THE SKIN I LIVE IN

We’ve always been a little bit creeped out by Antonio Banderas and in The Skin I Live In the Spaniard teamed up once again with Pedro Almodovar to create Dr Robert Ledgard, a lizard-like character drawn to tight clothing and perverse practices in plastic surgery. Vindication, then, on one front, but there was so much more to this masterful film. Almodovar toys with notions of human identity and with the audience to create a perplexed, genuinely frightening thriller full of surprises and remarkable attention to detail. Just like Ledgard’s patients it’s expertly put together with a suspenseful atmosphere that Kubrick or even Hitchcock would have been proud of.

SENNA

The second of two driving related movies to make the top five, this was a documentary that glorified Formula One and lauded the need for speed. Scratch under the surface though and Senna was a wonderful human drama that’s as much a social commentary on Brazil as it is about finishing a race in sixth gear. Remarkable access to the drivers and gut wrenching footage throughout, Senna was the most moving of our top five films. The emotion emanating from the screen as he finally wins the Brazilian Grand Prix and, physically drained, struggles to lift the trophy is breathtaking.

DRIVE

It’s been a hell of a year for ol’ blue eyes Ryan Gosling. He greatly impressed in Blue Valentine, a melancholic delight that showcased his banjo playing skills just as much as his fine acting. However, it’s in Drive where Gosling really stood out – Nicolas Winding Refn’s deftly original take on the crime caper genre pushed the well loved laconic American as the star and the move really paid off. Gosling’s effortless cool combined with a timely soundtrack and a Coppola-esque colour board (Sofia not Francis Ford) creates undoubtedly the coolest film you’ll have seen all year.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

Psycho-drama dominates our countdown and We Need To Talk About Kevin is a shining example of the mind-melting horror we’ve been subjected to throughout 2011. Lynne Ramsay’s torturous tale of a boy gone bad was not short of pleasure, though. Bristling with black humour and unforgettable images, the Scottish woman sealed her reputation as Great Britain’s finest prospect in the director’s chair with this magical film. A clever and concise story structure builds to a fine crescendo. Just try and catch your breath as Kevin, played with such venom by Ezra Miller, grows into every parent’s nightmare.

BLACK SWAN

Fantastically deranged cinema teetering on the right side of hysterical, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan spoilt us with playful abandon and nerve shredding performances. A frantic tale of self awakening and ambition led magnificently by a perfectly poised Natalie Portman stunned cinema-goers at the turn of the year and pirouetted its way through the award season with ruthless grace.

Nearly a year on and certain scenes still linger, Portman’s wild night out with Mila Kunis or practically every encounter with her frankly mental mother (Barbara Hershey letting rip in a great role) have you squirming in delight. The film cemented Aronfsky’s already fierce reputation but his Black Swan plays it relatively straight. What he does so skilfully is ramp up the tension and believability scene by scene so by the time the film takes flight with its fantastical third act we have already been swept off of our feet. The character of Nina Sayers is a perfect canvass for Portman’s alluring but enigmatic talent, her ability to seem empty yet at the same time viciously tormented has to be applauded and the presence of her ‘evil twin’ seems as natural as Vincent Cassel’s propensity for playing sexual predators. Warped and twisted but in a very accessible way, Black Swan is a beautifully pitched film that trades on past masters like Roman Polanski and even Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes to create a modern day classic. Swan Lake will never be the same again.

By Ian Roebuck

Originally published in issue 33 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. November 2011.