The best sci-fi and fantasy films of 2011 according to the SFX writing team and bloggers
2011 proved to be full of surprises when it came to sci-fi and fantasy on the big screen. That a couple of potential blockbusters failed to perform (hands up, Green Lantern ) isn’t so surprising – that always tends to happen. That another couple of blockbusters did perform at the box office, but were loathed by the critics and internet pundits ( Transformers: Dark Of The Moon , Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides ) is pretty much par for the course too.
No, what was really surprising was how many films that seemed overly exciting this time last year, actually turned out to be unexpected gems: Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes , The Green Hornet , Troll Hunter , Real Steel . None of them flawless, but all so, so much better than we could have hoped for.
Then there were the surprising directors, ones who we normally wouldn’t expect to dabble in our genre but who gave us some fantasy cinema gold in 2011: Branagh, Scorsese, Sodebergh, Von Trier, Allen.
And, of course, there were the real surprises, low-budget films that seemingly came from nowhere and made us fall in love with them: The Awakening , Perfect Sense , Another Earth .
In some ways, 2011 can be seen as a treading water year when it comes to cinematic sci-fi, with Thor and Captain America almost acting like trailers for 2012’s The Avengers . While there were some huge box office hits ( Pirates , Potter , Transformers ) they didn’t feel like the great zeitgeist-bothering hits of yore partly because they were parts of franchises, partly because the slick publicity machines behind them meant that they couldn’t fail but be huge hits. 2011 lacked its sci-fi, mass audience breakthrough phenomenon.
But in other ways it was a classic year, because sci-fi and fantasy films that relied on good, old-fashioned storytelling rather than FX suddenly seemed to be coming out every other week. Let’s hope it’s a trend that continues.
Enough babble: over the following pages we give you SFX ’s sci-fi and fantasy films of the year. They were voted for (using an arcane and mysterious system to jeep things as fair as possible) by the SFX team members, the SFX bloggers, and a number of key freelance contributors.
In the results pages, each of the Top 25 films has been championed by someone who genuinely loved that film, so expect some gushing (and the odd spoiler), and we make no apology for that. This is a celebration of what we loved this year.
Start reading the SFX Top 25 films of the year…
25 Fright Night
Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and David Tennant
If this 1985 cult classic remake doesn’t grab you at the mention of David Tennant then you should at least invite this movie into your home because of its gory, semi-erotic fun! It is a Walt Disney production, after all. What could be more wholesome than a sexually experimental teenager living next door to a vampire who wants to rip everyone’s throats out? Of course there are deeper metaphors embedded in the film to give it a little more substance, like the dangers of sex in sin-city, and the nod to the economic crisis that lead to homeowners and residents abandoning the town once everything had been sucked dry. But who the hell wants to be concerned with all of that when David Tennant is strutting around without a shirt on and hot chicks everywhere are getting sniffed and then drained by Farrell? Don’t worry parents, the little bit of nudity we get is very tasteful.
Best moment: Every scene David Tennant is in.
24 Real Steel
Director: Shawn Levy
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lily, Dakota Goyo
Maybe our good will towards to this Disney feel-good fantasy comes from the fact that it should have sucked, but it didn’t. Sure, there is some of the cringiness that the ill-judged early trailers promised, when it looked like the film was going to be 90% gooey father/son gloop and 10% robots bashing the hell out of each other. Instead, there was a lot of robot fighting and a minimum of charm-free Dakota Goyo being annoyingly supersmart at everything.
Yep, this was Rocky meets the Karate Kid with a mecha makeover, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. Taking the sports movie as a blueprint, it gave us robot-on-robot action that put Transformers to shame (you could actually see what was happening in the fights) and featured a performance from Jackman of such charm and conviction, you wonder if anyone told him there was no way acting Oscars were coming this film’s way. The succession of gloriously over-the-top metal maulers were the true stars, though.
If you’re looking for a good, heart-warming family film to watch this should be on your list.
Best moment: Any of the robot fights, though the opening one between Ambush and a bull is a cracker.
23 The Adventures Of Tintin:
The Secret Of The Unicorn
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
There was understandable trepidation before the first footage of Tintin was unveiled. Nobody wanted a Spielberg/Jackson team-up feature to look as strangely repulsive as any of Robert Zemekis’s mo-cap monstrosities. So when we first got to see Tintin’s lush, photo-realistic digi-locations and a total absence of uncanny valley queasiness, we all breathed a mighty sigh of relief.
A fizzy script, courtesy of Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright, channelled the spirit of Hergé into the multiplex blockbuster and saw Spielberg using film muscles he hasn’t used since the first Indiana Jones films (let’s forget about Crystal Skull , eh?).
In fact, this film was what the last Indy should have been. Ambitious, funny, scary and with a beating heart at the centre of it. One note for the second film though: Peter, could you make Tintin look a little less like Wayne Rooney next time? It’s very distracting. Thanks.
Best moment: At the very beginning, when Tintin is being sketched, and the eventual portrait is an exact copy of Hergé’s Tintin.
Director: Greg Mottola
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman
If Shaun Of The Dead was Simon Pegg’s love letter to Romero, and Hot Fuzz his lust note to Shane Black, then Paul was him down on one knee in front of Steven Spielberg.
Chockful of enough geek-friendly references to shame even Spaced (it kicks off at the San Diego Comic Con), it starred Pegg and Frost as two Brits on the lam across New Mexico with Seth Rogan-voiced CGI ET Paul in tow.
Directed by Superbad ’s Greg Mottola, Paul was different in tone to Pegg and Frost’s other outings. Warmer and less jittery than Edgar Wright’s films, it was blisteringly funny and boasted a roll-call of comedy’s biggest names, including the always brilliant Jason Bateman and Mottola regular Bill Hader.
But best of all was Kristen Wiig’s hilariously potty-mouthed turn as recovering religi-nut Ruth Buggs. Altogether now: “F**k-a-roo, that was the best titty-farting sleep I have ever had!”
Best moment: Paul tenderly bringing that bird back to life and then gobbling him alive.
21 The Adjustment Bureau
Director: George Nolfi
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery, Anthony Mackie
Yet another Philip K Dick story gets a big-screen makeover; soon they’ll be bringing us his shopping lists. But The Adjustment Bureau isn’t really a film about a sci-fi concept, despite proudly exhibiting all the trappings: it’s actually a love story. And the fact it’s a love story which is one of the most believable we’ve seen in a decade is what gets it on our list.
Matt Damon (as New York Congressman David Norris) and Emily Blunt (as ballerina Elise Sellas) have the kind of on-screen chemistry most actors would sell their souls for: you never, for the merest second, doubt that they fell in love at first sight, even if it takes a while for them to notice. The crux of the film is that there’s a shady, possibly supernatural agency determined to keep them apart so that Norris can fulfil his goal of becoming the next President. While the Bureau’s attempts to foil the lovers are fun to watch (especially when we discover they can use doors to teleport from place-to-place), nothing overshadows the natural, often hilarious and easy relationship between the two leads.
The Adjustment Bureau is a gorgeous love affair built on a clever, yet hardly original, sci-fi concept. It probably should have sucked – and some of the sci-fi rationale ranges from iffy to nonsensical – but Damon and Blunt are, instead, our couple of the year. Which makes the film a winner, too.
Best moment: David and Elise meet for the first time (in a bathroom, of all romantic spots) and the attraction between them is undeniable. Too soppy for you? Alright then... David being chased by the Bureau through offices filled with frozen-in-time colleagues is pretty cool, too.
20 Attack The Block
Director: Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway, Nick Frost
In a summer of sequels, big-budget blowouts, and overblown Hollywood hyperbole, there was one sci-fi fan with the passion, creativity and nerdy nous to fly the local flag and bamboozle the box office with a uniquely British take on the creature feature horror movie. It may have been his directorial debut, but the geek-baiting combination of adrenalised action scenes, unforgettable monsters, disarmingly witty humour, a fresh and believable cast, patois dialogue and setting ensured that both Joe Cornish and British sci-fi as a whole were announcing their arrival on the global stage with an ear-splitting monster roar. It may have been the oldest of sci-fi staples (disgruntled E.T. badgers the locals), but by setting it amidst the modern urban jungle of London's council estates, and positioning a gang of Daily Mail -bothering hoodies as the antiheroes, it rejuvenated both the genre's traditional trappings and ideas of not only what modern British genre cinema is all about, but what it could hope to be.
Best moment: Moses’s last minute slow-mo dash through an alien-strewn council block – with a herd of evisceration-happy critters snapping at his feet – was as cool as it was suitably climatic.
Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchette, Jason Flemyng
This tale of a wronged CIA agent (Bana) crafting his genetically-pimped daughter into the perfect revenge weapon is not at all what you expect going in, and in this case that’s no bad thing.
It’s more European art house than action adventure thriller, more travel documentary than chase movie, more teen coming of age tale than ruthless assassin on a mission fare. And for all that oddness it still works very well. It has moments of sheer beauty and quiet calm mixed in with fast action and brutal violence. It’s a film with the kind of mish mash of styles that doesn’t get made often enough and rarely works when it does. Sometimes it’s just good to be a bit different.
Best moment: the best thing about this film isn’t a moment, it’s Saoirse Ronan. Previously seen in Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones , this young actress is a joy to watch. As we follow her character on the journey from isolation in the frozen wastelands of Finland out into the world on her mission of revenge, Ronan’s reactions are spot on. From her interactions with the people she meets on her journey to fighting with the people sent to stop her, you don’t for one minute think that Hanna isn’t capable of anything she puts her mind to.
Director: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgård, Stellan Skarsgård
It’s the end of the world as we know it and Kirsten Dunst is... oddly relieved. Lars Von Trier doesn’t make easy films, or nice ones. Sometimes he doesn’t even make good movies, but almost all the time, he makes genuinely interesting ones and Melancholia is no exception. It’s a deliberately wilful piece, grimly mischievous in its approach; literally the first thing we see is the Earth on the brink of destruction. Then, we step over the brink. Then we’re at a wedding…
Von Trier uses the idea of an inescapable global catastrophe to explore what KT Tunstall would refer to as miniature disasters and minor catastrophes, beginning with arguably the most disastrous wedding in recent cinema history, between Justine (Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgård). What starts as an endearingly ramshackle affair culminates in Justine blowing every relationship she has apart, and the party collapsing in on itself as, in the sky, a star disappears. The film’s second chapter then kicks off, following Justine’s sister Claire and her husband John, as they try and care for Justine. Their relationship, and the resentment they feel for one another, is played out against the imminent flyby of Melancholia , a colossal rogue planet that we’re assured will not hit the Earth. Except, of course, we know better.
Von Trier uses this backdrop of ultimate destruction to play with the small, final moments of humanity making this the grounded, dark twin of pretty much anything Roland Emmerich has ever directed. It’s not an easy movie – Justine is profoundly dislikeable to the point of absurdity for much of the second chapter – and it’s insanely mannered, but it’s also visually and emotionally striking. This is a story about how the world ends, and what we do when we realise there’s nothing we can do. And whilst it’s not always likeable, it’s consistently interesting and challenging.
Best moment: Either the final 30 seconds, or the moment the birds begin to fall and Justine watches electricity arc across her fingertips...
17 Another Earth
Director: Mike Cahill
Starring: Brit Marling, William Mapother, Matthew-Lee Erlbach
Here an Earth, there an Earth…The possibility of worlds lying beyond the one we know is a speculation that we all have shared; we wonder how different our lives would be if we had made different choices, taken different paths. What would have happened if we turned right, instead of left? It’s easy to live in our flights of fancy. It’s not shocking then that there are so many “doppelganger films for dummies” floating around in the DVD bargain bin, but then came little indie film Another Earth, and it should be framed on the wall. Another Earth is a film that’s not afraid to challenge our imagination and gives SF a backseat to the film’s more important story of experiencing the full scale of human emotion. Earth 2 is a destination for the characters, but it’s finding peace with one’s own actions that is the real journey. Although some may watch it and think that it’s a bunch of pretentious baloney, we smarter folk will enjoy it for the visual, auditory, and emotional masterpiece that it is.
Best moment: Rhoda and John bonding over Wii Sports .
16 The Green Hornet
Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz
This movie is here to entertain you. It doesn’t claim itself complex or serious, and manages to sneak a little bit of both in under your radar, all in the guise of a slick buddy action flick.
There’s an amazing blend of wit and humour, acting and direction, all under the control of an auteur whose cinematography is as much a signature as Spielberg’s or Woo’s. Gondry wields mise-en-scène like a scalpel and gives us an incredibly detailed movie which all comes together beautifully.
It’s gorgeous. It’s funny. It’s got a wicked sense of humour, the editing is sharp, the pacing perfect. This isn’t a film for critics. This film is for fun. I know it, you know it, and even the Mythbusters know it.
2011 was in desperate need of fun. The Green Hornet was there to give it to us.
And it was by far the best superhero film of the year with Green in the title.
Best moment: Britt piecing together all the clues leading to the realisation that an old friend was behind the murder of his father. And said old friend’s subsequent mockery that it took him several minutes.
Director: Stephen Sodebergh
Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle
You know that thing SF fans do, where we complain that movies never get the science right? Contagion not only gets the science right, it gets the scientific method right, the deductive processes right, the human drama right and the storytelling right. That’s one of the three impossible things it does before breakfast.
The story of a worldwide viral outbreak, Contagion could have been bog standard disaster porn. Instead, it’s one of the cleverest, most unsettling movies of the year, hitting the ground running on Day Two of the outbreak and following it across continents, through to mass graves dug, and filled, by the military. This is one step away from being a post-apocalyptic movie and the film never shies away from either the human cost or showing us how agonisingly slow the diagnostic process is. This is a movie full of very smart people thinking very hard and that’s the second impossible thing the movie does. For the first time in a very, very long time, this is a film where the scientists are the heroes, and as we see the problem being worked from multiple angles, and countries it’s impossible not to get swept up in events. This is a war movie as much as a science fiction one, but the war is between a simple, elegant killer and the huge, complex, desperately vulnerable creatures it preys upon. We win, but it’s a close run thing.
The third impossible thing Contagion does is the simplest and the most revolutionary; three utterly pivotal roles are played by women. Kate Winslet as a CDC Field Officer, Marion Cotillard as a World Health Organisation Investigator and Jennifer Ehle as a CDC doctor are all utterly central to the plot and in one case the entire movie hinges around them. This is so unusual that it bears repeating; this is a science fiction movie where three of the leads are female and all three are vital to the plot. There’s no sexualisation, no window dressing, no sense of them being eye-candy for the men. They’re soldiers on the frontline of humanity’s smallest war and if Contagion does nothing else, it deserves to be emulated for its casting.
Best moment: Either the final scene, arguably the only moment of quiet, cryogenic triumph ever committed to film, or the beatific smile on Jennifer Ehle’s character’s face as she sees realises something...
14 Perfect Sense
Director: David MacKenzie
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Eva Green, Connie Nielsen
Our world has been invaded, occupied, bombarded and threatened by so many alien aggressors, enormous pieces of space rock and interstellar plagues that Perfect Sense makes a refreshing change. Humanity itself is the victim, and the frankly unbelievably attractive coupling of Ewan McGregor and Eva Green are our guides through this strange new world where our very sense are under attack. A bizarre love story, a fascinating high concept that keeps you thinking long after the credits have rolled and enough unsettling weirdness to keep it well ahead of the usual bombastic end of the world cobblers marks Perfect Sense out at one of the year’s most memorable movies.
Best moment: Just before everyone loses the sense of taste, they become ravenously hungry for everything and anything they can get their hands on. The sight of an old dear chowing down on a lipstick is disgusting, surreal and hilarious all at the same time.
13 Captain America: The First Avenger
Director: Joe Johnston
Starring: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell
Like Thor , Captain America could have all gone hideously wrong. The problem is the very idea of Captain America. A creation of pure propaganda, with a ridiculous name and an even more ridiculous costume, Captain America could have looked like a big cheesy joke anywhere outside of, well, America. It had to be better than the 1990 version, of course, but then that would be true if the producers had decided to film a school play, instead.
Setting the film in World War II was a genius idea – true to the original comics, it provided a way to explore the Cap’s roots before uprooting him and transporting him to the present day for the forthcoming Avengers movie. Captain America: First Avenger embraces the cheesiness of the character’s history, without ever venturing into that territory, itself (except, perhaps, for some of the scenes involving Hydra – Marvel’s proto-Nazis). Chris Evans is perfect in the role, from his initial portrayal as the weakling Steve Rogers and his failed attempts to join the army, through to his explosive final reel as Captain America. It’s the perfect introduction to the character for people who think they probably wouldn’t like the comics, but later discover they do.
Best moment: The sequence that celebrates the character’s propaganda angle, where Cap is touring America in a gaudy costume (a great way to get one of the original costumes into the movie) selling US treasury bonds to raise money for the war effort. A great change of pace for the movie, and a brief respite before the grit that follows.
12 The Awakening
Director: Nick Murphy
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Lucy Cohu, John Shrapnel
In the wake of the First World War, Florence Cathcart has made it her business to expose fake mediums and spiritualists. She’s a professional sceptic, which is why she’s approached by Robert Mallory, a history teacher at a boarding school in the country. A boarding school which has had an extra, ghostly pupil for years...
Once a year or so, a movie comes along that makes you remember exactly what a beautifully crafted story, smart writing, tense directing and great acting can combine to produce. This year, The Awakening was that movie and there are four main reasons why it’s one of the best movies of 2011.
The first is the setting. Nick Murphy beautifully evokes a rainy, wind-swept England almost bereft of a generation of young men. From the opening quote to the final, frantic chase through the school grounds, this is an England that’s beautiful and empty and grieving. As Florence’s opening quote says, this is a time for ghosts.
The second reason are the performances. Rebecca Hall is physically incapable of turning in bad work at this stage and she’s on fiercely good form as a smart, tough, angry young woman at a time when it was a bad idea to be any of these things. Florence’s back story and reasons for doing what she does are written all over the film if you know where to look and actress, director and writer combine to create a character who is spiky, sharp, funny and utterly English. There feels like there should be more Florence Cathcart stories after this and I rather hope there will be. Also, just to really fan the flames, if the BBC ever decided to cast a female Doctor Who, the role has Rebecca Hall’s name written all over it (or Sue Perkins’s).
The third reason is the smart, beautifully-paced scares. A ghost story is like a magic trick, turning and opening out as you realise more of what’s going on and the pacing is everything. Here, each scare builds on the ones before it to superb effect and each makes logical sense too. This is an unusual ghost story, and we’re shown how, and why, gradually and subtly in a way which never insults our intelligence but never leaves us hanging. This is classic English supernatural fiction, in the same way that The Woman In Black is, and to be honest, it’s going to have to work hard to beat The Awakening .
The final reason is the beautiful, pseudo-steampunk stylings of the film. Florence’s ghost-hunting equipment is all hammered brass and lenses and scientifically accurate too, leading to a couple of the film’s best scares. It’s also remarkably easy to reproduce or modify, so steampunks will have plenty of news ideas to play with after seeing this.
All in all, this is the total package; a smart, scary, well-written, well-directed, well-acted and very English ghost story. It’s also one of 2011's best kept secrets which means if you can’t catch it at theatres any more, you should make it one of 2012' first gems to buy on DVD or Blu-ray. It deserves it.
Best moment: Florence finds a doll’s house in the school and looks aside. The bottom floor has figurines mimicking her arrival, one floor up there’s a figurine of her setting up her instruments, two floors up the instruments have been smashed and three floors up there's a figurine of her, opening the doll’s house...
11 Troll Hunter
Director: Andre Øvredal
Starring: Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Tomas Alf Larsen
This Norwegian treat is surely one of the most original films to hit our shores in years, despite using that old “found footage” chestnut. We’re hard-pressed to think of another way the filmmakers could have done it, however, so we’ll forgive them... and besides, who cares when the premise is so delicious?
Trolls, you see, are real, and they secretly roam the Norwegian countryside while special troll hunters (in this case, the world-weary Hans, played by Otto Jespersen) keep an eye on them to ensure they don’t wander into human territory. A group of teens making a documentary stumble across Hans during a hunt and soon a whole new world of weird opens up to them.
The trolls are impressive for such a low-budget film, the CGI giants stomping on trees and hanging out under bridges just like the creatures we’ve seen in fairy tales for generations. It’s the attention to detail that makes it all so brilliant, though: such as when we’re told that trolls can “smell Christian blood” and someone asks if Muslims count, too. Or when we discover they hate hymns and can turn into rock. And what about the morality of killing baby trolls, anyway...?
Best of all, when Troll Hunter was released over here, Momentum Pictures did this . How can we not love the film after that?
Best moment: The humans are trapped in a cave filled with farting trolls – hilarious and yet gut-wrenchingly terrifying all at once.
10 Midnight In Paris
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates
Ah, to have experienced Paris in the 1920s, a time in history flourishing with expatriate writers, bohemians, and complicated relationships. But Paris remains a moveable feast in any time, past or present. That is unless you’re Gil Pender, a disenchanted Hollywood screenwriter who falls in love with la ville lumière – “The City of Light” – of the past. There really is no one better than Woody Allen to confront the illusion that life would be better lived if lived as someone else in a different time.
A très bien romantic sci-fi comedy, Midnight in Paris will make you want to book your flight to Paris just to walk the streets in the rain and kiss in the gaslight. And don’t fret, you won’t have to leave life as you know it to move to Paris because the city wants you to fall in love with the fantasy and then leave it declaring, “Paris, je t’aime de tout mon coeur.” Paris is quite lovely indeed, but Midnight in Paris will also work its way into your heart and never let go.
Best moment: The detective agency loses its detective.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tim Hiddleston
Thor always seemed destined to be the also-ran of this year’s superhero output. Instead it turned out to be one of the champs. There was always a chance/fear that the halls of Asgard would be given a makeover for the MTV generation. And how could such a cosmic concept fit in with the live-action Marvel shared universe? It may work in the comics but surely on screen it would be a culture clash of the Titans.
But Branagh solved all that by opting for the full-on, completely over-the-top cinematic treatment, and its camp excesses were perfect. Somehow by embracing whole crazy concept instead of downplaying it, Branagh hit the nail on the head with his own Mjǫlnir.
Talking of camp excesses, Hemsworth’s Thor appears to have been lifted straight out of the pages of a comic – a perfect fit for the scenes in Asgard, and a perfect fish out of water for the scenes on Earth. Hiddleston (as Loki) was also a revelation – an effective foil for Thor, and every moment he was onscreen was a moment to cherish.
Lots of people went to see this, feeling they should at least make an effort as it leads in to Whedon’s Avengers movie, and the quality of the movie surprised absolutely everyone! That’s not an exaggeration, by the way – I asked them all! (The things I do for SFX !)
So, for sheer operatic glory and spectacle, combined with lashings of menace and humour, Thor is one of 2011’s stand-out movies.
Best moment: Too many to mention, but for sheer likeability, the moment when Thor smashes a coffee cup to the floor of a café and proclaims: “This drink! I like it! Another!”
Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Anna Friel, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro
Who doesn’t like a good drug movie? The new experimental drug MDT-48 – have you heard of it? If not it’s probably because the marketing team didn’t do a very good job with the movie poster.
Limitless is that sci-fi thriller starring Bradley Cooper about the ultimate “FDA approved” brain-steroid that can make you into the best you that you could possibly be. That’s a lot to convey on a movie poster, let alone write out in one semi-coherent sentence. Actually, it was all clever devise used by those Hollywood types to keep a shroud of secrecy over the film as much as possible to create excitement for the film and help give it some originality. Limitless is indeed very enjoyable and does have originality, especially when you decide to turn your brain off and just have fun with it.
Best moment: Unsuspecting little girl minding her own business skating on the ice is improvised into a weapon.
7 Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part Two
Director: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman
The Battle of Hogwarts had so much to live up to but for the most part it really did hit the high notes. Forget the slow-build of Deathly Hallows Part One , forget the weird Harry and Hermione dancing interlude, forget even poor Dobby, Deathly Hallows Part Two eclipsed everything that had gone before with a properly epic, fitting end to a much-loved series.
There were so many lovely moments – Neville’s speech to Voldermort and his army, Henry V in a fetching cardigan; Mrs Weasley taking on Bellatrix LeStrange; Professor McGonagall arming the stone soldiers of Hogwarts; Snape’s final demise; the Malfoys stealing away from the battle – all small, human vignettes in the wider story of the final battle between He Who Must Not Be Named and The Boy Who Lived.
That said there were some flaws. David Yates suffers in part from the adaptations that have gone before: Harry having a sudden moment where he realises that he can “sense” the Horcruxes feels very much like a script editor suddenly went. “Oh, hold on, we’ve not explained how Harry can find the Horcruxes, quick, make something up” – but even charitably leaving that aside there’s still a couple of notable missed opportunities. We appreciate the body count is high, but Hedwig, Lupin, Tonks and Fred’s demises barely get a passing shot much less a moment of pause. Surely cutting a minute from Dumbledore’s overlong Gandalf-the-White moment would have given some space to give everyone their final nod?
These are minor niggles though in an otherwise satisfying end to the films. While anyone who loves the books will always feel a pang at the things left out, overall as a film franchise the boy wizard (and his opinionated author overseeing every detail) has done good, leaving us with a series of films which can be enjoyed over and over again. Although maybe we’ll switch off before the "everyone's old, you can see that because of the cushions up jumpers and talc in the hair" flash forward to remember it at its best...
Best moment: Neville defiantly standing up to Voldemort.
6 Super 8
Director: JJ Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee, Gabriel Basso, Elle Fanning.
Everyone says Super 8 is amazingly accurate in its portrayal of 1979 small town America, so there’s no need to convince of that. So, obvious nostalgia aside, let’s talk about what else there is to love in Super 8 . In a word, it’s the kids. All of the young actors did an outstanding job. Not only that, the kids in this film act like real kids. They aren’t sanitised or safe for all viewers. They curse, argue, and insult one another. One’s a pyromaniac and two drive without licenses. Heck, there would be no movie at all if the kids hadn’t broken curfew.
Super 8 hearkens back to the days before political correctness sapped all the fun out of kids movies, and you have to love that. It goes a long way toward making the juvenile characters of Super 8 believable. When you add Joe’s dad (Kyle Chandler) and Alice’s father (Ron Eldard), to the mix, you get a motley crew of characters that you actually care about, and therein lies the strength of Super 8 . Yes, there’s a giant alien in this movie, and the kid’s zombie flick is tons of fun, but what drives this movie is its characters. Super 8 is a film about friends and family; it just happens to feature aliens and zombies too.
Best moment: The train crash? Too obvious (and already overly familiar). Super 8 boils down to a scene only eight minutes into the movie: when Joe’s father tries to send him to baseball camp. Joe, a geek through and through, wants to spend the summer making a zombie movie, but his dad, uncomfortable around the stranger that is his son, doesn’t get that. This scene perfectly establishes everything we need to know about these characters. We are shown the problem, not told, and it works. It also makes the climatic argument and eventual father-son conflict resolution that much sweeter.
5 Source Code
Director: Duncan Jones
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga
This second film from Duncan Jones is an unexpected change of pace, style and just about everything else. This is the story of Donnie Darko after he grew up and became a super soldier. He keeps getting downloaded into a train that blows up again and again and his mission is to find out who planted the bomb. He also tries to get a date with one of his fellow about-to-be-blown-up passengers.
The twin plot threads of Colter Stevens completing his mission and finding out exactly what happened to him after his accident in the bed with the plane engine are compelling. The repetitive structure of the narrative is used brilliantly to drip feed information and with every trip back to the train you get a few more clues as to what’s going on. The film is not afraid to wrong foot you a few times either…
The jump in Colter's goal midway though is interesting and the resolution – and the implications of that resolution – might be something you find yourself wondering about a long time after the films ends. Like the thing about the Smurfs.
Best moment: The best moment is actually not a moment but the repeating of the same moments again and again. Every trip back for Donny is subtly different. It’s the same train, with the same passengers, on the same journey but Colter’s effect is different each time and the repeated scenes are excellently handled. It’s like Groundhog Day but with guns and bombs and mobile phones. Oh, and there’s no Bill Murray either, but he isn’t missed.
4 The Skin I Live In
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet, Marisa Paredes
Not for the faint-hearted, this twisted (to put it mildly) revenge drama is hard to describe without giving away the plot, which rests on a medical suspension of disbelief that lands it in SFX territory... but only just. It stars Antonio Banderas as a doctor obsessed with one of his patients, the beautiful Vera (Elena Anaya), who he keeps locked up in his house and clad in a special bodysuit because he’s been doing something mysterious, and probably immoral, to her surgically. Her skin is so smooth and her face so perfect, in fact, that for most of the film the camera gazes at her in awe as we soak up her impossible beauty.
Director Almodovar, who adapted Thierry Jonquet’s French novel Tarantula with his brother Agustin, has stamped his signature luscious style all over the screen, while both Banderas and Anaya are glorious. But it’s the weird storyline that makes this such a keeper: sick, demented and offensive, it’s like someone took our worst nightmares and wrapped them up in exquisite, delicious chocolate. And you really need to taste it.
Best moment: The ending, which obviously we can’t reveal here, but either you’ll be cheering or gasping “No!” depending on where you stand on the morality of the plot.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kinglsey
Without a doubt, the best directed movie of the year. People who think that good directing is just about flashy camerawork and recurring themes should watch this and take note. If you didn’t know it was Scorsese, you would be hard-pressed to guess it was him behind the camera. Because what a good director does is tell the story the way it needs to be told, and that’s exactly what Scorsese does here, with a charming, emotional tale of an orphan living in the bowels of a Parisian railway station, secretly keeping the clocks ticking while trying to mend an automaton which may have a message to reveal from his dead father.
Scorsese goes into Jean-Pierre Jeunet to create a film that feels as authentically full of gallic whimsy as Amé lie , full of larger than life characters and a fairy tale version of the French capital that as loving and hyperreal as Mary Poppins ’ London. On one level, it’s an enchanting children’s film full of intrigue and adventure. On another it’s a deep and complex love poem to film-making itself, featuring an emotional twist about cinema history that’s full of loss and hope.
It’s also the first live action film that uses 3D as a genuine film-making tool to help tell the story rather than just to create eye-popping visuals. A moment when young Hugo (played with amazing depth by the piercingly-eyed Asa Butterfield) opens a handkerchief to discover the burnt remains of his father’s precious notebook inside, and the ashes fall out of the screen towards you, used 3D to dramatically enhance the emotional kick of the scene. It’s fitting that Scorsese makes a film about film-making pioneers and he pioneers news ways of using the latest technology himself.
Hugo is also impeccably cast. Former Hit Girl Moretz proves once again that she has Oscar potential and, blimey, Sir Ben Kingsley actually acts for the first time in years.
Best Moment: The moment where the automaton's message is revealed (we won't tell you what it is for spoilers).
2 X-Men: First Class
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones
Who’d have thought SFX ’s two favourite films of the year would be prequels (oops, spoilers)? In particular, after the woeful Last Stand and the best-left-forgotten Wolverine , who’d have thought an X-Men prequel written, shot and released in little more than a year would best the cinematic debuts of fellow comic book colossi Captain America , Thor and Green Lantern ?
With Kick-Ass ’ Matthew Vaughan at the helm we needn’t have been worried. The tale of the men who would become Magneto and Professor X isn’t just a mutant extravaganza; it’s a gripping cold war thriller, with the mutant’s origins smartly woven into a fascinating secret history. Perfectly cast, with action setpieces that rival Nightcrawler’s Whitehouse siege in X-Men 2 for ingenuity and a dramatic levity rare for popcorn blockbusters, X-Men: Second Class is a film we want on our screens very, very soon. Just don’t let Brett Ratner direct that one, eh?
Best moment: In a film where a man plucks a submarine out of the ocean , it’s one of the smallest moments that impresses the most. Erik Lensherr (aka Magneto), on the hunt for Sebastian Shaw, tracks a pair of Nazi stooges to an Argentina bar. As the real reason for Lensherr’s visit slowly dawns on the dead-men-drinking Henry Jackman’s stunning score builds to a heart-racing crescendo, the scene climaxing in an eruption of magnetic violence. Best of all is Fassbender’s ice-cool reaction to the massacre – taking a swill of his beer and running a hand through his hair – like a moment from the most vindictive Bond movie you’ve never seen.
1 Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
Director: Rupert Wyatt
Starring: Andy Serkis, James Franco, John Lithgow, Freida Pinto
With a title as cumbersome and ham-fisted as the franchise's woeful 2001 reboot, audiences weren't exactly going "ape" at the thought of another stab at the simian saga. Which is why Wyatt's accomplished sci-fi drama is all the more impressive. Both a daring reinvention and a subtle fanboy ode to the original (with reinterpretations of classic scenes and iconic dialogue aplenty), it offered spectacular monkey-tastic action set-pieces and mythology bolstering drama in equal measure. But it was Andy Serkis' captivatingly eerie performance as lead ape Caesar that single-handedly re-opened the debate on whether a motion-capture performance could and should be nominated for an Oscar. Furry fuzzball or not, it was without a doubt the most entrancing and nuanced performance of this year's big budget blockbusters, and the pivotal missing link in both the technology and genre's desire to be taken seriously as a worthy awards-bothering contender.
Best moment: Caesar's first word is a masterclass in ratcheting tension and goose-bump-tingling payoff.