There were many delights to be found in UK cinemas in 2011 both in wide release and at the wide variety of festivals that still thrive here. I watched a great many films in 2011 and there were a large number that impressed me and below are some of my favourites.
I have divided the films into released and unreleased categories, thereby allowing me to include films seen at festivals that have have not (yet) been released in the UK. Some of these films are still without a distributor (including my number one film) and therefore may never be eligible for inclusion in a ‘released top ten list’.
Released Top Ten
1. 13 Assassins (Takashi Miike)
“Who would have thought the age of war would be like this? It’s magnificent.”
Having followed Takashi Miike’s career for a number of years there has been plenty of variety, from fantastical kid’s films to graphically violent experimentation, but across the near seventy films of his that I have seen nothing prepared me for 13 Assassins. An extraordinarily well crafted remake of Eiichi Kudo’s film of the same name, 13 Assassins is the most restrained and classically made film in Miike’s filmography. The restraint is in the form though rather than content and the final forty minute battle sequence in 13 Assassins is the greatest cinematic spectacle of 2011. There’s more to the film though than just this bravura sequence and the preceding character development, clever plotting and the subtle riffs on this neglected genre make 13 Assassins a rewarding and unique experience.[Read my full review here]
13 Assassins in available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD.
2. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)
Something of a cause celebre amongst film critics (prompting #teammargaret to trend on Twitter), Kenneth Lonergan’s much delayed follow-up to his quiet wonder You Can Count On Me arrived in the UK on the wave of ardent support from across the pond but little in the way of fanfare from Fox Searchlight UK. Essentially dumped by Fox following court cases and many, many arguments Margret opened on just one screen in the UK. I attended the film’s ‘premiere screening’ there along with a number of other enthusiastic critics and the film quickly found a number of new fans and has since opened a little wider. The film is really quite extraordinary and it is unfortunate that its beauty is blemished somewhat by the post-production and release woes it went through. Much like its lead character Lisa, played by a never better Anna Paquin, the film is bold and difficult, complex and emotional. Margaret is the kind of grown-up drama that seems unfortunately out of fashion in Hollywood right now, brimming with ideas and emotions it is without doubt a rare treat.
3. Tabloid (Errol Morris)
The story of Joyce McKinney and her “Manacled Mormon” lover is a tabloid story like no other and in investigating the story through a series of lengthy interviews Errol Morris peels back the layers of the story revealing a mess of conflicting points of view and complicated ideas surrounding truth. A fascinating and thought provoking documentary is something we have come to expect from Morris but with Tabloid he has made a documentary that is as joyously entertaining as it is intellectually stimulating. [Read my full review here]
Tabloid is available to buy on DVD.
4. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
Michel Hazanavicius’ tale of one Hollywood star’s difficult transition from silents to sound cinema and his relationship with an up and coming actress has been collecting enthusiastic fans ever since it first screened at Cannes in May and it’s easy to see why. Whilst the film is not exactly heady it is an absolute joy. It’s hard to think of a film experience I had in 2011 that was quite as enjoyable as the one hundred minutes spent in the company of The Artist. [Read my full review here]
5. The Woman (Lucky McKee)
From the most enjoyable one hundred minutes spent in a cinema to the most unsettling one hundred. Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum’s The Woman is an exceptionally difficult film to watch and the despicable patriarch, Chris Cleek (Sean Bridges), at its center is the most unpleasant character I saw on film in 2011. The feral titular Woman, played with raw intensity by Pollyanna McIntosh, is captured by Cleek and introduced to his very dis-functional family, leading to some deeply unpleasant abuses. The Woman is cruel and nasty and deeply disturbing. A powerful and unsurprisingly divisive film. [Read my full review here]
The Woman is available to buy on Blu-ray or DVD.
6. Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek)
Beautifully directed by Romanek, Never Let Me Go is a carefully considered film full of fascinating ideas. Kazuo Ishiguro and Alex Garland’s script focuses complex ideas about human existence through the filter of a deceptively simple science fiction framework and Romanek’s delicate and thoughtful touch made for a very rewarding film.
Never Let Me Go is available to buy on Blu-ray or DVD.
7. Poetry (Chang-dong Lee)
A remarkable performance from Yoon Jeong-hee as the elderly Mija and compelling storytelling from writer/director Chang-dong Lee has helped Poetry quietly sweep up prizes over the past two years, it’s UK and US releases were a little tardy, and with good reason. Probably one of the most neglected films on this top ten, Poetry will undoubtedly slowly find its audience over the coming years.
Poetry is available to buy on Blu-ray or DVD.
8. Attack the Block (Joe Cornish)
Joe Cornish’s debut feature was an absolute delight, a South London scif-fi film filled with plenty of memorably entertaining action sequences and the occasional touching character moment. A cast of newcomers and a witty script helped make it one of the must see films of 2011.
Attack the Block is available to buy on Blu-ray or DVD.
9. True Grit (Joel & Ethan Coen)
The Coen Brother’s new interpretation of Charles Portis’ True Grit was an elegant and exhilerating western that proved once again that they seem capable of turning their hands to almost any genre. It was probably always destined for greatness though with a stellar cast and crew ensemble of Roger Deakins lensing, Carter Burwell scoring and performances from Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and a highly impressive debut from Hailee Steinfield.
True Grit is available to buy on Blu-ray or DVD.
10. Cold Fish (Shion Sono)
The second in Shion Sono’s hate trilogy, Cold Fish is Sono’s most accomplished film to date, Guilty of Romance included. Raw, brutal and strangely cathartic, Cold Fish saw Sono working out familiar thematic obsessions but all with a formal restraint not seen in his previous work. I’ve been a fan of Sono’s for some time but have always had many reservations about his films, Cold Fish solidified his talents in my mind and cemented him as one of the most exciting filmmakers working in Japan today. [Read my full review here]
Cold Fish is available to buy on Blu-ray or DVD.
- Melancholia – Depressing brilliance from the Danish troublemaker and a career best performance from Kirsten Dunst.
- The Clock – Christian Marclay proving that experimentation in filmmaking is far from dead.
- Sucker Punch – Textually dense and chronically misunderstood. [Read my impassioned argument as to why here]
- All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace – Challenging and thought provoking, two things rare on television in 2011. A slight cheat I know but Adam Curtis is without doubt a highly talented filmmaker.
- Miss Bala – Technically impressive and emotionally and politically resonant. Miss Bala also contained one of the year’s most thrilling action scenes, making exquisite use of one of the slowest moving cameras framing it. [Read my full review here]