2011 has seen some incredible blockbusters hit the big screen. The year kicked off with The King's Speech and Black Swan, the summer was spectacular with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super 8 and two Marvel films Thor and Captain America. There was the brilliantly witty and original Bridesmaids and some incredibly successful art-house films including We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Tree of Life. Even though it was widely criticized by critics, even The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn did tremendously well at the box office thanks to its massive fan base. And the year isn't up yet - we still have the Sherlock Holmes sequel, Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to go.
But in amongst all that spectacle, a few gems have hit our screens and fizzled quietly away almost as quickly as they arrived. They may not have made millions at the box office but they deserve to be recognised as great pieces of cinema and I strongly urge you to check them out as soon as you can.
First off is Oranges and Sunshine, the true story of social worker Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson) who stumbled across one of the biggest cover-ups in recent British history. Humphreys helped a young Australian woman who was trying to track down her birth parents. What she discovered was that thousands of British children were removed from their parents, told their parents were dead (when in fact they were not) and shipped off to Australia for a better life. Many were left in care, some abused, but largely they were forgotten about. Humphreys then takes it upon herself to track down all the families she can to reunite them. The stories are heartbreaking but instead of focusing on them, the film beautifully stays with Humphreys, who divides her time between her home in the UK and a house in Australia, away from her family and dealing daily with the horrifying stories each new person tells her.
Albatross was a hilarious surprise when I saw it. I didn't really know much about it, except that Jessica Brown Findlay from Downton Abbey was in it. What I found was a brilliantly naughty and oh-so-funny script about what happens when an outspoken young girl starts her cleaning job at a B&B and gets involved in the lives of the family who run it. The film has a British cast that shine in its countryside setting. Also starring Julia Ormond and Felicity Jones, Albatross was a shining example of originality and cleverly tongue-in-cheek.
I was apprehensive about seeing Tyrannosaur as it was meant to be incredibly violent. It was even more violent than I had previously imagined but what I did discover was an incredibly powerful film about an unlikely friendship between a violent man and a woman suffering domestic abuse at the hands of her husband. Written and directed by Paddy Considine and with a performance from Olivia Colman - known before this for her comedic roles - that blew me away, the film is flawless - if you can handle the violence. I truly hope that Colman and Considine are recognised for their work and not just in the UK.
I stumbled across Welcome to the South (Benvenuti al Sud) entirely by accident as it was part of the local Italian Cinema selection. What I found was an absolutely hilarious, laugh-out-loud film about the misconceptions of others. When a man in the north of Italy is punished for lying at work by being sent to the office nobody wants in the south, he prepares - rather comically - by putting on a bullet-proof vest. When he gets there, he finds that they may speak funny and they may have a different way of approaching things but they are still great people. He soon befriends them and starts to enjoy life their way.