It’s no understatement to say this, but Black Swan blew me away. It’s brave and electrifying filmmaking that doesn’t feel like anything else out there. The way the camera moves, particularly in the stunning dancing scenes, puts you right in the middle like nothing I've seen. The soundtrack, as you’d expect, works and enhances everything perfectly as it should. Natalie Portman thoroughly deserved the Oscar she won for this role, her performance judged perfectly at each stage of the story – vulnerable, desperate, confused, sensual, aggressive. Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey all offer spot on support. The rush as the story approaches and reaches its conclusion is like nothing else I experienced this year. I can say unequivocally that Black Swan is the best film I saw in 2011.
The melancholic, existential nature of Another Earth is something that really appealed to me. Brit Marling gives a great central performance and is totally believable in her role, and was clearly justified in her idea that if she wanted to act in a great role she’d have to write it herself. I love the way the film was put together and shot, but more than anything, the use of sound and music was some of the most effective I heard all year. This is a terrific film, definitely worth seeking out.
Some of the most fun I’ve had at the cinema this year. It felt like a classic adventure film, albeit with more modern style technology, but that all played to it’s strengths. Chris Evans was great casting, perfect as both the “weedy” Steve Rogers and the all action Captain America, and Hugo Weaving also made an interesting villain as the Red Skull. On a second watch I noticed how fake some of the effects and backgrounds looked, presumably due to them rushing to make deadlines, but in a film of this nature that didn’t detract. I’d really like to see future Captain America movies set in a similar time period as I thought it really worked, but unfortunately I don’t think we'll be seeing that.
Yes Drive is effortlessly cool. Yes the cinematography and soundtrack are both superb. Yes Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan are both scintillating. But the best thing about the film is what’s not said. The silences. The spaces between. It doesn’t give the audience any concessions, making them work when they didn't expect to have to, and then shocking with moments of ultraviolence. This is definitely one of the best films of 2011 and one which I’m most keen to revisit when it arrives on bluray.
The concept of Never Let Me Go is a fascinating one but fortunately the film manages to exist on multiple levels. It’s easy to debate the surface “science fiction esque” concept and the ethics surrounding it, but the core story of unrequited love proved to be the driving force of the film and ultimately heartbreaking. Both Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield were excellent although I remain unconvinced by Keira Knightley, but then perhaps in this film that was the function of her character? (Note: I've not read Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel which the film is based on.)
Who would’ve thought a film about the slow destruction of a couple’s relationship after the death of their only child could end up being anything other than a sombre dirge? Well it wasn’t. Despite a lot of grief to wade through, Rabbit Hole ended up being curiously uplifting and was anchored by 2 of the best performances all year from Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman. I was quite surprised by how much I really liked this film.
The Skin I Live In
Pedro Almodóvar is one of those directors I’ve given very little time to in the past, and not for any reason in particular. But The Skin I Live In should change that as it was one of the most intriguing films I saw all year. An unrelentingly dark story that kept me guessing the entire way through, with great performances from Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya. It’s almost certainly one of the most stylish films of the year with every frame beautifully crafted.
There was a lot of buzz around the release of Super 8, mostly because the trailer pitched it as a throwback to the classic 80’s Spielbergian family film. Fortunately the hype was justified and the film delivers. At times (particularly at the start) it feels remarkably adult. The relationship the kids have is natural and totally believable, which makes it funny and touching. The fact that the film gets this side of things right means that the rest of the plot works fine with an interesting mystery feel, even if it isn’t exactly original. The film loses me completely in the last 15 minutes, which is a shame, but it’s by virtue of the fact that it gets everything else right that it’s on my top 10 of the year list. It’s also worth saying that the train crash remains one of the most impressive things I saw at the cinema all year!
Thor was always the film in 2011 that had as much potential of being awesome as it did of being awful. Fortunately it veered towards the former. This was as highly entertaining as Captain America but with the added dramatic gravitas of Anthony Hopkins as Odin and the fish out of water comedy of Thor on Earth. Yet again Marvel got the casting right with Chris Hemsworth, and choosing leftfield directors for these big superhero films (in this case Kenneth Branagh) proves to work. Marvel may be on a roll at the moment, but I remain quietly sceptical about whether this can or will extend to The Avengers.
Something has been missing in recent cinema; the ultimate classic Hollywood genre, the western. There have been a couple in recent years, but True Grit really is the best we’ve seen in a long while. Jeff Bridges yet again gives another superb performance, but the real highlight is Hailee Steinfeld. The story is essentially carried on her shoulders and she is brilliant. It’s crazy to think that this is her debut and that she somehow didn’t win an Oscar. But it’s not just the acting... did I mention how good the cinematography is? What about that it has an unexpected funny streak running through it? True Grit proves that westerns are still a worthwhile and interesting genre.