Monday, January 2, 2012

The 2011 Dorkies! (Brad)

2011 was a solid year in film. It was no 1999, 2001, or even 2009 but it was a heck of a lot better than 2008 or 2010. Of the films released this year I watched a record 120, that's 19 more than last year. That might not be impressive to some of you hardcore film bloggers out there, but I’m quite pleased with cinematic intake.  Sure, I missed a couple films--The Skin I Live In, Take Shelter, and Shame being my biggest regrets.  Oh well, that's why we've got Netflix.

What I found most interesting about this year is that Matt & I have very similar lists.  Could it be that our work on this blog is infecting us both?  Are we becoming one being?  What might be more interesting are the films in which we differ.  Matt, why oh why is Drive Angry not on your Top Ten!?!?  Frankly, I'm disgusted by its exclusion on your list.

The other item of note, this is the first year that my own Top Ten shares many films that can be found on the critic's lists out there.  I'm I becoming more mature?  Or just a bigger snoot?  Again, at least I've got that Drive Angry to separate me out from the herd.  Anyway, without further ado:

The Top Ten Films of 2011:

10. Rubber: The first time I saw the trailer for Rubber, I chuckled. I thought, “a movie about a telekinetic killer tire? That’s gonna be craptastic in a Jason X kinda way.” But somehow, director Quentin Dupieux manages to take a pretentious student film and deliver one of the best bits of whackjob cinema I’ve ever experienced. What does it all mean? Hey, they say at the outset “No Reason.” Just roll your wheelchair next to Wings Hauser in the audience and enjoy. And don’t eat that chicken.

9. Drive Angry 3D: According to interviews, Nicolas Cage sees himself as a modern day Vincent Price; latching himself to one bizarre genre picture after the other in a mad dash for cash. It seems to be backfiring for most people, but I honestly enjoyed all three of his B Movies this year (yes, even Season of the Witch). Granted, I have a serious weakness for Cage and although I’m not going to psychoanalyze it here you should take that into account. Drive Angry borrows heavily from one of my favorite 70s exploitation flicks, Race With The Devil as well as other Satanist paranoia movies of the era like The Devil's Rain and Rosemary's Baby. Nic Cage is definitely greasy gross in his drippy, blonde strands and he’s ridiculously serious as the escaped convict hellbent on rescuing his sacrificial lamb granddaughter from the clutches of soulpatched Billy Burke (miss that Charlie mustache from Twilight). William Fichtner probably has the most fun as hell’s accountant with his quippy lines and smug know-it-all smiles, and I love how their relationship eventually plays out with a respectful human skull salute! of Kentucky Bourbon.  Even Amber Heard gets the vibe perfect as the southern drawled, daisy duked sidekick who likes naked men to paint her toe nails.  Cheese of the highest order.

8.  The Artist:  Love at first sight. That was me ten minutes into The Artist. A wondrous picture following silent film sensation George Valentin as his relevance comes into question with the emergence of the Talkies. But being a silent film itself, The Artist is no mere gimmick--it's a celebration of cinema, reveling in the power of performance and emotion. Jean Dujardin gives one of the year's best turns as the descending Valentin, but all the actors find a place to shine. From 30 seconds of Malcom McDowell, to the brilliance of John Goodman's exaggerated producer, to James Cromwell's impossibly dutiful chauffeur Clifton. I cannot sing The Artist's praises enough.  If you love movies, you must see it in the theater with a crowd.  A pure, cinematic experience.

7.  Hobo With A Shotgun – It's all in the title.  A film that celebrates the joys and the theatrics of The Extreme and miraculously manages to capture that 80s grime found splattered across the best VHS box covers.  Rutger Hauer spits and gnashes an epic cult performance; a perfect grasp on the absurd, psychotic dialog.  But so does the rest of the cast!  It goes without saying that Hobo With A Shotgun is not for everybody, but with the right eagerness it's as thrilling as a bus load of flamethrowered children.  Frankly, it's amazing that this film actually lived up to all our ITMOD anticipation.

6. Hanna -- Genetically enhanced super child Saoirse Ronan leaves her father's roost to hunt down her mother's killer and no punches are pulled in this rather brutal PG-13 chase picture. Director Joe Wright takes the simple script and excels with a style exercise--saturation, thumping Chemical Brothers score, odd character beats, and quick stabbing edits. What's the deal with Cate Blanchet's bloody gum obsession? Or the track suited homosexual assassin? Or that hippie-dippie globe-hopping family? Don't know, but it keeps the proceedings wildly interesting.

5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Gary Oldman gives one of his finest performances (sorry Tiptoes, your hyperbolic trailer holds no water here) as retired Brit spy George Smiley, who must maneuver his way through the treacherously murky waters of MI-6 as he attempts to upturn a mole in “The Circus.” And surrounded by Oldman are some of the U.K.s finest: John Hurt, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch are all utterly brilliant puttering around this booby trapped script. Don’t expect the shaky cam heroics of The Bourne Identity; the action here is done in small facial distortions, and when violence inevitably erupts it’s quick and brutal.

4. Rango – Both director Gore Verbinski and ILM’s first foray into feature length animation, Rango is an absolutely bonkers Weird Western that really is nuttier than you could possibly imagine from those initial trailers. Johnny Depp’s Lizard With No Name is a struggling actor trapped in existential crises and looking for life’s part when he stumbles into the metaphorical town of Dirt and it’s Chinatown conspiracy. Definitely not your typical kiddie fare, most of the plot points and icky strange jokes will float above their heads but there are a couple fart jokes (and human spinal columns in feces gags) to keep them satisfyingly giggly.

3. Drive -- Neon L.A. Noir at its finest. Drive is a brutally violent crime story with a fantastic Charles Bronson turn from Ryan Gosling. He manages to pull off a soft, stunted soul that’s also capable of bursting with scary, blood curdling, hammer swinging violence. Director Nicolas Winding Refn keeps the violence short and splashy, but layers the remaining run time of tension with a pulsating Euro techno score. And let’s not forget some of the year’s best supporting performances from psycho evil mini-mobsters Albert Brooks & Ron Perlman.

2. Attack The Block – This year’s internet instant cult classic! Imagine The Goonies if raised on the violent streets of South London battling it out with intergalactic Wolf Apes and you’ve got the year’s most fist-pumpingly entertaining films of the year. John Boyega gives the year’s breakout performance as Moses, the hoodrat thug turned Samurai Alien Hunter. The score is classic John Carpenter with throbbing synth beats that convey the joys of both The Thing and Assault on Precinct 13. And like The Goonies or The Monster Squad, you’ll finish the film wishing these kids were your backyard gang…well, as long as they’d have you. Trust.  Believe.  Allowit.

1. Hugo – Are you ready for this? Hugo is Martin Scorsese's best film in the last 20 years. Bam. Done. Wrapped up in this kid's adventure film is a beautiful love letter to cinema and I want to grab all my family members, friends, and coworkers to see it so that they'll have a proper understanding of why I love movies as much as I do. Orphan Hugo Cabret lives in the walls of the Paris Train Station, stealing from the local shops he grabs the attention of Ben Kingsley's toymaker and Sasha Baron Cohen's railroad inspector. Here Hugo will discover the clockwork secret to his father's automaton and his purpose within the machine of man. Great performances from all involved, but the true star is Scorsese's Love Affair with Cinema and his mastery over it. I was emotionally rocked by Hugo, and in such a way that I’ve never experienced in a movie theater. A religious experience? That sounds silly, but definitely something of an internal enlightenment.


The Best & Worst of The Rest!

Best Director:  Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) -- Before Drive, I had only seen Refn's Bronson and Valhalla Rising.  I enjoyed the wild intensity of both of those films, but there was some unnamable quantity about them that kept me from going "all in" with the director's vision.  With Drive and its star Ryan Gosling, Refn takes a stab at Hollywood mainstream; James Sallis' sparse crime novel provides the perfect backbone for Refn's hyper-stylized vision and the result is a film oozing with Michael Mannish Steve McQueen cool.  It's classy.  It's Brutal.  An oxymoron of shiny noir.

Best Supporting Male Performance:  Albert Brooks (Drive) -- Why were we all so shocked to see Albert Brooks as the violent movie producer gangster Bernie Rose?  I guess we just love to cage our actors in the roles we discovered them in.  But I was shocked...or stunned by Brooks in Drive.  He's a beast.  And without pages of exposition you get how he got where he is; he's charming and cool, but he's also a disgusting psychotic with an eye for cutlery.  Bummer for the sad sacks who get in his way.

Best Supporting Female Performance:  Keira Knightley (A Dangerous Method) -- I'm giving her the award based solely on her first fifteen minutes on screen.  A Dangerous Method might have been a bit of disappointment coming off the brutal Cronenberg crime sagas of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, but I cannot remember a time in which I felt more uncomfortable than I was watching Knightley's chin-jutting burst of crazy upon arrival at Carl Jung's nuthouse.  It's a cliche to say, but Knightley is absolutely fearless as the sexually complicated patient and I'm stunned that I thought of her more often than either Fassbender or Mortensen when the credits rolled.  Hat's off.

Best Leading Male Performance:  George Clooney (The Descendants) -- Whether as actor or director, it seems like George Clooney always finds a way to make it on to my year's best.  Similar to Nic Cage, I've just got a hard on for Clooney.  Crude, but accurate.  I saw The Descendants by myself.  It was a mistake.  The story of Hawaiian landowner Matt King coming to terms with his wife's catastrophic Matthew Lillard affair while she's just days from coma death left me a puddle. Here Clooney proves something I thought him incapable of:  sad, pathetic, schlubby, a good dad.

Best Leading Female Performance:  Charlize Theron (Young Adult) -- And here's another expertly crafted pathetic mess.  Charlize Theron taps into her psycho bitch as YA author Mavis Gary on the hunt to steal her now married ex from his drummer wife and infant daughter.  Theron spits venom with the best of them, but it's as her plan begins to fumble that the heights of her complicated trainwreck reveal themselves.  And her final, naked moments in front of crippled Patton Oswalt are devastating if not heartbreaking (she is a complete witch afterall).

Best Poster:  Hobo With A Shotgun -- Just like Jason Eisner's film itself, the poster for Hobo With A Shotgun perfectly captures that brilliant decade of VHS exploitation, The 1980s.  Artist Tom Hodge aka The Dude Designs knocks it out of the park in this era of floating heads and photoshop.  Thank you, sir.

Best ADR:  "Jumping!" (Your Highness) -- I absolutely loved this movie.  Seems like a lot of you folks out there don't share that opinion.  That's fine.  But I just adored this send up of those goofy ass fantasy films of the 80s.  Your Highness understands the allure of Deathstalker and The Barbarian Queen films. And drops in some pot humor.  But the biggest laugh of the film for me comes at the climax.  Danny McBride and James Franco are battling it out with the evil wizard Justin Theroux; as he hops from one castle bridge to the other a bit of last minute ADR screeches, "Jumping!"  It's ridiculous.  I've seen the film three times now and it crack me up each outing.  I have a dumb brain.

Best Coffee:  Kato's Cappuccino (The Green Hornet) -- 2011's first film that I saw in the theater turned out not to be the biggest heap of crap that I was anticipating.  Sure, it's still not the pulp adventure that I would have wanted, but Seth Rogen comic book movie was plenty fun.  However, what I took most out of that film was an insatiable desire for sidekick Kato's special cappuccino machine.  That brew looked damn delicious.

The "Hey, I Don't Hate Your Guts Anymore!" Award:  Woody Allen (Midnight In Paris) -- I've just never been a fan of Woody Allen.  Annie Hall.  Manhattan.  Match Point.  I've tried, but it's all just a snooze to me.  So, imagine my surprise when Midnight in Paris put a great big grin across my face AND it nearly made my Top Ten films of the year.  Can't believe it, frankly.  But it's just such a wonderful geek movie.  I completely relate to Owen Wilson's 1920s obsession and the fear of the real world.

Best Super Hero:  Captain America The First Avenger -- My initial reaction to Joe Johnston's WWII Marvel adventure was lukewarm at best.  I loved the first 2/3rds of the flick but thought the film suffered from one too many montages and was bogged down in preparation for next year's Avengers event.  Well, I still feel those things.  But now I've watched the film a half dozen times on blu ray and I just adore Chris Evan's Steve Rodgers.  And those moments between him and Stanley Tucci's good doctor are so utterly precious.  The film through their tiny conversations gets what it means to be a hero.  So that first 2/3rds is better than a complete Green Lantern, Thor, or X-Men First Class.

Best Theatrical Episode of Quantum Leap:  Source Code -- It might not have rocked my world as much as MOON, but Duncan Jones' sci-fi actioner was an early year bright spot.  Gets bonus props for including Dr. Sam Becket aka Scott Bakula as Jake Gyllenhaal's telephone father.

Best Buddy Cop Movie:  Season of the Witch -- Goofy.  Stupid.  Fun.  Season of the Witch is that Vincent Price movie Nicolas Cage so desperately wanted it to be; take out the CGI and you've got yourself a solid heir to Roger Corman's Masque of the Red Death.  But what I really love about this movie is the strange Crusader pairing of Cage and go-to brute Ron Perlman.  It's something I never would have imagined, but this oddity is a wonderful gift to genre fans.

More Dinosaurs Please:  Tree of Life -- I enjoyed Terrance Malick's 50s family drama, but the stuff I absolutely adored was all the crazy, pretentious stuff.  The Big Bang, The Dinosaurs, The Afterlife...?  The Brad Pitt stuff was good and all, but I couldn't quite connect the dots to all this mondo stuff.  Apparently there is a 6 Hour cut out there.  I'm definitely down for that.

Best Remake:  Fright Night -- Another shocker from the year.  Colin Farrell as suburban vampire Jerry?  David Tennant as rock star magician Peter Vincent?  Sounds like a recipe for "Who Cares?"  But Fright Night managed to keep a lot of the fun flare found in the original.  It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it also doesn't set it ablaze.

Worst Remake:  Straw Dogs -- I would argue that you just can't make a movie like Sam Peckinpah's film anymore.  We are just too damn PC.  So if you can't even get your lead actress to take her top off than why bother with a sick puppy flick like Straw Dogs?  No point.

Best DVD Release of the Year:  Sweet Smell of Success Criterion Blu Ray -- Another year another twenty or so amazing releases from Criterion.  And this year might have been the best one yet.  Not only did we get Sweet Smell of Success, but also Kiss Me Deadly, 12 Angry Men, The Great Dictator, and The Three Colors Trilogy.  But there are no greater cinematic bastards than Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster as Falco and J.J. Hunsecker.  Watching Curtis squeeze and sleaze his way through the world of New York press is both painful and delightful--especially when he's bashing up against Lancaster's towering, omnipotent columnist.  And the dialog!  "The Cat's in the bag and the bag's in the river."  "I'd hate to take a bite out of you.  You're a cookie filled with arsenic."  Monstrous!

Most Overrated Film of the Year:  Melancholia -- I just don't get this one.  Kirsten Dunst's bride is just too damn crazy for me to relate to; how on Earth did this wedding ever come to fruition anyway?  Sure, Lars Von Trier's visuals are sometimes stunning but not stunning enough or often for me to give a crap.  Similar to last year's The Social Network, I just did not care what happened to these horrible people.  Kiefer Sutherland was a tiny bright spot.

Most Unfairly Maligned Film of the Year:  Cowboys & Aliens --  Craig and Ford feel right at home on their horses and I'd love to see further adventures with these chracters with or without the battle toads.  And I maintain that Favreau's genre mashup is a damn fine popcorn Western with an excellent breed of actors chewing up the scenery.  Don't think the film is going to convert modern audiences to the cowboy picture, but fans of outlaw cinema will find enough to enjoy.  Besides, name a better weird Western?  And don't say Rango...cuz yer right.

The Worst Films of The Year!

1.  Dylan Dog Dead of Night -- SOOOOOOOO BOOOOOOOORRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNGGGG. Thanks to small roles in Chuck and Scott Pilgrim vs The World I've become quite the fan of Brandon Routh. Unfortunately, Dylan Dog presents a tremendous blow on that status. Not one single original thought or idea flutters across the screen. Instead we're presented with one cliche after the other and an endless narration that dares you to rip every follicle from your skull. Painfully dull.

2.  Conan The Barbarian -- Terrible. Do I have to go on? Hard to muster up the energy for a film so disappointing. It's not like the Arnie classic got the Robert E Howard stories pefectly, but it definitely got those Frank Frazetta paintings! This is just cheap immitation with a completely lifeless lead in Jason Momoa who just seems to give high-fives and point his sword in the air.

3.  Red Riding Hood -- How is this the same woman who made Thirteen & The Lords of Dogtown?  Those were not great movies, but they were well crafted or at the very least not completely incompetent like this and that first Twilight flick.  What's wrong with our country that we'll shell out cash for this?  What's wrong with me?

4.  Spy Kids All The Time In The World -- It's been a while, but I remember Robert Rodriguez's first two Spy Kids films having a serious dose of childish, somewhat farty intelligence. But this latest outing in the decade old franchise is a true embarrassment. I was pretty much lost from the opening scene; watching a full blown pregnant Jessica Alba zip lining through an action sequence as her water breaks...I'm just thankful I didn't attend one of those aroma-scope theatrical experiences. And the film is just NOT FUNNY! From Ricky Gervais talking, butt-bombing dog to Joel McHale's well-quaffed Spy Hunter--the jokes fall flat. Robert Rodriguez seriously needs to make a good movie, and soon.

5.  Sucker Punch -- Forget all the asylum Return to Oz mumbo jumbo, I would have much rather watched a movie set in a Fantasy world filled with Gatling gun toting samurai and bomber chasing dragons than this dreary can't-handle-reality tale. Plus, the lead "badass babes" are dull, dull, dull and the only actor I sorta enjoyed was Scott Glenn's Yoda warrior, and I couldn't really figure out his purpose anyway. There are some great visuals here and it made for a helluva teaser trailer, but there just really isn't much here to savor.  I don't hate Zach Snyder, just the opposite.  This was really the first film of his that I just could not enjoy on any level.  Fingers crossed for Man of Steel.

Biggest Disappointments!

1.  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo -- I didn't really dig the book or the original Swedish film.  I was hoping David Fincher would bring something new to the picture, but it's basically a rehash of the mediocre material.  Besides have the greatest James Bond opening credits in a non-James Bond movie there really just wasn't much here for me.  Probably my least favorite Fincher film.

2.  A Dangerous Method -- It's a solid film with some fun performances from Michael Fassbender, Viggo Mortensen, and Keira Knightley.  But it lacked that extra bit of oomph.  I don't think I wanted another Eastern Promises, but this was just too dry for me.

3.  Super 8 -- I'm not going to dwell on this cuz I know Matt loved the heck outta this flick, but it just didn't light my world on fire.  It's a good movie.  But after a rewatch it just doesn't hold my interest.  JJ Abrams makes one pretty flick and I think the kids in this film are absolutely amazing.  But the eventual sci-fi reveal is a little lackluster.  It's good nostalgia.

4.  Red State -- I don't know what I thought this was going to be, but I just could not stand this movie.  I love Michael Parks' crazed preacher and John Goodman is decent.  But the second half of the film is nearly unbearable.  The G-Men are so damn cliche and jerkwady.  I just don't buy it.  And then Smith doesn't have the guts to stick with the twisty climax.

5.  Meek's Cutoff -- As a Western nut I was really looking forward to this wayward pioneer story.  And I love Bruce Greenwood's beard here!  But it's a little too indie and spare for me to enjoy.   Definitely a pretty picture though.  But I much preferred Sam Shephard's Butch Cassidy sequel Blackthorn.

The Actor of the Year!

Ryan Gosling:  This time last year I found it pretty easy to dismiss Ryan Gosling.  What, that kid from The Notebook?  Hey, check out Half Nelson!  Yeah, yeah, I heard that's good, I'll get to it.  But then 2011 brought us Drive, Crazy Stupid Love, and The Ides of March.  One, Two, Three.  Can't ignore that.  In Drive, of course, Gosling is a quiet monster ready to strike at those he perceives as villainous.  A Badass Psychotic.  Crazy Stupid Love is a rare treat, a romantic comedy that's not just typical Jo Lo mushy blather fodder and Gosling is Super Cool TNT as the smug, know-it-all lothario.  And then in George Clooney's The Ides of March he delivers a twisting transformation as the do-gooder campaign secretary turned inevitable political hypocrite.  And, apparently, next year Gosling is set to team-up once again with director Nicolas Winding Refn for Only God Forgives--a Bangkok police drama involving a Thai boxing tournament.  WTF?  Sign me up.  In the meantime I'm gonna Netflix The Notebook.

The Most Anticipated Film of 2012:  Django Unchained -- This year is gonna be insane.  The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Prometheus, The Hobbit, Skyfall, Ghost Rider 2, World War Z, GI Joe Retaliation, The Expendables 2, and uh...Battleship.  But of all the films to look forward to, the one I'm gorging pins & needles for is Quentin Tarantino's Western Django Unchained.  The man has been paying homages to the great genre in almost every film in his cannon and now he finally has the opportunity to let loose.  I remember when QT first optioned Elmore Leonard's novel 40 Lashes Less One--the very idea of cowboys in his Mexican Standoffing universe is enough to make the 14 year old boy in me squeal.  And what a great cast he's got lined up:  Jaime Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kurt Russell, Sam Jackson, Christophe Waltz, Joseph Gordon Levitt, James Remar, and Sacha Baron Cohen. That's amazing.  Is it December yet?

Complete Top 20 0f 2011!

1.  Hugo
2.  Attack The Block
3.  Drive
4.  Rango
5.  Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
6.  Hanna
7.  Hobo With A Shotgun
8.  The Artist
9.  Drive Angry
10.  Rubber
11.  Midnight in Paris
12.  Cowboys & Aliens
13.  13 Assassins
14.  The Descendants
15.  Blackthorn
16.  The Adventures of Tintin
17.  Source Code
18.  Captain America: The First Avenger
19.  Young Adult
20.  The Adjustment Bureau



  1. I can't wait till Hugo releases here! Thanks for the list, Brad!

  2. Hey, Drive Angry was on my top 10 until I saw The Artist.