2011 In Retrospect

A week into the new year, it’s time to wrap up 2011…


Everyone has different criteria about what constitutes a Great Film. Some people despise Hollywood-produced mass-market action fare; other people it’s all they watch. Some people can’t stand a slow-paced meditative drama with subtitles; other people it’s all they watch. And, naturally, there are various less extreme opinions in between.

So choosing a best (or worst) films list is always a highly subjective and personal experience, and however acclaimed the critic or definitive the source it will always be so. There’s also arguably a difference between Favourite and Best, and I can never quite decide which my list is; never mind the initial hurdle that I have quite broad tastes. How do you qualify two vastly different films against each other?

But anyway, I’m sure you’ve heard such musings about the compilation of such lists before — I shan’t go on (for a change). Here’s some lists; they explain themselves. Through the cleverness of HTML, I shall provide a linked contents list:

(OK, they’re not all lists.)

As ever, all of these are selected from what I watched this year, so the full list of eligible titles is here.

The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2011

Cloak and Dagger
I think I’ve been quite generous with my scores this year — I was surprised upon reviewing my worst-of-the-year shortlist to find three stars on this review. Whether you’re looking at his German silents or Hollywood noirs, Fritz Lang is an exceptional director. But even exceptional people have off-days.

Valley of Fear
An easy one this, but hey-ho. It’s probably the least-well-regarded of the four Sherlock Holmes novels, and while it’s not the worst in this series of animated adaptations — the woefully misjudged version of The Hound of the Baskervilles takes that honour — it’s still not got much going for it.

Saw 3D
Some people write off Saw too readily — while at its worst it does sink to the risible depths of torture porn, at its best it’s an engrossing and complex thriller. This franchise-ender is a disappointment even to those of us who border on liking the series, though. Full of good ideas wasted. Shame.

Monkey Business
Here’s another one I gave three stars (there are several not here that scored lower), but my memory of it is worse. Despite some considerable talent — Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hawks — it doesn’t tie together into something particularly entertaining, in my mind. Passable.

Beyond the Pole
I didn’t hate Beyond the Pole, but there wasn’t a great deal I enjoyed about it either. It’s good when a comedy makes you laugh and, unlike Monkey Business even, this one doesn’t really. It’s a waste of a talented cast. Impressive production values for such a small British film though.

The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2011

10) Gambit
“Go ahead tell the end… but please don’t tell the beginning!” Gambit is worth watching for its opening conceit alone, but once that’s done there’s tons of fun to be had with Caine and MacLaine, bumbling through a con in delicious fashion. Largely forgotten, it deserves to be remembered; perhaps the Colin Firth-starring Coens-penned remake will do it a favour.

9) Centurion
With Scottish landscape shots to rival Lord of the Rings‘ New Zealand, Centurion is breathtaking to look at. Underline that with a tense story and a fantastic cast (not the last time Michael Fassbender will appear in this top ten), not to mention some brutal but not excessive action, and I think you have a winner. A little blokey, but also a little more.

8) Easy Virtue
Looking at reviews and aggregate sites, Easy Virtue seems to be almost maligned. Shame. Adapted from a Noel Coward play, it’s very witty, surprisingly dramatic, and with an outrageously cheeky score. This changeability and irreverence is, I think, quite British. Perhaps it confuses some by not being easily pigeonholed. I adored it.

7) My Neighbour Totoro
It’s hard to think of a film more gentle than Totoro, although some might find things like the cat-bus a bit creepy (me not entirely excluded). Gorgeously animated with a beautiful soundtrack, it lures you in to a world and tells you a thoroughly nice story, with no enforced peril or nasty characters. Refreshingly lovely.

6) Monsters
Made for next to nothing and with all the computer effects home crafted by director Gareth Edwards, Monsters is an amazing technical achievement. But it’s also a character drama about disaffected twenty-somethings and man’s destructive nature, amongst other things no doubt. Edwards is unquestionably a genre filmmaker to watch.

5) Super
It may have the same subject matter as Kick-Ass, but Super scores bonus points for its low-budget very-real-world aesthetic… in spite of featuring some of the craziest anime-inspired CGI you’ll see from a US movie. Very funny, but with a kick too, while Kick-Ass slid into fantasy this remains reality (pretty much). They make a helluva pair.

4) Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro
The first film from anime master Hayao Miyazaki has been described by no less than Steven Spielberg as “one of the greatest adventure movies of all time”. Do you need higher recommendation? Exciting and funny, while it may lack the emotional resonance that made Miyazaki so acclaimed later, it appeals rather to my blockbuster sensibilities.

3) Let the Right One In
This is how you do a vampire love story (for everyone but teenage girls). Genuinely touching and emotional, with highly identifiable themes and characters despite the story’s genre subject matter, Tomas Alfredson’s film is an affecting drama as well as a creepy and horrific fantasy thriller. Genre movies don’t get much better than this.

2) X-Men: First Class
Some reviews spied flaws, attributed to First Class‘ hasty production, but I don’t hold with that. As young versions of McKellen and Stewart, Fassbender and McAvoy bring as much acting gravitas as can be had from their generation. Vaughn manages genuine cinematic spectacle, something I thought lost in the age of anything-is-possible CGI. Marvellous.

1) The Social Network
Some unlikeable brats sit at computers programming websites and argue amongst themselves. Sounds like a bloody awful film, but with dialogue by Aaron Sorkin and direction from David Fincher, not to mention a cast of fine young actors, it’s engrossing, exciting and exceptional. It may be The Movie About Facebook, but it’s about so much more. Like.

Special Mentions

Compiling this year’s top ten felt hard — I managed to get my typically long long list (42 titles this year) down to a short list of about 15, then set about re-reading my own reviews… but whichever film I last read about seemed an obvious contender. In the end I plumped for a couple that ‘needed the support’, as it were. Lingering just outside the ten — or perhaps simply unlucky on the day — were The Big Heat, Fritz Lang’s exceptional dark noir; How to Train Your Dragon, an exciting CG-animated movie that proves it isn’t all about Pixar; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an effective procedural-ish thriller that gives the US remake a lot to live up to; The Three Musketeers, anarchic fun; and the new Winnie the Pooh, which was flawed but loveable.

As ever, I must also mention the 17 films that earned themselves 5-star ratings this year. Eight of them made it into the top ten, the most ever. The two that missed out were close too, but I think I may’ve got tougher as the year progressed: the last perfect score I handed out was in September, and before that July. Anyway, those in the top ten were Easy Virtue, Let the Right One In, Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro, Monsters, My Neighbour Totoro, The Social Network, Super and X-Men: First Class. From the handful that missed out, The Three Musketeers was also a five-star-er. The remaining eight were Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Dog Day Afternoon, An Education, Harry Brown, Holiday, The King’s Speech, Nanny McPhee & the Big Bang and Roman Holiday. Whenever I do this bit I always feel like there were some other films I should have given top marks, and maybe some that only deserved four, but here we are.

On top of those 17, David Fincher Week (I promise this is the last time I’ll mention it in these round-ups) furnished us with five-star reviews for two films I’d previously seen — namely, Se7en and Fight Club — and a third for the only-slightly-different Zodiac: Director’s Cut.

The Films I Didn’t See

To finish off, then, here’s my annual tradition: an alphabetical list of 50 films, that are listed as 2011 on IMDb, that I didn’t manage to see this year. These are chosen for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety.

As usual I’ve stuck to my rule of only including films that are listed as 2011 on IMDb, irrespective of their UK release date. So no Senna, no Submarine, no Brighton Rock, for just three British-made examples; but films that aren’t even out here for over a month are included. What can I say, it’s a flawed system. Maybe I’ll finally change it next year.

The list may show a bias towards my personal interests — I do use this as a checklist going forward after all — but then I have quite wide interests, and I had a look at Box Office Mojo’s account of the highest-grossing films in the US to include all I’d not seen from the top 15 (I drew the line at Rio and The Smurfs), and a Best Of list or two too, so it hits most of the major bases. Nonetheless, I’m certain Stuff You’ll Have Heard Of is missing, but that’s what a limit of 50 does. Maybe I should increase it to 100 — that’d be fitting.

But I digress. Here are some films:

The Adjustment Bureau
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
The Artist
Attack the Block
Captain America: The First Avenger
Cars 2
Conan the Barbarian
Cowboys & Aliens
The Devil’s Double
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Fast Five (aka Fast & Furious 5)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Gnomeo & Juliet
The Green Hornet
Green Lantern
The Hangover Part II
Happy Feet Two
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
The Help
The Inbetweeners Movie
The Iron Lady
Kill List
Kung Fu Panda 2
Midnight in Paris
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
The Muppets
Puss in Boots
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Scream 4
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Super 8
The Three Musketeers
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The Tree of Life
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
War Horse
Wuthering Heights

A Final Thought

That’s it for another year… well, apart from the 17 reviews I have left to post. Ought to get a wriggle on with those really.

With that, 100 Films is officially five years old. Oo-ooh! Originally I started it in February 2007, looking back on the first few weeks of the year to get it going (to this day I wonder if I forgot any films I watched in that period), and come the proper fifth birthday next month I may have a post or two to acknowledge the relative longevity of this enterprise.

But until then… well, I’ve got a lot more films still to watch…

3 thoughts on “2011 In Retrospect

  1. What an awesome list! I was nodding in agreement pretty much the whole time 🙂

    I LOVED X-Men: First class, perhaps even more than The Social Network…! And great shout out for Totoro too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 2021 Statistics | 100Films.co.uk

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