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Unreleased Top Ten

1. I Wish (Hirokazu Koreeda)
Written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, I Wish is a film that I would happily recommend to absolutely anyone, regardless of their personal tastes. This touching story of two young brothers living apart but dreaming of reuniting so perfectly captures the experience of childhood, the unique view one has on the world and in particular the naïve belief that almost anything is possible. I was utterly charmed by I Wish from the first few minutes and the rest of the film did not disappoint. An enrapturing cinematic experience and an absolute highlight of 2011. Unfortunately prospects do not look to good for I Wish receiving a cinematic release in the UK so I would recommend importing it post haste.

2. The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
Abandoned by his father and angry over the loss of his bike Cyril, the ‘kid’ in the title, is a troubled child. Encountering the near saintly Samantha (Celice De France) his fortunes appear to change but The Kid With a Bike is not a simple story of a fostered kid but a emotionally complex film about complex characters. There are brief moments of levity and light, particularly in one sun drenched sequence, but The Kid With a Bike is filled with difficult subject matter that often makes it a hard film to watch. Ultimately though it is the heartbreaking personal connection between Cyril and Samantha, so believably constructed by the Dardennes, that makes viewing this film such a rewarding experience. [Read my full review here]

3. Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai (Takashi Miike)
After impressing me greatly with 13 Assassins, Takashi Miike had a lot to live up to with his next foray into chanbara filmmaking. Add to this that his latest was again a remake, this time of Masaki Kobayashi’s extraordinary 1962 film Harakiri, and that it was Miike’s first 3D effort and the cards seemed stacked against him. Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai is thankfully up to the high standard set by 13 Assassins and the stereoscopic cinematography is the best I have ever seen, being as it is such a integral part of the visual storytelling. Receiving a theatrical release in 2012 this is a film that very much needs to be seen as the director intended, in 3D. [Read my full review here]

4. Dark Horse (Todd Solondz)
The most straightforward and focused of Todd Solondz’ films since Welcome to the Dollhouse, Dark Horse is, unsurprisingly, wickedly funny but also occasionally actually rather sweet. Telling the story of a man suffering from a chronic case of arrested development Dark Horse takes a vicious swipe at modern Western culture through a small and personal story. Jordan Gelber as the hapless protagonist Abe is tremendous and is supported by a fantastic ensemble that includes Selma Blair, Christopher Walken, Mia Farrow, Aasif Mandvi and a scene-stealing Donna Murphy. [Read my full review here]

5. Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (Werner Herzog)
Werner Herzog takes the kind of true crime documentary popular on television (he intends to turn this film’s modus operandi┬áinto a series) and gives it his own unique twist. Read by many as a strong argument against capital punishment, Into the Abyss is nowhere near as direct or polemical as early reviews would suggest but the way in which Herzog expertly pulls together a variety of viewpoints, from both sides of the crime he focuses on, certainly makes for an emotionally powerful response to the complex reality often ignored in discussions surrounding the death penalty.

6. Detention (Joseph Kahn)
I stumbled into Detention with the fatigue of the Frightfest film festival starting to take its toll on me but the film quickly injected cinematic caffeine directly into my eyes and ears. Demanding that you keep up Detention is a breakneck piece of filmmaking with a script as intricate as it is satisfyingly comprehensible. [Read my full review here]

7. Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman)
The surprise screening at this year’s London Film Festival was Whit Stillman’s delightfully zany return after a 13 year hiatus and what a surprise it was. Majority opinion on the film seemed to be somewhere between lukewarm and negative but those of us that enjoyed really loved it. If Sony don’t pull their socks up and release it soon a #teamdamselsindistress campaign may be in order.

8. A Simple Life (Ann Hui)
Ann Hui’s heartbreaking story of an elderly maid, Sister Peach (Deanie Ip), and the wealthy man she looks after, played wonderfully by Andy Lau, is a little on the overly sentimental side at times but this emotional drama is nonetheless an affecting and sensitively made gem. Ip won the Best Actress category when the film played at Venice and I’m sure that this is the first of many awards that this film will pick up when it finally receives a release.

9. Rabies (Navot Papushado & Aharon Keshales)
Looking beyond the novelty of Rabies being Israel’s first ‘slasher’ film one finds a horror film with real wit and originality. First time filmmakers Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales weave a compelling story and their economical approach to character development is especially effective within the film’s short running time. A messy finale makes for a disappointing end to the film but everything that has gone before is really rather wonderful. [Read my full review here]

10. Road to Nowhere (Monte Hellman)
After a break from directing features of over two decades Monte Hellman returned in 2011 with a film unlike anything he’d made previously. With a smart Hollywood-dissecting script from Variety editor Steven Gaydos and a playful approach to truth in storytelling, Road to Nowhere is puzzling, entertaining and definitely not a film noir. Currently without UK distribution Road to Nowhere is available in the US on DVD and Blu-ray.

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