Haven’t seen: The Artist (!), The Descendents, Into the Abyss, A Dangerous Method, Tyrannosaur, etc.
Here ya go…numbers 30-16, with the top 15 coming later this week. I have my own system for deciding if a movie is classified as being a 2011 release. Basically, if I first had a legitimate chance to see it in 2011, it’s 2011. I make the rules around here, so that’s the way it goes.
30. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (dir-Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Mr. Uncle is dying, so he decides to spend some time with family in the countryside, enjoying the simple, tactile company of family members and the lush nature that surrounds them. Similarly tactile ghosts of his dead wife and missing son join them as guests from Uncle’s future, I guess. This scene is the centerpiece of the film, a cryptic and haunting Buddhist parable about a family dealing with death. The ghost scenes are perfectly creepy and among the most realistic ever seen in a film (if ghost scenes could ever be said to be “realistic”).
29. The Muppets (dir-James Bobin)
Squarely pitched as a kids movie, this nevertheless contains sly humor for the older crowd (my favorite line is when that kid asks Kermit if he’s one of the Ninja Turtles) and catchy songs in the classic Muppets mold (not some modern autotune bullshit). Also…it’s the fucking Muppets! How do you not like the Muppets? Even a heartless bastard like me enjoys the Muppets.
28. Spork (dir-J.B. Ghuman Jr.)
The dark horse of this list, Spork looked like it might be potentially insufferable at first glance (essentially Napoleon Dynamite molded to please the High School Musical crowd), yet completely surprised me by being an inventive and hilarious early 90's (like, pre-grunge) answer to John Water’s Hairspray, despite the hackneyed plot (essentially the same half baked plot as Napoleon Dynamite; a total nerd girl finally gains confidence by kicking butt at the school talent show). A constant barrage of trashy pop culture minutia that is giddy and celebratory, rather than merely emblems of hipness (although the line between the two is admittedly thin). The group of 12 year old faux-Heathers that constantly insult Spork are perfectly rendered (in terms of hair, clothes, and attitude), and I can’t help but love a movie that culminates with our heroine triumphing above all by performing an electro rap dance while wearing 3-D glasses and a Nintendo Power Glove. Oops. I gave it away. Sorry. Anyway, the lesson is: don't talk into a hamburger phone because it's cool and quirky; do it because it's awesome to talk into a hamburger. So you see my point.
27. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (dir-Eli Craig)
Tyler Labine (as Dale) pulls off the most thanklessly difficult performance of the year (think Jerry Lewis via Larry the Cable Guy), supplying both the humor and humanity that anchors what could have been a one-joke premise. Tucker and Dale are unwittingly pegged as mad redneck slashers through a series of misunderstandings, and this isn’t done as a cheap parody of slasher movies (as if slashers need to be parodied further), but as an innovative extension of the classic comedic premise of two schmucks having a bad day that keeps getting worse (think Laurel and Hardy).
26. Le Quattro Volte (dir-Michelangelo Frammartino)
A static and contemplative chronicling of the cyclical nature of life, including vignettes about an old man dying, a goat getting lost from the herd, the chopping down of a tree, and the making of charcoal. Sound boring? Well, I guess it is, but I like stuff that is boring for the right reasons, and I guess the movie is asking the viewer to contemplate four different phase changes that occur in nature, with this being the only tenuous connection between the vignettes. This is mainly on the list because of the goat segment, one of my favorite scenes of the year, and a sort of achingly beautiful distillation of Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar.
25. Win Win (dir-Tom McCarthy)
More like director Tom McCarthy’s previous film The Station Agent than the token sports comedy it was advertised as, here is a lovingly observed character portrait of a sad sack lawyer and wrestling coach (Paul Giamatti, kicking ass and taking names acting wise) who becomes involved in the life of a kid who is a very good wrestler and also the estranged son of one of his clients. Funny but always human and never obvious or melodramatic.
24. Attack the Block (dir-Joe Cornish)
A kinetic and fun variation on the alien invasion flick that crosses street culture with the early apartment scenes in Dawn of the Dead. Even the aliens are a wonderfully fitting and simple design that feel vaguely street art/pop art while remaining perfectly menacing. The overblown Spielberg rip Super 8 could’ve learned a thing or two by watching Attack the Block (if alien attack movies watched other alien attack movies and took notes and improved themselves accordingly).
23. Hobo with a Shotgun (dir-Jason Eisener)
Wings Hauser once sung about Neon Slime on the soundtrack to Vice Squad, but he might as well be describing Hobo with a Shotgun. Rutger Hauer is fucking Rutger Hauer (well, not literally…never mind), and he’s been pushed over the edge; the streets are filled with garbage and he’s decided to take out the trash, and he’s too old for this shit and this shit is getting old, et al. Somewhere between Street Trash and a movie from Troma’s glory days (stop snickering), the film adeptly handles social commentary not as ham handed preaching, but as visceral pop trash symbolism; a world where entitled douches crush the dreams of innocent urban dwellers with their douchey fists, and the resulting human wreckage washes away in a hopeless sewer of broken promises. Did I mention that Rutger Hauer shoots people with a shotgun? Oh yes he does.
22. Marwencol (dir-Jeff Malmberg)
Succeeds where In the Realms of the Unreal faltered, this portrait of outsider artist Mark Hogancamp chronicles his obsession to create a full fledged fictional town out of dolls after he suffers brain damage during a bar fight. Sensitively cuts back and forth between Mark’s real life and his fictional life without tying everything into a neat package. Or, as the tagline says, “when his world was stolen, Mark Hogancamp made a world of his own”. Basically, it’s about a real artist making real art, regardless of how silly it seems on the outside.
21. Take Shelter (dir-Jeff Nichols)
A parable of male suppression, Michael Shannon swallows the financial downfall of his family on screen to perfection, while his subconscious bubbles up in the form of dreams and visions. Jessica Chastain matches him wonderfully as they slowly drift apart, the emotionally open yang to his emotionally suppressed yin.
20. Buck (dir-Cindy Meehl)
His name is Buck and he like to…work with horses, you pervert. Buck Brannaman, a partial inspiration for the book “The Horse Whisperer”, is a true cowboy who trains horses with a zen touch rooted in western myth. Horse training not only becomes a metaphor for life, but a way for Buck to exorcise demons from his childhood. Even if you hate horses (maybe a horse once kicked your life-size cardboard cutout of Debbie Gibson, breaking it in half, and you’ve despised their kind ever since), this beautiful doc will still appeal to you, because it’s really about LIFE!
19. Submarine (dir-Richard Ayoade)
If Juno made you want to shove a pencil into your nose and give yourself a poor man’s lobotomy (although in fairness, even a lobotomy performed by a professional using state-of-the-art tools is probably a bad idea), check out Submarine, maybe a darker, much Welsh-ier Rushmore. This is quirk done right, borne out of human absurdity instead of hipster posturing, and it also doubles as an amusing homage to early Godard. Oh, and it’s fucking funny, unlike a lot of movies just trying to be hip and alternative and all flannel and whatever (editor’s note: author stopped watching MTV in the mid-90’s).
18. The Interrupters (dir-Steve James)
An emotionally potent portrait of several “interrupters” (people who go out on the streets to curb gang violence) in the most crime ridden parts of Chicago. From the director of Hoop Dreams, this film is more episodic and lacks that film's dramatic arc, but instead the “cure” for gang violence is presented from several different view points and different one-on-one approaches. Contains one of the most emotionally devastating scenes of the year, when a 17-year-old gets out of jail after three years for armed robbery and attempts to ask forgiveness of the woman he robbed in order to rehabilitate himself as part of the “interrupter” program.
17. Midnight in Paris (dir-Woody Allen)
The setup is pure latter day Woody hackery, but once Owen Wilson travels back to 20’s Paris, the magic begins. Pitch perfect supporting performances left and right, especially Corey Stoll’s Hemingway, and even Adrien Brody rocks as Salvador Dali. I was enchanted much like Owen was, to where the twists and semi-weighty themes crept up on me, even though they should’ve seemed obvious and ham handed. Not only do I wonder why Owen would even consider coming back to reality, I wonder why Woody doesn’t just stick to period pieces from here on out, instead of recycling the same stock New York wasp characters who have the same interests (old jazz!) and utter the same dialogue (I shouldn’t drink!) and have the same existential crises (I need to create something that outlives me!). Not that I'm complaining.
16. Moneyball (dir-Bennett Miller)
Misused sports statistics annoy me for some reason, and I worried about that in this adaptation of a book I haven’t read (boy, I should really be worrying about shit more important than that). However, the film correctly glosses over the details, and makes it a story about Brad Pitt, a failure of a ball player who redeems himself as a general manager (with the help of his nerdy assistant who actually does all of the work) by completely going against the grain to turn a team on the brink of disaster into a big ass winner. Never less than riveting, without completely Hollywoodizing the importance that statistics play in the team’s turnaround (although certain information is discreetly glossed over for dramatic purposes, but hey, I expect outright lies from Hollywood).