K'S FILM RETROSPECTIVE; THE BEST TEN OF 2011

Without further adieu these are the top 10 films that seriously made me appreciate this beautiful medium.


10 - Face to Face (Australia, Dir. Michael Rymer)

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Face to Face is an excellent socio-psychological study on a mixed group of people, some privy to an assault on one man by his employee and others less guilty and involved, or are they? Face to Face consistently turns assumptions and stereotypes on its head by changing each character organically as the film progresses and it is an incredible thing to witness.

The key people responsible gather together with a councilor to work out who is at fault and why before any official charge is laid. It is unlike any Australian film and thankfully breaks the mold, not to mention that keeping an 89 minute conversation interesting is a real feat.


9 - Life Without Principle (Hong Kong, Dir. Johnnie To)

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Although Life Without Principle is set in Hong Kong it is actually an overview of the global financial crisis. Without being overly preachy Johnnie To focuses on the inner workings of a particular bank pushing to increase questionable investments to unsuspecting customers, one employee in particular who is desperate to increase her sales figures performs some unscrupulous acts and gets tied up in a thievery that goes horribly wrong.

On the other end of this is super motivated and desperately old-school gangster Panther (Ching Wan Lau) who watches as his concepts of brotherhood and respect in the Triad disintegrate as he suffers to ensure his boss does not lose face and his fellow brothers do not stray. Both components eventually integrate beautifully culminating in some effective commentary of the economic climate and the lengths the crisis can force some people to go as they lose everything in the blink of an eye. Of course this is To so there is some wickedly black humor to counterbalance these heavy elements and it all works to pitch-perfection.


8 - Shame (U.S, Dir. Steve McQueen)

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Like Bale as American Psycho's Patrick Bateman, Michael Fassbender also portrays mental illness and likewise gives it his all as Brandon Sullivan in a new New York that encapsulates the modern day in its hidden filthiness, masked in corporate glean; shallow, predictable and routine. He struggles bitterly as a sex addict and spirals out of control when his deadbeat sister Sissy played by Carey Mulligan against type, forces herself into his life. The lines blur and his hidden sleazy world implodes as he tries to, and utterly fails to heal. This is agonizing stuff that would ultimately mean nothing without Fassbender's brilliant acting.


7 - Guilty of Romance (Japan, Dir. Sion Sono)

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Speaking of filthy worlds it does not get more black and white than Sono's recent foray into depravity and madness. Exploring the overexposed underbelly of Japan he turns one woman a devoted and disciplined housewife, into a promiscuous and empowered but ultimately damaged prostitute, led on by the split personality of esteemed University professor come shameless sex fiend Mitsuko (Makoto Togashi, who gives a seething brilliant performance), both tie in to a grotesque murder scene that culminates in a truly nihilistic end, encapsulating Sono's philosophy.


6 - Flying Sword of Dragon Gate Inn (Hong Kong, Dir. Tsui Hark)

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Action, adventure, amazing 3D, this Dragon Gate Inn Re-remake improves on its predecessors in every way and outdoes Hark's previous fantasy epic Detective Dee. The colorful and exciting cast and locations, particularly the Inn itself amidst a mysterious desert with vacancies for all sorts of life comprise a fun plot that comes to a head at the Inn and the results are pure entertainment. The varied fight scenes keep things fresh and the use of 3D is truly mind-blowing and not wasted or meaningless and in fact brings an element of magic to the proceedings. Stop reading this and go see it.


5 - The Yellow Sea (Korea, Dir. Hong-Jin Na)

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It is hard to go past a good crime epic, it is impossible to go past one that has its roots in the Korean new-wave. The Yellow Sea is a vast improvement on Na's The Chaser and as superb as it was the only place for this director to go was up. The result is a chapter-based story of one man searching for his wife, spanning countries and cities as he gets embroiled in a complex hit where nothing goes to plan and revenge is the only option. The Yellow Sea benefits from its kinetic action scenes, particularly in its frequent depiction of savagery and no-holds barred desperateness from all involved.


4 - Hanna (U.S, Dir. Joe Wright)

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I admire Joe Wright, his period pieces are sumptuous and his technical abilities nearly faultless. His skills do not wane in Hanna, a modern-day fairytale twisted into an assassin-vengeance fable. The addictive Chemical Brothers soundtrack weaves its way through the story and perfectly connects with the action and movement on screen as Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) makes her way to her father after purposely being imprisoned by the CIA and Hanna's target Agent Marissa (a very enjoyable and over-the-top performance from Cate Blanchett). It is the editing and pacing that sets Hanna aside from other action films of its ilk, the ebb and flow of violence and movement are entrancing, and one of the greatest long takes in film history follows Erik (Eric Bana) Hanna's father and mentor through the paranoid streets of Berlin and into an abandoned subway where he is confronted, incredible stuff.


3 - Drive (U.S, Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

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To recognize if a film is great is an easy thing, simply looking at its title can evoke powerful memories of what you have seen or heard and Drive is no different. Simply starting this sentence the fade-in of the song A Real Hero plays in my head and the soft-electro pop infused fuzziness of Drive's brilliance becomes evident. Driver drives, he gets caught up in some very bad business and he reacts, and that is the plot, the entire film is minimalist until it explodes with bombastic violence only to withdraw into its shell again. It is pulp at its extreme best and a rare film that imbues the spirit of the protagonist over the protagonist himself.


2 - Senna (U.K, Dir. Asif Kapadia)

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Senna could be the most well-shot and edited documentary of our time. It is hard to fault 100% chronological footage of a man's legendary life all the way to his untimely death. There are no talking heads, no obvious voice overs and no going off track, it is single-minded and naturally observing of Ayrton Senna and his trials and tribulations, on the way uncovering the questionable practices of the F1 industry and shaping how he redefined the sport and affected his home country Brazil. It is hilarious, humble, exhilarating and heart wrenching, making me feel more in this one documentary than I have for any film all year.


1 - Hugo (U.S, Dir. Martin Scorsese)

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Scorsese is a master, this is fact and after obtaining such status Hugo could have been mainstream family entertainment fodder. Orphan Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in a Paris train station fixing the clocks, his father left him an automaton that requires a mysterious key. Hugo steals from a bitter old toy maker Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley in top form) to complete the robot and after befriending a girl Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and constantly escaping the clutches of a station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) he uncovers a truly magical mystery that transcends the plot of the film and truly reaches into a film-lovers heart. Scorsese's passion and love for films radiate in Hugo in such a genuine way that the film becomes a love-letter for movies, escaping the tropes of family entertainment when necessary and venturing into the birth of what we know and love, truly and unashamedly love. More importantly however, he explores the conception of this oldest practice by perfectly employing the latest technology of 3D. Hugo is a time piece, a testament to the art of film and a milestone in cinema itself.


Honorable mentions:

Martha Marcy May Marlene - Jane Eyre - Mysteries of Lisbon - Stake Land - The Lincoln Lawyer - True Grit - X-Men: First Class - The Guard - Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol - The Fighter - A Separation - Tyrannosaur - Melancholia - We Need to Talk About Kevin - The Last Circus

 

Sadly Missed:

George Harrison: Living in the Material World - This is Not a Film - Burning Man - Meek's Cutoff - Young Adult - The Artist

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