The end of the year is almost upon us and that can only mean one thing: lists. Well I’ve made a list, I’ve checked it twice and well, some have been naughty but quite a lot of them have been nice this year. So without further ado, here are the movies that I’d be quite happy to find in my Christmas stocking.
Blue Valentine: Derek Cianfrance’s heartbreaking account of a fracturing marriage is one of the most raw and uncompromising films of 2011, a film that hits so deeply that it’ll cause days of introspection afterwards. Michelle Williams was nominated for an Oscar but lost to Natalie Portman. A great injustice.
The Artist: An ode to silent cinema, The Artist is a joy from start to finish. In fact, it could be used as a litmus test for humanity – if you don’t walk out smiling, you’re simply not human. Funny, charming and delightful, it’s a strong contender for Best Film at the Oscars this year and rightly so.
The Tree Of Life: Terence Malick’s epic mediation on life, the universe and everything divided critics. Was it pretentious poppycock or meaningful moviemaking? For me it’s one of the most daring and creative works of the year with some of the most beautiful images ever committed to the screen.
Drive: Ryan Gosling became the coolest man on the planet when he played a strong but silent stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. One of the most stylish films of the year, Drive was a masterpiece of tight direction and breathlessly beautiful cinematography. It also made white satin jackets with scorpions on the back the must have fashion item of 2011.
Super 8: A group of kids are making an amateur movie but get inadvertently get caught up in a government conspiracy that threatens to destroy their whole town. An unashamed tribute to Spielberg with the best child cast since Stand By Me and the best action scene of the year, Super 8 is a gem.
Melancholia: A poignant meditation on depression which is in no way depressing, Melancholia revels in sardonic humour (rapidly becoming a trademark of perennial joker Lars von Trier), gradiose imagery and some stunning performances from Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Haunting, powerful and immense, it’s an absolute must see.
Tyrannosaur: Olivia Colman puts in a gripping performance as a victim of domestic violence who finds an unlikely friend in Joseph, a violent man with a hair-trigger temper (Peter Mullan). Assured first-time direction from Paddy Considine, Tyrannosaur features an Oscar-worthy performance from Colman. Brutal and unflinching.
Take Shelter: A blue-collar man in a small town struggles with apocalyptic nightmares. But are they just in his head or are they premonitions of things to come? Michael Shannon is brilliant as the perpetually twitchy Curtis and director Jeff Nichols coaxes looming apprehension and a sickening ominous dread from even the most benign of scenes.
Animal Kingdom: A young man goes to live with his uncles following the death of his mother only to be drawn into their vicious lifestyle. A captivating Australian film with many great performances but the highlight is Jackie Weaver as terrifying matriarch Smurf Cody, an outwardly smiling grandmother with burning fires behind her eyes.
Inside Job: A devastating expose of the reasons behind the financial crash. Exhaustively researched and easy to understand, Inside Job will make you clench your fists in righteous anger at the unrepentant greed of Wall Street and those who control our money. A deserved winner of Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars.
Other notable entries include Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block, a brilliantly creative creature-feature that proved that you don’t need a huge budget to deliver impressive results; Kill List, a pitch black and unexpectedly excellent thriller and Snowtown, a taut Aussie thriller about the bodies in barrels murders that happened in the late 90s.
Documentaries were well represented this year too with the aforementioned Inside Job being king of the heap but with incredibly strong efforts from Ayrton Senna doc Senna, gripping motorcycle action from TT3D: Closer To The Edge and a distressing attitude to science in chimp doc Project Nim.
Bridesmaids was one of the funniest films of the year and marked Kristen Wiig’s long overdue move to leading actress; Crazy, Stupid, Love was, despite its rubbish title, a deceptively clever romcom which sealed Ryan Gosling’s cinematic dominance this year. Submarine, Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut about an oddball teenager obsessed with film was an indie gem as was Cold Weather, an alternative take on a Sherlock Holmes mystery.
Also good was Source Code, which proved that Duncan Jones (Moon) can handle a large as well as small budget and also featured the best cameo of the year (Scott Bakula), and Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, a chilling portrait of family life and the nature/nurture debate.
Ones to watch out for next year include Michael Fassbender’s triumph in Shame, which would have been in my top 10 this year but unfortunately has a 2012 UK release date so, begrudgingly, has to be left off, and Alexander Payne’s The Descendants.
My personal highlight was interviewing LFF Creative Director Sandra Hebron for her last year in the position – a truly lovely and chatty woman with such an obvious passion for what she does. I also enjoyed speaking to Daniel Henshall about Snowtown – he was remarkably down-to-earth and not at all scary.
To find out where you can see all these films in the cinema, on DVD or Blu-ray or streaming online, visit FindAnyFilm.com