Saturday, January 07, 2012

2011 Best and Worst ... One Man's Opinion

The last few years I've written a big post that sort of re-capped the previous year. But due to a lack of time this year and a general sense of New Year's malaise, I'll just say that 2011 was a good but busy year. A lot of my time and energy went to raising a new little guy through the first year of his life … and for any of you reading this who have a kid can understand, that's just about enough.

But it was actually a pretty interesting year for me professionally. I had a bunch of older titles that had been in the can come out, my directorial debut finished up a great festival run and came out on DVD, I got in the director's chair again this summer to do Falling Still's music video and had a great time making it, I wrote a script that came damn close to getting shot, and I got paid good money to write a movie for the SyFy Channel and another one for the Lifetime Network. All in all, 2011 was pretty good to me. I'm hoping that 2012 is even better … and something tells me that it will be.

Last year I wrote down some thoughts on what I thought were some of the Best and Worst movies of the year and it got a lot of response, so I'm gonna give it a shot again this year.

I'm not gonna bother with a list of ten or five films … and I'm not gonna number them down to my favorite. These are just some of the movies that I enjoyed this year. Without further ado:

LIMITLESS - I made a rule this year that I wouldn't go see anything that was a remake or a sequel in the theater (DVD is still fair game, but I refuse to pay a babysitter and outrageous ticket prices for some tired re-hashes). A couple of slips happened (Max wanted to see Sherlock Holmes 2 last week), but in general I was pretty good about sticking to this rule. That meant that I found myself going to see some movies simply because they weren't sequels or remakes. Limitless was one of these "no other choice" movies and it completely surprised me. Sure, it's kind of a mess and sometimes doesn't seem to know what it wants to be … but that's because the central conceit is so great that I can see the filmmakers not being able to decide what a person would do with unlimited mental powers. Regardless, I found the film to be far more entertaining than it had any right to be. It was outrageous and fast-paced and the overall theme seemed to be if you can get hooked on drugs and there's a never-ending supply, you will succeed beyond your wildest dreams, which is pretty anti-Hollywood. I was into the film in general, but once the hero laps blood off of the floor in order to get high, I was totally sold. Limitless is why Hollywood should make more modestly-budgeted, non-tentpole, non-franchise movies … I only wish that more like this came out every year.

HANNA - Another "no other choice" movie that surprised me. Granted, the story is really nothing that we haven't seen before, but the execution is what worked for me. This was truly a "director's movie." In any other hands, this movie could have completely sucked. But it had enough long takes and interesting European/North African locations to give it a nice foreign/arthouse vibe while still providing the requisite action and butt-kicking. Not one of my favorite movies ever, but a pleasant surprise nonetheless.

SUPER - Fellow Troma alumni James Gunn really knocked it out of the park with this bizarro little flick. I thought that it was WAY stronger than SLITHER. I feel that maybe having a much smaller budget freed James up creatively and he was able to go wherever he wanted. As anyone who has seen CHOP or DEADGIRL maybe knows, I'm a huge fan of movies that make you laugh one minute and puke the next - some might complain about the fact that SUPER makes massive tonal shifts on a dime, but it's what I loved most about the film. My only real complaint is that it was a "superhero spoof-y" kind of film at a time when that trope seems a bit played out. Ultimately, this move could have been about a guy who watches Charles Bronson flicks and decides to fight crime with a pipe wrench and it wouldn't have made the film less compelling. I almost feel that the "superhero" aspect of the movie might have hurt its prospects … but as far as I'm concerned, it was a highlight of 2011.

THE LAST CIRCUS - Alex de la Iglesia is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers ever, so every time he makes a movie it's gonna end up on my "Best of" list. Granted, THE LAST CIRCUS isn't one of his best movies, but de la Iglesia's worst movies are ten times better than anything that comes out of America. Another movie that ranges wildly between comedic, horrifying, romantic, tragic, and absurd all at a moment's notice. It's available on Netflix instant, so queue that shit up!

THE SKIN I LIVE IN - Alex de la Iglesia wouldn't have made any movies if it weren't for his artistic and national predecessor, Pedro Almodovar. Almodovar is one of the most interesting and consistent filmmakers of the last few decades and THE SKIN I LIVE IN is another bizarro classic. Difficult to pigeonhole (as most of his work is), psychosexual in nature, full of long flashbacks and a complete shift right in the middle of the story might be counted as marks against the film from someone else, but I absolutely adored this movie. Also one of the few truly "arthouse" movies that I was able to catch in the theater (I've got two young kids … going to the theater is a major accomplishment for me these days). I had one of those swelling in the chest/this is why I love movies moments that is becoming rarer and rarer for me. Even the non-stop, disgusting, phlegmy coughing from the patron right behind me wasn't enough to distract me from THE SKIN I LIVE IN … and that's a mean feat, cause that fucker sounded like they had a particularly virulent form of H1N1.

BURNING PALMS - This one went straight to video and I Netflixed it on a whim. It's kind of a CREEPSHOW-like anthology film but in the what the fuck? genre. I consider it to be a comedy, but some might be disturbed or disgusted by it. Jokey shorts about a bunch of miscreants living in Los Angeles … themes include incest, murder, rape … This movie got slammed by reviewers, but what the hell do they know? A total out of left field surprise for me. It's available on Netflix instant now.

THE PERFECT HOST - CHOP kept playing at festivals with this movie that I'd never heard of. It came out on DVD and I Netflix'ed it immediately. Look, I'm not gonna say that this is a great movie by any stretch of the imagination … but there's something interesting here and in a year of shit movies, that's enough for me to include it here. What was nice was that THE PERFECT HOST was a really simple, low-budget movie bolstered by a few good twists and a truly lunatic performance by FRASIER's David Hyde Pierce. I had a good time with this one, which is also available on Netflix instant.

RED, WHITE, & BLUE - I really liked Simon Rumley's THE LIVING AND THE DEAD and this one absolutely blew me away. It's one of those movies that I wish that I had made. What I like to call a "day-wrecker" - you'd better watch it at the end of the day because you'll spend the rest of the day wanting to blow your brains out. Anchored by three rock-solid performances and capped off by one of the most depressing murders I've seen. Watch it. Love it. Support it. There just aren't enough bold filmmakers like Rumley working today.

DRIVE - On a ton of people's best of lists for a reason. I've always been a fan of director Refn, so it came as no surprise to me that I loved DRIVE. Leave it to a European to make a movie that felt like a classic American film from 3 decades ago. Nuff said.

BREAKING BAD - It's not a movie, but it's the best goddamned television show I've ever watched. Can't wait for the final season …

This list is tougher for me and it's not because I saw so many great movies this year. It's because most movies are absolute garbage and I don't really want to write a novel here. I mean, why bother attacking totally unnecessary remakes and sequels like FRIGHT NIGHT or THE THING or TRANSFORMERS 3? If you're stupid enough to pay to see these things in the theater then you deserve the brain-fucking that lifeless shit like this gave you. Why talk shit about pointless junk like CHILLERAMA or CHROMESKULL? Once again, if you took the time to watch these things, you pretty much know that you're reverting back to a time when you were a mildly brain-dead 13 year old with no discernible taste. I can't waste time bashing on shit that was destined to be shit from the moment it was conceived. So this year, my WORST OF list is gonna be shorter than my BEST OF list. And the qualifying factor for me is if I had high hopes for a film. if I somehow got caught up in the hype or created expectations that were ultimately dashed by the final product. So here we go …

DRIVE ANGRY - For some reason that I can't explain, I kind of liked MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D even though it's decidedly NOT a good movie. So when the creative team behind MBV3D announced DRIVE ANGRY with Nicolas "Insane-o" Cage and described it as a high-octane, old-school, unapologetic exploitation/action throwback, I was pretty much sold. Add that to the fact that it was "shot in 3D" and not post-converted by a filmmaker who obviously knows his way around 3D technology, I threw down my sixteen bucks or whatever it was and proceeded to a mostly empty theater. Where I promptly became bored. Then more bored. Then even more bored until the movie came to a blissful end. I don't even know what went wrong with this … pretty much everything. If you're going to claim to be insane and balls-out, you need to show me something that I haven't seen in a billion other cheaper movies. And you have to do it bigger and better than a person who had a fraction of your budget decades ago. I just found the whole thing to be limp and featureless. All of the horror fan sites seemed to love it and lambasted their "people" for not supporting the film in the theater. I was one of the few who did and regret it. I've almost thought about re-renting it on DVD to give it another shot, but am pretty certain that I still won't like it. I dunno … I have a feeling that a lot of you might disagree with me on this one, but it wasn't nearly the thrilling joyride that it was sold to me as. If I want exploitation, I'll head over to the New Beverly and watch a movie from 1975 that has more balls, attitude, and tits than DRIVE ANGRY.

SCREAM 4 - I don't care what anybody says - I absolutely love the first SCREAM. The other ones left me a bit cold, but I figured that after a decade and a half break, maybe the two original creators would come back and knock it out of the park again … after all, there's a whole new generation of movie-goers that were kids at the time of the first movie to lampoon and then slaughter. Instead we got stuck with the same old characters that should have died in part 2, a bunch of un-remarkable new teenagers, and a ton of useless dialog and exposition that lead nowhere. The worst part is that I knew it was gonna suck after the terrible "meta-reflexive" opening … and then had to sit through two more hours of tired horror movie cliches. Disappointment with a capital "T" … but, then again, how stupid was I thinking that it would be anything but?

HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 - I thought that the first one was hilarious and cheeky and entertaining as hell, even if it was kind of goofy and silly. When I heard the plot breakdown for Part 2, I thought that it was going to be a lambasting of horror fanatics and mouth-breathing movie dorks that would skewer the whole genre. Instead, it was a boring re-tread of a million other "fat mama's boy serial killer" movies that I've seen before. Sure, it was gruesome. But it just wasn't fun at all. To tell the truth, I was kind of bored by it. I had much higher expectations for Tom Six, but it appears that he may be a one-trick pony with nothing else to say beyond HC1. Not a terrible movie technically, but no reason for it to exist … like most sequels.

INSIDIOUS - Everybody kept raving about this, so a month after it came out Lynh and I made a special trip to the movies to find out what all the hoopla was about. I'm still trying to figure it out. It's not that I HATED this movie - it's really too slight to HATE outright. But I'm completely at a loss to figure out why everyone loved it so much. It felt like bunch of cheap jump scares followed by a low-budget music video from the 90's - the Othering or whatever the place was called looked like a cheap set obscured by a malfunctioning fog machine. And people in white face dressed like they're from the 1920's just aren't scary - even when you have them move with cheesy jump cuts. Like I said, I didn't despise the film, just didn't understand what everyone was going crazy about.

And there you have it. A few thoughts on movies from last year. Now let's hear some comments!

- T


mike said...

I agree with you about red white and blue, it's the film that's stayed with me the most this year. Having said that I don't ever want to watch it again!

Kevin said...

"Drive" was f'ing amazing. We peeped it last night and I've been thinking about it all day (and playing the soundtrack loudly, much to the wife's annoyance). Probably my favorite of 2011.

And I gotta agree agree with you and Mike about "Red White and Blue". I remember moments after seeing it I had to call our boy Adam and warn him/recommend he see it ASAP. It bothered the shit outta me for several days. I love when a film can leave that kind of lasting (and haunting) effect on me.

Great list, T.

Marc P. said...

2011 was a pretty terrible year for movies. Looking back over the list of everything I saw, only ATTACK THE BLOCK, CONTAGION, DRIVE and MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE even registered with me. I was shocked at how ordinary DRIVE ANGRY was -- especially Cage's reserved performance, which was an insanely bad choice for this movie! It needed PIRANHA 3D-level sleaze, and got nowhere near it.

I saw RED WHITE & BLUE at a Cinefamily screening in 2010 and hated the experience of watching it, but have come to really appreciate the way it haunted me for long after the movie was over. I thought the acting of some of the leads and all of the minor characters was atrocious, however. (Amanda Fuller and Noah Taylor were amazing!).

There were a lot of films I missed last year, so maybe there are a lot of gems that I'll discover on video in the next few months. I hope so.

Trent Haaga said...

R, W, & B is what I like to refer to as a "peanut butter" movie - it just sticks to the roof of your brain and the taste lingers ... I love movies like that!

I enjoyed ATTACK THE BLOCK, but feel that it got a bit too much hype - perhaps expectations were too high. I still haven't seen CONTAGION yet. M, M, M, M was interesting ... it's not a bad movie, but I don't really like films where you've been watching for an hour and a half and you say to yourself, "this movie could end at the end of this shot or go on for another 30 minutes and I have no way of knowing because it's not building to anything." I respect the movie, but can't say that I liked it.

Marc P. said...

For me, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE was one of those "peanut butter" movies. I felt a bit robbed by the lack of an ending, but the movie lingered in my brain so long and I had such great discussions of it with my wife that the ending no longer bothered me. (Keep in mind I LOVE "Lady or the Tiger" endings like in LIMBO and PRINCE OF DARKNESS, but MMMM is simply non-conclusive. Even if that's the point, it's not very satisfying). The way it was often hard to tell whether we were in the past or present and the way those two play off each other was really great, though.