Drumroll please… it’s finally here! Below are Impact’s Top 10 movies of 2011, as voted by the entirety of the editorial team and all our contributors.
The general consensus is, it’s been a great year for films. Our top ten is full of five-star flics that thrilled the movie-going world. Read the list, which is complete with mini-reviews from randomly selected contributors, then let us know your personal picks in the comments section below.
10. The Ides of March
George Clooney’s return to the director’s chair is an engrossing, well-written and slick outing. American politics isn’t my forte, but the film manages to balance the complexities of a Democratic nomination race with the treacherous affairs going on behind-the-scenes. It manages to restrain it’s intense and atmospheric nature throughout its runtime and becomes remorseless in its measured approach. Superb and fiery performances from Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti culminate in raw and volatile confrontations. Giamatti’s last scene with Gosling is one of this year’s best, perfectly encompassing both the actors’ adeptness and the morality of the story. Meanwhile, Phedon Papamichael’s cinematography manages to perfectly capture the sinister and brooding narrative with his dynamic use of lighting. His skilful employment of close-up shots slowly reveals glimpses of the verity within each character’s poker faces. Expect award nominations.
9. 127 Hours
127 Hours is a mesmerising film about the plight of young mountaineer Aron Ralston, who is trapped deep within the Utah canyons when, after a fall, his right arm is pinned down by a large boulder. While you may think a film that largely covers a man stuck in the same place waiting for death is quite boring, this is in fact a thoroughly engaging character study. We follow the reckless Ralston as he embarks on a spiritual evaluation of his life; such as his lost love and his foolish impetuousness that has led him into his predicament. The film is dominated by Danny Boyle’s trademark visual style, we see Ralston health slowly decline and he begins to contemplate amputation as his last chance to survive. The final scene is not as gory as the initial controversy suggested but done more tastefully. It is James Franco’s movie and he skilfully engages us as we watch him sink from his natural exuberant personality into self-deprecation.
8. Super 8
Big, bold and captivating – Super 8 is a visually spectacular, sensitive story about a close group of friends doing exactly what their parents told them not to. Set in the summer of ’79, the young film-makers sneak out for a late-night shoot and accidentally film a train crash, during which something escapes. The next ninety minutes is an exhilarating crash course in defying authority, saving the girl and learning who your friends are. Stephen Spielberg and J J Abrams balance nostalgia with a vibrant young cast, creating believable, watchable characters alongside the excitement of a blockbuster action thriller. The script is incisively comic, the acting superb and the laughs loud. Enchanting from start to finish, this fantastic film lies in the wake of Stand by me, Gremlins, ET, The Goonies and many others without falling short of expectations.
Ryan Gosling has had a very good year – he’s starred in three critically acclaimed releases, and Drive is arguably the most deserving of praise. Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, and co-starring Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman, Drive is the story of a Hollywood stunt performer who moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals. In his typical ultra-violent style, Refn serves up a modern noir story with a stylish 80’s aesthetic and a pumping, yet ambient electronic soundtrack, paying homage to screen legends gone by such as Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood – heroes that ask no questions, and make no apologies. You could say that Drive is the cinephile’s answer to The Fast and The Furious, but at its heart, it’s as much a love story as it is a high-octane crime drama. By far the coolest film of the year, and certainly one of the best.
6. X-Men: First Class
Magneto, missiles, and men in black; X-Men: First Class charts the blossoming friendship between Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Fassbender), as they attempt to find a place for their genetically evolved ‘mutant’ kind in a turbulent 1960’s America. The film indulges in the period setting; from the characterisation of the future Professor X and Magneto echoing contemporary Civil Rights leaders, to the Cold War backdrop that sets the scene for the film’s fateful conclusion during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Additionally, through some fantastic globe-trotting set pieces, starring Fassbender on the hunt for the Kevin Bacon’s megalomaniac villain Sebastian Shaw, the film captures an aesthetic reminiscent of the Connery era Bond films, adding an element of nostalgia to the film’s proceedings. Blending comedy, drama, and action, First Class is a suitably sophisticated, yet thrilling origin for the X-Men franchise’s most recognisable senior citizens.
5. True Grit
The Coen Brothers’ beautiful adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel (explicitly ignoring the John Wayne effort) combines exquisite cinematography, peerless acting, and a haunting score to breathe life into the traditional western for the first time in decades. Following young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) as she ropes in the incomprehensible bounty hunter Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) to help track down the man who shot her father, there is alcohol, arguments, and unbearably tense shoot-outs. Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Actor, Supporting Actress among others, this film will most certainly be remembered as a classic western, acclaimed both critically and publicly. However, for all the acting pedigree on show, the young Hailee Steinfeld steals the film, displaying a talent and maturity on screen beyond her years in a role many established actresses would have found too complex.
4. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is quite simply, a spy film. About spying. While most other films in this genre rely on flashy car chases or aggressive parkour, this one focuses on the tense intrigue of international espionage. This is perfectly illustrated by one scene in which we follow Peter (Benedict Cumberpatch) into a situation where he is completely out of his depth. You’ll hold your breath for a full 10 minutes, worried that if you exhale too loudly they’ll catch on to the purpose of Peter’s desperately innocuous actions. However this is nothing compared to the tension built up by the subtlety of Gary Oldman’s performance as George Smiley. His calm exterior remains completely unbroken and with only the faintest betrayals of emotion behind his 1970’s frames, you begin to sympathise with those on the other side, and what they’ll encounter should he finally lose his temper. There is of course some action, and when shots are fired it’s quick and utterly final. But the brilliance of this film is its ability to completely captivate you when the characters offer no more than carry a haunted look, while shakily smoking a cigarette.
3. Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan still stands strong as one of the best films of the year, not only because of a brilliant performance from Natalie Portman, but because of Aronofsky’s bold direction as well. Fraught with psychological imagery, Black Swan is a film that is uncompromising it its beauty, intensity and delivery of some of the best dream sequences of the year. Black Swan is a film about perfection and the pursuit of perfection, and Aronofsky does not shy away from the monstrous route that particular pursuit is. Superb supporting performances from Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey and Wionna Ryder make for an outstanding cast to suit the stunning visuals of the film. Black Swan still holds its place as my favourite film of the year because it is a film of depth, ambition and above all captivation.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
It seemed like a gruelling challenge; fulfilling the dreams and expectations of millions of Harry Potter fans worldwide, but the final instalment of Rowling’s wizarding franchise did not disappoint, providing a worthy conclusion to the previous seven films. Dealing perfectly with crucial plot twists and slowing down the pace just enough to have half the audience in tears, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II is a powerfully acted explosion of emotion, horcruxes and magic. The majority of the film is set in Hogwarts, but instead of the cosy castle we have all come to love, it has been transformed into a battlefield of rubble and smoke. Will Harry save the wizarding world? Will Ron and Hermionie get married? And most importantly, who dies? This film has now become the third highest grossing film of all time, so let’s hope it gets the Oscar recognition it deserves.
1. The King’s Speech
Normally, I avoid period dramas unless they are war dramas that appeal to my lust for blood by depicting gory battles. But, after watching The King’s Speech with my parents in an actually ‘sold out’ screening, I was glad I had not turned it away like many in the past. The film was one of the best of 2011, becoming the epitome of British culture and bringing everyone together both in and outside the cinema. It has a superb ensemble cast, but it was the two leads that made the film; the friendship built between Geoffrey Rush as the loveable and comedic Australian actor-turned-speech therapist Lionel Logue and the long overdue Oscar-winning performance of Colin Firth as the impaired King George VI. The film took the audience along an incredible and emotional journey through a dark period in Britain’s proud monarchy and showed to the world that, much like King George VI, the British Cinema does have a voice and it is to be heard.
There we have it, our top films of the year as voted by our staff and contributors.
Agree/disagree? Tell us below!