This year was a bit hard to choose which deserved to be on the list and a few that I haven’t seen yet. This will be mixed with UK and North American releases.
1) Drive – Nicolas Winding-Refn crafts an artistically pulpy film noir that delivers heart-stopping tension but also brings some humanity to the story. Ryan Gosling is compelling as the nameless driver but it is Albert Brooks that steals the spot-light as the menacing Bernie Ross. The car chases (especially the pre-credits sequence) are brilliantly shot and the editing is fluid. The cinematography brings the darkness to the Los Angeles glamour that we all have been acquainted to from many films set in the City of Angels.
2) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – The thought on making an English version of the novel when there’s already a Swedish TV/Movie made two years ago made us all cry in outrage. Then David Fincher came along and proved the nay-sayers wrong! Even if you’ve already read the novel or seen the 2009 foreign film, Fincher still delivers a dark and intense thriller. Rooney Mara makes a career-making turn as Lisbeth Salander and I honestly prefer her take on the character than Noomi Rapace’s (not saying Rapace’s was bad, just prefered Mara’s a bit more)
3) Black Swan – It is essentially Darren Aronofsky’s Swan Lake, though it’s about a ballerina (Natalie Portman) who gets chosen to play the lead of the new version of Swan Lake. The sense of paranoia from the cinematography, visual effects and even from Portman’s Oscar-winning performance is executed brilliantly. You really feel you are descending into madness, blurring the fine line between reality and fantasy. It’s also a body horror film, as Portman’s character slowly becomes the Black Swan. It was seriously a dark start for 2011 but it got me hooked till its perfect finale.
4) Hugo – Martin Scorsese’s love for film has been evident through-out his career but now he’s literally made a love letter to film in his latest feature. It’s a coming of age story but also a children’s adventure and Scorsese makes it into pure gold! Ben Kingsley makes one of the most heartfelt performances in his career, portraying the legendary Georges Méliès as a man torn up by time itself and Hugo (played wonderfully by Asa Butterfield) comes in to fix it. The production design, cinematography, orchestral score and editing makes the film magical and reminds us how far we’ve gone with filmmaking since then.
5) The Artist – Another film harking back to the silent film era but literally being a silent film (except one scene that I won’t give away). Michel Hazanavicius crafts a film that looks and feels like a silent film, his eye to detail is quite staggering. Whereas ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ showed the positive side of the transition to talking movies, this shows the dark side on how it affected silent movie stars back then and Hazanavicius puts a lot of sympathy on that aspect. The lead performance by Jean Dujardin reminds us of the classic Hollywood stars as Clark Gable and Gene Kelly; their charm and wit makes him able to carry the film. The cinematography and production design is also something to be applauded to.
6) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – A British spy espionage thriller that really is about being engaged with the story and seeing the finer details of the world John le Carré has created. Tomas Alfredson was strangely the only person that would make this film have the slow elegance as he showcased in his previous film, Let The Right One In. This is a thriller for grown-ups, as we have been accustomed to thrillers featuring shoot-outs or people encountering CQC (Close Quarter Combat), such as Bourne films and recent Bond films. Gary Oldman truly makes his career’s best performance, it takes roughly half an hour till he utters his first line and all he does before then is express his performances with facial emotion. The cast is utterly staggering, ranging from Colin Firth, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds and Tom Hardy. The cinematography is gorgeous to look at, setting the grim tone and Alfredson’s experience living in London during early 70s.
7) The Tree of Life – The biggest Marmite movie you’ll come across; you’ll either love it or you hate it! I, however, loved it and found it incredibly intriguing and ambitious. The film’s story is driven thematically and visually, being an expressionistic piece of work. Brad Pitt delivers one of his best performances in his career (along with Moneyball and The Assassination of Jesse James). A personal film that asks universal questions and it is such a beautiful and majestic piece of filmmaking.Read less