Sunday, July 3, 2011

Half Way Report: The Best/Worst Films of 2011

Well, we have reached the half way point of 2011. Wow, that was fast. I'm not going to go over every week of releases throughout the first half, but I will say, if I hadn't seen the films I saw at the Sydney Film Festival, it would be a much shorter list. Very early in the year I saw mostly 2010 releases that had been delayed in Australia. So, Black Swan, 127 Hours, True Grit, Rabbit Hole, Another Year, Inside Job etc. aren't considered. They do appear on my 2010 list, though.

I think The Adjustment Bureau or The Green Hornet were the first 2011 releases I watched, with Rango being the first one to be truly great. I have decided to consider any 2010 films released after March though. So films like Incendies and In A Better World, even though they were considered for Oscars last year, appear on this list. Some of the Festival films were also 2010 releases (for example Even the Rain, The Trip, 13 Assassins and Armadillo), but they had previously never been released in Australia until the festival (or later). I'm going to count them.

As honorable mentions, or films that provided solid entertainment value and proved to be worthwhile viewing: Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within, Paul, The Troll Hunter, Super 8, X-Men: First Class, Jane Eyre, Kung-Fu Panda 2, The Lincoln Lawyer, Insidious and Griff the Invisible.
My Best and Worst of 2011 after the jump... 

Top 20

20. Source Code - "A smart, compelling and action-packed sci-fi thriller, with a sensational performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. Likely to be one of the better blockbusters of the season."

19. Never Let Me Go - "A mesmerising film endowed with poignant beauty and tragic heartbreak that asks us to consider our own mortality, and what we value above all in our uncertain existence. Fueled by a wonderful central performances from Carey Mulligan, it is an unforgettable journey."

18. Even the Rain - "Escalated beyond my expectations. An effective film-within-a-film premise is fueled by powerful performances from Luis Tosar and Gael Garcia Bernal and a well balanced screenplay."

17. The Trip - "Enhanced by the beautiful footage of the northern hills and moors, Winterbottom has created a hilarious comedy onslaught that reflects both the creative process and the cult of 'personality' through Coogan and Brydon, two gifted and eccentric comedians."

16. The Guard - "Writer/director John Michael McDonagh's hilarious black comedy is not only an amusing character study, but also a subversive twist on the buddy cop genre. Gleeson, who delivers what is likely to be one of the year's most memorable performances, effortlessly anchors the film."

15. Snowtown - "Though it's distressing and uncomfortable viewing, and doesn't provoke the desire for a second viewing, Snowtown is one of the best Australian films I have seen in some time. The performances are fantastic and the direction is impeccable."

14. Of Gods and Men - "Though it takes some patience to savour the beautifully shot Of Gods and Men, it is an extremely powerful experience."

13. 13 Assassins - 'With some of the most dazzling battle sequences you will ever witness accounting for nearly half of the film's running time, it is nothing short of epic. It's a brutally intense, relentless, bloody assault on the senses."

12. Win Win - "As a freshly unique, poignant, funny (hilarious at times) and heartwarming tale, Win Win is a delightful, well acted comedy/drama. It's a winner all the way."

11. Armadillo - "It addresses the psychology of these young men amidst a senseless conflict, sparking controversy by bringing to light the harrowing atrocities we know occur amidst the adrenalin of warfare, but no one wants to recognise."

10. The Cave of Forgotten Dreams - "Wondrous, intriguing and informative, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a triumph from one of cinemas most visionary filmmakers. There is so much more to this than a privileged journey into a now inaccessible Wonder of the World, but even if that was all it was, it would be more than enough."

9. Rango - "Weaves together allusions to great films such as Chinatown, but also manages to not only conform to the structure of the Western but provide enough action-packed chase sequences to keep hold of the interest of modern audiences. This superb animated feature may just be the most fun you will have at a cinema this year."

8. Take Shelter - "Shannon and Chastain are outstanding, the ending is killer, and it addresses some very real contemporary fears. A brooding, ominous and slow-burning thriller."

7. Martha Marcy May Marlene - "With an ambiguous narrative that deftly balances past and present, assured direction from Sean Durkin, some striking wide lens cinematography and phenomenal performances, this captivating experience is not only relentlessly intense, but overwhelms the audience with this sense of dread."

6. In A Better World - "A powerful and riveting drama that offers up several chilling moments. Successfully extenuating the ever-present threat of violence, In A Better World is richly symbolic, atmospheric, impeccable paced and perfectly balances its dual settings."

5. Incendies - "Every now and then a powerful, emotive and chilling political tragedy endowed with harrowing realism will come along that forces viewers to cower in horror at the state of the world they live in. The means by which the plot lines converge and how the secrets culminate, is a masterstroke of dramatic filmmaking."

4. Project Nim - "A brilliant documentary. The story of Nim Chimpsky is a harrowing account of the tragic life of a a beautiful creature. It is what happens when human emotion botches well-meaning science."

3. A Separation - "Winner of the Golden Bear, this compelling masterpiece, though relatively subtle and simple in its plot development, reveals stunning complexity in its portrayal of morality, class, gender and religion amidst the social, political, legal and psychological context of contemporary Iran. It features a mechanically perfect screenplay and outstanding performances from its ensemble."

2. The Tree of Life - "A technical masterpiece. The rich emotional resonance really left a profound effect on the transformative second viewing. Expertly balancing something as monumental as the Big Bang with something as little as capturing a young boy staring intriguingly at his baby brother is something few of us have seen before."

1. Senna - "You don't have to be a Formula One fan to be brought to tears by Senna. This vibrant, engrossing, powerful and ultimately tragic portrayal of the life and untimely death of beloved sporting icon Ayrton Senna, from British director Asif Kapadia, is documentary filmmaking at its most exciting."

And now, The Bottom 5 


5. The Green Hornet - "I'm usually a Rogen fan, but this was both a diabolical screenplay and the most annoying character he has ever played."

4. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - "The newest addition to this tired franchise is uninspired, calculated, flat and often downright boring."

3. Sucker Punch - "Full of over-the-top stylistic devices and a series of ever-tiresome visual spectacles, Sucker Punch is soulless, pointless and maddening. I squirmed uneasily throughout both through frustration and boredom."

2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon - "Bay just doesn't seem to understand how difficult his films are to watch. It's either cringe-worthy, inconsequential and unnecessary plot developments, woefully out-of-place and poor-taste attempts at comedy, blatant Nationalism or headache inducing, haphazardly edited action sequences. Everything is overblown."

1. Your Highness - "This torturous film suffers from an unfortunate curse that has plagued few comedies worse than this. It just isn't funny. Nothing works. Nothing at all."

Please, feel free to comment. What are your top/bottom films from the first half of the year?


  1. I just did mine. Took me five hours to do. Seriously.

  2. Took me a while to put this together too. I had the list done yesterday, though. I look forward to reading yours and watching this video you mentioned!! It's midnight here. I'll have to look at it in the morning :-p

  3. 2011 hasn't really wowed me much yet...which is to be expected as the studios rarely give us the good stuff before mid-summer at the soonest. Here's hoping as July goes on, and turns into August that we can find something like this year's WINTER'S BONE.

  4. 2011 so far has been decent, there's only two films that I love. The Tree of Life and Midnight in Paris. I also liked Hanna and Source Code which is likely to be in my final list.

    X-Men: First Class is a honorable mention while Sucker Punch and Cars 2 will make my disappointing films list.

    The only other 2011 release that I love but isn't a film but a mini-series is Todd Haynes' Mildred Pierce which I really like a lot.

  5. Not sure if you've seen it, but Certified Copy was my #1 so far, and I think it'll probably be my #1 at years end. Amazing film.

  6. @ Hatter - Yeah, apart from my SFF screenings, I haven't been blown away by that much either. This is the first time I have been exposed to so many great films so early in the year. Usually, there are a couple of decent blockbusters (Dark Knight/Wall-E or Inception/Toy Story 3) and that's about it. For me, my Top 5 are the standouts, with the rest all coming recommended. Martha Marcy May Marlene was a Sundance hit, and I think it's pretty exceptional. The closest thing to a Winter's Bone so far.

    @ Steven - I haven't seen Midnight in Paris or Hanna yet. They have a release in August I think. I wasn't as high on X-Men as most others, but I thought it was decent. Yeah Cars 2 was disappointing, but certainly not to the level of the five I mentioned. Bridesmaids was actually my 'most overrated film'. Did not dig that at all. Thanks for the comment, man.

    @ John - I read your list. i haven't seen Certified Copy, though my cinema finished playing it like a week before I started working there :-p

  7. I am so behind on 2011 films this year. I have only seen 6 of the ones you mentioned. Hoping to catch up once the baby starts sleeping through the night fully.

  8. David Schwimmer's Trust, for me, has been the best film of the start of 2011, but props also go out to Marwencol, l'Affaire Farewell, Confessions, Norway's A Somewhat Gentle Man, and two more American films, Win Win and Cold Weather. My two cents only, of course.

  9. I really enjoyed Win Win, but the others I have not heard of. Actually, Marwencol rings a bell. Thanks for the recommendations.

    Has David Schwimmer directed another film between Run Fatboy Run and Trust? Sounds like its quite a step up from that one.

  10. Not sure he has, Andy, but as you say, they couldn't be more different. (So tempted to write that in a 'Ross' voice!)
    If you get a chance, please try to ferret out the others I've mentioned; I'd love to hear your views.

  11. I haven't even watched that many 2011 movies. In fact, my list just consists of Thor, X-Men: First Class, Source Code, The Green Hornet, Sanctum, Season of the Witch, I Am Number Four, Gnomeo and Juliet, No Strings Attached and The Dilemma. Sad, huh? Mind you, if Never Let Me Go counts, then that is the best I've seen.

  12. Well done Andy! I don't have a list, but if I made one there would be quite a lot of overlap.

    The biggest problem I have with making best of year lists is deciding which release date to go by.

  13. You've seen so many new releases! Well done. I'm curious what Your Highness looks like, if it was even worse than Transformers.

  14. @ Stevee - There are a couple of good ones in that bunch ;-) I counted Never Let Me Go!

    @ Bonjour - I have that same problem. I decided that any 2010 release that came to a cinema after March was considered an Australian 2011 release. Most of these came through the SFF. Without them, this list would be slim.

    @ Lesya - Thanks! I have made an effort to see at least two NR a week this year. Your Highness is diabolical. The exceptional visual effects saved Transformers from the bottom spot. Your Highness' sucked :-p

  15. You've obviously not seen Passion Play yet, then. Talk about whiffy...

  16. Source Code was super fun and way better than I ever could've assumed... oh, and I'm incredibly jealous you've seen Martha Marcy... in case I hadn't already mentioned it... :)

  17. @ Colin - I haven't seen Passion Play. Thankfully, by the sounds of it.

    @ Luke - I did enjoy Source Code, but I don't think it was amazing. It was one of the best wide release blockbuster-type films of the season, but I have no intentions of watching it again. Hence it just sneaking into my list. You have stressed your desire to see MMMM if I remember correctly. I got lucky with the screening at the SFF. It is a definite 'must see'. :-)

  18. Unlike your good self, Andy, if I were to do a half way list I would include 2010 US releases such as Tangled, The Fighter and, possibly my favourite film of 2011 so far, True Grit. Other picks would be Super 8, Tree of Life, Snowtown, Source Code and, yes, Bridesmaids.

    BTW: Midnight in Paris opens here Oct 20 (seeing it tomorrow night); MMMM in January 2012.

  19. I have to wait until October 20. Damn! How come you get to see it tomorrow? Haha. MMMM isn't scheduled until January 2012? Wow, that's crazy!

    I never saw Tangled actually, but I did enjoy True Grit. The hardest part about making these lists, as Bonjour Tristesse said above, is determining the official release date. I decided to draw the line in March. A film like Get Low (clearly a 2010 release overseas) just came out here in Australia. I had to consider it a 2011 release.

    All the others you mentioned, with the exception of Bridesmaids, I enjoyed. I actually feel bad leaving Super 8 off my list because I loved almost all of it immensely. The SFF just had too many gems :-p