Droid’s Favourites of 2011
I’m going to angle this year end wrap up a little differently this year. There are so many lists around the internets that definitively state that theirs is the “Best of” when in fact it’s just some nerds personal opinion. So I’m going at it a little differently. I’ve compiled a list of “Droid’s Favourites”, in which I will list my Favourite Ten of 2011, along with some worthy efforts, great performances and of course, my least favourite films of the year. I’m essentially saying that this is my list, not yours, and you may or may not agree. But if you do agree, I commend you on your remarkable taste, my friend.
As of writing this, I have seen a total of 88 films released in 2011. I must say, looking at the list of those I’ve seen, it’s an even spread between good, average and bad. My Favourite Ten came down to a shortlist of fifteen, so here are the five that didn’t make it but are very much worthy of a mention.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The film no one wanted and no one expected anything from came out of nowhere with a terrific marketing campaign and followed it up by delivering a rock solid film that soars in the middle section on the strength of Andy Serkis and WETA. James Franco’s performance falls short of the mark, which detracts from the emotional core of the film, and the last act action sequence is a bit of a let down. But aside from that, RotPotA is involving, entertaining and the third biggest surprise of the year.
The Green Hornet
The second biggest surprise of the year goes to Seth Rogen’s superhero movie ‘The Green Hornet’. Rogen and Jay Chou as Kato make a fun team, and Christoph Waltz is having fun as the villain. Directed with style and energy by Michel Gondry, the only sore point for me was the superfluous Cameron Diaz. If ever there was a character in a film whose sole reason was to establish the heroes as “definitely 100% not gay”, hers was it. Overall I had a hell of a good time watching ‘The Green Hornet’.
Up to and including the 90’s, Aussie cinema was commonly lighthearted and charming, involving eccentric, good-natured characters and stories. Somewhere in the new century we became a little bit self-conscious about the way we were seen by the rest of the world (probably all the ABBA film soundtracks in the 90’s) and by proxy our films started to get a little bit darker. ‘Red Dog’ then is a bit of a throwback. A somewhat true tale of a dog that walked into a West Australian country town and befriended the entire community. Full of larger than life characters (Larrikins in Australian), engaging performances and gorgeous Australian landscape, ‘Red Dog’ can’t be described as anything but ‘delightful’.
Will Reiser’s dramatic comedy, based on his own experiences, is a moving, enjoyable and funny look at cancer. It manages to tread the fine line between comedy and drama thanks to good performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen. Special mention must go to Bryce Dallas Howard for her performance. She’s so incredibly hateful that I commend her on even agreeing to be in the film. The one thing that holds 50/50 back from making the ten is Anna Kendrick. She really, really annoys me. She’s got this weird looking head where it’s kind of egg shaped and the bottom half of her face is much smaller than the top. It’s weird.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
The Harry Potter series ends! Finally! And it may be down to relief that it’s over, or that, by actually having an ending, this one stands out amongst most of the others, but ‘Harry Potter 8’ is a rousing, entertaining and satisfying conclusion to the story of the boy wizard that took four films too long to find an ending. I heap particular praise on Daniel Radcliffe who was cast purely because he looked like the character on the front cover of the book, and with very little natural talent has worked hard to turn himself into a decent actor.
There haven’t been a hell of a lot of performances that have blown me away in 2011. There are solid performances from the likes of Brad Pitt in Moneyball, George Clooney in The Descendants, and Saorsie Ronan in Hanna but only a few have really stood out.
Nick Nolte‘s shambles of a recovering alcoholic in ‘Warrior’ was deeply moving and contained great power (and blew Tom Hardy’s mumbling off the screen). Dennis Farina in ‘The Last Rites of Joe May’ was a terrific portrayal of a lonely, old nickle and dime hustler who finally commits a selfless act. Woody Harrelson‘s was a searing portrayal of a self-destructive cop desperately trying to keep his life from falling apart in ‘Rampart’, a film I felt was unworthy of his performance. Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain dealing with the possible onset of schizophrenia in ‘Take Shelter’. Caleb Steinmeyer as the deeply damaged vigilante searching for his mother’s murderer in ‘Boy Wonder’. Andy Serkis doing his amazing motion capture acting in both ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ and ‘The Adventures of Tintin’. And the hard to sum up performance by Michael Smiley in ‘Kill List’. All great performances. But the one performance that stood head and shoulder’s above all other’s for me this year was…
This girl totally astounded me when I watched Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. This is one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen, and also one of the most difficult. Madison has the almost impossible task of making us care about a moody little brat, and in the opening scenes I feared the worst. A movie set completely around an unlikeable child. But it doesn’t take long for her to win you over. Madison carries the film on her shoulders and had me 100% rooting for her as she does battle with a bunch of nasty little creatures. The poor girl has to spend two thirds of the film crying, screaming or generally terrified, and that she accomplishes this by also making us care about her character is a brilliant effort and elevates the entire film. A fantastic effort, so well done Bailee.
Let’s start with the anti-comedy quadrella of Bad Teacher, Hall Pass, The Change-Up and Bridesmaids, which proved once and for all that women aren’t funny. This especially goes for women taking a shit, be it on a toilet, in a sink, on the street or anywhere in general. Gross-out, bad taste comedy is deader than the Farrelly Brothers career.
Now let’s take an adventure through two teen-centric action turds. Abduction, was a film that wasted Sigourney Weaver, Maria Bello, Jason Isaacs, Michael Nyqvist, Dermot Mulroney and Alfred Molina and instead centred around a talentless sack of crap best known for standing in the rain with his shirt off. I Am Number Four, directed by that purveyor of dogshit DJ Caruso, was a film that failed to further spread the epidemic known commonly as Olyphantitis and instead focused on a talentless English sack of crap who has been quickly and thankfully relegated to the dungheap of Hollywood bad guy roles (if his role in ‘In Time’ is anything to be judged by and let’s all pray it is).
And there was Drive, the most overrated film of the year, and the cinematic equivalent of wearing sunglasses in a nightclub.
Along with these cinematic abortions, lest we forget that there were the usual bid-budget shitfests like Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and X-Men: First Class, awful horrors and thrillers like Dream House, and Insidious, and the abysmal action movies Ironclad and Unknown. And Burke and Hare, whatever the hell that was.
And of course there was Sucker Punch, which was directed by that purveyor of slow-motion dogshit Zack Snyder, and managed to turn a film about hot strippers and samurai into a film I stopped watching 20 minutes in. I heard there were GIANT ROBOTS in it, but I wasn’t wasting another 100 minutes of my life subjecting myself to fugly visuals and musical montages in the hope of seeing one.
But enough of all that. Here’s my…
Ten Favourite Films of 2011!
The success of Joe Wright’s ‘Hanna’, starring Saorsie Ronan, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett, is, for me, pure film magic. It’s the way all the elements combine to make something more than the sum of their parts. Don’t get me wrong, there’s quality all round here, but apart from the score by Basement Jaxx, nothing stood out as amazing. But take one part good performances (particularly Ronan), a dash of energetic direction, a portion of solid writing, and pour in a jug of brilliant score and what you’ve got is a deliciously entertaining action film that’s a cut above the usual Hollywood fare.
This is a film that you really should know very little about prior to seeing. So I’ll just say… actually I decided to delete that brief description because the less you know the better. Featuring a brilliant performance from Michael Shannon and great support from Jessica Chastain, this disturbing, captivating film is written and directed by Jeff Nichols who handles the ambiguity of the story with superb control. This is a film I’ll come back to in the near future to see if there’s things I missed first time around.
It’s funny how such an astonishingly boring spectator sport like Baseball can so often result in very entertaining movies. Major League is my favourite sports movie. So I had some hope for Moneyball, which I was very pleased to discover not only met my expectations but exceeded them. Featuring a stand out performance from Jonah Hill, a good performance from Brad Pitt and a hilariously douchey cameo from Spike Jonze, the acting in this film is top notch across the board. The other accomplishment of Bennett Millers film is the superb way it handles the dull subject of statistical analysis and portraying to the audience in straightforward terms the importance of this element of the story.
I’m not the biggest fan of horror. I think it’s because the majority of horror films don’t actually try to scare you. Most are made from off the shelf elements. A random selection of people, usually teenagers. A secluded location. An omnipotent murderer. Watching people die in various grotesque ways just to see how they die doesn’t really do it for me. The few horror films that work for me are the one’s that place characters we like and place them in predicaments of hopelessness. I’m thinking about a movie like ‘The Descent’, where we get to know the characters and then watch with mounting dread as they get themselves into a situation where they have no control. The original ‘Nightmare of Elm Street’ is another that works for me, because a murderer haunting your dreams is inescapable. We all have to sleep. 2011 is a rare year as I saw two horror films that were very, very effective, and they couldn’t be more different.
Kill List, written and directed by Ben Wheatley, is soaked from head to toe in dread from start to shocking finish with little to release the grip of tension. The less known about this film the better, as seeing it cold (as I did) makes it much more effective. But if you want to read about it, Jarv sang its praises here. I’d recommend reading the review after seeing the film though. Let this one reveal its surprises and sit back as it pummels your knackers for 90 minutes.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a remake of a 1970’s TV movie and directed by Troy Nixey, had me jumping, but also had me muttering to myself, urging the characters on. “Get out of that damn house!” “Listen to the girl!” “Step on those tiny evil bastards!” It’s a fun movie with a great build of tension and a lot of good scares. It features a winning performance from Bailee Madison and solid support from Guy Pearce and Katie Holmes (especially). It’s one of the most underrated films of the year, and should be checked out by anyone who likes a good scare.
Life is a fillet of fish… Um, yes it is! The Muppets are back thanks to writers Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segal (who also stars), director James Bobin and music supervisor Bret McKenzie (from Flight of the Conchords). Despite the update, Segal and Co. keep the essence of The Muppets intact. Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzy, Animal and the rest of the gang are just as charming and goofy as they ever were in this fun, enjoyable and good natured dose of feelgoodery. The songs are catchy (a little too catchy! “Life’s a Happy Song” has been stuck in my head for a week!), the tone is lighthearted and there’s plenty of laughs to be had as The Muppets pokes fun at its own old school entertainment. If you’re a fan then this one will put an ear to ear grin on your face.
I find sports movies very hard to dislike (evidenced by the appearance of Moneyball on my list). Throw in the underdog, the undefeatable champ, and most of all, robots, and you’re fighting an vertically steep battle to get me to hate your film. But even I didn’t expect to enjoy ‘Real Steel’ as much as I did. Thanks to likeable performances from Hugh Jackman and Dakota Goyo as the estranged father and son who team up for a run at the Robot Boxing World Title, and the very good direction from Shawn Levy who lets the film rattle along at a good pace and builds the momentum all the way to the finale. Credit goes to Levy and the effects people who bring the bots to life, especially the sparring robot Atom who gets a personality through nothing more than body language and his big blue eyes.
Gore Verbinski’s ‘Rango’, which stars Johnny Depp as the titular lizard is a very funny, clever, weird and flat out entertaining riff in the Western genre. With a top notch voice cast including Isla Fisher, Stephen Root, Ned Beatty, Ray Winstone, Harry Dean Stanton, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy and Timothy Olyphant the film gently spoofs Westerns while simultaneously complying the conventions of the genre. In a year I’ve declared my ‘Year of Fun’, Rango is possibly the most fun film I’ve seen. The top three are all pretty much even in my book, but for the sake of making a list I’ve numbered them.
Who’d have thought it? A great Fast and Furious film! Not even the series’ most staunch defenders (of which I am one of the very few) would have expected the fifth film in a “tough guys drive chicks cars real fast” franchise could’ve been so much fun. The introduction of The Rock as the musclebound special agent brings a different dimension to proceedings, and gives Vin a worthy adversary. The combination of a slightly tweaked storyline (the film revolves around a spectacular heist instead of boring drag racing), familiar faces from the previous films, a new, exotic location, and director Justin Lin’s third stab at it all add up to make this the biggest surprise of the year for me.
As a result of the three way tie for first place, I hereby lean ever so slightly towards ‘The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn’. I do so for a couple of reasons, but mainly because the film satisfied my hopes for a big screen Tintin adventure. It also marked the return to form of Steven Spielberg, who showed an energy and excitement that hasn’t been seen in his films for almost a decade. A doff of the cap to The Beard, Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis and all those involved in successfully bringing one of my favourite characters to animated life.
And that’s all the news that’s fit to print, folks. If you haven’t seen some of the good ones on the list, I recommend you check them out when you get the chance. And try to avoid the lousy efforts as well. Or don’t.