Sunday, January 22, 2012

Class of '11

"We are at a point in time where if a film doesn't receive unified acclaim its viewed as damaged or a failure or something worse and that's unfortunate. I don't feel there's a sense anymore that a movie can be polarizing and that that can be a good thing. It's literally, what is the number you got on Rotten Tomatoes and if its below a certain number, your movie's not any good. You could imagine what 2001: A Space Odyssey would have gotten on Rotten Tomatoes...I guess the point of some art is to illuminate. I just don't see any evidence of it happening."

This is a quote from Steven Soderbergh taken from the Criterion release of Che. A film that came out the same year as a film that did receive universal acclaim- The Dark Knight. 2 years later that same filmmaker would create another film and meet almost the same universal acclaim as that one. That film was called Inception. & after the dire, stale taste it left in my mouth, I knew that 2010, being only July, was either going to get worse or slightly better. Sure, there were films like Social Network & Toy Story 3 that made it tolerable, but nothing during that year really pummelled me in the way of walking out A Serious Man in 2009. Go back even further, to 2007. Just look at what was released- No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Zodiac, King of Kong, I'm Not There.

So I looked ahead at the slate of releases for 2011. Red State? Yes. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? Yes. Contagion? Yes. But what peaked my interests even more are some of the films from directors who are not as well establish as say, a David Fincher. To have a new filmmaker come across your radar and knock you on your ass happens all too rarely. To have it happen in the same year while veteran directors release some of their best work warms my blood and gives me hope that the frozen tundra of creativity will have finally thawed.

2011 brought us many surprises at our doorstep. Just ask Daniel Craig. What will 2012 bring us? Dark Knight Rises, Lords of Salem, Django Unchained, Hit Somebody, Lincoln, Haywire, Prometheus, Red Hook Summer, Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie, A Bullet to the Head, Only God Forgives & if we're lucky, The Master. I think by the end of that year, the fickle bitch known as 2010 will be a mere afterthought and the future will be a little bit brighter.

Here are the films I saw in 2011 in order of when I saw them.

Red State
He's dead. Wrapped in seran wrap. Easily Smith's best since Chasing Amy & by far my favorite moviegoing experience I've had this year. Helps when you're surrounded by likeminded Kevin Smith fans. Some fine tuning in the editing department could have boosted this up to an A+ but with some of the trimmings left, I'm gonna have to give it an A-

I Saw the Devil
Technically this is a 2010 release but I didn't see it until last year. So I'm just putting it on here. While there are some excruciatingly violent scenes, I Saw The Devil focuses primarily on themes about revenge and about the unfairness and inhumanity of people. It also puts to question the limits of our love and our pursuit of some semblance of serenity, and it does so with remarkable performances, a haunting score and astounding direction by Jee-woon Kim. Tied with Toy Story 3 as being the most memorable 2010 release. A

A haunted house movie in the classic 70's/80's sense (The Changeling, Legend of Hell House, etc.). This also may be one of the few times where people actually move out of the house being haunted. Only to be met with more peril. A-

The Tree of Life
It can be said that an ambitous failure is more admirable than a film that doesn't aspire to be anything and still fail. So in that regard, the gestation period between conceptual birth to theatrical release date can almost be as daunting as the ambitious proect you are making. How can anyone possibly live up to what was touted as 'the next 2001'?

Enter Terrence Malick. Having only made four films since 1973, the concept of this particular film and his presence is what made people stand in either gobsmacked 2001-like awe or The Fountain-like disappointment. Though the film was poised precariously on a tightrope between sheer genius and monotony, Malick helped it reach the end of the line with its haunting beauty intact. Barely. A-

Hobo With A Shotgun
Regardless of its intentions, this comes off as more of a Troma tribute than a tribute to 70's exploitation. Even at that juncture, Jason Eisner seems to be trying way too hard. Had it come out in the 70's, Hauer's hobo would still be overshadowed by the likes of The Exterminator & Fred Williamson's Vigilante. D

Super 8
This Spielberg fan upon first viewing really wanted to love this picture. This coming from a passion for film that kickstarted all the way back at the age of 4 with a film called E.T. (one that JJ shamefully homages at the end). Upon second viewing, it's candy coated 'magic' wore off and I was left with the skeleton of something that made me want to 'phone home'. C-

A truly frightening procedural that seems like it might be much more closer to reality than we think. I wonder which member of the Ocean's gang would bite it first if this disease existed in that movie. A

(Scott Caan would go first. Without a doubt.)


I went into this film not expecting the wallop I got. I've seen Nicolas Winding Ren's Bronson and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Pusher movies were a solid set of crime pictures as well. But what I got here was a brutal stomp to the face. The pacing and explosive violence of the film is what catapulted this film into prime god-I-fucking-love-this movie territory. A.


If Tree of Life was about creation, Melancholia is most certainly the flip side of things. The conceptual framework of Von Trier's films have been, for the most part, one of impending doom. & while I wouldn't count myself as a huge admirer of his, this film still possess elements that I dig.

The good: What makes Melancholia stand head and shoulders above most apocalyptic films of the last decade is what it chooses to focus on-- characters merely accepting their fate as opposed to genre tropes.

The bad: There has always been something that pisses me off about Lars Von Trier and to an even greater extent, Michael Haneke. They seem to just revel in shoving their viewer's face in shit and kicking them while they are down. Don't get me started with how awful Funny Games is (more on this later). As expected, critics have lavished a ridiculous amount of praise for it while ignoring Insidious & Red State. Reminds me why paid film criticism is stale. But I'm digressing. I just wish Von Trier would create a film that doesn't accentuate his panache for pretentiousness. Which brings me to this question: Is this film about Earth crashing into a gigantic planet or is it about Earth crashing into Von Trier's ego? C+


The good: Marty, Thelma, & Robert all make dutiful contributions to the making of the film and show their love for cinema. In particular Marty, who must have giggled like a little school girl with joy at the concept of building a story around George Melies. Let alone making a statement for film preservation.

The bad: In a conversation with James Cameron, Scorsese persisted that 3D should be used as a proper tool in the advancement of storytelling. This is including dramas and not just limited to genre material. If 3D were indeed to become the future of storytelling, I'd want a train to come through my house and chase me. B-

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

A film that is as hauntingly quiet as Zodiac yet feels like a sledgehammer to the face with truly disturbing scenes. Dragon Tattoo acts like a devious black widow enraveling you in its labyrinth web of a plot. The novel is something I have yet to read & as far as the Swedish version goes, yes I have seen it. Oddly enough, there's not alot I remember from it besides the big 'shock' scene which should obviously be imprinted upon one's mind when seeing any version of this story. The difference is that this U.S. version had so many things going for it that it made for countless unforgettable sequences.

The opening credits, the use of Enya's Sail Away, & Mara's performance are all pitch perfect. cemented this into my Top 100. But the totality of the story filtered through Fincher's direction is what this film should be remembered for. Go to the duck for more info: A+

The Descendants

"Paradise? Paradise can go fuck itself."

Alexander Payne uses his 'funny one moment and sad the next' style to create a film about a man and his children coming to terms with their mother who was put in a permanent coma. Shailene Woodley is an actress to look out for as her performance was rock solid. Along with this, the side characters played by Judy Greer and Robert Forster were well played. Tonally, the film effectively balances a cynical & a sincere side of the story. After the credits rolled though, I felt cold. It kinda just sits there at the end. I was hoping this would be on par with Election & About Schmidt, but the after effects of The Descendants don't resonate with me nearly as much those two films did. There was no & I'm beginning to believe it's not from my increasingly cynical nature.

As a sidenote, I find it interesting that nearly all of the movies both Clooney & DiCaprio have starred in in the last ten years are films that have been critically lauded. Yet they feel like films that are merely satisfactory or adequate. I'm hoping one day this cycle can break. Though out of all those films, this one came the closest to breaking it. (Departed almost breaking the Leo streak) B-

In a day & age where Spy Kids 4 exists, Rango is a glass of water in a sweltering desert of mediocrity. Like Hugo, Rango is an endearing family film. It's fun, full of movie references and doesn't condescend to its viewers. B+


The difference between a film like this and The Fighter are that the punches to the heart are felt rather than telegraphed. Not knowing much about the plot (mostly due to the fact that the movie was swept under the carpet), Warrior had me in its clutches whereas The Fighter was a forgettable stalemate.

This is also a prime example of how marketing can go horribly wrong these days. Poorly edited trailer + no big push from studio = a forgotten treasure. B

Killer Elite

A needlessly complex story hastily wrapped around poorly edited action scenes. D-

**note: this list is incomplete as I still I have to see Shame, The Artist, A Dangerous Method, Take Shelter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, & Margin Call

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