Honourable mentions: Hesher, Moneyball, Like Crazy, The Ides of March, Incendies, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America: The First Avenger, Sarah's Key, The Adventures of Tintin, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Limitless, Thor, Young Adult, Hugo, Melancholia, Contagion, The Help, Crazy, Stupid, Love., Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Super 8, X-Men: First Class, Source Code, Jane Eyre, Rango, Another Earth, Perfect Sense.
20. The Skin I Live In - Dir. Pedro Almodovar
A little strange? Definitely. The Skin I Live In, Pedro Almodovar's latest film, explores themes of loneliness, sexual identity, death, and possibly the most unique tale of revenge that I've ever seen. In other hands, this would have been the stuff that fits right into The Human Centipede's generation of horror. Almodóvar creates his macabre, ominous tale with elegance, kitsch and malevolence. The Skin I Live In is almost in a breed of it's own, playing out as a horror that dares you to get under your skin and make you question your own identity. Which is somewhat funny to see these days when horrors are all about scaring you with more blood and guts than are probably possible to be inside one person.
19. Certified Copy - Dir. Abbas Kiarostami
It's a magical thing that Abbas Kiarostami does with Certified Copy; it's like he planted an idea deep in our brains right at the very beginning and it just eats it's way through as the film goes on. Usually that's not the type of thing that would expect from a romantic drama - this film is fairly unconventional, while looking deceivingly conventional.
18. Martha Marcy May Marlene - Dir. Sean Durkin
Martha Marcy May Marlene heralds the debuts of writer/director Sean Durkin and actress Elizabeth Olsen. However, you would never know that these two are newbies to the business. Olsen's performance is a revelation, as she commands the screen with her fragile, mentally-unstable Martha. The film surrounding her is an apt study of paranoia, with Durkin's direction creating this claustrophobic feel around the audience. A low-fi independent film that I can see becoming a cult classic (excuse the pun) in the future.
17. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Dir. Tomas Alfredson
I watched Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy around the time we were 'studying' film in our English class. And while I was watching Tomas Alfredson's first English film, I couldn't help but notice that he turned everything that I had been told in class upside down. The thing with The Shawshank Redemption is that the symbolism is always right in your face, directing everyone's line of thought in the exact same direction. Tinker Tailor is nothing like that. This is the spy world, remember, so nothing is ever what it seems. Tomas Alfredson realises that, and makes it in the most subtle - yet detailed - way that he possibly could. This is a film that would be hard to teach at schools.
16. Tyrannosaur - Dir. Paddy Considine
Paddy Considine directs his debut film with blood-curdling simplicity, never looking at the 'big picture', but focussing on the anger inside his characters. It is here that you see the cracks and the flaws. It may be a dark film, but the product isn't all black-and-white. This film is rich with the colours that make a human being unleash violence upon another human being. Colours that we wish we couldn't see, but are there as cruel reminders of how low people can really go. Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman deliver soul-bearing, heart-wrenching performances, making this film act like a migraine - but one you can appreciate.
15. Warrior - Dir. Gavin O'Connor
Imagine how Warrior must have looked on paper: another fighting movie about two brothers from a stuffed up family who are the underdogs that have to fight there way up and win against all odds. I can imagine the money-grubbers turning their heads away and wondering when the next movie about boxing robots was going to be pitched. Alas, even though Hollywood is partial to their clichéd stories that generally make everyone feel good, Warrior had the incomparable task of making Hollywood like it, and everyone else too (if you think about it, not many films succeed in that area). Like the story in the movie, Warrior was a film that not many of us expected great things to come out of. It was indeed the underdog who achieved some great things. It works on the basis of it's wondrously crafted characters (who are backed by marvellous performances). It doesn't throw huge issues like alcoholism at you like a ball of guilt. Everything is crafted so it is realistic, especially as it shows themes of reconciliation and human spirit without dipping it in treacle first.
14. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Dir. David Fincher
As much as I appreciated the popular novel by Stieg Larsson and the Swedish adaptation that followed it, David Fincher's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is by far my favourite take on the story. The story itself isn't the most enthralling (murder cases don't always entertain in the CSI: Miami, New York, Any Other US City era), but screen-writer Steven Zallian maps the convoluted tale out without rushing anything. Fincher takes that screenplay and gives it an icy, gritty, occasionally beautiful feel. But most of all, the film is powered by Rooney Mara's electrifying, awkward portrayal of the most iconic female character that's greeted celluloid recently.
13. Take Shelter - Dir. Jeff Nichols
A powerhouse of flawless acting from Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, Jeff Nichols' sophomore effort is a slow-burning thriller that remains riveting until the very end. And that ending itself is one of the most memorable of the year - a stunning sequence that leaves your head whirling as you question the fate of the characters. The pace may be a little languid for some, as Nichols paints a picture of paranoia one brush-stroke at a time. The end result is over-whelming, though, due to its intoxicating view of the possible apocalypse all happening inside one man's head.
12. The Artist - Dir. Michel Hazanavicius
This year's Best Picture winner totally personified what was the year of nostalgia. What many dismissed as just "that black-and-white movie with no talking" was actually a heart-felt, immensely entertaining tribute to old Hollywood that didn't feel like one big gimmick. Living in a film-world filled with 3D and CGI, it would be an extremely difficult task to go backwards in both technology and ideals, but Michel Hazanavicius and his team do it effortlessly. Plus, it made sound seem like a surprise in the 21st century.
11. The Tree of Life - Dir. Terrence Malick
In the future, I'll probably regret only placing this at number 11. I can see this film living a long, prosperous life - maybe even more so than anything else on this list. For now, though, here is one of the most polarising films in recent memory: it could very well be a beautiful powerpoint on the meaning of life, with five metaphors per slide. If you want to invest in that, you'll find a great movie. If you don't, then there's still pretty pictures. The Tree of Life is indeed a forest of confusion - but a forest that I'd like to stay lost in.
10. Beginners - Dir. Mike Mills
I'm a sucker for independent romantic dramas, but Beginners is a step ahead of the rest. Filled with great performances from Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent, Mary Page Keller and Goran Visnjic, Mike Mills' semi-autobiograpical dramedy is a heartfelt thing of beauty and quirk, doused in sadness. Every time I see it I fall in love with it all over again. The kind of honesty that the film has is quite refreshing.
9. 50/50 - Dir. Jonathan Levine
Who would have thought of making a cancer comedy? Will Reiser, who knew how to make the best out of that situation since he's a cancer survivor himself. His buddy Seth Rogen encouraged him to write a screenplay about his experiences, and we were gifted with 50/50. The film never forces emotions onto you. If you find yourself teary-eyed, it won't be because the film has handed you a box of tissues and told you to soak them with pity; it'll be because everything - especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance - is so natural. It doesn't fit into one specific genre. Unless there was a genre called 'life'.
8. A Separation - Dir. Asghar Farhadi
Asghar Farhadi uses words like the knives or guns that you’d expect to see from a typical thriller, using them to create a tense, taut film that you perhaps wouldn’t expect from such a simple storyline. But that Farhadi does the best is challenge your perceptions. You think you know what happened, and go along for the rest of the film thinking that you have resolved the entire issue, but then the movie has a way of twisting it. It is only then that you realise that you didn't have enough facts to begin with, and if you were to argue your case, you probably wouldn't have a lot of evidence to back it up. This isn't because you're stupid or ignorant - it is because when we watch films, we're so used to having everything handed to us on a silver platter that we generally make our own summations of how the story goes because we know what will happen. And usually, it does happen the way we've planned. In A Separation, you won't find that is the case. You'll be lucky to find any silver platters in this film.
7. Senna - Dir. Asif Kapadia
When I sat down to watch Senna, I had no idea who Ayrton Senna was. Formula One was a mostly foreign activity to me. But thanks to Senna's masterful editing, which brought together a compelling life story that was almost a proper narrative, I was completely enthralled by this documentary. I guess I can say that it did its job considering the way I was bawling my eyes out at the end. Something I definitely wasn't expecting when I slipped the DVD in.
6. War Horse - Dir. Steven Spielberg
You can all just shut up now: I know that just about everyone will disagree with this choice, but it's not my fault that I loved War Horse to pieces. I loved how old-fashioned this film was, which will definitely ensure that it will stand the test of time. It is the kind of film that I'd want to show my children, not only to show them what true friendship is and how much it sucks to have that broken, but also to show them the horrors of war. Spielberg created such a beautiful film here - one which I'll treasure for the rest of my life.
5. The Muppets - Dir. James Bobin
This film may not be in the same league as A Separation or The Tree of Life, but it gets a place so high up in the list because it makes me extremely happy. Seriously, I just about keel over with excitement every time I see Life's a Happy Song. While I love films that make me sad, I feel like we never appreciate the truly happy films of this world enough. The Muppets is unabashedly self-aware, heart-warming and inspirational. I just love it to pieces.
4. We Need to Talk About Kevin - Dir. Lynne Ramsay
Apart from the fact an earthquake happens every time I watch it (okay, it was only twice but that's still creepy), We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of the most powerful, terrifying films I've ever seen. Not only because a high school shooting is my biggest fear - after earthquakes, ironically - but I felt just as helpless as poor Eva, who had to deal with the resounding effects her son left behind. Featuring amazing performances by Tilda Swinton and Ezra Miller, along with artistic direction from Lynne Ramsay, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a masterpiece.
3. Midnight in Paris - Dir. Woody Allen
Just like The Muppets, Midnight in Paris is another film which makes me smile like a complete idiot. Mainly because of the way it uses nostalgia as something truly magical. Just like Gil, I'd love to go back to the 1920's and meet people like Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald. Everything about his ride back in time is perfect, and so devastatingly beautiful. I've never been a huge fan of Woody Allen's work, but Midnight in Paris is one of the funniest, warmest films I've ever seen.
2. Drive - Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn
How cool is this movie? What many thought was going to be another petrol-fuelled blockbuster actually turned out to be the perfect blend between arthouse and action, and also an effortlessly awesome throw-back to 80s B-grade movies. I loved that this movie wasn't all violence. Everything unfolds slowly, making the rather large outbursts of violence even more shocking. This is definitely going to become a cult classic, thanks to the awesome soundtrack, Ryan Gosling's mostly silent driver and Nicolas Winding Refn's awesome direction. And that elevator scene.
1. Shame - Dir. Steve McQueen
Shame has to be one of the most wholly affecting movies that I've ever seen. Every single little thing about it completely won me over. Steve McQueen's film looking at the day-to-day life of a sex addict who has his life thrown out of order by his sister is compelling, brave, and extremely hard to watch. The best thing about the film, though, is Michael Fassbender's performance. Never before have I seen an actor who has thrown himself into a role like that, completely embodying a broken spirit with such a devastating effect. It was such a brilliant, brilliant film, that - should I ever become a film-maker - will have a clear influence on my work. But I could never make anything as good as this.
What do you think of my choices? What are some of your favourite films from last year?