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


UK Cinema Releases: Friday 20th May 2011


Pirates Of The Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides (Walt Disney): The fourth installment of the franchise based on a Disney ride sees Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) team up with Angelica (Penélope Cruz) to search for the Fountain of Youth. Directed by Rob Marshall and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it co-stars Ian McShane, Kevin R. McNally and Astrid Berges-Frisbey. [Nationwide / 12A]

Win Win (20th Century Fox): Comedy-drama about a New Jersey lawyer (Paul Giamatti) who is confronted with an ethical dilemma involving a old man with dementia (Burt Young) and his teenage grandson (Alex Shaffer). Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, it co-stars Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Canavale. [Nationwide / 15] [Read our review]

Blitz (Lionsgate UK): Thriler about a cop (Jason Statham) who is dispatched to take down a serial killer who has been targeting police officers. Directed by Elliot Lester, it co-stars Aiden Gillen. [Nationwide / 18]

Age of Heroes (Metrodome): The story of the formation of Ian Fleming’s 30 Commando unit, a precursor for the elite forces in the UK. Directed by Adrian Vitoria and starring Sean Bean, Izabella Miko and Danny Dyer. [Key Cities / 15]


Julia’s Eyes (Optimum Releasing): Spanish thriller about a woman losing her sight to illness, who investigates the suicide of her already blind twin sister. Directed by Guillem Morales and produced by Guillermo Del Toro, it stars Belen Aueda. [Key Cities / 15]

The Great White Silence (bfi Distributors); Re-issue for this 1924 silent film about Captain Scott’s race to the South Pole, featuring a new score by Simon Fisher Turner. Directed by Herbert Ponting [Key Cities / U]

Vidal Sassoon: The Movie (Verve Pictures): Documentary about the hairdresser who rose from humble beginnings to become a key fashion figure of the 1960s. Directed by Craig Teper. [Key cities / PG]

Fire In Babylon (Revolver): Feature documentary about the great West Indies cricket team of the 1970’s/80’s. [Selected cinemas / 12A]

> Get local cinema showtimes at Google Movies or FindAnyFilm
UK DVD & Blu-ray releases for Monday 16th May 2011, including The Thin Red LineBiutiful and Black Swan

Cinema Reviews Thoughts

Win Win

It contains familiar ingredients but the third film from writer-director Thomas McCarthy is a satisfying comedy-drama with brains and heart.

Set in New Jersey, it explores the ethical dilemmas of local attorney Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), who also coaches a high-school wrestling team.

With his law practice struggling due to the recession, Mike keeps his worries from his wife (Amy Ryan) and two young daughters.

When an opportunity arises involving an elderly client (Burt Young) and his teenage grandson Kyle (Alex Shaffer), Mike sees a potential solution to his problems.

Similar in tone to McCarthy’s previous efforts – The Station Agent (2003) and The Visitor (2008) – the film explores the bittersweet comedy that lies under the surface of everyday life.

The main draw here is Giamatti and the actor fits the material perfectly, managing to convey the light and shade of a good man caught in a bad situation.

It is perhaps his most significant role since Sideways (2004) and it’s a relief to see him in a lead role after the usual supporting turns he gets burdened with in bigger budget films.

The other stand out is Shaffer, a non-actor making his screen debut, who is note-perfect as an awkward teenage wrestling prodigy.

Solid support comes from Amy Ryan as his tough but supportive wife, Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Canavale as Mike’s friends and fellow wrestling coaches, and Melanie Lynskey as Kyle’s absent mother.

McCarthy has a wonderful eye for character and he skillfully wrings out the comedy and drama, demonstrating without cliché or bombast how Mike’s actions gradually affect everyone around him.

The humour of Mike’s interaction with his friends and family is wrapped up with an unusual empathy for regular, small town life that is rare in the indie or mainstream realm.

Although the plot takes a while to get going in the conventional sense, but the slow-burn build up pays off well as it reaches its latter stages.

Contemporary New Jersey is evoked with impressive attention to detail: the legal office, gyms and houses are all convincingly realised.

Perhaps most impressively, Win Win does the simple things (acting, writing and direction) so well that you don’t really notice them until after the story has reached its surprising climax and payoff.

It may have the familiar tropes of a US indie movie made inside the studio system after premiering at Sundance, Fox Searchlight are releasing it.

But with the avalanche of sequels, remakes and empty romantic comedies currently hitting cinemas, a film like Win Win feels like an especially rare treat.

Listen out too for ‘Think You Can Win’, a moving song by The National which the US band wrote especially for the film.

Win Win opens in the UK on Friday 30th May

> Official site
> Reviews of Win Win at Metacritic
> Thomas McCarthy at Wikipedia

music News

The National compose ‘Think You Can Wait’ for Win Win

US band The National have written a song especially for Tom McCarthy’s new film Win Win.

Already a critical favourite in the US after premiering at Sundance in January, the film stars Paul Giamatti, in what is arguably his best part since Sideways (2004), as a New Jersey attorney who moonlights as a highschool wrestling coach.

It also stars Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Burt Young, Melanie Lynskey and Alex Shaffer.

The National’s lead singer Matt Berninger wrote the song ‘Think You Can Wait’ after watching the film and the end result fits perfectly.

You can listen to the track here:

The National – Think You Can Wait by Hypetrak

Or watch the video below:

Win Win is currently in limted release in the US and opens in the UK on Friday 27th May

> Official site for Win Win
> Reviews for Win Win at Metacritic
> The National