The Best and Worst of 2011
By David Vicari
It's awards season, so it's time for my personal ten favorite movies I saw last year. First let me throw out some honorable mentions: 50/50, Attack the Block, Beginners, Captain America: The First Avenger, Drive, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Paul, The Ides of March, Straw Dogs, Source Code, War Horse, The Ward and Young Adult.
10. Super 8—A thrilling monster-from-outer-space movie with strong characterizations.
9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes—This kinda-sorta prequel to the original Planet of the Apes films is exciting entertainment culminating in an awesome action set-piece on the Golden Gate bridge. What holds it all together is an amazingly affecting motion capture performance by Andy Serkis as the rebellious ape Caesar.
8. The Descendants—George Clooney plays a land baron in Hawaii who has to take his comatose wife off life support and, at the same time, re-connect with his two daughters. Alexander Payne's comedy/drama has many moments of emotional truth.
7. Moneyball—Riveting account of Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's attempt to build a baseball team on a budget using statistical date. I know, it sounds dull, but this really is a compelling picture with terrific performances by both Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.
6. 13 Assassins—Takeshi Miike's samurai action remake is a deliriously good time at the movies.
5. The Artist—Yes, it's a gimmick that this is a silent film, and yes, it borrows story elements from Singin' in the Rain, but this ode to silent cinema is warm, charming and beautifully acted and directed.
4. The Interrupters—A shattering yet ultimately hopeful documentary, from Hoop Dreams director Steve James, about a band of “Violence Interrupters” in Chicago who try to intervene in conflicts before they turn violent.
3. Win Win—Paul Giamatti plays a down-on-his-luck lawyer and volunteer high school wrestling coach whose one misdeed lands him a star athlete. Not a sports film, but an intricate drama with a sharp sense of humor.
2. Hugo—Martin Scorsese's personal tribute to the magic of cinema in the form of a family film concerning silent filmmaker Georges Méliès. This is highly accessible art with an engaging central mystery and wonderfully memorable characters.
1. The Tree of Life—Terrance Malick's bold montage of a movie exploring childhood remembrances as well as the mysteries of the universe.
10. Green Lantern—This goofy adaptation of the D.C. Comics superhero is poorly paced and edited.
9. 30 Minutes or Less—You would think that a “comedy” about a pizza delivery guy forced to rob a bank because he has a bomb strapped to him would contain some tension or at least a “ticking clock” formula. Think again.
8. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides—Bloated, dull and soulless — just like the three before it.
7. Red Riding Hood—A Twilight-inspired retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. Joy!
6. The Green Hornet – Incredibly dumb, incoherent action comedy based on the old serial.
5. Sucker Punch—Zack Snyder’s action/fantasy supposedly promoting “girl power” with heavily armed young women in school girl skirts blowing stuff up. Hanna director Joe Wright called “bullshit” on that. I agree.
4. Super—Stupid, violent and wildly uneven spoof of vigilante super heroes plays like a collision between Taxi Driver and Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
3. Chillerama—Possibly the worst horror/comedy anthology since 1986’s Deadtime Stories. Lots of semen and penis gags but little else, including coherency, in this supposed homage to drive-in shlock.
2. Red State—In his first thriller (about a murderous religious cult), writer/director Kevin Smith goes for shock value instead of competent storytelling. Hipster nihilism at its zenith.
1. The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)—The story here is that a crazed fan of the first film decides to start sewing people together. Well, writer/director Tom Six does have a vision, but then again I suspect this guy will eventually be arrested for crimes against nature. Filmed in black and white, except when the deep brown of diarrhea splatters on the camera lens. This could have been fun in a From Beyond kind of way, but nastiness and cruelty overwhelm it.
Best of 2011
By Fritz Esker
1) The Descendants
3) War Horse
5) A Separation
6) Attack the Block
7) The Interrupters
By Fritz Esker
The new thriller Gone is getting largely hammered by critics, but in reality, it’s an entertaining if far-fetched affair. Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia) plays a young woman who escaped from the clutches of a serial killer (who was never caught). After a stint in a mental hospital, she struggles in daily life, wondering if each stranger she meets is a potential threat. She lives with her sister, who one day disappears without a trace. The cops think Seyfried is having a mental breakdown. As Seyfried investigates on her own, the film does a decent job of a balancing her attempts to find her sister with implications that maybe she is just collapsing under the weight of her own paranoia. While Gone breaks no new ground, it’s the kind of simple, unassuming genre flick that ends up playing very well on cable on a rainy afternoon. Most films of this sort have a compelling setup, but grow increasingly ridiculous as the film progresses, eventually disintegrating under the weight of preposterous plot twists. Gone is by no means grittily realistic, but it has the sense to never overstep its bounds. It aims to be nothing more than a straightforward popcorn thriller and it succeeds.
By David Vicari
The makers of TV’s “The State” and the films Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten and Role Models return with Wanderlust, a loopy comedy that is marginally successful. Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston play an unemployed New York couple who find themselves at a rural commune where free love and psychedelics reign supreme. It’s Rudd’s sarcastic observations that get most of the laughs here, though, Joe Lo Truglio’s nudist character and Justin Theroux’s phony hippie have their moments. There are misses, however, like when Rudd spouts a seemingly endless barrage of juvenile sexual remarks into a mirror. Then that same schtick continues into the next scene when his character is nervous about having sex with free spirit Malin Akerman. It wasn’t funny in the first place and became annoying when it kept going on and on. Wanderlust is at its best when it goes for smart, weird humor, which is, thankfully, most of the time.
By Fritz Esker
The Iranian drama A Separation just won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and it’s a deserving choice. As the film opens, a married couple with a child is seeking a divorce. The wife wants to leave Iran but the husband won’t leave behind his father, who has Alzheimer’s. Without his approval, she can’t leave the country. But she can leave his home, so she moves out. The husband hires a pregnant woman to take care of his dad during the day. Before long, tragedy occurs. A Separation is not a flashy film. But it is consistently compelling as it raises the stakes for its characters. What it does remarkably well is show how otherwise decent people can behave badly when they feel crushed by circumstance. There aren’t any easy villains here, just stressed out human beings trying to make the best of things, only to see things get worse. The film was written and directed by Asghar Faradi and it’s his first breakthrough in American cinemas. It’s well-deserved and hopefully viewers will get to see more of his work in the future.