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2011's hits and rising stars

Screen highlights some of the new actors and directors from around the world who shone in 2011, while a selection of industry figures describe their stand-out films for the year.

Frederikke Aspock, director

Danish director Aspock won the Cinéfondation award at Cannes with the short Happy Now in 2004 and returned to the Croisette in 2011 with the impressively made Out Of Bounds, which marked her as a talent to watch. A subtle and compact drama set against a stunningly desolate backdrop, the film follows a young Danish couple as they visit the woman’s artist father, who lives alone on the remote Swedish island of Gotland

Michal Aviad, director

A premiere in the Berlinale’s Panorama, where it won the prize of the Ecumenical Jury, Aviad’s powerful and provocative debut feature Invisible tells the gripping story of two women who meet by chance and realise they are still haunted by a shared nightmare from their past. This haunting Israeli film is driven by passionate and impressive performances by Ronit Elkabetz and Evgenia Dodina.

Jessica Brown Findlay, actor

A 2010 Screen International Star of Tomorrow, Brown Findlay delivered a star-in-the-making performance in her first film, Niall MacCormick’s Albatross. Brown Findlay plays a 17-year-old force of nature who starts a new job at a small coastal hotel run by a bickering married couple. The actor, whose TV work includes a starring role in the hit series Downton Abbey, was nominated as most promising newcomer at this year’s British Independent Film Awards.

JC Chandor, director

An intense financial-crisis drama set over 24 hours, Sundance premiere Margin Call heralded the arrival of a polished talent in JC Chandor. Starring Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons and Zachary Quinto, the film has won the best first film prize at the New York Film Critics Circle awards, while Chandor was named best debut director by the National Board of Review.

Paddy Considine, director

Actor Considine demonstrated the same intensity as writer-director as he does as performer in his debut feature, the bleakly powerful Tyrannosaur. The redemptive story of a self-destructive man and his relationship with an abused charity-shop worker premiered at Sundance. With outstanding performances from Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman, the film showcased Considine’s skill as a director and scooped three British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs) — for debut director, best actress and best film.

Joe Cornish, director

It has been a big year for UK comedian-turned-filmmaker Cornish. His feature directorial debut Attack The Block — a pacy and funny action-adventure romp which pits alien monsters against a teenage gang of South London hoodies — drew acclaim, and he was also a co-writer on Steven Spielberg’s Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn. Attack The Block was nominated for two BIFAs, including best debut director.

Tom Cullen, actor, and Andrew Haigh, director

The winner of the Emerging Visions award at SXSW, Weekend was hailed as the first significant British gay movie in a generation. Melding the Englishness of a Brief Encounter to a US indie sensibility, the film follows a one-night stand that blossoms into a much more meaningful connection. Cullen, who plays the central character, won the most promising newcomer prize at the BIFAs, while Weekend also established second-time writer-director Haigh as an impressive new voice in British cinema.

Simon Kaijser Da Silva, director

Swedish TV director Da Silva impressed with his first feature, Stockholm East, an engrossing romantic drama that was selected to be the opening-night film of this year’s Critics Week in Venice. A full-blooded melodrama rich with the twisted human knots, all-consuming anguish and nerve-shredding moral quandaries for which Scandinavian film-makers have become known, the film boasts outstanding performances from Mikael Persbrandt and Iben Hjejle.

Sean Durkin, director, and Elizabeth Olsen, actor

A premiere at Sundance 2011, Martha Marcy May Marlene drew plaudits for the supremely assured film-making and crafted storytelling from debut feature director Durkin. Olsen also impressed with her entrancing performance as the young cult member at the centre of the story who flees to her sister’s lakeside home. The film won the directing award at Sundance.

Guy Edoin, director

The latest and possibly most gifted of the younger generation of Québécois film-makers, Edoin’s debut, Wetlands, was an emotionally loaded triumph of cinematic naturalism in which a beautiful middle-aged milk farmer’s widow overcomes tragic circumstances, and her clumsy 17-year-old son comes of age. Shot on the farm where Edoin grew up, the French-language film premiered at Toronto.

Brendan Fletcher, director

Fletcher was acclaimed at Sundance for his wrenching and inspirational Australian film Mad Bastards, an impressive portrait of out-of-control masculinity. Fletcher developed his debut feature via the true stories of cast members and local aboriginal communities.

Alma Har’el, director

Israeli director Har’el made her name as a music-video director and wowed critics with her magical Bombay Beach, a premiere at the Berlinale. An enchanting documentary hybrid, the film beautifully captured the realities and dreams of the intriguingly oddball folk who live in the faded and rather surreal California community by the Salton Sea.

Felicity Jones, actor

The leading-lady qualities of UK actress Jones were confirmed in 2011 with the Sundance success Like Crazy and the engaging British romantic comedy Chalet Girl. The former saw Jones play a British student banned from seeing her boyfriend in the US, while in the latter she puts in a charming and feisty lead performance as the titular working-class chalet girl. She also appeared in Niall MacCormick’s Albatross.

Kim Joong-hyun, director

Much buzzed about at the 2011 Busan International Film Festival where it made its world premiere in the New Currents section, Kim’s low-budget debut feature Choked tells the story of a family torn apart by debt.

Bartosz Konopka, director

After winning recognition for the short documentary Rabbit a la Berlin — which was nominated for a best short documentary Oscar in 2010 — Poland’s Konopka made his fiction feature debut with a stylish and convincing tale of a son dealing with his mentally ill father. The film, Fear Of Falling, won a prize for best directing debut at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia and screened at the Montreal World Cinema Film Festival.

Marie Kreutzer, director

A premiere at the Berlinale, Kreutzer’s debut, The Fatherless, was a simple but superbly confident and mature debut from the young Austrian writer-director. The film explores the stresses of hippie-style commune existence and its effect on the children who did not choose to grow up in it. The film received a special mention for best first feature at Berlin.

Justin Kurzel, director

The recipient of a special mention in Critics’ Week at Cannes this year, Kurzel’s acclaimed debut Snowtown was a tough recreation of Australia’s most notorious killing spree by psychopath John Bunting. With a superb cast, many of whom were first-timers, the film screened at festivals including Cannes, Toronto, Rio and Thessaloniki.

Nadav Lapid, director

Young Israeli writer-director Lapid made a notable debut with Policeman (Hashoter), a highlight of the 2011 Jerusalem Film Festival that went on to play at Locarno and other festivals. The feature managed to subvert cop-story genre conventions, and packed quite a punch as both an edge-of-the-seat thriller and a provocative exploration of Israel’s fractured national identity. Lapid also demonstrated an assured hand with ideas, actors and visual style.

Guido Lombardi, director

The winner of the Leone del Futuro award for best first feature at Venice this year — where it screened in Critics Week — Lombardi’s La-Bas: A Criminal Education is a compelling insider drama of life on the African fringes of Naples. The story is set around the vicious, true-life 2008 Camorra massacre of six immigrants in the town of Castel Volturno. A film scripted with the collaboration of the immigrant communities depicted in the film, Lombardi elicited bracingly real performances from his cast.

Kike Maillo, director

Eva, the debut feature from Spanish director Maillo, is an impressively staged sci-fi film with a charming heart, which premiered out of competition at Venice. Set 30 years in the future, the film stars Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds) as a scientist who returns to his home town to work on a new generation of robot.

Rooney Mara, actor

Mara is impressive as the vivid heroine Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher’s forceful, engrossing take on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, holding her own alongside Daniel Craig as the alluring outcast at the centre of the story. She is a Golden Globe best actress nominee.

Karl Markovics, director

Breathing, the directorial debut of Markovics — the actor who played the lead in Austria’s Oscar-winning The Counterfeiters — premiered in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes. A clean and precise rites-of-passage drama focusing on a 19-year-old who cannot get along with the living and prefers to deal instead with the dead, the film showed Markovics in control of every aspect, from script to acting to superb cinematography.

Brit Marling, writer-actor

The subject of a bidding war at Sundance — where it won the special jury and Sloan prizes — sci-fi film Another Earth attracted industry buzz for its writer and star, Marling. Fox Searchlight bought worldwide rights to the film at Sundance, as well as another title featuring Marling in the festival, Sound Of My Voice. Marling also won the best actress prize at Sitges for Another Earth.

John Michael McDonagh, director

McDonagh’s debut feature, The Guard, premiered at Sundance, winning admirers for its blackly comic story of a caustic Irish cop (Brendan Gleeson) and the straight-laced FBI agent (Don Cheadle) who arrives in the country to investigate drug trafficking. Praised for his wittily unsentimental vision, McDonagh is the brother of In Bruges director Martin. Gleeson has picked up a best actor Golden Globe nomination.

Ezra Miller, actor

The photogenic Miller shone as the sociopathic teenager at the centre of Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, coolly capturing the character’s murderous ambivalence to his parents and society. He picked up a best supporting actor nomination at the BIFAs.

Daniel Nettheim, director

Based on the 1999 debut novel by Sleeping Beauty director Julia Leigh, Nettheim’s compelling first film, The Hunter, was a world premiere at Toronto, and highlighted the director’s style and confidence. The Australian film stars Willem Dafoe as a professional hunter who goes into the heart of Tasmania to track down a thylacine, the long-thought extinct ‘Tasmanian tiger’.

George Nolfi, director

The directing debut of Ocean’s Twelve writer Nolfi, The Adjustment Bureau was a smart and suave romantic adventure. Based on Philip K Dick’s short story, Adjustment Team, and starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, the film took more than $127m worldwide.

Markus Schleinzer, director

Previously a casting director on more than 60 films including Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, Austria’s Schleinzer made an assured debut as a writer-director with a similarly tough film about a paedophile. A premiere in Competition at Cannes this year, the disturbing Michael clinically follows the everyday life of the eponymous character, who is keeping a 10-year-old boy prisoner in his cellar. Schleinzer was nominated in the European discovery of the year category at the European Film Awards.

Michael Smiley, actor

Smiley won the best supporting actor prize at the BIFAs for his role in Kill List, the brutally impressive second film from fast-rising director Ben Wheatley. Smiley plays contract killer Gal in the challenging and gripping chiller.

Marco van Geffen, director

Among Us, the first feature from Dutch director van Geffen, is a confident, cleverly constructed and well-acted feature which builds a pervasive sense of evil amid the creature comforts of suburban Amsterdam. Full of surprises, the film is told in three parts, each showing a different perspective on Polish au pair Ewa and her arrival in the Netherlands to live with a sophisticated Dutch couple and look after their baby. The film played at Locarno and Toronto.

Hans Van Nuffel, director

Named European discovery of 2011 at the European Film Awards, Van Nuffel’s Oxygen (Adem) is a refreshingly unsentimental tale of two men trying to embrace life, despite illness dragging them down.

Jennifer Westfeldt, director

Actor Westfeldt impressed with her assured directorial debut Friends With Kids, a premiere at Toronto. Reminiscent of the wry ensemble pieces that Alan Alda created in the 1980s, the film explores the competing demands of friends, lovers and families. As well as directing, Westfeldt wrote and co-starred in the film alongside Adam Scott, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd.

Shailene Woodley, actor

Woodley shone brightly as the acidic, angry 17-year-old daughter in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, demonstrating a natural screen presence and chemistry with the actors playing her family members, including George Clooney. Woodley picked up a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the film.

Favourite films

Two Years At Sea

‘Ben Rivers and his quixotic accomplice, Jake, conjure up a moving and humorous fiction knowingly framed through a documentary lens. The landscape is alive and pulsing with light in this hymn (and requiem?) to the Paillard Bolex camera and 16mm film — which Rivers processes at home.’

Tony Grisoni, writer

Martha Marcy May Marlene

‘I would have normally voted for The Tree Of Life, but identifying these rare young film-makers with a formally precise and historically relevant storytelling practice seems a more useful vote’

Noah Cowan, co-director, Toronto International Film Festival

Fire In Babylon

‘Stevan Riley’s moving documentary film is about principle, pride, racism and cricket. And the absolutely wonderful separation that unravels small events with delicacy and humour — a brilliant study of human vulnerability’

Beeban Kidron, director

The Guard

‘John Michael McDonagh’s film is a pitch-perfect black comedy guaranteed to offend almost everyone. Great writing and direction’

Colin Vaines, producer

Le Havre

‘Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre is touching, funny and audaciously positive about the human spirit’

Isabel Davis, BFI

Pina

‘Last year, I found inspiration watching Wim Wenders’ film Pina, which he shot live in 3D. The bold 3D compositions placed me right at the performance, watching Pina’s great dance ensemble’

Demetri Portelli, 3D stereographer

The Tree Of Life

‘This film is emotionally complex and visually stunning, with performances by gifted actors who happen to be movie stars. It also is a great example of why movies are a cinematic art form’

Ricky Strauss, president, Participant Media

Drive

‘I loved Drive, which I just saw. Terrifically stylish, fine acting and assured direction’

Peter Czernin, producer

Win Win and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

‘My two favourite screenplays (if not films). Chalk and cheese… but both are masterfully terse’

Rowan Joffe, writer-director

Confessions

‘Tetsuya Nakashima’s bravura film opens with a high-school teacher announcing to her pupils she knows her daughter was murdered by two of them, and it escalates from there. Bold, daring and grandiose, it’s what cinema was made for. No downbeat miserabilism here!’

John Michael McDonagh, writer-director

Two Years At Sea

‘British artist-film-maker Ben Rivers’ Two Years At Sea — an immersive and original treat, beautifully filmed and filled with wit and humanity’

Sandra Hebron, former artistic director, London Film Festival

Hugo

‘An amazing, epic family film from Martin Scorsese that combines an uplifting nostalgic history of cinema, warmth and humour with spectacular 3D’

Tim Richards, Vue Cinemas

The Tree Of Life

The Tree of Life had the most unforgettable portraits, both cinematically and psychologically, of a father, a son and of America’

Lone Scherfig, director

Drive

‘It might not be the ‘best’ film this year, but it is pure cinema — visual, great soundtrack and lots of guns! My kind of film’

Clare Binns, Picturehouse

The Skin I Live In and Hugo

‘I found it an exciting year that energised my belief in the vitality of film. Most recently, Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. Two remarkably different films from film-makers who in maturity, continue to offer audiences new and truly cinematic experiences. Few things are better than that’

David Linde, Lava Bear

Win Win

‘The mostly missed Win Win packed an honest emotional punch which had me holding back tears most of the movie. I hope folks discover it on home video’

Brunson Green, producer, The Help

Essential Killing

‘Vincent Gallo is outstanding; Jerzy Skolimowski hasn’t lost his touch evoking image through sound regardless of dialogue’

Rafi Pitts, director

The Descendants

‘George Clooney gives a career-best performance and leads a near-perfect cast in a movie skilfully directed by Alexander Payne’

Col Needham, founder, IMDb

Weekend

‘Provocative, engrossing, a breath of fresh air. Andrew Haigh shows British directors what can be done on a low budget, without trying too hard’

Andy Whittaker, Dogwoof Films

Moneyball

‘Great cinematic combination of human and sporting drama — in my opinion the perfect emotional cocktail’

John Battsek, producer

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