Cinema Lists

The Best Films of 2011

Although it was a year with a record number of sequels, there was much to feast on if you really looked for something different.

The year will be remembered for momentous events which overshadowed anything Hollywood could come up with: the Arab Spring, the Japanese Earthquake, Hackgate, the death of Osama Bin Laden and the continuing meltdown of the global economy.

But cinema itself underwent some seismic changes: in April the thorny issue of the theatrical window raised its head, whilst James Cameron suggested films should be projected at 48 frames per second instead of the usual 24.

But by far the biggest story was the news that Panavision, Arri and Aaton were to stop making film cameras: although the celluloid projection will effectively be over by 2013, it seems the death of 35mm capture is only a few years away.

So the medium of film, will soon no longer involve celluloid. That’s a pretty big deal.

As for the releases this year, it seemed a lot worse than it actually was.

Look beyond the unimaginative sequels and you might be surprised to find that there are interesting films across a variety of genres.

Instead of artifically squeezing the standout films into a top ten, below are the films that really impressed me in alphabetical order, followed by honourable mentions that narrowly missed the cut but are worth seeking out.


A Separation (Dir. Asghar Farhadi): This Iranian family drama explored emotional depths and layers that few Western films even began to reach this year.

Drive (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn): Nicolas Winding Refn brought a European eye to this ultra-stylish LA noir with a killer soundtrack and performances.

George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Dir. Martin Scorsese): Scorsese’s in-depth examination of the late Beatle was a passionate and moving tribute to a kindred soul.

Hugo (Dir. Martin Scorsese): The high-priest of celluloid channelled his inner child to create a stunning digital tribute to one of the early pioneers of cinema.

Jane Eyre (Dir. Cary Fukunaga): An exquisite literary adaptation with genuine depth, feeling and two accomplished lead performers that fitted their roles like a glove.

Margin Call (Dir. J.C. Chandor): The best drama yet to come out the financial crisis is this slow-burn acting masterclass which manages to clarify the empty heart of Wall Street.

Melancholia (Dir. Lars von Trier): Despite the Cannes controversy, his stylish vision of an apocalyptic wedding was arguably his best film, filled with memorable images and music.

Moneyball (Dir. Bennett Miller): The philosophy that changed a sport was rendered into an impeccably crafted human drama by director Bennett Miller with the help of Brad Pitt.

Project Nim (Dir. James Marsh): A chimpanzee raised as a human was the extraordinary and haunting subject of this documentary from James Marsh.

Rango (Dir. Gore Verbinski): The best animated film of 2011 came from ILMs first foray into the medium as they cleverly riffed on classic westerns and Hollywood movies.

Senna (Dir. Asif Kapadia): A documentary about the F1 driver composed entirely from existing footage made for riveting viewing and a truly emotional ride.

Shame (Dir. Steve McQueen): The follow up to Hunger was a powerful depiction of sexual compulsion in New York, featuring powerhouse acting and pin-sharp cinematography.

Snowtown (Dir. Justin Kerzel): Gruelling but brilliant depiction of an Australian murder case, which exposed modern horror for the empty gorefest it has become.

Take Shelter (Dir. Jeff Nichols): Wonderfully atmospheric blend of family drama and Noah’s Ark which brilliantly played on very modern anxieties of looming apocalypse.

The Artist (Dir. Michel Hazanavicius): An ingenious love letter to the silent era of Hollywood is executed with an almost effortless brilliance.

The Descendants (Dir. Alexander Payne): Pitch-perfect comedy-drama which saw Alexander Payne return to give George Clooney his best ever role.

The Guard (Dir. John Michael McDonagh): Riotously funny Irish black comedy with Brendan Gleeson given the role of his career.

The Interrupters (Dir. Steve James): The documentary of the year was this powerful depiction of urban violence and those on the frontline trying to prevent it.

The Skin I Live In (Dir. Pedro Almodovar): The Spanish maestro returned with his best in years, as he skilfully channeled Hitchcock and Cronenberg.

The Tree of Life (Dir. Terrence Malick): Moving and mindblowing examination of childhood, death and the beginnings of life on earth.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Dir Tomas Alfredson): Wonderfully crafted John le Carre adaptation which resonates all too well in the current era of economic and social crisis.

Tyrannosaur (Dir. Paddy Considine): Searingly emotional drama with two dynamite lead performances and an unexpected Spielberg reference.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (Dir. Lynne Ramsey): Audio-visual masterclass from Ramsay with a now predictably great performance from Tilda Swinton.

Win Win (Dir. Thomas McCarthy): Quietly brilliant comedy-drama with Paul Giamatti seemingly born to act in this material.


A Dangerous Method (Dir. David Cronenberg)
Anonymous (Dir. Roland Emmerich)
Another Earth (Dir. Mike Cahill)
Attack the Block (Dir. Joe Cornish)
Bobby Fischer Against The World (Dir. Liz Garbus)
Confessions (Dir. Tetsuya Nakashima)
Contagion (Dir. Steven Soderbergh)
Four Days Inside Guantanamo (Dir. Luc Cote, Patricio Henriquez)
I Saw the Devil (Dir. Kim Ji-woon)
Into the Abyss (Dir. Werner Herzog)
Life in a Day (Dir. Kevin MacDonald)
Martha Marcy May Marlene (Dir. Sean Durkin)
Midnight in Paris (Dir. Woody Allen)
Page One: Inside The New York Times (Dir. Andrew Rossi)
Super 8 (Dir. JJ Abrams)
The Adventures of Tintin (Dir. Steven Spielberg)
The Beaver (Dir. Jodie Foster)
The Deep Blue Sea (Dir. Terence Davies)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Dir. David Fincher)
The Ides of March (Dir. George Clooney)


Armadillo (Dir. Janus Metz)
Beginners (Dir. Mike Mills)
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Dir. Werner Herzog)
Submarine (Dir. Richard Ayoade)
Cold Weather (Dir. Aaron Katz)
Tabloid (Dir. Errol Morris)

Find out more about the films of 2011 at Wikipedia
End of year lists at Metacritic
> The Best Film Music of 2011
The Best DVD and Blu-ray Releases of 2011

DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 5th December 2011


The Interrupters (Dogwoof): One of the best documentaries of recent years explores the work of CeaseFire, a program in Chicago which uses people with experience of violent crime in order to prevent it. Directed by Steve James, who made the landmark Hoop Dreams (1994), it was filmed over the course of a year in Chicago and focuses on three interrupters: Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra, who all have lives shaped by past violence on the streets. James skilfully weaves their stories with considerable insight and the film is filled with kind of human drama you don’t often see in features of TV documentaries. [Buy it on DVD] [Read our longer review here]

Come and See (Artificial Eye): One of the greatest war films ever made is this searing look at the Nazi occupation of Belarus during World War II. Directed by Elem Klimov in 1985, it tells the story of a young boy (Aleksey Kravchenko) trying to make sense of the unbelievable carnage around him, which is depicted with stunning technical skill and a raw power that few have since matched in the war genre. Perhaps the most lasting depiction of Nazi depravity ever committed to a feature film, it lingers long in the mind and was sadly the last film Klimov ever made before his death in 2003. [Buy it on DVD]

Brazil (20th Century Fox Home Ent.): Director Terry Gilliam’s finest film was this brilliant dystopian satire about a governmental worker (Jonathan Pryce) whose life gradually becomes a surreal bureaucratic nightmare after a mistake leads him to be associated with a terrorist (Robert De Niro). Filled with dark humour and some truly dazzling production design, life imitated art when the film itself became a victim of major studio bureaucracy when Universal wanted to shelve it. This is not the 142-minute Director’s Cut of previous DVD versions, but instead the 132-minute theatrical version of the film. [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]

Salt of Life (Artificial Eye): Director Gianni De Gregorio returns after his charming Mid-August Lunch (2008) with a story about a house husband (played by himself) whose life is slipping by in a dull routine doing chores for his family and neighbours. But when an old friend persuades him to inject some pleasure into his life. Another charming film from a director with an astute eye for the comedy of everyday life. [Buy it on DVD]


Captain America – The First Avenger (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Triple Play / Normal]
Dark Star (Fabulous Films) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Glee: The Concert Movie (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / 3D Edition + 2D Edition + DVD + Digital Copy]
How to Train Your Dragon (DreamWorks Animation) [Blu-ray / 3D Edition + 2D Edition + DVD – Triple Play]
Medea (BFI) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Megamind (DreamWorks Animation) [Blu-ray / 3D Edition + 2D Edition + DVD – Triple Play]
Monsters Vs Aliens (DreamWorks Animation) [Blu-ray / 3D Edition + 2D Edition + DVD – Triple Play]
One Eyed Jacks (Intergroove) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Scarface (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / + DVD and Digital Copy – Triple Play]
Shrek (DreamWorks Animation) [Blu-ray / 3D Edition + 2D Edition + DVD – Triple Play]
Shrek 2 (DreamWorks Animation) [Blu-ray / 3D Edition + 2D Edition + DVD – Triple Play]
Shrek the Third (DreamWorks Animation) [Blu-ray / 3D Edition + 2D Edition + DVD – Triple Play]
Shrek: Forever After – The Final Chapter (DreamWorks Animation) [Blu-ray / 3D Edition + 2D Edition + DVD – Triple Play]
The Borgias: Season 1 (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Hangover: Part 2 (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / Normal / Triple Play]
The Smurfs (Sony Pictures Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal / Triple Play / 3D Edition]

Recent UK cinema releases
The Best DVD & Blu-ray releases of 2010


UK Cinema Releases: Friday 12th August 2011


Rise of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox): Reboot of the Apes franchise set in present day San Francisco as a scientist (James Franco) trying to cure Alzheimer’s inadvertently triggers a new breed of ape which gradually rebel against their human masters. Directed by Rupert Wyatt, it co-stars Frieda Pinto, John Lithgow and Brian Cox. [Nationwide / 12A] [Read our full review]

The Smurfs (Sony Pictures): Film adaptation of the comic book series created by Peyo which mixes live action and animation. The story involves the evil wizard Gargamel chasing the Smurfs out of their village, theor subsequent trip to New York and their journey back. Directed by Raja Gosnell, it stars Neil Patrick Harris, Jonathan Winters, Hank Azaria, Jayma Mays and Sofía Vergara. [Nationwide / U]

The Devil’s Double (Icon): Drama about Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper), an Iraqi forced to act as a body double for the sadistic Uday Hussein (also played by Cooper) during Saddam Hussein’s rule. Directed by Lee Tamahori, it co-stars Philip Quast and Ludivine Sagnier. [Nationwide / 18]


The Interrupters (Dogwoof): Documentary about a non-violence project in Chicago which focuses on three workers who try to diffuse potentially violent situations with their experience and knowledge of local areas. Directed by Steve James (who made the masterful Hoop Dreams), it is an incredibly timely film in light of the recent UK riots, rich with human drama and emotion. [Key cities / 15] [Read our full review]

Project Nim (Icon): Documentary about a chimpanzee named Nim who was raised like a human in the 1970s as part of a scientific experiment into language. Directed by James Marsh, it is the follow up from the team that brought us Man on Wire (2008). [Key cities / 12A] [Read our full review here]

The Salt of Life (Artificial Eye): After the arthouse success of his charming Mid-August Lunch (2008), writer-director and actor Gianni Gregorio returns with another film about family relationships. This time it explores a bored house husband and his rediscovery of romantic relationships. [Key cities / 12A]

Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (Revolver): The follow-up film to the 2007 Brazilian crime drama continues the story of the Rio de Janeiro Military Police and has already become the highest grossing film ever in Brazil. Directed and produced by José Padilha, it stars Wagner Moura and Irandhir Santos. [Key cities / 18]

Beautiful Lies (Trinity Filmed Entertainment): French comedic riff on Jane Austen’s Emma with Audrey Tautou in the central matchmaker role. Directed by Pierre Salvadori, it co-stars Natalie Baye and Sami Bouajila. [Key cities]

The Taqwacores (Network Releasing): Film adaptation of the 2003 novel by Michael Muhammad Knight, which imagines a fictitious Islamic rock scene through characters living in Buffalo. Directed by Eyad Zahra, it stars Bobby Naderi, Dominic Rains and Noureen Dewulf. [Key cities / 15]

> Get local cinema showtimes at Google Movies or FindAnyFilm
Recent UK DVD & Blu-ray releases including Stand By Me and Whisky Galore

Documentaries Interesting

Gary Slutkin on Disrupting Violence

This week sees the UK release of The Interrupters, a documentary which explores an anti-violence program in Chicago based on the theories of Gary Slutkin.

Directed by Steve James, who made the classic 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams, the film follows the work of CeaseFire, an initiative which has created and implemented the concept of ‘The Violence Interrupter’.

This sees three people – Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra – with experience of crime, work on the street to mediate conflicts which could result in violent crime.

Essentially, it’s a bit like Minority Report without all the high-tech stuff.

The CeaseFire project was founded in 1995 by Dr. Slutkin, who developed the theory that violence is like an infectious disease that can be prevented by changing behaviour.

Last year he gave this talk explaining his basic ideas:

The UK release of The Interrupters is incredibly timely, with riots and looting breaking out in London and other major cities in the same week it opens in UK cinemas.

In a related side note, the films UK distributor Dogwoof was affected by the devastating fire at a Sony distribution centre in Enfield, which housed most of the stock for the UK’s indie music and film labels.

I would strongly recommend the film, as it is easily one of the best films of the year and essential viewing in a week where violence and urban decay have dominated UK headlines.

> My review of The Interrupters
Official website
> Official Facebook and Twitter
Reviews of The Interrupters at Metacritic
Original NY Times article by Alex Kotlowitz that inspired the film
> More on the UK Riots of 2011

Cinema Documentaries Reviews

The Interrupters

The latest documentary from Steve James is a riveting examination of a community group tackling urban violence in Chicago.

Inspired by a 2008 article by Alex Kotlowitz in the New York Times Magazine, it explores the work of CeaseFire, a program which adopted ‘The Violence Interrupter’ concept, which uses people with experience of violent crime in order to prevent it.

The brainchild of epidemiologist Gary Slutkin, the interrupter concept treats urban violence like an infectious disease – if you go after the most infected, then you can stop the infection at its source.

Shot over the course of a year in Chicago, it focuses on three interrupters: Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra, who all have lives shaped by past violence on the streets.

But the fascination of the film lies is the way it combines the history of the interrupters with their practical application of Slutkin’s theory.

CeaseFire utilises whatever nonviolent means possible to prevent violence: interrupters listen to the chatter on the streets and intervene when something is about to go wrong.

We see the power of ‘interruption’ in practice as Ameena, Cobe and Eddie apply it in the streets, using their contacts, negotiating skills and quick wits to diffuse potentially volatile situations in areas blighted by poverty and crime.

This means that in order to be effective, they have to exercise a special brand of street diplomacy, which can involve anything from talking out issues on a porch to an impromptu trip to the local food joint.

Ameena draws on her own background as the daughter of a notorious gang leader to befriend and mentor a girl who reminds her of her younger self; Cobe uses his experience of loss and time in prison to disarm people with his charm and good nature; whilst Eddie’s empathetic work with young children is driven by his own haunted past.

Each of these narrative strands could potentially provide the basis for a gripping feature film, but Steve James weaves them skilfully into a documentary which tackles a deep problem with considerable insight and human drama.

Returning to the same city that formed the backdrop of his landmark film Hoop Dreams (1994), the film is refreshingly candid about the problem of urban violence and mercifully free of the fake inspiration of mainstream TV documentaries.

The cameras here capture some extraordinarily raw scenes: a quick-witted doorstep negotiation with an angry man bent on revenge; a dramatic apology delivered to the owners of a barbershop; an interrupter lying on a hospital bed; and a school girl describing the effects of violence, are just some of the most affecting things I’ve seen this year.

But their power comes from the extensive groundwork laid out by James and Kotlowitz, who shot over 300 hours of footage and took time to earn the trust of their interviewees and the communities where they filmed.

This means that what we see on screen is filled with the kind of genuine surprises, narrative suspense and inspiring actions that only real life can provide.

Perhaps the most lasting aspect of The Interrupters is that it serves as a welcome counterblast to traditional ways in which the issue of urban violence is framed.

Hollywood favours improbable stories of mavericks beating the odds, whilst mainstream media such as CNN and Fox devote plenty of time to the gory outcome of murder whilst ignoring the root causes.

James and Kotlowitz (who served as co-producer on the film) adopt a slower and more considered approach which reaps rich dividends in exploring the complexity of human beings and the environment they inhabit.

In a sense, the film stays true to the long form journalism that inspired it, as research and a careful fidelity to the facts and issues at hand provide the backbone to the film.

According to the filmmakers, the minimalist production values and aesthetic were partly a product of making their subjects feel comfortable on camera, but it also emphasises the human factor well, which after all is what the film is really about.

The real genius of The Interrupters is that it immerses us in a particular situation but ultimately achieves a universal significance in depicting human struggle and redemption.

It also acts as a valuable document of a time when Chicago was brought into the national spotlight through the death of Derrion Albert in September 2009, and almost became a symbol for the violence across US cities.

After an acclaimed run at film festivals including Sundance, Sheffield and South by Southwest, it is very hard not to see this as an early Oscar frontrunner for Best Documentary.

At Sundance its running time was 164 minutes, but will open in the UK at a more audience-friendly running time of around two hours.

This means its commercial theatrical prospects have been improved – and it is a film I would urge you to see at a cinema – but presumably there is enough raw material for an extended cut on DVD or even a mini-series.

Like Hoop Dreams, the achievement here is immense and the film shines a valuable light on an issue which affects not just Chicago but every city suffering the human cost of violence.

The lasting legacy may be that practical, grass roots activism can provide relief from even the most intractable urban problems.

In what is already a very strong year for documentaries, this is one of the very best.

The Interrupters opens in the UK on August 12th and you can find a list of cinemas showing it here

> Official website
> Official Facebook and Twitter
> Reviews of The Interrupters at Metacritic
> Original NY Times article by Alex Kotlowitz that inspired the film