2011: Recap of the Good, the Bad, and Everything Else

Oh how I enjoy reflecting upon the ups and downs of a cinematic year, re-living those breathtaking moments that blew us away, along with the more underwhelming moments that had us begging for more.  In all honesty though, 2011 left more to be desired in general, as a reaction of 2010 spoiling us rotten with winning cinema from a multitude of big names.  Not to say unknown names can’t shine as well by any means, but there wasn’t much of that either.  Of course, with working full-time and living in a small town, some foreign and independent efforts were missed due to time constraints and availability, but thanks to increasing use of Video On Demand I reached as many films as possible (100 reviews for 2011 films to be exact).  So, extensive as can be, keep my list in perspective and don’t assume I didn’t include a film like The Artist (looking like a consistent favorite among critics) because I thought it was garbage.  I simply just ran out of time.  It’s not like I get paid for this deal, just in it for the love of the game.  Enough babbling, it’s go time for 2011…

Biggest “Ran Out Of Time For” Films: The Artist, Another Earth, Tree of Life, The Descendants, Warrior, My Week With Marylin, Midnight In Paris, Hugo, Martha Marcy May Marlene

Nato’s Top 10 Films of 2011

10) The Ides of March (George Clooney)
Dirty politics and Ryan Gosling, who isn’t drooling right now?  Clooney’s film adapted the classic Shakespearian tale of Cesar’s death for the modern-day political world, a comment on the hushed behind the scenes dealmaking that exists.  Gosling’s wide-eyed campaign manager character starts pure as a virgin bride, but as the film continues gets more tangled in the treachery.  As Gosling finds out, sometimes the best intentions garner un-wanted results, and politics is not a place for the clean hearted.  To win, one must play along with the tricks, something Gosling is forced do in order to survive on the job.  The evolution of Gosling’s character is the meat for Ides of March, a magnificent cut we can really sink our teeth into.  Bravo to this political thriller, coming in at number 10.

9) Rango (Gore Verbinski)
There always has to be an animated movie in the mix!  Rango was a western delight, charming the pants off children and parents alike.  The kiddies got a gunslinging lizard voiced by Johnny Depp, while adults got deep cinematic references from films which had an obvious influence on the script.  Rango is an homage to the spaghetti westerners of old, introducing a new generation to the Wild West.  For a children’s movie, action was also plentiful, so mark off another reason for both demographics to love Rango equally.  No Toy Story, but Rango occupies the only animated spot on my list this year.

8) Moneyball (Bennett Miller)
Sure, I could see how Billy Beane’s story woud bore the crap out of some viewers who hate baseball.  But Moneyball succeeds in drawing upon the drama of sports, those magical moments thought to be only dreamed up in movies, like a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and the bases loaded.  That, and I’d say any film which can make the business side of an already slow game seem interesting deserves a gracious pat on the back.  Brad Pitt plays then Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane, who ignored all baseball norms when assembling a group of rag-tag players thought destined for the cellar.  Pitt did excellent character work as Beane, contrasting from the family man to hard-nosed decision maker, and was a major contributor to this film’s success.  Wouldn’t be a best of list without an underdog story, eh?

7) Bridesmaids (Paul Feig)
The Hangover for women it was dubbed.  Well, this year I’d say The Hangover: Part II was the Bridesmaids for men, as Kristen Wiig’s crew overshadowed The Wolfpack in every way.  Wiig and collaborator Annie Mumolo wrote a raunchy yet soulful script, not sacrificing laughs for story.  Melissa McCarthy stole every scene with her uber-aggressive character, but the likes of Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne, Maya Rudolph, and Jon Hamm all shine through with splendid characters.  Bridesmaids had me in stitches, but my investment was much deeper than just surface gags and cheap toilet humor.  Bridesmaids is a proper comedy, showing girls can be just as wild in the film world.

6) I Saw The Devil (Jee-woon Kim)
At a massive two and a half hour run time, I Saw The Devil is an engaging Korean horror/thriller that delves into two minds of madness.  But don’t be discouraged by length; Kim’s epic and provocative tale is as addicting as it is engaging, even with subtitles.  This comparison/contrast between a vengeful husband and a sadistic serial killer is brimming with raw emotion, leaving a bloody trail in the wake of their actions.  You know a film is effective when feelings of sympathy towards the murderous womanizing villain start brimming inside of you…
I Saw The Devil also takes my Number #1 Netflix Watch Instant Discovery.

5) Melancholia (Lars von Trier)
The end of the world never looked so picturesque.  Von Trier is always pushing the envelope (Antichrist), so him tackling a film artistically portraying depression was no surprise.  I was visually blown away by the cinematography via Manuel Alberto Claro and arrangement via von Trier and company, solidifying Melancholia as a work of art on a different level than normal cinema.  Kirsten Dunst delivers a career altering role to boot, showing a sense of maturity in the striking actress.  Von Trier’s somber treat will not elicit the same reaction in all people, but Melancholia receives nothing short of praise from this voice.

4) The Guard (John Michael McDonagh)
Politically incorrect police work at its best.  The Guard proved John McDonagh possesses the same talent for dialogue his brother Martin (In Bruge) showed in another film starring Brendan Gleeson.  Sergent Gerry Boyle is a lazy, racist, inappropriate, and humorous Irish Garda member who gets caught in a major drug ring, which he couldn’t care less about.  The character alone is entertainment enough, then throw in Don Cheadle and watch the head butting ensue.  The writing is overflowing with wit and creativity, building a super tight script for all to enjoy.

3) Win Win (Thomas McCarthy)
Family values at their best this year.  This is another film oozing with heart, using more sitcom type humor but delivering one of the best feel good stories of the year.  And who doesn’t like feeling good?  Paul Giamatti plays such a fantastic family man, and Amy Ryan touches us as a tough but loving Jersey mom.  Unknown Alex Shaffer comes through big as neglected child Kyle though, amping up the drama in the Flaherty household.  Win Win nails the essence of a typical US household, keeping the Hollywood flash out as much as possible and us attached to characters fully relatable.  Win Win is a…eh I won’t even say it…

2) 50/50 (Jonathan Levine)
A comedy, about cancer.  This was a bad joke waiting to happen, but 50/50 shut down skeptics right away.  Thankfully tasteful, Joseph Gordon-Levitt tugs at your insides with a powerful performance that demands recognition in this dark comedy about a young man who struggles to cope with reality, while those around him attempt to deal with Adam’s (Gordon-Levitt) condition their own ways.  But how does writer Will Reiser bring so much realism to the cancer process?  Oh yeah, the screenplay is loosely based on his own experience, bringing a personal touch to the ill character Adam.  Causing me to choke back tears, 50/50 is easily the most heartfelt film of the year.

1) Attack The Block (Joe Cornish)
Most fun film of the year.  Hands down.  Cornish takes a motley crew of thuggish Brit teens and transforms them into protagonist heroes protecting their low-income housing complex from a vicious alien invasion.  The film is a blast from moment one, and never lets up the excitement until the very final frame.  A mix of sci-fi/horror/comedy, Attack The Block surpasses all expectations of action, suspense, character development, story, intensity, and whatever the hell else makes a kick-ass adventure.

Honorable Mentions: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Last Circus, Super 8, Source Code

Best Movie About A Murderous Tire With Telepathic Powers:
Rubber (Quentin Dupieux)
Ok, before you judge, please just understand the murderous tire is nothing but a visual aid to the much bigger picture.  Rubber is about the concept of: Why not?  Why is the sky blue, why is ET brown, why is a tire blowing people’s heads off?  Well, why not.  More meta than the average “Community” episode, nothing in Rubber is what it seems.  The film works as a commentary on cinema as a whole: having some characters actually be self-aware actors, putting an audience on a mountain top overseeing the events happening below (us!), having a man dictating to the audience exactly what to view and when (business behind the film)…yes, inarguably Rubber is a bizarre experience.  Besides that, I found it rather clever and entertaining, and also visually impressive.  If you can open your mind for an hour and a half and aren’t deathly afraid of black, rubber, circular objects, give it a try.  But seeing all the parts as a whole is a must.  If not, then yes, Rubber is a bare bones film about a tire rolling around and offing civilians.  But it isn’t!  Free your mind, man!

Biggest Disappointment of the Year: Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder)
I wanted to so badly to fall in love with this movie.  Snyder’s style is one of a kind, and he has a keen eye for action.  Not to mention, his films always have a hyper feel to them, thanks to more rock-based scoring instead of symphonic music.  So, basically Snyder seemed perfect to produce a bad-ass beat em’ up in the vein of current video game culture, especially one that was going to empower woman as the strong-willed protagonists!  Yeah, so strike one on the whole woman empowerment thing backfiring, strike two on the lacking story, but win on the music (Sucker Punch‘s soundtrack was an easy pick up for my music collection).  Again, Snyder is fantastic at these grandiose battle pieces stuck in between the story, but there was no glue to hold them together.  With that said, I still gave the film a lot more credit than most…and it still disappointed me.

Worst Movies Of The Year:
Let me amend this category a tad by saying horror films will be excluded, as I’ll do a separate “Best of/Worst of” for the horror genre…otherwise these would mostly be horror themed…

1) Passion Play (Mitch Glazer): A love story that never amounts to much, killed by the in-your-face overuse of a blatantly obvious metaphor.  Again I’ll say to Bill Murray, “You won’t do Ghostbusters 3, yet this stinkfest sounded like an Oscar winner?”
2) Death Race 2 (Roel Reiné): Hey, let’s do everything from the first one, but worse!  And end it before the climax even happens!  Pass.
3) Hobo With A Shotgun (Jason Eisener): Grindhouse movies are supposed to be so bad, they’re good.  Well, Hobo With A Shotgun can only be described as so, so bad, it’s just friggin’ bad.  Did I hear a speech about bears?
4) Green Lantern (Martin Campbell):  The first 10 minutes will make you feel as if you’re watching a cut scene from a poorly designed 90’s computer game.  Then Ryan Reynolds puts on a horrid CGI costume that looks like a high school Photoshop project.  My eyes!  Fail.
5) Gnomeo & Juliet (Kelly Asbury):  A children’s movie meant only for children, destroying the end of Shakespeare’s classic love story.  Not for the adult crowd.

Favorite Trailer:
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Second year in a row I picked a trailer because of the background music.  This cover of “The Immigrant Song” does the same thing for Dragon Tattoo‘s trailer that it did for the opening credits: amps you the hell up.

Favorite Poster:
Well, a poster is supposed to be attention grabbing.  Mission accomplished!

Most Anticipated for 2012 (In No Order):
The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan): Umm, because it’s another Nolan Batman movie?  With rocketing star Tom Hardy this time as a villain?
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson): Funny story.  Originally I wasn’t that pumped for another Lord of the Rings.  Then I saw the trailer.  Oh yeah, I’m in for another epic hobbit filled adventure.  Well, Ok, that wasn’t very funny, more of a fact.  Whatever.
Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard): Because it didn’t get the 2011 release people pushed for!  Thankfully, we’re seeing full distribution in 2012 for a horror film that looks to challenge all genre boundaries.
Piranha 3DD (John Gulager):  Because Ving Rhames is back with shotgun legs.  Because John Gulager is directing, who coincidentally directed one of my favorite recent B-movies, Feast.  Because the first one was mindless, debaucherous, gory fun.  Because maybe a piranha or two will dare Hassel the Hoff.  Shut up, I’m excited.
The Raid (Gareth Evans)  Supposedly this action flick was praised at the Toronto Film Festival as the must see adrenaline ride of the year.  Sounds right up my alley.
Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino): It’s a f#cking Tarantino movie.  You’re obligated to get excited.
Looper (Rian Johnson):  His first directorial effort Brick quickly ascended to my top films of all time list.  Now he’s attempting a noir type film that involves a time machine, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Bruce Willis, and gangsters?  Sign me up.
Just to name a few…

Again, these lists are based on what I was able to see.  Were there better or worse films?  Probably.  But when you aren’t made of money and have to pick movies carefully, shelling out $12 for another sad Adam Sandler attempt just to write the inevitable scathing review (unless you’re infamous critic Armond White) doesn’t seem all too worth it.  With that said, another entire year is behind us, filled with cheers and jeers.  We were surprised by films like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but also forced to sit through the typical drivel.  2012 is already shaping up to be full of hits and surprises, let’s just hope all the hype is confirmed…and that the world doesn’t end so I can see Django Unchained next Christmas! Fingers crossed!!


About Matt Donato

I love all things film. I'll watch any genre, any actor, at any time. This whole film critic thing is a passionate hobby for now which I'm balancing with working in the business world, but hey, someday, who knows?
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1 Response to 2011: Recap of the Good, the Bad, and Everything Else

  1. Pingback: Best of 2011 Horror | Cinema Scrutiny

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