Over a dozen writers. Over 65 films voted on. Who wins? WE DECIDE.
It’s that time of year again as the staff at ESLF slow down and think on about what has really impressed them over the course of a year and with 14 writers contributing lists with a total of 68 films selcted, it’s been a year where a wide variety of films have touched us in some way. I took the job of working out the top films (10 in all featured but with a couple of positions tying), and I used a points system with a film placing 1st on someone’s chart getting 10 points, 2nd place 9 etc, allowing a true consensus to come out. What follows is the list along with thoughts on the films from various members of our team. I thank those who took the time to send over lists and especially those who were able to put some words together also. Right then, LET’S DO THIS
By far and away the most popular documentary of the year in our chart, and also at the UK Box Office is Asif Kapadia’s wonderfully stirring and utterly heartbreaking look at an exceptional sportsman who pushed his sport and himself to the edge, and paid the heaviest price for this. Using archival footage through the entire thing with audio interviews playing over to give the audience context, it’s especially surprising that this made the list given that I don’t think F1 has much of a shared heritage amongst our staff, the film instead winning through on pure creative skill and with a story which can’t fail to touch you in some way.
Noel Mellor says…
“One of the greatest things a film, or more specifically a documentary, can do is engage us in a situation or subject we’d otherwise have had no interest in at all. Approaching Senna, I was intrigued by the smattering of good buzz generated by its festival run, but could say I had about as much love for the sport involved as I did badger-baiting.
However, while Asif Kapadia’s journey through the life and career of one of F1’s most enigmatic professionals certainly succeeds in putting you (quite literally) in the driving seat of one of the most thrilling and dangerous sports out there, its real triumph lies in the telling of perhaps the most interesting on-screen relationship of the year. The intense rivalry between Ayrton Senna and his one-time teammate Alain Prost not only makes each of the ‘action sequences’ that much more powerful, it also raises the narrative stakes in a way that challenges any other dramatic plot – whether based in fact or fiction – to have received a release during 2011.
That Senna manages to achieve all of this without defaulting to the usual talking heads format, trusting instead to base itself entirely around archival footage, makes it all the more remarkable. Only the Academy knows why this incredible feat of editing – which was eligible for selection – will never receive the Oscar it deserves. But hopefully, its documentary pole position at the box office will run into a triumphant lap of honour in the homes of millions for years to come”.
Forming probably my strangest cinematic double bill of 2011, watching it literally straight after Tintin, Lynne Ramsay’s much buzzed about Kevin may not be a film for everyone but it’s as stimulating and shocking as a cold wave smacking into your face at 7am. Tilda Swinton is brilliant as the mother who may or may not be pushing her child into some terrible deeds and Ezra Miller’s calculating little bastard Kevin is a bit of a force of nature, and Lynne Ramsay’s intense foreboding atmosphere she creates makes sure that this film leaves its mark on you.
Bradley Porter says…
“This is either going to climb or fall dramatically on repeat viewings, but it’s certainly not gonna sit still. Having never read the book, I went in cold and was surprised by a) How funny it was in places and b) how accessible it was for something so clearly auteur driven. Ramsay’s stamp is all over this, and while some may claim the symbolism is heavy handed, I feel it was all perfectly necessary in exploring the unreliable mind of Swinton’s Eva. And those three kids playing Kevin… Fucking spooky”.
Andrew Shaw says…
“What is a horror movie? Does it need to be excessively violent? Does it need to make you jump out of your chair in shock? Does it need to have a supernatural or otherworldly tone? No. A horror movie, by definition, should horrify. We Need To Talk About Kevin stares into the very mundane face of pure evil, there’s no curses or local myths responsible for this evil, it simply exists without explanation. That harsh reality and the carnage that occurs because of it, make We Need To Talk About Kevin one of the great horror movies of the year.
Lynn Ramsay’s direction is unforgiving, adding extra punch to an already powerful subject. Bold and expressionistic, splashes of red through the frame and sound design that borders on schizophrenic. It’s the complete visual and aural experience of a nightmare, and Tilda Swinton’s remarkably understated performance shows a woman who is living that nightmare. A great horror film forces you to re-evaluate the world around you, and your own safety within it, and We Need To Talk About Kevin left me with an overwhelming urge to get a vasectomy”.
Ben Wheatley follows up his criminally underseen Down Terrace with a film which combines the socially awkward black comedy of his previous film with elements of cult/gothic horror which British cinema did so well in the 60′s and 70′s, creating a film where you’re never entirely sure how you’re supposed to read what is happening but by the end you feel like your brain chemistry has been somewhat altered, something which was just as effective when watching on Blu-Ray a couple of weeks ago as it was on England’s biggest non-Imax screen at the UK Premiere at this year’s FrightFest (Kill List being far and away the standout success of that festival this year). It hit US Video-on-Demand last week and it really demands to be seen.
Daniel Auty says..
“It’s a sign of just how generic much high-profile horror has become that Kill List confused and frustrated audiences as much as it shocked, disturbed and delighted. Ben Wheatley’s second feature reached back to an era of horror that uses mystery and ambiguity as part of its arsenal – think Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man and Carpenter’s The Thing, as well as David Lynch’s darkest work – an approach quite at odds with the endless stream of studio sequels and remakes that makes up so much modern frightfare. Kill List may move from domestic drama through dark hitman comedy into pure shock territory, but the tone and intent is scary and unnerving from the very start, aided in particular by the disorientating sound design. A pair of outstanding performances from Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley humanise these contract killers and provide unexpected moments of hilarity, making the terrifying, gut-wrenching final act even harder to take. Kill List might wear its influences on its sleeve, but the end result was a fresh, confident, utterly nightmarish slice of dark British brilliance”.
The one film in this list I haven’t seen so I’m going to let someone else do the talking! I will be catching up with this very soon.
Bradley Porter says…
“I saw this too late for my own Top Ten, but if I had it would have been a strong challenger for the top spot. No film this year captured reality in such a cinematic way. I say this, but it’s not a reality I could ever claim to know or understand. Farhadi’s captures a scripted story with the ease of a documentarian, the twist and turns of its narrative rivalling any thriller seen on the big screen this year. Its greatest achievement though, is for all its entertainment value, Farhadi never lets you forget that for as dramatic as it may be for us, this is sadly a common occurrence for many. ‘Powerful’ and ‘important’ are words thrown around often in film criticism but this year they haven’t been more appropriate for anything but A Separation”.
Jordan McGrath says…
“It was a huge decision what to go with as my Number 1 of the year but after a good 30 minutes of deliberation it had to go to A Separation because it really came out of nowhere and knocked me on my arse. It’s so dramatic without seeming dramatic and in a way, the fact that it’s not and I use the term lightly ‘cinematic’ is the perfect choice from the director. We aren’t an audience with A Separation we are just witnesses of an event who are then left to make our own moral decisions on who is right and wrong”.
I’ve talked a lot about this film over the last few weeks and I’m personally thrilled that it got into our Top Ten for the year with Paddy Considine making an astonishing directorial debut which flags him up as not only a filmmaker to watch but also someone who it seems is not going to let anyone get in the way of him saying what he wants to say. One of the most challenging films of the year, Tyrannosaur takes some stomach to get through at times, not through any particualrly graphic stuff but through a sense of foreboding which infects the film. While it has its lighter moments also, this is a film which seeks to show us why some of those people we try to avoid when walking down the street could just need some sort of connection to improve their lives, even if it is hard work.
Bradley Porter says…
“When I stepped out of the cinema after first seeing Tyrannosaur I swore I’d never watch it again. Not because I didn’t like it, far from it, it was a tremendous film. I just didn’t think I could take it. I felt like my insides had been twisted and torn from my body and replaced copious amounts of bile. But in wanting to revist Olivia Colman’s performance (the best given by any actor this year) I stuck in the screener and sat through it again and was rewarded with a beautiful portrayal of human connection between the moments of horror. As a staffie owner, I still find certain sequences hard to watch but that aside, nothing was more horrific on screens this year than Eddie Marsan”.
It’s oddly fitting that I’m talking about Shame straight after Tyrannosaur as in a way I think they share some stuff in common, something that doesn’t exatly scream at you from the outside. Both films are about a man trying to fix faults within themselves which make them unable to have what is deemed as truly socially acceptable relationships. Peter Mullan’s character in Tyrannosaur lashes out at people and makes scenes, Michael Fassbender’s here also lashes out in a way but instead of using his mouth and shouting, he uses his mini-Fassbender and has sex. Those comparisons aside, Shame is an exemplary case of what a film for adults should be, not titilating the audience, instead using very adult themes and full-on imagery which provoked walkouts in the screening I was in, to make us sit up and take notice. Yes, we can joke all we want about the amount of male nudity in this film as many on Twitter seem to have done over the last couple of months, but at its heart this is an entirely serious film which may make people re-think the way they go about trying to form relationships. The cast are superb, the direction is pitch-perfect, it’s out in UK cinemas next weekend and I can’t recommend it enough.
Bradley Porter says…
“A mightily impressive portrait of addiction and loneliness, Shame would almost be perfect if it weren’t for moments of contrivance in the last act. Screenplay quibbles aside, this is a much more accessible film than many have lead to believe, although be warned… it is likely to live with you for a long while afterwards”.
One of the pleasures of doing a list as communal as this one is seeing what films other people are huge fans of which you may not have considered for this list. This was certainly the case with 13 Assassins which I very much liked but in honesty never expected to see in this list. I am delighted to have it here, and ranking so highly, though as it’s the prolific to say the least Miike’s best work that I’ve seen in a great many years, a men on a mission film which happens to involved one of the longest, and most bloody brilliant, action climax I have seen in a long while. Action fans, fans of world cinema, fans of quality films in general, go watch it.
Daniel Auty says…
“On first glance it might seem surprising that a Takashi Miike film has ended up so high on not only ELSF’s 2011 top 10, but so many other end-of-year lists as well. Not that Miike hasn’t made many great films, but he’s not exactly a crowd-pleaser, his output varying wildly between the outrageous and shocking and the slow and impenetrable. But 13 Assassins transcends its cult roots by virtue of being the year’s best action movie, delivering violent, visceral thrills in a way that the likes of Michael Bay can only hope to match. This remake of an earlier ‘60s film spends a steady hour building both the story and the 13-man team that will take on insane Lord Naritsugu, before exploding into a gobsmacking battle sequence that occupies almost the entire second half of the film, as our vastly-outnumbered heroes face down Naritsugu’s men in a booby-trapped town. There’s humour, horror, drama and scintillating swordplay, delivered with effortless, dazzling verve by Miike. A future Japanese classic, no question”.
I love every chimp I see from chimpan-a to chimpan-zee so I was already inclined to like this film pre-release but all was not certain for sure, taking on a relatively untested director in Brit Rupert Wyatt, having a marketing campaign which led with the fact that Weta was behind the effects, something I’m sure won’t speak to the common multiplex patron and coming after Tim Burton’s epic fail of a remake 10 years beforehand. However, this turned out to be the surprise of the summer, gaining almost universally positive reactions from critics and grossing over 5-times its budget worldwide, off the back of a story where the Weta effects and Andy Serkis’ performance make you truly root for the apes to become our masters and action sequences which were genuinely thrilling and fist-pumping. A crowd pleaser with a brain and one of the best summer blockbusters of the last few years.
Kurt Brookes (who got engaged this past week fact fans) says…
“What went from one of the least wanted movies of the year quickly became this summer’s biggest and most intelligent blockbuster. Yep, Apes certainly did rise… and it was borderline magical.
Arguably the finest reboot/prequel Hollywood has seen in an age, Rise of the Planet of the Apes just seemed to do everything right that Tim Burton’s 2001 attempt did wrong; better leads, better story and, most importantly, better apes.
Though James Franco received top billing and does a great turn as Dr. Will Rodman, the creator of what is effectively the cure to Alzheimer’s, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was all about mo-captain Andy Serkis. Famous for donning the ping-pong ball suit for Gollum and King Kong, Serkis’s Caesar showed the naysayers that you don’t need to see the actor in order for them to give both a stunning and touching performance. Though talks of an Oscar have been rife on the blogosphere, and rightly so, the Academy is unlikely to garner Andy with so much as a nomination for fear that it could spell the end of acting as we know it.
Brit director Rupert Wyatt draws on his previous feature The Escapist to deliver some fantastic “prison” scenes and shows that despite this being his first big budget feature he isn’t afraid to take on big set pieces; the apes’ insurrection on the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the best I’ve seen in recent years.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes rightly deserves it’s place in this year’s top ten and here’s hoping it spells the continuation of one of the best cinematic science fiction franchises around … involving apes. Hail, Caesar!”
Noel Mellor says…
“Decent script that benefits from being brilliantly executed. I’d watch a sequel right now”.
Out in wide release in the UK TODAY, Hazanavicius’ heavily buzzed about film is a real treat for film fans and lovers of good stories in general alike. While I cannot say it was on my personal Top Ten, I’m not even going to try and say that this isn’t an entertaining, charming and emotionally engaging treat which uses the silent film USP incredibly well, organically weaving into the story and engaging just as much as any visually and aurally spectacular blockbuster you’re likely to come across. Jean DuJardin and Berenice Bejo are fantastic together on screen, Uggie the dog is one of the best animal characters in a year full of them (Apes, Beginners, Hugo just to mention a few) and by the end, it would take a hard hearted man not to feel pangs of joy.
Jordan McGrath says…
“After seeing The Artist at LFF earlier on in the year it left me wanting to dance around the construction site once known as Leicester Square. It’s just such a beautifully charming and refreshing piece of cinema that brings enough to its homage to feel new. Yes, its rehashes older films but it does so in a very entertaining and knowing way whilst delivering an interesting take of the era and the birth of the talkies. Jean Dujardin fits perfectly into the lead role as does Bérénice Bejo, actually everybody involved feels like the perfect team to give us a nice and welcome ‘slight’ rebirth of silent cinema. All I can say to director Michel Hazanavicius is Oscars ahoy!”
And our NUMBER ONE IS….
So, in the end the race turned out to not even be close, with a points total which nearly doubled its nearest rival, for me what is hands down, obviously and unequivocally the number one film of the year, is also the number one film for ESLF. There’s a lot of folks who want to talk about it so I will hand over to them.
Andrew Shaw says…
“The instant Drive’s opening titles appeared, with the robotic sounds of Kavinsky’s Night Call and the beautiful night-time footage of the Los Angeles streets, I knew this film would be my number one choice. Drive is, simply put, too cool to ignore.
It’s low on action (although what we get is beautifully executed and, at times, shocking) but high on mood, with some career high performances from Ryan Gosling and Albert Brooks with able support from Carey Mulligan and Ron Perlman. The real star of the film is Nicolas Winding Refn’s direction, he wields such control over the film, the tone and pace is immaculate. It may not be for everyone (namely litigious Vin Diesel fans) but it’s absolutely the product of a confident, articulate filmmaker.
Combining the minimalist cool of Walter Hill, the composure and existentialism of Jean Pierre Melville and the neon atmosphere of early Michael Mann, Drive is unquestionably the coolest film of the year. Refn has created a film that feels both retro and very much present, a film that feels timeless”.
Bradley Porter says…
“The coolest film of the year, and probably the one which will most stand the test of time. In 20 years, people will probably look at this as the film that made them want to make films in the way people of our generation do of Reservoir Dogs. And it will age very, very well, helped by it’s slavish devotion to the aesthetics of 1980’s pulp cinema combined with it’s very modern sensibilities. The best soundtrack of the year, an ensemble to die for and moments of perfectly punctuated ultra-violence, Drive could very well be the defining film of 2011″.
Noel Mellor says…
“Aesthetically stunning in every way with perfect tone and pace. If I enjoy a film more in 2011, I’ll be surprised”.
Garry McConnachie says (CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS)…
“2011 was the year of Ryan Gosling, having seen him star in FOUR tremendous feature films over the course of the year.
While I personally believe Blue Valentine was a stronger movie, Gosling’s turn in Nicolas Winding Refn’s noir-like thriller Drive was nonetheless remarkable.
Starring as the unnamed ‘Driver’, he’s a machanic-cum-stunt driver who partakes in some getaway driving on the side.
Watching him go through the entire film barely speaking could, in lesser hands, be borderline boring or off-putting altogether, but ‘the Gos’ grabs your attention right off the bat with an arse-clenching opening sequence and doesn’t let go until the blood-spattered finale.
In between, he’s ably supported (and in some cases, almost surpassed) by the brilliant Albert Brooks who plays the gangster determined to kill him after a heist is botched.
Carey Mulligan is the weakest of the cast but it’s easy to look past her anaemic performance as Gosling falls for her before feeling obliged to protect her and her young son from a violent death.
Possibly the most jarring scene in the entire film takes place in an elevator as the light softens around Mulligan and Gosling. His character knows the gentleman alongside them in the lift isn’t there just for the ride. He has death on his mind.
As the lighting dims, we’re submerged into a moment of loving tenderness. It’s possibly one of the most tragic scenes in cinema last year, because what follows ensures our ‘real hero’ will never be with the woman he loves. It’s a scene of conflicting emotions that sticks with you long after you see, such is the shock it provides.
Add to the film a stunning 80′s-inspired electronica-infused soundtrack and what you have is one of the films of the year. No questions asked”.
So, there you have it. A varied and rather thrilling list with films that if you haven’t seen, you’ve got some catching up to do. Oh and because I put this together I just want to say that the next closest film to the list was Jason Eisener’s Hobo With A Shotgun. I’d have loved to see it on this list but I’m rather tickled that I write for and help run a site that would have that film so close to its Top Ten of the year.
That’s it, thanks very much for reading!