Tom Jolliffe looks back 10 years to 2011, offering up ten essential films from the year…
I’m almost dumbstruck by the fact that we’re now 10 years from 2011. To me, 2011 is the future. I’m still stuck somewhere in 2004. How in the hell are there 21 year olds born this century now? Still, here we are. Let’s not get too hopeful about the future prospects of cinematic offerings. We might as well look backward instead. 2011 was a pretty solid year of films, with a few real cult favourites littered through it. Here are 10 essential films from that year.
Lets start proceedings with a film that may have slipped your radar. Stellar actor Paddy Considine turned stellar film-maker, writing and directing this tale of an embittered man struggling with his vices and uncontrollable anger. Outside of a select audience in the UK, this didn’t really pick up the notice it deserved. Peter Mullan proved yet again what a thoroughly underappreciated actor he is with an astonishing performance and Olivia Colman is also superb here. She’s stepped into the kind of limelight she more than deserves in the intervening years, and is now (deservedly) an Oscar winning actress. Tyrannosaur is grim but compelling viewing.
Another film which slipped under the radar somewhat. Take Shelter is an enthralling character piece that sees Michael Shannon give a career best performance as the blue collar family man who becomes obsessed with a premonition he has about an apocalyptic event. His obsession soon interferes with work and family life, and finds him at odds with the community too. The film brought writer/director Jeff Nichol to public attention and the film was adorned with critical praise, even if it couldn’t quite find a wide audience. It’s a wonderful film.
Brad Pitt as a baseball coach who develops a revolutionary scouting method based on statistics. It sounds either like a fantasy baseball league enthusiasts wet dreams, or cinematic dirge to the rest of us. Turns out the fantasy league lovers are right. Moneyball was unfairly dismissed in some corners as populist tripe, but it’s an engaging true life story that somehow makes the subject entertaining. Pitt is as effortlessly charismatic as you’d expect but the big surprise here was Jonah Hill, stepping away from stoner comedies and delivering a performance that annihilated any preconceptions about his limitations. With no shortage of snobbery some dismissed its six Oscar nominations (including a surprise but welcome nod for Hill and one for Pitt), but the award season success was warranted.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Based on the novel by the late John Le Carre, this classic cold war era story gets a pitch perfect movie adaption (that’s also worthy of the excellent British TV mini-series). Gary Oldman leads an all star cast in a film helmed excellently by Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In). It’s a slow burning and old fashioned thriller that is constantly intriguing. Bridget O’Conner and Peter Straughan do an exceptional job of adapting the classic source material. Despite the critical acclaim this didn’t strike a chord with everyone, because of the slow pace that particularly around 2011 felt very much against an increasing rise in relentless films aimed at shorter attention spans.
Here’s a curveball. This was pretty underrated for me. It often got dismissed as Liam Neeson doing Taken with Wolves. In actuality the film feels far more like a blending of literal and allegorical battle with the grief of loss. It’s a simple conceit but a brutally effective fight for survival in extreme conditions against a fierce animal enemy. A pack of wolves pick off survivors of a plane crash one by one in almost uninhabitable snowy conditions. The setting and enemy make for a thrilling film, but Neeson’s performance (as the almost hopeless hunter who finds his will to survive) is layered with the actors own fresh grief in a film that was made not long after losing his wife Natasha Richardson in a tragic accident.
This almost instant cult hit became the “have you seen…” film among cinephiles that year. An uber-sleek neo-noir about a stoic stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver, which owed much to Michael Mann. Nic Winding Refn had some cult fans from his Pusher series and Bronson in particular, but Drive really brought him to a wider attention. It was, and still is, his most accessible ‘mainstream’ film, and as such his follow ups have tended to alienate as many as they have certainly allured. Additionally, Ryan Gosling saw a big jump in popularity, particularly with male audiences when he suddenly became the coolest mofo in Hollywood. A superb soundtrack, stunning visuals and a sensational cast (including Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman) combine for a film that is still one of the best of the last decade.
Another neo-noir. This also marked one of two films in a key year for Matthew McConaughey. It was really the beginning of the McConaussaince. Having spent many years in mediocre romantic comedies, that normally had him leaning at an askew angle on the poster (occasionally back to back with the female lead), he took a decisive shift in direction and began making darker, more mature and challenging cinema. There was the Lincoln Lawyer too but Killer Joe was more enjoyable for me (Mud, by Jeff Nichols came the following year). A dark tale of deceit and attempted murder as a two bit criminal in heaps of debt (Emile Hirsch) gets himself entangled with a cop/killer for hire with a reputation that precedes him. McConnaughey revels in his enigmatic and villainous role. He’s sublime and the rest of the cast are too. It also marked an excellent return to form for one of cinemas masters, William Friedkin. He’s been unable to match it since.
Duncan Jones followed an excellent debut in Moon, with this other beautifully confined and engaging Sci-Fi thriller. Here, Jake Gyllanhaal does Groundhog Day with a twist, having to repeat the same final moments before an explosion annihilates a train full of passengers. It’s up to him to find the bomber and prevent him from striking again. It’s complex, twisty and well crafted. Gyllenhaal is immense and the nature of his role, and the simulation are tragic. Fates of those within the simulation are inescapable as he battles for the future of potential next victims of the bomber. To the surprise of many this was overlooked entirely by the major awards.
Familial drama meets MMA brawl. Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) an ex-marine, haunted by his past returns home, setting his sights on MMA glory, enlisting his father (Nick Nolte) to train him. Meanwhile, once promising fighter turned teacher, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), the estranged older brother makes a return to fighting low level brawls to make ends meat. A meeting of brothers in the ring is inevitable. Warrior is brilliant, anchored by exceptional performances from Hardy, Edgerton and Nolte (especially great). It’s gruelling, engrossing and the fights are exceptionally realised too. I found this one more enthralling than The Fighter, which covered some similar caveats (in that true to life tale with Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg from 2010).
Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender recombined after their star-making film Hunger (2008) with Shame. Fass plays a sex addict whose hedonistic pursuits are disrupted by the arrival of his wayward sister (Carey Mulligan). As we’ve now come to expect and appreciate, McQueen is uncompromising in his stark character study and likewise, Fassbender entirely committed to his complex role. Mulligan is also exceptional. It’s a stunning film that won’t suit all tastes given its unflinching look at a kind of addiction not often covered in film (in a realistic way anyway). It’s a perfect cohesion between director and cast.
What are your favourite films from 2011. Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth. Join me next time as I peer back another decade to 2001…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/