Arleigh’s 13 Favorite Films of 2011


2011 was a year that wasn’t spectacular by any stretch of the imagination. From January right up to December there were not many films which I would consider event films. This is surprising considering all the superhero blockbusters which arrived during the summer and the final film in the Harry Potter film franchise. Even the prestige films which came out during the holidays never truly captured everyone’s imagination (though one film was very close to achieving it due to one Michael Fassbender).

What 2011 did have was a solid slate of titles which ranged from the pulpy to the cerebral. We even got films which were able to combine the two to come up with something very special. Not every film resonated with everyone and some even split audiences down the extreme middle with half hating it and the other half loving it.

The list below catalogs the films which I consider my favorites of 2011. Some titles on this list I consider some of the best of 2011 while some didn’t make that particular list but were entertaining enough for me to make this favorite list. Once again, the list is not ranked from top to bottom, but only numbered to keep things organized….

  1. Shame (dir. by Steve McQueen) – This character-driven film starring Michael Fassbender and Cary Mulligan was one of those film which got close to becoming the one film everyone ended up talking about as the year wound down. It’s an exercise in minimalist filmmaking as Steve McQueen doesn’t allow too much dialogue to get in the way of telling the visual story of sex-addict Brandon and his downward spiral from addiction to self-hate. Much have been said of how much Fassbender’s penis in full display was a reason why people flocked to see this little existential film, but I rather thought that was probably just a bonus for some and instead it was Fassbender’s uncompromising performance in the role of Brandon which made Shame one of my favorites for 2011.
  2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (dir. by Rupert Wyatt) – this film was one which didn’t garner too much high-anticipation from genre fans leading up to it’s release. People had been burned by Tim Burton’s reboot of the franchise and saw this second attempt to reboot the series as a failure in the making. So, it was to o everyone’s surprise that Rupert Wyatt’s film managed to not just bring new life to a stagnating franchise but do so in such a way that it became one of the best films of 2011. Sure, there was some flaws in how the human character were written, but in the end it was the performance-capture work by Andy Serkis and the digital wizardry of WETA Digital which made Rise of the Planet of the Apes not just a wonderful and fun film this past summer, but also one which laid the groundwork for more stories in what is a franchise reborn with fresh blood and life.
  3. I Saw the Devil (dir. by Kim Ji-woon) – this little revenge thriller from South Korea was one which I happened to catch just before it left the theaters this part spring. It had played in one of the few arthouse theaters in the Bay Area that hadn’t closed down. I was glad to have seen this film on the big screen instead of on Netflix Instant the way most have seen it. It’s a brutal cat-and-mouse story of a South Korean secret agent who stalks and hunts the serial killer (played by Oldboy‘s Choi Min-sik) who kidnapped and brutally murdered his fiancee. The film is not for the timid and weak of stomach as we see through the eyes of not just Agent Soo-hyun (played by Lee Byung-hun) but that of serial killer Kyung-chul the dark corners of South Korea where hunter has become prey and vice versa.  South Korea has always been good for one great film that I feel personally attached to and for 2011 it was this film.
  4. Cave of the Forgotten Dreams (dir. by Werner Herzog) – I don’t think I could ever make a year’s favorite list of any year that had a Herzog release and not have it as a favorite of mine for the year. It happens that Herzog had two films come out in 2011 and both of them excellent documentaries. It would be his earlier documentary for 2011 that became a favorite of mine. It also happened to be his first (and according to him the only time) foray into 3D-filmmaking. Herzog makes great use of 3D filmmaking’s added epth of field to make the cave paintings in the Chauvet Cave come to life. If this was going to be Herzog’s only film shot in 3D then he made one for the ages and it’s a travesty that those who vote for documentaries to be nominated for the Academy Awards failed to even list this film.
  5. Attack the Block (dir. by Joe Cornish) – this scifi-action film from the UK became the darling for genre fans everywhere. It had everything which bigger-budgeted films of the same stripe failed to accomplish. It was fun, thrilling and, most important of all, had characters which the audience would get to know and care for. John Boyega as the gang leader and, ultimately, the reluctant savior of the block which has become under siege by an alien force is just one of the highlights of the film which boasts one of the best screenplays of 2011. Joe Cornish joins the likes of Neill Blomkamp as a filmmaker whose first feature-length film hits on all cylinders.
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger (dir. by Joe Johnston) – this film was to be the last leg of the Marvel Films before 2012’s highly-anticipated The Avengers film. It introduced the film’s title character and his origins for those not familiar with the name Captain America. This film could easily have been a throwaway one. A film to set-up this year’s The Avengers. Instead what we got was one of the most fun blockbusters in the summer of 2011. Joe Johnston goes back to his Rocketeer days and creates an action film that’s full of genuine nostalgia but not burdened by it. Any doubts fans might have had of Chris Evans in the role as Captain America had them wiped clean with his pitch-perfect performance as the title character. The film also had one of the most romantic relationships on-screen in quite awhile with Evan’s Steve Rogers and Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter.
  7. Drive (dir. by Nicolas Winding Refn) – In my opinion, Refn’s existential take on the pulp genre with Drive is also one of the best films of 2011, if not the best of them all. Refn, with Ryan Gosling in the role of  the Driver, has created a film that mashes up so many different genres and does it so well that it’s hard to be sympathetic to those who felt they were misled by the fim’s trailer that it would be a nonstop action film similar to Fast Five. The film is not an action film, but a film which just happens to have some action in it. Action that comes sudden and brutal and none of the whiz-bangs other action films rely heavily on. It’s another film where Refn explores duality of the male persona. It helps Refn’s film that Gosling is so great as the Driver that the film never slows down too much before things revs up once more. The rest of the ensemble cast also does stand-out work with Albert Brooks as an aging, cynical Hollywood gangster leading the pack.
  8. Fast Five (dir. by Justin Lin) – Speaking of Fast Five…this was a film that surprised me in so many ways. It’s the fifth installment in a series that seemed to have evolved from being an action series whose main goal was to highlight the street-racing community and the ridiculous lengths people in it would go to in order to trick out their cars. This latest installment in the franchise has put the street-racing aspect of the series on the back burner and instead has remade the franchise into an action-heist series that just happens to have fast cars in it. This film was loud, fast and fun and despite some major leaps in logic in the storyline it never stopped being entertaining. It also brought back Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in an action film role that he had stopped doing these past five or so years.
  9. Hanna (dir. by Tom Hooper) – If someone had come to me and said that little Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Atonement) would turn out to be kickass action-hero directed by a British filmmaker not known for action films then I would dismiss such a thing as crazy talk. But crazy talk it wasn’t and all that came to pass with Tom Hopper’s excellent modern fairy tale in Hanna. Ronan as the title character was asuch a find in a role that didn’t just need for her to act like the little lost babe in the woods, but to also turn on a dime and kick ass with the best of action heroes past. It helped that everyone else around her were up to the task of supporting her performance whether it was Eric Bana in the role father (huntsman in fable lore) to Cate Blanchett as the cold-hearted CIA chief (evil queen) whose connection to Hanna drives the film’s narrative from beginning to end.
  10. Kung Fu Panda 2 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh Nelson) – in a year where Pixar had one of it’s rare misses (Cars 2 really was awful and such a blatant cash grab for the studio) it was there for the taking for top animated film of the year for everyone else to fight over. There was Rango and there was The Adventures of TinTin, but my favorite animated film of 2011 has to be Kung Fu Panda 2. It continues to adventures of the Dragon Warrior and panda kung master Po and his compatriots, the Furious Five. With the first film having done with him becoming the Dragon Warrior, this sequel was free to explore more aspects of Po’s life and personality such as his true origins and the tragic circumstances which led him to be adopted by his noddle-making goose of a father. The film is much darker than the previous one with it’s storyline exploring such themes as genocide and the destructive march of technology over nature’s harmony. It also had one of the best villains to come out in 2011 with Gary Oldman as the evil peacock, Lord Shen. Plus, it had scenes of Po as a baby Panda…A BABY PANDA.
  11. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (dir. by Tomas Alfredson) – a feature-length film remake of the BBC miniseries of the same name (adapted from a John LeCarre novel), this spy thriller/procedural was Tomas Alfredson’s follow-up to his coming-of-age vampire film, Let the Right One In. Once again he has taken a well-worn genre and infused it with his own unique style of storytelling which valued characters and how they all interacted with each other over action and thrilling sequences. With a cast that’s a who’s who of British cinema the film was able to condense many hours of the miniseries into just a couple and still not lose the complex and layered plot involving political intrigue and betrayal. This film also had one of the best performances by any male actor for 2011 with Gary Oldman in the role of George Smiley. With Fassbender being passed over and not nominated for Best Actor for the upcoming Academy Awards I would be very perturbed if anyone else other than Oldman took home the statue.
  12. Kill List (dir. by Ben Wheatley) – I’m not well-versed on the work by Ben Wheatley so I saw this film on the recommendation of many whose opinions I trust when it comes to genre films. To say that I was thoroughly surprised by just how well this filmed turned out would be an understatement. Kill List is one of those films which turns so many horror and thriller conventions right on its head, but do so to serve the film’s narrative instead of a filmmaker trying to show his/her audience just how clever they can be. The film moves at a gradual pace that leads to a surprising ending that has split audiences down the middle. Some have loved the ending and other have hated it. I, for one, thought the ending was the only way the film could end. This was a film that was able to balance the different aspects of what makes a thriller and what makes a horror film. The moment when the film transitions from the former to the latter was so seamless that it takes several viewings to find just where it occurred. The best horror film of 2011, bar none.
  13. 13 Assassins (dir. by Miike Takashi) – many will be saying that I’m cheating with this final entry since the film was released in 2010. I would agree with them, but then again this film wasn’t released in the US until early 2011 so in my own honest opinion it qualifies as a 2011 film. This latest from Japan’s eclectic and prolific filmmaker, Miike Takashi, is his own take on the Japanese jidaigeki and a remake of the 1963 film of the same name. If there was ever a best action film of 2011 then this film would be it. Miike would pull back from his more over-the-top visuals (though he still manages to insert some very disturbing imagery early on in the film) for a much more linear and traditional action filmmaking. It’s a men-on-a-mission film that pits the 13 assassins of the title against 200 or more bodyguards of a sadistic lord who must be killed for the sake of the country. The first 45 minutes or so of the film shows the film gathering the assassins and planning their ambush. It’s that final hour or so of the film with it’s nonstop action which qualified this film not just one of my favorite for 2011, but that year’s best action film. No other film could even get to it’s level.

Honorable Mentions: Warrior, Super 8, Batman: Year One, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, Sucker Punch, A Dangerous Method, The Adventures of TinTin, The Skin I Live In, Bunraku, The Guard, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Hugo, Tyrannosaur, Thor, The Interrupters, X-Men: First Class, Contagion, Battle: Los Angeles, Project Nim

If Lisa Marie Determined The Oscar Nominees….


The Oscar nominations are due to be announced on Tuesday morning so I figured now would be a good time to play a little game that I like to call: “What if Lisa had all the power?”  Below, you will find my personal Oscar nominations.  These are the films and the performers that would be nominated if I was solely responsible for selecting the nominees and the winners. 

For those who are interested, you can check out my picks for last year by clicking on this sentence.

Please understand, as you look over this lengthy list of deserving films and performers, that these are not necessarily the films I expect to see nominated on Tuesday morning.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to think of a year in which I have disagreed more with the critical establishment than I have this year.  For whatever reason, the films that truly touched and moved me in 2011 appear to be the films that are totally and completely off the Academy’s radar.  These are not my predictions.  Instead, they are my personal choices and they should not be interpreted as representing the opinion on anyone else affiliated with this site.  So, if you’re angry that David Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo didn’t receive a single imaginary nomination, direct your anger at me and me alone. 

Best Picture

The Artist

Bridesmaids

The Guard

Hanna

Higher Ground

Hugo

Shame

Sucker Punch

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Young Adult

Best Actor

Michael Fassbender for Shame

Brendan Gleeson for The Guard

Gary Oldman for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Michael Shannon for Take Shelter

Rainn Wilson for Super

Best Actress

Kirsten Dunst for Melancholia

Vera Farmiga for Higher Ground

Elizabeth Olsen for Martha Marcy May Marlene

Saoirse Ronan for Hanna

Charlize Theron for Young Adult

Best Supporting Actor

Albert Brooks for Drive

Bobby Cannivale for Win Win

Jonah Hill for Moneyball

Patton Oswalt for Young Adult

Andy Serkis for Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Best Supporting Actress

Anna Kendrick for 50/50

Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids

Carey Mulligan for Shame

Ellen Page for Super

Amy Ryan for Win Win

Best Director

Vera Farminga for Higher Ground

Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist

Steve McQueen for Shame

Martin Scorsese for Hugo

Joe Wright for Hanna

Best Original Sreenplay

Bridesmaids

The Guard

Hanna

Shame

Young Adult

Best Adapted Screenplay

Higher Ground

Hugo

Incendies

One Day

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Best Animated Feature

Kung Fu Panda 2

Puss in Boots

Rango

Rio

Winnie the Pooh

Best Foreign Language Film

(Please note that I do this category a bit differently than the Academy.  Whereas the Academy asks nations across the world to submit a nominee, I’m simply nominating the best foreign language films that I saw in a theater last year.  Those who follow the Oscars will note that I’ve both nominated and awarded the brilliant Canadian films Incendies, which actually was nominated for a real Oscar in this same category last year.)

The Double Hour

Incendies

Of Gods and Men

The Skin I Live In

13 Assassins

Best Documentary Feature

Bill Cunningham New York

Buck

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Jig

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles

Best Original Score

The Artist

A Better Life

The Guard

Hanna

The Tree Of Life

Best Original Song

“The Star-Spangled Man” from Captain America: The First Avenger

“Mujhe Chod Ke” from DAM999

“The Keeper” from Machine Gun Preacher

“Man or Muppet” from The Muppets

“Pop” from White Irish Drinkers

Best Sound Editing

Drive

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugo

Sucker Punch

The Tree of Life

Best Sound Mixing

Drive

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugo

Sucker Punch

The Tree of Life

Best Art Direction

Bunraku

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugo

Sucker Punch

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Best Cinematography

The Artist

Hugo

Melancholia

Shame

The Tree of Life

Best Makeup

Beastly

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Insidious

Sucker Punch

X-Men: First Class

Best Costume Design

Bunraku

The Help

Hugo

Sucker Punch

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Best Editing

The Artist

The Guard

Hanna

Hugo

Shame

Best Visual Effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Hugo

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Sucker Punch

The Tree of Life

List of Films By Number of Nominations:

10 Nominations – Hugo

7 Nominations – Shame, Sucker Punch

6 Nominations – Hanna

5 Nominations – The Artist; The Guard; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2; Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy; The Tree of Life

4 Nominations – Higher Ground, Young Adult

3 Nominations – Bridesmaids, Drive

2 Nominations – Bunraku, Incendies, Melancholia, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super, Win Win

1 Nomination – Beastly, A Better Life, Bill Cunningham New York, Buck, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, DAM999, The Double Hour, 50/50, The Help, Insidious, Jig, Kung Fu Panda 2, Machine Gun Preacher, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Moneyball, The Muppets, Of Gods and Men, One Day, Puss in Boots, Rango, Ressurect Dead, Rio, The Skin I Live In, Take Shelter, 13 Assassins, X-Men: First Class, White Irish Drinkers, Winnie the Pooh

List of Films By Number of Oscars Won:

3 Oscars – Hanna

2 Oscars – Bunraku, Shame, Sucker Punch

1 Oscar – Beastly, Bridesmaids, The Cave of Forgotten Deams, Dam999, Higher Ground, Hugo Incendies, Melancholia, Puss in Boots, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super, Young Adult

So, will the Academy agree with my picks?  Well, probably not.  Indeed, it’s probable that they won’t agree at all.  And to that, I say, “Oh well.” 

The Academy Award nominations will be announced Tuesday morning.

The LAFCA Honors Terrence Malick, Michael Fassbender, and …. The Descendants?


For those of you who love to follow the Oscar race, today is a big day.  Several groups announced their picks for the best of 2011 today.  The most important of these groups would be the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.  Though the LAFCA has a pretty iffy record when it comes to predicting the actual Oscar winners, their picks still tend to influence the nominations. 

Here are the LAFCA winners, along with a little commentary from yours truly.

Best Musical Score: Hanna (runner-up: Drive)

There was a lot I liked about the LAFCA awards but this is the one that truly made me go: “Yay!”  Hanna was a great film that deserves a lot more attention than its been given.

Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life (Runner-up: The City of Life and Death)

Best Production Design: Hugo (runner-up: Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy)

Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain for Coriolanus, The Debt, The Help, Take Shelter, Texas Killing Fields, and The Tree of Life (runner-up: Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs)

Considering that she has next to no range as an actress, Jessica Chastain is having a pretty good year.  I have a feeling she’ll win an Oscar in February and then eventually end up joining the cast of Law & Order: SVU.

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer in Beginners (runner-up: Patton Oswalt in Young Adult)

As good as Plummer was in Beginners, think about how much more exciting it would have been if Oswalt had won.

Best Screenplay: A Seperation. (runner-up: The Descendants)

Best Documentary: The Cave of Forgotten Dreams (runner-up: The Arbor)

Again, let us consider that Werner Herzog’s masterpiece wasn’t even a semi-finalist as far as the Academy is concerned.

Best Independent/Experimental Film: Spark of Being

Best Actress: Yun Jung-hee in Poetry (runner-up: Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia)

Yay!  I am so bored with Meryl Streep.

Best Actor: Michael Fassbender for Shame, A Dangerous Method, X-Men: First Class, and Jane Eyre. (runner-up: Michael Shannon in Take Shelter)

Yay!  For both the winner and the runner-up. 

Best Director: Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life (runner-up: Martin Scorsese for Hugo)

I was on twitter when this result was announced and Oh. My. God.  My timeline like totally exploded with people getting all excited and hopeful.  And then, quite a few minutes later, all that excitement turned to rage as the next award was announced–

Best Picture: The Descendants (runner-up: The Tree of Life)

That’s right.  After going out on a limb with best actress and (debatably) best director and going out of their way to honor the unfairly neglected, the LAFCA gave best picture to one of the most overrated films of 2011 — The Descendants.  This despite the fact that The Descendants hadn’t won a single other award and was a runner-up in only one category.  That must have really loved that 2nd place screenplay.  This choice reeks of compromise, as if a group of critics decided to all unite and vote for their 2nd or 3rd choice in order to keep a more controversial films like The Tree of Life from winning.

That said, my pick for the best of 2011 remains Hanna.

Best Foreign Language Film: The City of Life and Death (runner-up: A Separation)

So, A Separation has a better screenplay than the best film of 2011, yet it’s not as good a film as The City of Life and Death.

New Generation award: Martha Marcy May Marlene

To recap, the three major critics groups have now spoken and each one has named a different film for best picture.  The National Board of Review went for Hugo, the New Yorkers went for The Artist, and the LAFCA went for The Descendants.

In fact, the Artist was totally ignored by Los Angeles and I’ve noticed that there seems to be a backlash developing against this film.  The Artist won’t be opening here until Dec. 21st so I can’t judge it but I would say that if you’re upset about about a French film like The Artist getting so much attention, don’t worry.  Maybe David Fincher will remake it with American actors next year.

Here Are The 15 Semi-Finalists For Best Visual Effects of 2011


Today, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced the 15 semi-finalists for this year’s Oscar for Best Visual Effects.  Without further ado, here they are:

  • “Captain America: The First Avenger”
  • “Cowboys & Aliens”
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″
  • “Hugo”
  • “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”
  • “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”
  • “Real Steel”
  • “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
  • “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”
  • “Sucker Punch”
  • “Super 8″
  • “Thor”
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
  • “The Tree of Life”
  • “X-Men: First Class”

 

The National Board of Review Gives It Up For “Hugo”


 

It took them a while but, earlier today, the folks who made up the National Board of Review (nobody’s quite sure who they are) finally announced their picks for the best of 2011.  And the winner is — Martin Scorsese’s Hugo!  As anyone who was on twitter earlier today knows, this was something of a surprising result and most of the self-appointed film experts out there seemed to be convinced that the NBR would honor either War Horse or The Artist.  Seeing as it took the NBR longer than usual to announce the winners, I’m assuming that the voting was fairly close.  The NBR is usually considered to be a precursor to the Academy Awards so, if nothing else, this result would seem to bode well for Hugo‘s chances to pick up a best picture nomination.  Here are the winners with the occasional editorial comment from me:

Best Film:
Hugo

(I loved Hugo, though my favorite film of the year remains, at this point, Hanna)

Best Director:
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Best Actor:
George Clooney, The Descendants

(I may be the only person in America who thinks that The Descendants is overratedCertainly, the members of the NBR disagree with me on that point.)

Best Actress:
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin

(This was kind of surprising since I think the conventional wisdom was that Meryl Streep would win everything for The Irony Lady.)

Best Supporting Actor:
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

(I have a feeling that Plummer’s going to be the sentimental favorite at the Oscars.)
Best Supporting Actress:
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay:
Will Reiser, 50/50

(Yay!  This film has been strangely underrated as an awards contender but it deserves a lot more attention.)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, The Descendants

Best Animated Feature:
Rango

(Another yay!)
Breakthrough Performance:
Felicity Jones, Like Crazy

Breakthrough Performance
:
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

(Bleh.  On twitter, I already went into a rant about how too many of my fellow film bloggers have allowed themselves to be co-opted into a conspiracy to both  force The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake down our throats and to try to make us forget about the original trilogy and the fact that Noomi Rapace gave a brilliant performance as Lisbeth.  I’ll hold off on going into that again until it’s time to review the remake but seriously, people — the Hollywood establishment is not going to give you a promise ring, I don’t care how much you kiss their ass.)

Debut Director:
J.C. Chandor, Margin Call

Best Ensemble:
The Help

(Believe it or not, I still need to see this one.)

Spotlight Award
:
Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, Shame, X-Men: First Class)

(Oh. My. God.  So.  Hot.)

NBR Freedom of Expression
:
Crime After Crime

NBR Freedom of Expression:
Pariah

Best Foreign Language Film:
A Separation

Best Documentary:
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Special Achievement in Filmmaking:
The Harry Potter Franchise – A Distinguished Translation from Book
to Film

(This is probably my favorite award to be given out by NBR.  Seriously, the Harry Potter franchise provided me — and so many others — such a blessed escape whenever life seemed overwhelming.)

Top Films (in alphabetical order)

The Artist (Can’t Wait To See It)
The Descendants
(Overrated)
Drive (Yay!)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Bleh)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (Yay!)
The Ides of March (One of the worst films of the year)
J. Edgar (Bland and forgettable but well-made)
Tree of Life
(Yay!)
War Horse
(Going to see it but I feel obligated to do so and I resent it, to be honest)

Top 5 Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order)

13 Assassins
Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
Footnote
Le Havre
Point Blank

Top 5 Documentaries (in alphabetical order)

Born to be Wild
Buck
George Harrison: Living in the Material World
Project Nim
Senna

Top 10 Independent Films (in alphabetical order)

50/50 (Yay!)
Another Earth
(Whatever, this was a terrible movie)
Beginners (A good film that deserves to be seen)
A Better Life
(Overrated)
Cedar Rapids (Likable but nothing spectacular)
Margin Call
(Need to see it)
Shame
(Fassbender!)
Take Shelter
(Yay!)
We Need To Talk About Kevin
(Looking forward to it)
Win Win
(Yay!)

2011: The Year In Film So Far


Greetings from the former home of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Crossville, Tennessee!  Yes, Jeff and I are on our way back to Texas.  It’s been a wonderful vacation but I have to admit, I’m looking forward to seeing a movie at the Plano (or Dallas) Angelika on Sunday.  I’m not sure which movie but, as long as it’s a movie, I’ll be a happy girl.

That’s because I love movies.  Movies are what I schedule my life around.  My birth certificate says I was born in 1985 but I know that I was born in the year of Brazil, Prizzi’s Honor, Blood Simple, and After Hours.  If each year can be judged by the quality of the films then how is 2011 looking now that we’ve reached (and passed) the halfway mark?

Right now, as I sit here in this hotel room in my panties and my beloved Pirates shirt, I’d say 2011 is shaping up to be an average year.  There’s been a few films that I loved and there’s been a few that I’ve absolutely despised but for the most part, this year is shaping up to be comfortable and rather bland. 

Much as I did last year at this time, I’m going to take a few minutes to mention a few high points (and low points) of 2011 so far.  Agree?  Disagree?  Make your opinion known.

Best Film (So Far): Hanna, without a doubt.  Joe Wright’s stylish thriller hasn’t gotten half the acclaim that it deserves.  Runners-ups: The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Incendies, Jane Eyre, Kill The Irishman, Of Gods and Men, Red Riding Hood, Sucker Punch, The Source Code, Super, 13 Assassins, The Tree of Life, Win Win, X-Men: First Class

Best Male Performance of the Year (so far): Paul Giamatti in Win Win.  Runners up: Bobby Cannavale in Win Win, Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Hesher, Matthew McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer, and Rainn Wilson in Super.

Best Female Performance Of The Year (so far): Sairose Ronan in Hanna. Runners up: Lubna Azabal for Incendies, Ellen Page for Super, Amy Ryan for Win Win, and Mia Wasikowska for Jane Eyre.

Best Ending (so far): The charmingly low budget zombie film that runs over the end credits of Super 8.

Best Horror Film (so far): Insidious.

Most Underrated Film Of The Year (so far): A tie, between Sucker Punch and Red Riding HoodRed Riding Hood, as a matter of fact, was so underrated that I had to see it a second time before I really appreciated it.

Best Bad Film: Beastly.  Silly but kinda fun in a really, really odd sort of way.

Worst Film of The Year (so far): The Conspirator, a bore of a movie that was apparently filmed through a filter of grime.  Runners up: Priest, The Beaver, Battle L.A. (sorry Arleigh, Leonard, and Erin), Season of the Witch, Your Highness, and The Green Lantern.

Biggest Example of A Missed Opportunity This Year (So Far): The Adjustment Bureau, which could have been a great Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind-type of film but instead, turned out to be just another predictable and shallow example of new age triteness.

The Get-Over-It Award For The First Half Of 2011: The Conspirator, a film that attempts to be relavent by using the 19th Century to comment on political issues from 2006.

My Prediction For Which Film Will Be The Most Overrated Of 2011: Last year, I predicted The Social Network and, surprise surprise, I was right.  In fact, the folks at AwardsDaily.com are still bitching about how The Social Network lost best picture to The King’s Speech.  (By the way, a few other choice pieces of wisdom from Awards Daily: The Beaver is Jodie Foster’s best film ever and only elitists should be allowed to comment on film.)  This year, I’m going to predict that the most overrated film of 2011 will be the unnecessary remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

My Prediction For What Will Be The Worst Film Of 2011: The winner here is another remake — Rod Lurie is remaking Straw Dogs and this time, he’s setting it in the South.  You know what?  Go back to Vermont and fuck yourself ragged, you dumbass, blue state elitist.  

So, that’s 2011 so far.  There’s still quite a few films that I’m looking forward to seeing: Another Earth, The Debt, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Hugo, and most of all, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.

Review: X-Men: First Class (dir. by Matthew Vaughn)


The name Matthew Vaughn should be familiar with comic book fans everywhere. In 2005, Vaughn was introduced as the director to replace Bryan SInger for the third film in the X-Men franchise. The news was met with some cautious optimism. This was a filmmaker who had quite the loyal and growing following for his work on Stardust and Layer Cake. Months after he was picked my 20th Century Fox news came down that he was backing out of the project due to personal reasons and the film scrambled for a replacement which ended up being Brett Ratner. History was made that day as the beginning of the franchise’s decline began and steep plummet which recently reached it’s nadir with 2009’s Wolverine: Origins.

It’s has now been five years since X-Men: The Last Stand made it to the big-screen and now we have a new film in the franchise. X-Men: First Class has a familiar name behind the director’s seat and it looks like Matthew Vaughn stayed this time around (after directing a smaller superhero film in Kick-Ass for 2010) to craft what could become the best film in the X-Men/Wolverine film franchise. This film is a prequel/reboot of sorts (more on that later) and brings a fresh set of eyes and take on the origin story of this franchise.

X-Men: Last Stand actually begins the film exactly how the first X-Men film began with the 1944 World War II concentration camp setting where a young Erik Lensherr (later to become Magneto) finally manifests his power over magnetic fields as he watches his parents torn from his side. The first film ended that sequence once Erik was knocked out, but this time around it continues with a mysterious man named Schmidt (aka Sebastian Shaw and played with James Bond villainous-flair by Kevin Bacon) taking great interest in Erik and his ability which Erik could only use during bouts of pain and anger. The film continues this slight change in the series’ origins by switching over to Westchester County and into the expansive home of a young Charles Xavier who finds a certain young, blue-skinned shapeshifter named Raven who he invites to stay and become his friend once he realized he wasn’t the only one who was different and with abilities.

These two sequences continue to move the film forward as the we see these two “leaders in the making” adults and trying to find their place in the world of the free-swinging lifestyle and the Cold War culture of the 1960’s. Charles Xavier (played like a well-meaning cad and good-natured naivete about the world by James McAvoy) is a student working on his doctorate in Oxford on genetic theories while his “sister” Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) accompanies him. This is a Xavier who still hasn’t found the patient benevelonce of Patrick Stewart’s Professor X and uses his considerable telepathic abilities to help him pick up on beautiful coeds instead. It’s during such a scene where we see Raven show just a hint of jealousy as Xavier tries his lines and moves on a beautiful British lass. It would seem Raven’s feelings for her ‘brother” may go beyond sibling affection though Xavier doesn’t see her as anything other than a sister for him to protect.

Erik Lensherr’s time as an adult was shown as having become a life of obsession over his treatment at the hands of the Nazi’s and those of Schmidt’s as he travels the world in search of escaped Nazi war criminals. Erik takes him throughout South America as he finds the trail of Nazis hiding out in that region since the end of the war. We see this adult Erik hardened by his anger and single-minded need for revenge on Schmidt and those he worked for. He’s not above using his abilities to kill in order to get the information he requires and there’s a hint of satisfaction when he does kill those he sees as responsible for his tragic upbringing with his magnetic abilities. These two adult sequences continues the film’s theme of the ideological difference between Xavier and Erik being formed through nature and nurture as their lives moved down diverging paths from an early beginning until it convergence for a small, brief period around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The film’s second act begins with Moira McTaggart (Rose Byrne), now a covert CIA Agent, investigating a certain Col. Hendry who she suspects as having betrayed the nation to the Soviets, but instead finds out that the true nature of Hendry’s associations were much more insidious and dangerous. The iconic Hellfire Club of the comics finally make their appearance with Schmidt who actually happens to be Sebastian Shaw (whose powers grant him the ability to absorb all kinetic energy which he uses to keep himself young and can release with explosive results), Emma Frost (January Jones) who’s a telepath with the ability to turn body in a sort of diamond-form, Riptide who can create tornado-like abilities and finally the demonic-looking Azazel whose ability to teleport might give people not well-versed in the “X-Men Universe” a clue as to one-half of parents who may be responsible for Nightcrawler in the second film.

X-Men: First Class spends much of this second act like it was Ocean’s 11 as Xavier and Erik get recruited by the CIA to find other mutants and create their own mutant team to counter Sebastian Shaw’s Hellfire Club and his goal of initiating World War III between the US and the USSR and thus destroy all of humanity and leave the planet for the mutants to rule over. Yeah, it is this part of the film’s plot which may strain the suspension of disbelief for some audiences who never grew up reading the comics, but it shouldn’t. Ian Fleming’s James Bond series used scenarios just as ludicrous with villains just as Machiavellian in the form of SPECTRE so X-Men: First Class and it’s world domination plans shouldn’t be too farfetched to fans of that British superspy and his adventures.

This middle section of the film is where X-Men: First Class actually begins to lag after a strong first act. I don’t know if the sequences of the new recruits training, bonding and learning how to use their powers could’ve been written to move much faster without losing some of the character building scenes. From how this second act played it seemed to look like scenes were actually cut out to try and keep the film from being too long (it’s final cut being just a tad over two hours already upon release), but I wouldn’t be surprised if the DVD/Blu-Ray release actually has a director’s or uncut version that actually expands this middle section to really give life to it instead of having it play out like a perfunctory training montage with a dash of character beats.

The film hits it’s action-film stride with the third and final act as Xavier and Erik’s team of young mutants must now use their abilities to stop Shaw and his Hellfire Club and at the same time prevent World War III from beginning and not freaking out the humans who are still unaware of their existence as a whole. It’s this third section which we see too much of it in the trailers and tv spots that one might say we’ve seen it all before we even see the film as a whole, but it still kept back a lot from those ads to make the whole final twenty minutes of the film thrilling and action-packed.

All of this could just mean that X-Men: First Class was just your run-of-the-mill superhero action film that we get on a yearly basis come summertime, but it’s a testament to Matthew Vaughn’s direction and the strength of the script by Vaughn, longtime collaborator Jane Goldman and Thor scribes Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz that the film goes beyond being just an action film with all it’s sturm und drang coupled with fancy special effects. The previous films in the series always explored important cultural and moral themes that’s always been the bread-and-butter of the X-Men stories in the comic books. We just don’t see the film explore the ideological difference between Xavier’s peaceful co-existence between humans and mutants alike, but also we get more detail on why Magneto finally comes to the conclusion that war between humans and mutants was an inevitability and why his stance doesn’t fall under the aegis of being evil, but something that anyone could understand and even support whether one was human or mutant.

The story also doesn’t just pay lip-service to the idea of how mutants view themselves and how even within the mutant community there’s a visible rift between those whose abilities are invisible to the general population and those whose abilities and genetic mutation physically manifest themselves in such ways that to many might not look to appealing. This idea really gets a major exploration in the subplot involving Raven (soon to be Mystique), Hank McCoy and, to a certain degree, Xavier and Erik. We see how those like Xavier whose abilities don’t show in a physical manner have a sort of “don’t ask, don’t show” about those like Raven when it comes to their power when in public.

Raven (played beautifully by Jennifer Lawrence) is caught between Xavier who wants her to remain incognito so as not to shock the world too soon in realizing that mutants exists and that of Erik who sees Raven’s original blue-skinned form as beauty and perfection and how she should never hide who she truly is. This tug and pull between her two mentors makes for a convincing subplot in how Raven comes to the conclusion which would take her to the side of Magneto in later films, but also highlight how the two sides in later films have so much intertwining bonds of friendship and relationship that seeing them against each other becomes a tragedy on its own. Civil wars are not just a thing of humans but those who sees themselves apart from them.

The great performances by most of the leads add to the film’s strength. McAvoy and Fassbender, at first, look to be unconvincing in terms of their appearance as the younger versions of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, respectively. This becomes a non-issue once they’ve established themselves through their performances which gives new layers to the personalities of Professor X and Magneto. Many people always saw these two as the comic book version of Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X, but that’s an oversimplification. The film and the performances by McAvoy and Fassbender digs deeper into both their characters’ motivations and ideologies and how their past experiences and upbringing couple with their time together as brothers-in-arms and friends show more about these two than just being mutant-proxies of MLK and Malcolm X. The other young mutants do an adequate enough job that they don’t seem lost in the film. Nicholas Hoult as the young Hank McCoy and how he plays off Lawrence’s Raven during their little subplot in the film is one stand-out that I hope gets explore even more in any follow-up sequel.

There’s a nice burgeoning young love chemistry between him and Lawrence as Beast and Raven that doesn’t seem too tacked on to create a the prerequisite love couple in any film. Their common trait of having physical mutations and how they seem to both feel apart even from their fellow mutants develop their characters in ways the previous films in the series never did. They never want to rid themselves of their mutant powers. They just want to look normal and still keep their abilities. It’s a having your cake and eat it too mentality that has some surprising results for both Raven and Hank.

X-Men: First Class has had some fans of the series put in a very difficult situation. The film definitely is a prequel to the previous films, but it also does a major time in rewriting continuity in the series. I was one of those fans and thought it would ruin the film in the context of the franchise. I’m surprised that in the end I didn’t really care and actually hope that this film actually is a reboot of the franchise. I see this film and forget the previous three as being part of it. This film was just too good and fun in it the end for continuity issues to become the major flaw that sinks it. I liken this film as similar to Christopher Nolan rebooting the Batman film franchise. That film honored the contributions to the character, but went on it’s own way to tell that character’s tale. I see Vaughn doing the same with this film. He has done something which many thought was a near-impossible task and that’s make the X-Men franchise relevant once more in a pop-culture landscape that seems to have left the franchise behind after the disastrous Wolverine: Origins of 2009.

This film delivered on the ideas that made the comic books so beloved by millions of fans for almost a half-century. It made great use of the 1960’s time and setting to tell a story of these characters beginnings as heroes and villains (though the latter shouldn’t be seen as them being truly just evil bad guys). Even the inclusion of real-world historical event like the Cuban Missile Crisis was a nice touch which gave the film a foundation in realism. Again, this film played off like a superhero, Marvel version of an Iam Fleming James Bond story. For those who are huge fans of the previous films there’s even two brief cameos of those films two favorite characters that appear in this film. They don’t come off as cheesy and unnecessary and actually come off as great additions. I won’t mention who these cameos were but the audience’s reaction to them was very vocal and very positive. I say the same should be said for X-Men: First Class as a film that resuscitates the franchise.