Looking back, it’s been a strong year for films, with 13 receiving four stars in our reviews and 2 getting four and a half. Nothing’s perfect, you see.
At the other end of the table, we’ve had 7 films scoring an embarrassing one and a half stars and 2 getting just one, but we had to wait until New Year’s Eve to find a film that didn’t even deserve a full star.
As the law of averages might suggest, the most common rating was the 3 star film.
Let’s first take a look at our highlights of the year, grouped by star-rating and in chronological order:
FOUR AND A HALF STARS
THE KING’S SPEECH – OK, so it scooped all the big prizes at the awards for the best films of last year, but we didn’t get this gem of British cinema here in the UK until the first week of this year, so it’s a 2011 release for us. Star Colin Firth and director Tom Hooper collected Oscars for this heart-warming, rousing and gently comic tale of the King George VI’s battle with his stammer. Support, to perfection, provided by Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter.
50/50 – Already featuring on some of the awards nominations lists for the coming months, Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a journalist coming to terms with a diagnosis of cancer in a heart-warming and mature comedy. Based on writer Will Reiser’s own experiences, as he was helped through his recovery by friend Seth Rogen, who fictionalises his real-life role on screen. Anna Kendrick and Anjelica Houston join an exemplary supporting cast, adding to the laughs and tears.
THE FIGHTER – Alcoholic, washed-up boxer Christian Bale coaches his brother Mark Wahlberg to become a world-class champion boxer.
SUBMARINE – Sit-com actor Richard Ayoade turns writer-director to bring us the coming-of-age story of a Welsh teenager, Craig Roberts, trying to keep his life – and his parents – together.
SOURCE CODE – Moon director Duncan Jones followed up his impressive debut with an exciting, thought-provoking and thoroughly original thriller, with Jake Gyllenhaal as a soldier who is transported into the body of a train passenger, to try to prevent a dirty bomb attack on Chicago.
TRUST – A surprisingly sensitive and mature directorial outing from Friends actor David Schwimmer, with teenaged newcomer Liana Liberato falling for a boy she meets online, who turns out to be a middle-aged paedophile.
CELL 211 – The only foreign language film of the year on our list, cheated to a place on other awards lists by virtue of it sharing its nationality with Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, Cell 211 sees a new prison guard being trapped inside a high security Madrid prison when the menacing Luis Tosar leads a riot by the inmates.
SUPER 8 – JJ Abrams directs a Spielberg-produced tale of aspiring film-maker teenagers stumbling across evidence of aliens being held captive by the US military in smalltown America, in a film that has all the magical wonder of ET – well, not quite all, but it’s on the way.
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY – Let The Right One In director Tomas Alfredson brings John Le Carré’s classic spy novel to the screen with understated elegance, boosted by flawless cast, including Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth.
DRIVE – The first – and best – of three tremendous performances from Ryan Gosling, here as a film stunt-driver by day and getaway driver by night, whose personal life gets tied up with ruthless gangsters when he falls for a married neighbour and his boss borrows money from a gangster.
CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE – Ryan Gosling returns as a lothario who takes pity on the frumpy middle-aged Steve Carrell, who’s just been rejected by his elegant wife, Julianne Moore, teaching him how to attract women as they form an unlikely friendship.
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS – Woody Allen returns to somewhere near his best form as Owen Wilson takes over the director’s screen persona in a love-letter to his new favourite city, as he takes a magical journey back to the abdundantly creative Paris of the early twentieth century.
THE IDES OF MARCH – Ryan Gosling is back as a key member of the backroom team of George Clooney’s presidential candidate, in Clooney’s mature and incisive assessment of the machinations of American politics.
THE DEEP BLUE SEA – Rachel Weisz, already an Oscar winner for A Constant Gardener, gives a career best performance as the lovelorn younger wife of a frigid judge, seeking passion with Tom Hiddleston’s returning Second World War veteran, in a stunning adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play by Terence Davies.
THE ARTIST – In the most talked about film of the end of 2011, Michel Hazanavicius pays homage to the days of silent film with a faithful recreation of the genre, to bring us the ficticious story of the biggest film star of the time, falling out of favour as the younger generation lap up the new talking pictures.
A few of the films that just missed our cut, with a thoroughly creditable three and a half stars, deserve a quick mention too. There were twenty four films on this list, so I’ll remind you of just a few others worth chasing up or catching when you can: Snowtown, Jane Eyre, 30 Minutes or Less, You Instead, We Need to Talk about Kevin and Super.
But the year wouldn’t be complete without reminding readers which films to avoid on video and TV. These failures have sunk to the bottom of the pile through a range of misdemeanours, including – but by no means limited to – incompetence and complacency. Again, listed by star-rating and chronologically:
ONE AND A HALF STARS
HOW DO YOU KNOW – Paul Rudd is a rudderless leading man, ensuring that we’re rooting for a different guy from the film-makers in this so-called romantic comedy that’s so ill-prepared that they couldn’t even get around to giving it a question mark.
JUST GO WITH IT – Once you’ve seen the poster, you’ll know what happens and can save yourself two hours of watching a film that claims to be a sweet, romantic comedy but is actually a devious film about how to crush the heart of a sweet, naive, loving and gorgeous young woman, whose only crime is to fall in love with an emotionally unavailable older idiot.
RED RIDING HOOD – A confused fairytale for the Twilight generation, clichés abound as Amanda Seyfried struggles to choose between two suitors – three, if you include the werewolf, tearing the village apart, with whom she alone seems to be able to converse.
ARTHUR – Retreading the footsteps of the shorter and greater man, Dudley Moore, Russell Brand shows that however funny he is when he’s playing himself, he’s not funny when he’s trying to play someone else.
GREEN LANTERN – Ryan Reynolds as the eponymous super hero, whose power – derived from a lantern he gets from a dying alien policeman – is to be able to create anything he thinks of out of green energy and turn his skin into a cool, green, super-hero outfit.
ONE DAY – How a book that led to this could have been such a success is beyond me, as it breaks every convention of film, spending the best part of two hours revealing how Anne Hathaway comes to be riding her bike through London, 18 years to the day after meeting Jim Sturgess on her graduation night.
THE FUTURE – After her quirky success Me And You And Everyone We Know, writer/director/star Miranda July delivers a quirky failure about a couple who grow apart as they wait for their talking cat to have its broken paw fixed by the vet.
LOVES KITCHEN – A completely misjudged romantic drama from an archetypal jack-of-all-trades, as James Hacking used his own money to pay the likes of Dougray Scott, Claire Forlani, Simon Callow and Gordon Ramsay to people his mawkish film about a bereaved big-time chef who’s coerced out of his shell by the opportunity to win over a country community with his cuisine.
LARRY CROWNE – Director Tom Hanks should have known better than to deliver such a disappointing excuse for what’s presumably meant to be a romantic comedy, starring as an unbelievable sacked superstore worker returning to school and falling for Julia Roberts’ professor in “speaking out aloud.”
HALF A STAR
We had to wait almost until the end of the year for the appropriately named NEW YEAR’S EVE – the film with the least going for it out of any of those released in 2011. Garry Marshall presented us with a random selection of dull, predictable, obvious characters in dull, predictable and obvious stories on the final night of the year. In truth, this film, from Warner Brothers, serves as little more than an advertising billboard for their more successful seasonal blockbuster, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which features prominently in every scene that’s set in Times Square.
A version of this article previously appeared on ukscreen.com