Tuesday, 13 December 2011


In what was a solid if not spectacular year for films, I find myself unable to nominate – for the third year running – a #1 favourite film. Call it a cop-out (I'll pay that) but I've listed, in alphabetical order, 10 films I really enjoyed, connected with and, in some cases, truly loved in 2011.*

And with some of those, I've mentioned another film which shares similarities and I'd suggest checking out, as well as an Honourable Mentions list for films that I also enjoyed but just missed out on a place in the 10.

As always, feel free to question my choices but also to provide a list (not necessarily as many as 10) of your own favourite films of 2011.

*Note: lists are compiled from films released in Australian cinemas between January 15, 2011 and January 15, 2012.

For mine, the funniest film of 2011. Yes it’s overlong but then what wedding isn’t? Writer-star Kristen Wiig’s female buddy comedy put the men to shame this year, disproving the ridiculous theory that women aren’t funny. Bridesmaids was also a terrific showcase of female talent, with Melissa McCarthy the standout.

Special Mention: The Help. Not a comedy but a wonderful female ensemble which I'm not ashamed to say, brought me to tears both times I saw it. Jessica Chastain, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis all deserve awards attention.

Arguably the coolest film of the year, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s homage to the cars and heist B-films of the ’80s was assisted greatly by Cliff Martinez’s score and Ryan Gosling’s intensely quiet performance.

Rejuvenated by a change of locale, Woody Allen’s delightful paean to nostalgia, as well as the titular City of Lights, was one of the year’s gems. An impressive cast – Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Corey Stoll, and a luminous Marion Cotillard – brought Paris, of 2011 and the 1920s, to wondrous life.

Only the tiniest, blackest of hearts will fail to be charmed by the big screen return of The Muppets. Using that hoary old chestnut of “putting on a show”, Kermit, Miss Piggy and the rest of the gang sing, dance and joke their way through a film that will have adults regressing into childhood and leaving the cinema with a smile on their face and a song in their heart. Opens January 12.

My favourite documentary of 2011 looked at the relationship between man and beast, and found man to be seriously lacking. A 1970s experiment to teach chimps sign language went from good to bad to nightmare for Nim Chimpsky, the chimp involved, when his humans ignored his inherent nature and then abandoned him when it outed and the funds expired. James Marsh's doco was an eye-opener and a heartbreaker.

Special Mention: Rise of the Planet of the Apes. One of the year's biggest surprises, this prequel/reboot was smarter than expected, helped greatly by one of the best performances of the year: Andy Serkis's Caesar.

Easily the best animated film of 2011, Gore Verbinksi’s tale of a chameleon (voiced by Johnny Depp) suffering an identity crisis was a film buff’s delight. Owing a great debt to Polanski’s Chinatown, and a great many Westerns, Rango boasted a distinctive look and a structure as ornery as many of its characters.

A serial killer film made all the more scary for being based on fact: the infamous 'bodies in the barrels' murders in South Australia. Debuting director Justin Kurzel created a sense of dread and foreboding, while Daniel Henshall's chilling portrayal of killer John Bunting was one of the year's best performances and the stuff of nightmares.

Special Mention: We Need To Talk About Kevin. A similar sense of dread pervades Lynne Ramsey's nightmare of a domestic nature, starring an as-always terrific Tilda Swinton. Kevin made one seriously rethink their views on parenthood.

The best Steven Spielberg film of 2011 wasn’t by that director at all but by fan and one-time assistant, J.J. Abrams. A smartly crafted homage to the early works of Spielberg (particularly E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), Super 8 was a kids-and-aliens film with a lot of heart – and a helluva lot of flare lensing!

Special Mention: Attack The Block. The other kids-and-aliens film of 2011, Joe Cornish's debut feature was made on the catering budget of Super 8 but was super impressive just the same.

Did any other film polarise audiences so much this year? Most critics loved Terrence Malick's first film in seven years (and just his fifth in 40 years) but the general public were less enthused. Some walked out, others wanted to. But those who stayed – and stayed openminded – were treated to something beautiful and rare. In relating the creation of the universe and the meaning of life with a 1950s Texas family, Malick's grasp may have exceeded his reach but I'd prefer that to the alternative.

A remake of the John Wayne classic was made wholly original thanks to the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, and leading men Jeff Bridges (in the Rooster Cogburn role) and Matt Damon. But the real star was young Hailee Steinfeld, making her film debut as the determined Mattie Ross. One of the best LEAD performances of the year.

Barney's Version, Beginners, Bill Cunningham New York, The Fighter, Hugo, Oranges and Sunshine, Source Code, Submarine, Take Shelter, Win Win.


  1. Nice list Dwayne! With the exception of Bridesmaids, I liked all of these films a lot. Great to see Nim and Rango there. I think they are unique choices that likely won't appear on many other lists. Most of these are going to appear somewhere in my Top 30 - which I hope to post later today!

  2. Your dislike for Bridesmaids is duly noted, sir. Rango deserves recognition as the best animated film of the year (take note Academy!), and Project Nim made me sad and angry both times I saw it - humans suck! I look forward to reading your list, Andy, and starting all over again in the new year.

  3. An excellent cross-section of entries there. Glad to see some love for 'Bridesmaids' (just not in the comments section apparently), along with 'Rango', Woody and 'Nim'. Anybody who thinks that 2011 wasn't a great year for film needs to take a look at these lists again. Nicely done, sir!

  4. Thanks Richard. I've watched Bridesmaids twice in the last week and it still cracks me up; it's not perfect but damn it's funny! Besides, if the New York Times' two senior critics can include it in their Top 10's so can I!

    BTW I think I may have said it wasn't a great year for film, mea culpa. I look forward to reading your list when it's posted.

  5. I didn't mean to undermine your selection of Bridesmaids. I think its a bold and admirable inclusion. Everyone's lists are unique and their own - and this is a top list. Great blend of genres and arty/mainstream. Here's to another great year of cinema. Despite coming up with a Worst Of list that went pretty deep, I loved 2011 for film - and meeting yourself and Richard this year has been a pleasure indeed.

  6. Sorry, that's not what I meant re: Bridesmaids. You're not the only one who didn't like it; the Herald's Sandra Hall wasn't a fan either. We'll agree to disagree ;) Here's to more discussion and debate in the new year.

  7. Oh I see. Yeah for sure, disagreeing creates great discussion. I felt like I might have unintentionally attacked your selection, which I felt bad about. Sorry. Yes, bring on 2012 - and all those great films you've seen that I haven't haha. Iron Lady tonight :-/

  8. I'm surprised to see Snowtown and Super 8 on your list. I liked both, but didn't think you would like them that much.
    My favourites for 2011:
    True Grit
    The Tree Of Life
    I Saw The Devil
    Take Shelter
    We Need To Talk About Kevin
    The Future
    Harry Potter
    My favourite film for 2011:
    The Human Centipede 2
    Least favourite films:
    Your Highness
    Sucker Punch

  9. Thanks for your list, Aaron. I loved Super 8 (old school Spielberg) and while I squirmed all the way through Snowtown (and I'll probably never watch it again), it was one of the experiences of 2011.

    Wishing now I had put The Future in my Honourable Mentions; look forward to seeing it again on DVD in Feb.

    Not surprised to see you list Drive as one of your least favourite (critics everywhere will be hunting you down!) but am surprised to see Human Centipede 2 as your fave! Controversial. Then again, you're the only person I know who's seen it so I can't argue against it.

    Thanks for all your support in 2011, Aaron, and here's to a great year of film in 2012!

  10. Again no number 1 D?! Pfft.

    My faves this year were Black Swan, True Grit (were they really 2011?), Rango, The Help, Horrible Bosses, Super 8, Harry Potter, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Red Dog, MI4.

  11. It seems to be becoming a tradition - just to annoy you! ;) Hard to believe BS and TG were all the way back in January last year (now). True Grit was the first film I saw in 2011 and was my #1 for a very long time.

    Wow, you saw Red Dog? Wow, you saw an Australian film? Lol. All good picks there, including MI4, a really enjoyable action flick.

    Here's to even more trips to the movies together in 2012!