Attack the Block
(dir. Joe Cornish)
Alien invasion movies come a dime a dozen, but there are few as fresh and intriguing as Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block. Set in inner city London, the film follows a group of young hoodlums who have to defend their apartment block against aggressive alien invaders. The result is the most refreshing entertainment from 2011, boasting great atmosphere, a dynamic cast of young characters, a memorable score and classic, practical special effects.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
(dir. Werner Herzog)
Werner Herzog is the master of the esoteric documentary and Cave of Forgotten Dreams may be the most important documentary he has ever made. It is part art history lesson, part examination of the birth of humanity as Herzog takes you into the Chauvet Caves in France, home to the world’s oldest known paintings, dating 30,000 years. See it in 3D if you can because the added dimension will make the cave drawings so real, you’ll feel like you can reach out and touch them.
(dir. Abbas Kiarostami)
Often films that deal with profound philosophical questions are pretentious and divorced from reality. Luckily, Certified Copy is neither. Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami crafts a very human tale dealing with the question of whether a copy is as meaningful as an original. It focuses entirely on one day in rural Italy where a French shopkeeper (Juliette Binoche) and an English writer (William Shimell) decide to take a drive and see the region. Along the way, their conversations and situations reveal that their relationship may not be what it seems, and point to greater truths of human experience.
Into the Abyss
(dir. Werner Herzog)
Into the Abyss is Werner Herzog’s examination of a triple homicide in Texas and all the people involved, the still-grieving family members of the victims, the police officers, the prison wardens and the killers, one of whom is on death row scheduled to be executed mere days after Herzog’s interview with him. With this documentary, Herzog takes a step back from the subject matter, refusing to add his own narration or commentary on the proceedings. He lets the events and the people speak for themselves. The result is a profound portrait of the moral failure of humanity.
(dir. Steve James)
The Interrupters is an honest and fascinating documentary exploring how to combat gang culture and street violence. Documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams) follows one year in the life of violence interrupters in Chicago, ex-gang members who have dedicated their lives to stopping violent encounters between gangs and helping towards a healing process in broken inner city communities.
James lets the camera roll unobstructed allowing the city to speak for itself. The result is a film that shows the immense problems that inner city communities face, but also some hope in how to combat such problems. It breaks down social problems to the level of the individual, and paints even the most violent offender as nothing less than a fully formed human being.
(dir. Lars von Trier)
It is hard to imagine a more beautiful depiction of the end of the world. Controversial Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is an exquisite portrait of depression, following two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), as they grapple with their own anxiety and family issues — all while a planet hurtles forward in space on a collision course with Earth. Von Trier doesn’t pull any punches when depicting Justine’s depression and the film will likely leave viewers feeling drained, but in awe of its beauty.
(dir. Steve McQueen)
With Shame, Steve McQueen, the British director behind Hunger, makes another hard-hitting drama starring Michael Fassbender. With gorgeous visuals, impeccable craftsmanship and a fearless performance by Fassbender, Shame is an explicit examination of a sex addict who spends his days surfing porn and his nights having sex with strangers. Through its performances and visuals, McQueen and Fassbender make Shame as powerful a portrait of addiction as Requiem for a Dream and The Lost Weekend.
(dir. Jeff Nichols)
This was quite the year for apocalyptic films. In Take Shelter Michael Shannon plays Curtis, a father and husband who is tormented by dreams of an apocalyptic storm. His family has a history of mental illness, so Curtis is unsure whether he is seeing prophetic visions of the future or succumbing to his own genetic flaws. Take Shelter is a haunting exploration of mental illness and also the most unconventional and lastingly unsettling horror film of the year.
Winnie the Pooh
(dir. Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall)
There are few fictional characters as lovable as Winnie the Pooh and Disney’s latest film following the lovable bear is the most true to the classic books by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard. The simplicity of the animation, the gentle humour, the classic songs sung by Zooey Deschanel and the good-natured plot driven by confusion and misunderstanding make Winnie the Pooh the perfect film for children and children-at-heart.
(dir. Jason Reitman)
Every high school had her: the popular, beautiful, bitchy girl with the jock boyfriend who seemed impervious to the problems of life and scornful of anyone worse than her. Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody’s Young Adult explores this character, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), 20 years after high school, where seemingly nothing about her has changed. Young Adult is awkward and hilarious and painfully accurate in depicting the arrested development of a generation. Its greatest strength is that it makes us care about Mavis, no matter how nasty and unappealing an individual she is.