Another year, another painful internal debate over the traditional end of year list and with an intimidating ten of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, The Guard, Sleeping Beauty, Terri, Drive, The Tree of Life, Bad Fever, Stake Land, Trolljegeren (Troll Hunter) and Involuntary not even making the final list it just goes to show what a great year for film 2011 has been.
10. The Myth of the American Sleepover – David Robert Mitchell
The following 9 films on my list slipped pretty easily into place, however, the final position in my top ten is one I’ve debated about for some time. Coming down to either Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty, John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard or David Robert Mitchell The Myth of the American Sleepover, I finally plumped for the latter because of the all round warmth and pleasantness spread by Mitchell’s debut feature. Evoking the spirit of the likes of Dazed & Confused, Freaks & Geeks, The Virgin Suicides and the films of John Hughes, The Myth of the American Sleepover is like the smell of freshly baked bread, the feeling of wet grass on bare feet and a hug from a loved one all wrapped into one.
Read the DN review of The Myth of the American Sleepover.
9. Rubber – Quentin Dupieux
All great films, without exception, contain an important element of No Reason! And you know why? Because life itself is filled with No Reason! Why cant we see the air all around us? No Reason! Why are we always thinking? No Reason! Why do some people love sausages and other people hate sausages? No Fucking Reason!
Why do I love Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber? No Reason! Well actually there are a few…it’s fresh, inventive and hugely entertaining.
Read the DN review of Rubber.
8. Essential Killing – Jerzy Skolimowski
With a wordless, bearded Vincent Gallo playing Mohammed, a hunted Afghanistani soldier embroiled in a bloody battle of survival with the US military and the hostile environment he finds himself in, Essential Killing was always destined to be a film that turned a few heads. Feeling like a modern day Rambo with an arthouse twist, Jerzy Skolimowski’s desperate tale of survival, sees DN favourite Gallo put in raw and powerfully physical performance, as good as you’re likely to see all year.
Read the DN review of Essential Killing.
7. Meek’s Cutoff – Kelly Reichardt
With her previous feature films, Old Joy and Wendy & Lucy , director Kelly Reichardt’s understated style saw her recognised as one of the leading directors in the world of independent film. With its unusual visual style, uncommon viewpoint and talented cast, Meek’s Cutoff – Reichardt’s unforgiving tale of the Oregon path – proves once again what a unique talent she truly is.
Read the DN review of Meek’s Cutoff.
6. Another Earth – Mike Cahill
Mike Cahill and Brit Marling’s thought-provoking science-fiction feature show’s that you don’t need big budgets and alien invasions to be a success. Opting for a slower character-driven approach instead of the usual intergalactic wars we’re accustom to seeing at the cinema, Another Earth carries on the sci-fi renaissance kicked off by the likes of Primer and Moon.
Read the DN review of Another Earth.
5. Take Shelter – Jeff Nichols
Michael Shannon’s unnerving performance as the prophetic Curtis LaForche may take centre stage in Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter, but this apocalyptic film is much more than just a one-man show. With uncertainty as to whether the end of the world is actually imminent or just part of Curtis’ unstable mind, at its heart Take Shelter is the emotional account of a tight-knit family struggling to survive day by day. By the end of the film, Nichols’ flair for storytelling and a host of convincing performances have you begging for the apocalypse to rain down.
Read the DN review of Take Shelter.
4. The Skin I Live In – Pedro Almodóvar
Pedro Almodóvar was always one of those directors I felt I should love, but if I’m totally honest I rarely found myself connecting with, that was until The Skin I Live In. Described by the Spanish director as “a horror story without screams or frights”, Almodóvar’s eighteenth film sees him take Thierry Jonquet’s novel Tarantula and turns it into a tale reminiscent of a modern day Frankenstein. The Skin I Live In builds slowly and eerily throughout its near two hour duration, with each reveal in the plot unveiling a sickening new twist in what might be Almodóvar’s most engrossing film to date.
3. Hesher – Spencer Susser
To say that here on DN we’re fans of Spencer Susser’s apocalyptic short I Love Sarah Jane would probably be one of the biggest understatements you could make. In fact, on the few occasions I’ve been asked, it’s always the first title to spring to mind whenever the question “what’s your favourite short film?” arises. However, transferring the talents showcased in the short format to feature length isn’t always a successful process. Thankfully, Susser packaged all the raw energy and originality showcased in his explosive short and injected it into his first feature Hesher, the story of a young boy grieving his mother and his unorthodox relationship with a tattooed loner.
Listen to the DN interview with directer Spencer Susser.
2. Small Town Murder Songs – Ed Gass-Donnelly
I don’t think there are many better feelings as a film-lover than discovering a film you knew nothing about; for me, that film this year was Ed Gass-Donnelly’s Small Town Murder Songs. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, with no festival hype surrounding it (well none that I was aware of anyway), Gass-Donnelly’s second feature combines luminous cinematography, a celestial soundtrack and a stand-out lead performance with breathtaking effect.
Read the DN review of Small Town Murder Songs.
1. Martha Marcy May Marlene – Sean Durkin
“Do you ever have that feeling where you can’t tell if something is a memory or if it’s something you dreamed?” The dizzying effect of Sean Durkin’s debut feature Martha Marcy May Marlene as it slips between past and present, memory and reality with consummate ease, feels like you’re witnessing something unequivocally special. Its storyline seizes you and doesn’t let you slip from its suffocating grasp throughout, constantly surprising and always thrilling, this is the work of a young filmmaker determined to showcase his talent and tell his story (Durkin also wrote MMMM).
Watching John Hawkes sing to Elizabeth Olsen in the trailer still gives me goosebumps now.
Read the DN review of Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Finally, special mention has to go to Shane Meadows for lighting up the small screen once again this year. This is England ’88 was equal to anything I saw on the big screen and once again restored my faith in British TV for a short period. Managing to make me cry like a grown woman at a Take That concert, whilst simultaneously reaching for my iPhone to listen to The Smiths, The Cure and Wendy Rene and digging my Fred Perry collection out of the wardrobe, This is England ’88 was worthy of my entire TV license.