Welcome to the JSHmoviestuff REVIEW OF 2011.

“Things aren’t always what they seem.” – TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY

So said Toby Easterhase to George Smiley in the superb film adaptation of TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY and it got me thinking that the kind of movies that have wowed me over the past year and made the JSHmoviestuff REVIEW OF 2011 are ones where appearances can be very deceptive. We’ve had an old-school, Cold War spy thriller and a murder mystery that’s bang up to date; we’ve seen the workings of the mind and what an alternative future could be. And we’ve watched how someone gets to the top in a political campaign.

I’ve so enjoyed starting this movie blog and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it too. This review will become a yearly fixture in the blog and so let’s kick off my very first one with my pick of the movies – in release order – that had me on the edge of my seat over the 12 months of 2011. For my full review, simply click on the movie’s title…

I’d have to start with my headline quote and Tomas Alfredson’s masterful adaptation of John Le Carre’s TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY. Not only because it came out right at the top of the year but because with a cast to die for including Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds and Kathy Bates and lead by a performance from Gary Oldman that certainly should have him in the running for ‘Best Actor’ in any awards race, a recreated Cold War look that was sublime, this was intelligent drama by the bucketloads. Suspenseful, measured and in places gut-wrenchingly shocking, I hope it collects some nice trophies next year.

Ryan Gosling in The Ides of March

THE IDES OF MARCH

Sitting pretty close to that would be George Clooney‘s political drama THE IDES OF MARCH, featuring my favourite piece of acting of the year from its lead Ryan Gosling – whose face at the end of the movie conveys… I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it, except to say, go see it! Very smart, very timely and very well played by a bunch of actors – Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei and Clooney himself – clearly enjoying the material they’re working on, this was a classy treat.

Also worth including is Duncan Jones’s gorgeous sci-fi conundrum SOURCE CODE, featuring two wonderful performances. One is from Jake Gyllenhaal, as the pilot out of time and place – all razor-sharp intelligence, combined with a real fragility that melted your heart – and the other is from Vera Farmiga, as his only contact in the real world – all by-the-book straightness to begin with, hiding a real emotional core that wins through in the end. It’s clever, has been mentioned in the same breath as the best Hitchcock and delivers a little bit more with each viewing (three so far!)

I’d also like to mention one of the most visually startling films of the year for me – Neil Burger’s thriller LIMITLESS. Looking into the idea of the mind’s full capability (with the help of a little medical stimulation) this was a beautifully illustrated dark flight of fantasy that contained at its centre, a career gift of a part for Bradley Cooper, who delivers brilliantly. But that’s not all, there’s Robert De Niro in a fantastic cameo, Abbie Cornish delivering yet again another brilliant performance and with Burger’s strong visual style – I loved The Illusionist – this really took my breath away.

Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

And last but by no means least (because I’ve literally just seen it), I have to include David Fincher’s superb, amazing, brilliant version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. I’m going run out of superlatives for this film but it really was stunning –  a razor-sharp script from Steven Zaillian, stunning cinematography from Jeff Cronenweth, a whos-who supporting cast and Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara creating a truly memorable partnership in this version of Stieg Larsson’s thriller. Let’s hope we get to see the same team together again very soon for the next one in the trilogy.

I’m not going to get to see one of the most talked about movies of the tail end of the year, Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist before the New Year rings in but it’ll be top of my list for January. Apart from that and being a French film fan, it’s a shame I’ve haven’t seen a movie this year to really rave about – Fred Cavaye’s Point Blank was an exhilarating 80 minute ride but not in the same league as last year’s flawless Mesrine with Vincent Cassel and Jacques Audiard’s awesome A Prophet.

And the not-so-greats of the year? Well, the point of this blog is to celebrate and recommend films – remember that the tagline is “the movies I think you should see” and so that means I’m not into turkey bashing. I’ll just look forward to the scrumptious offerings that will be wending their way into a cinema near me next year.

So bring on the action in 2012, I say!