2011 in review: The full poll

101 critics and curators remember their film highlights of the year.

Sight & Sound contributors
Updated:

The Artist (redux…)

The Artist (redux…)

Melissa Anderson
The Village Voice, USA

In alphabetical order:

The Arbor
Clio Barnard, UK

A Dangerous Method
David Cronenberg, France/Ireland/UK/Germany/Canada

Jane Eyre
Cary Fukunaga, USA/UK

Mysteries of Lisbon (Mistérios de Lisboa)
Raúl Ruiz, Portugal

To Die Like a Man (Mourir como un homem)
João Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal/France

Highlights

Film critics are constantly humbled by how much they haven’t seen, even in the oeuvre of a favourite performer. While researching a piece on Catherine Deneuve – an actress about whom I thought I knew everything – I watched My Favourite Season (1993) for the first time. In the third of six films she’s made thus far with André Téchiné, her most frequent collaborator, Deneuve plays Emilie, a woman growing estranged from her husband and her two late-adolescent children including real-life daughter Chiara Mastroianni in her screen debut). Emilie’s distance is understandable: her mother is growing frailer and she and her younger, erratic brother Daniel Auteuil) share the guilt of failing to care for her adequately. It’s one of Deneuve’s best, most undersung performances, a perfect distillation of a woman torn between the desire to relinquish all family obligations and the desperate need to hold her kin close – a template of sorts for the indomitable matriarch she plays in Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale (2008).

Geoff Andrew
Head of film programme, BFI Southbank, UK

What a strange year! So many fine films and so many of them frustratingly, even fatally flawed. Of course, there’s no such thing as perfection but even so a large number of enormously impressive films this year fell foul, at some point or another, of overkill, cliché or some other niggling shortcoming. (I’m thinking of the dinosaur’s discovery of mercy in The Tree of Life, for example, or Michael Fassbender’s final, pathetic-fallacy collapse in Shame.) If this makes me sound ludicrously pernickety, remember that I’m not saying I didn’t find much to enjoy and admire in these and other works; merely that 2011, for me, provided fewer fully satisfying films than usual. That said, the following (in alphabetical order) certainly did the trick:

Footnote (Hearat Shulayim)
Joseph Cedar, Israel

Literary cinema in the best sense (with form echoing content); ethically astute and complex, refreshingly different.

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

Seemingly effortless filmmaking but note how the extraordinary energy accompanies subtle psychological nuance.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

Miniaturist and monumental, leisurely and lithe: entire lives encapsulated in one long night’s journey undertaken by a country doctor.

This Is Not a Film (In Film Nist)
Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran

Panahi invites us into the actual and imaginative realm of his apartment, where he’s confined by the sentencing of the Iranian authorities. A man who clearly lives and breathes film, he uses the camera – trained on himself more or less throughout the movie – as a means of liberation, sending his thoughts, experiences and feelings into the wider world. At once utterly specific in its focus and wholly universal in its relevance, it’s perhaps the bravest and most important home movie ever made.

True Grit
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, USA

Genre cinema at its best: adult, unshowy and evocative of a vanished world both credibly familiar and utterly strange.

Highlights

Best screening: the Sunday morning Cannes press show of The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, France) – fun at last!

Best scene: the final (Guerín-directed) shot in Correspondence: Jonas Mekas – JL Guerín (José Luis Guerín, Jonas Mekas, Spain/USA) – Ozu, Kiarostami and other masters paid subtle, touching tribute.

Best film by a newcomer: Darwin (Nick Brandestini, Switzerland/USA) – documentary at its most compassionately, curiously humane.

Best revivals: La Peau douce (François Truffaut, 1964, France/Portugal) and La Piscine (Jacques Deray, 1967, France) – two very different but likewise piercing studies of desire turned sour, each deserving of far greater renown.

Nigel Andrews
Financial Times, UK

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

Le quattro volte (The Four Times)
Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland

Poetry (Shi)
Lee Chang-dong, S Korea/France

13 Assassins (Jûsan-nin no shikaku)
Takashi Miike, Japan/UK

Rango
Gore Verbinski, USA

The first four voted themselves in on a first viewing – movies that surprise, disorient, tease, shock, provoke, excite, everything great cinema should do. Rango took a second viewing to reveal all its delights: a Hollywood digimation comedy spectacularly fearless in its surrealism, with the year’s best voice-acting from Johnny Depp as the titular lizard lost in the far west.

Highlights

Most memorable happening at a festival: the Lars von Trier rumpus at Cannes, which sorted the censoriously self-righteous from those who think artists should have the freedom to make fools of themselves, provided they keep making good films.

Most memorable cinema visit: seeing Paranormal Activity 3 in an American cinema, with a late-night Saturday audience volubly and near-deafeningly freaked out as the fright moments accumulated.

Sergio Angelini
Critic, UK

Portents for the next generation of TV releases on home video have been somewhat mixed over the last twelve months. In the US, cult genre shows like The Man from Atlantis and The Girl from UNCLE have been made available solely as burned on-demand releases on inferior DVD-R discs, while even high visibility titles like The West Wing have been announced on HD for download only, potentially bypassing physical media altogether. On the other hand, on this side of the pond several long-desired archive releases – such as the complete A Very Peculiar Practice by Andrew Davies and the first series of Trevor Eve’s ‘private ear’ drama Shoestring – have finally made their appearance in tip-top shape after years of delay, albeit only in Standard Def.

Civilisation and Space 1999 made the transition to HD, however, with often remarkable results, while Tales Out of School, despite some technical infelicities, finally returned Made in Britain to the other parts of David Leland’s quartet of plays to which it rightfully belongs. The undoubted highlight of this year, though, has been the release on Blu-ray of the entire five-season run of Rod Serling’s seminal Twilight Zone anthology. Delivered in sturdy yet surprisingly compact amaray cases that, TARDIS-like, seem much bigger on the inside, the episodes themselves are beautifully rendered in HD from 35mm originals, offering image and sound quality of such richness and clarity as to be often utterly breathtaking. Even the weakest of entries from the later seasons offer not only the best possible presentation imaginable but also a huge array of supplementary materials. Classic TV, in every sense.

Michael Atkinson
Critic, USA

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Lung Boonmee Raluek Chat)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/UK/France

My Joy (Schastye moe)
Sergei Loznitsa, UK/Ukraine/Netherlands

Poetry (Shi)
Lee Chang-dong, S Korea/France

City of Life and Death (Nanjing! Nanjing!)
Lu Chuan, 2009, China/Hong Kong

Tuesday, After Christmas (Marti, dupa craciun)
Radu Muntean, Romania

Robin Baker
Head Curator, BFI National Archive, UK

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Werner Herzog, Canada/USA/France/UK/Germany

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

Le quattro volte (The Four Times)
Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tomas Alfredson, UK/France/Germany

Weekend
Andrew Haigh, UK

Highlights

The transformation of Georges MélièsTrip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune, 1902) through the reintroduction of his hand-painted colours.

After the British successes at Venice and Toronto, remembering that it was a vintage year for TV drama, too, with Appropriate Adult (Julian Jarrold), The Promise (Peter Kosminsky) and The Shadow Line (Hugo Blick).

The collective gasp of horror and delight from the audience at the premiere of the BFI’s restoration of The First Born (UK, 1928) as Miles Mander meets his nemesis in the form of a paternoster lift.

Clear proof that the British documentary lives and thrives on the big screen: Senna (Asif Kapadia, USA/UK/France), Waste Land (Lucy Walker, João Jardim, UK/Brazil, 2009), Project Nim (James Marsh, UK).

Ken Loach’s generous decision to donate his papers to the BFI National Archive.

The indefinable brilliance of a widescreen Ann-margret singing the title and closing tracks in Sony-Colombia’s Eastmancolor restoration of Bye Bye Birdie (George Sidney, USA, 1963).

Favourite movie scene of the year? A toss up between the dog/truck/Roman centurion shot in Le quattro volte and Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kirtsen Dunst facing the apocalypse in a hut of twigs in Melancholia. Both overwhelming in their very different ways.

Favourite TV drama scene of the year? Without doubt, Matthew’s Lazarus-like return to health in Downton Abbey.

James Bell
Sight & Sound

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

Essential Killing
Jerzy Skolimowski, Poland/Norway/Ireland/Hungary

Snowtown

Damsels in Distress
Whit Stillman, USA

Highlights

Finally delving into Mikio Naruse’s films while writing an obituary of the great Japanese actress Takamine Hideko, and finding them to be everything their champions claim them to be and more. Why are they still so poorly represented on DVD? Won’t somebody please release Yearning, Older Brother, Younger Sister, Mother…?

Staying up ’til dawn watching Christian Marclay’s The Clock at the Hayward Gallery in March.

Seeing the restored print of Barbera Loden’s searing Wanda at the LFF.

Talking to one of the great British singers, Shirley Collins, about her memories of the Padstow May Day celebrations for the release of the BFI’s Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow DVD set.

The BFI’s Edward Yang retrospective, and in particular Taipei Story.

Seeing William Klein’s fantastic, revealing, hysterically funny The Little Richard Story at the ICA – one of the greatest music documentaries I’ve ever seen.

Anton Bitel
Academic and critic, UK

Kill List
Ben Wheatley, UK/Sweden/Australia

Bringing the traditions of Hammer up to the post-9/11 present, and utterly disorienting in its merging of kitchen-sink realism with unnerving surrealism, this takes British horror somewhere as uneasy in its familiarity as in its novelty.

Poetry (Shi)
Lee Chang-dong, S Korea/France

As a grandmother with Alzheimers attempts to compose her first poem, Lee Chang-dong’s quiet reverie lets viewers read between the lines of age, memory, regret and guilt.

Detention
Joseph Kahn, USA

While Joseph Kahn’s feature debut Torque was high-octane nonsense, his follow-up, though every bit as fast and furiously paced, is also razor smart, an echoing assembly hall of postmodern wit and manic pastiche. Not just a contender for best cross-genre teen movie but an impossibly seamless amalgam of most of its rivals.

Footnote (Hearat Shulayim)
Joseph Cedar, Israel

A tragicomedy of Oedipal conflict and textual criticism set in the small but surprisingly resonant world of Talmudic scholarship.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tomas Alfredson, UK/France/Germany

Alfredson paints Le Carré’s novel four shades of brown, yielding a very adult thriller, shot and performed with elegant cool.

Highlights

Second Sight’s DVD release of Joel Anderson’s reflexive faux-documentary chiller Lake Mungo (which would be my film of the year, were it not from 2008); Park Circus’s re-release of Ivan Passer’s wonderfully ambivalent slacker noir Cutter’s Way (a 70s film from the early 80s, as passed over and out of time as its characters); and the classification debate over Tom Six’s The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), in which, over the course of just four months, the BBFC shifted from a categorical and category-denying) no to a compromising yes.

Nick Bradshaw
Sight & Sound

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

Dreams of a Life
Carol Morley, UK

Bombay Beach
Alma Har’el, USA

Position Among the Stars (Stand van de Sterren)
Leonard Retel Helmrich, Netherlands/Indonesia

Snowtown
Justin Kurzel, Australia

+ Take Shelter (tie)
Jeff Nichols, USA

Highlights

The vibrancy – not to mention urgency – of independent feature documentaries seemed to me the big story of the year. Leonard Retel Helmrich’s IDFA winner Position Among the Stars and Alma Har’el’s Tribeca winner Bombay Beach both extended the language of immersive verité-style documentary (the latter into the dance film) while taking impressions of modernity and its misfits in globalising Jakarta and back-sea California, respectively.

Steve James’s Doc/Fest winner The Interrupters and Carol Morley’s Dreams of a Life each etched worrying, indelible fables of death and the city (gang war-ridden Chicago; atomised London), mixing compelling interview testimonies with verité footage in the former case and eerie re-enactments in the latter. And these were just the tips of an iceberg of great work (Give Up Tomorrow, At Night I Fly, Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, The British Guide to Showing Off…).

An honourable mention for Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s Borrowers adaptation Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti), offering hope that Studio Ghibli might outlast its founding geniuses Miyazaki Hayao and Takahata Isao.

‘Live’ highlights: an afternoon of Christian Marclay’s The Clock at the Hayward gallery; James Benning’s introductions of (a lot of) ‘New Work’ at the Vienna Film Museum (and an interview for a forthcoming edition of S&S); and Tate Modern film curator Stuart Comer’s introduction of a superb double-bill of documentaries about Los Angeles’ signage and street art, Thom Andersen’s 2010 Get Out of the Car and Agnès Varda’s 1981 Mur Murs.

Peter Bradshaw
Guardian, UK

The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, France

A glorious film for which I am temporarily suspending my rule never to use the word ‘perfect’.

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Malick’s massive, and massively strange, Christian-humanist meditation on death and rebirth.

Arrugas (Wrinkles)
Ignacio Ferreras

This Spanish animation premiered at San Sebastian this year: based on a graphic novel, it is about a care centre for people with Alzheimer’s – funny and heartbreaking.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tomas Alfredson, UK/France/Germany

A superbly achieved version of the Le Carré classic.

Dreams of a Life
Carol Morley, UK

Chilling, gripping psycho-archaeological documentary about London loneliness: the case of Joyce Vincent, the young woman who lay dead, undiscovered, in her North London flat for three years.

Nicole Brenez
Critic, France

Abel Ferrara in Lucca
Gérard Courant, France/Italy

A simple, modest and faithful record of some moments at the Lucca Film Festival in October 2010, with songs and speeches by Abel Ferrara: trace of the co-presence of two of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, dissident and true sons of Cesare Zavattini’s revolutionary spirit.

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaucescu (Autobiografia lui Nicolae Ceausescu)
Andrei Ujica, Romania

How propaganda reverses itself into a devastating critique of any political power.

Far from Afghanistan
John Gianvito, Jon Jost, Minda Martin, Travis Wilkerson, Soon-mi Yoo, Rob Todd, Pacho Velez, USA, in progress

To commemorate the tenth year of the invasion in Afghanistan, a collaborative work analysing the logics and consequences of American imperialism.

Impressions
Jacques Perconte, France

Digital fresco about Normandy landscapes that renews the forms of editing.

Video Letter
Masao Adachi, Japan

Adachi, still a political prisoner in Japan in the sense that he can not travel abroad, sends a video-letter to his audience to explain his ideals, fights and questions.

Highlights

Book: Radical Light: Alternative Film & Video in the San Francisco Bay Aera, 1945-2000 (Steve Anker, Kathy Geritz, Steve Seid, eds), a scientifically and visually magnificent survey.

Film/Exhibition: ‘Correspondence(s)/The Completed Letters’, curated by Jordi Ballo for the CCCB (Barcelona, Spain): five video-letters exchanges between filmmakers from different parts of the world, including José Luis Guerín and Jonas Mekas, Albert Serra and Lisandro Alonso, Isaki Lacuesta and Naomi Kawase, Jaime Rosales and Wang Bing, Fernando Eimbcke and So Yong Kim.

Retrospective: ‘Minding the Gap: The Films of Dick Fontaine’, curated by Michael Chaiken at the Anthology Film Archives, New York. A great British stylist and fighter with a knack for working exactly where the wind of history begins to blow.

Screening: On September 28th, the quality of the screening of John Gianvito’s My Heart Swims in Blood through Vimeo, during the World Cinema Now! Conference in Melbourne, was so excellent we could count the feathers on the Hegelian owl.

Website: livestream.com/globalrevolution. Livestream of the occupation movements all over the world, covered by independent journalists and filmmakers.

Michael Brooke
Critic, UK

For various domestic reasons, I skipped most of the festival circuit and saw fewer new releases than at any other point in my adult life. But, in reverse alphabetical order (since The Turin Horse was the clear winner):

The Turin Horse (A Torinói ló)
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US

If this really is Tarr’s last film, it’s one hell of a swansong: an end-of-civilisation parable set in a world that makes Lear’s heath seem like sun-kissed moss.

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Time will judge the lasting worth of Malick’s typically elliptical study of a 1950s childhood but as a visual and aural intoxicant it had no equals.

The Interrupters
Steve James, USA/UK/Canada/Norway/Sweden/Denmark

This portrait of volunteers tackling Chicago street violence stood out both for seriousness of purpose and the spellbindingly charismatic Ameena Matthews, gangland princess turned social crusader.

Essential Killing
Jerzy Skolimowski, Poland/Norway/Ireland/Hungary

With barely a meaningful word of dialogue, this existential parable about survival in a wholly unfamiliar environment was a spare, haunting little masterpiece.

Attack the Block
Joe Cornish, UK/France

This riotously entertaining South London-set aliens-meets-hoodies romp is the kind of unpretentious genre entertainment on which a viable national film industry should thrive.

Highlights

The single most pleasurable cinematic experience I had this year was trawling through Second Sight’s DVD of The Colour of Pomegranates. After US, Japanese, French and Russian efforts, it was the fifth attempt at giving Sergei Paradjanov’s masterpiece a decent digital showcase and it finally did it justice, with an excellent transfer of the Soviet cut (rights issues precluded the inclusion of both versions and this is visually the best available) and a wealth of fascinating extras that shed valuable light on the history and content of this endlessly baffling and beautiful film. In particular, Daniel Bird’s wide-ranging documentary ‘The World is a Window’ made most other extras look anaemic.

Edward Buscombe
Critic, UK

This year I was once again on the jury for the Satyajit Ray Award, given to the best first feature shown at the London Film Festival. There were 40 films in contention, which made for a punishing if rewarding schedule; it’s a privilege to be allowed a snapshot of what’s new in world cinema, even if not every film is a masterpiece.

This year the standard was high, and we would have been happy to give to award to any of four or five films. Two stood out. One was Las acacias, an Argentine film directed by Pablo Giorgelli, with a deceptively simple, even banal plot in which a middle-aged and rather grumpy lorry-driver is obliged to give a lift to a young woman and her baby. In the course of the long drive, gradually these two people get to know and even like each other. Properly speaking, one should say three people because the baby certainly has a personality of its own.

Eventually, after much discussion, the award went to Li and the Poet, directed by the Italian Andrea Segre, about the relationship between a Chinese immigrant woman and an elderly fisherman, an unlikely story handled with delicacy and aplomb, and set in a wintry Venice, though not in those parts the tourists normally see.

Not a first but a second feature, Joanna Hogg’s Archipelago is that rare thing these days, a British film of restraint and precision, minutely detailing the kind of suppressed hysteria that seems so peculiarly typical of our upper-middle class.

I could not say that I enjoyed As If I Am Not There, a Macedonian film by the Irish director Juanita Wilson about the horrors of rape in the Bosnian conflict. It’s a harrowing film and a brave one, exploring emotions one wishes people didn’t have, not all of them belonging to the perpetrators.

Finally, a word for True Grit, not the very best of the Coens but a wonderful performance by the sainted Jeff Bridges.

Dave Calhoun
Time Out London, UK

The Turin Horse (A Torinói ló)
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

Pina
Wim Wenders, Germany/France/UK

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tomas Alfredson, UK/France/Germany

Highlights

Just getting to Fespaco (the biannual festival of African film) in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in the same week in February that events took a distinct turn for the worse in Libya – when my original flight was via Tripoli – felt like a feat. But, 12 days later, seeing the festival’s big award-winners carrying their trophies through a sweaty, packed, post-midnight Ouagadougou airport (translation: building site), with everyone clapping, just hours after the closing ceremony in the city’s stadium was a real thrill that made the gap between filmmakers and audiences feel pleasingly small. I also bumped into the filmmaker-critic Mark Cousins in Ouagadougou, camera in hand, and he deserves a name-check for his masterly TV series, The Story of Film An Odyssey.

Dylan Cave
Curator, BFI, UK

Attack the Block
Joe Cornish, UK/France

Cornish’s debut took Edgar Wright’s sense of fun with British genre-blending and, in doing so, pushed the British urban cycle out of its po-faced rut.

Lin
Piers Thompson, UK

A BAFTA-nominated short about a middle-aged woman travelling across Europe in search of a building glimpsed in a vision, ‘Lin’ emerged at the start of the year. The film’s images – especially the barren futuristic architecture – have stayed with me ever since.

Senna
Asif Kapadia, USA/UK/France

I loved Kapadia’s populist tribute to the Brazilian sporting hero, partly because it celebrates the glories of archive footage as well as the drama of motor racing.

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

The whispered dialogue and ponderous questions may have felt like Malick clichés but the film’s audacity, scale of ambition and faith in audiences impressed.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA

Ramsay’s muted horror movie was provocative, divisive, beautiful and torrid – a welcome ‘return’ to filmmaking.

Highlights

An unexpected thrill was seeing 94-year-old Bermudian actor Earl Cameron – a veteran of British social problem films from the 1950s and 1960s – delivering Othello’s final soliloquy to a mesmerised audience during an onstage Q&A. Elsewhere, the French premiere of Sue Bourne’s documentary Jig ended with two of the performers from the film suddenly appearing onstage and treating an already jubilant audience to their world-champion Irish dancing. Also, the rare British noir Corridor of Mirrors (Terence Young, UK, 1948) screened to a keen audience with an additional screening of a previously unearthed test reel of the film’s faded star, Edana Romney. Her onscreen pitch to get the film made was a fine reminder that the film business has always been one of perennial hard work, grit and prodigious good luck.

Tom Charity
Vancity Theatre program co-ordinator, Canada

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

Position Among the Stars (Stand van de Sterren)
Leonard Retel Helmrich, Netherlands/Indonesia

Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn, USA

This Is Not a Film (In Film Nist)
Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran

Source Code
Duncan Jones, USA/France

Highlights

I confess I often feel out of step with the multiplex audience but when you’re rolling in the aisles with them, as I was watching Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, USA/Japan), it’s a great feeling and a reminder of why people still go to the cinema.

The use of CGI in Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, USA) and Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, USA), as an expression of characters’ psychological tumult, seems to me worth infinitely more than the thousand ships and armies of digital cannon-fodder we’re supposed to wonder at in ersatz epics like Immortals and The Three Musketeers.

Footnote (Hearat Shulayim, Joseph Cedar, Israel) and the art of the hanging ending – a trope that seemed much in evidence this year but was rarely carried off with such satisfying élan.

The paper lanterns that float off the screen in the love scene in Tangled (Nathan Greno, Byron Howard, USA) – a rare instance of 3D beauty. See also the blizzard of cocaine in A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (Todd Strauss-Shulson, USA).

Lowlight: the dismaying disappearance of video (DVD/Blu-ray) rental stores, whether of the independent or mainstream variety. I enjoyed having DVDs on my shelves, and found browsing rental stores a rewarding experience. That era seems to be over, or almost over, and here in Canada the catalogues of Netflix and other online distributors are sadly deficient.

Godfrey Cheshire
Critic, USA

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux)
Xavier Beauvoir, France

The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, France

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Certified Copy (Copie conforme)
Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy/Belgium

Ian Christie
Professor of film history, Birkbeck, UK

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Deep, rich, deft in its camerawork and editing and sometimes dotty, this was undoubtedly the cinema event of the year, reaching all the way from Cannes into local multiplexes. Part of the joy of Malick’s grandiose exploration of childhood – both his hero’s and the earth’s – was seeing how it surprised and disconcerted audiences, often the same ones.

Faust
Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia

The conclusion of Sokurov’s extended meditation on the private lives of men associated with great evil (Hitler, Lenin and Hirohito) took us back to the roots of o’erweening ambition, with a dense, provocative reading of the Faust legend set in a magically morphed world that’s part Enlightenment science and part epic empyrean as imagined by Goethe. Awe-inspiring.

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

It’s too easy to take the Dardennes for granted, since their films remain resolutely focused on the interaction of marginal yet ‘normal’ characters and especially on the frayed bonds of child-parent relations. But between a desperate young runaway, his feckless father and Cecile de France’s would-be adoptive mother, there is a tension and truth that cuts through ‘broken society’ twaddle.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tomas Alfredson, UK/France/Germany

An elegant, gripping entertainment that’s a model of concise adaptation and a fine piece of time-travel back into the mindset and the look of Cold War Britain. Like earlier visiting directors casting a fresh eye on cherished British genres, Alfredson has shown the locals how to do it.

The Soldier’s Courtship
Robert Paul, 1896, UK

Unbelievably, the very first fiction film ever shot in Britain, long believed lost, has turned up in the Rome Cineteca Nazionale and received its restoration premiere at the Pordenone Giornate del Cinema Muto. The result is unexpectedly well staged and acted, with two dancers from the Alhambra music hall, on whose roof it was shot, throwing themselves into an uninhibited display of affection that certainly beats Edison’s coy Rice-Irwin Kiss of three months later.

Highlights

A superb French restoration of Méliès’s popular Trip to the Moon (1902), based on a coloured print from Barcelona, kicked off Cannes and showed at other festivals, reminding audiences of how impoverished our normal experience of silents has been. Mark Cousins’ wonderfully engaged Story of Film pilgrimage also appeared at various festivals before starting its run on More4. Another highlight was discovering the Chinese independent Xu Tong’s cycle of gutsy documentaries about colourful lives lived on the margins of China’s tumultuous recent history, when the latest, Shattered, showed at the CinDi Festival in Seoul.

Michel Ciment
Positif, France

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

Shame
Steve McQueen, UK

The Strange Case of Angelica (O Estranho Caso de Angélica)
Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal/Spain/France/Brazil

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Highlights

At the 2011 Cannes film festival, most of the films were screened in digital. We have to admit we enter a new area. We’ll miss the grain of 35mm and nothing will be better than the first print of a film coming out of the lab and being shown in the grand auditorium Lumière but the movie goers will certainly have a better average experience when looking at an old or new film in their neighbourhood theatre.

I was also struck by the high quality of a handful of British films, Shame, Wuthering Heights, The Deep Blue Sea and We Need to Talk About Kevin. And I don’t make this statement because I’m writing in Sight & Sound!

My third lasting impression was discussing with Jeff Nichols, the best independent American filmmaker to have appeared in years with two great films: Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter. I would like also to recommend L’exercice de l’état which seems to have been overlooked by the foreign press in Cannes. Pierre Schöller has made one the great french political films I have seen for a long time. Finally, Alain Bonfand’s book Le cinéma d’Akira Kurosawa seems to me one of the most stimulating studies I have read on a film director.

Roger Clarke
Critic, UK

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

I have never been an admirer of Trier but this seemed to me one of the most remarkable and passionate examinations of clinical depression ever made, taking the bold decision to depict it lyrically rather than with the usual bleached-out realism.  It held me for every second of the screen-time.

Le quattro volte (The Four Times)
Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland

This mix of rural realism and a kind of mystical appreciation of landscape seemed at times more like French than Italian filmmaking, yet I think of Pasolini and realise that mysticism has been too long absent from Italian Cinema. I loved it.

Kill List
Ben Wheatley, UK/Sweden/Australia

Wheatley’s debut feature Down Terrace was criminally overlooked but this genre mash-up colliding gangster flicks with The Wicker Man was something else – entirely fresh and a million miles away from two decades of light British comedies that are, thank God, at last beginning to fade.

Elena
Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia

This won the Special Jury Prize in Cannes for Zvyagintsev. The story of a nurse married to a wealthy former patient, it’s a tender tale of a reluctant murder and a miscreant son. I still think about it. That doesn’t happen with many films

Last Winter (L’hiver dernier)
John Shank, Belgium/France

American Shank made this French-language film set in the Massif Central in France. As I get older, I realise I have two favourite kinds of film: films that resemble dreams and films that describe a landscape. This has a fine central performance and thrilling cinematography. I do hope it gets distribution in the UK.

Highlights

Wonderful to see a fully and meticulously restored A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès – the one with the moon with a face, one of the most iconic images in cinema still reused in pop culture from The Mighty Boosh to adverts for herbal sleeping pills. Air did the soundtrack – it works.

Other highlights include Park Chan-wook’s short film Nightfishing, a spooky little number beautifully executed and filmed on an iPhone 4 with the best use of a traditional Korean hat in a musical number since ‘Karma Chameleon’. I’m looking forward to his English language debut with Nicole Kidman.

I didn’t manage to make Miranda July’s Screentalk at the London Film Festival but I have promised my partner to mention it here, since he loves The Future (Miranda July, USA/Germany) beyond all reason, and since mentioning the film will raise an amused eyebrow from the editor of Sight & Sound.

Oranges and Sunshine (Jim Loach, UK/Australia) with Emily Watson hit me in the solar plexus since I was given up for adoption at the same time these crimes against adopted children were committed by Barnados and the like, and I glimpsed another alternate life, quite a horrible one, in the dust of Australia.

Kieron Corless
Sight & Sound

Alps (Alpis)
Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece

The Portuguese Nun (Religiosa Portuguesa)
Eugène Green, Portugal/France

Poetry (Shi)
Lee Chang-dong, S Korea/France

Attack the Block
Joe Cornish, UK/France

Slow Action
Ben Rivers, UK

Highlights

Three medium-length films should be mentioned: Lisandro Alonso’s Untitled (Letter for Serra), Andrew Kötting’s This Our Still Life and Straub’s Un Heritier, all superb.

On DVD, another vintage year for Second Run with releases of Our Beloved Month of August, Red Psalm, and Szindbád the highlights – as ever, magnificent transfers and packages.

There were two stand-out moments of the year.

The conversation between screenwriter Paul Mayersberg and director of The Portuguese Nun Eugène Green at the ICA was erudite, in-depth, completely transfixing.

And Stuart Comer’s programming at the Starr Auditorium in Tate Modern is always stimulating and imaginative but screening Handsworth Songs a matter of days after the summer riots was inspired. The discussion afterwards, chaired brilliantly by Kodwo Eshun with four members of the Black Audio Film Collective present, was electrifying. I wish it could have gone on all night. “One of the masterpieces of 20th century cinema” is how Eshun described the film; but it’s still not on DVD.

Best discoveries – all down at the stalwart BFI Southbank – were Pastoral Hide and Seek, Arrebato (Rapture) and Cría Cuervos.

Mark Cousins
Critic, UK

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

I was in an edit suite all year but popped out to catch this, the greatest grief movie I have ever seen. It’s cut so fast that everything in it except the prehistoric scenes) is half glimpsed, as if sadness is something you see out of the corner of your eye.

Faust
Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia

Was this photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron?  No film this year knew more about the wonders of cinematography.

I Wish (Kiseki)
Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan

How does Hirokazu Kore-eda make his films with children so fresh? I Wish, in which kids trek to see bullet trains, was the funniest thing I saw on screen this year.

Bridesmaids
Paul Feig, USA/Japan

I Wish reminded me, strangely, of Bridesmaids, written by and starring Kristen Wiig.  I saw it on a 10-hour flight. Few films can be great on those small screens but its vitality and spikiness made it so.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace
Adam Curtis, UK

This was so intense that watching it was like going into the den of a lion.

Highlights

I started the year in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where the central square in the city was closed so that filmmakers could hold hands and walk in a vast circle to remember the dead movie-makers of the previous year. So moving, and not something that would happen in the UK!

At the Telluride film festival I saw Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk about Kevin and Steve McQueen’s Shame on the same day, back to back, and felt like I’d been carpet-bombed by brilliant Brits.

The revelation of the year for me was the Argentinian film Aniceto, by Leonardo Favio, shown in Telluride by legendary Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso. It was like a Rudolph Valentino movie, and as great as Vincente Minnelli’s musicals.

But my most memorable moment was in Moscow, in the apartment of Eisenstein’s wife Pera Atasheva. He didn’t always treat her well but there’s a note from him calling her his “soldadero”, the name for the women in the Mexican Revolution who travelled with the men. If his life was a war, she fought beside him. I raise a glass to her.

Fernando F. Croce
Critic, USA

This Is Not a Film (In Film Nist)
Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran

A Kafkaesque comedy of anxiety and a tale of empty spaces gradually filled, this micro-scaled masterpiece spoke most deeply about the relationship between the artist and the camera lens.

The Deep Blue Sea
Terence Davies, UK

“Beware of passion.” The moving camera as emotion, music.

The Turin Horse (A Torinói ló)
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US

The most dolorously elemental film since Sjöström’s The Wind, the pulverizing bolero to Sátántangó’s tango.

Take Shelter
Jeff Nichols, USA

In a year rich with indelible cinematic nightmares (Kill List, Martha Marcy May Marlene), this haunted me the most.

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

The end of summer, the Fall of Man.

Highlights

Seeing Certified Copy three more times. Soaking in Kino-Eye goodness at Berkeley’s Pacific Film ArchivesDziga Vertov retrospective. Savouring a triple-bill of mammoth masterworks (Aurora, Mysteries of Lisbon, World on a Wire) at the San Francisco Film Festival. Interviewing Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne for their marvellous The Kid with a Bike. Continuing to discover obscure gems (Ford’s The Rising of the Moon, Cukor’s Girls About Town, La Cava’s Private Worlds). Laughing from beginning to end with Horrible Bosses.

Sam Davies
Critic, UK

Weekend
Andrew Haigh, UK

Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti)
Hiromasa Yonebayashi

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

Meek’s Cutoff
Kelly Reichardt, USA

Le quattro volte (The Four Times)
Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland

I mention Arrietty in particular not necessarily because it was my favourite film of the year, but because it stood out so starkly against the dominant post-Pixar paradigm of family feature animation, one ruled by 3D digital modelling and crammed with wisecracks.

Other highlights were the meticulously tracked emotional fall-outs of A Separation’s narrative, the thrilling wordlessness of Le quattro volte, the disarmingly low-key Weekend and in Meek’s Cut-off, the proof there is still life in this strange genre, the post-western western.

Kelly Reichardt’s use of 4:3 chimed with a concerted effort to reduce a personal To Watch list to a manageable size, to which end I saw many hours of the format this year. The highlights (whether because they fully lived up to, or completely exceeded, expectation or critical reputation) included Bergman’s Life of the Marionettes and The Virgin Spring, Ozu’s Good Morning, Isao Takahata’s Pom Poko, Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place, Powell and Pressburger’s I Know Where I’m Going, John M Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven, Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder, Lumet’s The Pawnbroker, Jacques Tourneur’s Build My Gallows High, Carol Reed’s Kipps and the remarkable, pellucid UCLA restoration of Kent MacKenzie’s The Exiles.

Thomas Dawson
Critic, UK

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

Weekend
Andrew Haigh, UK

George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Martin Scorsese, USA

Michael
Markus Schleinzer, Austria

Highlights

In the year of the BFI’s comprehensive retrospective of Ken Loach’s near-50-year career in film and television, I jumped at the chance to visit the set of his new film, The Angels Share, shot in Scotland during the summer. I was there to write a set report for a glossy film magazine but over breakfast with the crew Loach suggested I double up as a extra in a press-conference scene being shot at a Highlands whisky distillery. It proved a perfect vantage point to observe the 75-year-old at work. There was no hiding behind video monitors or shouting through megaphones: through multiple takes, Loach unobtrusively made polite, practical suggestions and offered gentle words of encouragement to the youthful cast, whilst we non-professional extras were encouraged to add our own lines to the scene’s dialogue. Even if my contribution ends up on the cutting-room floor, I’ll have had the privilege of being directed by one of the UK’s finest filmmakers.

There were a number of superb cinematic reissues this year, including The Last Picture Show, Cría Cuervos, Cutter’s Way and Les Enfants du Paradis. The outstanding directorial season for me was BFI Southbank’s two-month Truffaut programme – a chance to appreciate on the big screen the conflict between what Robert Ingram has called “the absolute and the provisional” in the likes of La Peau Douce, L’Enfant Sauvage, L’Histoire d’Adèle H., La Chambre Verte and La Nuit Américaine. Let cinema reign indeed!

Maria Delgado
Academic and critic, UK

Las acacias
Pablo Giorgelli, Argentina/Spain

A Peruvian single mother, a cute baby and the taciturn loner driving them the 1,500km from Asunción to Buenos Aires. Giorgelli’s delicate and beautifully performed road movie is a lesson in stolen glances, silence and understatement.

Medianeras
Gustavo Taretto, Argentina/Germany/Spain

Both a study of Buenos Aires’s eclectic architecture and the isolating effects of life in a frantic metropolis, Taretto’s quirky take on the romcom is witty, stylish and deliciously idiosyncratic.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tomas Alfredson, UK/France/Germany

Dark, menacing, and impeccably creepy. Alfredson creates a rundown cold war 1970s that echoes our own warped times.

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito)
Pedro Almodóvar, Spain/USA

Almodóvar’s entertaining, exquisite and audacious fusion of melodrama, noir, horror, and sci-fi offers some telling comments both on his own filmmaking and on the value of the arts in compromised times.

The Waves (Las Olas)
Alberto Morais, Spain

Morais’s debut feature delivers the best film about the scars of the Spanish Civil War since Loach’s Land and Freedom.

Highlights

In no particular order…

What does it mean to ‘write’ in moving images to a peer? The filmed letters between six pairs of filmmakers at Barcelona’s CCCB (Centre for Contemporary Culture) move between the visual poetry of Víctor Erice and Abbas Kiarastami, the revisiting of past works in the exchanges between Albert Serra and Lisandro Alonso, and the contrast between Jonas Mekas’ daily activities and the ghosts encountered by José Luis Guerin in his delicate black and white ruminations on film, memory and landscape. Magical.

Watching Javier Rebollo editing his new black comedy, El muerto y ser feliz, in Madrid.

Discussing Raise Ravens with Saura on a warm Saturday in June and The Skin I Live In with Almodóvar less than 48 hours later and mapping with each the landscape of filmmaking in Spain between 1959 and 2011.

The publication of Ventura Pons’ memoirs, Els meus (i els altres): a highly personal journey through the city, people and events that have shaped the Catalan filmmaker’s artistic vision.

Mar Diestro-Dópido
Sight & Sound

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

The Portuguese Nun (Religiosa Portuguesa)
Eugène Green, Portugal/France

Hors Satan
Bruno Dumont, France

Attack the Block
Joe Cornish, UK/France

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

Highlights

Two medium length works: José Luis Guerín’s part of his Correspondence with Jonas Mekas and Ben Rivers’s Slow Action. A discovery from the past: Pastoral Hide & Seek (Den’en Ni Shisu) by Terayama Shuji. Plus two DVDs: Aita (Father) by José María de Orbe and Szindbád by Zoltán Huszárik. Equally inspiring, all these films, in their very different, idiosyncratic ways, push at the boundaries of cinema to transcend reality.

There were also two key rediscoveries this year, both part of the BFI Southbank season of post-Franco Spanish cinema: Carlos Saura’s Cría Cuervos and Iván Zulueta’s Arrebato; the latter haunted me even more than it did the first time I watched it. It’s still one of the most arresting, accurate depictions of addiction – to drugs but mainly to film.

Finally, David Lynch’s one-minute film ‘The 3 Rs’, made as the trailer for this year’s Viennale. Genius. Available on YouTube.

Bryony Dixon
Curator, BFI National Archive, UK

When I was explaining to a friend that I was choosing my top new silent films for 2011, he laughed and said, “But surely there aren’t any!” True, newness isn’t something you generally associate with silent film but my five favourites of 2011 all shared something novel or surprising to me.

Oblomok Imperii (Fragments of an Empire)
Fridrikh Ermler, USSR,1928

Top of my list was this complete revelation, seen in October at the Pordenone Silent Film festival. As the lights dimmed, I shifted uncomfortably in my seat wondering why I had never heard of it if it was in a programme called ‘The Canon Revisited’. Nor was I the only one transfixed by the ambition of Ermler’s filmmaking in his incredibly perceptive account of the returning memory of a shell-shocked soldier lost in time after the trauma of war and his anguished response to the transformed world he finds himself in. “Where is Petersburg?” he cries, faced with a monumental constructivist pile where his slum tenement once stood.

Highlights

My best silent movie moment was a spontaneous gasp from the audience in the LFF gala screening of the newly restored The First Born (Miles Mander, UK, 1928) and my best new silent film discovery a fragment of the 1902 Coronation Fireworks bursting onto the screen at the Bologna Film festival in glorious colour. And this is novel: at the Cannes Film Festival, bastion of art house exclusivity, two runaway silent successes. A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune, Georges Méliès, France, 1902), over 100 years old, was painstakingly restored with its original jewel-like colours and, joy of joys, a brand new silent film, of sorts: Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist which, despite its oh-so-clever tricks with the form, says something profound about the art of silent filmmaking. So there’s a good model for filmmakers in 2012: go a little bit cleverer and a lot more joyful.

Gareth Evans
Critic and curator, UK

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Le quattro volte (The Four Times)
Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland

Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgie de la Luz)
Patricio Guzmán, France/USA/Chile

Two Years at Sea
Ben Rivers, UK

These most profound films of the year share a searching metaphysical enquiry, a tactile beauty, strikingly associative narrative forms and a committed sense of our relationships to place. They all seek to express the importance of non-material means of possession and communion, and new patterns of arrangement in the common realm, in the tension between local being and global sensibilities, and in the constant negotiations around emotional, intellectual, social, political, ecological and financial priorities.

Their attention to time, history and memory is equally welcome. But these works move beyond a linear perception of chronology towards a sense of the simultaneity of timeframes (a shift mirrored in the emergent radical understanding of the material universe within theoretical physics). In this multifarious awareness of the priorities of existence, they are extremely timely documents, whose importance as way-markers towards a richer, more balanced and just form of civil organisation will only grow. It’s a privilege to be living as such films are being made.

Dragon Coconut and the Monster Rabbit
Indigo Luksch

Finally, my favourite children’s film of the year is this five-minute epic by a very young filmmaker whose visual enthusiasm underlines how important imaginative flights remain, especially in such challenging times.

Highlights

On a personal level, I have been proud to serve as co-producer of Grant Gee’s new essay film Patience (After Sebald), featured in Sight & Sound April 2011. It’s gratifying that this has secured US and UK distribution, the latter with Soda Pictures, opening in January 2012.

Similarly, involvement with Studio 75’s remarkable ‘Flat Screens’ operation in Haggerston, London, has been a moving and energising one. This council flat screening initiative (www.studio75.org.uk) by artist Andrea Luka Zimmermann and her colleagues, on an estate due to be demolished next year, vividly displays the centrality cinema can have to discussions on how to live and resist.

Leslie Felperin
Critic, UK

Las acacias
Pablo Giorgelli, Argentina/Spain

Pina
Wim Wenders, Germany/France/UK

Shame
Steve McQueen, UK

Twilight Portrait
Angelina Nikonova, Russia

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA

I selected my top five (listed in alphabetical order because I hate ranking things) by hastily running through the list of films I reviewed this year for Variety, and choosing the ones that most made me stop and think, “Ooo! Yes! That one!” Who knows if they’re the best or not, but they’re the ones I remember most fondly. Honourable mention should go to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, not only for being ace, but also for providing the most memorable viewing experience of the year when I saw it at the press screening at Cannes. It was near the end of the festival and everyone was exhausted, enervated and overstuffed with heavy, deep movies. Drive was like mainlining pure cinematic crystal meth, a most welcome pick-me-up.

The Ferroni Brigade
aka Christoph Huber & Olaf Möller
Critics, Austria / Germany

Glorious and manifold were the splendours we saw all through 2011 and yet it took us once again little more than a minute to decide on the films we’d feature here. Mind, it’s not only about the works themselves but also about the way they relate to each other.

A Series of Ferronian Thoughts
Thank You, Heinz Emigholz

We begin with an austere, constantly surprising, immensely entertaining essay on language, simultaneous translation, the pitfalls of communication (Die Falten des Königs, Matthias van Baaren); continue with a direct cinema comedy of errors showing German and Austrian leaders of politics, arts and philosophy trying to talk deep (Führung, René Frölke); peak with a screwball tragedy featuring Charlie Chaplin, Bobby Watson, Louis de Funès, Alec Guiness, Romuald Karmakar and 60 more more or less notables all doing Der Führer – call it: Everybody’s Hitler ‘Notes on Film 05 Conference’, Norbert Pfaffenbichler); relax with this wickedly bizarre meditation on life under Berlusconi and his politics of fun macht frei (Joule 3D, David Zamagni & Nadia Ranocchi); and end with a state funeral of a most particular kind (Zamach, Yael Bartana).

A Dangerous Method
David Cronenberg, France/Ireland/UK/Germany/Canada

+ Alps (Alpis)
Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece

Modernism, its brackets: from the first attempts at healing through talking to a perversion of group therapy; from a way to finally find oneself to a maze in which one can avoid facing one’s self forever; from cure to sickness; from a generously enlightening clarity of direction to its eerily glacial other.

Target (Mishen)
Alexander Zeldovich, Russia

Anna Karenina done as a politically über-charged SF-allegory about contemporary Russia’s oligarch-class, its aspirations and pretensions – we might just as well say: the future of Europe. Aesthetically stunning, intellectually stimulating entertainment in the grand style. Maybe the sole truly perfect piece of cinema (in contrast to filmmaking) 2011 had on offer.

Schakale und Araber
Jean-Marie Straub, Switzerland

+ Empusa
Paul Naschy, Spain

AV-arte piss povera: from a Paris living-room to some anonymous stretch of beach in Spain; from the stranger niches of universe Kafka to the farther shores of planet Naschy; from wide-eyed recitation to its histrionic stepbrother; from rage as a life force to fantasy as a way of bidding life farewell.

Evolution (Megaplex)
Marco Brambilla

The Tree of Life in three minutes flat, minus Heidegger. Thinking man’s The Clock. Quite possibly also the Faust II Sokurov never saw coming.

Highlights

The thing that meant most to the Ferroni Brigade in 2011 was the Viennale’s tribute to Soi Cheang (Zeng6 Bou2 Seoi6) – finally someone did it.

William Fowler
Curator, BFI National Archive, UK

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

With the exception perhaps of Terrence Malick, Lars von Trier is the only director I can think of who gets to make highly idiosyncratic auteurist movies with A-list stars and sizeable budgets. I always catch his movies for this reason and I liked Melancholia. The beginning was wonderful and the dark confrontational humour was as brilliant and perverse as ever.

The Houseless Shadow
William Raban, UK

William Raban has been making films for over forty years and this, his latest, is an unusually intimate and uncanny affair. Reading Charles Dickens ‘Nightwalks’ over contemporary HD images of London at night, it’s both mystical and political – a rare combination – and really quite haunting.

The Pips
Emily Wardill, UK

A beguiling and curiously understated film. An Olympic gymnast completely intrigues and absorbs our attention but then the inexplicable happens and the film’s reality is playfully torn apart.

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

I’m not sure if I’d revisit this Iranian film about a trial separation but I did very much like the way that it created considerable drama out of a complex situation where no characters could confidently claim to be in the right.

The Empty Plan
Anja Kirschner, David Panos, UK

Artists Kirchner and Panos won the Jarman Award this year and rightly so. This Brechtian drama about Brecht in Hollywood is an incredibly ambitious production and, although currently on tour with British Art Show, deserves a wider audience still.

Highlights

Presenting the BFI folk DVD Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow at the Cornish Film Festival and meeting Patrick and Jamie, the Cornishmen who lead the Mayday Obby Oss dance in Padstow.

Ian Francis
Critic and director, Flatpack Festival, UK

Kill List
Ben Wheatley, UK/Sweden/Australia

Two Years at Sea
Ben Rivers, UK

Senna
Asif Kapadia, USA/UK/France

Le quattro volte (The Four Times)
Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland

Attack the Block
Joe Cornish, UK/France

There was no shortage of dread and uncertainty around this year but there were also plenty of very good British films. (I was also tempted to sneak in Self Made and The Arbor, both viewed in late 2010.) Most compelling home-viewing experience was the online stream for Sikh community TV station Sangat TV, whose kamikaze reportage of the looting in Birmingham this summer was punctuated with adverts for ghee and home furnishings.

Out and about, I saw a brilliant potted history of 3D cinema at Hamburg Short Film Festival, sat under a dual carriageway singing along to The Wizard of Oz at Assemble’s ingenious Folly for a Flyover, and got swamped by the BBC Symphony Orchestra performing Neil Brand’s new score to Anthony Asquith’s Underground (1928).

Memorable film-showing experiences included a post-apocalyptic outdoor screening of neglected end-of-the-world thriller Miracle Mile, complete with burning oil drums and foraged food; watching the gleaming white behemoth of the Vintage Mobile Cinema greeted with awe around the West Midlands; and playing old rave videos to late-night revellers in the Lost Picture Show tent at Shambala.

On the shorts front, the Swedes are still hard to beat (including Ruben Ostlund, Niki Lindroth von Bahr and Johannes Nyholm), while Canada has turned out a string of shallow, derivative and marvellous promos for the likes of Battles and Oh Land. Most rewatched YouTube clip was probably an astonishing bit of Indian breakdancing and my favourite DVD was the FilmoTeca de Catalunya’s compilation of 31 shorts by trick filmmaker Segundo de Chomon.

Lizzie Francke
BFI Film Fund, UK

Bridesmaids
Paul Feig, USA/Japan

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

Filmmaking at its most flawless – an emotional, transcendental story of surrogate parenting that rewards repeat viewings.

Las acacias
Pablo Giorgelli, Argentina/Spain

Corpo Celeste
Alice Rohrwacher, Italy/Switzerland/France

A debut that shows how the coming-of-age drama needs to speak to the age. Here a story of a young Calabrian girl going through the rituals of catechism provides an astute reflection on contemporary Italy from the church to the state.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, USA

Directed by the Duplass brothers, who have made their mark with intimate comedies from the microbudgeted Puffy Chair to the studio-funded Cyrus, this is a joyful play on character and coincidence as it follows a weird and wonderful day in the life of the eponymous Jeff, a thirtysomething homebody with a desperate desire to bring some meaning to his tracksuit-wearing existence. Ultimately a meaningful and modern take on family, the film’s warm humour and note perfect performances make it a model of economical (in every way) filmmaking that deserves to have big reach.

Highlights

Meeting the Dardenne brothers at the London Film Festival provided me with my greatest highlight this year. In discussion with them about what they took from their background as documentarians to their fictional work, they commented that in both mediums they regard themselves as never being in control, that what they observe takes over. It might seem an odd comment – directing would seem to be all about control – but it’s the fact that they let the situations they create take on a dynamism of their own that gives their filmmaking such resonance.

Graham Fuller
Critic, USA

A Dangerous Method
David Cronenberg, France/Ireland/UK/Germany/Canada

Notwithstanding the thrashings Jung doles out to his mistress and former analysand) Sabina Spielrein, Cronenberg’s account of the rift between the psychiatrist and his mentor, Sigmund Freud, is his most cerebral drama yet. Christopher Hampton’s script may be wry – pompous Freud is constantly miffed by Jung’s wealth – but the film offers a chilling subtextual analysis of Oedipal anguish.

The Descendants
Alexander Payne, USA

Payne continues his meditation on middle-aged male befuddlement with George Clooney excellent as a Hawaiian lawyer negotiating the past infidelity of his comatose wife while learning to forge proper relationships with his daughters and to value his ancestral legacy.

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

The devastating scenes in which 11-year-old Cyril is told by his father that he doesn’t want to see him again and later appears to die are achieved with minimal fuss. The Dardennes’ tale of abandonment is as spare and uncompromising as their others – we can forgive them the gestures of hope.

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

Von Trier’s faux pas may have cost him the Palme d’Or but no backlash could diminish the power of his most swooningly beautiful film, which contains trace elements of Caspar David Friedrich, Last Year at Marienbad and Tarkovsky. Psychologically, it all makes sense – you can see exactly what it was like for these sisters to grow up with a rancorous, depressive mother and a fool of a father, and why one, relieved of social burdens, grows serene as the rogue planet approaches.

Tyrannosaur
Paddy Considine, UK

Amid a cluster of challenging British films, Considine’s directorial debut struck me as the best because of its unflinching look at how guilt corrodes, how hate can fill the space vacated by love in a marriage and how violent rage seeks victims.

Highlights

DVDs: Szindbád, ‘Ken Loach at the BBC’.

Charles Gant
Heat, UK

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

This is the film that moved me most all year, and uplifted me the most. It could easily be the most commercial and accessible film ever made by the Dardenne brothers but the challenge for its distributor is to communicate its life-affirming nature without spoiling the film’s significant moments of jeopardy for the audience.

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

I shamefully missed all the press screenings for A Separation and then sat with astonishment as a paying punter. It’s a fully formed, perfectly executed film that keeps on surprising. It will doubtless feature in the Foreign Language ghetto of various awards schemes but, really, was there a film this year so well written, acted or directed? It deserves to be recognised in major categories.

The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, France

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Senna
Asif Kapadia, USA/UK/France

Telling its story exclusively through archive footage, this is another picture that’s been delivered at the top end of achievement. It’s also hugely satisfying, and deserved all its commercial success, and more.

Highlights

Seeing Charlie Kaufman’s lecture/performance/out-of-body experience as part of the annual spotlight on screenwriters presented by BAFTA and the BFI. If there could ever be a Sex Pistols at the 100 Club of filmmaker lectures, this was surely it.

Ryan Gilbey
New Statesman, UK

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

The year’s most explosive action movie and its most suspenseful thriller; remarkable too for its inexhaustible Renoir-esque compassion.

Le quattro volte (The Four Times)
Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland

A true one-off. The director is a man of highfalutin ideas which don’t stop him from acting the giddy goat. One set-piece in particular would have Tati squealing in delight.

Meek’s Cutoff
Kelly Reichardt, USA

A fat-free western dense in mystery and meaning. Bravo for the use of the 4:3 aspect ratio to enclose brutally a yawning landscape (see also Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights).

The Portuguese Nun (Religiosa Portuguesa)
Eugène Green, Portugal/France

Green’s formally radical love story fizzes with playfulness: explaining that her latest film is unconventional, an actress receives the knowing response: “Boring, you mean?” It’s driven by its own seductive fairy-tale rhythm (in common with Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty, another picture I admired greatly this year).

Lawrence of Belgravia
Paul Kelly, UK

Unsung pop genius Lawrence (Felt, Denim, Go-Kart Mozart) is the subject of this fond, oddly moving documentary. He’s penniless, craves fame, thinks the internet is rubbish and can’t spell ‘vagina’. The film builds a convincing case for him as one of British pop culture’s last uncompromising heroes.

Jane Giles
Head of BFI Content, UK

In alphabetical order, here are my top five favourite new films that were released in UK cinemas during 2011. I’ve chosen films that made me want to punch the air and tell everyone I know to go see them.

Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky, USA

This delirious, genre-defying blend of psychological horror and melodrama is very feminine, a perfect follow-up to The Wrestler.

Dreams of a Life
Carol Morley, UK/Ireland

The Thin Blue Line meets Catfish in one of those intimate but universal films that challenges the way we feel about society.

Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn, USA

Great soundtrack, great jacket. As Refn said in an onstage introduction to the film “Wiolence + sexy romance + colour = cinema!”

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

I’d double-billed this with The Tree of Life, an incredible vision of domesticity crumbling into the end of the world.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA

This adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s fetishised novel really works and stands alone in its own right by visually realising the compulsive horror of the mother/child relationship.

Highlights

The Scala Forever season that played from August until October was a real triumph, incorporating old favourites such as Thundercrack!, Russ Meyer, John Waters, Jack Smith, Arnie and Dario Argento to celebrate the spirit of repertory cinema-going in a wide range of venues. No mere exercise in nostalgia, the season proved that a certain kind of programming unites and inspires audiences, whether in the backroom of a boozy bar, the Horse Hospital or the hallowed hall of NFT1.

Suzy Gillett
Head of Projects, London Film School, UK

Hors Satan
Bruno Dumont, France

Dumont aims for transcendental cinema and when he pulls it off, images and their power ricochet around my brain for days, weeks, years. This is Dumont sculpting Nolde landscapes, mainlining pure cinema.

Aman
Ali Jaberansari, UK

A perfect short film Iranian style, cool, calm and crafted with a little bite to end. A LFS graduate to track.

Morgen
Marian Crisan, Romania

This first feature by a young Romanian director deftly and humorously tackles migration.

La BM du Seigneur (The Lord’s Ride)
Jean-Charles Hue, France

This provocative and playful mix of doc and drama is set amongst Hue’s cousins on a French site somewhat like Dale Farm. It takes us into the heart of the caravans.

Highlights

Some rediscoveries. Watching The Oak (1992) by Lucian Pintilie, the doyen of Romanian cinema, at the Cluj festival was a transformative experience and tracking down the rest of his oeuvre a very satisfying expedition. One film that blew me away this year was the experimental Al-Yazerli by Qays al-Zubaidi (Iraq/Syria, 1972), screened at Tate Modern in March, which found an echo on the warm winds of the past for ongoing struggles. The box set of David Perlov’s Diary, covering 1973 to 1983 (ReVoir), takes you into another way of filming and observing life. What a genius.

Carmen Gray
Critic, UK

The Turin Horse (A Torinói ló)
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US

This radically pared-down exercise in apocalyptic entropy is a masterpiece all the more soul-wrenchingly desolate for being Tarr’s last film. The soundtrack alone is beyond words.

Shame
Steve McQueen, UK

An aesthetically stunning, original and psychologically astute portrait of addiction and the terror of intimacy.

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

This gloriously sublime and sincere, spiritual yet deeply flawed film was fascinating for the debates it provoked alone. It was like nothing anyone had ever seen.

Michael
Markus Schleinzer, Austria

An expertly controlled and complex study of the banal workings of power from Austrian director Markus Schleinzer.

Wuthering Heights
Andrea Arnold, UK

Arnold’s startling sensory assault stripped back artifice to recover the book’s essence, denying viewers easy sentiment in place of deeper emotional response.

Highlights

A new Second Run DVD is always a reason to get excited, and this year’s release of Hungarian director Zoltán Huszárik’s surrealist Szindbád (1971) was a treat of strange, visceral elegance.

Catching Crispin Glover present his Big Slide Show at the New Horizons Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland, was another highlight. This included a rare screening of his 2007 It Is Fine! Everything is Fine, a genuinely mindbending and fantastical yet profoundly humanising challenge to cultural taboo written by and starring cerebral-palsy sufferer Steven C. Stewart, in which he explicitly enacts his sexual fantasies playing a serial killer.

Peter Hames
Critic, UK

The Turin Horse (A Torinói ló)
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US

Reportedly his last film, Tarr’s vision is unlike that of any other contemporary filmmaker. Given that the Hungarian film industry’s new supremo – Andy Vajna (of Rambo fame) – has declared war on ‘unwatchable’ art movies, it may mark the end of a remarkable tradition – but I suspect not.

A Bitter Taste of Freedom
Marina Goldovskaya, Sweden/USA

Goldovskaya’s compelling documentary about the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot ‘direct cinema’ style before her death in 2006. Apart from its testament, it also reveals the continuing power of the format and complements earlier works such as Solovki Power (the first documentary about the gulags) and The Shattered Mirror.

Twilight Portrait
Angelina Nikonova, Russia

Strikingly shot on a minuscule budget using a mainly non-professional cast, this examines the developing relationship between a young woman and the policeman who may have raped her. Echoes of Loznitsa’s My Joy, but the film also draws a compelling portrait of the separate worlds of professional life and a developing underclass.

The Princess of Montpensier
Bertrand Tavernier, France/Germany

Tavernier’s adaptation of Madame de la Fayette’s novel about 16th century politics and passion proves that old fashioned storytelling has plenty of potential if, as here, it is employed with thought and precision.

Alois Nebel
Tomáš Luňák, Czech Republic/Slovakia/Germany

Based on a cult graphic novel, Luňák’s film uses rotoscope to produce stunning black and white images. Strongly atmospheric, its tale of a middle aged railway worker and his memories of the past is also a reflection on the realities of Central European history.

Highlights

Most interesting restorations: Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Pharaoh (Poland, 1966), an unusual widescreen epic set in a mythical ancient Egypt that is also a muscular account of political intrigue, and Faithless Marijka (Czechoslovakia, 1934), a feature by the leading avant-garde novelist, Vladislav Vančura, about life and work in sub-Carpathian Ruthenia between the wars. Most interesting event: Jan Švankmajer’s discussion of his work with a capacity audience during the Barbican’s Watch it Move animation season.

Sandra Hebron
Outgoing director, BFI London Film Festival, UK

Two Years at Sea
Ben Rivers, UK

Contemplative, immersive, distinctly authored and sometimes funny – what better combination?

The Descendants
Alexander Payne, USA

Welcome back Alexander Payne, intelligent chronicler of human failings.

Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life
Werner Herzog, USA

Uncomfortable and frequently depressing viewing, and all the better for it.

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

The Dardennes at their compassionate, clear-sighted best. Deceptively simple, profoundly humanitarian.

We Need to Talk about Kevin
Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA

+ Shame
Steven McQueen, UK

Sorry to do this troublesome shared place but I find it impossible to split these two; very different in many ways but each to be celebrated for originality and singularity of vision. How pleased I am that these two directors are making films and finding audiences.

Highlights

Jonas Mekas’s Sleepless Nights Stories in Berlin (and then in London); Christian Marclay’s The Clock at London’s Southbank Centre in the spring; Terence Davies’s return to feature filmmaking; the excited anticipation, already, of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis; Woody Harrelson’s very funny LFF career interview; in fact, on a highly personal note for me, a wealth of warm, generous and hugely talented LFF film maker guests, as well as appreciative and engaged audiences, making my last LFF as director a 16-day highlight.

Wendy Ide
The Times, UK

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

This Iranian moral drama is both elegant in its structure and restraint and compassionate in its approach. But what really struck me is the universality of the story – world cinema that emphasises the common ground rather than cultural differences is always refreshing.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Sean Durkin, USA

A confident and clear-eyed debut from Durkin, this was the year’s most effective psychological horror film. An arresting performance from Elizabeth Olsen was almost overshadowed by a chilling turn from John Hawkes.

The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, France

Bliss. Anyone who loves silent cinema, or indeed any cinema at all, will be hard-pressed to film a more eloquent articulation of celluloid passion.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tomas Alfredson, UK/France/Germany

A near-perfect adaptation of a cold war classic, this gets pretty much everything right, from the airless paranoia to the soul-crushing colour palette of the 1970s. Plus, the most stylish cinematography of the year.

The Yellow Sea
Na Hong-jin, South Korea

As brutal and urgent a slice of mayhem as I have seen all year. Not for anyone who is squeamish about axe-based cranial trauma – no guns here, the killing is at close quarters and the camera gets right in there with the blood and shattered bones.

Highlights

A Brighter Summer Day (1991), screening as part of the Edward Yang season at BFI Southbank. This film had eluded me for several years and for various reasons, until it became something of a Holy Grail movie for me. Fortunately, it was worth the wait.

Sophie Ivan
Critic, UK

Dreams of a Life
Carol Morley, UK/Ireland

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Werner Herzog, Canada/USA/France/UK/Germany

Kill List
Ben Wheatley, UK/Sweden/Australia

Attack the Block
Joe Cornish, UK/France

Wuthering Heights
Andrea Arnold, UK

Highlights

The Birds Eye View Film Festival has long been a highlight of the UK festival calendar but the 2011 edition has proved to be a bittersweet one with recent news that the full festival will not being going ahead in 2012, due to a 90 per cent slash in its public funding following the transferral of funds from the UKFC to the BFI (which currently has no provision for funding a festival of this kind). That the festival exists at all – acting, as it does, as a focal point for discussion of the importance of a balanced and diverse vision behind the films that reach our screens – is reason enough to cheer for it. In all honesty, though, what I’ll really miss come next March is a guaranteed week of top-notch cinema programming, events and one-off cross-arts performances, whose outstanding shared attribute is not the gender of those who created them but their quality.

The BFI’s restoration of Herbert Ponting’s The Great White Silence was outstanding in every aspect, from Simon Fisher Turner’s new score (which features archival recordings including an original sample of the ship’s bell and ambient recording taken inside Scott’s tent) to Ponting’s charming intertitles to the simply breathtaking fact that such an intimate document of this Antarctic expedition exists at all. Watching it feels like stepping into a cinematic time capsule.

Nick James
Sight & Sound

Le Havre
Aki Kaurismäki, Finland/France/Germany

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

The Turin Horse (A Torinói ló)
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US

This was the year when the m word – masterpiece – lurked about the scene, an overused term I don’t like to see much in Sight & Sound. But let’s just say that for me The Turin Horse and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia are total works that it will be hard for their makers to surpass. Of course, Béla Tarr has said he’ll never make another film. I expect Nuri Bilge Ceylan to make many more but I am still in awe of his new film’s achievement. The Kid with a Bike is another impeccably wrought moral drama of social observation from the Dardennes brothers; A Separation shows Asghar Farhadi to be a much greater talent than About Elly suggested, a major new voice in world cinema. Le Havre was my great joy of the year, Kaurismäki at his very best, a film I’m sad to see so poorly represented in these commentaries, although I’m aware that its absence from the LFF must have hurt its chances. Perhaps it’ll sweep the board when it’s released next year.

For me, though the world economy has teetered on the brink throughout, 2011 was a red letter year in every way. The BFI absorbed the rump of the UKFC to become the main body for film in the UK. I served on festival juries in San Francisco and the Cannes Critics’ Week, and explored the vivid splendours and intense pleasures of two great long-weekend festivals, Finland’s Midnight Sun and Colorado’s Telluride. At the latter Sight & Sound was awarded the Telluride Special Medallion, given to “a hero of cinema that preserves honors and presents great movies”. I was thrilled too to be part of the film that brought Terence Davies back to fiction filmmaking, The Deep Blue Sea (see our December 2011 issue), which closed the London Film Festival so memorably. And it has been great to have Saturday nights on TV given over to Mark Cousins’s splendid The Story of Film.

David Jenkins
Time Out London, UK

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

By an obscene margin.

The Turin Horse (A Torinói ló)
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US

People have said this is about death but I think it could also be about Tarr’s own strained efforts to remain uncorrupted and autonomous as an artist. His masterpiece?

Photographic Memory
Ross McElwee, USA/France

The continuing adventures of South Carolina’s hypersensitive poet-philosopher and hardline auto-archivist, and the big news is he’s reluctantly switched from analogue to digital film stock. Black-and-white photographs from his student days spur him to seek out an old flame in Northern France, which also gives him time to reflect on his relationship with his ne’er-do-well son. As usual with McElwee, the film is rambling and intimate, the revelations are universal and heartbreaking.

Damsels in Distress
Whit Stillman, USA

Stillman locates the meaning of life in hotel soap. A perfect comedy.

Nana
Valérie Massadian, France

I adored Bertrand Bonello’s House of Tolerance and Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet, but Nana is all the more impressive for being a debut. The performance by four-year-old Kelyna Lecomte tells the story of a marital breakdown through gestures alone. It’ll be a surprise if Massadian doesn’t go on to great things.

Highlights

BFI Southbank’s retrospective of Edward Yang, a director I’ve known and loved for over a decade on the back of a single film. It was thrilling to discover the work of Portuguese husband-and-wife filmmakers Antonio Reis and Margarida Cordeiro at the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea, specifically their astonishing 1984 film Ana. Also catching the newly restored print of Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970) at the London Film Festival made me wonder why it isn’t an established American classic.

Kent Jones
Critic, USA

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Words of Mercury
Jerome Hiler, USA

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen, Spain/USA

Woody Allen’s movie – his biggest hit ever, it seems – is simplicity itself. Eloquent, moving, hilarious, exhilarating: a tonic experience. The Dardennes film is one of their very best, and the balance between precision and a documentarian’s respect for ongoing life is fairly wondrous.

Words of Mercury is a new 25-minute film by the great San Francisco filmmaker Jerry Hiler, shot on reversal stock, developed and projected fresh from the camera at the New York Film Festival’s Views from the Avant-Garde. It’s the most gloriously sustained stretch of colour and motion I’ve seen since the silent section of Hou’s Three Times.

Speaking of Hou… In 1998, I watched Flowers of Shanghai with a friend who turned to me when the lights came up and said: “That’s something new in cinema.” I felt exactly the same about the Malick, a fearsome and awe-inspiring experience which, unlike past Malick films, is built on memory (in the matter of character). A lot of rhetoric has been tossed around about this movie, some of it ecstatic to the point of delirium, some of it hostile, resentful, and, it would seem, embarrassed. All of it seems to have been swallowed up along the way by the film itself and its immense point of view.

Highlights

Film Forum’s Essential Pre-Code series was New York’s event of the year in revivals. And the loving restoration of Nick Ray’s We Can’t Go Home Again was another highlight – a living emanation from another universe.

Philip Kemp
Critic, UK

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

A fiercely intelligent, emotionally and morally complex movie that never condescends to its audience.  One of the best films to come out of Iran.

Meek’s Cutoff
Kelly Reichardt, USA

With its mythic, near-dreamlike atmosphere, this feminist Western nods to the classics of the genre while coolly overturning all their assumptions.

A Screaming Man (Un homme qui crie)
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, France/Chad/Belgium/Cameroon/Burkina Faso/Netherlands

A moving, compassionate film, set in Haroun’s war-torn native country of Chad and shot with Ozu-like restraint.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA

Ramsay extends her range with impressive assurance in an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel centred around a performance of agonised intensity from Tilda Swinton.

Tomboy
Céline Sciamma, France

Sciamma’s micro-budgeted second feature draws an utterly convincing and unmannered performance from 10-year-old Zoé Héran.

Highlights

The re-emergence, thanks to an invaluable set of BFI discs, of Molly Dineen’s captivating TV documentaries, especially her London Zoo four-parter, The Ark.

Gabe Klinger
Critic, USA

The Songs (As Canções)
Eduardo Coutinho, Brazil

Memories of a Morning (Recuerdos de una mañana)
José Luis Guerin, Spain/South Korea

A Dangerous Method
David Cronenberg, France/Ireland/UK/Germany/Canada

This Is Not a Film (In Film Nist)
Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran

It’s the Earth Not the Moon (É na terra não é na lua)
Gonçalo Tocha, Portugal

Highlights

I’d add to the above list the entirety of Ken Jacobs’ 2011 output, which includes the masterful ‘Seeking the Monkey King’ and a freshly made film set against the Occupy Wall St movements.

Best film of 2011 that isn’t a film (pragmatically, not politically, speaking): the second season of the TV program Louie. Louis C.K., better known internationally as the “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy” guy (four million YouTube hits and counting), hit his long-gestating stride with what is perhaps the best and most relevant American televised series since The Wire.

Biggest Enemy of the Cinema, 2011: DCP. Nearly all the film festivals I attended this year experienced everything from minor mishaps (where did the subtitles go?) to total meltdowns (the whole computer system just crashed!) related to the Digital Cinema Package file system. The good news is that 119-year-old 35mm film continues to be a durable and relatively problem-free format.

(Real) Biggest Enemy of the Cinema, 2011: the Iranian and Chinese governments. Festivals shut down, films censored, and people in the film community incarcerated cast long and dark shadows over the cinematic year.

Worst Film Event, 2011 (or ever): Cannes. At the world premiere of This Is Not a Film, Thierry Frémaux congratulated himself and his organisation for their valiant efforts in bringing to the festival a work made by someone who has been banned from making films in his home country. A few days later, the festival effectively banned another filmmaker.

Robert Koehler
Variety, USA

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

This Is Not a Film (In Film Nist)
Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran

Slow Action
Ben Rivers, UK

The Turin Horse (A Torinói ló)
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US

Bachelor Mountain
Yu Guangyi

To provide a sense of how crucial film festivals are to the current state of cinephilia, I viewed these films at four different festivals on three continents: Ceylan’s and Yu’s in Vancouver, Panahi/Mirtahmasb’s in AFI Los Angeles, Rivers’s in Jeonju and Tarr’s in Berlin. And that doesn’t mention how close (closer than the thinnest hair) another five films come to these: The Tiniest Place (Tatiana Huezo, seen in Guadalajara); Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, seen in Los Angeles and Locarno); Aita (José María de Orbe, seen in Rotterdam); Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (David Yates, seen in Los Angeles); Sleeping Sickness (Ulrich Köhler, seen in Berlin).

Edward Lawrenson
Critic, UK

Poetry (Shi)
Lee Chang-dong, S Korea/France

Attenberg
Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece

Bridesmaids
Paul Feig, USA/Japan

The Turin Horse (A Torinói ló)
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US

Las acacias
Pablo Giorgelli, Argentina/Spain

Mark Le Fanu
Academic and critic, UK

Cinema continues to be healthy, in my opinion, with more films released than anyone could possibly contrive to see. So you have to make a choice: mainstream, art-house, documentary, classics, American series, animation – there is so much going on. My focus, like that of most contributors to this poll, is on art-house. Should that, or should it not, include wonderfully entertaining movies such as True Grit and La Princesse de Montpensier? Anyway, here are my five.

Faust
Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia

In a year of extraordinary formal inventiveness with ambitious films issuing from directors as different as Béla Tarr, Terrence Malick, Lars von Trier, Jean-Luc Godard and Pedro Almodóvar, this is the avant-garde work that most got under my skin. Completely original and captivating.

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

The richness of Iranian cinema continues to amaze. What I and I suppose many other people liked about the film was the sheer visceral suspense it manages to generate, combined with the humanity and wisdom of its take on life.

Elena
Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia

Zvyagintsev’s third feature shows him completely back on form after the mild disappointment of Banishment. A number of films have come out this year about ‘the condition of Russia’. In my opinion this is the best.

Loverboy
Catalin Mitulescu, Romania

The scenarist of last year’s If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle proves to be as good a director as he is a writer. Set in the margins of Romanian society, his new film manages to avoid miserabilism at every level. The sun shines while terrible things happen: it is all believable, and heart-breaking.

Le quattro volte (The Four Times)
Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland

Let three adjectives sum up this film’s achievement: beautiful, simple, masterly!

Highlights

We are all festival-goers, I suppose. Besides the chance such events provide to see a wide cross-section of contemporary film production, their worth seems to me to reside in the way that they bring the filmmaker into the presence of the public, either in the shape of a formal interview or else a spontaneous Q&A session. Among several such encounters this year I recall the pleasure of listening to Bernardo Bertolucci and Aleksandr Sokurov at BFI Southbank, and Andrei Konchalovsky (so eloquent and engaging) at Pushkin House. At the London Film Festival, Frederick Wiseman and Michael Glawogger defended their respective documentaries (Crazy Horse and Whores’ Glory) with humour and elegance; while it was more than enlightening to hear the modest yet passionate thoughts of two first-time women directors, Dictynna Hood (Wreckers) and Alice Rohrwacher (Corpo Celeste).

Guy Lodge
Freelance critic, UK

Alps (Alpis)
Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece

“You are not ready for pop,” a character says at the outset of this dazzlingly dislocated meditation on repossessed identity. Neither is Lanthimos: his worthy follow-up to Dogtooth is subtly spidery in structure before escalating to a full formalist freakout.

Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn, USA

The best film in competition at Cannes this year was the most unlikely: Refn’s hot, clipped, nasty fast-car thriller spliced the best of vintage Walter Hill with his own Eurotrash leanings and finally made a movie star of the deservingly ubiquitous Ryan Gosling.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Sean Durkin, USA

All driftwood tones and permeable chronology, Durkin’s impressively nippy debut is the kind of horror film that settles upon its audience like a slow strangle. Thistly newcomer Elizabeth Olsen deftly keeps the film’s brittle boundaries of reality and paranoia in motion.

Tomboy
Céline Sciamma, France

Ostensibly smaller than Sciamma’s debut Water Lilies, her latest continues to explore the games children play with gender and sexuality but with even richer humanism and more fragile ambiguities: 13-year-old Zoé Héran is an unprecocious marvel in the lead.

Weekend
Andrew Haigh, UK

British arthouse cinema has been in rude health this year but while many of the big names delivered, Haigh’s shimmery boy-meets-boy romance felt most like a humble landmark: sexy, articulate and finally heart-crushing in its delineation of everyday homosexuality.
Highlight:

Within a week of each other, two music-in-film events at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall made my year as early as April. Adrian Utley and Will Gregory’s rattling rescoring of The Passion of Joan of Arc was excitingly unfazed by the untouchable, while a film-accompanied Tindersticks recital of their collected collaborations with Claire Denis (marking the year’s most welcome, and belated, soundtrack release) was both a bloody good show and a spine-tingling testament to a living master.  

Colin MacCabe
Academic and critic, UK

My filmgoing was heavily concentrated in Cannes this year, where Drive, The Tree of Life, Le Havre, The Kid with a Bike and The Skin I Live In all impressed. Why people liked the wooden and pretentious Melancholia remained the mystery of the year. Since July, I have been teaching in Hyderabad and this has involved the discovery of Telegu cinema, perhaps the case study where economics, politics and aesthetics interweave. A must-see film is Stalin: Man for the Society, directed by A.R. Murugudoss (India, 2006). Starring Chiranjeevi (the most unlikely superstar in the history of film) as the eponymous hero, this is a socialist unrealist film in which Stalin institutes communism by getting everybody who has ever been helped in their life to promise to help three other people. I’m not going to try and summarise the narrative (the romantic sub-plot which seemed to involve his niece was particularly baffling) but for energy, drive and long-live-communism, we haven’t seen anything like this since Eisenstein.

Geoffrey Macnab
Critic, UK

The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, France

For sheer enjoyment and for rekindling the spirit of Douglas Fairbanks.

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

For Malick’s unashamedly high-minded approach to evoking a small-town American childhood.

Trollhunter (Trolljegeren)
André Øvredal, Norway

For its deadpan observation of the most outlandish subject matter and its surprise factor.

Footnote (Hearat Shulayim)
Joseph Cedar, Israel

For extracting so much humour from a story about literary envy and academic backbiting.

Wilde Salome
Al Pacino, USA

For its chutzpah – an unlikely blending of Scarface and Oscar Wilde.

Highlights

Michael Henry Wilson’s enormous and hagiographical book ‘Scorsese on Scorsese’, written with the fiery reverence of a true disciple.

Derek Malcolm
Evening Standard, UK

By the end of the year, I will have seen over 500 films as a newspaper reviewer, a great many of them so awful that you couldn’t possibly recommend anyone to buy tickets. Every week now 10 to 12 films have to be written about somehow. Around 50 of them, often from festivals like Berlin, Cannes and Venice, are worth it. This year many of them have been documentaries, from complete unknowns to virtuosos like Fred Wiseman and Errol Morris.

The fiction has been less impressive. Absolutely no masterpieces, and that includes Terrence Malick’s Cannes winner, which seemed to me to be a brilliant little film about family relationships encased in otiose pretension. If asked what was the best film of the year I would unhesitatingly plump for the Iranian A Separation, one of the very few films in Berlin worth remembering and a superbly fashioned family saga that holds you like a vice throughout.

The UK did quite as well as any other European nation this year even though I have more doubts about Tinker Tailor, Shame and Kevin, all good films, than some. What really pleased was the emergence of such tiny budgeted British films like Sound It Out, about the last vinyl record shop in the North-East, and Black Pond, in which Chris Langham emerged again after his troubles and was marvellous as the paterfamilias of a eccentric family who bury both their dog and a dinner guest in the garden “out of respect”, thereby getting into trouble with the police. This wasn’t even accorded a press show, by the way. So my five memorable films are (in no particular order):

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

The Deep Blue Sea
Terence Davies, UK

The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, France

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

Michael
Markus Schleinzer, Austria

Adrian Martin
lolajournal.com, Australia

Mysteries of Lisbon (Mistérios de Lisboa)
Raúl Ruiz, Portugal

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Bridesmaids
Paul Feig, USA/Japan

Memories of a Morning
José Luis Guerín, Spain

Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn, USA

Highlights

At certain prearranged times during this year’s Rotterdam film festival, a large foyer was illuminated by something that started so modestly as to be hardly noticeable: YouTube clips of hands picking out the main riff of Europe’s 1980s hit ‘The Final Countdown’. But then the thing started to grow, unstoppably, deliriously: multiple screens, multiple versions (from bagpipe to techno), multiple settings (home, school, concert) and the weirdest possible assortment of all-too-real people doing all-too-real things. This was Koen They’s stunning collage The Final Countdown (2010) and the severe mental pain it administers via thousands of repetitions of a single riff is more than offset by its wit, ingenuity and window-on-the-world testimony.

Demetrios Matheou
Critic, UK

The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, France

No film this year better expressed the pure pleasure in and of cinema. I imagine Hazanavicius’s tale of a silent movie star undone by the transition to sound elicits the same sort of surprise and exhilaration that early cinema itself must have done and in our knowing, multimedia age, that’s so refreshing. Romantic, comic, wondrously inventive – who needs Singin’ in the Rain?

Shame
Steve McQueen, UK

McQueen’s rigorous and riveting second film is much more than an account of a sex addict; it’s a shot across the bows for anyone feeling alienated in modern society. If they keep this up, McQueen and Michael Fassbender could become the new Scorsese and De Niro.

The Guard
John Michael McDonagh, Ireland/UK/USA/Germany

You’ve gotta laugh, especially when the world is crumbling around you, but I didn’t think I could laugh as much as I did in John Michael McDonagh’s crime comedy. This was smart, deliciously scripted and constantly surprising, with Brendan Gleeson’s bravura performance – unhindered by vanity or political correctness – keeping us on our toes every inch of the way.

Coriolanus
Ralph Fiennes, UK

Fiennes’s directorial debut is the best Shakespeare adaptation since Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. While Fiennes gives the action a viscerally contemporary setting, he and his fellow actors speak the verse like a dream, bringing pathos to one of Shakespeare’s toughest and bloodiest plays.

Las acacias
Pablo Giorgelli, Argentina/Spain

It’s always nice to see a new wave just keep going and Giorgelli’s debut continues the nuanced, undemonstrative but deeply affecting realism that epitomises New Argentine Cinema.

Highlights

I was so impressed by the team behind the Athens Film Festival, not only for keeping the show going through their country’s troubles but for top-class programming. I won’t forget the Yazuzo Masumura retrospective in a hurry; the very audible response to Blind Beast and Red Angel of a young and gobsmacked Greek audience was priceless.

Sophie Mayer
Critic and academic, UK

Wuthering Heights
Andrea Arnold, UK

+ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
David Yates, USA/UK

For very different reasons, these my literary adaptations of the year, not least for the use that both make of their locations and for their endorsement of both adolescent desire and Gothic imagination. While Arnold’s film is more literate in every sense, from its cinematic language to its deft and bold approach that returns the wild spirit to a much chocolate-boxed novel, Yates’s work on the final four films in the Potter franchise has been consistently engaging, making rare satisfying use of CGI to imagine a beloved world fully.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Werner Herzog, Canada/USA/France/UK/Germany

This trumped Pina as the finest use of 3D, employing a new visual technology as a meditation on the very oldest, some of the earliest traces of representational art found in the world.

Translating Edwin Honig: A Poet’s Alzheimer’s
Alan Berliner

No film brought the creative spark and urgency of art-making to life as vividly for me as this film, which I saw at the Punto de Vista documentary festival in Pamplona. Berliner condenses in 19 deeply uncomfortable and necessary minutes years and years of interviews with his elderly cousin and mentor, a celebrated American poet, as he forgets Alan’s name, his own name, his fame, the meaning of words – but retains a dynamic and ecstatic sense of sound and rhythm that shapes the film. Its sorrow is its beauty, and vice versa.

Back to Stay (Abrir Puertas y Ventanas)
Milagros Mumenthaler, Argentina/Switzerland/Netherlands

This did just what its Spanish title promised: opened the doors and windows of my eyes, mind and heart, awakening jaded senses with its depiction of the lassitudes, longueurs and longings of grief. Its tale of three sisters resonates with Chekhov, Lorca and fairy tales but is utterly self-possessed, not least in its stunning use of British folk music. A thoroughly deserving winner of the Golden Leopard (and two more awards) at Locarno, it announced yet another major Argentinean talent.

Highlights

Forget Anonymous. The craziest, most revelatory Shakespeare conspiracy theory film of the year was Sven Gade and Heinz Schall’s 1920 Hamlet, in an all-too-rare screening at the BFI. As Hamlet, born female but raised male to ensure the succession, Asta Nielsen – out-Garbo-ing Garbo – put the antic in Romantic with every precise and balletic gesture of yearning and despair, torn between Horatio and Ophelia more than duty and honour. A dazzling argument for the performative power of silent cinema, even treating a play of ‘Words, words, words’.

The British women are coming, with major new films storming Venice, Toronto, Cannes and the LFF from Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk about Kevin), Andrea Arnold (Wuthering Heights) and Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life), in a year that also saw celebrated films Joanna Hogg, Clio Barnard, Gillian Wearing and Kim Longinotto. Hopefully this is a new trend that will become a fact of life.

Paul Mayersburg
Screenwriter, UK

Le quattro volte (The Four Times)
Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland

A year for ‘spiritual’ films. First and foremost Frammartino’s film, where wordlessly the human, animal, vegetable, mineral states of the world are shown as interdependent equals, oddly recalling Jacques Tati’s fragile communities threatened by change. A serene achievement and an antidote to the overblown confusions of The Tree of Life.

Poetry (Shi)
Lee Chang-dong, S Korea/France

The wonderful Jun Ying Hie plays a woman at the onset of Alzheimer’s who must write just one poem while she can. The translucent mise-en-scène of the everyday takes the film beyond realism. The woman is the poem.

This Must be the Place
Paolo Sorrentino, Italy/France/Ireland

The brilliant Sean Penn, as an Alice Cooper-like rock revenant, crosses bright America to redeem his immigrant father’s dark past in a white landscape. A strange musical of venues of the heart.

The Portuguese Nun (Religiosa Portuguesa)
Eugène Green, Portugal/France

A high point of my year was my interview at the ICA with French director Green after a showing of The Portuguese Nun. He was as precise and eloquent as his film, a witty, moving narrative from an artist who comes from seventeenth century cinemas when God was first getting into trouble.

Spiritual, if Kafka is spiritual, is Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective, an unnervingly slow procedural in Romanian in which an adjective is a lethal weapon. Word-play not gun-play, like Ionesco’s fifties’ dramas. Planned sequels include: Politics, Subjunctive and Finance, Pluperfect.

Highlights

Among the DVD releases was Max Ophüls’s La Signora di Tutti of 1934 (Eureka), revealing what a revolutionary this seemingly classical director was. The Criterion edition of Victor Sjöström’s The Phantom Carriage (1921) will hopefully open the door to the many marvels, from Hollywood as well as Sweden, of a neglected pioneer, cinema-father of Ingmar Bergman.

Henry K. Miller
Academic and critic, UK

Lawrence of Belgravia
Paul Kelly, UK

Contagion
Steven Soderbergh, USA/UAE

The Fighter
David O. Russell, USA

The Trial of Franz Kafka & Orson Welles
Kam Rehal, UK

Professor Vanessa’s Performing Wonders
Prof. Vanessa Toulmin, UK

I included an early cut of Paul Kelly’s film in my 2008 list and was overjoyed to see the hilarious, profound, moving, and hopeful final version – and its subject, Lawrence himself – at the London Film Festival.

My last two picks are not, strictly speaking, films. Kam Rehal’s long hard look at The Trial is an ingenious and, so far as I’m aware, highly original deconstruction of the moving image, somewhere between installation and practical criticism; Professor Toulmin’s touring ‘cine-variety’ programme occupies a similarly novel space at the intersection of lecture and circus act.

Highlights

I acquired my first Blu-ray disc this year, though I have nothing to play it on: the BFI’s The Soviet Influence: From Turksib to Night Mail, which I’d totally mention here even if I hadn’t contributed to the booklet.

Frances Morgan
Critic, UK

In no particular order:

Post Mortem
Pablo Larraín, Chile/Germany/Mexico

A bleak, self-assured creation, a counterpart of sorts to Tony Manero, Pablo Larrain’s 2008 film set in Pinochet’s Chile. Starring Alfredo Castro as a mortuary attendant at Salvador Allende’s autopsy, and shot on old 16mm film, Post Mortem lingered in the mind like a pale nightmare.

Lawrence of Belgravia
Paul Kelly, UK

Nostalgia for 1980s and 90s indie music might have filled the seats for Lawrence of Belgravia, but the film itself was far subtler: an attractively shot reflection on failure and success, with no talking heads, little mythologizing, and smart integration of music into the narrative.

Phase 7 (Fase 7)
Nicolás Goldbart, Argentina

You often feel duty-bound to praise independent, low-budget horror, but this Argentine post-apocalyptic drama, screened at Edinburgh, was genuinely inventive, working with its limitations to tense, claustrophobic – and often very funny – effect.

Meek’s Cutoff
Kelly Reichardt, USA

There was a lot of praise for this singular western – I’d like to mention the sound design, which conveyed the brooding emptiness of the landscape and the awkward, rickety reality of the characters’ attempts to traverse it with great sensitivity, alongside Jeff Grace and cellist Dave Eggar’s minimal score.

13 Assassins (Jûsan-nin no shikaku)
Takashi Miike, Japan/Great Britain

Although perhaps conservative by Miike’s standards, this samurai remake was immensely enjoyable. Stunning to look at, with deep, blue-green tones and majestic settings, it also ended with the best battle scene of the year, presaged by a banner that read: TOTAL MASSACRE.

Highlights

Ben RiversSlow Action at Matt’s Gallery, east London, was a quiet highlight for me. This series of ‘ethnographic’ films documenting four imaginary island utopias made great use of text, with a script by science fiction author Mark von Schlegell, and sound, with ghostly archival recordings and electronic music, both of which complemented Rivers’ haunting 16mm footage perfectly. It was great to interview Rivers shortly afterwards about these meticulously imagined worlds.

Another memorable interviewee was Simon Fisher Turner, whose music for the restored film of Scott’s Antarctic expedition, The Great White Silence, which came out on DVD this year, is both highly contemporary and intuitively respectful of its subject matter.

James Mottram
Critic, UK

Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn, USA

The film that’s given me the most pleasure in the cinema this year, Refn’s stripped-back lesson in genre may nod to Hill, Friedkin et al but thanks to the Cliff Martinez score and the Newton Thomas Sigel photography, it gleams like a brand new V8 engine.

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

The word ‘jaw-dropping’ is truly over-used these days. But there were sequences in Malick’s mysterious meditation on the nature of grace that literally saw my mouth fall open in wonder. Cinema in its purest form.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA

The best literary adaptation of the year, Ramsay’s exploration of nature vs nurture in a teenage killer may also be the finest horror film of the past twelve months. A deeply troubling work, it burrows under your skin like a tick.

Shame
Steve McQueen, UK

Twenty-four hours after seeing McQueen’s study of sexual addiction, amid the chaos of the Venice Film Festival no less, it was still playing on my mind. If not quite as brave as Hunger, it sears its images into your psyche and haunts your soul.

The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, France

Utterly charming, beautifully executed, silence really is golden.

Highlights

My trip to Montreal’s Fantasia Festival was an undoubted year highlight, a wonderful audience-friendly event full of enthusiastic patrons and organisers alike. A conversation with maverick Canadian filmmaker Larry Kent, who was premiering his new movie Exley there, was an unexpected treat. Back home, watching Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison documentary Living in the Material World on a Sunday afternoon, with the phones turned off, was another pleasure. A marvellous film about a marvellous man, its fleeting theatrical release one night only, on most screens) was simply bizarre.

Adam Nayman
Cinema Scope / Cineaste

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

This Is Not a Film (In Film Nist)
Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran

Kill List
Ben Wheatley, UK/Sweden/Australia

Attack the Block
Joe Cornish, UK/France

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

Highlights

It would be a stretch to call Jaume Collet-Serra’s Unknown anything more than a well-made studio potboiler but it contains a scene that I loved as much as any other I saw this year: a near-climatic tête-à-tête between Bruno Ganz, as a cigarette-wracked ex-Stasi agent, and Frank Langella, as a stealthy American operative in Berlin. Serra gives his actors plenty of space to move around – literally through Ganz’s vividly cramped apartment, also in terms of stretching out dialogue and gestures – so that the sequence feels like a wonderful short film in and of itself. The contrast between Ganz’s ornery frailty and Langella’s deceptive warmth is finely etched but the overriding feeling is not of two characters at odds so much as two actors on the same wavelength. Watching two old pros do their thing may only be a small pleasure but that’s one of the things cinema is for, isn’t it?

Kim Newman
Critic, UK

The Guard
John Michael McDonagh, Ireland/UK/USA/Germany

The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, France

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

True Grit
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, USA

Kill List
Ben Wheatley, UK/Sweden/Australia

Highlights

Reissues / DVDs: Deep End, Cría Cuervos, The Strange World of Gurney Slade, Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.

Nick Pinkerton
Critic, USA

The Future
Miranda July, USA

How Do You Know
James L. Brooks, USA

The Princess of Montpensier
Bertrand Tavernier, France

Take Shelter
Jeff Nichols, USA

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Highlights

Most of the really noteworthy stuff that happened this year had nothing to do with movies – which is as it should be – but each of the titles above helped me in trying to figure out the rest. It’s probably gauche to put so many American pictures on one’s list but I’m from there and that’s where I keep my stuff, so…

On DVD, Shout! Factory’s release of a box set of Ernie Kovacs’s pioneering television comedy/video art seemed to me an event of not much less importance than the excavation of Pompeii.

New York City’s Film Forum showed, in close proximity, retrospectives of the film works of Robert Ryan and Bernard Herrmann, which were glimpses at an alternate-universe studio-era Hollywood devoted to perilous mental states.

A visit to Omaha, Nebraska’s Film Streams proved that a medium-sized middle-Western city could sustain a nonprofit movie theater (granted, yes, that said city was home to a disproportionate number of Fortune 500 companies).

Conversation with critic Dave Kehr gave me a sense of optimism about a profession that often seems like a one-way ticket to obsolescence and penury; directors Larry Yust (Trick Baby, Homebodies) and Milton Moses Ginsberg (Coming Apart) proved gentlemen of erudition who’d passed through an industry which favours dunces; getting to talk on the phone with Linda Manz and transcribe her recipe for clam bread was quite simply a landmark (I am sorry, Linda, I tried twice to send you copies of the article and the package was returned. I hope they carry Sight & Sound at the gas station in Little Rock, California!).

Agnès Poirier
Critic, France

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tomas Alfredson, UK/France/Germany

It took a Swede to break into the British psyche with such maestria. John Le Carré’s plot becomes almost anecdotal in this film where atmosphere and subtext grip and fascinate the audience. An inspiring mise-en-scène and superb performances from Gary Oldman, John Hurt and Colin Firth.

Habibi
Susan Youssef

This first feature shown in Venice is currently touring the world’s festivals and will hopefully be released widely. Habibi, shot in secrecy in the West Bank and Gaza, is the first Romeo-and-Juliet story which honestly deals with Palestinian infightings and contradictions. Susan Youssef, an American-Lebanese based in Holland, has made a very subtle film on a very complex topic.

Boxing Gym
Frederick Wiseman, USA

After La Danse, 80-year-old documentary master Frederick Wiseman has made, in many aspects, another dance film, though this time he’s dealing with boxing. These boxing fans who train at weekends are half-Gene Kellys, half-James Cagneys. Wiseman has this incredible talent to let daily noises and sounds become a whole life melody.

L’exercice de l’Etat (The Minister)
Pierre Schöller, France

Schöller’s third feature is a remarkable study of power and politics in contemporary France. Screened in Cannes the same week as France’s presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New-York, it is part of a recent concern by film directors, alongside Alain Cavalier’s Pater and Xavier Durringer’s The Conquest, to document political leadership, its limits and failings.

Elena
Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia

The director of Golden Lion-winner The Return, a first feature which stunned us all on its first viewing in Venice in 2003, has indeed returned in great form with his third film. Elena, shown in Un Certain regard at this year’s Cannes, is a cruel allegory of contemporary Russia under Putin and an absolute visual enchantment. Here is a crime without punishment.

Highlights

The re-release of Les Enfants du Paradis by Marcel Carné, which will be touring the world in 2012, allows a new generation of cinephiles to rediscover one of the most mesmerising films in history.

Vic Pratt
Curator, BFI, UK

Road to Nowhere
Monte Hellman, USA

This strange, dreamlike, multi-layered neo-noir from the director of Two Lane Blacktop is by no means a straightforward viewing experience. But it’s good to see a director doggedly sticking to his guns and making exactly the kind of film he wants to make. We’d expect no less from Mr Hellman.

Brim (Undercurrent)
Arni Olafur Asgeirsson, Iceland/Poland

Gloomy, grimy, bleak yet funny, Asgeirsson’s gritty sea story of fishermen struggling to keep it together on yet another interminably grey voyage – shown at this year’s excellent Karlovy Vary Festival – boasts assured direction, a witty script (co-written by the director), fine performances and a fittingly ominous soundtrack from Icelandic group Snowblow.

Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen, Spain/USA

Allen apologists – like me – can breathe a sigh of relief at this entertaining time-travel comedy, which exhibits that lightness of touch absent from some of the great man’s recent works. Despite his Woody-esque attire, Owen Wilson masks the Allen-isms with the confident charisma of his understated performance.

Jane Eyre
Cary Fukunaga, USA/UK

Fukunaga’s dynamic direction, Moira Buffini’s lively script and strong performances from well-cast leads combine in a highly effective reworking of the old favourite, which, though it unforgivably omits the splendid bit where Rochester disguises himself as a gypsy fortune teller, manages somehow to make the St John Rivers sub-plot interesting, and had me reaching for my hanky at the end.

Deep End
Jerzy Skolimowski, Germany/UK, 1970

Not new, I know, but it certainly seems that way thanks to a zingy new restoration. Skolimowski’s terrific London-based tale of bath-house innocence lost at the birth of a new decade looks great on DVD but even better back up there on the big screen where it belongs.

Naman Ramachandran
Critic, UK

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

The end of days has never been this lyrical.

Page Eight
David Hare, UK

David Hare delivers a masterclass in how to make a taut spy thriller without a single shot fired in anger.

Delhi Belly
Abhinay Deo, India

With its effing and blinding and in your face attitude, writer Akshat Verma jolts Bollywood into the 21st century.

Hanna
Joe Wright, USA/UK/Germany

Action meets Godard – who’d have thought it possible?

The Women on the 6th Floor (Les femmes du 6ème étage)
Philippe Le Guay, France

The most charming upstairs/downstairs comedy in a long time.

I interviewed Tamil cinema filmmaker S.P. Muthuraman for my forthcoming book on the industry and was bowled over by his simplicity – this from a veteran of 75 massively successful films, including 25 with India’s biggest ever star – Rajinikanth.

Amy Raphael
Critic, UK

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA

I loved the book and I loved the film of the book; how often can you say that? Ramsay’s interpretation of Lionel Shriver’s novel is compelling, provocative, terrifying. The three actors who play Kevin are terrific (suggesting, as they do, that he was born without empathy) and Tilda Swinton exceeds even her own high standards. Best of all, it’s a largely British team behind a very American story.

127 Hours
Danny Boyle, USA/UK/Australia

Boyle goes from making a film about a billion people in Mumbai to making a film about one man in a canyon. It’s an action movie about a man with his arm trapped by a boulder in the Utah desert. It’s both lo-fi and hugely ambitious, with Boyle’s relentless energy fizzing on the screen even when James Franco can barely move.

Tyrannosaur
Paddy Considine, UK

You really have to get beyond the bleakness of Considine’s debut feature to see its brilliance. It tackles abuse and anger head-on with committed performances from Olivia Colman as a gentle saint, Peter Mullan as a furious dog killer and Eddie Marsan as a terrifying wife beater.

Submarine
Richard Ayoade, UK

Just what you might expect from the directorial debut by the brilliant Ayoade: a quirky, whimsical and, thanks to Paddy Considine’s turn, slightly bonkers coming-of-age story.

True Grit
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, USA

Jeff Bridges astride a horse, not saying an awful lot. Hailee Steinfeld bossing him around at just 14. The Coen brothers proving they can make any genre, even a western, their own. Roger Deakins, the British cinematographer nominated nine times for an Oscar, making the epic intimate as only he can.

Highlights

Bumping over the cobblestones of Rome in Gianni Di Gregorio’s 40-year-old Fiat 500 as he showed me the locations for Mid-August Lunch and Salt of Life while also building a roll-up.

Looking on as a rather pregnant and imperious Natalie Portman steeled herself to do a lap of Fox’s Golden Globes party less than an hour after winning best actress for Black Swan.

Watching Jack Goes Boating and realising just how magnificent Philip Seymour Hoffman is at portraying loneliness and the distance between us.

Being in awe as Aaron Sorkin gave four ludicrously engaging, smart and funny acceptance speeches at the London Critics’ Circle film awards for The Social Network.

Nicolas Rapold
Critic, USA

Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgie de la Luz)
Patricio Guzmán, France/USA/Chile

Certified Copy (Copie conforme)
Abbas Kiarostami, France/Italy/Belgium

The Princess of Montpensier
Bertrand Tavernier, France

Tabloid
Errol Morris, USA

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

Tony Rayns
Critic, UK

Best film experiences of the year, in alphabetical order:

663114
Hirabayashi Isamu, Japan

Chultak Dongsi (Stateless Things)
Kim Kyungmook, South Korea

En terrains connus (Familiar Grounds)
Stéphane Lafleur, Canada

Return to Burma
Midi Z, Taiwan/Burma

Toomelah
Ivan Sen, Australia

A few words of explanation, since these titles won’t be familiar to most readers. I chaired the jury at the Pacific Meridian festival in Vladivostok in September and we gave our top prize to Ivan Sen’s Toomelah, a wonderful, understated portrait of an eight-year-old Aboriginal boy wavering between delinquency and education. We were conscious that the film had been undervalued in Australia (maybe eclipsed by flashier or more ‘mythic’ Aboriginal movies) but the prize was more about signalling the film’s merits: it deals unmoralistically with moral issues and uses a long-take, observational style to show township life in a way that hasn’t been seen on screen before.

Midi Z’s underground feature Return to Burma has similar qualities: it uses wide-angle compositions to stage scenes from everyday life in the Burmese countryside, obliquely allowing a political dimension to emerge from snatches of dialogue. When mastered, this style of filmmaking has an intensity undreamt-of by Hollywood’s goons.

Stéphane Lafleur’s tragi-comedy of fate and family relations handles traditional storytelling with wit, economy and flair.

Kim Kyungmook’s film about two ‘stateless’ boys whose identities eventually, magically, blur together strikes me as exemplary modernist storytelling.

And Hirabayashi’s brilliant short ‘663114’ is an instant classic: the most sardonic/poignant response to March’s earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown by any Japanese artist. Together with archive discoveries like Stephen Roberts’ amazing The Story of Temple Drake (1933, based on Faulkner), films like these keep me interested in cinema and alert to its potential.

Kong Rithdee
The Bangkok Post, Thailand

This Is Not a Film (In Film Nist)
Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran

Film, or not-a-film, as a claw in the face of those who fear cinema.

Mildred Pierce
Todd Haynes, USA

The image of the possible extremes of human experience.

Nana
Valérie Massadian, France

The mystery of life and childhood as an accessory to Mother Nature.

Policeman
Nadav Lapid

Terrorism and anti-terrorism are two devils from the same womb.

Dreileben
Three parts: Christian Petzold, Dominik Graf, Christoph Hochhäusler

The quiet exhilaration of genre (and TV) cinema, times three!

Highlights

Three Thai films were picked by Venice, cranking up the hope that, even in the year when Apichatpong Weerasethakul took it easy, Thai cinema still has room for experimentation and metamorphosis. Kongdej Jaturanrasmee’s P-047 follows Charlie Kaufman’s trail down the screenwriting’s rabbit hole; this mid-career director is a well-known talent to the local audience and hopefully this film will raise his international profile.

Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Lung Neaw Visits His Neighbours is the first film (not counting his various video works) by this acclaimed visual artist and poster boy for Relational Aesthetics; it’s a neo-Warholian study of time through the life of an ambulatory uncle.

The short Passing Through the Night by Wattanapume Laisuwanchai is an experimental student film with a few tricks up its sleeve.

Plus: Eternity, that sweetest and saddest film of the year by Sivaroj Kongsakul, won the Tiger Award at Rotterdam. It’s the third consecutive year that a Thai independent film won at the Dutch festival.

Vadim Rizov
Critic, USA

Margaret
Kenneth Lonergan, USA

Quietly released by Fox Searchlight in as few cities as possible after years of post-production disputes (with litigation still ongoing), Margaret is Kenneth Lonergan’s shockingly successful Great Post-9/11 American Film. Buried by a studio seemingly determined to plant Lonergan’s head on a stick as a warning to future would-be indulgent artists, this is unlike anything in American film in recent memory. Imagine Pialat’s fearless abrasion played out against the epically intimate scope of Yi Yi and you’ll start to get the idea.

Two Years at Sea
Ben Rivers, UK

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

Contagion
Steven Soderbergh, USA/UAE

The Student (El estudiante)
Santiago Mitre, Argentina

Highlights

Introducing Vincente Minnelli’s A Matter of Time during a full retrospective of the director’s work at Brooklyn Academy of Music in October, outgoing BAM film programmer Jake Perlin noted that, in all probability, this would be the last time a Minnelli retrospective was projected in New York City entirely from film prints. The pending digitisation of film history remains seemingly inevitable and all chances to see repertory films projected on celluloid feel increasingly urgent.

Tim Robey
Telegraph, UK

Weekend
Andrew Haigh, UK

The definition of modest frankness and quietly-tapped substance, sneaking past this year’s more grandiose British fare to stand out as a tender-to-the-touch marvel.

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Malick’s ideas swirl more centrifugally than ever before, radiating outwards from a deep core of love and loss, and planting grief in a literally universal context.

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

Domestic and civic fallout electrically charted in a drum-taut melodrama whose characters reveal volumes about themselves, and plenty about modern Iran, too.

Bombay Beach
Alma Har’el, USA

Wonderfully singular docu-snapshots of scrabbling, striving lives on the Salton Sea, marking out Alma Har’el as a name to watch: it’s almost recklessly gorgeous.

Tuesday, After Christmas (Marti, dupa craciun)
Radu Muntean, Romania

Still no proper UK release for this soberly shattering, superbly-acted infidelity study from one of the Romanian New Wave’s spikiest talents? For shame, distributors.

Highlights

The story of the year was clearly a British auteur charge, with Senna (my no. 6), We Need To Talk About Kevin, Shame, Wuthering Heights, Submarine, The Deep Blue Sea and Tyrannosaur – not to mention such lower-key discoveries as Jeanie Finlay’s lovely Teesside record-shop doc Sound it Out and one storming genre success in Ben Wheatley’s Kill List – making all kinds of different, variably strong cases for the rude health of our filmmaking. For me, little in any movie could compete with the ten minutes at an LFF lunch when David Cronenberg held forth on the entire oeuvre of Robert Pattinson (including Little Ashes and Remember Me). R.Pattz is being talked up as revelatory in Cronenberg’s just-shot adaptation of Cosmopolis, and the director noted with pride how spin-off fan sites from the Twilight franchise had already taken the book to heart in anticipation. What Don DeLillo makes of his avid new readership, who knows.

Nick Roddick
Critic, UK

My Joy (Schastye moe)
Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine/Germany/Netherlands

It took me a while to catch up with Loznitsa’s extraordinary film and I now find it thrusting itself forward as I compile this list. Bleak and utterly compelling, it sucks you into its murderous world every but as inexorably as a Céline novel.

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

Constructed like a Hitchcockian whodunit, Farhadi’s film is a moral maze, casually revealing the relativity of ‘truth; at the same time as it strips away all our comfortable prejudices about Iran in general and sharia law in particular. This list is in order of seeing; if it were by merit, A Separation would be top.

Sound It Out
Jeanie Finlay, UK

A documentary about the last surviving record shop on Teesside, in which Finlay apparently effortlessly (of course, nothing in filmmaking is effortless) combines cool observation with respect and affection for its oddball characters. I look forward to Finlay’s next film.

Stopped on Track (Halt auf freier Strecke)
Andreas Dresen, Germany/France

About the only thing wrong with Andreas Dresen’s new film is its clunky English title. Moving but not sentimental, it portrays the impact of a fatal brain tumour on an ordinary bloke from suburban Berlin, perfectly blending Dresen’s skill with actors and his documentary training.

Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn, USA

Refn’s film reinvents genre in the same way that Boorman did with Point Blank, reshaping his own distinctive filmmaking style in the process, fusing art film and action movie.

Highlights

One, finally seeing King Hu’s Dragon Inn (1967), eloquently introduced by Tony Rayns, impeccably projected in Rotterdam and a wonder to behold. Two, the process of watching Alain Resnais’s films back-to-back for an NFT retrospective, discovering his neglected masterpiece Je t’aime, je t’aime (1968) in the process. One of those days for loving one’s job.

Jonathan Romney
Independent on Sunday, UK

Five films of the year? Not so easy for once, since 2011 brought what I wouldn’t hesitate to call an embarrassment of riches. Cannes, for example, brought several works by directors who, without breaking their own mould, refined their craft and (a very significant factor this year) powerfully reaffirmed their humanistic and political commitment: the Dardennes’ superb Le Gamin au Vélo, Kaurismäki’s Le Havre and (lest it be overlooked) Robert Guédiguian’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

But here (alphabetically) are five films that, one way or another, made a difference – showed new possibilities, rewrote rules, ‘pushed the envelope’, if you must. Consider this my Eye-Openers list:

The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, France

For pure exuberance and for proving that you can do pastiche without invoking the get-out clause of cheap irony.

Miss Bala
Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico/USA

An unnerving film that, for all its topical realism, was also the most purely immersive movie narrative since (ahem) Avatar.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

The film that should have won Cannes. More than anyone in film today, Ceylan is a novelist of images, and this is his deepest, starkest offering yet. Few films so urgently demand the viewer’s active involvement right from the start: Anatolia plunges us instantly into murky business in the thick of night. The audacity of a crime story that literally keeps you in the dark for a long time before you even know what the crime.

Target (Mishen)
Alexander Zeldovich, Russia

Satire as delirium, this dystopian future epic took visionary ambition to athletic extremes.

The Turin Horse (A Torinói ló)
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US

Brutal simplicity distilled to an essence that ‘Beckettian’ doesn’t quite do justice to. A magnificent, authoritative (alleged) swansong. 
Surprise of the Year:

Seeing British cinema more consistently engaging and confident than it has been in ages: Tinker Tailor, Kevin, The Deep Blue Sea, Shame, Wuthering Heights… But I’ll also cheat here and mention three superb, audaciously simple films by young directors, any one of which could have made it into my Eye-Openers list: Two Years at Sea, Kill List and Weekend.

Jonathan Rosenbaum
Critic, USA

Now that I prefer home viewing to shopping malls, I miss a lot of current fare. But here are five special items:

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Werner Herzog, Canada/USA/France/UK/Germany

Herzog’s uncanny self-promotion skills often exceed his filmmaking talent, but this finally broaches a topic that he can’t overpower, even when he tries, meanwhile fully justifying the use of 3D.

Disorder
Huang Weikai, China

This 58-minute film is a memorable Guangzhou city symphony culled from street footage by many hands and a major example of recent Chinese independent cinema.

Impardonnables (Unforgivable)
André Téchiné, France

Conceivably Téchiné’s best film in 15 years, since Les voleurs, once again about characters irreparably screwed up, all of them loved equally by their attentive director-co-writer; I was especially moved by Adriana Asti’s troubled detective.

Mysteries of Lisbon (Mistérios de Lisboa)
Raúl Ruiz, Portugal

Ruiz virtually ended his illustrious career with one of his major works.

The Turin Horse (A Torinói ló)
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US

This doesn’t measure up to Tarr’s Sátántangó (what does?) but held my gripped attention over three successive viewings while aptly and cogently refusing to explain why.

Sukhdev Sandhu
Critic, USA

This Our Still Life
Andrew Kötting, UK 2011

It’s a reinvention of the home movie – ye olde off-piste Albion meets Jonas Mekas. The latest tremulous instalment of Kötting’s life-and-death collaboration with his disabled daughter Eden is a beautifully fraught, rapturously melancholic harvesting of one of the most vital bodies of film work in Britain.

Le Havre
Aki Kaurismäki, Finland/France/Germany

A truly lovely offering, mellower and more avuncular than much of Kaurismäki’s work but also, given its mesh of brooding, portside settings and quasi-noir tropes, a glimpse of the cinema Béla Tarr might produce if he wasn’t so wedded to being Béla Tarr.

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

“I’m trudging through this grey, woolly yarn”. “All I know is life on earth is evil. I know we’re alone.” “I smile and I smile and I smile.” Melancholia has been rightly praised for its visuals; its script – heartshorn, raw, unembarrassed – reverberates just as powerfully.

Beijing Besieged By Waste
Wang Jiuliang, China

This arresting documentary, at once eerie and urgent, explores the mountains of refuse that breakneck urbanism has produced in the Chinese capital. One image – of the splayed yet oddly restful corpse of a man who had assembled a tiny shack amidst an enormous wasteland – has haunted me like no other in 2011.

The Forgotten Space
Noël Burch, Allan Sekula, Netherlands/Austria

Itself almost forgotten, bobbing along though the uncertain channels of the global festivalscape, this essay film about contemporary maritime politics is a fascinating drift-work invaluable for anyone interested in the cinema of globalisation, obscured modernities and the poetics of infrastructure.

Highlights

The Story of Film An Odyssey. Mark Cousins’s thrilling voyage through the history and possible futures of visual culture is a modern-day Ways Of Seeing: a poetic, loving, personal, exhilaratingly pedagogic antidote to the parochialism of most film histories.

Andrew Schenker
Critic, USA

The Turin Horse (A Torinói ló)
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US

This Is Not a Film (In Film Nist)
Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran

To Die Like a Man (Mourir como un homem)
João Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal/France

Attenberg
Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece

Mysteries of Lisbon (Mistérios de Lisboa)
Raúl Ruiz, Portugal

Highlights

Compared to navigating the hordes of filmgoers at Cannes or cramming in as much viewing as possible at Toronto, covering the New York Film Festival seems like a breeze: the press screenings are spread out over four weeks, they take place in the single locale of comfy Lincoln Center and one is rarely called upon to tackle more than three movies a day. But, as in any film fest, fatigue and disappointment inevitably set in, prompting glazed eyes even in response to worthy fare. With this year’s NYFF a decidedly mixed bag, peppered with such twaddle as Shame, The Artist and Miss Bala, the fest experience was defined by a single masterpiece, Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse.

Hotly anticipated after raves at Berlin and Toronto, Tarr’s latest (and allegedly last) film immerses the viewer in its singularly barren, windswept world from the first shot. As the director’s camera tracks through the confined space of a farmhouse from which it rarely departs, the visual textures and expert sound design conjure up an indelible universe. That this universe is singularly bleak – repetitive, futile, seeming to mock the very idea of significance – is no matter. Tarr finds his meaning in the rhythms of the quotidian, in the very need to go on, no matter how pointless it all may seem. A work of nihilism that left this jaded festivalgoer feeling exhilarated, The Turin Horse was not only the highlight of this edition of NYFF, but the year’s best film.

Virginie Sélavy
Electric Sheep, UK

Essential Killing
Jerzy Skolimowski, Poland/Norway/Ireland/Hungary

The most impressive film of 2011 in terms of sheer intensity. This economical story of one man (Vincent Gallo) battling against hostile nature as he attempts to evade his captors is a savage existential tale of human survival with powerful political resonance.

Cold Fish (Tsumetai nettaigyo)
Sono Sion, Japan

Sono Sion is one of the true mavericks of Japanese cinema and Cold Fish demonstrates his dark genius. Set in the world of tropical fish retailing, this spectacularly bloody, surreally beautiful and blackly humorous murder story is a jaw-dropping display of filmic misanthropy.

Midnight Son
Scott Leberecht, USA

A dreamy indie vampire tale about two misfit lovers set in a shadowy, deserted LA. Refreshingly free of horror clichés, it is genuinely creepy, melancholy and moving, conjuring up the sweetness and destructiveness of love.

Take Shelter
Jeff Nichols, USA

Michael Shannon gives a devastating performance as a Midwestern man who has visions of an impending apocalyptic storm, from which he obsessively tries to protect his family. Nightmarish and ominous, the film hovers between a harrowing, realistic depiction of paranoid schizophrenia and the intimation of an elusive mystery.

Red White & Blue
Simon Rumley, UK/USA

Set in Austin, Texas, this is an affecting story of screwed-up love and an intelligent take on serial killers, in which the ties that connect an emotionally reluctant young woman, a former lover and an edgy loner lead to tragic consequences.

Highlights

Close-Up’s Theatre Scorpio season (July). Katsu Kanai’s surreal, anguished dreamscape The Desert Archipelago (1969) was a particular highlight, made all the more memorable by the presence and insights of the director.

Béla Tarr’s guest curating at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (June). Best of all was Gábor Bódy’s American Torso (1975), a playful and poetic meandering through war and revolution, map-making, literature and Hungarian exiles.

The Devils (1971) at the East End Film Festival (May). This screening of Ken Russell’s newly restored masterpiece of excess, a sulphurous, visionary, carnal portrayal of unbridled desire, repressive religion and power games in 17th-century France, was a very special event, augmented by the presence of the director, who, although frail, had lost none of his sharp wit.

Jasper Sharp
Midnight Eye and Zipangu Festival, UK

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Tomas Alfredson, UK/France/Germany

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA

Pina
Wim Wenders, Germany/France/UK

A rare example of a film that truly makes the most of the 3D format.

Still in Cosmos
Takashi Makino, Japan, 2009

Mesmerising experimental image-scape that recalls the hypnotic abstractions of Brakhage at his finest.

Kill List
Ben Wheatley, UK/Sweden/Australia

Highlights

Nothing has come close to moving or inspiring me this year as much as the BFI’s beautifully-restored Blu-ray release of Herbert Ponting’s The Great White Silence (1924). The once-in-a-lifetime screening of Dance Craze (1981), Joe Massot and Joe Dunton’s exhilarating celebration of the heyday of the UK’s 2-Tone Ska scene, shown from an original 70mm print for the first time since its release as part of Bradford Film Festival’s Widescreen Weekend, was also an unforgettably magical experience, and one which I really hope I’ll have the opportunity to repeat at some point in the future.

Anna Smith
Critic, UK

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA

I saw this at Cannes and knew then it would be one of my films of the year. Many friends have feared this adaptation would be depressing but I assure them it’s an electrifying and sometimes even humorous take on a dark but not downbeat subject.

The Guard
John Michael McDonagh, Ireland/UK/USA/Germany

The kind of film that makes me proud to be even just a tiny bit Irish: bursting with playful, irreverent humour and beautifully performed. I can’t wait to see what either McDonagh brother does next.

Bridesmaids
Paul Feig, USA/Japan

As a critic who often writes about ‘chick flicks’, Bridesmaids became an important film to me this year. It’s ridiculous how few features in this genre hit the right note. I was pleased to see this become a success, hopefully paving the way for more smartly-scripted female-focused comedies.

Dreams of a Life
Carol Morley, UK/Ireland

I was blown away by this at the BFI London Film Festival – its unconventional, gripping docu-drama format reminded me of one of last year’s favourites, The Arbor.

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

I’m not a huge fan of von Trier so was surprised to find Melancholia utterly bewitching and haunting – especially viewed on the big screen.

Highlights

London premieres don’t generally thrill me but I was excited about the Cannes premiere of The Skin I Live In. To be sat in the same room as Pedro Almodóvar watching this wonderful film felt like a true honour.

I’ve enjoyed many outdoor/pop-up screenings over 2011, including Secret Cinema’s The Red Shoes, timed to coincide with the Black Swan hype, and Nomad’s family-friendly Back To The Future in Greenwich. Hearing kids giggle at Doc’s one-liners for the first time was a testament to the timelessness of my favourite childhood film.

Paul Julian Smith
Academic, USA

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Because (beyond cosmic forces and dinosaurs) it reveals the little miracles of the everyday.

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito)
Pedro Almodóvar, Spain/USA

Because even minor Almodóvar is more complex and contradictory than works by any other auteur.

Miss Bala
Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico/USA

Because it brilliantly fuses art movie technique with thriller material.

Bridesmaids
Paul Feig, USA/Japan

Because it changes the face of women in Hollywood comedy.

Post Mortem
Pablo Larraín, Chile/Germany/Mexico

Because it offers an oblique yet terrifying take on political repression in Latin America.

Highlights

Todd Haynes’ miniseries for HBO, Mildred Pierce, because sometimes the best cinema (the most beautifully crafted, the most moving, the most steeped in literary and filmic history) is made for television.

Fernanda Solórzano
Critic, Mexico

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

The most beautiful stance on the end of the human race. Not surprisingly, provocateur von Trier subverts convention: when life is defined by despair, its opposite must be luminous and eagerly awaited.

Miss Bala
Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico/USA

There’s the fear of becoming the victim of a drug war and then there’s the fear of falling prey to indescribable evil. Miss Bala addresses the latter, becoming the first Mexican film on the subject to break down the defences of audiences throughout the country.

The Deep Blue Sea
Terence Davies, UK

Making the best of its theatrical origins in Terence Rattigan’s play, Davies’ mise-en-scène relies on intensity to make its point: the language and gestures of passion are anything but mundane.

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

A charged sensorial tapestry, Malick’s essay on the links between life and the living is incredibly ambitious but ultimately moving.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Werner Herzog, Canada/USA/France/UK/Germany

The first filmmaker to give 3D a real purpose in film, Herzog allows the viewer to get closest possible view of the oldest paintings on earth.

Highlights

Attending the premiere of Carrière: 250 meters, by Juan Carlos Rulfo, at the recent San Sebastian Film Festival was the subject of the film — the French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière. As the Q&A session opened, an innocent-looking woman asked a fearless question: how could he say he was as an atheist when the film clearly stated his spiritual tendencies? Carrière took the bull by the horns and delighted us with stories from his trips to India, his conversations about degrees of separation with director Peter Brook for whom he adapted the Mahabhrata) and his current obsession with discovering the “plot” of his life. At that point, the ghost of Carrière life-long friend made his presence felt: Luis Buñuel, a self-proclaimed atheist who created masterpieces out of his denial of God.

Brad Stevens
Critic, UK

Film Socialisme
Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland/France

Godard remains among the wiliest of cinematic jokers but, as this masterpiece confirms, film and socialism are two things he still takes very seriously.

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Simultaneously one of the finest yet also most frustrating films of the year. Its analysis of familial oppression as a self-perpetuating cycle is sublime but ultimately compromised by the suggestion that this oppression is an inextricable aspect of existence rather than the product of specific (and thus remediable) social conditions. The ‘birth of life’ sequence’s length is blatantly out of proportion with its function, which is to mystify those social relations the rest of the film depicts quite concretely. Nevertheless, this is clearly a major work.

Hereafter
Clint Eastwood, USA

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Woody Allen, Spain/USA/UK

Where Malick makes the concrete abstract, Eastwood makes the abstract concrete. Hereafter’s concern is with the spiritual area of transition between life and death, accompanied by a visual emphasis on more worldly areas of transition (doorways, corridors, stairs, tunnels). Given the already plentiful connections between Eastwood and Woody Allen, it is nice to see their directorial quests to escape from rigidly defined (and specifically American) star images depositing them both in London, which they film in ways that might serve as object lessons for native British directors.

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

Farhadi’s finest film to date demonstrates that the spirit of Otto Preminger is alive and well and living in Iran: this study not of rights and wrongs but of the right/wrong on one side opposed to the right/wrong on the other might be retitled Anatomy of a Miscarriage.

Highlights

BFI Southbank’s Edward Yang retrospective. Why masterpieces such as That Day, on the Beach and Taipei Story are unavailable on DVD remains a mystery.

Isabel Stevens
Sight & Sound

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Two Years at Sea
Ben Rivers, UK

Faust
Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia

Dreams of a Life
Carol Morley, UK

Weekend
Andrew Haigh, UK

Highlights

The Locarno Film Festival’s Vincente Minnelli retrospective. I’d always associated Minnelli with retina-dazzling CinemaScope extravagance, but Locarno acquainted me with the director’s dark side – out in force in Some Came Running but also Minnelli’s 1955 film The Cobweb. The scenes of domestic despair in the latter melodrama are all the more striking for taking place in a narrative which bizarrely focuses on a seemingly trivial dispute about a set of curtains for a mental institution.

Another highlight from Locarno was Christoph Hochhäusler, Dominik Graf and Christian Petzold’s bold, genre-bending television drama Dreileben – a triple bill which arose out of a provocative critical discussion and which I’m hoping next year might make it onto DVD (the German release available doesn’t have English subtitles) or even British TV screens, given the appetite for grim foreign policiers after the success of The Killing.

Interestingly, many of the most memorable films I watched this year came courtesy of archive scavengers – from Adam Curtis’s All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace to Asif Kapadia’s Senna and artist filmmaker Duncan Campbell’s Arbeit. But one season at the Tate Modern in particular stood out in this context – a programme of the quite extraordinary found-footage films of Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi. The Italian duo have spent their lives delving into strange archives, hand-tinting and slowing down the films they find to reveal hidden histories – and their work certainly deserves wider recognition.

Clare Stewart
Head of Exhibition, BFI, UK

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, France

Senna
Asif Kapadia, USA/UK/France

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA

Take Shelter
Jeff Nichols, USA

Heather Stewart
Creative Director, BFI, UK

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

Shame
Steve McQueen, UK

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

Las acacias
Pablo Giorgelli, Argentina/Spain

Senna
Asif Kapadia, USA/UK/France

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay, UK/USA

Highlights

Tacita Dean’s FILM, Tate Modern; death by lift-shaft in The First Born; Michael Fassbender, looking, moving, acting; Kore-eda’s direction of children; the quartet in Carnage; re-watching the TV versions of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley’s People on DVD; Ulrich Köhler’s take on post-colonial Africa; Uggy the dog.

Vlastimir Sudar
Critic, UK

De Bon Matin
Jean-Marc Moutout, France, Belgium

2011 was a fine year with plenty of choice but Moutout’s film, with all its flaws, stands out. Setting his drama in faceless corporate offices inhabited by equally drably uniformed bankers, Moutout’s take on the current economic crisis is revealing, pitting old guard against younger achievers and explaining that bankers in the developed world, as well as librarians supporting the third world, are all funded thanks to rabid financial exploitation of the underdeveloped. A very brave, timely, and important film.

The Box
Andrijana Stojković, Serbia

This debut from Serbia focuses on three young men of different backgrounds in the summer of 1992, as the world around them starts to collapse. While they pack for foreign diplomats leaving Belgrade, their touching personal stories are told with assured sense of humour. Stojković is a talent to watch.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
Göran Hugo Olsson, Sweden, USA

One of the documentaries of the year, not only meticulously revealing of its subject but also of the nature and power of making images. Constructed out of footage produced by Swedish national television, the film gently comments on the fact that this was a Swedish view of American affairs, at the time not without consequences for the two countries’ relations.

Apflickorna
Lisa Aschan, Sweden

And, while in Sweden, this debut was also concerned with power and manipulation, albeit amongst its teenage heroines. Another talent to watch.

We Can’t Go Home Again
Nicholas Ray, USA, 1971

Re-release of the year. Although such experiments seemed to have been better accomplished by other famous directors (well, Jean-Luc Godard), Ray’s swansong is the striking cry of a giant filmmaker disturbed by politics, power, and the state of his country.

Highlights

I was never much into the whole celluloid versus digital debate as I felt there is space for both within moving image culture, just as oil and watercolours coexist for painters. Additionally, behind much of that debate was Sony, shamelessly pushing for digital, while Kodak defended its own product. And then this summer, I happened to be on a shoot in a hot Mediterranean country. The digital camera kept misbehaving due to heat, causing further expense for the production and ultimately yielding disappointing footage of brightly sunlit wide landscapes. Later in the year, I saw three German films creating a triptych entitled Dreileben. One of them, directed by veteran Dominik Graf, was shot on 16mm film while the other two were shot on digital. In the darkness, when Graf’s images appeared, with that unique warm colour density only celluloid has, I felt strongly that material matters. So, in 2011: thumbs down for digital, and thumbs up for film.

Amy Taubin
Critic, USA

Melancholia
Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Germany/Italy

A Dangerous Method
David Cronenberg, France/Ireland/UK/Germany/Canada

This Is Not a Film (In Film Nist)
Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran

Contagion
Steven Soderbergh, USA/UAE

J. Edgar
Clint Eastwood, USA

Highlights

These are a few memorable viewing moments of 2011 in no particular order: The electrifying slo-mo opening and cathartic tragic closing of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia; watching photojournalist Tim Hetherington’s 22-minute Diary (2010) online a day after his untimely death and marveling how the struggle to find himself in the other and the other in himself could be accomplished without ego and as if for the first time; “We are and remain Jews” – Freud’s injunction to Sabina Spielrein taken directly from his letters to her in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method; Philosopher and former filmmaker Manuel De Landa’s madly-brilliant-for-seeming-so-rational lectures on Gilles Deleuze as viewed on YouTube.

Matthew Taylor
Critic, UK

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

Existential farce never looked so handsome as in this ultra-procedural.

The Portuguese Nun (Religiosa Portuguesa)
Eugène Green, Portugal/France

Green’s hypnotic Lisbon story is a true original – uncanny, affecting and utterly distinctive.

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Two Years at Sea
Ben Rivers, UK

A man, his thoughts and a dwindling campfire – the long fadeout to this remarkable portrait of solitary living was, for me, the year’s most indelible image.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Sean Durkin, USA

This unnerving, exquisitely crafted study of buried trauma heralded auspicious debuts for both director and stars Elisabeth Olsen.

Highlights

DVD reissue: Deep End. Screening: a rare and boisterous screening of John Carpenter’s anti-capitalist action satire, They Live, at the Glasgow Film Theatre, complete with enthusiastic audience interaction.

Matthew Thrift
Critic, UK

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

One of the most profound cinematic experiences of my life. A transcendental, existential meditation from one of cinema’s greatest poets. Exquisite.

The Interrupters
Steve James, USA/UK/Canada/Norway/Sweden/Denmark

If Malick looked to the heavens for answers this year, James found them here on earth in the form of Cobe, Eddie and the irrepressible Ameena. Vital, powerful filmmaking.

Kill List
Ben Wheatley, UK/Sweden/Australia

Momentous sound design led a vicious assault on genre staples. Expertly handled tonal shifts like walking blindfolded through quicksand.

I Wish (Kiseki)
Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan

A simple tale, beautifully told. Never sentimental, Kore-eda elicits pitch perfect performances from his entire cast. I walked out floating on a cloud for hours afterwards, grinning from ear to ear.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

A creeping nocturnal examination of ethics and manipulation in the guise of a police-procedural. Cinematic craftsmanship of the highest order.

Highlights

The Howard Hawks retrospective at the BFI Southbank, of which I caught 34 titles, offered an illuminating opportunity to reassess the familiar and make some wonderful new discoveries, most notably those titles constituting his silent period, to which I was a newcomer. Paid to Love (1927) proved the most atypically striking example: a visually daring, thematic prototype of much that was to come, cementing Virginia Valli’s position as the original Hawksian Woman, a year before Louise Brooks plunged from that high-dive board in A Girl in Every Port.

The year-long Disney 50 season became something of a family affair, as my sister and I made weekly excursions with irrepressible glee to see beautiful prints of the studio’s best work; one eye on the screen, the other on the gaggles of wide-eyed five-year-olds, lips-a-quiver as they witnessed the fate of Bambi’s mother for the first time.

David Thompson
Critic and documentarian, UK

Pina
Wim Wenders, Germany/France/UK

For its wholly convincing use of 3D to reveal the full physical impact of dance and movement.

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

Of course Malick’s film poem over-reaches, and the final section with Sean Penn is ridiculous, but there’s been nothing quite like it.

Senna
Asif Kapadia, USA/UK/France

Exceptional, thrilling documentary filmmaking.

Poetry (Shi)
Lee Chang-dong, S Korea/France

A film that lives up to its title – total magic, and very moving.

The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, France

The wittiest film on the transition from the silent era to the sound era since Singin’ In The Rain.

Highlights

Despite noises that it’s all over, the continuing appearance of outstanding DVD/Blu-ray editions from people who care, such as (obviously) Criterion, Masters of Cinema and this year especially the BFI for Deep End and French Cancan.

Hearing Bernardo Bertolucci sing of his love of 3D on the NFT stage, then reading how he now dismisses it as ‘vulgarly commercial’. Will Scorsese prove him wrong?

The Quays’ sublime film I Looked Back When I Reached Halfway, accompanied by Alina Ibragimova playing Bartok’s Solo Violin Sonata at Wilton’s Music Hall – a perfect marriage of image and music.

Working in Paris, various experiences come to mind: the proliferation of trouble-free digital screenings serves to highlight a sad throwback to another era, when the battered print of a Philippe Garrel film finally gave up in the projector and we were deprived of the last five minutes; the re-evaluation of films dissed at Cannes, such as L’Apollinide and Polisse, both of which almost made my top five; and as I am working on a documentary about Maurice Pialat’s A nos amours, the affirmation he was one of the cinema’s true greats, plus the pleasing discovery that Sandrine Bonnaire is as luminous in reality as on the screen.

Ginette Vincendeau
Academic and critic, UK

La Conquette (The Conquest)
Xavier Durringer, France

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

Potiche
François Ozon, France

Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen, Spain/USA

The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, France

Like last year, the highlights this year were not linked to new releases – though I enjoyed the five titles above – but to my family and my research.

First, I continued to follow the progress of my 10-year-old budding cinephile godson Pierre, this year making animation films with his teacher and a team of filmmakers at their school in Tremblay-en-France (a suburb of Paris), everyone gathering to watch the results in June at the local cinema, the Jacques Tati. The dedication of the teachers and the delight and application of the pupils were uplifting.

Second, co-editing a book on Renoir I ‘had to’ look at many of the films again. Watching Toni and Les Bas-Fonds in particular (which I had not seen in a while) reminded me of why I started doing research in film.

Third, writing a book on Brigitte Bardot, I ‘discovered’ her more or less forgotten – and frequently despised – career as a comedienne. BB’s comedies are not all masterpieces but, especially in the early years, they are fresh and modern (Cette sacrée gamine and Une Parisienne in particular), and unlike her more famous melodramas (such as Le Mépris or Vie Privée), the comedies don’t kill her off at the end – a fact no doubt linked to the critical disparagement.

Peter von Bagh
Curator and critic, Finland

In our times, few significant film experiences happen in regular film screenings and I will only mention two of them: Skolimovski’s Essential Killing and Kaurismäki’s Le Havre.

Blu-ray is one relevant compensation for classics vanishing in their true form. I was spellbound by Criterion’s ‘Collected Vigo’, especially one bonus detail I hadn’t seen before: a discussion between Rohmer and Truffaut about L’Atalante.

One magnificent film that I saw again after many years, this time as an unofficial DVD, is Jean Grémillon’s Gueule d’amour (1938), a film little known outside.

Just yesterday I happened to see Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), with graphic direction by John Sturges and Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas as almost Brechtian guides for the stock characters.

I would also add one wonderful experience from our Bologna festival, Il cinema ritrovato: Luigi Zampa’s Processo alla città (1952). The treasures of Italian cinema remain still largely unknown.

Ben Walters
Critic and programmer of BURN, UK

Amid the fully warranted eulogies for the passing of celluloid (notably Tacita Dean’s awesome FILM at Tate Modern), it’s also worth noting that cheap digital video is providing unprecedented access to the moving image to a new generation of artists and performers. Over 2010 and 2011, while working as both a film critic and cabaret editor for Time Out London, I’ve programmed a series of events showcasing this new experimental London scene. Queer artists such as David Hoyle, Scottee and Holestar, often in collaboration with filmmakers like Judy Jacob, Mat Snead and Nathan Evans, are creating stand-alone film work – from music videos and academic projects to Hoyle’s feature Uncle David – that showcase sensibilities rarely glimpsed in the mainstream. Other performers like Dickie Beau, Alp Haydar and A Man to Pet draw on inspirations from Monroe to Almodóvar to create video-interactive live work in which fantasy worlds break through the screen into the performance space. As some doors close, others open.

Catherine Wheatley
Academic and critic, UK

Archipelago
Joanna Hogg, UK

The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick, USA

We Have a Pope (Habemas Papam)
Nanni Moretti, Italy/France

Le quattro volte (The Four Times)
Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland

Hors Satan
Bruno Dumont, France

Highlights

Screenings of The Big Blue under a starlit sky at Somerset House as part of the Summer Series and Malick’s Days of Heaven at the BFI were memorable experiences.

Most gratifying in the wake of last year’s events was seeing a strong complement of British filmmakers – both established and less so – produce some very exciting films. They didn’t quite make it into my top five but Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin and David MacKenzie’s Perfect Sense were some of the most breathtaking and disorienting works I’ve seen this year, and I’m eagerly anticipating Steve McQueen’s Shame.

Perhaps my real highlight, however, was participating in Sight and Sound’s competition to discover new female film-writing talent. There were some outstanding entries and it was a tricky process but we found a worthy winner. Here’s hoping this marks something of a turning point for a field of journalism in which women’s voices are still woefully under-represented.

Charles Whitehouse
Critic, UK

Le Havre
Aki Kaurismäki, Finland/France/Germany

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)
Asghar Farhadi, Iran

The Turin Horse (A Torinói ló)
Béla Tarr, Hungary/France/Germany/Switzerland/US

Armond White
New York Post, USA

Incendies
Denis Villeneuve, Canada/France

A moving post-9/11 vision of our utter connectivity that simultaneously recalls Greek tragedy and the epic-intimate miracles of 70s American films.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Rupert Wyatt, USA/Hungary/UK/Australia/Canada

A spirited re-think of the 1968 original captures the vengeful madness of our times – confirmation that movies can be pop and still be art.

Attack the Block
Joe Cornish, UK/France

A ghetto action flick yet amazingly prescient about London’s long hot summer and perfect antidote to what Morrissey called “the Royal Dredding”.

Paul
Greg Mottola, USA/UK/Japan

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg come to America and find more fun and depth than ever before in our pop culture/sci-fi heritage.

Film Socialisme
Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland/France

Visionary as ever, titled to note the passing of outmoded technology and philosophy.
Reflections:

You’d expect a major publishing boom about a film critic to be a heartening occasion. Think again: this year’s biography of Pauline Kael and a high-toned collection of her writing has, instead, revealed the sorry, fractious state of contemporary film commentary as critics bash her and her legacy. Yes, the Age of Movies has passed, as the title of Godard’s Film Socialisme slyly jests.

Kael’s way of taking movies personally as a part of a humanist tradition is no longer apparent in the current stumbling into nihilism that pervades the festival circuit and passes for contemporary film culture. Movies that sustain humane values are ignored for political fads and negativity. When Cannes crowned Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, it was apparent that aesthetics judgment is over, too. It’s more difficult than ever to defend a personal view of cinema, as Godard surely knows. That’s why Kael’s bio has a Once Upon a Time aspect.

Sam Wigley
Critic, UK

Blue Valentine
Derek Cianfrance, USA

This bruising and brilliant autopsy on the rot setting into a formerly happy marriage just pips Andrew Haigh’s delightful – and more optimistic – Weekend as the relationship drama of the year.

Damsels in Distress
Whit Stillman, USA

Stillman’s WASPish collegiate farce, his first film in 14 years, was a fiercely divisive surprise film at this year’s LFF. I loved every inane, quotable moment, its cheap over-lit visuals, its helium effervescence. Amateurish pastel-hued musical sequences evoked Jacques Demy, a kind of Les Demoiselles au collège.

The Kid with a Bike (Le Gamin au vélo)
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France/Italy

Another of the Dardennes’ kinetic heart-in-mouth gems. As ever, dynamic movement and emotional heft are perfectly fused, and keeping up with Cyril (the astonishing Thomas Doret) as he careered around on his bicycle was one of the year’s breathless highlights.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/Bosnia-Herzegovina

Ceylan’s cosmic police procedural bewitches from the moment the detectives’ cars appear snaking their way through the half-light. A long, dark night of the soul, played out across a rolling, abstracted landscape.

The Portuguese Nun (Religiosa Portuguesa)
Eugène Green, Portugal/France

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.

Highlights

The great New German masters’ 3D face-off (a photo finish); amazement and bemusement in equal measure over The Tree of Life; working my way through Rohmer’s six ‘Comédies et Proverbes’ on balmy August evenings; re-releases of Deep End and Cutter and Bone; BFI retrospectives of Hawks, Jeff Bridges and Edward Yang; at-home retrospectives of Ozu and Pialat; seven hours in the company of Dr Mabuse on consecutive nights; Masters of Cinema’s glittering Blu-ray of Jean Epstein’s Coeur fidèle.

Further reading

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