With most of the big Summer movies disappointing this year, the best of them for me being Captain America. I loved the first half of Joe Johnston's film but the second half fell away so badly, the final action scene reminded me of the Star Wars prequels. After reading great reviews of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I was disappointed with that too, from having zero expectations to some, I thought it was okay but nothing special at all.
Of course I haven't seen everything by any stretch of the imagination, I would have expected Tree of Life to be in contention to be on this list had I seen it. The same goes for the disappointing showing for Hong Kong movies this year. Again the two I would have expected to be on or near the list, Johnnie To's Life Without Principle and Ann Hui's A Simple Life, I haven't been able to see as yet. It was also no surprise Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmasters didn't see a release! Let the Bullets Fly almost made it but that's a Chinese film anyway.
On with the list.
10. Hanna My review here
2011 had plenty of disappointing action movies, Joe Wright's Hanna is the one Hollywood action blockbuster from this year with heart, brains and style. To get these together in a movie is unusual enough in itself but from a director better known for serious drama, all the more surprising. Great performances and a Cool Chemical Brothers soundtrack too.
09. Wu Xia
Peter Ho Sun Chan's Wu Xia starring Donnie Yen, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Jimmy Wang Yu is the only Hong Kong movie on this list. I have yet to review the film as I only saw it recently but it deserves it's place in this list as it's superbly made, involving, very entertaining and very well acted, yes even Donnie! It has flaws, the main one being it's almost like two separate movies spliced together but if the effect is a little jarring, they do come together by the end. Full review to follow, maybe.
08. True Grit My review here
While not top tier Coen Brothers True Grit deserves it's place on this list thanks to a superb set of performances, amazing production design and glimpses of the Coen's wit mixed into the adaptation of the book. A special mention also for Roger Deakins photography, this is one gorgeous movie.
07. Au Revoir Taipei My review here
While not the most action packed or thought provoking movie on this list, Arvin Chen's Au Revoir Taipei is certainly one of the most fun movies I've seen this year, it twists noir and gangster conventions until almost unrecognisable. Charming and amusing, with a likeable turn from Jack Yao and an adorable one from Amber Kuo and with simply beautiful cinematography. I loved it.
06. Kill List My review here
Kill List is Ben Wheatley's second film as a director but you'd never know it, this film shows a rapidly maturing talent and confidence that holds great promise for the future. Not only that but it's a damn good film too, an unsettling and visceral assault of a movie both in it's visuals but even more in it's brutal sound design. Excellent stuff.
05. Cold Fish My review here
Sion Sono's Cold Fish defies categorisation, a true crime/horror opus shot right through with a serious vein of black comedy. Sono once again proves himself to be a unique talent, deftly juggling all the components into something whole. The ending is probably the most audience bludgeoning endings I've seen for a long, long time.
04. Attack The Block My review here
Attack The Block was my single most enjoyable movie of the year. A very funny, suspenseful and completely kick ass action movie. The kind of low budget movie that puts Hollywood to shame with it's $200 million turds, ATB has a style and economy that enhances it's quality, from creature design through to it's setting and action. I don't think this could have been any better with ten times the budget and that is genius (I guess first time director Joe Cornish may argue that point!).
03. The Yellow Sea My review here
Na Hong Jin's The Yellow Sea seems to be problematic to audiences due to it's length, clocking in at around two and a half hours. Yes, it is overlong, but I loved every minute of it and didn't want it to end. After a fairly quiet start comes an incredible series of increasingly brutal set pieces, after The Chaser and this I'll be front of the queue for anything Na Hong Jin makes.
02. 13 Assassins My review here
I've written enough about Takashi Miike's Samurai remake already, it was one of my most anticipated films of the year and it didn't disappoint. For me, this is a classic of it's genre already and one of the best action endings to a movie you could ever see.
01. Drive My review here
Number one on this list for many reasons, Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive had excellent performances everywhere, style to burn and is my pick as the best soundtrack of the year. Above all of this though is the feel, everything about this film felt right, I couldn't think of anything that would have made Drive a better movie. Despite it's surface simplicity it haunted me for weeks afterwards and I'm still thinking about it three months on. Cool jacket too.
That's it for 2011, hope you enjoyed the list and I'd love to know what is on yours either via your own blog, the comments section or Facebook. Happy New Year and hope 2012 brings everything you could wish for.