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 20, 2011

I Am Number Four

Director: D.J. Caruso

Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant and Dianna Agron

The Fighter

Director: David O. Russell

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale and Amy Adams

The Rite

Director: Mikael Håfström

Starring: Colin O’Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins and Ciarán Hinds

How Do You Know

Director: James L. Brooks

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd

Rabbit Hole

Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest

Howl

Director: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

Starring: James Franco, Todd Rotondi and Jon Prescott

Brighton Rock

Director: Rowan Joffe

Starring: Sam Riley, Andrea Riseborough and Helen Mirren

West Is West

Director: Andy DeEmmony

Starring: Aqib Khan, Om Puri and Linda Bassett

Review: The Rite (2011)

Loosely based on Matt Baglio’s novel The Rite: The Making of a Modern Excorcist, The Rite traces the experiences of Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), a young seminary student who discovers the true powers of faith when he’s drafted into the Vatican’s Exorcism School and confronted by the forces of darkness.

Mikael Håfström’s direction is competent, and makes full use of the wonderful city of Rome, but never breaks free from its bleak, by-the-numbers nature.

The script, by Michael Pertroni, is predictable, starting off placid and, aside from picking up slightly when Father Matthew enters, ends in a rushed, disappointing manner, one that predominantly sticks to the thoroughly-mined themes of previous exorcism-orientated horror films.

Fortunately, even with the film falling apart at the seams, Hopkins stays on form, continually shining. He plays Father Lucas as a smooth and effortlessly witty priest, in the vein of Hannibal Lector. Everything he does is interesting to watch, and somehow makes you believe you’re watching a very different, more compelling film.

It’s a shame, then, that the film continually pulls focus back to Kovak. While intriguing, O’Donoghue doesn’t have the zealous nature to hold audiences attention, and Kovak suffers for it, never achieving the powerful stance required, often coming across as plain boring.

The supporting cast, including turns from Ciarán Hinds, Alice Braga and Rutger Hauer, populate the background to great avail, delivering compelling performances in their shamefully limited roles.

The Rite, despite a solid turn from Hopkins, is ultimately a strained, predictable and largely irrelevant addition to the exorcism sub-genre.

Cinema Releases: February 25, 2011

Drive Angry 3D

Director: Patrick Lussier

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard and William Fichtner

No Strings Attached

Director: Ivan Reitman

Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher and Greta Gerwig

The Rite

Director: Mikael Håfström

Starring: Colin O’Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins and Ciarán Hinds

Animal Kingdom

Director: David Michôd

Starring: James Frecheville, Guy Pearce and Joel Edgerton

Howl

Director: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman

Starring: James Franco, Mary-Louise Parker and Jon Hamm

West Is West

Director: Andy DeEmmony

Starring: Aqib Khan, Om Puri and Linda Bassett

Waste Land

Director: Lucy Walker, Karen Harley and João Jardim

Starring: Vik Muniz

US Box Office: February 4 – 6, 2011

1. The Roommate – $15,600,000

2. Sanctum – $9,200,000

3. No Strings Attached – $8,400,000

4. The King’s Speech – $8,310,000

5. The Green Hornet – $6,100,000

6. The Rite – $5,565,000

7. The Mechanic – $5,370,000

8. True Grit – $4,750,000

9. The Dilemma – $3,448,000

10. Black Swan – $3,400,000

US Box Office: January 28 – 30, 2011

1. The Rite – $15,005,000

2. No Strings Attached – $13,650,000

3. The Mechanic – $11,500,000

4. The Green Hornet – $11,500,000

5. The King’s Speech – $11,102,000

6. True Grit – $7,600,000

7. The Dilemma – $5,476,000

8. Black Swan – $5,100,000

9. The Fighter – $4,055,000

10. Yogi Bear – $3,165,000