2011: MY YEAR IN FILM

           Honors

The "Local Hero Award" for most Overrated Underrated Movie: Another Earth

Movie nobody remembers: Swinging with the Finkels (c'mon, Mandy Moore masturbating with a cucumber? No?)

Acceptable sequel: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Disposable sequels: Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, Cars 2, The Hangover Part II, Johnny English Reborn, Paranormal Actitivity 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Sequel I avoided so it wouldn't ruin the original for me: Kung Fu Panda 2

Sequel I'm outright appalled to admit I actually liked: Tron: Legacy (another 2010 release I know, but I saw it last summer so get off my back)

Most unfortunate title: Brownian Movement

Most inexplicable title: Jumping the Broom

Most unnecessary remake: (tie) 7 and Arthur

The long-awaited return of an absent genius (successful): Whit Stillman,  Damsels in Distress

The long-awaited return of an absent genius (mixed results): Bruce Robinson, The Rum Diary

The long-awaited return of an absent genius (failure): Monte Hellman, Road to Nowhere

Much better than it had any right to be: Fright Night

Don't be fooled: Sucker Punch

Sure, who wasn't looking forward to the first "original" Zack Snyder movie (not a remake, a failed attempt to franchise a series of children's books or a distractingly accurate frame-for-frame comic book adaptation?) I'm sure it seemed like a cute idea to attach some kind of artistic merit to this mess of a mash-up and treat it like it's anything but a two hour music video featuring the worst cover songs ever recorded interspersed with stupid-looking video games starring Scott Glenn, all of which came from Snyder watching Moulin Rouge, The Fall, Pan's Labyrinth, Layer Cake, Brazil, Suspiria and a block of Japanime on Adult Swim over one night while feeding creatively off a jelly bean sugar high, then writing the script the next day while his roommate was playing video games. If I have to hear one more defense of this correctly-dismissed atrocity along the lines of "well, the action scenes are SUPPOSED to be repetitive, don't you get it? You're not SUPPOSED to like them!" I am going to start dancing so I can turn into Sailor Moon and run around shooting people. Because women, man! They're oppressed, but they got the souls of warriors...of course, if you thought of them as being warriors it'd be some high-skirt, Catholic schoolgirl uniform with a samurai sword shit, wouldn't it? You sick pervert - don't understand women! (Funnily enough, Emily Browning also starred in Sleeping Beauty, which had a similiar "huh?" approach to women being abused and exploited.)

Biggest disappointment: Restless

Look, I knew this was going to be bad. I just wasn't prepared for the full extent of its pure shittiness. Just examine the first five minutes. The smug James Franco-like hero is introduced lying on the pavement making a chalk outline of his body. In the next scene, he crashes the funeral of a stranger and stacks crackers into a cracker house at the catering table. Then he and his kamikaze pilot ghost friend - get this - they play Battleship together! Wow. All that before we even have the misfortune of meeting Mia Wasikowska's Mia Farrow haircut-stealing, Michelle Williams-channeling, Darwin-loving, bowler hat-wearing pixie girl* who...are you ready for it?...is dying of cancer! He comes to visit her in the hospital and...they play Operation! Stop, stop...I don't think I can take any more of this hip, sentimental doofy application of board games to real life (what is this, Quintet?) But it just has to be mentioned: later on, the dude stands in the middle of a hallway twirling a slinky around himself, which he then pockets...that's right, he carries around a slinky which he can at any given notice display to demonstrate what a zany free spirit he is. At least this quirky couple don't have a tiny xylophone...oh shit, there it is. Needless to say, a scene where she sorts Halloween candy into colored categories is by far my least favorite moment of any film this year (can't these two simply eat food like normal people? To be fair, I guess Wasikowska probably hasn't eaten anything in years.)

I didn't want to blame Van Sant for being coerced by Ron Howard's daughter to film her classmate's shitty screenplay and really wanted to find something positive to take from the film - just like Xzibit on his album Restless, "I ain't tryin' to see nothing but progress, regardless" of how terrible a great director's new movie looks - but his heart clearly wasn't in this. The way he shoots his movies, even ones I'm not a big fan of, he makes them look like the action is taking place on another planet. But in Restless you can practically hear the clapper come down at the end of each boring take. And I wouldn't accuse him of flashing his "arthouse" cred but oh look, we have popular art photographer William Eggleston in a cameo as an X-ray tech! (Speaking of which, what do assholes like Juno and the obnoxious jerks in this movie have against hospital staff? Tell me doctor, is there any way to make the tumor do its job quicker?) The one positive to be drawn here is that Restless makes Richard Ayoade's Submarine seem all the more the masterpiece that it is. To quote Marcus Pinn, it looks like Van Sant has gone back to being awful for a while.

* I gotta admit, Beginners' Melanie Laurent is a much more intolerable pixie girl...guess that's one Restless has in its defense: the awful heroine would only be second on a list of characters I'd like to see slip and fall into a vat of acid.

Also disappointing (in order of how much better I expected them to be): Warrior, Shark Night 3-D, A Dangerous Method, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Worst trend of the year: Pets "talking" outside the universe of adorable kid flicks (Beginners, The Future)

Gomorra Award for Over-Stylized Stylessness: Le quattro volte

Worst use of a great song in a bad movie: Tom Wait's "Lost In The Harbour" in Miral

Worst use of a great song in a bad movie (runner-up): The National's "Think You Can Wait" in Win Win

Best ending: Having just agreed to be straight with their daughter about the split, husband and wife conspire to place presents from Santa under the tree while she's distracted by carolers (Tuesday After Christmas)

Would-have-been-best-ending if it had been the last scene of the movie: Albert Brooks delivers the ultimatum - "The girl lives." (Drive)

Craziest ending: They bring home some K Fried C and everything just goes downhill from there (Killer Joe)

Most unexpectedly moving ending: "I just...I had a date." Captain America alone in the middle of Times Square

Worst ending: So...there is a storm? Take Shelter

Ending that worked better in the "Lisa on Ice" episode of The Simpsons: Warrior

The people are wrong! Not the worst movie of the year: What's Your Number?

The people who made this movie must hate Bridesmaids. For one thing, both movies have the exact same opening scene: the female hero is introduced in bed with an over-glamorized TV actor, she quietly gets up without waking him, sneaks to the bathroom, puts on her makeup and then slides back beneath the covers to give the impression that she looks emaculate first thing in the morning. The difference is that in What's Your Number? the bed is in the girl's apartment, because unlike Kristen Wiig's needy loser who leaves her self esteem at home anytime this handsome asshole wants a booty call (she only triumphs in the end because her friends are as needy as she), Anna Faris is a confident and independent young woman who never would have stopped to question her life had it not collapsed around her in an unlucky 24 hours. Owen Gleiberman called Bridesmaids a comedy about "whatís really going on in womenís lives"...if that's true, I'm appalled. Are all women mopey bakers and failed businesswomen? (Wiig's character does fit the Mildred Pierce mold, only without a vindicitve, pretentious daughter she really has no excuse for her own misery.) I prefer to think that "real" women's insecurities fall closer to Faris' - that the "sneaky makeup morning" trick isn't a pathetic scraping of dignity but rather the first step of the day in bolstering confidence. Look, What's Your Number? is also a formulaic comedy* that adds raunchy jokes to the standard "single gal freaking out on the eve of a loved one's wedding where she's slated to serve as the maid of honor," although it short-sightedly forgot to cast a farting fat chick and left out extensive conversations about menstrating and the word "queef." Somehow it ended up with the reputation of being the crude one deserving of derision despite that fact that the great Anna Faris moments alone ("Stop fucking your dog!") make it more enjoyable than anything in Bridesmaids. And while I'm on the topic, enough of these Apatow-endorsed 2+ hours...anyone who makes a comedy over an hour and a half, with the additional time dedicated to unfunny scenes, is just being pretentious. To be fair, What's Your Number is overlong and could frankly spare 20 minutes from any part of the last 30 but at least there's no scene of Faris mumbling along interminably with Maya Rudolph.

* Another similarity between the two movies: an infamously unattractive character actress as the mother. Also both movies were written by a female writing team (one of Number's co-plotters is former Simpsons scribe Jennifer Crittenden.)

The people are...right? Maybe the worst movie of the year: Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star

I defiantly committed almost two hours of my life to convincing myself that this Happy Madison production couldn't possibly be as bad as people thought; considering the critical bashing dished out to the second Deuce Bigalow movie, which was a delight, I presumed people are just fed up with Adam Sandler bankrolling his friends' films and made this movie their dishonorable whipping boy. I figured it would at least turn out to be as indolently charming as Grandma's Boy, but sadly(?) it's just the Sandler-produced version of last year's Sandler-starring Grown-Ups: a movie so lazy it doesn't bother to include any jokes, just supporting characters reacting predictably to Nick Swardson's stilted freakshow of a lead character. Borrowing liberally from the Deuce Bigalow formula - uneducated, unattractive schlub joins the sex trade only to nobly not engage in any actual sex and inspire insecure folks to feel better about themselves - the only elements unique to Bucky Larson are a truly grating Swardson with buck teeth doing a Northeastern accent for some reason. Stephen Dorff's Dick Shadow is no Heinz Hummer, or even as effective a villain as Joel David Moore's slacker of a schemer from Grandma's Boy. The porno angle is so underplayed that comparisons to Orgazmo, hell even Boogie Nights (which is kind of a lame comedy until it decides it's a tragedy for the final third of the film) aren't even warranted. In a year of disappointing comedies, this was a tiny, shriveled penis of an unmitigated disaster. The one thing I took from it is that Christina Ricci can be kind of adorable...

The Problem Child Award for best movie watched, heard, or shouted out by characters in a movie: John Hurt shouting in The Shout, as viewed on TV by Brendan Gleeson in The Guard

Best character name: Couldn't come up with one, guys...open to suggestions.

Worst character name: Enoch Brae, Annabel Cotton, Alger Cofax...take your pick from Restless

Best villain: I enjoyed William Fichtner's The Accountant in Drive Angry 3D and Mark Strong's disgruntled drag trafficker in The Guard ("I'm at a point in my life when I'm looking for a more stable relationship") but they don't hold a wicked candle to Andy On's Yuan Lie in True Legend. He rises to power just so he can murder his surrogate father, then sews armor into his flesh, dips his hands into vats of scorpions to acquire the Five Deadly Venoms, kills minions by the dozen and buries his own sister alive. Impolite and evil!

Best thing I saw in 3-d in 2011: The blizzard of cocaine in A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas

Best two reasons to sit through a movie: Chanokporn Sayoungkul, Headshot

The "Maggie Gyllenhaal Award" for a Nude Scene I Wish I Could Un-see: Sarah Silverman in Take This Waltz (she deserves better than the thankless role of "disapproving sister-in-law" with an unflattering full frontal communal shower scene - shame on you, Sarah Polley)

Runner-up: Kurtwood Smith, showing off his boddicker in Cedar Rapids (at least we don't see his Dick Jones)

Most bizarre sex scene: Catfish cunnilingus in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Best death: Colin Firth's blood tear from the bullet wound beneath his eye matches the real one falling down Mark Strong's cheek after he's pulled the trigger (Tinker Tailor Solider Spy)

Most horrible death: The dismount (Final Destination 5)

Most surprising death(s): Two from an otherwise forgettable film - former Stasi officer Bruno Ganz "dies well" in Frank Langhella's arms after casually poisoning himself mid-conversation, and January Jones blows herself up trying to disarm her own bomb (Jaume Collet-Serra's Unknown*)

Funniest moment: What Owen Wilson wrote down to tell Reese Witherspoon (How Do You Know)

Still not entirely sure this movie wasn't created solely for talk show and award show hosts to make endless lame jokes about Jodie Foster's beaver: The Beaver

My Favorite Bad Movie of the Year: We Need to Talk About Kevin

We need to talk about We Need to Talk About Kevin. The first hour of the movie seemed to confirm what I suspected: Lynne Ramsay just doesn't speak my language. Although an undeniably talented visualist, her ideas are too narrow for me to get behind. And Kevin was no exception: if I want to see a movie about an evil little helium who goes around murdering people I'll see if Orphan is on Showtime, thank you very much. The premise of a mother re-adjusting to life after her kid goes on a shooting spree wasn't particularly inviting either - just some glorified standard Lifetime business. As it turns out, none of that stuff is interesting, especially if taken at face value. What I did enjoy about the film (and I think the mother-son "date" scene with lunch and miniature golf was what brought me around) are the conflicted emotions of reluctant parent Tilda Swinton that rise from her own indifference towards the son she's supposed to love indiscrimately. She blames him for her own bad life choices, then gets indignant when he channels that barely-subdued hatred back at her by becoming the worst infant imaginable. She's alone in this emotional tug-of-war that she started - John C. Reilly loves him, why can't you?  - and she hates her son his whole life until after his unforgivable act, when everyone else hates him and she has every right to abandon him...that's when she decides to love him.* I'm kind of the same way with Ramsay and this movie: although it's gotten a largely positive reception, she's managed to isolate a lot of hardcore fans like Mr. Marcus Pinn. Now that they've turned on her, I'm ready to visit her in Movie Jail. Kevin makes an interesting companion film to Mildred Pierce: instead of being the story of a woman so desperate to be a good mother she sacrifices her own feminine identity, this is a movie about a woman so loath to accept the responsibilities of parenthood that only when her life is destroyed, when she's been so humiliated and villified as a human being that she can't look up without receiving a fresh wad of spit in her face, can she really be there for her kid. Even the title insists the focus of attention should be on her smug, sadistic son rather than her, and her warped sense of empathy causes her to ultimately accept this by stripping herself of all personality and staying in town only to be there for Kevin. It's so insanely beautiful - it makes me want to get the bow and arrow out of the closet and test my mom's love for me.

* I still think the film could have used a scene where she actually tries to help him escape from the town after the shooting spree, but maybe that would have been pushing it too far.

Just in case I needed two reminders David Gordon Green is no auteur: Your Highness and The Sitter

Best female performance of the year: Anna Paquin in Margaret

Best male performance of the year: Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The "Jeremy Irons in Dungeons and Dragons Award" for giving it your all, even though you probably shouldn't have: Gary Oldman in Red Riding Hood

Performances that slightly enhanced bad movies:

Stephen Fry (Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows)

Melanie Lynskey (Win Win)

Marisa Tomei (Crazy Stupid Love)

Best snacking-as-acting performance: Brad Pitt in Moneyball

Runner-up: Sung Kang in Fast Five

Most overrated acting: Jessica Chastain in anything

Worst performance: Keira Knightley in A Dangerous Method

Genius most in need of new agent (director edition): Dear David Cronenberg, I am writing this letter at my desk: hope you appreciate the homage to the interminable final 20 minutes of your latest movie, A Dangerous Method.

Genius most in need of a new agent (actor edition): I know he means well, but for the love of pete Freida Pinto's rep needs to keep her away from shitty arthouse directors! Playing the lead in a Julian Schnabel joint or Michael Winterbottom movie probably seems like exactly what Freida should be doing - especially if the best Hollywood gig she can score is playing second apes to CG apes - more than a muse!

Best cameo: Wolverine in X-Men: First Class

Best directorial cameo: Polanski in Carnage

Best voice cameo: Scott Bakula as the dad in Source Code

Best directorial voice cameo: Soderbergh in Contagion

Best attempt to trick me into awarding it "best voice cameo": Timothy Olyphant pretending to be Clint Eastwood in Rango

Great albeit obvious cameo: Chris Sarandon in Fright Night

Weirdest cameo that seems like it's setting up something that never pays off: Cillian Murphy in Tron: Legacy**

Worst cameo: James Carville in The Muppets

Weird Bridesmaids cameo that will hopefully relauch a career: Franklyn Ajaye - Spider Mike from Convoy, Detective #1 from The 'burbs ("You should consider yourself damn lucky he wasn't killed in that blast!") and "Franklin Ajaye" from The Wrong Guys!

Weird Bridesmaids cameo that will hopefully not relaunch a career: Melanie Hutsell

Annual "cheap free laugh from putting Terry Crews in one scene" award (award sponsered by Old Spice): Bridesmaids

Movie I most wish included an eponymous end credits theme song: We Need to Talk About Kevin

The Alan Dean Foster Award for Movie I'd Most Like to Read the Novelization Of: Melancholia

My favorite 2011 'smoke article written by Chris Funderburg: Second Chances: The Crying Game

My favorite 'smoke article written by me: Picking Through the Bone of Of Unknown Origin

Biggest regret of the year: I wish I saw I Wish at TIFF instead of spending an hour in the wrong movie (there were two Michaels)

Filmmaker of the year: (tie) Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Kenneth Lonergan

Best blu-rays (& dvds):

 

The Complete Jean Vigo (Criterion)

White Material (Criterion)

The Sacrifice (Kino)

Love Exposure (Olive)

The Phantom Carriage (Criterion)

Park Row (MGM Limited)

Cul-de-sac (Criterion)

Just Before Nightfall (Pathfinder)

Out of Sight (Universal)

The Killer is Loose (MGM Limited)

 

MOMENTS

Give The Rock his damn veggies! FAST FIVE

Nicolas Cage makes good on his promise to drink beer out of the bad guy's skull. DRIVE ANGRY 3-D

Hector Hammond's method of sipping champagne at the party in GREEN LANTERN: somehow, Peter Sarsgaard finds the perfect way of making Hammond nerdy, deviant and strangely sympathetic with a single gesture and, to his credit, Marty Campbell kept it in the movie

Michael Fassbender, just a foxy French-speakin' Frankenstein's monster getting revenge in Buenos Aires, in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

John Hurt getting shit-faced in MELANCHOLIA, TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY, IMMORTALS...pretty much any movie he was in this year

Nick Nolte's flagrantly over-the-top drunk acting as he gets a little too invested in an audio book of Moby Dick: "Schtop the schip, y'Godless schunvabchitch!" (WARRIOR)

The former gang leader identifies with Napolean's failed assassin in War and Peace, his favorite "swordsman" novel - he can't remember the title of any others. A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY

Well, that is the worst book Kieran Culkin has ever read. MARGARET

Jesus kid, will you just leave so I can kill myself? GOD BLESS AMERICA

"Why do girls always look so pretty the minute they're not sure of you?" Owen Wilson in HOW DO YOU KNOW

Man Ray & co. have no problem accepting that Owen Wilson is traveling between 2010 and the 1920's: "Well of course not, you're surrealists!" MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

MILDRED PIERCE goes straight from having a ham sandwich in the hash house to throwing on a uniform and working there

Veda Gets Spanked (and the amazing way she staggers away afterwards) in MILDRED PIERCE

"You better be goddamn happy!" A frustrated Kiefer Sutherland trying to force Kirsten Dunst to enjoy her wedding reception in MELANCHOLIA

"What did your mom die of?" "Three bullets." A refreshingly honest HANNA

Hang on, the cop car's just sittin' there...relax, nothing's happening yet...he still hasn't turned on the sire - ok, now we DRIVE

Kenneth Lonergan as the dad in MARGARET

Jake Gyllenhaal says goodbye to his dad (SOURCE CODE)

Oh, that's NOT his dad...Benedict Cumberbatch actually did want the Heat... (TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY)

"I'm in your corner," the environmentalist's anti-environmentalism dad says goodbye to him before he's shipped off to prison (IF A TREE FALLS)

Trying to explain how women are, father and son walk their bikes home together after school (A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY)

Father and son team up, turn detective and track down the stolen bicycle - er, truck - at the car impound lot, the impregnable fortress of suburbia, in A BETTER LIFE (if only this illegal immigrant spin on Italian neo-realism had been a better movie, nyuck nyuck!)

Charlize Theron tells her parents "I think I may be an alcoholic" and they laugh ("Very funny!") in YOUNG ADULT

"That'd be some real Judas shit": the kid from the Earth Liberation Front denouncing traitors within the organization, unaware that he's being recorded by a snitch wearing a wire (IF A TREE FALLS)

Hayley Atwell restrains herself at the last possible second from just full-on groping the giant, newly-formed super soldier pecks on Chris Evans' CAPTAIN AMERICA

Michael Parks asks that the children be escorted from the church, since "It's 'bout to get grown-up in he-ya." (RED STATE)

Simon Pegg rips the "Alien On Board" bumper sticker off the RV when they have an actual alien on board (PAUL)

Anna Faris' fading fake British accent (WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER?)

A scattering of high heels on pavement as the army of hookers group together to take their revenge (WE ARE WHAT WE ARE)

The tennis match in the hospital room - "Isn't it great we've become friends?" (ALPS)

The couple in the apartment across the street clink Coronas as they lounge on the couch - cheers! Oh, they are just lourding their happiness over poor Laura! (LEAP YEAR)

Laura gets her clothes on as quickly as humanly possible once the guy she's just fucked calls his wife to let her know he's going to be late (LEAP YEAR)

"I don't really feel like talking to you right now." Is Anna Paquin aware that she broke that poor guy's heart as she hangs up the phone? (MARGARET)

Anna Paquin forces two awkward confrontations: one on Mark Ruffalo's porch, the other in front of the school in front of a frozen Matt Damon - what does she hope to accomplish with either of them? (MARGARET)

Poor Jean Reno makes an innocently awful comment and dies before he gets to redeem himself (MARGARET)

Shots of the Manhattan skyline in MARGARET

Turns out you weren't the girl I fell in love with in grade school - sorry, Greta Gerwig. (DAMSELS IN DISTRESS)

AzraŽl's fable about the man who tried to escape his doom by fleeing directly towards it (CHICKEN WITH PLUMS)

"Momentarily disfigured!" John C. Reilly tries to relieve the rising tension in CARNAGE

"I'm having a perfect moment!" John C. Reilly's Dean Ziegler in CEDAR RAPIDS, a great character in a mediocre comedy

Tilda Swinton making fun of fat people on the miniature golf course (WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN)

Talking elks, acupuncture-assisted disguises and the dragon-taming mace that finds the break in any weapon in DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME

Dueling Michael Caine impressions (THE TRIP)

"It tastes of a childhood garden."

"Well, there's whiskey in it. Was there a lot of alcohol in your garden as a child?...Sorry, Rob." (THE TRIP)

The bookend "fight" and "reconciliation/hamster!" credit sequences on the playground in CARNAGE

The two kids have trouble breaking the chair to make clubs - as a result, they miss the gang fight (A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY)

Best moment of 2011: Bruce Lee lives in ALPS

And finally - I know it's from a TV show, but it has to be mentioned: Louis C.K. belting out "Who Are You" to the radio, in real time, as his daughters watch with a mixture of fascination and mortification in the backseat of the car (LOUIE)

 

Did I leave out a favorite of yours? Click here for a somewhat-complete list of the films I saw in 2011.

 

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