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.

Review: Pina 3D (2011)

Twenty years in the making, Pina 3D is visionary filmmaker Wim Wenders’ tribute and love letter to German dance extraordinaire Pina Bausch.

The film is centered on four of Bausch’s most celebrated choreographies – Cafe Müller, The Rite of Spring, Vollmond and Kontakthof – intercut with personal memories of Bausch, related by various members of her international dance company Tanztheater Wuppertal. Wenders’ central focus, however, remains on the dances, bravely leaving Bausch herself as an elusive and mysterious figure.

The various dances – both newly filmed and presented from archive footage – are captured by Wenders in incredibly bold, enthralling and hugely cinematic ways. Whether it be indoors on the theatre stage, or outdoors – at traffic intersections, in parks, or on the monorail – Wenders uses bold cinematography to present viewers with a closer look at the beauty of Bausch’s unique vision.

The spellbinding fusion between dance and documentary proves dance as an incredibly evocative and powerful piece of cinema. By infusing the movements with 3D, Wenders shows that the spatial relationships on the stage can speak to people in different ways, giving us a all together better insight into Bausch’s work. Shots are composed, through vibrant colours or endless perspective, to ensure they make true sense in 3D: opting for the conventional 2D would be missing the point entirely.

As a novice myself, the experience was truly eye-opening: a beautiful and enthralling tribute to Bausch.Instead of employing 3D technology in an attempt to take focus attention away from the under-developed narrative like many recent films, Wenders uses it very carefully, only to accentuate and express the realism of dance. It may well be the best 3D film I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing.

To Wenders, cinema is an ongoing experiment. Pina 3D, whether you’re a dance lover or complete novice, wonderfully highlights this in a way that opens Bausch’s work up to a whole new audience, while never ignoring or sidelining Bausch’s die-hard followers and collaborators. It’s a truly majestic and enterprising piece of expressionist cinema.