art in all its forms

art in all its forms


Favourite films of 2011

Tom Hiddleston in Joanna Hogg's sublime film Archipelago

The best film of the year is not always the same as one's favourite film of the year. The former is destined to remain a classic, watched and studied (perhaps in film school) for decades to come. The latter is the film you are most likely to pop into the DVD player when you get home on a rainy Saturday night. In the spirit of today's Oscars, here's a look at some of our favourite films from the past year.

Archipelago. Posh family tensions crack open over a getaway to the Isles of Scilly. Sounds unappealing as the subject matter for a film? Hold your horses. This film from English director Joanna Hogg was an utter surprise. Very few films are all about pleasure and the senses. This film ravishes, it is washed with such pale and cold browns and greens, it is wind and rain-swept. Every single shot is composed with a kind of sly joy: the film is like one long, extended still-life rupturing ever so slightly via changes in the environment and its characters. Not since The Mysterious Case of Angelica have I enjoyed a film so much. This is the work of an important artist.

A Separation. If you like cinema that wraps a tight, suffocating coil around you and never lets go, this is a film for you. I mean that in a good way! A Separation is a searing drama about a family in crisis set in Iran, a country whose films are not often seen outside of it. The crisis at the heart of the film is so well-developed and minutely observed that I had to watch every shot with admiration and a desire to know what happens next. The movie is as much about Iran's moral/legal system as it is about the family which falls apart at its core. Like The Tree of Life, this is a film I have been unable to forget.

Peyman Maadi and Sareh Bayat in A Separation

Contagion. Talk about an under-rated film. Yes, we have seen virus disaster movies before. Yes, we've done the whole ensemble cast, how-are-they-connected-in-the-end? game. But I will say this: there was — with perhaps only one exception — not a more stylish or better edited film in 2011. It is a compelling and plausible rendition of the outbreak of a mysterious and deadly virus which affects a wide cast of characters as the world comes to terms with it in a frenzy of panic and bureaucracy. The film has slipped below most awards radars because of the timing of its release and possibly its seemingly brain-free box-office content. It's a shame, because Kate Winslet gives what is perhaps the best performance of her career, and Gywneth Palthrow is creepily good as an oblivious party-wife whose personal choices are at the heart of global events.

Drive. If Bronson was a "film" then this is Nicholas Winding Refn's epic tale. There is very little dialogue in Drive and the miracle is in Ryan Gosling, a protean actor who quite surprisingly managed to fit in this gruesome tale of crime and romance. What is most interesting about Drive, though, is its blurring of genres. We're still not sure what it's supposed to be. But whatever it is we were more than happy to go along for the ride. Albert Brooks delivers one of the great performances and is — perhaps predictably — overlooked for an Oscar.

Jane Eyre. Ah Mr Fassbender as Rochester. The film was not rocket science. It was based on an old classic. But how well it worked, how dangerous it appeared, how beautifully scored. Mia Wisikowsa is by far the best Jane on celluloid. Her performance has been ignored by all the awards bodies. Jaime Bell is also exceptional as St John Rivers.

Ryan Gosling in Drive
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Let's not get into a debate about whether the original Swedish version was better or whether the David Fincher version does "justice" to the book. At the end of the day, the film is good, not airtight, but good. It is certainly the rival to Contagion for its stylish look and its editing. There are some lingering doubts over a few of the violent and seemingly gratuitous rape scenes. And it does seem a bit long. Notwithstanding, it worked well.

The Skin I Live In. There are many contenders for "creepiest film of the year" but I think this one takes the prize by a big margin. It's creepy, but not in an expected or garish way: only a few scenes are blood-soaked.  What is unnerving about it is how much of director Pedro Almodovar is in it: his almost perverse willingness to twist a plot into all sorts of odd shapes and to take audiences to complex places. The film has an unforgettable sequence involving a series of events in a lush garden in the backdrop to a party. The sequences is deliberately corny and cheeky and is most certainly comic, but such darkness fills the canvas! The lead actress, Elena Anaya, is extremely good in a very unusual role.

Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life. Far from being didactic, The Tree of Life knows nothing and yet it knows, at its heart, that it knows nothing, despite its seeming Christian underpinnings. This is the source of its baffling power. The film is more of a cinematic exercise than a film. Contrary to what many have said, there is a plot, and you can follow it in between all the pretty shots of Brad Pitt's face/babies feet. I saw this on BluRay and can only hope most people get a chance to see it on that format as well. This is one of those films that everybody has to see at least once in their lives. It's a breath-taking cinematic experience that was so intriguing I was hooked from first to last.

Must mention: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Gary Oldman), Wuthering Heights (powerful), My Week With Marilyn (Michelle Williams), The Iron Lady (Meryl Streep), War Horse (don't scorn, it was beautiful!), Midnight in Paris (classic late Woody Allen: a comic gaffe with a powerful and profound sting in its tail); The Ides of March (not bad), Shame (Fassbender), We Need to Talk About Kevin (Tilda Swinton).