Wednesday, 28 December 2011

My Top Five Films of 2011

I’ve started writing a Top Five every year.

I only include films that have been released in 2011 (incidentally, the best film I have actually seen this year was 2004’s Before Sunset) and there are some big films that I haven’t seen so I cannot give an opinion on Melancholia, Tree of Life, Arrietty, Submarine and several others.

Equally, there are lots of great films that didn’t make the cut, namely Black Swan, Kill List, Tintin, Harry Potter VIII and my controversial triple-bill of guilty pleasures: Scream 4, Fright Night and Thor.

So here are my Top Five films of 2011:


Duncan Jones followed his smash debut Moon with another superb sci-fi flick. Source Code is essentially Groundhog’s Day on a train, whereby a marine (Jake Gyllenhaal) must keep re-living the final twelve minutes of a train bomb victim’s life until he discovers the bomber’s identity. A brilliant example of proper sci-fi and not just an excuse for an action film (see Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I Robot, etc), this is clever stuff and riddled with clues to reward repeat viewing. Meanwhile, it remains accessible sci-fi, never failing to hit the right emotional and entertaining notes to ensure mainstream popularity.


It is easy to forget Oscar season when reviewing 2011 but Tom Hooper’s award-storming masterpiece should not be overlooked. Amidst the hype lies a very good film, in equal parts well-directed, well-acted, well-scripted and well-designed. Colin Firth gives the performance of his career (and possibly the year) whilst Geoffrey Rush is on scene-stealing top form. And who would have thought a 1930s-era British film about speech therapy would be such a feel-good, laugh-out-loud success. This is the regal Good Will Hunting.


A modern-day Taxi Driver, Drive was the coolest film of the year. Director Nicolas Winding Refn was guilty of style-over-story with his 2008 Bronson but here he strikes the perfect balance of both. As such, we have beautifully-directed shots, well-crafted slow-motion and hyper-violence combined with an unpredictable plot and intriguing character arcs as Ryan Gosling’s getaway driver takes on gangsters. It is also boasts the best soundtrack of the year.


Woody Allen is still going strong at 75 and this year he returned with Midnight in Paris. It contains all the staples of a Woody Allen classic – romance, quick wit, lengthy focus on forming and deteriorating relationships – but it also introduces a new twist: fantasy. Owen Wilson’s Gil travels back in time to 1920s Paris at midnight each night and meets Hemingway, Dali, Picasso and the Fitzgeralds. Allen’s writing is as sharp as ever and he has a lot of fun playing with our expectations of these characters, Extras-style. It is charming, sweet, whimsical and thought-provoking with no small amount of magic. In short, it is a Woody Allen film.


In many ways, Hugo is the true Pixar film of 2011. Hugo shares all the trademarks of a Pixar classic: it looks beautiful, the 3-D is well-utilised (the best since Avatar), it doesn’t shy away from adult characters or content and for every laugh there is a tear. Most surprisingly, the director at the helm is none other than Martin Scorsese, who has put aside violent adult masterpieces for a child-friendly triumph. Scorsese’s influence is most evident in the lengthy tribute to silent cinema which occupies much of the film, specifically the work of Georges Méliès. Scorsese has used cutting-edge technology to educate a whole new generation of children about silent movies – a winning combination. Hugo is more than a great film – Hugo is about film. Add to that accomplished child actors, a triumphant Howard Shore score and an unrivalled supporting cast and you have the most enchanting film of 2011. And tragically, more people went to see The Smurfs.

Film 2011. Worst. Year. Ever.

It has been widely-agreed that 2011 was a lacklustre year for film.

Many highly-anticipated films did not live up to their hype (127 Hours, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and others were just plain awful (Cowboys & Aliens, Sucker Punch). It was a year of pointless sequels (Hangover 2, Transformers 3, Pirates 4), unnecessary remakes (Conan, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and filling-the-void superhero films (The Green Lantern, The Green Hornet, Captain America). The output of 3-D fodder reached an all-time high and children’s cinema reached an all-time low, often at the same time (The Smurfs, Yogi the Bear, Chipwrecked). Oscar season was underwhelming with only The King’s Speech and Black Swan entering into five-star territory. Even Pixar misfired with Cars 2.

Nevertheless, it has been a great year to write about cinema. I have continued to write for Intuition Online, I attended my first film festival (Empire Magazine’s Big Screen) and I created my very own film website: The Big Fairbanski. The content is coming in 2012.

Also, coming in 2012, is probably the best year of cinema since 1999: The Dark Knight Rises, Superman: Man of Steel, The Amazing Spiderman, The Avengers, Brave, Skyfall, John Carter, Prometheus, The Muppets and a little independent movie called The Hobbit.

As such, maybe 2011 was a necessary sacrifice to keep audiences occupied whilst the studios worked on the big dogs.

In which case, bring on 2012.

REVIEW: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Spy films have grown serious of late. The Bourne films have boasted a handheld, shot-on-location hyper-realism whilst even the good old Bond franchise has toned down its hallmark gimmicks for the gritty Daniel Craig reboot. Thank goodness then for Mission Impossible.

The Tom Cruise spy capers have helped fill the void for those lamenting the loss of traditional Bond films. They keep alive many of the much-loved motifs: ridiculously attractive field agents, unfeasibly cool gadgets, over-the-top set pieces and a healthy dosage of one-liners. It is almost the American answer to the Roger Moore Bond era.

However, note the emphasis on almost. The Mission Impossible films are still suffering from the same mistakes, four films and four directors into the series. Ethan Hunt is as bland as ever, regardless of how much charm Tom Cruise injects into him. He is essentially a cardboard cut-out action man. This is great for film-makers and has allowed four completely different approaches to the Mission Impossible films but barely connects with the audience. Even Bond had martinis, cars and a catchphrase.

Also, the villains are lacking yet again. The evil mastermind (played by a miscast Michael Nyqvist) is forgettable and his henchmen even more so. They are merely an excuse for punches to be thrown and offer no memorable scenes or dialogue or trademarks between them. In short, this series is desperately lacking a Blofeld.

But nobody goes to see these films for the characters. The Mission Impossible films have always delivered on action and fans will not be disappointed. This time, cool set pieces include: a Moscow prison break, a Kremlin heist, a sandstorm chase scene, a car lift melee and the much-publicised climb up the Burj Khalifa. Each delivers, although clearly they were planned first and the story was loosely tailored around them. As such, the film feels like a sketch show. Even the unrivalled Burj Khalifa scene is tainted with lengthy scenes of exposition explaining the logistics of the plan again and again.

Nevertheless, director Brad Bird can walk away from this film with his head held high. Having previously helmed Pixar favourites The Incredibles and Ratatouille, Bird was an unusual choice for a live-action Tom Cruise vehicle. However, animated films are not without their action scenes and Bird’s experience clearly shows in his confidently-executed direction. Bird was also a writer for The Simpsons and knows exactly how to inject some humour into proceedings, mostly through Simon Pegg or just Tom Cruise banging his face in action scenes. Animation directors are finally being taken seriously and Bird has paved the way for Andrew ‘Finding Nemo’ Stanton’s live-action debut with John Carter due next year.

Ultimately, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is a mixed bag like its three previous instalments. But the Mission Impossible films have always been an excuse to showcase a director at their best: Brian De Palma, John Woo, JJ Abrams and now Brad Bird. The latest instalment promises two hours of bonkers action, good-looking stars, Bond gadgets and fun. And on that, it delivers. Mission accomplished.