feature: top 10 films of 2011


Little late this year but hey, better late than never right? Right??

On the whole, I don’t think 2011 was a great year for cinema. There were some great films sure but I struggled to get 10 films to be honest. I should probably preface this by saying that I managed to miss 3 of the films that seem to be featuring on critics lists all over the place. Somehow The Tree of Life, Melancholia and Incendies all passed me by. Rest assured they are on my list for DVD perusal.

As I did with last year’s top 10 of 2010 feature, I’ll be sticking to titles that released in the Republic of Ireland and UK in 2011, regardless of when I saw them. This means that unfortunately films such as The Artist or The Descendants, which are getting on to a lot of US lists, aren’t eligible for this one. Also I’ll be linking the titles to any reviews I did, and where I didn’t do a review you’ll get the IMDb link.

Here we go. In reverse order.

Your Highness Poster, Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman10. Your Highness

It’s only the first one of the list and already I can hear you all saying “Really?, Really!?”. Yes, really. What can I say? Maybe this film just caught me a in a good mood, but I laughed at it a lot. I think it was just that it was so unexpected. They really committed to the brand of comedy they were going for. Did I think I would ever see a Minotaur d!ck hanging around a hero’s neck? No. Was it in poor taste? Yup. But did I laugh when I did? Hell yeah.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure whether it really warrented getting on the top 10 of the year list, but by virtue of the fact that there aren’t any other comedies on here, I thought I should put it on. If there had been a stand out film that I thought really deserved a spot it wouldn’t be, but like I said, it’s not been a fantastic year… (7.5/10)

Battle: LA9. Battle: Los Angeles

If you read the review you’ll get the full rant (and it was a rant), but the gist of it is that I think Battle: Los Angeles got a bit of bum deal. It had an absolutely fantastic teaser trailer and I think that caused a lot of people to expect a movie they didn’t get. Which is a shame because I really thought it was a great movie.

It was a bit clichéd and a bit cheesy but I genuinely think that it was a good-looking simple action film that knew what it was doing and did it well. So many films do the big budget action thing and don’t bother about plot, characters or anything else that could take away from the huge explosions. Or worse still they try to over-complicate their films with too much plot and far too many characters. This managed to stay away from both those pitfalls. It was a strong, tightly focused film that did what it set out to do. Show us a group of soldiers killing loads of aliens. (8/10)

The Fighter poster, Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg8. The Fighter

I was in two minds about this one. I couldn’t decide if I liked Warrior or The Fighter better… and whichever one I liked better was the one that deserved to be on the list. I didn’t want to have two such similar films on it.

It didn’t help The Fighter that it’s one of those 2010 films that didn’t release here till 2011, and thus isn’t getting the year end round up love that Warrior is.

Obviously enough, I went with The Fighter.

I’ve been quite harsh about sports movies this year but the fact is, they are all very similar…

Our protaganist is talented but he doesn’t know how/won’t use it.
Someone takes an interest.
It gives him the reason to work hard. (cue montage).
He suffers a setback.
People spur him on.
He fights harder and gets further than you’d ever expect. (cue another possible montage)
One final big fight.
Everybody in the cinema feels the amazing rush of the climax of the film.
End of movie.

What set The Fighter apart were the, quite frankly, amazing performances from all the cast. Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams really gave it their all as the leads, but it was Christian Bale and Melissa Leo who really stole the show. Rarely would I ever brook no argument over an Oscar win – they’re always contentious and everyone is entitled to their opinion – but these two… I will brook no argument! (8/10)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: part 2, Daniel Radcliffe7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

I waited some 12 years to find out what happened to Harry Potter in the end, and finally I found out. It did not disappoint.

To explain, I was a big fan of the Harry Potter story, but somewhere around the middle of the sixth book I decided that I just couldn’t do it any more. The last two books were so long, and (in my opinion) quite badly edited and I just couldn’t face read any more of it. Particularly not with the movies actually (mostly) living up to the books. I decided to wait for the last few films. That was in 2005.

How I managed to avoid spoilers all this time I will never know but I managed it. And so, when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: part 2 came around, I was clean and fresh for the epic battle that awaited. And it was epic. Which was lucky because truth be told and I’d been quite disappointed by HP7: part 1. I’d have hated to have waited this long just to be crushed by bordom.

I wouldn’t say it was a perfect ending to the series and of course, unlike The Fighter, it’s not as though there were amazing admirable performances to watch. But I did find it supremely satisfying and thus, it’s made it here to the top 10. (8.5/10)

Perfect Sense poster, Ewan McGregor, Eva Green6. Perfect Sense

I suspect Perfect Sense, starring Ewan McGregor and Eva Green, passed a lot of people by. Truth is, it almost passed me by. It got a tiny release in Ireland and it probably wasn’t the most… well let’s just say it might have lacked broad appeal.

It was a film that was right up my alley though. I’ve mentioned, on more than one occasion, my love of sci-fi. While this isn’t a sci-fi film, much like Another Earth (which hit Irish and UK theatres recently), it does have a touch of sci-fi to its setting and that’s enough for me.

This film put me in mind of one of my favourite films of all time, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. People who’ve seen both will probably think I’m crazy but I really do think that there’s a parallel to be drawn between the conclusions in both films. Of course I guess that depends on the conclusion you draw from the end of Enternal Sunshine.

In any case, I thought Perfect Sense was a little gem and one that deserves more attention than it got. Quick, go seek it out. (8.5/10)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy poster5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is a film that I think divided people. I can see why many would find it boring and tiresome but personally, I found it fascinating. I said more in the full review but basically I saw Tinker, Tailor as a puzzle. A twisty little maze of a puzzle.

Thing is, if you don’t have patience for puzzles, or lots and lots of very dry dialogue – basically if you think 2 hours of watching a bunch of old English men talking to each other in code is some kind of hell on earth – then Tinker, Tailor is not for you. I can totally understand that. But if you’re willing to stick with it then it is a very rewarding film. (8.5/10)

Hugo Cabret poster Martin Scorsese4. Hugo

I wasn’t sure about Hugo (formerly known as Hugo Cabret) when I first heard about it. Martin Scorsese is directing a kids film? Really? Plus I thought it was animated… so… Martin Scorsese is directing a kids animation? Really? In 3D? Wha?

It turns out it wasn’t an animation. I was mistaken on that. And it’s only kind of a kids film. It is in 3D though and I have to say… it is, hands down, the best 3D I’ve seen since Avatar. So that was nice.

Beyond that it is an altogether charming film. All at once it is the tale of a young orphan boy, a mystery-adventure centring on an automaton and a trip through the history of cinema. It’s not really a kids film though. Well, it kind of is. As long as that kid is over 10 years of age and bookish. (9/10)

Tyrannosaur poster, Peter Mullan, Paddy Considine, Olivia Colman3. Tyrannosaur

A taut and gripping domestic drama, Tyrannosaur was another one of those films that few people seem to have caught in the cinema…

In his directorial debut, Paddy Considine (who also wrote the film) managed to draw what I consider the two best performances of the year. Peter Mullan excels as Joseph, an alcoholic widower who is seemingly on the path to self-destruction, while Olivia Colman (who I’d only ever seen before in C4 comedy Peep Show) is stunning as the abused wife Joseph somehow finds himself drawn to.

It’s a rough ride and I’ve never been a fan of gritty British drama but it really is an excellent addition to the genre. Highly recommended but you’d want to be in the mood for a downer. (9/10)

Senna documentary, Ayrton Senna, poster2. Senna

Unusually for me, number 2 on the list is a documentary. I don’t often go to documentaries but I was glad that I got to this one.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Formula One racing. Back when Ayrton Senna was in his prime I was much more into F1 Powerboat racing… But I remember when he died. I remember it was a huge shock because at that stage we’d become so used to seeing the drivers walking away from horrific looking crashes. I didn’t know exactly how famous he was but I knew his name so I knew he was a big deal.

I went to Senna knowing not much more than that.

As a non-fan, I found it fascinating. I think what stayed with me most was his passion for his chosen field. He put immense pressure on himself to succeed and it comes across completely. As a documentary, it’s an excellent technical construction, made entirely of archive footage – not the easiest way to tell a story. I would urge you to check this out. (9/10)

Black Swan poster, Natalie Portman, Darren Aronofsky, Mila Kunis1. Black Swan

I finally posted the review for this a couple of days ago… and now you know why. This may have been one of the first films I saw in 2011 but it’s still the one I was thinking about at the end of it.

You can see my thoughts in the full review but suffice to say. I loved this film. It surprised me. Partly because it’s a Darren Aronofsky film and I’ve never liked a Darren Aronofsky film, and partly because you don’t see many good psychological thrillers these days. Oh yes, you see plenty of films that try to give it a go, especially horror films, but few are successful and this one was one of the best I have ever seen.

I know it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea… but hey, if we all agreed the world would be a boring place. (9/10)

Honourable mentions (in alphabetical order)

13 Assassins – From the legendary Miike Takashi came a sword-filled bloodbath. Rivers of blood there were, rivers. Gwan Takashi.

Crazy, Stupid, Love – my pick of the romantics comedy/dramas this year. Sweet, charming and emotional in well proportioned parts. Also my favourite Ryan Gosling film of the year. Probably not his best performance though, I’ll give that to Blue Valentine. And yes, I did see Drive. Less said… because I don’t want a fight.

Guilty of Romance – I think I liked Guilty of Romance. It was pretty damn crazy. And explicit, very explicit. And horrifying, particularly horrifying. I felt quite disturbed after it… and kind of dirty. It was shocking, lurid and… let’s call it uncompromising. To be honest, I’m still not sure what I thought of it… but on the grounds that any film that does it’s job can be considered a good film – this was a great film. In any case it deserves a mention. It was certainly one of the most unique films I saw all year. Brrr…

One Day – I was very close to putting this one in, very close… but I decided I wanted to put a comedy in so it got pushed out. Now I’ve never read the book and I understand that some people say it’s not as good, but I really enjoyed it. I thought the concept translated well to screen and, dodgy accents aside, Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess put on strong performances. I was genuinely moved by this film. I know it was, in a way, a little light… perhaps it was just what I was looking for at the time. A good cry is always cathartic.

Warrior – I already mentioned this in the entry for The Fighter. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton pull off convincing transformations and it is fine, solid drama. But they’re just not as good as Bale and Wahlberg.

So there you have it. My top 10 films of 2011. Any comments? What were your faves of the year?

And… am I seriously missing out having not seen Tree of Life, Melancholia, Incendies and A Separation? Do you think they’d have made my list?


  1. comment-avatar
    seamus lynchJanuary 9, 2012 - 5:00 pm

    Very interesting and a worthy number one. i think Incendies would make anyones list. it is incredibly powerful and moving. far better than A Prophet or other feted gritty foreign movies of recent times. no Secrets in their Eyes? Perhaps you missed it? The Tree of Life is worth including even just because there is no other film like it in cinema history even it tests the viewer’s patience. but i agree – overall a fairly poor year.

  2. comment-avatar
    Nicola-tJanuary 9, 2012 - 5:07 pm

    Hi Seamus,

    I’m looking forward to Incendies, just have to track down a place to rent it… and time to watch it. I’m still on the fence about Tree of Life but I’ll have to see it so I can have an opinion come Oscar time 😉

    Is The Secrets in their Eyes the Argentinian one? I thought that was 2010, I remember seeing it on a plane in 2010 in any case, perhaps it wasn’t released to cinemas here till 2011… It was good one alright, a strong solid procedural drama with some great scenes. Didn’t make my top 10 but then again a plane is never the best place to see a film. Plus I watch a lot, and I mean A LOT, of police procedural dramas, so perhaps I’m just a bit jaded in that genre too.

  3. comment-avatar
    AuriJanuary 9, 2012 - 5:29 pm

    Hi- I like this list. I haven’t seen half of these movies (2,3,6,9,10) but am happy to see Hugo on this list which was my favorite movie of the year. Call me a sap but I did like Puss in Boots a lot too and Tin-Tin was a lot of fun as well. Did you watch ‘Ides of March’? It wasn’t a brilliant movie but it owuld probably crack my top 10 as well…

  4. comment-avatar
    HenryJanuary 10, 2012 - 3:43 pm

    Hmmm.. 2011 was slow for me though I did see 20-25 films. I only saw 2 of the 10 (The Fighter and Black Swan) and I would think these are 2010 films?

  5. comment-avatar
    PeterGJanuary 13, 2012 - 1:53 pm

    Interesting list – I’m really pleased to see Senna placed so highly, it was my #1 of the year. Such a well made movie about a fascinating character. And Tyrannosaur, superb movie too. I was surprised to see ‘Your Highness’ in there but I must say that I really enjoyed it and didn’t understand any of the abuse it took from critics and public alike (IMO it was far funnier than the well received ‘Bridesmaids’ which wasn’t up to much).

    And as for a movie you missed, well I might have nodded off during ‘Melancholia’ 😉

  6. comment-avatar
    Nicola-tJanuary 13, 2012 - 5:11 pm

    Auri – I’d definitely recommend Senna and Tyrannosaur, though Tyrannosaur will require you to be in the mood for a rather bleak and depressing film. Perfect Sense, I really enjoyed and I don’t really know why other didn’t but it didn’t rate very well… so might be risky… Battle: LA and Your Highness, well, they are somewhat guilty pleasures!

    Puss in Boot was good fun alright, Tintin was a good adventure but I’m not sure it was that good a film… Ides I wasn’t mad about, it was fine. But like I do with a lot of political drama, ended up thinking “Well, it was pretty good… but it was no West Wing.”

    Henry – yeah, those were 2010 films in the US but they only came out in 2011 this side of the pond.

    Peter – I too was unimpressed with Bridesmaids, I really should have done a review for it. Tbh I put Your Highness in because there were a lack of strong contenders, particularly those that weren’t similar to other films on the list. So, I thought I’d throw in the best comedy – i.e. the one I laughed at the most. It seems wasn’t exactly a great year for comedy either…

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