Friday, February 10, 2012

Best Films of 2011

Very late doing this, but the Academy Awards takes longer and normally don't get it right so no harm in trying now. First of all I would like to point out that these are my personal favourite films that were released in 2011. There are certain feature I did not get to see, but no point in holding out any longer. Titles that I did not get around to viewing and will not be on the list are as follows: Attack the Block, Young Adult, Our Idiot Brother, 50/50, The Descendants.

1) Rango

As far as I am concerned there hasn't been any really intellectually or down right serious animation films released since the Toy Story franchise began (besides the Toy Story movies themselves.) People adored Shrek were I just found it incredibly cringing and not funny whatsoever. Studios are releasing animation features for stupid children, which is fine, but what is so embarrassing and irritating is that they are also aiming these films at adults, who actually find this shit funny and entertaining. These audiences are the lowest common denominator, who get a giggle and jiggle out of a shitty inside joke that all the "grown ups" can get a chuckle out of. The writing in these films are not adventurous, but repetitive with little nods to pop culture. A hip-hopping Disney character, who can "chill" with the new kidz. Its just reference after reference of the same common day nonsense. What's next? A faggoty little Goofy hipster wearing skinny jeans. Fuck off! Same thing has happened to The Simpson's, entertainment has gone too postmodern that its head is up his own ass. But I digress...

Rango takes the staple classic narrative route and delivers an amazing film full of happiness, sorrow, fear, companionship, violence, comedy and romance. It does in fact enclose references, however these homages are paid to film itself. It pays respect to classic Hollywood films, most prominently the western/spaghetti western genre, which real cinema loves will cherish and the average joe will appreciate because the story stays true to itself. When Rango is in despair we genuinely feel for him, when his enemies threaten him we are seriously cautious. No bullshit pop culture wink to distract viewers from the  true goal of this project, which is to tell a great and entertaining story. Its succeeds. Best film of the year.

2) Midnight In Paris

While Rango stands as the most entertaining film of the year in my book, Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris proved to be the greatest original screenplay of the year and could possibly be argued to be one of the best of all time. That might sound outrageous, but when you think of the creativity and love that Allen put into this thing, you really have to admire it. That crazy old Jew has shown us again that he is a true auteur in every sense. As soon as the credits role you know its a vintage Woody Allen picture. I will not try to pretend that I know the first thing about 1920s Paris and the artists to which it acted as their playground, but I knew enough names and references to understand and enjoy every minute of it. 

The theme comes down to one that we have all thought of before, we all have the urge to live in a different era whether it be 1920s Paris, 1980s New York, Biblical times, but the fact of the matter is that "THIS" is our time and place in history. The way Allen explored these fantasies and realities is done so effortlessly, which makes it all the more enjoyable. You can tell its a personal movie and Owen Wilson does a terrific Woody role. Very close to beating Rango and just might with time.

3) Drive

Style over substance is necessary sometimes and it works perfectly here in Nicolas Refn's ultra-violent movie. Just like its protagonist (Ryan Gosling) all looks calm on the surface, but soon we can see the tension build up and pop in arrays of bloody violence that Tom Savini would be envious of. The 80s synth pop and lack of dialogue gives Drive its own ambiance. It has sneaky and interesting characters and sorta turns into a slasher film within the last 30 or so minutes. Great cinematography and gory effects.

4) The Skin I Live In

Once the screen went black at the end of Pedro Almodovar's movie one thing was definite...what an excellent screenplay. The format and process in which this film is told is so perfect. It is wild...wild stuff mind you. During you might wanna look away, but after the film is over you realize that there actually was barely any violence at all. It is the idea that fucks with you. I can under no circumstance explain why the thought fucks with you because this type of movie you have to see it to believe it. I will say that Antonio Banderas is fantastic in it and it reminded me how versatile of an actor he is. Hugely comical with dead sincerity. You have never seen a mad man so calmly personified until now. There are definitely Hitchcockian elements played out here with a colourful cast in the bright sun filled Spanish rural.

5) The Guard

The McDonagh brothers are an Irish treasure in playwrighting and screenwriting. I have just finished reading Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman, which is a darkly humorous and touching playwright that has the same narrative unfolding and dialogue technique as Quentin Tarantino. His brother John Michael possesses the same talent, but also conveys an excellent style and screen vision to his film The Guard, which forces Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle to rise above their cultural differences in order to solve a homicide on Ireland's rugged rural landscape. This film is not as racially controversial as was suspected . Gleeson is not an ignorant racist, but gets a thrill out of pissing Cheadle off with stereotypical racial slurs. This is not as dark of a piece of work as Martin's In Bruges, rather it delivers the classic Hollywood western scenario, with Gleeson taking on a John Wayne role. He is the complicated hero, who stands for what is right. There is an emotional subplot that consists of Gleeson's character Gerry Boyle and his dying mother. All in all this is a great exercise in genre and style with John Michael making many film references, sometimes with camera technique.

6) Scream 4

There hasn't been one bad Scream movie in my opinion and the fourth is comes second after the original. As with the first we are back in meta territory with about 6 million different slasher film nods. The opening scene(s) is basically Wes Craven shitting on any of his denouncers with a meta marathon. This is a comedy/horror as usual, but the gore is real and I am pleased to see that he has enhanced the violence somewhat for modern audiences. What makes this latest installment of the Scream franchise so brilliant is   the return of Kevin Williamson's writing. New characters such as the peppy bitch assistant to Sidney Prescott, Rebecca Walters, Sheriff Dewy's Deputy Judy Hicks, who portrays that psycho ex-girlfriend look and a fresh group of sexually active teens ready to be slaughtered. There is a great moment when the hot Hayden Panettiere screams out a number of slasher films for the killer in an act of homage to the genre. Also this movie contains the funniest one liner in cinema this year, delivered by Robbie Mercer (Erik Knudsen) after the class is informed of the first murder.

7) Shame

Not many directors or actors would go this far in the non-pornograhic world, but its not the actual sexual content that is daring in Shame, it's the lack of satisfaction and feeling that is frightening. Fassbender's Brandon is dead inside, he fucks around trying to top the latest porn scene he just jerked it to, but can never reach that pleasure he wants. He is addicted to sex and a slave to the hollow sex industry. His sexual performance with random women is probably satisfactory, but when he attempts with a colleague he actual likes and respects he is unable to perform. This topic is rarely touched on in society because we  want to keep the perception of casual sex as fun, which it can be. But people like Brandon Sullivan can never reach that level of fun with a one night stand...they need more.

8) The Trip

Two middle aged, out of character comics driving through the northern England countryside, going to food tastings? Sounds pretty tame, but this film isn't really trying to tell much, little hints of unhappiness, loneliness and jealousy, but at heart this is just a great hang-out movie. Because that's all that Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are really doing. Doing impersonations of their favourite film or television characters and for me its great. The climax is quite thought provoking about what's really important in life, but it's not shoved in your face for the films entirety, which makes it more moving.

9) Hugo

3D cinema has clearly made a comeback in an age of extraordinary visual effects. The groundbreaking Avatar 2009) is the pentacle of which any filmmaker who wants to make a 3D movie should aim for. Cameron's film was a ride, a brand new film viewing experience. However, since he topped Titanic (1997) with it in box office ratings the big Hollywood studios have realized that this 3D phenomenon equals big bucks. Now this would be all fine if the 3D films being released reached the standard of Cameron's but they simply don't. You pay $5 extra or whatever for a film built up to be an extravaganza of visual delight when what you actually get is a feature relying on shoddy effects, who disregard any quality of storytelling or real filmmaking craftsmanship. Its a sad state of affairs. People are so easily attracted to these big budget schlocks...a flash and a big noise gets some amped up like dogs chasing cars.

Since this phenomenon there has been three really great examples of how a 3D movie should really look and feel like: Avatar, Pirhana 3D, Jackass 3D and now Martin Scorsese has succeeded in joining this list with Hugo. The opening scene is masterful and genuinely makes the viewer feel like they are in a rollercoaster seat ready for a ride. Scorsese has made a personal movie paying homage to vintage cinema using the latest tool in 3D filmmaking.

10) The Artist

Similar to Scorsese's direction, Michel Hazanavicius pays an ode to cinema, specifically to the silent era in this daring, experimental melodrama. It really is a classical Hollywood tale of romance, comedy and drama. It is reminiscent of Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950), which depicts a delusional former silent star, who succumbs to a life of isolation. This is what eventually happens to George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), who is shun as "talkies" become the marketable enterprise. The film is beautifully shot in black and white, contains emotional depth in humour and devastating despair. The demise of George's career is very real and can correspond to any generation or field of work. The feeling you have when you are not needed anymore is especially relevant during these economically harsh times. Dujardin possibly gives the best performance of the year along with Michael Fassbender in Shame and Paul Giamatti in Barney's Version. 

Honourable Mentions:

  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  • Super 8
  • Red State
  • Moneyball
  • Mission Impossible 4
  • Straw Dogs
  • Paul
  • Warrior
  • I Saw the Devil
  • Barney's Version

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