One of the frustrating things about Australian release dates for films is that they are usually day and date in alignment with American blockbuster films released in the middle of the year but when it comes to the independant films and Oscar season films, they are usually several months behind in their distribution. And given that most of those films are released in their country of origin at the end of the year, we often don’t get see them in Australia until the following year. As a result, films like True Grit and Black Swan which I think are widely identifiable as films of 2010 are actually 2011 releases in Australia. Is it better to do a list that excludes them or go with a list that contains ‘old’ films?
I’ve chosen to opt in and include these films.
And on that note, here is my pick for the ten best films released in Australia in 2011.
True Grit – Film of the Year
The Coen Brothers remake of True Grit was everything I hoped for. The Coen’s earlier films have always exhibited the characters, pace and sensibilities of a good Western and they certainly don’t disappoint in their first bona fide attempt at the genre. This adaptation is truer to the novel than the John Wayne version but more importantly, it is a film that plays to the strengths of all the players involved. Jeff Bridges is a fantastic Rooster Cogburn and he has two terrific foils in Hayley Stanfield and Matt Daemon. The film has moments of humour, heartbreak, tension and sadness. My favourite film of 2011.
This Slice of Life film from Mike Leigh is absolutely fantastic. It shows us a year in the lives of Tom and Jerry, a cheerful and sweet natured couple who have a long lasting marriage built on companionship, good food and gardening. Less happy are some of their friends who often need Tom and Jerry’s support to get them through their lives. This is a very modest but affecting film that has characters that really resonated with me and some of whom struck a very familiar chord with people I know in real life. Leigh’s eye for detail and ability to find a story in ordinary people is admirable. I wish more people saw this film.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
One of the most pleasant surprises of the year was how good Rise of the Planet of the Apes was. It’s directed by some guy I’ve never heard of and has the questionable choice of casting James Franco as a brilliant geneticist. And yet if there is any film that has come close to bringing me to tears in 2011, its Andy Serkis in his role as Caesar the chimpanzee. The look of sadness in his eyes when he sees the alzheimer-stricken Jon Lithgow get attacked…well, I won’t spoil what happens afterwards but its pretty awesome. I know Serkis won’t get an Oscar nomination for his role but he really, really should.
Similar to Another Year, Win Win is a film about well meaning, good hearted people going through tough times. I’ve long been a fan of director Tom McCarthy who previously made The Station Agent and The Visitor. Here he makes a film that is effectively about the average American going through the current tough economic climate and what consequences that carries. By the end of the film he offers an answer but its not an easy one.
Duncan Jones’ follow up to Moon is another excellent sci-fi film in the form of Source Code. The premise is an interesting one – a solider wakes up to find that he is aboard a train that only has minutes left before a bomb detonates on board. He then is given multiple opportunities to reshape the events of what happens on board the train and to locate both the the bomb and the terrorist. Things get complicated when he also starts to develop feelings for the girl sitting across from him. This is a great film and probably the first things since Donnie Darko that I’ve really enjoyed Jake Gyllenhaal in.
The beauty of Warrior is its simplicity. Two brothers compete in a mixed martial arts cage fighting tournament that has a prize money of a million dollars. One of them needs the money to save his family home from foreclosure. The other needs the money to support the widowed family of a comrade who died in the Iraq war. Not since Rocky has there been a more exhilerating and enjoyable combat movie such as this. Both Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are fantastic.
Red Dog is a thoroughly enjoyable Aussie outback film about a stray dog that helps bring together a small mining community. It sounds cheesy as hell, and it is, but its also a really enjoyable and earnest film that revels in its subject matter. Heaps of fun, has plenty of great Aussie character actors and a rather emotional ending.
Strangely enough, this might be both the most stylish and violent film of 2011. Nicolas Winding Refn’s film plays like an early Eighties Michael Mann film and has an absolutely killer soundtrack. Ryan Gosling plays a near-mute driver for hire who gets in over his head with some criminals and a girl he develops feelings for. The first half of the film is filled with slow tempo cool. Then, the moment that gangster fires the first shotgun blast, the whole thing shifts into another gear and becomes a brutal, intense action film.
One of the best comedies of the year was this fish-out-of-water tale about CIA inspector Don Cheadle travelling to Ireland to help the laconic, laid back Brendan Gleeson solve a speight of murders in a smalltown Irish village. As you would expect, these two experienced actors play off each other wonderfully well as the mismatched crime solving duo.
Attack the Block
Horror comedies are a rare thing but when they’re done well, there’s nothing better. Attack the Block is a film by Joe Cornish that has the unusual premise of an alien invasion set in a council flat in London. Equal parts funny and scary, this is a real treat and one of my favourites of the year.