Films seen in the cinema in the second half of 2011

With the award season finished, it’s seems as good a time as any to very belatedly talk about the other films I saw in the cinema in 2011 (I discussed the first six months in these two posts). An aside: I’m begrudgingly happy that The Artist has done so well (I can’t be angry that a black and white, mostly silent French film is being celebrated) but, although I thought it was a very good film that I enjoyed, I don’t think it was the best film of the year.

A note: now that I’m a freelancer, my schedule isn’t as flexible as it was, so my cinema going was completely banjaxed in the second half of 2011, and there were lots of movies that I wanted to see but missed (Super 8, Hugo, My Week With Marilyn, Crazy Stupid Love, Moneyball, Tyrannosaurus, The Guard, Midnight In Paris …), which means that this list of films is going to seem pretty anaemic and eclectic.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Already reviewed: see here.

Captain America: The First Avenger
Already reviewed: see here.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Despite the fact that I read comics, I don’t have the love affair with talking apes which seems endemic in the medium, nor have I any particular love for the series of Planet of the Apes films (although I do enjoy the original). This meant I wasn’t expecting much going in to this film, which led to a pleasant surprise: this was one of the really good blockbusters. Directed by the chap who made The Escapist (a good small British film, with Brian Cox, set in a prison), it told a good story in a clear fashion, with a great combination of Andy Serkis’s motion-capture acting and fantastic CGI to make you believe in Caesar, the chimpanzee who could. It takes its time, builds to the big action climax and earns its emotions. DAVE

Cowboys and Aliens
I tend to do full reviews for films that are based on comic books, which this film technically is; however, the execution and origins (it started out as a title and one-sheet instead of there being an actual story, an impromptu pitch that was bought and then took ages to enter production, with the comic book acting as a piece of advertising to re-energise the flagging fortunes of the movie before it was actually made) meant that I couldn’t summon the willpower to write anything. It’s all right; the build-up and sense of mystery of the idea (which is a good concept: dangerous aliens in the Wild West) are perfectly fine, but once you find out what it’s about (the aliens want gold? Really?) and we get the action climax, it ripples into shore like a soft tide instead of a crashing wave. The actors are fine, although Harrison Ford mumbles throughout the film, and the direction is adequate, but it slips out of the mind as soon as the credits roll. DA

One Day
I haven’t read the book, although I have read David Nichols’ first book, Starter For Ten, and enjoyed the film adaptation (like me, Nichols went to the University of Bristol, which influenced the book even though it didn’t implicitly state the location). However, I will never read this book because of how much I didn’t enjoy the film: it was bad enough spending nearly two hours with the annoying male lead character; there is no way on earth that I will sit down to read about him. I’m sure the book is a better place for this story, but it didn’t stop my loathing of the egotistical, stupid, vain, arrogant, self-obsessed idiot of a man for whom the female lead inexplicably holds a torch since their university days. Anne Hathaway is a good actress but the accent was pretty poor, and her character is interesting (if a little too perfect), but it couldn’t compensate for me wanting to repeatedly punch the male lead in the face any time he was on screen. D

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Thank goodness for an excellent book adaptation: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was the best film (and perhaps my favourite ‘best’ film) of 2011. I hadn’t read the book or seen the well-known BBC adaptation with Alec Guinness, but it didn’t matter: this was superb cinema, absorbing and entertaining, making you pay attention without losing you, recreating a bygone era with ease and with one of the best casts of the year giving perfect performances. Gary Oldman in particular was fantastic: keeping everything controlled so that when the emotion is exposed, it has a huge impact. I also loved how the film played with my expectation of the mole, based on the casting and playing with the reasons for why the mole should be the mole, which left me smiling for the rest of the day. Wonderful. DAVID

I was surprised to see this film on so many ‘Best Of’ lists because it’s not the sort of movie you expect to make it there; it’s extremely violent, it oozes style, it has a taciturn lead, an unusual score and is very much its own thing. All the actors are good, the directing is good and Ryan Gosling became a star, all in a film where the lead drives a car and wears a unique jacket. DAVE

We Need To Talk About Kevin
The worthiest title on my list, an adaptation of a supposedly unfilmable book with a thoroughly miserable premise: the film follows Tilda Swinton as a woman trying to cope with life after a traumatic event, intercutting to scenes in her life from courting her eventual husband (John C Reilly) and the birth and growth of their son (the child who plays him as a baby really looks quite evil). It is extremely well done, with an unnerving atmosphere and really good performances, particularly from the always great Swinton, but it’s not exactly an enjoyable film, if you know what I mean. DAVE

Adventures of Tintin
Already reviewed: see here.

The Ides Of March
This is an enjoyable political drama, with George Clooney directing himself as a governor trying to win the Democratic nomination, but it is mostly about Ryan Gosling as his upcoming PR man who discovers the difference between his ideals and the reality of politics. There are lots of great performances from good actors (Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright, Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a good turn from Evan Rachel Wood, who is the hook on which the plot turns. Clooney does a great job directing in an unfussy, clean fashion, making for a classy movie about modern politics. DVD

A very modern disaster movie: instead of climate change (The Day After Tomorrow), apocryphal Mayan predictions (2012) or the Rapture (Knowing), the population of the world is in danger from a virus, with specific reference to the recent bird/swine flu epidemics. Steven Soderbergh gathers a famous cast (always important for a classy disaster movie) and tells the story in an upscale documentary style, charting the movement of an incredibly infectious and destructive flu-like disease as it wipes out a significant portion of the US population. The story is believable and powerful, imagining the army being called in to quarantine cities, the looting of pharmacies, people trying to make money from death, and a lottery for vaccinations. It even gets the science right (even if it does have the scientists explaining things to each other in a fashion that they wouldn’t if they were having a normal conversation that wasn’t in a movie), which only adds to the plausibility. After watching this film, you won’t go near another human being who has a sniffle or cough, and you will wash your hands all the time. DAVE

The cancer comedy that works: even though it has Seth Rogen in it (whose presence in a film I find disrupting, with his mewing delivery and overpowering presence), this is a funny and moving film about a young man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) whose life changes when he finds out he has a rare cancer. Based on the experience of the writer’s own life (which is amazing in itself), it is believable and touching without being worthy or mawkish. Gordon-Levitt is very good, demonstrating an ability to bring out small moments in a character who is not perfect but without descending into easy sentiment to achieve emotional weight. I’m not ashamed to admit that a tear was brought to my eye. It is also very funny (I liked the line, after a pre-emptive head shaving: ‘I look like Voldemort’) at the same time as being serious, which is a very tricky balance to accomplish. DAVE

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
The first Sherlock Holmes film directed by Guy Ritchie was a pleasant surprise and an enjoyable bit of fun, so I was rather looking forward to this sequel. I wasn’t disappointed: the bromance between Downey Jr and Law was as good, Stephen Fry provided laughs as Mycroft (I liked that he called his brother Shirley – has anyone else done that before?), Jared Harris was excellent as Moriarty, channelling intelligence and evil in a great fashion, and I really liked the climax at Reichenbach Falls. The problem was with the women, or the lack of them: Noomi Rapace had to be shoehorned into the plot very inelegantly, just so there was a woman in the main story, with Kelly Reilly quickly shunted to the sidelines, but the worst was (this is a spoiler but it happens early, so it doesn’t matter too much) the needless killing of Irene Adler, just to prove that Moriarty is evil. You do not dispose of The Woman in such a cavalier fashion. Wrong, wrong, wrong. DVD

[Explanation of my updated film rating system]

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