Oh, there's a smattering of mildly interesting releases, both Hollywood and (mainly) not, but compared with the abundant high-quality output of the past few years – 2010's Monsters and Inception and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Toy Story 3 and Of Gods and Men; 2009's A Serious Man and Up and District 9 and The Hurt Locker and Moon; 2008's Waltz With Bashir and Synecdoche New York and Wall-E and The Dark Knight and Let the Right One In; 2007's No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Persepolis and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days – compared with all that, 2011 is looking like a banner year for mediocrity.
Nonetheless, we're halfway through the year, and it is only right that I should scrutinize the mediocre-est cinema has to offer and present you with a list of the Top Five Films Of 2011 So Far.
A note on Black Swan: You'll notice I've left Black Swan off this list. That's because I don't know what to do with it. Its US release year was 2010, and by the time I compile my end-of-2011 list I'll be living in the US, so it won't feel right to include it; however, I didn't see it until January, so I don't feel I can legitimately retcon it into my end-of-2010 list. (I probably will, eventually, especially because I was only really happy with 9 of my top 10 of '010.) Of course, I think it's an absolute cracker of a film. Maybe Black Swan and True Grit can have their own little subcategory of my year-end top ten.
A note on the list: It skews obscure and foreign. Sorry and all, but I've not yet seen the big releases I'm hoping to love (Bridesmaids, out of laziness; Super 8, out of the whole not-released-in-the-UK-almost-until-I'm-leaving business).
Top Five Films Of 2011 So Far
5. Source Code [dir. Duncan Jones]
In which Jake Gyllenhaal repeatedly lives out the last eight minutes of a stranger's life in an attempt to prevent a terrorist attack – Precogs On A Train, if you will. The only American film on the list, I know it disappointed a lot of people who were hoping for a second Moon, but I thought it was great. I mean, I love Moon as much as the next Silent Running fan, but it was nice to see Jones tackle something a bit bigger and explodier with the same thoughtfulness (even if the premise doesn't really make sense – just go with it; the ending's great). I officially declare Duncan Jones to be a Very Good Director, and if he delivers a third film on a par with his first two I shall upgrade him to Auteur.
4. The Borrower Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti) [dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi]
A new Studio Ghibli film is always something to celebrate, especially one based on a classic novel from my childhood. (Side note: did you know it's pronounced “Jibbly”? I literally just found that out yesterday, after like eight years of calling it “Studio Gibbly”. Live and learn.) This one is charming and delightful as ever, though not quite as good as the lovely Ponyo – largely because of the human boy Sho, who is quite as irritating in this film as he was in the book. I saw the subtitled version, and, though I know it's an anime purist's no-no, I'm very much looking forward to the American dub, 'cause AMY POEHLER. (Side note two: ask me about my post-colonialist interpretation of this movie!)
3. Julia's Eyes (Los ojos de Julia) [dir. Guillem Morales]
This first feature film from director Guillem Morales was advertised on the back of star Belén Rueda's previous film The Orphanage (El orfanato). That movie (produced, like this one, by the wonderful Guillermo del Toro, who LET HIM MAKE AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS ALREADY, HOLLYWOOD!!) gave me the serious heebie-jeebies, so I anticipated many a sleepless night from this new offering – and I was not disappoint. This story of twin sisters, a degenerative eye condition, and a creepy stalker ramps up the fear factor in a sequence that makes the night-vision-goggles scene from The Silence Of The Lambs look like something out of Ponyo.
2. Tomboy [dir. Céline Sciamma]
I have no reference points for this movie, so perhaps you won't either, but it's a truly charming French film by a writer-director I'm not familiar with. Skinny prepubescent Laure has short hair, a flat chest, and, like, the most soulful face you've ever seen on a kid actor; when her family moves to a new neighborhood, she presents herself as a boy named Mikael, ushering in a glorious summer of fun with her newfound gang of friends, especially BFF (and potential romantic interest) Lisa. It's never clear whether Laure is trans*, genderqueer, or just the most precocious and adorable little babydyke you ever saw, but little Zoé Héran brings real depth and nuance to the role. Even if you're not interested in queer stories, you should watch this film to see the most delightful and naturalistic portrayal of childhood on film since the opening scene of Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are.
1. Attack The Block [dir. Joe Cornish]
My favorite film of the year so far, no question at all. This story of urban yoofs fending off an alien invasion from their South London council estate is an absolutely brilliant sci-fi adventure (brimming with easter eggs for the eagle-eyed sci-fi fan: the titular block is called Wyndham Tower, and it's situated on Ballard Lane) with a reasonably subtle side serving of sociopolitical commentary. Pay no attention to Mark Kermode in this instance (you should jolly well listen to me and The Incredible Suit instead): it's plenty funny and plenty scary, and I think it has a real shot at retaining its number one spot in my end-of-year top ten list.
Well, that was fun! Given a list of movies I feel passionate about – a list that includes only one straight white male protagonist, a class of people about whom I never want to see another movie as long as I live – I am starting to feel relatively optimistic about 2011, and we can't have that. To balance out the warm fuzzies, let's throw in a couple of mid-year Pop Culture Awards.
Benjamin Button Award for Most Painfully Boring Movie I Have Ever Seen In My Life
Blue Valentine. Okay, I'm cheating by including it (see note on Black Swan, above), but I feel moved to share with the world just how much I hated this movie. I went in expecting a searingly honest relationship drama; I came out a ghost to the power of three, because it was so excruciatingly dull I died three times over in the course of watching it. Oh God, it was so boring. It was so tedious, it made Benjamin Button look like Die Hard. It was so long, it made Berlin Alexanderplatz seem like Le Voyage dans la lune. It perpetrated such agonizing torture on my soul that I'm afraid I fought back using my only weapon: atrocious cinema etiquette. I texted a friend, I groaned aloud, I got out a book of Sudoku and started solving them by the light of the screen. And I am generally a person with a very high boredom threshold (and impeccable cinema manners), but this... oy.
Sex and the City 2 Award for Most Loathsome Piece Of Garbage In Cinemas 2011
The Hangover Part II. I've only seen about five minutes of this dungheap whilst doing screenchecks at work, but that five minutes served up a demonic smorgasbord of homophobia, transphobia, racism, xenophobia, and good old-fashioned misogyny. I think – I hope – I'm safe in awarding this prize for the year as a whole, because I can't imagine we'll see a more disgusting pile of kyriarchal poop on the big screen in the next six months. (If we do, I'm turning Amish.)