Texan boyhoods. Parisian chimes at midnight. The end of the world. On Tresco, a painter gives a young man some advice. In Nottingham, two men meet, connect, part. Somewhere, a wedding reception goes off the rails. A Roman hero in a Balkan warzone. A novel use for Viagra. A mother and daughter ponder loss. A portly fantasist turns up in someone else’s fantasy. A waiting cat gets philosophical. Christophe Honoré goes p*rn... Not quite a movie year to match 2010 for me, but, even so, 2011 offered some incredible cinema experiences, many of which demonstrated film’s ability to encompass the domestic and the cosmic as no other medium can do.
Archipelago (dir. Joanna Hogg)
Joanna Hogg’s tender, funny chamber drama, revealing under-the-surface tensions (and under-the-surface love) on a family vacation on Tresco, makes most other films this year look heavy-handed and overstated by comparison. Beautiful work from Tom Hiddleston, Kate Fahy, Lydia Leonard, Amy Lloyd and Christopher Baker.
Weekend (dir. Andrew Haigh)
Well, here’s a surprise. Not one but two British films ending up on this year’s list... Haigh’s Nottingham-set boy-meets-boy romance is perfectly scaled, beautifully observed, brilliantly acted, and convincing in every detail.
Elena (dir. Andrei Zvyagintsev)
Oh boy. My favourite film of the London Film Festival was Zvyagintsev’s third movie, a subtle but bracingly intense drama that explores issues of class and social status in contemporary Russia through the story of the title character (brilliantly played by Nadezhda Markina). A Tarkovsky for those of us who (confession time) have been bored by the majority of Tarkovsky’s work, Zvyagintsev is as philosophically-inclined as his illustrious predecessor but without losing sight of character and narrative. Elena is a marvellously assured piece of filmmaking: beautifully rhythmed, rich in unstressed details, and full of spaces for the viewer’s involvement and interpretation.
A Separation (dir. Asghar Farhadi)
I don’t know anyone who didn’t love and admire this: Farhadi’s splendid, complex drama seemed to grip and involve everyone who saw it.
Melancholia (dir. Lars von Trier)
It’s the end of the world as they know it. And Lars’s characters feel… well, not exactly fine.
The Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malick)
As divisive as Melancholia. Sure, “that” montage is a chore and the ending is soggy. But Malick’s grandiose evolution opus has the most wonderful stretches: piercingly evocative scenes of Texan boyhood that strike many deep chords. Risible at its most expansive, then, but singularly affecting at its most personal and intimate.
Midnight in Paris (dir. Woody Allen)
At which American audiences finally renewed their love affair with Woody Allen. And indeed who could resist Allen’s completely charming and generous-spirited time-travel comedy, a valentine to Paris, an ode to living in the now? Less loved, Allen’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (2010), which got its British release this year, also had its merits, not least a lovely performance from Gemma Jones.
The Future (dir. Miranda July)
A few very inventive and original movies emerged from America this year, among them Miranda July’s The Future, a brilliant meditation on time that made me exclaim an enthralled “Wow!” on two occasions.
Dark Horse (dir. Todd Solondz)
Toning down the misanthropy and the shock value a notch Todd Solondz produced in Dark Horse one of his most involving and resonant films, one that follows its portly protagonist into a very odd liaison - and even further into his even odder fantasy life. Its narration unravelling as the protagonist unravels, Dark Horse takes some wonderfully confounding twists and turns as it progresses, culminating in an exquisite final shot. And few filmmakers can match Solondz’s unnerving ability to capture the sheer awkwardness of human interaction on screen.
Coriolanus (dir. Ralph Fiennes)
And wait a minute ... is that a third British film on the list? Ralph Fiennes’s big ‘n’ brawny adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s least-loved tragedies doesn’t win many points for subtlety. But it's still one of the most memorable Shakespeare adaptations seen in many a year.
Honourable mentions and 2010 releases not seen until this year:
Rabbit Hole, True Grit, Homme Au Bain, A Simple Life, Li and the Poet, Bal, A Screaming Man, Farewell, Animal Kingdom, Potiche