1. TOMBOY (released September 16)
In her striking 2007 debut Water Lilies, writer-director Celine Sciamma confidently navigated the choppy waters of pre-teen sexuality, eliciting mesmerising performances from her young and inexperienced cast. Tomboy is a beautifully crafted billet-doux to childhood innocence that deals sensitively with issues of gender identity and first crushes. Lead actress Zoe Heran, as androgynous 10-year-old tomboy Laure, is a revelation and she sparks a winning on-screen chemistry with Jeanne Disson, while Malonn Levana scene steals as Laure’s precocious younger sister.
2. THE KING’S SPEECH (January 7)
“My castle, my rules,” deadpans unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to his client, stammering King George VI (Colin Firth), at a critical point in Tom Hooper’s impeccably crafted chapter from recent British history. The King’s Speech was certainly king of the Hollywood castle, sweeping all before it at various awards ceremonies, while on these shores, this crowd-pleasing, heart-tugging gem became the highest grossing British independent film of all time. Firth delivers a mesmerising performance as a man of privilege, who is frightened to say a word for fear of what might – or might not – come out. Rush is hysterical as the linguist who refuses any concessions to his king.
3. WEEKEND (November 4)
Writer-director Andrew Haigh induces a swoon with his intoxicating second feature, an achingly beautiful romance in the spirit of Brief Encounter and Before Sunrise. Weekend unfolds in the tower blocks and pubs of Nottingham, where nice guy Russell (Tom Cullen) spots Glen (Chris New) and is smitten. The two flirt and what begins as a drunken one-night stand threatens to become a defining moment of both young men’s futures as they wrestle with extraordinary feelings on the very weekend one of them is poised to make a life-altering decision.
4. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (October 21)
Adapted from the award-winning novel by Lionel Shriver, We Need To Talk About Kevin is an extraordinary, haunting and poetic vision of one mother’s personal hell from Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar). Tilda Swinton is destined for Oscar recognition for her utterly fearless performance as a guilt-stricken matriarch, whose sociopath son Kevin (Ezra Miller) embarks on a killing spree at his high school. Ramsay withholds the horror of the massacre to the closing frames, brilliantly dissecting the fractious relationship between parent and child caught in a violent tug of war between nature and nurture.
5. BLUE VALENTINE (January 14)
Derek Cianfrance’s slow-burning portrait of a marriage in crisis is distinguished by tour-de-force performances from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as the husband and wife in emotional freefall. The writer-director employs a fractured chronology to piece together the romance of removal man Dean (Gosling) and nurse Cindy (Williams), whose paths cross at the retirement home where her grandmother is mellowing in old age. A passionate and fiery romance leads to marriage but the giddiness of those early months together is replaced by weariness as the relationship settles into routine.
6. 127 HOURS (January 7)
Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy reunite after Slumdog Millionaire for this electrifying adaptation of Aron Ralston’s memoir about his harrowing ordeal in the Blue John Canyon in Utah, which resulted in the avid mountain climber amputating his own arm with a pen knife to escape certain death in the baking hot earth. Boyle employs a mosaic of flashbacks and nightmares to bring energy and movement to a film that is set, almost entirely, in one location, including a stomach-churning scene of the stricken man drinking his own urine shot from the point of view of the warm, yellow liquid glugging into his mouth. It’s a visual tour-de-force.
7. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (September 16)
Gary Oldman doesn’t utter a word for what seems like an eternity as taciturn spy George Smiley in Tomas Alfredson’s marvellous rendering of the John le Carre novel. Silence speaks volumes and Oldman commands every frame of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, rooting out a traitor in the ranks of a 1970s British Secret Intelligence Service unit known as the Circus. Pacing is deliberately slow but patience reaps huge rewards, notably the terrific performances of the predominantly British cast and a potty-mouthed, scene-stealing turn from Kathy Burke. Alfredson’s directorial brio ensures that while our nerves are wracked, our eyes are dazzled with visually arresting scenes.
8. BRIDESMAIDS (June 24)
Girls just wanna have fun and they have plenty in Bridesmaids, starring Kristen Wiig as a cash-strapped maid of honour who single-handedly wrecks the impending nuptials of her best friend (Maya Rudolph) by repeatedly clashing with a wealthy socialite bridesmaid (Rose Byrne). Paul Feig’s comedy of errors is two hours of unadulterated, filthy-minded joy, introducing us to a menagerie of neurotic yet loveable ladies, who are one extra spicy Mexican meal away from catastrophe.
9. BIUTIFUL (January 28)
An ironic title for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s resolutely downbeat character study, which sears into the memory thanks to Javier Bardem’s Oscar-nominated lead performance. The striking Spanish actor plays father-of-two Uxbal, who bravely faces the spectre of terminal illness as he prowls the streets of Barcelona, financing black market activities involving illegal African immigrants. Weathering constant abuse from his ex-wife (Maricel Alvarez), Uxbal risks everything to ensure his children have some semblance of a bright future as his own is cruelly snuffed out.
10. DRIVE (September 23)
Nicolas Winding Refn’s nail-biting thriller immediately hits the accelerator and barely touches the brakes as the plot skids with sickening inevitability towards a bloody resolution. Ryan Gosling plays the Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver for the criminal fraternity, represented by scheming hoodlums Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman). The bungled heist of a pawn shop has shocking repercussions as Driver wrestles with his feelings for married neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her little boy, Benicio (Kaden Leos).
And the films which just missed out ...
Beginners, Incendies, Meek’s Cutoff, Pina 3D, Poetry, A Separation, Submarine, The Tree Of Life, Tyrannosaur, Win Win.