In descending order of preference…
20. Las acacias (Pablo Giorgelli) Verve Pictures
19. Pina (Wim Wenders) Artificial Eye
18. Un poison violent [Love like Poison] (Katell Quillévéré) Artificial Eye
17. How I Ended This Summer [Kak ya provyol etim letom] (Aleksey Popogrebskiy) New Wave Films
16. Melancholia (Lars von Trier) Artificial Eye
15. The Ides of March (George Clooney) Entertainment One
14. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson) StudioCanal
13. Mysteries of Lisbon [Mystérios de Lisboa] (Raúl Ruiz) New Wave Films
12. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen) Warner Bros
11. Tomboy (Céline Sciamma) Peccadillo Pictures
10. Weekend (Andrew Haigh) Peccadillo Pictures
A pitch-perfect romance – by turns charming and provocative – that announced Andrew Haigh as a British filmmaker to be reckoned with. I wrote about it here.
9. Archipelago (Joanna Hogg) Artificial Eye
Joanna Hogg’s second film more than lived up to the promise of Unrelated, with another expertly modulated family-on-holiday drama, played for maximum cringe factor by a brilliant ensemble cast. A great island film too, with marvellously evocative Scilly Isles setting.
8. Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo) Metrodome
Gerardo Naranjo’s beauty-queen-gets-mixed-up-in-the-Mexican-drug-wars thriller transcends its own high concept by being a brilliant exercise in the use of shallow focus and framing to create palm-sweat-inducing tension and unease. I read Naranjo’s film described as The Headless Woman meets Michael Mann – spot on.
7. Essential Killing (Jerzy Skolimowski) Artificial Eye
In the year that the re-release of his 1970 Deep End promoted that film to classic status, Jerzy Skolimowski returned with this hallucinatory survival drama starring Vincent Gallo as a Taliban terrorist who escapes from custody into a hostile, wintry landscape. A strange, off-kilter action film lit up by passages of surpassingly poetic beauty – proof that Skolimowski’s surrealist eye remains intact.
6. Poetry [Shi] (Lee Changdong) ICO/Arrow
Lee Changdong’s follow-up to his terrific Secret Sunshine is even better. It’s the story of a grandmother with Alzheimer’s taking up poetry classes, finding the space late in life to explore her own sensibility – potentially icky subject matter, but there’s nothing mawkish here, just quiet emotional devastation.
5. Nader and Simin, a Separation [Jodaeiye Nader az Simin] (Asghar Farhadi) Artificial Eye
Any superficial notions that the once-feted Iranian national cinema was past its best were blown from the water by this Golden Bear-winning marital drama by Asghar Farhadi. Like Margaret, it brings to mind Michael Haneke in the precision with which it draws its characters into a maelstrom of conflicting motivations.
4. Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance) Optimum Releasing
This bruising and brilliant autopsy on the rot setting into a formerly happy marriage features Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams giving performances you can’t take your eyes off.
3. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick) Twentieth Century Fox
After a second viewing, I’m still no closer to reconciling the side of me that adores Malick’s magnum opus – its fleet, rhapsodic vision of childhood, its prismatic fantasia on life on Earth – and the side of me that finds it cringe-worthily overblown and over-reaching. One thing is sure: it contains some miraculous cinema.
2. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan) Twentieth Century Fox
The #teammargaret frenzy that greeted the initially tiny UK release for Kenneth Lonergan’s second film turned Odeon Panton Street into the eye of a cinephilia storm in early December. A prickly, unwieldy and provocative New York drama that left me turning it over in my head for days.
1. The Portuguese Nun [A religiosa portuguesa] (Eugène Green) ICA
Eugène Green’s 2009 film saw only a brief release at the ICA this year, but was an indelible highpoint – a beguilingly daft, ludic and finally ecstatic sleepwalk through a timeless Lisbon.
This list is based on UK releases of 2011… Once upon a Time in Anatolia, Damsels in Distress, The Kid with a Bike, Shame… their time will come…