Sunday, February 26, 2012

Brian's Best and Worst of 2011

It is, once again, almost time for the Oscars!  While I am not the biggest fan of the Academy Awards, I do like having some sort of quality barometer in Hollywood, even one that is skewed, political, and often rewards career achievements instead of current ones.  Since so many high-profile films come out at the end of the year, looking to cash in on Christmas vacationers and still make year-end best-of lists, I never get a chance to watch the most critically acclaimed films before the year's end.  But...if Hollywood can wait until the end of February to rate the last year of cinema, so can I, right?  I know, I know...what a jerk I am, stealing Hollywood's thunder!

I don't like doing Top Ten lists, though.  That's too cut-and-dry, and it completely ignores all the truly awful stuff I run across every year.  I like to break the year down into several best and worst categories, and "best" and "worst" are probably more accurately defined as "most favorite" and "most hated" by me.

So exactly what films did I watch in time to consider for this list?
AbductionThe ArtistBattle: Los AngelesBlack DeathBlitzCaptain America: The First AvengerThe CodeConan the BarbarianContagionCowboys & AliensThe DescendantsDrive.  Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.  Faces in the CrowdFast FiveFright FlickFright NightGreen LanternHannaHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.  The Help.  Hobo With a Shotgun.  Horrible Bosses.  Hugo.  I Saw the Devil.  The Ides of March.  InsidiousIronclad.  Kill the Irishman.  Killer EliteLimitlessThe Mechanic.  Mega Python vs. Gatoroid.  Midnight in Paris.  Mission: Impossible - Ghost ProtocolMoneyballOng Bak 3Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger TidesRed State.  The Resident.  Rise of the Planet of the ApesSeason of the WitchShark Night 3DSource CodeSucker PunchSuper 8Take Me Home Tonight13 AssassinsThorTransformers: Dark of the MoonThe Tree of Life.  Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.  War HorseThe WardWarriorX-Men: First Class.

I wasn't able to review all of these in time for the Oscars, but I did watch them.  There are some noteworthy absences from that list, though.  Here are some of the movies I wanted to see, but failed to in time:
The Adjustment Bureau, A Dangerous Method, 50/50, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Guard, Hesher, Shame, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,  and most of the stupid comedies of the year.

Let's start of with some of the more overlooked moments in film this year, shall we?

Best Bit Character
You know those roles that are very amusing, but aren't substantial enough to actually be called "supporting"?  I love those!  They are sadly undervalued in modern cinema, but not by me.  While I was amused by the Blue F'n Lights in Super 8, I have to give credit to Adrien Brody for his Salvador Dali impression in Midnight in Paris.
And for flicking off Owen Wilson
I normally dislike Brody, but his oddly-enunciated, rhinoceros-obsessed few minutes onscreen amused the hell out of me.  As an added bonus, from what little I know about Dali at the time, the impression seemed pretty accurate.

Best Supporting Actress
This is typically a tough category for me.  I don't watch many "chick flicks," and the films I choose to watch usually don't have well-developed female characters.  This year, though, I found a handful of actresses impressive.  Elle Fanning (Super 8) and Saiorse Ronan (Hanna) were both surprisingly mature, and Octavia Spencer was the prototypical sassy black woman in The Help, which is naturally pretty awesome to watch.  However, my favorite supporting performance this year was definitely Shailene Woodley in The Descendants.
Note: embed flattering photo here
I think she did the best job with the most complex character, at least from the movies I caught.  Granted, that character was a bitchy, rebellious teenager (not exactly avant garde), but I thought she handled the role perfectly.

Worst Supporting Actress
I'm going to go with Marianne Faithfull in Faces in the Crowd.  What makes her any worse than, say, anyone in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, or Melissa Leo's horribly over-the-top performance in Red State?  Well, like the prison food mentioned in The Blues Brothers, they're all pretty bad.  Faithfull just had the least believable character --- a deaf therapist that gives no indication that she is deaf whatsoever --- out of the group.  Plus, she provides some of the worst exposition I saw on film this year.

Best Supporting Actor
There were, as always, a lot of supporting actor roles that stuck out to me this year.  Colin Farrell (Fright Night) and Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) were pretty bad-ass in some potentially silly roles.  Tom Hardy (Warrior) and Paul Giamatti (The Ides of March) gave surprisingly powerful dramatic performances.  Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) once again gave a spectacular motion-capture performance.  My favorite supporting performance by far, though, definitely belonged to Albert Brooks in Drive.  He was just so deliciously merciless --- he is definitely my favorite villain of the year.
Not the tools of the trade you might expect from Brooks

Worst Supporting Actor
As tempted as I am to crown Tom Felton for being terrible in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this is a prize that was won with teamwork.  My winner for Worst Supporting Actor is the supporting cast of Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  I don't care if you want to focus on Ken Jeong's idiotic character or John Turturro's embarrassing cash-in role, John Malkovich's bewildering presence, or if you just hate Kevin Dunn's "why hasn't he been stepped on already?" turn as Mr. Witwicky --- this movie sucked, and there were simply too many awful performances to not win this award.
A well-placed Autobot foot could have made this so much better
On a related note, Patrick Dempsey is a crappy evil villain, especially when you compare him to giant killer robots.

Best Actress
There wasn't much competition for this, given the films I watched.  Even without any other real contenders, Viola Davis was excellent in The Help.
As manipulative as the film is (and I would qualify it as "very"), Davis did a great job balancing contradicting emotional extremes.  The only reason The Help is up for a Best Picture Academy Award this year is thanks to its excellent acting, and Davis was the film's anchor.

Worst Actress
This was a tight race.  As deserving as Tiffany and Debbie Gibson were in Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, Lily Collins was even worse in Abduction.  And as terrible as Collins and her eyebrows were, they cannot compare to the hatred I have in my heart for Emily Browning in Sucker Punch.  The whole movie was handled poorly, but Browning was on screen the most, and alternated between a pouty face and a vacant stare. 
Go to Brian's movie jail.  Do not collect go, do not collect $200
I honestly don't know if anyone could have salvaged the train wreck that was Sucker Punch, but it takes a unique talent to confuse and anger me while playing a rape victim.

Best Actor
I went through most of 2011's films without witnessing an excellent lead acting performance, but that has changed over the last month.  I thought Min-Sik Choi was positively chilling in I Saw the Devil.  I loved Ryan Gosling's extremely peculiar work in Drive.  I loved George Clooney's subtle and complex work in The Descendants.  The performance that I enjoyed the most this year, though, was Brad Pitt in Moneyball.
This is a film that could have easily been deadly dull (to non-statistical nuts like me), but Pitt carried it with consistently good timing and a whole lot of staring and looking worried.  Was it a better performance than Clooney's or Jean Dujardin in The Artist?  Maybe not.  But I responded more to his character than anyone other this year.  Besides, my beloved Cubs will be atrocious in 2012, so I need to enjoy baseball any way I can.

Worst Actor
This race boils down to who I hated more this year: Shia LaBeouf in Trannies 3 or Taylor Lautner in Abduction.  Man, this is a tough one!  Shia was insufferable as an entitled dick in T3, but Lautner was offensively bad.  I think Lautner barely squeaks this one out, but only because he can be out-acted by shadow puppets.
This is his "reading" face

Best Director
I'm going to go with the only director that truly impressed me with his style and competence this year: Nicolas Winding Refn, for Drive.  The only other director that even came close for ballsiness and frame composition was Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), but Refn embraced noir, awkwardness, and extreme violence and made it all work in a taut thriller.

Worst Director
Part of me wants to go with John Singleton for doing absolutely nothing right in Abduction.  Another part of me wants to slap David R. Ellis for not changing his style for Shark Night 3D, despite its PG-13 rating.  But those are just two very small parts of me; 98% of me hates Zack Snyder for Sucker Punch.  My dislike for his recent work is almost Biblical; I wish I could salt the proverbial earth of Snyder's career.  As gorgeous as his films look, Sucker Punch was a confused, soulless rape fantasy, poorly disguised as some sort of extended "girl power" metaphor.  How do you screw up having dragons, steam-powered soldiers, and gundams?  Watch Sucker Punch.  No, wait...don't.

Biggest Disappointment
Runner-up goes to John Carpenter's return to directing, The Ward.  Too bad it was terrible.  I was prepared for that, though, because Carpenter has had his share of misses over the last thirty or forty years.  I was most disappointed by Green Lantern.  It had a lot of promise --- and the space scenes were actually pretty cool --- but the story was horribawful.  I didn't need this to be good to have fun with it, but I would have appreciated less boredom and fewer stupid humans.

Biggest Surprise
I had a few mild surprises this year.  Marcus Nispel made a decent flick for a change (Conan the Barbarian).  Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a clearly unnecessary film, wasn't terrible.  I didn't vomit bile when watching Matthew Lillard in The Descendants.  I would be a liar, though, if I said there was any bigger surprise than the extended Discovery Channel acid trip during The Tree of Life.
Love it or hate it, you cannot honestly tell me that you expected that movie to make that choice at that time.  I'm pretty sure I spent most of this sequence with a confused look and my mouth half open.

Bottom 5 Movies
I could pick on the made-to-suck horror movies I watched this year (Fright Flick and Mega Python vs. Gatoroid), but I didn't expect them to be anything close to good.  These five are bad and have earned my ire.
5. The Ward - Have you ever wanted to watch a really bad version of Identity?  Have you ever wanted to watch a movie like that while feeling sorry for the director?  Well, do I have a movie for you!  You want to know how bad this movie is?  Here's the best scene in the entire film:

4. Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Here's what it takes to make an awesome Transformers movie: have giant robots fight each other.  It doesn't have to be smart.  It doesn't have to do anything except look cool and have a simple plot.  Somehow, that message never reached Michael Bay.  There were too many humans, too many "jokes," and too many interchangeable robots in this clusterfuck of a blockbuster.  And the Witwicky family still refused to die!  The only reason I can imagine anyone liking Trannies 3 is for putting Rosie Huntington-Whitely in high definition.  Well guess what, teenagers?  She's an underwear model.  You don't have to watch this movie to ogle her, there's a great big internet just waiting for you!

3. Season of the Witch - I don't know what the worst thing about this movie is.  It could be the fact that Nic Cage actually underacted, given how ridiculous the story is.
Stunning, I know
Maybe it is the hilarious parallels it invites to classic films.  Both are good reasons, but I think the biggest one is the complete lack of witches in this movie.  Not even zombie monks could save this.

2. Abduction - I've already touched upon how inept this movie is, but this is truly one of the worst movies I have seen that was widely released.  The hair clogging your shower has more talent than Taylor Lautner.

1. Sucker Punch - Despite looking like it should be made of the dreams of horny teenage boys, this was drab, dull, and rapey.  Maybe that's your cup of tea.  If it is, I assume you are already in prison for committing violent acts against humanity and good taste in general.
More like a donkey punch

Top 10 Movies
10. Hugo -I have a soft spot in my heart for characters that are struggling to find their place in the world, and I believe in the magic of cinema, so Hugo was right up my alley.  Scorsese's direction, while fun to look at (even in 3D), pandered a bit too much toward young children for my tastes, but it was still touching and adorable.

9. Hobo With a Shotgun - Rarely does a movie meet my every expectation.  Hobo... delivered on the promise of its title and added Robocop-quality acting and Troma levels of violence.  Sadly, it was snubbed by the academy this year.  I wonder why?

8. The Artist - Jean Dujardin is charming and is a gifted physical actor.  Who needs to hear him speak?  Along with that talent, director Michel Hazanavicius made an extremely clever film with superb cinematography and (not terribly subtle) symbolism.  It was cute, it was different, but it didn't strike any particular emotional chords within me.

7. Midnight In Paris - I didn't expect to enjoy this one, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Instead of wallowing in nostalgia, like so many acclaimed films this year (Super 8, The Artist, Hugo), Woody Allen made a film that realized the folly in Golden Age thinking.  I imagine that your appreciation for the film only deepens with your own knowledge of the art and literature scene in 1920s Paris, but even if you are clueless, the supporting cast is extremely enjoyable.  And every word out of Corey Stoll's mouth is pure gold.
Have you ever shot a charging lion?

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 - Eight movies in ten years, and all of them were good.  I'm going to miss the Harry Potter series, but this last chapter paid off the setups of the past few films nicely.  It could have been more visually imaginative, and there were a literal ton of characters in the film to pay attention to, but this was a quality send-off to an excellent series.  Plus, it didn't have, like, six endings, like Lord of the Rings.

5. X-Men: First Class - Given the debacles that were X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I didn't have high hopes for this one.  Thankfully, Matthew Vaughn saved my favorite comic franchise from movie production hell.  The real credit goes to Michael Fassbender's awesome performance as Magneto.  We need more of that, and soon.
Michael Fassbender face IS...Magneto's Crotch

4. The Descendants - A possibly gut-wrenching concept gets a whole lot easier to handle and more interesting through Alexander Payne's treatment and George Clooney's excellent performance.  It's about as uplifting a film as you're going to see from a movie about death and infidelity.

3. Moneyball - This movie simply should not have been fun or interesting to watch at all.  On paper, it sounds as entertaining as balancing your checkbook, but I was drawn into Moneyball.  I enjoyed Brad Pitt's Robert Redford impression and actually liked Jonah Hill for once (I disagree with his nominations, though).  What I liked most about this movie was its sense of timing, which I suppose means that I liked its editing.  Whatever.  This is a sports movie that can appeal to the non-sports fan because the heroes don't play sports.  That's brilliant!

2. I Saw the Devil - It's hard to find a genuinely disturbing horror movie, so I like the acknowledge them when I find 'em.  Taking the typical premise (bad guy kills my people, I must take the law into my own hands!) to a logical but somewhat surprising end, Jee-Woon Kim crafted a brutal and unnerving film.  I like it when heroes are not heroic, and this movie delivered.
Pretty.  Disturbing.

1. Drive -By far, this was the most peculiar and enjoyable film I saw all year.  It was weird, it was painfully awkward, it was violent, and it was oddly touching.  Better than all that, it was suspenseful.  As awkward and unrecognizable as the Driver was as a human, there is a simple sweetness underneath that amazing scorpion jacket.  Of course, his character is also a psycho waiting to erupt, but that's the price you pay for being so damn cool.


  1. I'll be sure to skip Abduction. Wish I'd read this before seeing Sucker Punch though.

  2. Sucker Punch was abysmal. I will give Abduction the benefit of the doubt...if you were in the mood to absolutely skewer a movie with some witty friends, there is plenty to ridicule in it.