I’ll have to say 2011 was quite a year for movies – my rough estimate for attendances to the cinema is about 40, with the Prince Charles Cinema and the Curzon Soho being the picture houses I attended the most.
Here is an overview of my top movies that I saw in the cinema year in no particular order.
The Last Ronin
I’m not normally the biggest fan of period dramas but The Last Ronin was absolutely amazing. Deeply moving – don’t walk into this expecting action. An insight into the life of a masterless samurai trying to track down the families of the other 46 Ronin who committed ritual suicide. Full of beautiful long shots, emotion and dialogue I was welled up with tears by the end – highly recommended.
Kill List is the best British film I have seen in years. Part thriller , part horror – a movie in the same sort of vein as Rosemary’s Baby and The Wickerman in the way the horror elements slowly creep up on you. Directed by Ben Wheatley its the story of a hitman who takes a new assignment with the promise of a big payoff for three killings. The story slowly descends into darkness and horror. Not for the faint hearted the film stuck with me for weeks after. It has to be the most underrated movie of the year – a modern day classic
This movie achieved through death what Terrance Malick unsuccessfully tried to achieve through life. From the mind of Lars Von Trier, Melancholia is his follow up to the immense Antichrist. He caused plenty of controversy this year at this year’s Cannes Film Festival by stating he understands Hitler – he has since taken a vow of silence from all press, interviews and has been sending his wife to pick up his many prizes and give the speeches for the many awards that Melancholia has won
The film follows the relationship between 2 sisters whilst they also find out that an asteroid is on a potential collision course with Earth. Like Antichrist mental health is a central theme in the movie. I’ve never been a real big fan of Kirsten Dunst but she really shows her acting ability in this movie
Although its a disaster movie of sorts the focus is not on the asteroid itself but the relationship between the main protagonists before and after they realise that comet could potentially hit the planet. Not as visceral as Antichrist but way more emotional, it is highly deservant of all the praise it is receiving
If you have been hiding under a rock the whole of last year you wouldn’t have heard of Nicolas Winding Refn. He made headlines last year for his F-word outburst on BBC breakfast TV and for also directing Drive. He has long been a favorite director of mine after seeing the Danish Pusher trilogy which has already been remade once since being released in 1996 and has been penned for a second remake, he also directed the meditative viking epic Valhalla Rising and the film that put Tom Hardy on the map Bronson. Drive can be seen as his first “mainstream” hit, even though the film is pretty underground. Staring Ryan Gosling as the unnamed Driver, the movie pays homage to the like of Jean Pierre Melville, Michael Mann, and films like The Driver, Bullitt, and To Live and Die in LA. 80’s influenced soundtrack and amazing cinematography really brings LA to life, the only person who has able to do it so successfully is Michael Mann. Like Valhalla Rising and Pusher, it is quite a raw and brutal movie and there is a build up to the violence – if the words of Nicolas Winding Refn in that fateful BBC interview “violence is a lot like fucking………It’s all about what you put into it, because violence in itself in a movie is an illusion. It’s unbelievable – you know it. But your job is to make it believable and you only do that with the build-up.”
Already lined up for a US remake before its release in its native Norway, Headhunters is the story of Roger Brown a corporate headhunter who is also an art thief in his spare time to raise enough cash to keep his high maintenance girlfriend. His life spins out of control when he steals a painting from an ex mercinery who then decides to hunt him down. What ensues is a roller coaster ride through to the very end. Its the perfect film, with amazing flow and the right balance of thriller, laughs, gore, romance and action. You wont believe some of the situations Roger manages to get himself into during the movie, it is as fun as it is serious. When I saw it at the BFI London Film Festival it got the biggest audience reaction at the end of all the films I saw – highly recommended
The Skin I Live In
A dark and twisting drama The Skin I Live Inwas my first exposure to the mind of Almodóvar, and has lead me to go through his back catalogue. Its impossible to explain exactly what the film is about in such a small space, and I believe its better to watch the movie blind. In short its about a plastic surgeon who invents a new strong synthetic skin who he has grafted onto his beautiful human guinea pig Anaya whom he keeps locked in his mansion. What you think will be a body horror becomes anything but, and more, with twist turns and changing pace you never know where the movie goes – horror, romance, drama and laughs its has them all
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Luckily Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy did not follow the same fate as Edge of Darkness the other remake of a classic British miniseries, it is sublime. Directed by Tomas Alfredson who directed the Let The Right One In original it is the story of George Smiley and semi retired MI6 agent who is brought back in the fold to try and oust an Russian double agent within the MI6 higher ranks. Gary Oldman plays the part of Smiley with a strong supporting with the likes of Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Colin Thirth and John Hurt.
Oldman is brilliant as Smiley and will hopefully lead to that much overdue Oscar nomination. You follow the film along in Smiley’s shoes slowly uncovering clues as he does. The cinematography is brilliant and you feel like you are in London in the 1970s – its more successful in putting the viewer in the place, time & in the shoes of the protagonists than movies like Munich. Full of subplots the film is a slow burner – don’t be expecting James Bond style action and pacing this is a very different sort of spy movie
Guilty of Romance
After destroying me in 2010 with Cold Fish, Shion Sono is back in 2011 with Guilty of Romance. He is getting a lot of press recently – the same sort of buzz is surrounding his name was surrounding Miike Takashi a decade ago.
Guilty of Romance deals with the same sort of themes as Cold Fish such as control, depravity and repressed sexuality, but this time told from more of a female perspective. It tells the intertwining stories of a sexually repressed housewife, a female university professor turned prostitute, and a female homicide detective on the hunt for a serial killer.
Highly stylized and visually amazing the film brings the seedier side of the Tokyo love motel district to life in neon and saturated colours. Part drama and part horror I would compare the film in some ways to Tarantino’s Death Proof in the way that the film is pure Tarantino but told from a female perspective. It may not be for everyone, but I have to say Megumi Kagurazaka is absolutely amazing beautiful
The Yellow Sea
This was the last movie I saw at the cinema in 2011, it was after seeing this that I decided there is no point in watching anymore movies as this would not be beaten – this film is relentless.
Directed by Hong-Jin Na who directed The Chaser (also highly recommended) and also staring the films 2 main protagonists but in a role reversal of sorts, although there are no real good guys in the film. The Yellow Sea is named after the stretch of water between China and Korea, it tells the story of a poor gambling taxi driver who lives in the China / North Korea border who is given a chance to repay his debts and more by going to South Korea to carry out a hit. This spirals out of control and he finds himself on the run from the mob and police is what becomes an adrenaline fueled chase movie, this is not for the faint hearted. There are only a few guns in the movie which are carried by the bungling police – the weapon of choice in this film is the machete!!! Full of drama, thrills, chills and dark humour I knew I wouldn’t see another film this big last year – I cannot wait for the DVD to come out – WATCH THIS FILM!!!!
I couldn’t leave it at 10 movies – here are a few Honorable Mentions
Into The Abyss
Another Werner Herzog documentary, Into The Abyss follows death row inmates and examines why people and the state kill. It deals with some dark subject matter and dissects the crimes that lead to these inmates being put on death row, interviewing the inmates themselves, the family of the deseased and prison official, the movie is as much as the fraility of life as it is about death
Holy shit, this movie is amazing, based on the comic of the same name Yakuza Weapon follows Shozo Iwaki (played by Tak Sakaguchi who also co-directed the film) the son of a Japanese Yakuza boss, who returns to Japan after 4 years as a mercenary in South America to avenge his fathers death. The film is pure tongue and cheek at its best, he dodges machine gun fire, catches RPGs and eventually gets turned into a cyborg by the government the film is a laugh a minute, as well as many an amazing fight sequence from beginning to end
Arrow The Ultimate Weapon
Think of a movie with Michael Bay style blockbuster appeal (don’t let that put you off) with the attention to detail of a historical period drama and you will have Arrow The Ultimate Weapon. Beautifully shot set pieces and historically accurate in its setting, but with the action and laughs that you would expect from a modern day block buster. The movie feels sort of like a mainstream version of Apocalypto. Check the trailer
I’ve never been the greatest of Woody Harrelson fans – I’ve been very indifferent to him at as an actor, in Rampart however he shines. Set in 1999, he plays Dave “Date Rape” Brown a veteran LA cop who’s life is crumbles around him, with money problems, corruption charges, two ex wives who happen to be sisters. He completely dominates this film – its a visceral journey of his life as its crumbles apart. Flawed in places but amazing all the same. Check the trailer
That was quite a year of movies – lets hope that 2012 has as many surprises
By Tendai – Cognitive Space