The Spectator Arts Blog asked me to pick my 10 favourite films of the year – including revivals. Here they are.
2011 has been wonderful year for showcasing cinema as a visual medium — which, as the editor of a silent film blog, has delighted me. You’ll see more than a hint of my love for the silent era in my picks of the year’s best theatrical releases, and three welcome revivals, which I have listed separately.
How could this not be my number one? Michel Hazanavicus’s delightful homage to late Hollywood silent cinema occasionally tries to have its cake and eat it but, at its best, The Artist is gleeful, gorgeous cinema. There’s also no denying that it has put silent film back on the map. If there’s any justice, The Artist will win an armful of Oscars and both its leading man, Jean Dujardin, and his canine companion, Uggie, will become household names.
Few people care as much about film and film preservation as Martin Scorsese does, and fewer still could make such an exhilarating, heart-warming film that simultaneously redeems the critical reputation of 3D and honours the work of one of cinema’s earliest auteurs, Georges Méliès. The thrilling opening sequence and the recreation of Méiès’s alone studio make this a must-see.
Choked by legal wrangles for six years, Kenneth Lonergan’s post-9/11 drama finally made it to the screen in 2011, albeit with a truncated two-and-a-half-hour running time. Anna Paquin’s astonishing lead performance as a vile but anguished teen is indelible — but the sprawling, novel-esque script is the real star.
I certainly didn’t expect to see an academy ratio, female-led Western in 2011, but this chilling film is far more than a novelty: it’s a bleak and terrifying tale that brings home the dangers and uncertainties of life on the Western frontier. There’s little dialogue, and less music; Michelle Williams leads an impressive ensemble cast.
Midnight in Paris
This is a cautionary tale on the dangers of wallowing in nostalgia but, when the past looks as delightful as it does here, that’s a hard lesson to learn. I fully admit to wallowing in this witty, elegant evocation of 1920s Paris, complete with ‘cameos’ from silent surrealists Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali.
A quirky rom-com about bereavement, loneliness and late-flowering sexuality. You’d be forgiven for hating it already, but Mills’s film is as sharp as it is sweet and features a Jack Russell equally as cute as The Artist’s Uggie. He may not do as many tricks, but this terrier is profound.
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Eisenstein’s deathless classic is a call to solidarity and comradeship that resonates all the more in a year of government cuts and grass-roots protest. This revival offered UK viewers the chance to view the film as we’d never seen it: with its original, stirring orchestral score by Edmund Meisel and previously cut footage now reinstated. It was a nice touch from the BFI to release it on the day of the royal wedding, too.
Les Enfants du Paradis (1945)
Made semi-clandestinely under the worst possible circumstances — in Nazi-occupied France — Carné’s epic 19th Century romance is lush, sophisticated and a real heartbreaker. French star Arletty is imperious as the beautiful Garance, and Jean-Louis Barrault is astonishing as the lovelorn mime Baptiste.
The Great White Silence (1924)
It is simply miraculous that this film — a fly-on-the-wall account of RF Scott’s tragic journey to the South Pole — exists. This painstaking, tinted restoration would be a treasure in itself, but Simon Fisher-Turner’s haunting score, which makes use of found sounds, vocals and old records, proves that there is room for risk-taking in silent film accompaniment. A triumph.