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Top 20 Best Films of 2011: 20-11

2011 proved to be a particularly good year at the movies, beginning with the likes of the Coens’ True Grit, multiple Oscar winner The King’s Speech and Mark Wahlberg passion project The Fighter.

But some of the blockbusters also delivered, such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Cowboys & Aliens, Super 8 and Fast 5. As did year-end movies such as The Ides of March, Moneyball and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. But which – if any – of these films make our list of the top 20 best of the year?

Win Win

20) Win Win

What’s the story? Cash-strapped attorney and unsuccessful high school wrestling coach Mike (Paul Giamatti) stumbles across a star athlete (Alex Shaffer’s Kyle Timmons) after making a questionable business deal involving Kyle’s grandfather and becoming his legal guardian. With recently divorced best friend Terry (Bobby Cannavale) in tow, Mike sets about improving his wrestling team’s fortunes until Kyle’s mother comes to town and threatens to expose the decision at the heart of Mike’s good fortune.

Why so good?: Writer-director Thomas McCarthy has already proved with The Station Agent and The Visitor that he is the master of character-driven tales of ‘lost’ individuals coming together to form a kind of surrogate family. With Win Win he completes a hat-trick of really great movies. Both emotionally absorbing and rewarding, the film takes an excellent ensemble cast and deftly combines humour and high drama to create a thoroughly entertaining experience that’s capable of resonating with viewers of every age.

Full review l Amy Ryan interview l Bobby Cannavale interview l Photos l Where it’s showing

Fast & Furious 5

19) Fast & Furious 5: Rio Heist

What’s the story? Fugitives Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) find themselves battling a drugs kingpin in Rio and determining to steal the contents of his safe from the confines of a heavily protected police station.

Why so good? The Fast & Furious franchise has long been my guilty pleasure franchise of choice. Loud, derivative and largely plot-lite, it somehow remains addictively car crash viewing. The fifth film in the franchise could just be the best of the lot. It’s certainly the most audacious.

Full review l Photo gallery l Where it’s showing

127 Hours

18) 127 Hours

What’s the story? While on a solitary expedition in Utah’s Blue John Canyon, American mountaineer Aaron Ralston finds himself in a life and death situation when a dislodged half tonne boulder crashes down on him, trapping him by his arm in an isolated ravine. With time running out, Aaron must quickly figure his own way out of the predicament.

Why so good? Boyle’s film, based on a script by regular collaborator Simon Beaufoy and on Ralston’s own book of the experience, is a gruelling and sometimes grisly affair that nevertheless keeps you absolutely gripped throughout… It’s another tour-de-force from the Boyle filmmaking juggernaut.

Full review l James Franco interview l Danny Boyle interview l Photo gallery l Where it’s showing

A Better Life

17) A Better Life

What’s the story? Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir) is a Mexican gardener living illegally as a single dad in East Los Angeles who is desperate to keep his teenage son Luis (José Julián) away from the local gangs. When he is offered the chance to buy his own truck by a colleague, Carlos reluctantly agrees. But when that truck is stolen he and Luis face a desperate struggle to get it back without the involvement of the police.

Why so good? Chris Weitz’s film, based on a script by Eric Eason, tackles a difficult subject matter in commendably non-judgemental fashion. Rather, by striving to remain apolitical throughout, he presents the film’s characters as flesh and blood people, rather than broad stereotypes…. A Better Life can’t fail to resonate emotionally with anyone who sees it.

Full review l Chris Weitz interview l Where it’s showing

Black Swan

16) Black Swan

What’s the story? Nina (Natalie Portman) is an experienced dancer for whom ballet and the pursuit of perfection is everything. When the arrogant artistic director of the New York Ballet (Vincent Cassel) selects her to play the lead in his new version of Swan Lake, Nina accepts the challenge but finds herself being pushed to her limits as her director asks her to combine the innocence of the White Swan with the eroticism and deception of the Black Swan.

Why so good? Darren Aronofsky’s fifth film underlines his talents as one of contemporary cinema’s most daring and original directors. It features a stunning central performance from Natalie Portman and brings elements of psychological thriller and horror to a ballet setting, complete with nods to everything from The Red Shoes to Hitchcock. It’s also utterly insane at times.

Full review l Natalie Portman interview l Darren Aronofsky interview l Photo gallery l Where it’s showing


15) Hanna

What’s the story? Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) comes out of hiding to pursue a normal life after having spent her formative years being trained as a crack assassin by her father (Eric Bana) in the knowledge that doing so will place her on the radar of the CIA’s Marissa (Cate Blanchett), a rule-bending official who was responsible for Hanna’s very being and subsequent attempted cover-up.

Why so good? In terms of expectancy, no one could have predicted that Wright – who cut his teeth with Pride & Prejudice and Atonement – could have delivered such a humdinger of an action movie… especially not one that also boasts an electrifying break-beat score from the Chemical Brothers and a career re-defining supporting performance from Tom Hollander… Hanna really shouldn’t work as well as it does. But boy does it, emerging as a sizeable triumph for just about everyone involved.

Full review l Saoirse Ronan interview l Joe Wright interview l Photo gallery l Where it’s showing

The Ides of March

14) The Ides of March

What’s the story? Hot-shot press spokesman Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling), who is determined to land Democratic hopeful Governor Morris (George Clooney) a ticket to the White House by beating his closest rival. But when Myers accepts a clandestine meeting with the manager of that rival candidate, who tries to coax Myers onto his team, it sets forward a chain of events that could help shape the fate of the election race.

Why so good? George Clooney’s political drama offers an embarrassment of riches for any cinema fan. Intelligent, eye-opening, funny and thought provoking, it also offers another outstanding leading performance from the hotter-than-hot right now Ryan Gosling and terrific support from the likes of Clooney himself, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei.

Full review l George Clooney interview l Photo gallery l Where it’s showing

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

13) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

What’s the story? George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is a veteran spy pulled back from the brink of retirement to find a mole within MI6 who is feeding information to the Russians. Among the suspects are suave ladies man Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), sour-faced Scot Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), gruff, self-serving Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds) and Hungarian émigré Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), as well as Smiley himself.

Why so good? Tinker Tailor won’t be to everyone’s tastes. It’s far too slow for some and probably too confusing for others. But therein lies many of its pleasures. Alfredson’s film operates more in the silences that often convey so much more than words. It’s about deceptions, misplaced loyalties, broken individuals and the uncertainty of the Cold War… It’s a master-class in fusing style with intelligence, anchored by one of the performances of the year from Oldman.

Full review l Gary Oldman interview l Colin Firth interview l Tom Hardy interview l Photo gallery l Where it’s showing


12) Moneyball

What’s the story? The true story of how Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane (played by Pitt) transformed the game of baseball by trying out a statistical system of team-building and results-getting devised by a younger Yale graduate named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill).

Why so good? Bennett Miller’s film works best for anyone who doesn’t actually know how things ended and, as such, grips like all the best sports movies (not to mention underdog) movies do… Pitt and company have pitched a near-perfect sports movie that can and should be enjoyed by the masses for delivering that rarest of mainstream doubles: entertainment married to intelligence.

Full review l Photo gallery l Where it’s showing

Animal Kingdom

11) Animal Kingdom

What’s the story? After the accidental death of his heroin-addicted mother, 17-year-old ‘J’ (James Frecheville) goes to live with his grandmother ‘Smurf’ Cody (Jacki Weaver) and her criminal sons, Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford). But the sudden arrival of their fugitive older brother, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), matters take a darker turn as his increasingly unstable methods threaten to de-stabilise the family and rip the tight unit apart.

Why so good? David Michôd’s directorial debut was named among Quentin Tarantino’s top five movies of 2010 and has earned one of its stars, Jacki Weaver, a best supporting actress nod at the Oscars. It is a powerhouse piece of filmmaking and a stunning first feature. Inspired by the Walsh Street killings of two police officers in Melbourne in the ’80s, the film serves as a both a clever deconstruction of the romanticism surrounding bank robbers as evidenced in a lot of Hollywood films, as well as a troubling coming-of-age tale.

Full review l Jacki Weaver interview l David Michôd interview l Photo gallery l Where it’s showing

Top 10 Best from 10-1 l Worst films of 2011