thriller. Darren Aronofsky continues to prove himself as one of America's most gifted narrative filmmakers.

4. Thor
A populist, breezy action film, filled with inventive production design and appealing performances. Of all of Marvel's key superheroes Thor was always going to be the hardest character to adapt to the screen, and under Kenneth Branagh's excellent direction, he is adapted brilliantly. I strongly suspect Chris Hemsworth is going to be a major star in the coming years.

3. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Probably the film I was least looking forward to seeing at the start of 2011. This film, which is somewhere between a remake and a prequel, is the best Apes film since the 1968 original. Andy Serkis is the star of the film here, giving yet another outstanding turn via performance capture. His work, and the work of the computer animators who embellished it, is one of the best male performances of the year.

2. True Grit
One of the films produced in 2010 that didn't hit Australian cinemas until 2011, and as such is one of 2011's best. I'm very hot and cold with the Coen brothers: sometimes their films will knock me sideways with their quality, and other times I'll simply be left cold by them. True Grit is one of their best; a no-nonsense western with heart, a quality script and great performances (particularly Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld).

1. Tangled
It feels like cheating to make a 2010 film my top pick for 2011, but that's the vagarities of international releases for you. Tangled is great: it's funny, it's inventive, and it combines quality CGI with traditional Disney design work and aesthetics. It's the first computer-generated film by Walt Disney Animation Studios that can actually hold its own against the hand-animated classics of the 20th century.

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