TOP 12 MOVIE OF 2011
By Andrew Copp
By Andrew Copp
To try and shake things up a bit I have decided to not do a top ten, but a top twelve. Mainly because there were a couple of smaller movies I ended up liking a lot that I couldn't bring myself to not include on the list. At this point I still have not seen HUGO, which is the one movie people have told me I NEED to see. But I also really wanted to see TAKE SHELTER (I have no one to blame but myself for missing that one) which I suspect may have landed on the list somewhere too. But otherwise I am confident the list is where it should be...
There is a LOT of indie movies on this list, in fact it is ALL indie movies depending on how you define it. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES came really damn close to making the list, as I REALLY liked that movie a lot. As far as Hollywood summer sci-fi goes it really was truly an amazing film. I have no issues recommending it to people and may very well buy it at some point. I also really enjoyed IMMORTALS, though so many other people seemed not to, but I would have no issue recommending that to friends or loved ones either. Of course THE MUPPETS found their way onto the big screen with a very respectable movie that pretty much captured the magic that wowed us as kids and keep us returning to those characters so much. So those movies are movies I had a good time with and enjoyed. But they didn't make my top twelve. They came close. In fact if this was a top fifteen then maybe they would be there. Maybe. But as this list rolls out, this is how it looks...
12) AMER -(D.Helene Catett, &Bruno Forzani) - This Spanish art-cum-horror modern day Giallo sexual coming of age thriller is a unique vision if there ever was one. I can fully see where it would frustrate easily distracted horror fans looking for cheap thrills, or art house fans who are unprepared for the reckless explosions of brutal gore in the last reel. But for those of us who love the Italian Giallo genre this is a treasure trove of atmosphere of tightening sexual tension, virtuoso camera work, and breathless style that takes you back to an era that is simply dead. Argento hasn't made a movie this good in twenty years. The movie deals with a woman's sexual awakening and thus, sexual repression, as we experience three distinct periods of her life and the very weird instances that shape them. The tension in the film can (and ultimately IS) cut with a knife and is very disturbing, but is distinctly sexy on ways that will make you feel very unclean. Bravura film-making on nearly eve every level.
11) RUBBER -( D. Quintin Dupieux)- I have a huge bone to pick with what I have termed "hipster" film. The trailer to this movie sold it as such. A movie made specifically for a crowd of movie fans that have elevated themselves to that ironic detachment of only finding something entertaining if they can look down upon it and the audience that would find it fun in the first place. So thank god that instead what RUBBER actually delivers is a terrifically clever deconstruction of film as a viewer's medium of interaction. From the opening scene where the movie explains that it is indeed interacting with US the viewer and that within the movie is another audience that is participating in the outcome of the action on screen it changes the dynamic of everything. The whole psychic tire thing is purposefully silly and played for laughs, but not the slapstick dumb-ass type, but more the sly, fun type that I have not seen enough of since the heyday of Alex Cox in his prime. Plus it was a hoot to see Wings Hauser in a movie IN THE THEATER again. I look forward to this director's next movie. RUBBER is way smarter than it has any right to be.
10) RED WHITE AND BLUE -(D. Simon Rumley)- The less said about the plot of this the better. But this is probably the most EMOTIONALLY brutal movie of the year. RED WHITE AND BLUE takes horror into social boundaries I had not seen many, if any, other films go, and it really kicked my ass. The first two thirds actually function as a really dark drama, yet deliver more terrifying real terror than most horror films ever do. While too many modern horror films feel the the need to go far over the top with explicit gore these days in a useless game of one up-man-ship, they really need to look at this movie to see how EMOTIONAL IMPACT can be done and how it is FAR more devastating. This movie wrecked me more than anything in the stupid HUMAN CENTIPEDE movies. The final reel dips into far too familiar horror terrain and there far is a bit of a let down, but up until then, it is among the most refreshing, terrifying and original horror films to date. Fucking haunting is really the only way to describe it.
9) THIRTEEN ASSASSINS -(D. Takashi Miike)- Takshi Miike goes all classical on your ass with his attempt to make a Samaria film, and he proves himself more than capable to walk in the footsteps of his Japanese masters. The film is both a sweeping historical epic and an incredible balls to the wall action film with a climax that literally last a full on non-stop 45 minutes of bloody swordplay. But it is still a Miike film and has his twisted worldview and occasional bizarre humor, so that oddball flare that marks his work, while subdued this time, is by no means absent. It also has one of the most despicable villains in recent screen memory which really marks it as the kind of action film you love to cheer along with. Some critics may call this his masterpiece. While I would hardly go that far, it IS his most accessible mainstream film, but still retains his insanity. The perfect entry point to his work for newbies, but an incredible new Japanese classic is born as well.
8) TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL -(D. Eli Craig) - Horror comedies are so hard to do right. Personally I am even harder on them than the average person (for example I am not such a fan of SHAUN OF THE DEAD which seems to be the recent high water mark for the sub-genre). But this very low budget piss take on hillbilly backwoods cannibal massacre horror films is pretty brilliant on multiple levels. It manages to have its cake and eat it too by being a really smart deconstruction on the genre, while still being insanely gory, still has an actual horror story at the core, and most importantly has a HUGE heart and likable characters at the center. Which is what makes the whole thing tick. I am loath to say anything will become a genre classic anymore because in our sound byte culture nothing actually does, but if anything deserves to, this movie is it.
7) TREE OF LIFE -(D. Terence Malick) - Probably the most difficult movie on my list. People seem to either love it or hate (or are completely too fucking stupid to understand it...Signs having to be put up in theaters explaining to people it is an art film and you can't have your money back.. podcasts about it being the dumbest movie people saw all year? Seriously you people disgust me...) Honestly it is a movie that makes some demands on the audience asking them to ponder some pretty heavy questions to follow along with what in some ways ultimately is not a huge question, which is accepting death as part of life. But the movie pushes you to examine things, things about the universe, life and how life is put into action, about how we interact with each other and life in the universe. About growing up, our specific moments that shape us, about memory, and those fleeting wisps that will be there at the end. What all combines to make the tree of life? What will be there for those we love when we pass on? It is profound stuff, frustrating and oblique, and deeply beautiful. Yet it didn't make it higher on my list? It just didn't touch me as much as I thought it would. I found it more of an intellectual exercise for me than an emotional one. That is a personal thing that reflects me more than the actual film (which is also why MELANCHOLIA is not on my list at all and it is on many people's top ten. It is a beautiful film, but didn't touch me the way Lars Von Trier's previous movie ANTICHRIST did).
6) RED RIDING TRILOGY - This trilogy of British crime films technically came out in 2010 but didn't make it to American shores until 2011 so I am counting it. I am also counting all three films as one long interlocking film as they all play together as a long very staggering, brutal, storyline. Though all three films do work independently of each other as well. Each movie which take place a few years apart starting in 1972, dealing with a real life serial killer of children and weaves a very distressing story of police corruption and social discord in 70's and 80's era London. This is seriously hard boiled crime fiction here folks, gritty and street level as it comes with brilliant action at every level. While 2010 and 2011 saw THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO films get praise across the globe, these movies are actually the real deal. The movies that deserved the praise those over-hyped movies got. Seek these out, you will not be disappointed.
5) I SAW THE DEVIL -(D. Jee Woo-Kim)- The pinnacle of the current crop of Asian horror films. Perhaps almost too brutal for most people to bear, this is lean, mean and savage horror that plays by its own rules. Featuring Min-sik Choi the hero of OLDBOY as a rapist serial killer who finds himself being hunted when he picks off the fiance of the wrong man, someone with the tenacious nature and means to put him in the cross-hairs and make his life's work a dedicated matter of pursuing him. But not for a quick capture. Instead it is all about a slow stalk to make him suffer as much as his victims have. What sets I SAW THE DEVIL apart is that although it certainly IS one of the most violent movies in recent years, the director Jee Woo-Kim still knows when it is time to draw back. For example there is no wallowing in the sexual violence in the film, even though it IS about a rapist killer. That element is left more or less to the imagination of the viewer. The movie knows when tact is a good thing to have and when the sheer brutality serves the film. Which is often. Breathless, mesmerizing and agonizing, this is a primal scream of rage of horror that will leave you on the floor.
4) PEARL JAM 20 - Cameron Crowe is a filmmaker I frankly am not crazy about. But apparently he is a much better documentarian, and this dealing with the Seattle music scene cannot be denied. This is a carefully constructed, no minutia left unturned look at the last twenty years of this band and why they just work. The movie doesn't just start at the beginning but well before the formation of the band, as it looks back at the TWO bands before PEARL JAM was formed. But for me this movie hit me emotionally as PEARL JAM was one of my favorite bands throughout the 90's when I was in my 20's a very formative time in my life. So watching this documentary was almost like watching a documentary on my life in a lot of ways. But even more importantly it reacquainted me with the band again because I had stopped listening to them in 2000 when I went through a horrific break up with a women to which PEARL JAM was one of the few things we really shared. So I thank this movie for bringing them back out of the foot locker after ten years for me and reminding me just how much I loved them, and how terrific of a band they are. I've watched it three times already.
3) BELLFLOWER - (D. Evan Glodell) This one just came out of nowhere and knocked me for a loop. I knew nothing about what this was about except it was a love story about two guys who loved MAD MAX and were building a flamethrower. Which is actually really exactly what it is about. But it is SO MUCH MORE. The first half is just that, Woodrow (Director, writer,editor, Producer Evan Glodell) and Aiden (Co-Producer Tyler Dawson) are life long friends who have moved to L.A. and are sort of emotionally lost and skimming through life. They spend their days palling around, watching THE ROAD WARRIOR and building stuff like cars and a home made flame thrower. But when Woodrow meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman) it seems like things are going to get weird between the two friends. Maybe their friendship might suffer. But it doesn't, instead things go a much, much different direction at the film's mid point and it plunges into a much darker place. The film can be described as a love story that becomes the apocalypse, but that only touches one level. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the technical aspects of BELLFLOWER which is visually the most spectacular looking film on the list, with a unique and stunning style unlike anything else this year. A look that was achieved because the filmmaker BUILT HIS OWN FUCKING CAMERA... You hear that other low budget filmmakers?
2) SUPER - (D. James Gunn)- James Gunn's love letter to super hero movies, insanity and love lost is in a lot of ways the most brutally HONEST movie I saw this year. Rain Wilson has moments in this movie that are frighteningly raw in his portrayal that really made me uncomfortable because I recognized myself in them. Moments that some audiences will laugh at and say "what a fucking goof" but lots of other people will nod their heads in understanding and sympathy. While SUPER is a jet-black comedy on the surface, it is also a hugely sympathetic film about outsiders and people with mental illness trying to find a place in society where they are unwanted and can never fit in. A world where you put on a super hero suit and people magically love you, are at least in a diseased mind that thinks God touched you, that is what you believe. The kind of mind where the rules of society still hold meaning, where the bad guys STILL have to pay, and those rules STILL have to apply. Where order HAS to be applied to chaos and where you have to make your own best days, somehow.
1) DRIVE -(D. Nicholas Winding Refn)- Before 2011 I had only seen one NICHOLAS WINDING REFN movie, which was BRONSON. A movie I liked a great deal. But Now I have caught up with almost his entire filmography thanks to falling in love with DRIVE (and VALHALLA RISING, and revisiting BRONSON). I've discovered he is a filmmaker that in many ways is very close to my own heart. He understands that it is okay to have flights of of poeticism and surrealism, massive explosions of extreme violence populate his films as punctuation. He uses popular music as a way to say the things the characters often are not saying (or unable to say) for themselves (few directors are good at this, Michael Mann is the king of it, P.T. Anderson does it very well too). He likes to have his characters say less and the action on screen say more. All of this is in FULL EFFECT in DRIVE a movie that subverts action movie expectations from the opening frames with a car chase that takes place almost entirely inside the protagonist's car, then proceeds to have almost a half hour or more where the lead character probably utters ten words. But thanks to the impeccably chosen music we totally know who he is, what he is about and how he is feeling. We also love the movie thanks to the insanely well chosen cast of characters, beautifully played by people like Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks,Albert Brooks, Ron Pearlman and Oscar Isaac.The galvanizing lead performance by Ryan Gosling is simply hypnotic It is the one movie I saw this year when it was over, I honestly did NOT want it to be over.
Can't have a good year with out crapping on the floor. I honestly make an effort to stay away from stuff I know I will hate. I have friends who watch everything. I know I will hate say, the TRANSFORMERS movies, so I will not waste my energy on them. I've never seen one of them, and never will. But however I do have a weakness for low budget horror and exploitation and try to find even the smallest glimmer of hope when it comes to the part of the genre. So I more often than not get burned there. my worst films tend to come form that end of the pool...
DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK -(D. Soska Sisters)- People keep touting the Soska Sisters as some kind of no budget saviors of the DIY school of indie horror filmmaking. This movie comes complete with plastered comments from Eli Roth, and was picked up for midnight theatrical distribution by IFC. I saw it before all that shit happened and it has the ultra, ultra rare distinction of being one of the ONLY movies I have ever turned off before it was over because it was insulting my intelligence. I can put up with a movie being terrible, I can put up with being completely stupid if it is entertaining or fun. But this was neither, it was grinding in its in your face style of abrasive stupidity, flaunting things like logic, forward momentum, and simple story coherence all in the hardcore need to look and act hip and cool for the camera. Sincerely, if this exact movie had been made by two males it would be the laughing stock; no one would let it off the hook for being as bad as it is. For example, when one of the girls gets her arm knocked off by a semi truck they sewn back on with Fishing line. Mind you, this is not supposed to be a fantasy movie, not a supernatural film, or a parody, but an edgy, street level hard DIY crime movie... That is when I checked out.(and for real this trailer is edited way better than the actual movie is.)
HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 FULL SEQUENCE -(D. Tom Six)- Honestly this isn't much better. BTW I am gonna spoil the ending of this raging pile of poop so if you want to see it, skip this small write up. Seriously, Tom Six, this is my message to you... STOP being a showman, and go take a workshop and being a screenwriter. Or better yet, get you a co-writer. You have the horror community watching your every move now. You've done what you set out to do. So why can't you write a script that is above the level film 101? Yeah, this is disgusting, maybe some of the most disgusting stuff you are going to see. But really, who cares if the script is so lame? And REALLY, who cares when the final reveals the whole god damn movie turns out to be a fantasy in the lead character's head? Seriously, that is the biggest cop out of a lazy screenwriter. And in this case of a director who has begun to believe his own hype and is only using this movie to pat himself on the back. All I felt at the end of this was like I wasted my 90 minutes.
FRIGHT NIGHT -(D. Craig Gillespie)- I unfriended someone on Facebook who posted that they thought this was better than the original classic. Seriously? This is well made enough, but it commits the cardinal sin of any horror film, being boring. It has a weird lethargy that I have a hard time putting my finger on, almost like everyone involved couldn't get behind it and knew it was just going through the motions. Colin Ferell is especially wasted here in a role that he seems to be in a hurry to be done with. Watch him in a movie like IN BRUGES where he is fucking fantastic, then watch him here were he looks like he is on the verge of literally falling asleep at any given moment. At least they didn't jettison the gay undertones of the original, but they don't better them either. It just doesn't have anything new to offer and just lays there like a fish gasping for water.
And finally, the one I expect the hate mail over
HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN -(D. Jason Eisner) I actually already reviewed it HERE. But needless to say I found this to be a hollow, soulless exercise. I keep seeing a lot of people claiming this does what the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse film failed to do, but it really doesn't at all. It is just a hyped up Troma film on meth. This is what you get from a generation of horror fans who grew up watching this stuff on DVD who think movies like this were like from the old days. It is gory, it has bad attitude to spare, but it is so abrasive and unpleasant, so filled with ugly characters, and screaming into the camera that after a while you can't even care. It is all completely calculated to give you what you want and left me wanting to turn it off and watch THE EXTERMINATOR or VICE SQUAD or even a Jess Franco film so I could experience the real thing.
So that is that. 2011 in a nutshell. See you in 2012 if the Mayan's let us live that long!!!
All Material © Andrew Copp