This year has been a ridiculously good year for cinema - particularly British cinema. It started off with a raft of excellent January releases, with The King's Speech and 127 Hours leading the UK Oscars charge, but it's a mark of how much talent there has been throughout the year that three British directorial debuts have made their way into my top films of 2011. Documentaries, too, have been overwhelmingly strong - Senna has made a lot of "Best of 2011" lists, but Project Nim, Pina and TT3D hoovered up a decent amount of box office cash as well, some even proving that 3D might be more than just a passing Hollywood phase.
But enough of this. What you all REALLY want is yet another list of movies that some opinionated person thinks were better than all the other movies released this year. So, going by the only way to judge these things (theatrical release dates), here are the Top 11 Films of 2011.
No doubt a lot of people will complain that this is anywhere near a list of the year's best films, let alone in the number one spot, but since I clapped eyes on it at last year's London Film Festival, the rest of 2011's releases have been playing catch-up. I was convinced right up until October that I wouldn't see a better film before 2012. Now, I think I probably have (see numbers two and three) but Darren Aronofsky's blend of high-art, loud ballet and psychological horror remains one of my most memorable and astonishing movie-going experiences of the past 12 months. The fact that this is still true earns it the top spot in this year's rankings.
Just when you thought he couldn't surprise you, Pedro Almodovar's adaptation of Thierry Jonquet's novel added a new string to the director's bow. The Skin I Live In marked one of those rare perfect matches between filmmaker and source material, as Pedro ventured into horror territory to create a gripping and disturbing sexual thriller. After several watches, it not only retains its shocking twist and superb lead performance from Antonio Banderas but also shows one of masters of cinema telling a story with Hitchcockian precision. The editing, the script, Alberto Iglesias' soundtrack. Everything is flawless.
Just when you think you've seen the year's best film, along comes Uggy the dog and a tap-dancing Jean Dujardin to change your mind. This silent movie about silent movies is one for film buffs but also one of the most accessible rom-coms of recent years, as Michel Hazanavicius distils spot-on physical comedy, sumptuous production design and John Goodman into a pure pot of cinematic joy. You couldn't find a happier viewing experience this year if you got Professor Brian Cox to fart rainbows in front of a picture of a unicorn.
BIFA gave this their top award of the year - and who am I to disagree with a drunken Chris O'Dowd? Paddy Considine's directorial debut, the affecting tale of an angry Peter Mullan and a bruised Olivia Colman finding solace in each other's company, left me sobbing quietly on the floor of a darkened room for 90 minutes. I haven't been so moved by a film in a long time. For sheer emotional clout, Tyrannosaur stomps into the top half of my 2011 list.
Jeff Bridges. With an eye patch. In a hat. I didn't think the Coen brothers could rival No Country for Old Men in the Western stakes. Then they came up with this ridiculously beautiful masterpiece, featuring everything from Roger Deakins' stunning cinematography to the lovely Hailee Steinfeld. Morals, revenge, guns, justice, and hats. What more could you want from a film? Did I mention the hats?
Senna has been a favourite of many but for me, the best documentary of the year is Werner Herzog's tour round the Chauvet caves in South France. As affecting as Project Nim, this not only wowed me historically but also provided the only convincing justification of 3D cinema to date. A stunning and exclusive look at this ancient artwork, Cave of Forgotten Dreams gave us access to something that we would never otherwise see. You can't ask for anything more from a documentary. Unless its albino mutant crocodiles and crazed scientists playing the nose flute. Herzog gives us those too.
Richard Ayaode's debut as a director was another emotional rollercoaster, embracing everything from awkward teenage romance to French New Wave cinema. With pretentious Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) voicing his every over-thunk thought, this wry coming-of-age tale was at times like a walk inside my own head. When it wasn't, I wanted it to be. That's how excellent it is.
I was stupid enough to watch this last night, in case it was as impressive as other people had told me. It was, and now Asghar Farhadi's Iranian drama has become one of my favourite films of the year. A harrowing look at a couple separating, it sees one man charged with murder, a pregnant woman cleaning up another man's wee, a teacher struggling to tell the truth and the longest divorce proceedings in the history of long divorce proceedings. As this gigantic human car crash unfolds, the country's outdated legal system tries to make sense it all. Needless to say, it fails. Subtle social criticism in the form of a devastating family drama, A Separation is tipped by many to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film next year. I'm inclined to agree. Blimey, it's good.
Joe Cornish's smart sci-fi divided many when it came out. Some hated the teen protagonists. Some thought it wasn't funny. Others liked the message of redemption. I'm not convinced it's intended to be a deep social commentary or "the next Shaun of the Dead" as one poster proclaimed. For me, this is quite simply an impressive debut by a promising director and a hugely entertaining B-movie.
Terrence Malick is nothing if not ambitious. Bringing visual effects legend Doug Trumbull on board, his magnum opus charting nothing less than the complete and utter history of the cosmos is clearly striving for Stanley Kubrick levels of significance. He doesn't quite get there, but his whispering, meandering look at religion, dinosaurs and parental grief is captivating stuff. Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography is gorgeous, Brad Pitt's volatile father is intimidating and the whole thing is very stunning. Clocking in at a pretentious 138 minutes, The Tree of Life is a mesmerising feast for your eyeballs and a provocative nibble for your brain.
Out of all the equally likeable and brilliant features of 2011 (Blue Valentine or Drive could easily occupy this slot), nowt was more of a pleasant surprise than Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Circling around Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard's nostalgic romance, it's a joyous reminder of the spark that the director's been missing in recent years - less a return to form, more a witty acknowledgement of it. One person on Twitter dismissed it as Night at the Museum for grown-ups. I have absolutely no qualms with that, but unlike Ben Stiller's lifeless franchise, Midnight in Paris contains laughs, love and Adrien Brody shouting "rhinoceros" very loudly. I know which I prefer.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
My Week with Marilyn
Never Let Me Go
What were your favourite films of 2011?