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Charles Leek | 31st December 2011

Tis the end of another year, and once again the season for list making is upon us. 2011 has been a great year for cinema, probably my favourite in recent memory, with a bunch of great films from all corners of the globe. We’ve seen the rise and (thankfully) fall of 3D, long awaited new efforts from Scorsese, Malick and Almodovar to name but a few, the end of the Harry Potter saga with two of the best HP films since Azkaban and the first Woody Allen film in years that’s not been completely panned.

Most notably, though, the UK film council was abolished in March this year. Despite this, there has been an onslaught of fantastic British outings including Weekend, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Kill List.

Anyway, here’s my personal favourite films of the year. I really do hate making lists, even making this one was bloody difficult, so I’ve limited this to a top 5…

1. Kill List (Dir: Ben Wheatley)

I was at first put off by Kill List, rather daftly, for the same reason I initially avoided Bronson - both titles give the impression you’re about to watch a bloke’s only bloody manfest (oddly enough, Nick Love was a producer on Bronson, but anyway…) I was totally wrong and will learn never to value judge again!

I saw Kill List at the end of its theatrical run earlier this year, alone at the Odeon in Manchester. I was terrified, excited and in awe of what was before me. A truly magnificent film, oft described as a cross between a Mike Leigh and 70’s cult horror flick. The film creates a tension you could cut with a butter knife before slamming you in the face (quite literally at times) with it’s scenes of brutal violence (think Drive, but without even a hint of the glamour). The ending is, of course, far fetched and so out of line with the rest of the film that it comes as even more of a shock. Kill List captures a true horror without resorting to cheap tricks and excels on every level.

2. Shame (Dir: Steve McQueen)

I saw the Aronofsky directed Black Swan earlier this year and was disappointed. A film that could have been a subtle, low key study of a character’s descent into obsessive madness ended up as a messy, heavy handed reworking of Haneke’s The Piano Teacher.

Shame, however, made up for the let down that was Black Swan. Although the films are different on so many levels, I see them as thematic partners in how they both dealt with the descent into madness that obsession can bring. Shame was beautiful, from the haunting score to the cinematography. McQueen avoids the heavy cutting of Aronofksy and presents that horrors of the film simply, letting the camera linger on the characters without cutting away (for a bad example of this, see the terribly overrated Archipelago). Despite McQueen’s masterful direction, the true star of this film is, of course, Fassbender. He completely embodies the character and is totally believable as someone utterly overcome by their addiction.

3. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Dir: David Fincher)

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is Hollywood film making at its very best. A smart thriller that sticks close to the source material with masterful direction by one of the greatest directors of our time, David Fincher, who made 2010’s best; The Social Network.

Fincher revisists familiar territory with TGWTDT, creating a dark, miserable film akin to his earlier works Seven and Fight Club, but with the procedural sensibilities and character development of Zodiac and The Social Network. The outcasts desperation to succeed against the odds is a trait that links all of Fincher’s films, and continues with TGWTDT. I can hardly fault the film, it is without doubt the year’s best looking, with an elegant, ice cold atmosphere, pointed all the more by the pulsating, expansive score to match. Rooney Mara, as Lisbeth Salander, completely embodies the character I recognised from the novels, a near impossible feat given the complexity of the character. She gives the performance of the year.

There has been a lot of pondering whether this film is necessary considering the acclaim of the Swedish originals. With Fincher at the helm, I don’t know why this was even questioned. With a film of this quality, the fact it is a reworking of source material that has already been made into a film isn’t even an issue. If anything, Fincher’s version was just too late to the party.

4. The Skin I Live In (Dir: Pedro Almodovar)

Almodovar’s films, as great as they are, have the tendency to become tiring in their themes, yet The Skin I Live In - Almodovar’s best film - flourishes along, tongue firmly in cheek and is a joy to behold.

Despite the crux of the development of a relationship prevalent in most Almodovar films, Almodovar spends less time on this and more time on the twists and turns of this fascinating story and the characters that embody it. The film reminded me of the controversial Giorgios Lanthimos sophomore effort, Dogtooth, but lacks the crassness and clumsiness that plagued that film. Like All About My MotherThe Skin I Live In presents yet another growth in Almodovar’s talents as a filmmaker - a must watch.

5. Weekend (Dir: Andrew Haigh)

Of all the films above, none manage to capture the truth or reality that Weekend does in this completely romantic, understated film.

The film demonstrates a modern, fleeting relationship akin to Before Sunrise that dismisses any of the unrealistic, fluffy schtick present in an equivalent Richard Curtis romance. It is a pleasure to watch and, despite the 18 certificate, should be suitable for all to see as a universal love story.

Honourable mentions go to Tinker Tailor, Blue Valentine, Hugo, Moneyball, Wuthering Heights, Tyrannosaur and the final sequence of Melancholia. And come on, One Day wasn’t anywhere near as bad as everyone made out!

2012 - the bar has been set, give us your best shot.