32 – Gandu
The boldest ever Indian film never made it to Indian theaters thanks to its sexually explicit imagery and hardcore language. But that didn’t stop it from making a splash in the festival circuit and garnering a huge cult. Irrespective of the gratuitous sex, Gandu is a genuinely great film with gorgeous black and white aesthetics, colorful hard edged Bangla rap and trippy plot points.
31 – Snowtown
A violent, slow burn shocker, Snowtown is a devastating film based on the infamous ‘bodies in barrels’ murders in Australia, and is mesmerizing with its treatment of the subject material. Director Justin Kurzel presents a very unsettling outlook on how easily humanity can be bent to the will of an unscrupulous psychopath. Daniel Henshall is brilliant as John Bunting, the man who corrupted young men to murder their friends and families and profit from their welfare payments.
Takashi Miike takes a break from the dementia of Audition and Ichi the killer and delivers a good ol' fashioned Samurai extravaganza. The epic final hour of battle between the 13 assassins and an army of 200 makes up for the feeble character development in the preceding hour. One scene featuring a bull set on fire and sent hurtling towards the enemy is a sheer classic.
29 – Beginners
Beginners is a sweet, emotionally resonant film. Christopher Plummer stars as a gay man who has come out of the closet after the death of his wife of 45 years, and hopes to make the most out of the time he has left on earth. Ewan McGregor is excellent as the son who must come to terms with his dad’s revelation. Director Mike Mills does away with clichés in this charming comedy, and the father-son bonding in the film makes for one of the most rewarding cinema experiences of the year.
The best horror film of the year, We Are What We Are is a morbidly beguiling story of a Mexican family with a dark, horrifying secret. The film effortlessly blends dread, drama and black comedy and is actually a great social commentary hidden beneath its gruesome casing.
27 - Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
The only true Hollywood blockbuster of the year, Ghost Protocol is a bombastic fourth entry to the sagging franchise. Brad Bird makes a snazzy live action debut and offers us stunning desert storm chases, white knuckle fight scenes, dizzying jumps and even Pixar-esque comedy – all in incredible IMAX. The Burj Khalifa scene itself is worth the price of admission.
26 - Michael
The Austrian film Michael is alarming not because of its subject matter of a man keeping a child locked in his basement, but because how subtle it is. Director Markus Schleiner forgoes the gimmicky musical cues and shock scenes and presents the movie in a vanilla context, making the twisted situation both credible and emotionally involving. Michael Fuith as the lead delivers a phenomenally creepy performance, and it all becomes all the more ominous knowing that the film is based on true events.
25 - The Skin I Live In
Pedro Almodóvar’s latest is a completely cuckoo and utterly entertaining film. Antonio Banderas stars as a crazy genius surgeon who has recently lost his wife and keeps a strange woman in his ‘test chamber’ for his experiments. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously, and a wicked twist during the mid section makes for a roguishly fascinating watch.
24 - The Guard
After Neil Mcdonagh’s hilarious In Bruges, Brendon Gleeson stars in the equally fun and cheeky The Guard. This one is directed by Neil’s brother John Michael McDonagh, and features the most crass and funniest one liners of the year. Gleeson is hilarious as a bitter, sarcastic small town Irish cop who teams up with FBI agent Don Cheadle to take on a rash of drug trafficking, blackmail and murders. McDonagh mixes noir and pitch black comedy and doles out a blisteringly fun film.
23 – Tyrannosaur
Directed by funnyman Paddy Cosidine, Tyrannosaur is anything but comic. The film is a brutal, unpleasant drama that tears at your senses and stuns you into submission. Set in a bleak British suburb, Peter Mullan churns out a magnificent performance as a hard drinking, self-loathing, guilt-ridden unemployed widower searching for redemption. Tyrannosaur is as depressing as it is a thought-provoking study of the value of human life.
22 - Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen’s best film in years, Midnight in Paris is a delightful, breezy comedy that serves as the cinematic equivalent of a delicious pastry. Owen Wilson headlines a superb cast including the lovely Marion Cotillard and Rachel McAdams. However Adrien Brody, who makes a cameo as a famous artist absolutely steals the show. Part romantic comedy part charming fantasy, this one is a heartwarming watch.
21 - Aaranya Kaandam
The best Indian movie of the year, Aaranya Kaandam is a high contrast neo-noir and a completely realized vision of how incredibly innovative regional films could be. Jackie Shroff is surprisingly effective as a filthy crime lord, as is Sampath Raj as a hoodlum. The film is rife with expletive laden sardonic dialogue and the cinematography is museum-quality work of visual art.
We need to talk about Kevin is a horror movie disguised as a dysfunctional American family drama. Intense and gloomy, the film stars an excellent Tilda Swinton as the mother of an extremely evil child. The movie is a tad anemic on character development but works because it steers clear of gimmicks. The frequent use of red hues makes for a disturbingly hypnotic experience. The film feels like an eerie combination of The Omen and Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, and it ensures some heavy dissection and discussion long after you’ve seen it.
With its enthralling imagery, Pina is an arresting watch as director Wim Wenders makes far better use of 3D in this dance documentary than big Hollywood studios do. One doesn’t even need to be knowledgeable of dance forms to enjoy this beautiful film.
With a huge canvas of the best actors in the industry, director Steven Soderbegh dishes out the most realistic possible film on a viral outbreak, and makes you wonder how desperate you would get if a deadly disease were to plague the human race. Matt Damon, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard and Laurence Fishburne make a superb cast in this well researched thriller that is so scary it makes you buy soap and wash your hands repeatedly. Contagion is fast paced and elevated by some great electronic music by Cliff Martinez.
17 - The Artist
16 - Submarine
Comedian Richard Ayoyade makes an exceptional directorial debut with this quirky, bittersweet British dramedy. Not enough can be said about the lead Craig Roberts who comes across as a younger avatar of Dustin Hoffman. He is fascinating as a school kid who desperately jumbles his emotional maturity and intellectual development. Ayodade innovates such tired themes as the parents’ troubled marriage with montages, split screens, freeze frames and Alex Turner’s superb music.
15 - Drive
The best way to describe Drive is ‘Menthol Noir’. This film is fully engaging on several levels, thanks to the masterful narrative, the silky smooth direction from Nicholas Winding Refn, the '80s-esque pop music and the near perfect blend of thrills and interesting characters. Ryan Gosling is sedate as an unnamed auto mechanic who moonlights as a Hollywood stuntman, a racer and a criminal getaway driver. Drive is well-paced, smartly told and unpretentious, and is a welcome break from the steady diet of pulpy Hollywood we get every week.
14 - Rango
Rango is a magnificent piece of cinema that spits in the face of 3D. Director Gore Verbinski teams up with his Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp for a velvety fine animated film for adults. The extraordinary photorealistic animation is topped by the fabulous story, characters and collage of thematic elements. Thanks to Rango, for the first time in a decade, a non-Pixar film turned out to be the finest animated feature of the year.
Watching Cold Fish feels like sticking one's head out the window of a speeding bullet train. Shion Sono, the madman behind the classics Suicide Club, Strange Circus and Love Exposure doles up his most accomplished, bloodiest, outrageously manic film to date. This noir-ish Korean societal study works with frenzied efficiency. Stay away if you've a weak stomach.
12 - Senna
Senna is a fabulous ode to one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers and is also the best documentary I have personally seen since Man On Wire. Director Asif Kapadia conjures some absorbing, skillfully selected footage, home videos and commentary on the underbelly of F1. The film also showcases Senna’s bitter rivalry with Alain Prost and his Godlike persona that he had in his native Brazil. Whether or not you are familiar with F1, Senna will shatter you with its final scene.
11 - Another Earth
Directed by debutant Mike Cahill and starring writer-producer Brit Marling, Another Earth is a splendid, meditative film that was made on a shoestring budget of $150,000. The film can be best described as a sci fi 21 Grams, and contains a very smart climax that has you analyzing it for hours on end. Marling, who stars as a young student who gets involved in an accident just moments before scientists discover a twin Earth, may well be the next Julie Delpy.
10 - Like Crazy
9 - Martha Marcy May Marlene
Starring Elizabeth Olsen in a mesmerizing debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a thoroughly disturbing, utterly gripping, riveting tale of young girl who escapes a shady, abusive cult. The movie is so creepy and unsettling that just like the central character, one slowly slips into paranoia watching it. By far the most outstanding psychological thriller of the year.
8 - The Yellow Sea
Korean director Na Hong-jin reteams with his The Chaser co-stars for yet another electrifying, action-packed pursuit-thriller. The Yellow Sea has a truly labyrinthine murder plot, and its breakneck pace only elevates it to a higher order of filmmaking. You’re thrust into the infamous Korean Autonomous Prefecture, full of desperate immigrants, North Korean defectors, slimy brokers, mob bosses, corrupt cops, revenge seeking lovers – all of which collide after a murder goes wrong. There is no chance you’ll grasp the entirety of its story during the first viewing, the fact that it warrants a repeat makes it distinguished slice of intelligent cinema.
7 – A Separation
Yet another gem from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, A Separation stars Peyman Moaadi and Leila Hatami and is an intriguing drama that questions life and society in contemporary Iran. Farhadi frequently challenges the country’s legal system and the Islamic culture – in one scene a female maidservant has to check with religious advisers whether it is acceptable for her to wash a physically challenged old man. The plot itself is a searing whodunit, and it makes you chew on the moral compass from various viewpoints. A Separation has already won the awards for Best Film, Best Actor and Actress at the Berlin Film Festival and is destined to nab the Best Foreign Language Oscar.
6 - The Tree Of Life
Terrence Malick’s latest is spectacularly beautiful and a visual, aural, narrative triumph. Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Sean Penn, the film transcends magnum opus status with its maddening power. Tree of Life delves into existential themes like the meaning of existence, the ways of God, the human condition, love, forgiveness – all done in haunting, floating imagery with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s ‘Godcam’. The film also features a most astonishing cutaway ‘creation of the universe’ sequence that plays to Alexandre Desplat’s gut-wrenching operatic score.
5 - Generation P
A Russian film about a copywriter on the precipice of creative nirvana is a glorious, hallucinatory one that boasts some terrific psychedelic imagery and splendid acting. Based on Victor Pelevin’s book of the same name, Generation P is a delicious thriller that is full to bursting with trippy philosophical metaphors, irreverent social commentary and postmodern cultural references. One bottle of vodka isn’t enough to wash this film down.
4 - Tropa de Elite 2
Who knew that the most engrossing action film of the year would be from Brazil? Tropa de Elite 2 is a ridiculously interesting movie that combines popcorn-gnawing SWAT team action scenes, stunningly observant political drama and a fist-pump-demanding hero in the form Wagner Moura as Captain Nascimento. Maverick director Jose Padilha takes his already great original film and turns it into Dark Knight-esque proportions of didactic bliss. The rough, authoritarian, warrior-like Captain Nascimento kicks Batman where the sun don’t shine, and Wagner Moura (soon to be seen as the villain in Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium) deserves an Oscar nomination.
3 - Incendies
Director Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies is a towering achievement, a vivid, stunning, haunting masterpiece. Lubna Azabal plays the central character in a plot that is as devastating as its imagery. Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette star as French-Canadian twins, who after their mother’s death are handed a perverse document that asks them to track down their family roots in nightmarish locales of the Middle East. Incendies is brutally paced and unapologetically raw. One scene involving a bus full of women and children, and another where a character mouths “1+1=1” will be ingrained in your memory for the rest of your life.
2 - 50/50
A semi-autobiographical story of screenwriter Will Reiser, 50/50 is an extraordinary film that manages to show that a story about a cancer patient can be funny. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in a career best role as a 27-year-old diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. The film movingly takes us through him and his friend (a riotously profane Seth Rogen) confronting the possibility that his time could be unfairly cut short. As humans, we are conditioned not to laugh at serious things like cancer. But Reiser (and in turn JGL’s character) believes comedy can alleviate pain and make it easier to bear. Combining humour with painful subjects is almost impossible, and 50/50 is brilliant not just for the many laughs, but for the jokes’ persistent sense of genuineness. There are also a few hammer-to-the-heart scenes that make you reach out for your hankies, but not once will you feel the film’s tone shifting from one to the other - and that is what makes the movie truly remarkable.
1 - The Adventures of Tintin
Steven Spielberg’s beautiful love letter to Herge’s works is 105 minutes of pure, uninterrupted, thundering typhoon of adventure. Its visual sophistication is superbly complimented by the jaw-dropping five-minute long single-take motorbike-boat-tank chase. Unlike the case with the Harry Potter films, Spielberg manages to please both the die hardest of Tintin fans and those who aren’t familiar with the material. The Adventures of Tintin makes even the most cynical crestfallen adult smile and feel like a child again, which is why it is by far the best motion picture of 2011.
Honorable Mentions – Cold Weather, The Ides of March, Monsters’ Dinner, Sleeping Beauty, Moneyball, Tabloid, The Slut, Rampart, Warrior, Source Code and Attack the block.
Note: These may be updated to the list in the next few weeks when I see them - Hugo, War Horse, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Shame, Le Havre, Miss Bala, Project Nim, Leap Year, Carnage, The Descendants, Into the Abyss, A Dangerous Method, Take Shelter.
Love this list? Disagree with some of the names? Which are YOUR favourite films of the year? Weigh in your thoughts in the comments below.