The Cinema Highlights of 2011 opinion

Did I happen to mention that it has been quite an amazing year for film? Oh. I did. Well, humour me, if you will, as I wax lyrical about the highs and highs of 2011.

Three films - Black Swan, The Tree of Life, and We Need to Talk About Kevin - stood out. The holy trinity of directing, writing, and editing came together at a remarkably high level of merit and invention and the end results were films not only exhibiting technical wonderment across the board but, more importantly, although directly as a result, were utterly captivating and thrilling. And when it comes to directors, the most notable achievements unsurprisingly mirror those films: Darren Aronofsky keeps getting better, bolder, and more exciting, Terrence Malick is knocking on a Kubrick-level of greatness, and Briton Lynne Ramsay has exhibited a master’s hand at her craft and is a truly exciting prospect for the future.

As for screenwriting, those top-three aside, I was especially taken with Derek Cianfrance’s structure of Blue Valentine and Kristen Wiig’s comedy of Bridesmaids - there hasn’t been very much well-written comedy in the picture houses of late. Incendies’ non-linear plot unravels superbly and The Artist was a joy to behold with its self-imposed limitation of telling a story without words.

Cinematography for The Tree of Life is simply jaw dropping and I can honestly say I haven’t seen anything of its like before. Confessions, True Grit, and, perhaps surprisingly, The King’s Speech, all perform especially impressive magic with light.

127 Hours has a great music collection, typical for a Danny Boyle film, and the score for The Artist works supremely well in its prominent role in an otherwise silent film but, for me, the Drive and Pina soundtracks pip them both. I would go one step further and name Lilies of the Valley by Jun Miyake (Pina) and Night Call by Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx (Drive) as the most affecting pieces of music but, of course, the soundtracks in their entirety are what makes them special, in this case performing a central thread to Pina and contributing in no small part to the cool oozing through Drive.

In a Marvel, Michael Bay, post-Avatar world, the unparalleled raw power of impressive tiny-budget films like Kill List, Snowtown, Animal Kingdom and A Separation is welcome relief. It has been a great year for British film, too, with the aforementioned Kill List, Neds, that little film called The King’s Speech, and superb debuts from Richard Ayoade (Submarine) and Paddy Considine (Tyrannosaur).

Rooney Mara is quite special in David Fincher’s slick The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake, as is Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, Mia Wasikowska in Jane Eyre, and Yun Jeong-hie in Poetry. Jeff Bridges in True Grit, Christian Bale in The Fighter, and Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are also scene-stealing. Especially impressive singular performances come from Natalie Portman in Black Swan, Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Michael Shannon in Take Shelter, and several actors who have appeared in a collection of work are worthy of remark. Michelle Williams, for Blue Valentine, Meek’s Cutoff, and My Week With Marilyn, is fast becoming a firm favourite; she is rough around the edges, in the best possible way, and is a grafter with an admirable eye for interesting projects. Jessica Chastain, for The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, and The Help, is, perhaps, more polished, but incredibly naturalistic for a relative newcomer and is another exciting prospect for the future.

All of that said, my person of the year is Ryan Gosling. Hands down. In a single year, through Blue Valentine, Drive, The Ides of March and, yes, even Crazy, Stupid, Love, he has shown an exciting, rare degree of versatility and charisma reminiscent of the likes of James Dean and Paul Newman. Only time will tell but, just maybe, 2011 will be a point in cinema history when a good actor turned a corner on his way to becoming a great icon.

31st Dec 2011