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Spooool’s 25 Best Movies of 2011

The best part of coming up with your favourite films of the year is trying to remember what the hell came out. So after spending the Christmas holidays trawling through IMDB and digging under the couch for old ticket stubs to try make a master list of “stuff wot we hav seen“, we’re finally able to remember what we liked from the last 12 months.

We both have individual lists (they’re riiiiight at the bottom of this post) but pooled them together to get this list of 25 of our favourite releases of 2011. These movies define Spooool, so be prepared to be pissed of by our choices, but be sure to comment and let us know what you think.

Last year saw new additions to the classic genres (Insidious – horror, Rango – western), fresh offerings from auteur directors (The Tree of Life, Hugo, The Skin I Live In, Midnight In Paris), stunning documentaries (Senna, Hell and Back Again), strong work from up and coming film-makers (Take Shelter, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Kill List) and exciting efforts from across the international spectrum of cinema (A Separation, Troll Hunter).

The 25 films are all featured below and an [N] denotes a blurb from Nigel, [P] means Páraic. And clicking on the film image will take you to our original Spooool review, where applicable.

So without further ado (in fairness it’s already a week late), let’s get started with #25…


25 - Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen // Spain/USA // 94mins

Kicking us off is what many considered to be Woody Allen’s “return to form”. Brooklyn’s most famous clarinetist’s unique work-ethic means he’s given us a single new film every year since 1982. I’d argue that he’s been on song for a large part of the last decade with films like Match Point, Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona and Whatever Works all striking a chord, but it was his first trip to the French capital for this old-time romantic comedy which really pulled in audiences. [N]

Best bit: The closing scene, where free of time-travel, nostalgia and fantasy a post-break-up Gil, played by Owen Wilson, takes a midnight stroll along the Seine. He bumps into Gabrielle the antiques dealer and learns that she is also quite a fan of Paris in the rain…


24 - Fast Five

Justin Lin // USA // 130mins

So who would thought that the much-maligned Fast and Furious franchise could provide a film of such abandonment, ridiculousness and mechanical bamboozlement? The actual actors do a perfectly perfunctory job with kudos due to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for taking on his caramel cousin Vin Diesel. But the real stars of the show are the cars and the physical stunt and CG teams who render their destruction and awesomeness so well. In a year where blockbusters were all so bitterly disappointing, it was nice that one of them could find that balance between boomboom and haha. [N]

Best bit: Like every decent heist movie, the pay-off is where it all counts. And the final chase through Rio with the genre-staple “switcheroo” (O.M.G. it’s the wrong car) perfectly executed by director Justin Lin makes it all well worth it.


23 - Stake Land

Jim Mickle // USA // 98mins

When the world seems to be awash with zombies along comes Stake Land to show that there’s still life in the blood sucking undead yet. Jim Mickle tells us the not so original story of a world wiped out by a vampire virus and we follow the trials and tribulations of Martin (Conor Paolo) and Mister (Nick Damici) as they try to stay alive.

Like all good vampire and zombie films they are really a social commentary on the state of the nation. The brilliant touch here is the inclusion of a radical church group who see this all as God’s judgement on the world and are determined to convert the unbelievers at all costs. [P]

Best bit: The church air dropping vampires into camps of unbelieving survivors.


22 crazy stupid love

Glenn Ficarra & John Requa // USA // 118mins

This summer’s line-up of Hollywood comedies promised quite a lot, but the results were bitterly disappointing.

Bridesmaids may have managed to strike a balance between critical and commercial appeal earlier in the year, but by the time the evenings were fully stretched out, things had taken a turn for the worst. The dross on display as The Change-Up, Friends with Benefits, The Hangover 2 and What’s Your Number all flattered to deceive meant there was only one rightful winner of the crown for summer’s best comedy hit.

Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon in a picture from the team behind I love you Philip Morris certainly sounded interesting, but these things can go wrong. But what a delight it turned out to be as two men arrived at opposite ends of the dating spectrum, met in the middle, went their separate ways over an amusing familial mix-up before having a big punch-up in the back garden. [N]

Best bit: “I’ve Had the Time of My Life”. Seriously, was there a better tribute to Patrick Swayze in 2011?


21 beginners

Mike Mills // USA // 105mins

We’ve all been there. Your mother dies and your Dad decides to come out of the closet.

While some of us would struggle to come to terms with the reality your father has been living a lie, Ewan McGregor’s Oliver takes it all on the chin and uses the experience to grow up a little himself. Along the way, this heartfelt film introduces us to Arthur the subtitled Jack Russell and reminds us that Christopher Plummer has always been so much more than Captain Von Trapp.

Director and screenwriter Mike Mills (Thumbsucker) based the film on his real-life experiences of his father’s coming out and death five years later. This comes across in the honesty and heart that exists in the father and son elements of the story. The “post-mortem” scenes of Oliver’s search for love with Mélanie Laurent’s Anna may not work quite as well, but there’s still plenty to take from this. Expect screenplay nominations and accolades for Plummer on the awards circuit this year. [N]

Best bit: Oliver shows Arthur around his new home saying “It’s lonely out here, you got to learn how to talk.”. Cue a nice vacant stare from the Jack Russell and subtitles – WHILE I UNDERSTAND UP TO 150 WORDS, I DON’T TALK.


20 attack the block

Joe Cornish // UK/France // 88mins

Joe Cornish of the BBC comedy duo Adam & Joe making a sci-fi action film about a South London teenage gang who must defend their block of flats from an alien attack? It could have gone horribly wrong, but instead Joe Cornish got it spot on. Coming from such a talented comedy writer it’s no surprise that the jokes never stop, but of more surprise is the moral lesson that somehow rears its head – hoodies are not all bad! [N]

Best bit: The honour killing interrupted by aliens. Hi-Hatz is all set to shoot Moses before a group of aliens smash through the apartment window and kill him. Moses heads for the safety of the weed room. Delightful.


19 rango

Gore Verbinski // USA // 107mins

The best western since Open Range. Oh ya it’s a cartoon that really isn’t for children but what’s that got to do with anything. Johnny Depp lends his voice to Rango a wannabe actor who stumbles across the town of Dirt and being sheriff is the part of a lifetime.

Very reminiscent of Chinatown, Rango is a beautifully animated, funny and intelligent fable about the importance of finding out who you are. [P]

Best bit: The montage as Rango forms a posse to find where the town’s water has gone.


18 - The Descendants

Alexander Payne // USA // 115mins

Critics initially figured George Clooney’s calling card for this year’s Oscars was his directorial effort The Ides of March. While it turned out to be a strong political thriller, it was his starring role in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants which really demonstrated his ability to steal the show and puts him a favourite for an acting nod next month. Clooney is wonderful in the kind of role any actor would kill for – the husband whose wife is in a near-fatal boating accident, who must re-connect with their two daughters while dealing with the revelation of her infidelity. [N]

Best bit: Clooney tells their daughter, Shailene Woodley’s Alex, that her mother isn’t going to get better. Alex dives underwater and lets out a scream.


17 troll hunter

André Øvredal // Norway // 103mins

Foreign film number 2 on my list, God I’m cultured, I can read subtitles and all. What was brilliant about this is how it sticks to its documentary roots. The Last Exorcism last year fell apart in the final quarter as it added atmospheric music and seemingly impossible shots in a supposed documentary film.

With Troll Hunter there is no such nonsense, we have the story of three student film makers – sound familiar? – who are making a film about controlling the bear population in Norway. They come across Hans and he sure as hell ain’t hunting no bears. [P]

Best bit: The incorporation of well known troll myths into the plot.


16 - A separation

Asghar Farhadi // Iran // 123mins

This Iranian drama is a deserved “lock” for nominations for best foreign language film this awards season. Despite coming out in North America on New Years Eve, it’s UK/Ireland release in June meant I could end up watching it with my sister on a nice comfy couch in Ireland over Christmas. Unfortunate thing is there’s very little “comfortable” about this IMDB’s top rated film of 2011. Instead, the escalating tension and discomfort as one woman’s decision to leave her family home causes a sequence of unfortunate events makes for a gripping two hours of pure cinema.

While the setting of Iran is important, it’s in no way a miserable depiction of oppressed life in the Middle East. Courts of law act alongside religious codes to decipher right from wrong and aid the viewer in trying to untangle the truth from the complex web of lies which Asghar Farhadi weaves. [N]

Best bit: The opening scene. Our perception of Iranian society is immediately turned upside-down as we see Leila Hatami’s Simin in a divorce tribunal with her husband.


15 - the skin i live in

Pedro Almodóvar // Spain // 117mins

This film is just plain bonkers. Almodóvar serves up a big oul slice of crazy in his new take of the mad scientist Frankenstein story. Antonio Banderas is the scientist in question who is striving to create a strain of skin tissue that is impervious to pain and damage. He is carrying out his experiments on an unwilling human who is being kept prisoner at his mansion in the hills.

This all seems tame enough until we begin to realise who the guinea pig is and the genius of Almodóvar’s story-telling capabilities are revealed. [P]

Best bit: The realisation of what the hell is going on.


14 - kill list

Ben Wheatley // UK // 95mins

I would be tempted to include this simply because the director has the same surname as me.

But thankfully there’s not a hint of sentiment needed here as my second cousin* Ben’s “Wicker Man 2011” is one of the most thrilling horror films in years. The premise of two contract killers under-taking a job before coming underdone at the hands of a higher authority isn’t the most original, but the execution is flawless. [N]

Best bit: The final face-off. If, like me, you didn’t quite cop on to the scale of the what was happening then nothing will have made you gasp quite like the reveal. GAH.

*not really

13 - Senna

Asif Kapadia // UK // 106mins

The level of outrage, this site included, at the omission of Kapadia’s film from the Academy Awards 15 film shortlist for Best Documentary Feature was quite startling. This was a low-budget documentary on the life and times of a Formula 1 driver from ESPN, forgive those of us who aren’t too enamoured with the vroom-vrooms for thinking it may not be worth too much of our time.

While we all knew the ending, details of just how ominous and gloomy one of the sport’s great characters final journey was were more unclear. A wealth of archive material and interviews from family, friends and foes combined for the most gripping narrative of the year. [N]

Best bit: That final race.


12 tree of life

Terrence Malick // USA // 139mins

When Terrence Malick directs a film everyone stands to attention and takes note. His first film in six years sees Brad Pitt as a 1950s family man with three boys to raise with the help of Jessica Chastain. It’s not as if we haven’t seen a strained father son relationship movie before but with Malick at the helm he treats us to a metaphysical masterpiece. A very dialogue-light film reminiscent of Koyaanisqatsi this really proves the saying that a picture paints a thousand words. [P]

Best bit: Hunter Mc Cracken as a young Jack taking the dress of his neighbour captures beautifully the loss of innocence.


11 hell and back again

Danfung Dennis // USA/UK/Afghanistan // 88mins

Going to war is one thing, but to then return home with the physical and mental scars from combat is a whole new battle.

Dennis’ background in photojournalism is apparent through-out with his custom-built rigs providing some of the most authentic shots of actual combat on the ground in 21st-century Afghanistan.

Balancing one of these “then and now” stories is always going to be tough, but it’s in the edit that the similarities between the rough and tumble of combat and rehabilitation back home become apparent. [N]

Best bit: Sergeant Nathan Harris sits at home playing Call of Duty on the Playstation. CUT. First person perspective of Harris bursting through the door of an occupied Afghani home. The juxtapositions may be obvious, but they’re incredibly effective.


10 Submarine

Richard Ayoade // UK/USA // 97mins

Craig Roberts amazing portrayal of teen angst is what sets this apart as one of the films of the year. We all know what it is to be the awkward one with a crush on someone trying to make sense of it all and we wish we could be as witty as Craig.

Richard Ayoade is fantastic as the nerdy Moss from The IT Crowd but it turns out the git can direct as well. Add to this Alex Turner’s subtle score and you can’t go wrong. [P]

Best bit: Oliver Tate’s heart-breakingly awkward preparation for his big night with Jordana.


09 - The Artist

Michel Hazanavicius // France/Belgium // 100mins

Winner of 2012 Academy Award for Best Picture.


Best bit: Bérénice Bejo’s Peppy Miller trying on one sleeve of George Valentin’s tuxedo jacket and letting it wrap around herself, only to have her moment interrupted by the man himself. Magical.


08 - Shame

Steve McQueen // UK // 101mins

In this day and age sex is everywhere. You may have noticed. Depending on your looks, confidence, wealth or internet connection, some sort of fulfillment is never far away.

Shame, Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender’s follow-up to 2008’s Hunger, is just as chilling as its predecessor. But here instead of a man who is unflinching in his focus and commitment to a cause, all Brandon is focused on is where his next “fix” is coming from. When the opportunity for real emotional connection presents itself, be it from his sister or a girlfriend prospect, he pushes it away as only he can. [N]

Bets bit: The opening scene on the New York subway. Brandon spots potential prey. Part opera, part nature documentary.


7 tyrannosaur

Paddy Considine // UK // 91mins

No one does kitchen sink bleakness like the Brits. Cheeky chappy Paddy Considine’s first feature film behind the camera is a depressing view into the life of Peter Mullan as he tries to come to terms with his miserable life.

He seems to find solace in the shop of Olivia Colman but soon realises her life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s the performance of Peter Mullan that makes it stand out and stick with you for weeks. [P]

Best bit: When the relationship between Joseph and Hannah seems to blossom whilst down the pub with a good old fashioned wake montage.


06 insidious

James Wan // USA/Canada // 103mins

What pisses me off is people always say it has been a bad year for films, they say it every year no matter what came out. Insidious was the first film since The Blair Witch Project, which was 12 years ago by the way, that scared the bejaysus out of me. So when a film that can do that comes along it hasn’t been such a bad year for films.

With its use of proper old timey horror music, creatures from the depths of the further and more shocks than a faulty light socket. Half-way through I felt I’d be unable to watch it till the end. [P]

Best bit: The reveal of the “Red Demon” which is way cooler sounding than the “Lipstick-faced Demon” credit that’s on IMDB.


05 Martha Marcy May Marlene

Sean Durkin // USA // 102mins

Almost two years ago Blue Valentine wooed the masses at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and while it took most people between nine and twelve months to see it, it soon became a favourite of critics and disgruntled romantics everywhere. I wouldn’t have held it against Robert Redford if his Sundance 2011 festival favourite, Martha Marcy May Marlene, didn’t quite meet the hype.

Sean Durkin’s film got a a step up the publicity-ladder with a lot of coverage in the gossip columns for the star-making  turn from “the other Olsen sister” Elizabeth. Her performance as the psychologically-damaged girl returning from a spell with a cult is note-perfect, and the jumps back and forth from her time there to the present day where she’s trying to re-assimilate with her family bring smiles and anguish in equal measure. [N]

Best bit: The final scene. Don’t fade to black! WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?! LIZZY!


04 Hugo

Martin Scorcese // USA // 126mins

Scorcese’s love of movies is well-known and this love-letter to early 20th century cinema, the work of Georges Méliès and the dawn of special effects is magical from start to finish.

Marty has nothing to prove any more and yet he keeps working away on the perfect blend of passion projects and commercial cinema. The 3D children’s film Hugo is the most surprising entry in his filmography since 1977’s flop musical New York, New York. While it was fuelled by cocaine, the driving force behind Hugo is a driving desire to pay homage to a bygone era. [N]

Best bit: The trip to Papa Georges’ house with the film historian.


03 - We need to talk about Kevin

Lynne Ramsay // UK/USA // 112mins

Seriously though we do, he (Ezra Miller) is clearly the spawn of Satan, you (John C. Reilly) seem to be oblivious to the whole situation and think it’s my (Tilda Swinton) fault and just in my silly woman’s head. He just plays mind games with me all day long and then does his whole butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth spiel when you swan back in from work. Don’t say I didn’t warn you if he gets violent. [P]

Best bit: All of Tilda Swinton’s scenes as she tries to live in the aftermath of her sons actions.


02 - Take Shelter

Jeff Nichols // USA // 120mins

Michael Shannon gives the performance of a lifetime as Curtis, a construction worker plagued by apocalyptic visions who must learn to protect himself from mental illness and his family from the impending storm that he sees approaching.

Directed by Jeff Nichols, the film gives a gripping portrayal on how paranoia and the stigma of mental health can take over in middle America’s small town society. [N]

Best bit: Jessica Chastain’s Samantha makes a big call on what’s best for her husband and for her family as they take refuge in their underground storm shelter.


01 Drive

Nicolas Winding Refn // USA // 100mins

It’s rare that I don’t want a film to end, Drive was one such film. Man of the moment Ryan Gosling is the quietly spoken, intense staring stunt driver part time getaway driver but all round hero. I loved everything about this, the music, the perfect performances, the pitch perfect plot and the scorpion leather jacket. A modern, dreamlike at times, re-telling of the Shane western. Without question the film of the year. [P]

Best bit: The chemistry between Carey Mulligan and Gosling gives us one of the most sexual charged relationships of the year.
Bonus best bit: That scene in the lift.

So there we have it. And if you’re curious in what our individual lists looked like…


Nigel’s top 25

Take Shelter
Martha Marcy May Marlene
The Artist
Hell and Back Again
Kill List
A Separation
We need to talk about Kevin
Fast Five
Margin Call
Attack The Block
Elite Squad 2
Crazy, Stupid, Love
The Descendants
The Skin I Live In
Midnight In Paris
Tucker & Dale vs Evil
Like Crazy
Sucker Punch

Páraic’s top 13


and in no particular order 2-13…

tree of life
midnight in paris
the skin i live in
we need to talk about kevin
red state


Sometimes people ask me how I find the time for all the music, well I am embarrassed to say it’s due to a complete blind eye being turned to film in 2011. I have only seen Drive and Take Shelter in this list but will endevour to watch each and everyone of these by March…thanks chaps! Niall

In fairness if I was to recommend only two of the list, then they would be those two so I think you’re doing OK! No need to pack in the day job yet!

Drive is overrated, imho.

Take Shelter number 2? Great list though. Kill List was so good. Blue Valentine is missing but that was maybe last year?

Yeah, we both saw Blue Valentine, (with Ryan Gosling!) at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2010. Only reason its not on the least though, it’s probably top of my 2010 picks.

Weird dilemma whether to include films like it, Black Swan or True Grit… This year I’ve been lucky enough to see some releases that won’t get into Irish cinemas until the coming weeks and months. Things are improving with blockbusters but the smaller pictures still have a way to go…

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