My 10 Favourite Films of 2011

In no particular order:

Tree of Life (dir. Terrence Malik)

Cinema, in part, is life writ large. Terrence Malik's masterpiece is life writ bloody humungous. Like an over-inflated sense of one's own awsomeness. Soft and tender, like the downy hairs on a frowning woman's face and floatily sensual like a helium-engorged silver cats head. Try and find it silly and pretentious and it will turn around and groggily hug the very softest membranes of your inner organs. Literally all of life is here, and it's a gossamer fist slid through a star-filled tube of gas. Why wouldn't you love it? It loves you.

A Separation (dir. Asghar Farhadi)

This isn't bad, trite, ill-observed, weak, emotionless, with nothing to say about people, Iran, the middle classes, working classes or religion. In fact it's the opposite. I hope my tone is conveying how good it is. Ha-ha. Now I'm grabbing you by the lapels and saying how wonderfully acted it is. Ha-ha. Now I'm shaking you. Perhaps you should see it.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (dir. Tomas Alfredson)

A fuggy, hand-rolled mix of elegant wallaper, age-aware-agents and unspoken irrelevant malice. Like breaking into an apartment untouched since the 70s to be told 'things are changing' by a group of immaculately dressed, highly intelligent, very sad, betrayed ghosts.

Of Gods & Men (dir. Xavier Beauvois)

Tremendous trapped trappists. This film is so much more than those 3, awesomely unimaginative words. Elegiac, haunting, loving and spiritual in a way that has nothing to do with those simpering, essential-oil burning, kaftan-wearing freaks who infect the very earth we walk on. The best use of music in a film this year.

True Grit (dir. Ethan CoenJoel Coen)

At this stage, the Coen Brothers don't care what you think. They just want to make a movie. As if by accident this one chimes with you. They complete you. A Western.

Submarine (dir. Richard Ayoade)

To a one-time insufferable, self-obsessed young adult whose belief that they are the centre of the universe over-rides their concern for others, I can jive with this joint. Its funny, different, confused and lovingly done. The film in my head is happy to include a reference to this film in a script that doesn't even fucking exist yet!

Green Lantern (dir. Martin Campbell)

A comic-book movie that acts and behaves like a comic-book movie. Funny, thrilling wish-fulfilment fantasy which speaks to anyone who ever just wished a purple chap would turn up and say "You are special. I'm making you a super-hero".  Just think! You would want that!!

Black Swan (dir. Darren Aronofsky)

If you're making a psychodrama, make sure you add a healthy, talking-apes-worth of psycho with that drama. What would happen if you took random snippets of everything written on Linkedin and then diffused them with a common-or-garden hand-spray onto a film about losing oneself. Then make it more-so. With an unhappy frown. And a mirror made crack'd with a sprinkle of mental. Dressed as a prettier version of a duck.

Senna (dir. Asif Kapadia)

Formula 1's greatest driver. If you like people who are far more talented than you will ever be in your miserable, fetid, bed-sitted life, you will like this. If you don't, you will like this. If you like Formula 1 then a petrol-fumed icing has just been applied liberally to what you call "my cake".

and finally a bit of TV derived from film...
This is England '88

Just like the film of the same name minus the 88 and This Is England 86, this is a drama with characters in. And by characters I mean real people on your vid-screen. And like in real life almost everyone is, at heart, benevolent, funny, thinking, breathing, sweating, copulating and being. Every line is delivered like words spoken from a mouth, every image make mundanity achingly pretty. The best drama on a TV. 


After Hours review (1985, dir. Martin Scorsese)

When did you last find yourself trapped somewhere on a night out? A tragic victim to fate when a potential encounter turned out to be something else or a wrong turn led to unheralded possibilities? I’ve more than once found myself wandering rain-washed streets long after the last train has rattled down the tracks of circumstance. I’ve no doubt neon signs reflected in pools of oily rain-water were involved too.

And that’s why I love After Hours.

A twisted, tormented trip through the dark streets of down-town Manhattan awaits Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) reminding us that hell can often be found on earth. The bare bones of this modern fable bring to mind Dante’s epic poem ‘Inferno’. Every time Paul escapes from one circle of tortured souls, he seems only to fall into another. Compounding his agony are characters who resurface only at the worst times to hound him and push him further into the depths. Franz Kafka is frequently referenced by the screenplay – in the book Paul reads, and in some of the dialogue which is lifted in whole sentences from Kafka’s writing. Writer Joseph Minion draws parallels with the anguish in the face of absurdity which characterizes Kafka’s stories.

After Hours can also be read as an emulation of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. A simple object, a ‘plaster-of-paris cream-cheese-bagel paperweight’ in this case, stands in for the White Rabbit, leading the protagonist down The Rabbit Hole into a dreamscape menagerie of weird creatures. Those who seem at first to be friends turn on the merest whim, while even an innocent request can be misconstrued by a paranoid brain. After Hours is New York. A collection of differing – dare I say ‘kooky’? – types thrown together in a confined space, rubbing up against each other with often explosive results.

It takes place over the space of a single night. Paul tries to pick up Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) in a coffee bar. Taking her number, his libido forces him to call right away on the pretence of collecting one of her roommate’s paperweights. He calls her and, after a strained conversation, travels to Soho in a taxi, losing all his money through the cab window. Paul is ensnared, unable to return home without a fare, frustratedly unable to progress his relationship with Marcy (has he misread the signals? Is she deeply scarred physically and emotionally?) and at the mercy of fate.

After Hours features some of my favourite US actors, including a perky turn from Terri Garr, a benevolent John Heard, a giddy Catherine O’Hara, stoner comedians Cheech & Chong and a hysterically disturbed turn from Rosanna Arquette. Other familiar faces turn up as bondage artistes, criminal low lives, punk clubbers and misunderstood gay men. Vertiginous camera moves and nervy acting from Griffin Dunne help propel a fast-paced narrative.

Watch After Hours in conjunction with King of Comedy as an exploration of Scorsese’s black comedy oeuvre. Stylistically this certainly feels like the same New York as Taxi Driver. Or show the film to someone as a historical lesson on what a night out was like before the ubiquity of cash machines and mobile phones. For anyone who remembers those ‘dark ages’ it will strike chord and possibly make one yearn for a time when it was possible to be truly alone in a city.