Filmstalker's Films of 2011
2011 is almost over and it's been a good year for films although I didn't get to see, or write up, all the films I wanted to as my life has been busy this year and meant I've had the least amount of time I've ever had to look after Filmstalker. Still, I've seen and reviewed a lot of films, and this list tells us just what I have seen and reviewed and what I thought of them.
I've written a short blurb about the films I rated five, four and one stars, and the rest I've provided a link to the review, or if I haven't written them up yet, the IMDB link. The only order within the categories is that of reverse date, i.e. the first one is the one I've seen most recently, and remember that I rate and review each film on its own merits, never really comparing them.
You'll get to see the best, the worst, and the middle ground of my cinematic viewing year. Let's see if you agree.
If you want to see your Top List appearing on Filmstalker it's easy, just think of a list of things to write about for the year that may be anything from actors or actresses to funniest moments or most memorable scenes, and then send it to me. Next thing is it will be posted on Filmstalker. Full details can be found right here on Filmstalker.
Okay, so that's all about your lists, let's get back to mine and start with those five star films.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
What an excellent film. The new Mission: Impossible delivers the best of the franchise and adds some superb additions, bringing a little more humour and reality to the characters and the events around them while ramping up the thriller side of the film. It's an action packed thriller with suspense galore that will have you gasping at some of the astounding stunts. However the strong thriller aspects of the franchise from the first film are back this is perhaps the best of the franchise to date. Could there be more? Let's hope so.
I know that quite a number of critics and reviewers didn't like this film but I loved the more realistic take on love and the superb comedy writing throughout and Julia Roberts character and performance. There are a dearth of comedies out there that fire the slapstick, sex and bodily function jokes out in a constant stream without a scrap of intelligence and they appeal to many, but when something a little more real and intelligent comes along it seems that many are unwilling to give it a go or stretch themselves. Whatever the reason Larry Crowne does actually deliver more than the usual Hollywood comedy and it had my wife and I laughing out loud throughout. Roberts stole the show.
Sarah's Key (Elle s'appelait Sarah)
This was one of those smaller films that I only hear about because of one or two marketing companies who consistently deliver the less mainstream films, and if I hadn't have noticed the email alert for review copies I would have missed this excellent dual language film that delivers a dramatic thriller that also tells a horrifying event in French history. Kristen Scott Thomas is fantastic and effortless as always but the real star is the story itself and just how powerful it becomes. It's not just on the horrifying story of the events in Paris during the war, or Sarah's amazing journey, or how the events affect her, but how that story spreads through generations and touches the lives of those looking back from the current day. A truly fantastic story filled with powerful performances.
Apocalypse Now: Three Disc Blu-ray
Three disc special, not just DVD discs but Blu-ray discs, think about how much content that means. At the forefront of some excellent extras are two versions of the film, both remastered looking and sounding absolutely stunning and one being Francis Ford Copolla's definitive version. It certainly is that and the film really does stand up to time. Performances from the three key actors seem much better with time and with all the restored footage the story flows far deeper than it seemed to when I first saw it. I think more than anything I've matured towards the film which is far ahead of its time. Add in all the extras and this is a stunning Blu-ray offering.
I wasn't sure that I was going to enjoy Paul as while there was Simon Pegg and Nick Frost on one side, on the other was Seth Rogen and Greg Mottola, and when I've seen Pegg turn to comedy in America it's been much less than we've seen from him and his UK comedy team. However Paul did well to deliver both styles of comedy in one film and remain very funny for it. There were plenty of laughs and for every laugh there was also a superbly cool science fiction reference appealing to every single fan out there. Paul accomplished a lot for what it was sold as, and it delivers laughs and entertainment galore.
Super 8 promised a lot from the outset, J.J. Abrams directing a film that was executive produced by Steven Spielberg and promised to be a homage to the great Spielberg films, and it was. It was missing some of the finer relationship elements that really connected you to the characters however Spielberg did pour through the film and Abrams made a fantastic film that does a great job of capturing Spielberg's magic and combining it with his own directing and storytelling talent. Super 8 was a hugely entertaining film and showcased Abrams talent as well as his, and our, love of Spielberg.
Thor really surprised me early on in production when Kenneth Branagh was chosen, and accepted, as the director. Suddenly the film was elevated up a level and was promising something more than I'd been expecting, especially from a superhero that is down the popularity list as Thor. Oh I know he might be your favourite, but he isn't in the first few that the average person might tell you when you ask about the most popular superheroes. With the addition of Branagh it became something more epic, with much more grandeur and which matched the epic god-like characters in Thor. Branagh delivered in bucketfuls. He gave us the superhero story, the action, and the epic nature of it all, and Thor suddenly became one of the top superheroes in film for me, and many others.
What a film Cell 211 was. I saw it at the Glasgow Film Festival and it was one of these surprise films, one where you chose the film based on the blurb and some promise and it turns out to produce a great thriller for the audience. This is a great thriller which has an excellent premise and location and bags of tension which are layered on throughout the film as each section of the story is revealed. Throw in some strong acting, unusual twists and a story that just keeps on raising the stakes and Cell 211 turns out a superb thriller that will surprise you.
Never Let Me Go
This was a surprise for me as I wasn't sure what to expect, the story presented an interesting idea and like many great films turns the viewpoint of the story on its head and looks at the idea from a different point of view, from the other side of the fence if you will. Here's what I said in the original review: "Even during the film three words started to come to me - beautiful, tender, and without sounding twee whatsoever, touching, immensely so." That sums it up perfectly especially followed with the line "Every aspect of the film reflected those words for me, the script, the cinematography, and the performances, performances which are subtle, moving, and at times very powerful."
What an excellent film this turned out to be, although there was little doubt it was going to be amazing coming from Darren Aronofsky and carrying such a fantastic cast. It turned out to be a powerful film that unnerved and unsettled just as Requiem for a Dream did and filled with excellent performances, brilliantly written and filmed. Once again it shows that Aronofsky is an amazing talent who just keeps producing stunning film after stunning film. In my review I mentioned that this was going to be one of the films of the year, despite the fact it was only January, and it turns out to be just the case.
The Next Three Days
I have to admit I'm a little surprised looking back that this is a five star film, not that I'm saying on reflection it didn't deserve it but because I've forgotten a lot about it, after all it was January and a great number of films ago. What's more is that it's a remake of a French thriller, and a remake from Hollywood, all of which usually spells disaster. However throw in Paul Haggis, a superb cast, and a script that delivers in parts where the original didn't, and we're given a superb thriller. Haggis did superbly well and the film has strength not just through the script but also the direction, cinematography, editing and acting.
Wow, did The Thing deliver. Of course there were problems and people compare this immediately to the John Carpenter film The Thing, which itself is held in a regard that is perhaps a little too high, still it's a great film and the comparisons are hard to avoid. What is also hard to avoid for this film is to stay away from the original as it's a film about a group in a remote camp in the Antartic who release a creature within their camp, the confines of the story are hugely restrictive and I think what's so great about this prequel is that it captures a lot of the original and does manage to find its own path within these confines. I enjoyed the film and thought it worked really well.
Machine Gun Preacher
It's a shame that this film has been so overlooked as Gerard Butler gives a great performance and the film is a very powerful one. I wonder why this has happened, is it because of where the story is and what it is about? I'm not sure, but Butler's performance is the draw here, that and the true story of the man he plays. It's astounding to hear, and what surprised me is how much I was engaged by it.
The Blu-ray release of Manhunter was brilliant for fans of this Michael Mann film, and if you aren't a fan of the film you have to question why. Manhunter is a fantastic film as it is with brilliant pace and visuals and a cracking soundtrack to boot, and add in this new Blu-ray release and it brings a new lease of life to the film. Well worth visiting.
Two Rocky films for the price of one is what you could say about Warrior and yet you'd be selling the film way too short. There's an excellent performance to be had from Nick Nolte and strong performances from the rest of the cast in a stirring and tense film. I did enjoy the film, even if some of the closing turns were expected.
I'm not sure I'm sold on the ending of the film, but Take Shelter has a superb script with the two leads of Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain delivering fantastic performances that are convincing and compelling. There are issues with it however, hence the loss of one star, but it's still a great film.
Julia's Eyes (Los ojos de Julia)
A powerful thriller that really pulls you into the story and puts you in the place of the lead character, although there are some missed moments it has wonderful direction and cinematography and a great performance from the lead. The thriller will have you absorbed throughout.
Cowboys & Aliens
I think the studio head is a complete arse. There, I've said it. Just imagine how all the people involved in this film feel now that he's publicly ridiculed it. How would you like it if your boss told you your work for the last few years was rubbish and a waste of time, what would you think of him or her then? Anyway, the film was not as bad as he seems to think, just because it didn't make the exceptional amount of profit they wanted could be down to many reasons not related to the film itself, maybe marketing? The film was a fun action adventure romp, and if you're viewing it as anything else then perhaps you've been sold the wrong film. Yes it was silly and there were flaws galore, but it was fun while it lasted.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
I think I liked this so much more because it wasn't the first film. Thankfully there wasn't forty minutes of camping in great looking locations and looking at each other, and instead it got on and told the story. Unfortunately there was too much of the story to tell in the one film and some of it should have been told in the first, take Snape's story for example, my favourite character, reduced to an outburst of explanatory lines when he should have had so much more, this was a pivotal reveal for him after all. So big flaws, but since it was the end of the journey and had so much to deliver that it produced the best of the series. Oh how I wish they had spread it across films better.
What a gem this was to find, a strongly scripted film that looked a lot bigger than it actually was, it felt more like a stage play than a film and it really engaged me in its tale of three people and their relationships. It concentrates on the characters, dialogue and performance and produces a stylish film that makes you think a lot more than most Hollywood films. An excellent little find that I'd truly recommend.
I only caught Hanna on DVD but I was glad I did because it is a great action thriller and it has an excellent style to it as well as some great performances from Saoirse Ronan and Cate Blanchett. The excitement level is high throughout and keeps you on your toes. It's an enjoyable action thriller with a rather unique character that perhaps deserves a sequel don't you think? It also shoes the interchangeable talents of Joe Wright.
I think an excerpt from my review would be best suited here: "...some great writing and powerful performances. It's a very bleak and at times disheartening film that smacks hard of the shocking truth of how actual events might play out, and they aren't the cinematic way that we've been led to believe. Depressing at times, and downbeat, and all from the very beginning. This is a thriller looking at a crime family that's different to the ones you've seen before."
The Tunnel is special for a number of reasons; the biggest one is that it's free. I downloaded this and watched it without having to spend a penny as the film was funded during the production by the Internet audience, and you can still make donations should you enjoy the film. It could simply be described as Blair Witch in tunnels, and that does do it an injustice as it is a rather clever horror film that mixes a documentary interview style with hand held footage, and not the horrible Paranormal Activity style of forced hand held footage. It works really well and it's very clear of the stock stares that we're used to, offering a little more thoughtful approach to the horror. Well worth downloading and watching, it's definitely in the top of the genre for the year.
Fast and Furious Five (Fast Five)
What a turn in the franchise this was, rather than produce another action car racing film they've evolved the franchise into something much better keeping plenty of the original franchise to excite the existing fans, but delivering more of a story, more of a purpose, and turning it into a proper heist film. The franchise has certainly evolved and is suddenly looking as though it has another film in the bag, perhaps even more, without losing the audience it has gained and gaining more.
Some didn't like Sucker Punch and I'm really not sure why. There were issues with it, but it provided a rich and weighty story that delivered in a cinematically rich and engaging way from the visuals to the score and it was so far above the pulp that comes out of Hollywood it's ridiculous that there were so many negative comments, it's a film that doesn't deserve it, and as always Zack Snyder delivers something rather spectacular. You know Snyder's films are ones I really do want to own on Blu-ray and revisit, and when you see so many films as often as I do that's rather rare.
Some wrote this off as another Jason Statham action film and while it was a damn good action film it also had a harder edge than many others with more of a story than most in its class. Simon West directed the film well and Statham and Ben Foster worked well together and against each other. There's a decent sense of a thriller in here too and I'd like to revisit it.
The Adjustment Bureau
If I remember rightly The Adjustment Bureau is another film that didn't go down too well with reviewers and yet I liked. If I can remember back to why I think it was because a lot of people felt that they were a little too close to Bourne and expected something more akin to those films, that or they felt it didn't do Philip K. Dick justice. I on the other hand enjoyed the film and thought it gave a good balance between the romantic side of the story and the science fiction, which could have so easily overpowered the whole film. While the science fiction side could have had a little more weight in the latter part of the film, it did deliver well overall and I enjoyed it.
This was another Glasgow Film Festival film that surprised me after not being certain what to expect from the festival blurb and reviews. It provided two strong performances from the lead and a well paced thriller that offers a lot of surprises. Here's what I wrote about it when I reviewed it: "...a strong dramatic story that gives an insight into a frightening aspect of life in Argentina as well as bringing us two engaging characters and a growing relationship that you so easily get involved with..."
The film was rather different to what I was expecting but in a really good way. It provides a strong characters and an engaging story that ranges from quirky to funny to exciting, and the fight scenes will deliver an emotional engagement which matches the rest of the film. It's a great story and performances from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are superb, I just wish it had lifted the story of the fighter a little more.
Immortals - Not yet reviewed
A visual feast, as every Tarsem Singh film is, that had an exciting and engaging story to it. Isn't this was Clash of the Titans should have been? Unfortunately it just lacked the power and impact that I hoped it would considering his previous films and the comparisons to 300 (Filmstalker review). Still a very enjoyable and exciting film.
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within - Not yet reviewed
I loved Elite Squad (Filmstalker review) and José Padilha's previous film Ônibus 174 (Bus 174) (Filmstalker review), both excellent films and the characters and story in Elite Squad had me really excited for the sequel. Unfortunately it didn't quite deliver on the same level as the original but it certainly did deliver. This has more scope than the original, turning from the police and the drug gangs to the politicians and militias. It's much more ambitious and has a lot more of a story to investigate and tell than the original. Still, it manages to be exciting, fascinating and scary at the same time.
I Saw the Devil - Not yet reviewed
Jee-woon Kim and Hoon-jung Park deliver a great thriller that will have you engaged in a battle between a government agent and a serial killer. When the agent's fiancée is murdered by the killer he decides to use all his talents to make the killer's life a misery until he decides it's over, unfortunately the serial killer is rather more intelligent and we're treated to an excellent game of cat and mouse with a superb story and cinematography throughout.
Faster - Not yet reviewed
I love a good action film, and I love Dwayne Johnson in full on Rock mode. However he's been lost to the world of kids films something that all action stars seem to do in their career, but he came back with Faster and came back with his big guns flexing. It has old school feel to it making me think of Lee Marvin except with much more power, and Johnson delivers his character well with a powerful and unstoppable drive.
The Company Men - Not yet reviewed
I loved the performances in this film from Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper. It's a film that will resonate in many people's minds especially if you have been made redundant at some point, and has a strong story to tell about our modern way of living and working. John Well's story captured my emotions easily and I connected with the lead characters and their situations. A somewhat overlooked film that doesn't deserve to be.
Source Code - Not yet reviewed
Ben Ripley should be given more credit for the screenplay for this, but it is clearly Duncan Jones' vision that converts it to the big screen and gives it a great look and pace. It's a great concept that could so easily have been overly complicated but is brought to the audience and really does get the brain going with the possibilities.
Ink - Not yet reviewed
Another smaller independent film that rises up the list here and for good reason, it's a cleverly conceived idea with some startlingly good effects for such a small film. The story plays out well and is a nice cross between a dramatic thriller and a science fiction film, it builds well to an exciting conclusion and I've seen it a few times now.
Flame and Citron
Cross of Iron
The Cruel Sea
The Big Lebowski
Ice Cold in Alex
Get Him to the Greek
Battle: Los Angeles
Point Blank (À bout portant)
One Hundred Mornings
Anything For Her - Not yet reviewed
Kill List - Not yet reviewed
Red Hill - Not yet reviewed
Oh dear me, this wasn't released during the year it was just that I saw it at this time and I have to tell you it's really badly done and at the end it seems in rather poor taste. An agenda driven film that really doesn't work on just about any level, and it has to be Brian De Palma's most embarrassing moment.
I know I probably stand alone with this but I think the book and the film are two of the most overrated things I've heard of or seen. Dull and uninteresting they provide no engagement. There are moments that are just left to slip through your fingers and I felt it was a waste of a potentially strong idea.
Red Riding Hood - Not yet reviewed
Looks nice, but it's just dull and is more Twilight with a little more snarl. Gary Oldman was interesting to watch, and that's about it really. Okay, perhaps Amanda Seyfried and Virginia Madsen both look exceptionally gorgeous, but that's as far as you'll get me to go on the subject.
So those are Filmstalker Films of 2011, the ones I've reviewed or are awaiting reviewing anyway. There are a lot more films that I've seen this year but they aren't all released in some form in 2011 so I've left the off the list.
Any you disagree with? Think a film should deserve a higher, or lower, rating than it did? Well have your say below and correct me, or better yet submit your own Top List of the year.
What of 2012? Well there are already some great films lining up and in the coming days I'll cover a preview of some of the films I'm looking forward to and would recommend you note in your diary, and as always I'll be covering the UK releases at the start of every month.
In the meantime get your comments in and get your own Top Lists in through the submission page, and let me take a moment to thank you for reading Filmstalker during 2011. I'll save my big thank you for a Happy Hogmanay post, and let you return to my list of 2011.