2011 was a pretty crappy year for films.
Maybe crappy is too harsh. Mediocre is better. Lackluster fits. Hoo-hum for sure.
Sure there were some bright spots--bright spots we will be discussing today--but mostly it was all pretty blah. It was so blah that I had a little trouble putting this list together. Now, granted there are some films out there I haven't seen yet, films that people consider to be good. However, judging by the general tone of the critical reactions to those films, it doesn't sound too likely that any of the missing films would go rocketing to the top of my list, so... here we are. This is something I try to every year. I think it's a nice way to wrap things up. You can see my previous lists here and here.
So yeah, it's time to do this. If I wait any longer, this list will lose what little relevance it may have ever had. Let's go.
THE BEST MOVIES OF 2011 AS CHOSEN BY ME, JONATHAN HANSEN
The rules here are pretty easy. These are movies I like and enjoy and will most likely watch more than once, some of them much more than that.
Now, being that these are films I like, then it stands to reason that I also think of them as good films. Of course, this is not meant to infer that this list contains the absolute best made, most original, and/or most technically astounding and artistically pure films of the year. No, you see, in my world, first and foremost is my own personal enjoyment. There are many undeniably great, insightful, well-made and beautiful films out there that I have no desire to ever see again under any circumstance... these do not make my list.
I also didn't go to enough films this year that I could go very obscure either. And wouldn't, even if I had. In fact, I find critics who engage in that kind of scenester-snob cinematic one-ups-manship wack-off crap to be repulsive and I wish I could tear their noses off with my teeth while we stood in the middle of a Hampton's Garden Party, like something out of the Great Gatsby, while all the guests watch us, their faces frozen in pale little open-mouthed Os as the blood flowed and the screaming turned hoarse, until I turn and face the gathered guests, spitting the hunk of nose to the grass and arming the blood from my chin and say: "No ticket."
...but then, there have been some who accuse me of occasionally overreacting, so I digress.
My point is: I like these films and not always for wholly defensible reasons.
So, all that being said, shall we begin?
10. Captain America, Thor, X-men: First Class:
It should come as no surprise to anyone who's read this blog more than once that I am a comic book fan. I write about them occasionally. So it should be equally unsurprising that I would include the Marvel movies in my top ten list. Do they have their issues? Yes, they are not perfect films, but they do have great casts and an obvious love of the source material (and yet are inventive enough to not be constrained by it), so I was either surprised by how well done they were, really entertained, or both. I've already reviewed Captain America here. The other two I didn't talk about much except to generally track their progress and sometimes make fun of them. I even named X-men in my list of films I wasn't looking forward too. And yet, I was wrong. Both surprised me and entertained me and that's not an easy thing, especially for a summer popcorn flick.
At first glance, Hanna could be dismissed out of hand as nothing more than another in the long line of the bastard children of Jason Bourne. Director Joe Wright took that weary framework and draped it in great performances, brilliant shots, and some fantastic action pieces. Saoirse Ronan, a poor son of a bitch if there ever was one and whose parents deserve a good smacking, is a ghostly pale wisp who believably exudes the ingrained confidence and ability of a raised since birth assassin. But while she's believable whooping so much ass, her best performances come while she explores the outside world for the first time in her life, the wonder and awe is apparent on her face. A great movie and a good time.
Trollhunter is a Norweigian POV film in which a group of students shooting a documentary discover one of Norway's biggest secret: It's full of Trolls. Full on Hans Christain Anderson, stay out of the sunlight, grind your bones into bread Trolls. It's scary and funny and, most importantly, it is one of those rare beasts, it is believable as a POV film, which is usually where these things fail: You have to make it believable that the filmmakers, once confronted with the craziness, would keep filming. This is why Cloverfield was so stupid (one of the reasons). I'll buy reporters and documentarians, but Joe Schmoo going back for the dropped camera? No. You have to give them a reason to keep filming and Trollhunter does it easily. In the end, it looks good, it's fun to watch, and it's totally worth your time.
7. I Saw the Devil:
I rarely include horror films on this list. I'm not a big fan. I find most of them to be a waste of time because the majority of them seem to completely depend upon one of the characters doing something really, obviously stupid and I have a hard time getting behind the films because of that. Plus, since they rely so much on the scares, it's hard to get much second-viewing value. And even worse/lower (scumbags) are the ones that are nothing but gore porn, the blood on the boobs type of films that are more concerned with the effects than the story. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule and this film is one of them. This is a South Korean film that starts with a horrifying act and then turns into a vicious game of cat and mouse between a vengeance-driven Secret Agent and a loathsome serial killer and it's... crazy. Crazy. Insane and even more so, because it lacks that stupid false American morality bullshit and doesn't even try to redeem either character. Completely engrossing. Completely terrifying. You should absolutely watch it.
Funniest movie of the year. Loved it. Great cast. Just awkward and gross and hilarious all the way through. The only thing missing from this movie is the fact that it was obviously edited for time in places because the studios didn't have faith the film would find an audience. Of course, now that it's made a metric ton of money off a nothing budget, well, I am totally looking forward to future efforts by this group. Hopefully there'll be more pooping in the sink.
I already reviewed this film and you can find it here. I called it the best film of the summer then, and it still is. If you haven't seen it, you should.
4. 13 Assassins:
This is Takashi Miike's ode to the age of the samurai and it is fantastic. Let's forget the scenery, the actors, the shocking sudden bits of Miike-ness--all of that alone would usually make a great movie--instead, let's focus on the last forty-five minutes. A full-on battle to the death, thirteen samurais on a suicide mission to kill an evil Lord (hence the title). But to get to them, the samurai have to take out hundreds of soldiers. There's no other word for this film. It's awesome. So awesome. I bought it right away. Love it.
3. Young Adult:
I'm a fan of Diablo Cody and of Jason Reitman. I like what they do. Sure you could say that Reitman is a less saccharine and trite and somewhat cooler version of Cameron Crowe, but so what? Cameron Crowe was cool once too. And yes, there are those of you who seem to think that Cody's dialogue is unrealistic and that, for some reason, this really fucking matters to you (jackass), to which I say: Shut up, stupid. And continue to like what they do. Young Adult is a sad and funny story about someone who refused to grow up and refused to let go and it all comes to a bad end. There's no redemption, just bad choices and Charlize Theron and Patton Oswald are brilliant. Great film.
2. Attack the Block:
Attack the Block is a British film that starts out with the great set-up of aliens invading a tower block in London and a group of young thugs having to fend them off, and it becomes a tale of personal responsibility and sacrifice and learning that actions have consequences. It's quick and exciting, it's funny and serious and it carries it's lessons easily without ever getting preachy. Even better, it works well within its budget and still looks good. This is a great film and a great surprise for the year.
An all around great film, one I intend on buying. It's an homage to the 80s set in the present day. It's arty as hell and totally kick ass at the same time. It's noir to the hilt and blood, blood red. It's a classic tale about a stunt driver who moonlights as a wheelman, who meets a dame that he loves, and then goes on a heist that goes bad and after that, the bullets start to fly. Great cast. Great movie. Hands down.
Immortals: Greek Gods and the not-really-the-actual myth of Theseus. Beautiful but shallow and silly. All style, no substance. The style was great though. Really great.
Limitless: The story of a man who takes a pill to become super smart and realizes that powerful people want what he's got. I expected this to be really stupid, but it turned out to be more like an interesting episode of the Twilight Zone, so... good for them.
Blackthorn: The story of the last ride of Butch Cassidy after years of hiding in Bolivia. Pretty cool. Really enjoyed it, but then it turned into one of those movies that realizes toward the end that it doesn't really have an ending, so it just kind of does.
Bellflower: Two young men who build apocalyptic toys and hang out with hipster girls. This is one of those films like I mentioned above: Great, no doubt, but... I'll never watch it again.
Source Code: The story of a man sent back in time over and over again in order to try to figure out how a terrorist bombing of a train happened and who that terrorist was. Great film. Love the Director's work. Great. For 98% of it, this film was one of the best of the year. The problem is, there's a point where the movie SHOULD HAVE ended, and then there's the horrible last five minutes more where the film ACTUALLY ends... and ruins it.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: The story of a journalist and a hacker chasing a killer in Sweden. I love David Fincher and the cast and the look and the movie was good time. But the thing that kept it from becoming a great film was that in the end it was really nothing more than a cooler version of the original films and of course, the fact that books are kind of dumb.
The films I haven't seen that might have made the list:
The MuppetsThe Descendants
The Idea of March
Sherlock Holmes 2Exporting Raymond
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Elite Squad: The enemy within
Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol
See? I told you. I'm a little behind this year. I'll catch up on them in the next few weeks and update the list as needed, but like I said, I don't expect any of these films to really blow my skirt up in a major way, you know? What do you think? Did I miss anything? Let me know. Otherwise, tune in later this week for my Worst of 2011 list (which was remarkably easier to put together than this list) and my 20 films in 2012 that I'm looking forward to, which is actually a pretty exciting list.