2011 in film

It’s an exciting time.  You are alive, the sun is going to come up tomorrow, and there are lots of good movies to watch.  Several of them were released last year.

Please note that I will not hesitate to spoil the plot of any of the films I mention.  It has been prophesied; you have been forewarned.

 

ATTACK THE BLOCK

A simple film that deserves a simple interpretation.  It respects its characters, but doesn’t torture you with their Growth at the expensive of the fun stuff.  It believes in its premise and enjoys realizing it.  This enjoyment is then transferred to the viewer.  A lot of these movies end like your high school essays: you’re just rewording what you have already said in a perfunctory conclusion.  This one was smart enough to not blow its Hero’s Journey wad early, and as a result the film’s closing shots feel genuinely triumphant.  Cloverfield meets The Warriors.  TRUST.

 

BAD TEACHER

We were all misled, I think, to believe that this was a sequel to Bad Santa.  There would be a continuous series of these films, you know, Bad Doctor, Bad President etc, about how funny it is to watch reckless alcoholism/criminalism collide with a job that requires a functional human being, particularly if it involves working with children (Bad Pediatrician, excuse me). Yes, I think being Santa requires you to be a functional human being.  Now, I’m not somebody who thinks art should be censored because it is immoral.  You should be able to make your morally repugnant art, so that we can blog about it and point out how full of shit you are.  Let The People decide, you know?  This movie was full of shit.  There is one funny moment in it, but even that didn’t make it from the trailer into the final film.

 

BRIDESMAIDS

A commenter on another blog noted that this film was definitively not their type of comedy.  This is a legitimate complaint.  Much of Bridesmaids falls squarely into the awkwardness-porn category: it is excrutiatingly difficult to watch many of the encounters in the film. You would be relieved to be in the company of Michael Scott after some of this shit.  But don’t discount the movie.  Kristin Wiig is a brilliant performer; coupled with the fact that she wrote the thing, I’ll throw her a Best Actor nomination on this one for sure.  It doesn’t hurt that she’s supported by a universally phenomenal cast. John Hamm: “Wow, this is awkward: I really want you to leave, but I don’t know how to say it without sounding like a dick!” 

Meanwhile Wiig’s character winds up in a situation that pretty much every rom-com (which this technically isn’t) or chick flick (which this studiously IS) avoids.  This is a Classist movie, in the same sense that, you know, President Obama is creating class warfare in this country.  In other words it is honest about how things are.  The fact that Wiig and her rival occupy different social spheres isn’t just a superficial tactic to set them against each other, it is a real problem with logistical and emotional consequences.  Compare this to Friends With Benefits, where every character has a dream job by the time they’re 25 and lives in a luxurious Manhattan apartment.  Also it’s genuinely about women, and doesn’t just view them as existing in the periphery of men (ie, the unfortunate Devil Wears Prada).

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA – THE FIRST AVENGER

This was the biggest disappointment of the year.  Hold on, let me explain!  I know your fanboy alert is sounding.  I have never read a Captain America comic in my life.  I wasn’t excited for this movie or anything.  I did hear that it was good so I checked it out.  To my delight, it started off by completely surpassing my expectations.  There’s a moment early on where Captain America is chasing down a bad guy, and this little kid gets tossed in a river or something.  Cap’n’s gonna lose precious time saving this kid, right?  But the kid, anticipating this, says:  “Go get him!  I can swim!”  The movie is doing nothing outside of the ordinary on a macro level, but it views every little moment in its utterly cliche setup as an enthusiastic opportunity to be inventive.  It is having fun with this!  You can imagine the writers one-upping each other — “Naw, this is AMERICA!  The kid is a hero too!” 

Well, that all goes out the window about halfway into it.  In fact that sequence is the film’s one and only spectacle!  From there on out, almost no use whatsoever is made of Cap’n’s physical superiority.  For example, he presses buttons on his motorcycle and waits for his team to come and shoot the more badass flamethrower enemy.  Our sense that he is an ultimately courageous and good person also becomes confused.  I mean, he respected that kid enough to let him swim, he respects some prisoners he freed enough to let them die trying to complete their escape on their own, but then he’s got a big chip on his shoulder about some other dude dying (though he does nothing about it at the time).  Strange how it treats casualties so flippantly in places, and then expects us to care in others.  Strange that Hugo Weaving abruptly becomes an anti-nationalist anarchist at the end of the film.  Strange that it can’t come up with a better excuse to have action sequences but to repeat the same scenario over and over again: Hugo’s in another weapons factory, let’s go blow it up!  This one broke my heart.  

 

COWBOYS AND ALIENS

Is there a sliver of a hope that this movie’s visible apathy towards having the slightest bit of fun with its premise will make people catch onto the fact that the Iron Man movies sucked as well?  What’s the deal Favreau?  Elf is still your best movie.  And fuck Elf.

 

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK

The first rule of the monster movie is that you don’t show the monster.  Maybe you get a glimpse of it if you’re lucky.  But they had all these expensive effects and I suppose they wanted to show ’em off.  That’s cool.  If you are somebody who is not frightened by horror movies, this one might work for you as it has, I dunno, cohesion and production value and stuff.  For me it was a series of lessons in how to weaken the terror.  Guillermo should direct these things himself.

 

DRIVE

As if it were made specially for me, to pleasure me in all the ways I can most be pleasured by a movie.  It took us a while for movies to get here.  Looking back on the last decade, there are two particularly promising trends.  One is that the notion of procedural action has been thoroughly embraced.  Consider the sequence in No Country for Old Men where he hides the bag in the duct between the motel rooms.  It’s didactic as hell and you’re blown away by the authenticity.  Another great example is the long-take action sequences in Children of Men. 

Trend 2 is that we are veering towards embracing movies as pure experiences.  It doesn’t matter as much what a film is about anymore.  For starters, you can make films about stuff like horror and fantasy and super heroes and be considered a great filmmaker now (thanks, Jackson, Del Toro, and Nolan).  Movies are maturing as an art form and they don’t have to reflect anything other than the joy of the form itself.  They don’t have as much to prove anymore.  I couldn’t name you a movie that more fully realizes both of these exciting aspects of cinema.

 

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS

This encapsulates a lot of what is wrong with this world.  Almost completely useless.  I do find it interesting that if Kevin Smith had made this movie 15 years ago people would have gasped at the grittiness of the “frank” portrayal of sexuality.  Now hopefully we can see it for what it is.  

 

FRIGHT NIGHT

The problem with the concept of horror/comedy is that being comedic makes it VERY difficult to be frightening.  Fright Night pulls it off every now and again.  Colin Farrell’s drac is a superior being to our protagonist in every way, including sexually.  Now, maybe you’ve experienced this situation of being in a club with somebody who’s supposed to be your girlfriend, but she goes and dances with somebody else.  In this movie the somebody else is a vampire who the girl KNOWS she needs to avoid at all costs, but she can’t.  The scene is phrased in such a way that the vampire makes her want it.  She literally goes from fleeing for her life to voluntarily drinking the blood.  I’ve never seen a more potent realization of the vampire-as-sexual-predator trope.  That one scene gave me vertigo.  This was a consistently engaging movie, and Farrell’s performance was way better than anybody could have imagined.  I think I recoiled from it somewhat at the end as the comedic aspects made it more and more easy to not feel the suspense.

 

HALL PASS

I think the F. bros deserve some credit, between this and Shallow Hal, for having a genuinely sweet side to them.  Makes the fecal humor seem increasingly out of place though, doesn’t it?  I didn’t hate it at the time but I sure don’t remember it too well.  Wheatley from Portal 2 was in it.

 

THE HANGOVER 2

Oh Hangover franchise, embrace thy lawlessness and cease trying to pontificate morality into the end of your films.  Once all the characters start looking at each other and realizing all the big life lessons they’ve learned (what, from bleeding to death in an elevator?) you kind of realize that it’s a dumb movie.  Loved Galifianakis’ flashback.

 

HANNA

More of that procedural action stuff.  I don’t understand why EVERY single movie that Bana has been in since Chopper has managed to completely misuse him, but I liked the film as a whole.  The enduring complaint towards the film will be that Hanna doesn’t get to kick enough ass, especially in the last third when you are getting quite impatient for it.  However, I believe it is a richy woven piece. Early on, during Hana’s training, she asks her father/trainer what music is.  He unhesitantly flips to the encyclopedia’s definition of music and begins reading it to her (instead of, say, singing her a goddamn lullabye!).  Later on when she hears music for the first time, she is able to identify what it is based on its definition.  Quite a clever trick and one of many up the film’s sleeves.

 

HAROLD AND KUMAR 3

The H&K sequels boggle my mind.  You take this movie, largely endearing because it was willing to forego the traditional comedy error of having a plot and Big Lessons that you don’t want to deal with.  Then they make two sequels that are basically all about having a plot, and the characters learning Big Lessons.  I don’t wanna deal with it.  Consider that in H&K 1 the closest Kumar gets to becoming responsible is: in his fantasy in which he is married to a giant bag of marijuana, he is hitting the med school books.  The Wu Tang lullaby was pretty funny.

 

THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 – FULL SEQUENCE

I’ve got issues with this one.  We haven’t been speaking for a while in fact, and I’m not sure the relationship is worth working out.  In my opinion the first half of the film is easily the best horror of the year.  It’s great that both movies have two completely different, but equally incredible bogeys.  Then the second half is an arduous trudge through the assembly and abuse of a very long human centipede, shown in excruciating detail.  The problem here is that you were worried about this happening before you saw the first movie, and even though it didn’t, you still thought about it.  Tom Six is literally showing you a bunch of stuff that you’ve known about SINCE YOU HEARD THE CONCEPT of First Sequence.  It’s rather cruel, and perhaps not as creative or worthwhile as the preceding volume.

 

I SAW THE DEVIL

A lot has been said about these Korean vengeance movies and how they make you want the vengeance, and then make you examine your own morality for having wanted it.  Sure, that’s true here as well, but that’s hardly the point of why people love this shit.  The simple fact is that S. Korea has been out-Hollywooding Hollywood for some time. It’s not that “they don’t make them like they used to,” it’s just that they’re making ’em in Korea now.  Everything in this movie is so gloriously cinematic, carries so much impact.  You know how movies have that bit where they are trying to shield the press or family from the body at the crime scene?  In this movie, the cops accidentally drop the severed head of the victim, and it rolls and lands at the feet of her father.  How you could not have fun watching this movie is beyond me.  If Kim Jee-Woon made a movie about your life, your life would be the most awesome thing ever to hit the screen.  It did come out in 2010 though, I don’t know why all these critics (such as myself) are putting this, and 13 Assassins on their lists.  Domestic release dates are a bitch.

 

INSIDIOUS

It’s Paranormal Activity without the gimmick.  Therefore, it is not as frightening as a Paranormal Activity film.  It has irritating moments such as where a large, bloody handprint is discovered in the comatose child’s bedsheets, and the husband is able to not take this into account when theorizing about how his wife is just being crazy/paranoid.  It has one moment that really stuck with me, where an old lady in a WW1 gas mask is relaying/channeling horrible shit from the Other Side, and her accomplice (the only one who can hear her) is frantically scribbling out what she whispers.  If there is any precedent to this scene in the horror genre please let me know, I’d love to see it. 

 

IN TIME

It’s a clean premise.  Thought provoking.  The film squeezes about fifteen good minutes out of it, and then makes increasingly little sense as things progress.  

 

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3

There’s a lot of backlash against this whole forced-perspective phenomenon.  Usually forced perspective means that they filmed the Hobbits from farther away to make them look smaller.  I mean it in the sense that in these films, you are trapped in a first person perspective.  You suddenly become desperate to know what is going on behind you, but there’s no hope that the film will suddenly cut and show you.  The best you can hope for is that somebody is holding the camera at that point and that they’ll turn around in time.  Man, this sure seems like a recipe for suspense to me!  In fact, in this one, they even put one of the cameras on a rotating base, so it SLOWLY pans left and right, making it even more excrutiating.  

 

RANGO

This character Rango was a troubled person with serious character flaws.  The movie doesn’t let him off the hook.  The result is a surprisingly mature film.  Singularly depressing for an American cartoon.  I just keep waiting for Verbinski to kick my ass again like with The Ring and he has yet to thoroughly do so.

 

RED STATE

The first half is solid, particularly when you consider that it’s a latter day Kevin Smith picture.  But then John Goodman comes in and the whole affair becomes more and more embarassing.  

 

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Legendary.  I went home dreaming about the various ways that the Apes lore has been deepened and expanded by implication of the film. I hope they do a sequel about the struggle of the last remnants of humanity after the Apes have truly risen to power.  Some of the apes could be pro-human, and they could have awesome Council of Elrond debates in which they cite the deeds of the now-mythic heroes from Rise as evidence one way or the other (entire political philosophies arise from the deeds of the apes in this film).  Once again enthusiasm is the name of the game here.  It gives you the feeling that you get watching Spielberg films as a child.

 

SEASON OF THE WITCH

Err, wikipedia informs me that this film was released in 2011.  My memory informs me that I watched it, but has little else to say.

 

SOURCE CODE

At each moment, the film is inventing and revealing things to you, simultaneously at the level of character, plot, and concept.  Few movies possess this degree of economy.  I mean, even if you thought the movie had huge, glaring inconsistencies and a sentimental ending, at least it had the grace to possess these flaws succinctly, you know? 

 

SUCKER PUNCH

The best opening of any film this year.  My biggest issue is that the film blows its wad with the dragon fight and never manages to top it.  

 

SUPER 8

Who would really want to watch this given the existence of Attack the Block?  It does have one transcendent setpiece.  Even before the train crashes, the kids have been awkwardly trying to overcome their social scruples and get to work on filming this scene for their movie.  It’s the way that they succeed that really blew my mind; suddenly, life is good for them.  And then there was this insane train crash.  Memorable. 

 

THE TREE OF LIFE

A rather dorky film.  Honestly I thought it was all about how Brad Pitt’s character was sexually molesting his kids.  When he comes home from his haiatus, the main kid knows he has grown too old for his dad’s affections and has to protect his little bro, the next likely target.  Well, that interpretation doesn’t really hold up when you consider all the facts in the film.  What’s left?  There’s a good deal of truthfulness in the portrayal of memory and of family.  Was Sean Penn supposed to one of these kids grown up?  (That’s a joke, but maybe you see my point). It’s a sort of artificial gimmick, similar to when Jennifer Connelly suddenly shows up in old lady makeup at the end of A Beautiful Mind and you are supposed to accept that it is the same person, and transfer all your emotions from young JC to old JC.

 

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

Still nary a hint of Apocalypse?   Yawn.  

 

So who won in the end?  

 

The best picture, as I’m sure we can all agree, was Drive.  Maybe you are not a human being and disagree, I couldn’t tell you.  Other nominees included Rise of the Apes, Source Code, Bridesmaids, I Saw The Devil.

 

Other movies were not good the whole way through but they deserve a nod in their special category.  The nominees for best half-movie are Sucker Punch, Human Centipede 2, and Captain America.  I’ll give it to Sucker Punch because it most exemplifies my theory, espoused above in relationship to Drive, that movies should be embracing the cinematic form as a pure experience at the expense of all that other shit we movie writers love since it gives us stuff to write about.  It’s much harder to diagnose and analyze a movie that has nothing to say other than I AM HERE WATCH ME, but music writers have been doing that shit for years and the film community had better catch on.  

 

Best Actor noms would be:

Andy Serkis – Rise of the Planet of the Apes (his best work yet)

Kristin Wiig – Bridesmaids

Byung-hun Lee – I Saw the Devil

Min-sik Choi – I Saw the Devil

Laurence R. Harvey – Human Centipede 2

Colin Farrell – Fright Night

Saoirse Ronan – Hanna

I unhesitantly give the award to Mr. Harvey for his work in Centipede.  Fucking unreal performance, and he never even utters a line of dialogue.  Why didn’t I nominate Gosling in my favorite movie of the year?  Because I’m convinced Refn could point his camera at anybody and they would possess a godlike screen presence.  Gosling definitely rocked it though, it is probably unfair for me to cheat him like this. I’m sorry Ryan.  He can win in the Best Character category (sort of like how they have Best Picture and Best Director, as if it’s somehow not the director’s fault when a movie is good).

 

Best comedy was Bridesmaids.  Best horror was Paranormal 3. Scariest scene in Paranormal? When the camera pans over and there’s a small figure in a white sheet (we’re talking OLD SCHOOL ghost) and the sheet promptly collapses flat against the ground.  Or when he finds the witch coven.

 

Best Action Sequence nominees:

Anytime Byung-hun is kicking the shit out of Min-sik in Devil

The opening getaway in Drive

The finale of Planet of the Apes

The train wreck in Super 8

Fighting the dragon in Sucker Punch

Hanna escapes from the facility

Apes wins.  When the apes grab the bars of their zoo cage and use them as javelins, for example, I had a bit of a transcendental awakening.  99.999% of action movies seem to fuck up their action finale these days, you’re just waiting for the right people to get shot and die or whatever.  Apes isn’t even really an action movie, it’s more of a prison movie, but god damn if it doesn’t culminate in the best final set piece we’ve seen in years (if not, well, ever).  It laid down the ground rules and then DELIVERED.

 

Moment that most rapes the audience’s senses:

What happens to the infant in Human Centipede

Justin Timberlake describing how he likes his asshole stimulated in Friends With Benefits

All the action sequences in the second half of Captain America

Bad Teacher’s happy ending.

Well I’m not going to sit here and be a dick and tell you something was worse than what happened to that baby… 

It was a terrific year of moviegoing, the dominant theme being movies that express their unabashed love and enthusiasm for their movieness.  Let’s drop this whole “they don’t make ’em like they used to” thing already, okay?

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~ by renfield on February 17, 2012.

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