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

UK Box Office: February 11 – 13, 2011

1. Gnomeo & Juliet – £2,945,627

2. The King’s Speech – £1,986,871

3. Tangled – £1,969,148

4. True Grit – £1,823,254

5. Yogi Bear – £1,820,405

6. Just Go With It – £1,628,265

7. Black Swan – £1,069,931

8. The Fighter – £1,002,454

9. Never Let Me Go – £625,496

10. Sanctum – £361,832

Cinema Releases: February 11, 2011

True Grit

Director: Joel and Ethan Coen

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld

Yogi Bear

Director: Eric Brevig

Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Justin Timberlake and Anna Faris

Never Let Me Go

Director: Mark Romanek

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield

Just Go With It

Director: Dennis Dugan

Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston and Brooklyn Decker

Gnomeo and Juliet

Director: Kelly Asbury

Starring: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt and Jason Statham

Nothing to Declare

Director: Dany Boon

Starring: Benoît Poelvoorde, Dany Boon and Julie Bernard

Review: Never Let Me Go (2010)

Never Let Me Go, Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s acclaimed and highly influential novel, chronicles the phases of three characters’ lives: Ruth, Kathy and Tommy, and marks his first film in nine years.

As children, Ruth, Kathy and Tommy (played by Ella Purnell, Izzy Meikle-Small and Charlie Rowe), spend their childhood at Hailsham, a seemingly idyllic English boarding school in the English countryside for children who are special.

As they grow into young adults (played by Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield), they move to The Cottages and find that they have to come to terms with the strength of the love they feel for each other, while preparing themselves for the haunting reality that awaits them.

Ishiguro’s gentle sci-fi concept is executed with sombre subtlety by Romanek and, despite Alex Garland’s sometimes too methodical screenplay, preserves an eerie sense of mystery and discerning dubiety in its translation to screen. These elements, in a bid to keep the film realistic, are wisely buried within a wholly human story, one about love, loss and empathy.

Romanek’s successful direction is highlighted in the great care he has for the source material and the characters that inhabit it. His remarkable skill comes to light in the way he presents the dystopian British countryside as beautiful yet bleak. It perfectly juxtaposes the beautiful lives everyday people lead with the bleak lives lead by the donors.

The three central performances are equally astounding, each superbly displaying repressed desperation and their desire to achieve true happiness. Mulligan’s exquisite beauty and incandescent quality make her perfect as Kathy, confirming her newly won status, while Garfield is undeniably arresting as the troubled Tommy.

Knightley, who is left with the trickier role, hits the right notes of disdainful faux-sophistication, holding her own as the vindictive Ruth, the manipulative force of nature who interferes with the lives of Tommy and Ruth.

The supporting actors – Charlotte Rampling, Sally Hawkins, Nathalie Richard, Domhall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough – hold their own against the powerful trio. Though none of them has much screen time, they all play their characters with conviction and restraint, further accentuating the central themes of loneliness and longing.

Rachel Portman’s etherial score, almost a character in itself, penetrates your heart, in a pondering, beautiful way that compliments, and often surmounts, the heart-rending narrative.

The only issue is with the sometimes irritatingly slow pacing, and the disproportionate narrative that works against audience involvement. This, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially considering the realistic and sinister themes the film explores – and is excellently concealed by the fantastic performances.

Never Let Me Go is not only a beautifully explorative, acted and directed piece of filmmaking, but a masterful adaptation and glorious cinematic achievement.