Tentative Top Ten of 2011

January 8, 2012


The following list and the blurbs for each entry were compiled at the end of December for Reel Time‘s cumulative top 20 films of 2011. A few of my write-ups were published in cases where some of my selections made the group list, but I thought I’d publish my entire contribution here for those interested. The list has already changed somewhat, thanks to seeing at least one new potential contender for the top 10. 2011 was a very good year for film.

Being Reel Time’s only UK based contributor I am not going by US release dates, but I am also not going strictly by UK release dates as this would mean that some of last year’s awards contenders, such as Blue Valentine and Tangled, would have likely made the cut for me here. Instead, I am operating by a film’s debut release in English language territories outside of festivals, allowing me to include a few films currently only released in the UK but also the likes of Le quattro volte, which had originally premiered at Cannes 2010. Possible contenders for consideration that I did not get to see in time include Shame, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Weekend, A Separation, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (now viewed as of January 2nd), The Artist, and many of the other awards season favourites that will see their UK releases occurring in the opening two months of 2012.

10. Kill List (Ben Wheatley, UK)
A bleak, strange blend of kitchen sink drama tropes, hitman pictures, and gothic and pagan horror, this film is scrambled but not in a bad way. Its unpredictability is its greatest attribute as a thriller, and its variation between both requiring the viewer to fill in gaps and jarring them with unexpected, breathless detours into new tangents help create a palpably chilling atmosphere unlike most films I can recall: see a particular kitchen scene that does not cut away like one would expect, and the unrelenting final act in which the supernatural clashes with the realistic suddenly and viscerally. The latter, as powerful as it is on a horror level, is admittedly the film’s most worrisome aspect. Near endlessly unsettling, Kill List’s ambiguous tendencies do sometimes prove frustrating, but are alternately key to a purveying sense of terror and malaise. I can’t recall ever feeling so tense and even frightened in a packed cinema.

9. The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, UK/USA)
A return to non-documentary filmmaking after an extended absence, Terence Davies brings the gorgeous gloom and impressionistic narrative of his previous films like The Long Day Closes to this literary adaptation. Terrific performances are elicited from Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale in this untraditionally structured portrait of love and self-loathing, not just in the case of its lead character; the dissatisfaction of both of Weisz’ lovers are sympathetically explored alongside hers. An affective film rooted in the past, though not in nostalgia, it’s a welcome treat from one of Britain’s most distinctive directors.

8. Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold, UK)
A very good film with an unfortunately inferior but still solid second half, Andrea Arnold’s unique interpretation of the oft-adapted novel is anchored by terrific child performances and an exhilarating, cold atmosphere that maintains a strange kind of beauty. This is one of the clear highlights of an especially strong year for both British cinema and literary adaptations.

7. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Steven Spielberg, USA/New Zealand)
Fuelled by wonderful style, impressive technical elements and enthralling sequences, Steven Spielberg’s first foray into animation stands as one of the best adventure films in quite some time and one of his best contributions to the genre. Vibrant cinematographically, it’s a beautiful work that will hopefully usher in similarly creative efforts should it prove to have any significant influence.

6. Hanna (Joe Wright, USA/UK/Germany)
A pulsating, surprisingly demented fusion of assassin action cinema, European thrillers, electronica scoring, fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm, Hanna transcends any absurd narrative issues, creating the best action film of the year and perhaps the most unique English language contribution to the genre in years. One of the highlights of a year in which several directors like Joe Wright took to genres new to them in riveting ways.

5. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar, Spain)
Another creative blend of other filmmaker cues – Hitchcock, Kubrick and Georges Franju being key influences here – this is another excellent debut, like Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, into arguable horror territory from one of world cinema’s most beloved auteurs, though its science fiction and comedic leanings, wild tangents and shifting tones make it an altogether stranger beast to classify. Cold in a great way, beautiful visually, often funny, and enthrallingly hectic, this film is a great dark pleasure.

4. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA)
Its narrative rooted in subjectivity and emotion-fuelled recollection of the past, something that strangely seems to be going over a lot of critics’ heads, Lynne Ramsay’s comeback feature can admittedly be a bit repetitive in its second half, but it still stands as a powerful, devastating work. Some of the year’s best sound design, scoring (by Jonny Greenwood), and colour palettes can be found here in what is 2011’s best horror film – and I stand by that genre label – and one of its most unique. To my mind, Tilda Swinton also gives the standout performance of the year.

3. Le quattro volte (Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland)
Much like Terence Malick’s effort of this year, this film is an enigmatic experience difficult to describe. Beautiful, fresh and inventive, and even very funny, it’s a remarkable work with strong resonance.

2. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, USA)
This, for me, definitely requires a revisit sometime soon, as dissatisfaction with the climactic segments with Sean Penn and analysis by others has resulted in a slight diminishing of its quality in my memory, but it is nonetheless an astounding, powerfully haunting but equally moving work from one of the world’s best directors. Its depiction of childhood and growth alone is superlative, and its unique – there’s that word again – cinematic language is wondrous.

1. Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, USA)
From the obvious Walter Hill and Michael Mann comparisons, alongside the Sofia Coppola trait of dreamlike imagery combined with music video sensibilities to enhance the feeling and importance of “the moment”, Refn’s Drive weaves a variety of influences and sensibilities to create something that feels fresh in its own right. It’s a film with an unusual warm chill feel to it, with a palpable aura of mysterious emotion running throughout, even in the more genre based elements of the opening sequence and more narrative concerned second half; executed in such a powerful way, on a cinematic level, they still maintain that wonderful dreamy ambience to a strong degree even amidst the bursts of intense, graphic violence. Drive is that rarity of a beautiful, warm thriller, and it’s a tremendous film.



  1. Nice list.

  2. Your Top 10 is clearly better than mine, although I also have The Tree of Life at #2 and Drive at #1. Hanna also cracked it as well.

  3. Great stuff. I still need to see Kill List.

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