Feature: Top Ten Films Of 2011: January – June

So far, 2011 has been a fantastic year for film. Below, I’ve compiled a list of my ten favourites from the last six months, with a few honourable mentions that just missed out on a place. Finally, I’ve listed some somewhat less honourable mentions that you should probably avoid at all costs.

10. Never Let Me Go (February 2011)

Mark Romanek’s shamefully overlooked adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s momentous novel Never Let Me Go wasn’t exactly the hit Fox Searchlight were banking on, but that didn’t stop it being a beautifully explorative, acted and directed piece of cinema.

9. Animal Kingdom (February 2011)

This Australian crime-thriller rose from the underbelly, picking up momentum thick and fact for its astoundingly honest portrayal of a fully functional crime family. Striking direction, raw performances and compelling source material have made well worth seeking out.

8. Archipelago (March 2011)

Joanna Hogg’s stark look at family turmoil is beautifully captured and carefully paced to provide a deeply resonant and affecting glimpse into the highs and lows of family life and what makes people tick.

7. Heartbeats (May 2011)

Multi-faceted Xavier Dolan follows in the footsteps of acclaimed filmmakers Gus Van Sant, Pedro Almodóvar and Wong Kar Wai to write and direct Heartbeats, a film of true beauty, wisdom and depth beyond its years.

6. Arrietty (June 2011 – EIFF)

Studio Ghibli’s sprightly interpretation of Mary Norton’s acclaimed children’s book The Borrowers is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, under the watchful eye of filmmaker extraordinaire Hayao Miyazaki. Arrietty boasts some truly illustrious animation and a score by French musician Cecile Corbel that made me go weak at the knees.

5. Bridesmaids (June 2011)

Kristen Wiig, well known for her long-standing stint on Saturday Night Live, was launched to stardom with hit comedy Bridesmaids. Directed by Paul Feig, the film features an array of flawless comedic performances, unforgettable gags and the goddess-like figure Rose Bryne.

4. Albatross (June 2011 – EIFF)

Niall McCormick’s British coming-of-age film premiered at the 65th Edinburgh International Film Festival to rave reviews. Written by burgeoning writer Tamzin Refn, Albatross is a fully realised and thought-provoking piece of cinema, chock full of heart, depth and humour to boot. If Jessica Findlay-Brown doesn’t become a star, then there’s something seriously wrong with the world.

3. Black Swan (January 2011)

Granted, this film opened last year in America, but due to different release schedules it was early January before I had a chance to see Natalie Portman give an Academy Award winning performance in Darren Aronofsky’s daringly dark psychological ballet thriller. Hauntingly brilliant.

2. Submarine (March 2011)

Former IT Crowd actor Richard Ayoade made his directorial debut with the mesmerising, outlandish and warm-hearted indie comedy Submarine. The entire cast, not least relative newcomer Craig Roberts, delivered remarkable performances.

1. Blue Valentine (January 2011)

This emotionally crippling insight into one couple’s turbulent relationship shot Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams back into the limelight, and earned them a few dozen award nominations in the process. After years of suffering various unfortunate setbacks, Derek Cianfrance’s passion project came to fruition with such intensity that it was hard to ignore. From the offset I was hooked, so it’d be impossible for Blue Valentine not to be my top film of the year so far.

Films of notable interest: Hobo With A Shotgun, Trust, Project Nim, Attack The Block, Rango, The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec, Rubber, Pina 3D, Scream 4, Winnie The Pooh, Meek’s Cutoff, X-Men: First Class, The Silent House, 13 Assassins, Perfect Sense, Thor and Cave Of Forgotten Dreams.

Films to think no more of: Mars Needs Moms, Larry Crowne, Ghosted, I Am Number Four, The Rite, Faster, Chalet Girl, Red Riding Hood and Battle: Los Angeles.

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DVD Releases: June 27, 2011

Never Let Me Go

Director: Mark Romanek

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield

No Strings Attached

Director: Ivan Reitman

Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Kline

Yogi Bear

Director: Eric Brevig

Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Justin Timberlake and Anna Faris

Season Of The Witch

Director: Dominic Sena

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman and Claire Foy

Ghosted

Director: Craig Viveiros

Starring: John Lynch, David Schofield and Martin Compston

Meet Monica Velour

Director: Keith Bearden

Starring: Kim Cattrall, Dustin Ingram and Brian Dennehy

Cold Fish

Director: Shion Sono

Starring: Makoto Ashikawa, Denden and Mitsuru Fukikoshi

Cinema Releases: June 24, 2011

Incendies

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin andMaxim Gaudette

Ghosted

Director: Craig Viveiros

Starring: John Lynch, David Schofield and Martin Compston

Countdown To Zero

Director: Lucy Walker

Starring: Graham Allison, James Baker III and Bruce Blair

The First Grader

Director: Justin Chadwick

Starring: Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge and Oliver Litondo

Viva Riva!

Director: Djo Munga

Starring: Patsha Bay, Manie Malone and Hoji Fortuna

Review: Ghosted (2011)

Ghosted, a gritty and brutal prison drama, is the feature length debut from camera-operator and short filmmaker Craig Viveiros. The film centers on Jack (John Lynch), a model prisoner who has kept his head down and is close to completing his time. However, after his wife leaves him for another man, his final lifeline comes in the form a new, naive prisoner, Paul (Martin Compston). When Paul falls under the influence of the psychotic Clay (Craig Parkinson), Jack soon finds he must risk his own life and sanity to help the newcomer survive.

The action opens strongly, with a respectably concise introduction to the central characters. It may be sparse on dialogue, but it sets the film up well, despite the already overbearing cliches. From here, however, when it should be establishing a new take on the prison drama, it settles into a dull pace, full of easy to foretell twists, inmates with perennial problems, battles between characters for prison dominance and an ending that feels all too contrived to make any sort of lasting impact. The running time – clocking it at over 110 minutes – is ridiculous, and doesn’t do the overall product any favours.

Thankfully, then, Viveiros’ direction is something to celebrate, even managing to distract attention from the commonplace plot strands on several welcomed occasions. Apart from the overuse of self-indulgent mirror shots and unnecessary slow-motion, Ghosted is a pleasantly competent and accomplished piece of filmmaking, with some particularly striking and well executed scenes breaking up the strong sense of familiarity that runs throughout – most notably the merciless shower scene, a scene that represents Jack’s problems drowning him, and an incredibly brutal encounter towards the end that will have you flinching in your seat.

The acting is possibly Ghosted most noteworthy distinction. Compston, who’s been on the rise since being plucked from obscurity to star in Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen and was dazzling in last years shamefully underrated The Disappearance of Alice Creed, impresses as the emotionally disjointed Paul, while Parkinson delivers a fittingly admirable performance as the volatile Clay. But it’s Lynch as the unhinged Jack, who steals the show, bringing a truly tremendous level of depth and nobility to Jack’s damaged soul, particularly in the absorbing scenes shared with Compston’s Paul.

While acted in a more than satisfactory mannor and technically effective, Ghosted sadly fails to break free of vastly overdone prison drama cliches, instead becoming an overwrought and predestined misfire.