Sunday, 1 January 2012
2011: MY YEAR IN FILMS
It’s that time again.
After some not so careful consideration here’s my favourite and most loathed movies of 2011 plus a brief look at the coolest flicks for 2012.
So here goes…
TOP TEN FAVE FILMS OF 2011:
10. Captain America: The First Avenger
This position was a toss up between Cap and Thor, Marvel’s two in house produced entries in to this year’s summer movie season. Both were excellent with Kenneth Branagh doing a bang up job bringing the God of Thunder to life. However I marginally preferred Cap as it hit my geek buttons slightly more. It’s the 1940’s WW2 setting, the genuinely sweet romance between Steve Rogers and hot English agent Peggy Carter, the uncredited Joss Whedon rewrite (you can tell in places) and that killer ending, plus the teaser for Joss’s The Avengers after the end credits. Kudos to director Joe Johnston and star Chris Evans et al for handling potentially silly and corny material with wit, warmth and a steady hand. Make mine Marvel.
9. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Tomas (Let the Right One In) Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carre’s 1970’s spy thriller is a beautifully written, acted and directed film with a refreshingly adult tone. It’s a complex, slow burn film that requires patience, attention and a certain level of intelligence from its audience. As much as I love my fun/escapist movie entertainment it is a welcome relief to go and see something now and again that is unapolagetically adult and demanding of its audience. A smart, thoughtful and engrossing film packed with great acting turns from Gary Oldman as lead George Smiley, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy.
8. Sucker Punch
Haters be gone! Zack Snyder’s pop video/video game/musical/art house movie is a thematically rich and visually stunning delight featuring his usual bravura explosion of cutting edge-and-beyond filmmaking techniques. It’s like Inception meets Shawshank Redemption meets Girl, Interrupted by way of all sorts of hyper stylised video games and fevered fantasies. Sucker Punch is a much maligned and misunderstood feast for the eyes as well as for the brain, if only the lazy and the thick could be bothered to dig a little deeper. Covering thematic areas such as the objectification and abuse of women, it kinda makes for a weird companion piece to Lucky McKee’s The Woman (see below). Wicked stuff.
7. The Woman
Lucky McKee writes and directs only his third major film (after May and The Woods), working once again with his muse and good luck charm, actress Angela Bettis. The Woman is a brutal, shocking, disturbing but brilliant treaties on the way women can be viewed and treated by men. In the film, a feral woman is captured in the forest by the brutal father of a family and kept locked in a shed where she becomes the object of the father’s and his son’s fascination/anger/desire. The father wants to ‘train’ The Woman in to becoming more human, more of what he believes a woman should be – compliant, grateful, subservient – the way he has ‘trained’ his downtrodden wife (Bettis) and teenage daughter. Secrets and brutality reign in this isolated family. But those secrets are about to come out. And the Woman is looking to get loose. McKee is a smart director, unflinching in what he does, what he shows. Angela Bettis is great as always as the poor mother, but it is Sean Bridgers as the vile father and statuesque one-time model Pollyanna McIntosh as The Woman who stun. Hard viewing for sure, but a great film none-the-less.
Martin Scorsese takes a break from gangsters and thrillers to make a film about a young orphan boy in 1930’s Paris looking to make one last desperate connection with his dead father. Hugo is about several things – family, friendship, our place in the world, how everyone effects everyone else in some way, about the importance of stories to humankind. Most of all, though, Hugo is a love letter to cinema itself, to its origins, its history, its power in unleashing imagination, in lighting up the world. This is all hung on the backbone of a fun and glorious looking kids adventure as young Hugo (the excellent Asa Butterfield) and new best friend Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) try to recover Hugo’s father’s notebook and repair an old clockwork automaton. Scorsese recreates 30’s Paris as a wondrous retro city of lights, full of great gothic buildings, high towers, sweeping snowy vistas. It looks amazing. He also uses 3D in possibly the best way I’ve yet seen it used. It serves as an intrinsic part of the story. Seeing how Hugo is about cinema and its progression, then 3D becomes the latest aspect of that. And Scorsese uses the extra dimension to dizzying effect in some scenes and in some truly weird and cool ways in others. It’s the one film this year I’d say that you must see in 3D if at all possible so it can tell its story properly. Everything about Hugo is brilliant, technically, artistically, and thematically. It might just be my favourite Scorsese picture yet. Way to go, Marty!
5. Super 8
JJ Abrams writes and directs this late 1970’s set homage to all things Spielberg and Amblin as a group of small town kids get together one summer to make a horror movie before events intervene to set them on a scary real life adventure. The story itself may not be very original but, as always, it is the telling of the story that counts. The core of Super 8 is the kids and their relationships with each other and with their parents. Great genre pieces aren’t really about monsters or spaceships etc. they are about people, about life, about how we live our lives. And that’s what Super 8 is. It’s a film about childhood, about friendship, about kids relating to, and dealing with parents, and vice versa. And the kids here are outstanding. They act and sound like real kids, not the usual super sweet or overly adult Hollywood kids we usually get. They are real. They are recognisable. Super 8 is a smart, scary, touching, beautifully made ode to a time gone by.
Tangled is a joy from start to finish. It's a laugh-out-loud funny and immensely charming CG animation from Disney based upon the classic story of Rapunzel. The character animation here is nothing short of astounding and the warm, sharp script crackles and zings with wit while Zachary Levi, Mandy Moore and Donna Murphy are all pitch perfect in their voice roles. This was almost as big a surprise as last year’s How to Train Your Dragon. I can’t emphasise enough how awesome this film looks as well as the razor sharpness of its script and its performances. Too good for kids, do yourself a favour and see it, preferably in HD. Even the songs are good.
Well now, I didn’t see this one coming. Ryan Gosling is a loner Hollywood stunt driver and mechanic by day/wheelman for villains by night who gets close to his cute neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and her kid. But when Mulligan’s husband comes out of prison and is targeted by vicious gangsters, Gosling offers to help him by driving for a job that will clear the father’s debts. Of course it all goes horribly wrong, putting Gosling, the mother and her kid in terrible danger. Cue lots of car chases, blood, death and tears. Drive is an odd film. But a brilliant film. Its oddball director Nicolas Winding-Refyn has described it as an existential, noir action thriller. I’m not sure I know what that means. To me, Drive is basically a western. Gosling’s character has no name, being referred to simply as the Driver. He’s a gifted troubled loner who, like in Shane etc. steps in to help save a family from dastardly outlaws. The story is simple, brutal, touching and utterly compelling. And the car chases are realistic and brilliantly shot. The film also looks fantastic with a sleek, dark, gritty look. And the performances are also excellent, especially the always wonderful and luminous Mulligan and a genuinely nasty turn by Albert Brooks. Winding-Refyn previously made the bonkers Bronson and the boring as hell Valhalla Rising. Drive is not bonkers and is far from boring. See it.
2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Let’s face it, this had the potential to be utter crap…just like Tim Burton’s 2001 Apes remake. Wisely though, Fox opted for a prequel/reboot, hired some good writers, a strong, visionary director and somehow allowed him get on and make the film he wanted to make. Oh yeah, they also hired Weta to do the FX (big thumbs up) and Andy Serkis to play lead chimp Caesar (bigger thumbs up). The end result is Brit director Rupert Wyatt, in only his second feature, knocking it out of the park. ROTPOTA is brilliant! It’s an intelligent scifi thriller, a cautionary tale about what we do to our environment and to other species. It’s also just a damn good, old fashioned, revolt/underdog strikes back adventure ala Spartacus and numerous prison escape films. Caesar is simply a great character as played by Serkis. Following his life and his rise to power is mesmerising and thrilling. And not once do Wyatt and co. drop the ball. The build up has been so strong that the eventual Apes vs. humans showdown is stunning, reaching a skin tingling pinnacle in Caesar’s spoken roar of protest. A great movie then, and a more than worthy addition to one of the greatest scifi franchises of all time. Go Ape!
1. X-Men: First Class
How the hell did this happen? How did Fox, a studio well known for big budget summer cockups, make my two favourite films of the year? The world has gone mad. Anyway, it happened, so there. Just so you know, I bloody love this movie. I love the X-Men anyway, especially Bryan Singer’s two movies. Forgetting that naff Brett Ratner effort and the risible Wolverine thing, X-Men First Class proves to be the right and proper successor to Singer’s X-Men and X2. In fact, Mr Singer came back and was producer here. Thank God! Mathew (Kick-Ass) Vaughn is now the director for this utterly brilliant 1960’s set prequel to Singer’s fantastic X-Men and X2. James McAvoy is a young Prof. X who meets up with Michael Fassbender’s Nazi hunting Magneto and together they must try to stop evil ex-Nazi Kevin Bacon from starting World War 3. Rich in story and character, X-Men: First Class is a slick and exciting superhero action adventure with genuine heart and soul as well as some pulse quickening action and mighty fine spectacle. The entire cast is great but the never better Fassbender is the real star. The A list awaits him. So, forget the barely adequate X-Men: The Last Stand and the godawful X-Men origins: Wolverine, this one’s the real X deal.
The best of the rest (in no particular order):
Thor - Marvel-ous God of Thunder
Hanna - Fairytale teen assassin goes a killin’
True Grit - Jeff Bridges does grizzled in the Cohen Bros. fantastic remake.
M:I-4 - See Tom run, see Tom hang from tall buildings.
Attack the Block – Heroic hoodies vs. nasty alien beasties.
Super – scary psycho vigilante and his even scarier sidekick bash in skulls.
The King’s Speech – Royal stuttering becomes feel good drama.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil – two misunderstood rednecks try to survive a bunch of lunatic college kids.
A Lonely Place to Die – Melissa George tries to save a child from kidnappers in the Scottish mountains.
Stakeland – Grim survival in a post-apocalyptic vampire filled USA.
The top three new-to-me films I saw in 2011 which weren't released in 2011 (And yes, it's a Ghibli fest)
3. My Neighbour Totoro
Hayao Miyazaki’s utterly captivating and charming story of childhood innocence, freedom and imagination. If you don’t watch this with a big ‘ol smile on your face then you have a heart of stone. It’s fun, it’s imaginative, and it’s immensely sweet in a totally unsentimental way. There’s no bad guys, no violence, just a whole bucket load of kindness towards, and admiration for, the free and innocent spirit of young children. A joyful family classic from Studio Ghibli.
2. Grave of the Fireflies
In total contrast to Totoro we have this utterly devastating animated film (animated but not produced by Ghibli) telling the story of a young orphan boy and his little sister struggling to survive in devastated WW2 Japan. Grave of the Fireflies is powerful, affecting filmmaking that delivers more than one emotional gut punch to its audience. It sits up their alongside the likes of Schindler’s List as one of THE most effective attacks on the horrors of war being inflicted upon the most innocent. A hard watch. A great film.
1. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Hayao Miyazaki’s awesome 1984 scifi/Eco adventure tells of a far future Earth and a young princess in a hidden valley having to save her people from ever encroaching poisonous jungles, huge vicious beasts, and warring tribes of humans in mechanised flying fortresses. James Cameron obviously nicked loads of this for Avatar and has admitted to being a big fan. Miyazaki’s film is the superior one though. The story here is more complex, more layered, richer in theme and character than Cameron’s film. It also looks amazing.
THE FIVE FILMS I HATED MOST IN 2011:
5. The Chronicles of Narnia: the Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Boy, Michael Apted sure knows how to make a dull movie. Not content with sending Bond fans in to boredom induced comas with the rubbish (except for the ace pre-credit sequence) The World is Not Enough, he then went and did the same to kiddie winkies the world over with this flat, dull, episodic, horrifically blatant Christian propaganda trash. There’s no proper story, just some random arsing about on the water before that bloody lion turns up again at the end. Somebody please kill this franchise.
4. Shark Night 3D
A boring, bloodless, boobless, pointless exploitation movie with no sodding exploitation. What a waste of 80 mins. A bunch of sharks are let loose in a salt-water lake to munch on a bunch of bland, annoying teens. Utter rubbish. If you want some quality fishy exploitation fun then see Piranha 3D instead. Now THAT’S how you do it.
3. Season of the Witch
Yay! The bottom five wouldn’t seem right without Nicolas Cage. And this putrid turd fits the bill nicely. I can’t even remember why I hated it so much, only that I did. I recall vague flashes of anger at the way the film depicted the witch of the title and how bloody dumb and annoying the story and characters were. Anyway, it sucked.
2. The Howling Reborn
Some bright spark decided to reboot the long dead Howling franchise by turning it in to a quasi-Twilight effort set in a swanky American private school. DOH! So here we get an annoying teenage boy moping around the place, giving uber-pretentious voiceovers of absurd irony-free self-analytical dialogue you wouldn’t even hear in the worst episode of Dawson’s Creek. This is all because said bland and mopey teen boy feels like an outsider and has a yearning love thang going on for an equally bland and mopey teen girl. Soon though, mopey boy and girl get together and get caught up in some shit about a long lost werewolf mommy coming back to reclaim her kid. Yikes! This is Howling PG-13 for the kids. The werewolf FX are actually ok (when we finally see them) but blood and gore is almost non-existent, as are any scares, tension, or genuine depth to the shitty story. The really annoying thing is that this obviously had some sort of budget to it. It actually looks pretty good with good locations, glossy/gritty photography, nice helicopter shots of cityscapes, a decent score, and some pretty decent FX. It’s just a shame the script is terrible and the director utterly clueless. Bad wolf!
1. My Soul To Take
I always new Wes Craven could be a shit moviemaker but this was ridiculous. Over his entire career Wes has made two great movies and two very good movies. The great ones are A Nightmare on Elm Street and Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare. The very good ones are Scream and the original The Hills Have Eyes. Everything else ranges from okay (Scream 2, 3, 4/The People Under the Stairs) to the utter shite (Shocker/Last House on the Left/Vampire in Brooklyn). But Wes reached a new nadir with this one. He wrote this himself, you know. It’s some nonsensical crap about teens in a small town who share the same birthday as some long dead local killer, getting themselves killed off one by one in the most boring, workmanlike ways possible. Is lead teen possessed by the long dead killer? Who the fuck cares? I was bored rigid for the entire running time. As the barely adequate Scream 4 shows us, Craven has long passed his sell by date. Let the old codger retire. He gave us Freddy Krueger. His good work is done.
The rest of the worst: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Your Highness, Insidious, Fast Five.
MY FIVE MOST LOOKED FORWARD TO FILMS OF 2012:
5. Skyfall – Daniel Craig is back as Bond. Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes co-star with Sam Mendes directing.
4. The Avengers – God…I mean Joss Whedon writes and directs Marvel’s superhero team up. Major Yayness!
3. Prometheus – Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender star in Ridley Scott’s scifi thriller set in the Alien universe about the origins of human life.
2. The Hobbit Part 1 – Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth for more Tolkien. What’s not to love?
1. The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan finishes off his Batman trilogy in what is sure to be grim yet stunning style.