- Drive (2011), Nicolas Winding Refn – A complex, complex film with untold depth. As good a crime film as you will see. A man becomes involved in a spiralling mob world. Gosling as the almost mute protagonist and Mulligan are all kinds of excellent. The soundtrack of the year and one of the very best films of the year.
- Hard Luck (1921), Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton – This was Keaton’s favourite of his own 2 reelers. The questionable subject matter – attempted suicide – is imbued with great slapstick by this most incredible of physical comedians. He had the most incredible eye for writing a gag. It is frustrating that so much, including the apparently brilliant conclusion, is lost from this film. But what remains is still hilarious, and you can check it out here (actually this includes the ‘lost’ ending, whereas my DVD doesn’t. Not sure if this version is complete):
- Senna (2010), Asif Kapadia – This is an intriguing film which makes incredible use of stock footage. It examines Senna’s almost spiritual connection to F1 racing and suggests deeper complexities in the man, which unfortunately are not explored as deeply as they could be. It’s not particularly balanced, but who cares. It is innovative documentary filmmaking, and Senna’s death is masterfully handled.
- Factory Farmed (2008), Gareth Edwards – I was a huge fan of Monsters, it was my number 3 film of last year. This is a film Edwards made in just 48 hours and is of exceptional quality. The sound and aesthetic are not dissimilar to his first feature and the brooding and apocalyptic atmosphere builds great tension.
- Hop (2011), Tim Hill – Films that blend animation and live-action tend to be pretty lacklustre. This one starts wonderfully, and the all-animated sequences on Easter Island are inspired. The live-action sequences jar initially, and struggle to rise to any heights. But there are some nice commentaries on families and the treatment of animals. Enough jokes hit the mark and a brilliant evil chicken sufficiently combat some incredibly daft diversions & ensure this one gets a tick.
- Alias Season 2 (2002), J.J. Abrams – The silliness overwhelms a few episodes, especially the relationship between the protagonist’s Russian agent Mum & CIA agent dad. But just like the first season, the quality cast and rollicking mix of James Bond & Indiana Jones make this fun, watchable fluff. Finishes the season with a Kill Billesque (and standard) extended fight scene and a bloody fantastic twist.
- POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011), Morgan Spurlock – Spurlock gets a bad wrap because, like Michael Moore, by inserting himself into his films he affronts doco traditionalists. His charisma ensures this systematic look into product placement is enjoyable. This is enlightening and slick, helped no end by some fantastically honest interviewees. Who knew a film about advertising could be fun?
- The Way Back (2010), Peter Weir – Successfully conveys the inexplicable terror of conditions in the gulags. Great scenery provide the backdrop for this spiritual as well as physical ordeal. Whilst distinctive characters within the group could have been created better, good performances from the likes of Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan mean this is an uplifting, worthwhile watch.
- Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions (2005), Jalmari Helander – I much preferred this second short in the series. The central conceit works this time, the whole thing is a fictional training video. Really clever, a great aesthetic matching the form and a nice anti-smoking message to boot. A cracker.
- Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010), Jalmari Helander – This succeeds wonderfully well in broadening out what was established in the shorts. A great, taut little storyline drives a film that is as much about family as anything else. A truly original, stylishly shot film that has some fantastically creepy moments. A father/son tale like no other.
- Everything Must Go (2011), Dan Rush – A man is fired from his job and comes home to find his wife has changed the locks and all his belongings are on his front lawn. So he lives there. The great script effortlessly establishes the three characters, ably supported by three quality performances. This is actually a heart-wrenching, powerful examination of an alcoholic and it pulls no punches. Perhaps too honest a Will Ferrell film for cinematic release (at least here in Aus).
- We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011), Lynne Ramsay – A harrowing watch. An oblique first half, perhaps necessary due to the book’s structure, makes the film elusive & difficult to pin down. It becomes searing in the second half though. Be warned, not an easy film, but an unmissable one.
- Matilda (1996), Danny DeVito – About as sweet and successful as a family film can be. Classily illustrates the equal but opposite powers of good teachers and shit ones. Nice performances all round, and DeVito’s passionate direction doesn’t hurt either.
- Ides of March (2011), George Clooney – Talkfest gives way to sorta politico revenge thriller. Not a whole lot of action, but some fantastic performances despite Clooney being a peripheral figure. Especially from Tomei, Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood and especially Phillip Seymour Hoffman who delivers one of his best performances (which is saying a lot).
Not Worth Watching:
- Attack the Block (2011), Joe Cornish – This has featured on quite a few yearly top 10s, but won’t be on mine. Doesn’t really work as a horror film, a comedy or a sci-fi flick. Partly the issue I think is that a lot of the humour is lost in translation. For me, this low-budget indie darling was loud and more than a little annoying.
- Hanna (2011), Joe Wright – This starts well with some fantastic snow covered (and desert) scenery. But with its strange accents and strange father daughter relationship this is reminiscent of Alias, but not as successful. There is no authenticity and there are huge plot holes. Bland and unexhilarating, where the idea should ensure the opposite.
- Rare Exports Inc. (2003), Jalmari Helander – The first of two shorts, this is an incredibly professional production which manages to create instant mythology. And whilst it is sort of the point, this just feels too much like an ad. Too slick, I kept sort of expecting the punch line to make clear that this was a legitimate ad for beer or something.
- Moneyball (2011), Bennet Miller – It’s strange, I enjoyed this for most of it, but then afterward couldn’t think of anything positive to say. People will go on about how Sorkin wrote the script, but for me this was just so flat, with no pop to the dialogue. I would never have believed that Phillip Seymour Hoffman could deliver a performance this listless. Jonah Hill is fantastic in what could be a career-changing role. But the film is unable to convey the scope of a baseball season, and the end drags badly & unnecessarily.
If you only have time to watch one Drive
Avoid at all costs Hanna