HEY EVERYBODY IT'S ME ALEX
THESE ARE MY FAVORITE FILMS OF LAST YEAR AND ALSO SOME I JUST KIND OF LIKED AND ALSO SOME I JUST REALLY DIDN'T LIKE
CALM DOWN IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE
OKAY ENOUGH BUILD-UP JOIN ME AFTER THE BREAK FOR A SERIOUSLY FUN TIME
I STOP WRITING IN ALL-CAPS IN THE FULL ARTICLE I PROMISE
1. ATTACK THE BLOCK
If you spend any amount of time on nerdy movie websites you're probably sick of hearing about Attack The Block by now (especially if you're some kind of asshole who hasn't bothered to see it EVEN THOUGH I TOTALLY TOLD YOU TO), but, yeah, this was definitely my favorite movie this year. Thuggish inner-city London kids fend off an alien invasion. The film opens with its protagonist mugging an innocent young woman, and by film's end, he's a hero. Writer-director Joe Cornish's first feature is just such a good movie, through and through. Setups, payoffs, character arcs, genuinely exciting action, and it really didn't hurt that it's also the funniest film I saw all year, either. Though it definitely earns its R-rating, Attack The Block managed to evoke more of an old school gee-whiz feel of childlike moviegoing joy than even Amblin's release of Super 8 this year (and I totally liked Super 8, too, I ain't even hatin').
I went into Warrior expecting nothing more than fun manliness, and left it with such a shit-eating grin on my face. This film reeks of melodrama - two estranged brothers from a broken home going up against each other in a winner-take-all mixed martial arts tournament. One needs the money to support the widow and son of a fellow marine he let die, the other needs it to keep his house (after paying all the hospital bills for his sick daughter). Nick Nolte is their craggy old dad, still recovering from the alcoholism that tore their family apart. It's MMA fighting romanticized to the point where you'd expect its trailer to be more like this. Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy knock it out of the park as the brothers (especially Hardy, who goes so gorilla-Brando I expected him to start dragging his knuckles on the floor) and Nick Nolte has never played the Nick Nolte role better. It's like a romance novel, but about fighting. Just try not squirting a few manly tears at this one.
Watching Hugo may be as close as I'll ever come to having Martin Scorsese be my grandfather, sitting me down by the fire on a snowy winter evening with a cup of hot cocoa and telling me a fun story (sneaking a little film history in there.) While it's essentially the story of an orphan finding a family, Hugo is also a love-letter to cinema, its emotional importance, and the necessity of its preservation, while simultaneously managing to be an engrossing story about lovable characters (especially the brief supporting turns by Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, Emily Mortimer - hell, even Richard Griffiths shows up). And of course Scorsese makes 3D work - it's hard to gauge the format's value when most of its exposure comes from post-converted messes like Clash of the Titans or, worse, gimmicky shit like Yogi Bear 3D. A great filmmaker with such a knack for thoughtful, important image composition would naturally put 3D to its best use. It's such a seamless part of the film's total package that it's easy to forget you're even wearing those annoying glasses, and just let the sheer cinema of Hugo wash over you... yeah, watching Hugo is like getting a hug from ol' Grampa Scorsese.
4. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN
Great snakes, Tintin's fun. Stephen Spielberg could shoot a decent chase sequence in his sleep, but he certainly wasn't snoozing through this one. The results of his being freed of the shackles of reality's limitations are pretty incredible to behold, and I found myself in the mindset of a small child clapping at magic tricks. The animation's kind of awesome, though the faces do run the risk of entering uncanny valley territory - I didn't mind, but a friend put it best when he declared, almost fearfully, "everything looks real BUT THE PEOPLE!" Still, it's easy to push science out of your head and just enjoy Tintin and Snowy on a swashbuckling adventure, and Andy Serkis' turn as the alcoholic Captain Haddock with his superpowered belches was far more worthy of a mo-cap acting Oscar than anything he did as a monkey this year. It's like chase-scene candy.
5. FAST FIVE
Continuing 2011's trend of movies that were really fun, Fast Five hit the multiplexes like a concussion grenade to pretentiousness. It's a cliche heist flick with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, and director Justin Lin shows off some impressive (and greatly improved) action sequence chops. He was already a pretty talented guy anyway (for real, check out Better Luck Tomorrow and you'll be baffled as to why he went on to make three Fast and the Furious movies). Testosterone drips from every frame of this manly sweat-fest, with plenty of bad acting, soap opera melodrama, gratuitous slow-mo shots of bikini-clad women, and goofy hijinks with the zanier members of the heist crew. By the time The Rock showed up I didn't even need him. Then he took it to the next level. If you're in a good mood to play along, Fast Five will make you pretty happy.
Other movies I totally loved: Midnight in Paris, Tree of Life, Hanna, Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Contagion
Eh, Pretty Good
I really liked Moneyball, both as a sports movie and as an ode to subverting limitation by thinking creatively, and director Bennett Miller does an impressive job of making a sports film with barely any games in it so watchable. It's just ironic that a film about pragmatism is ultimately bogged down by just a bit too much sentimentality in the end, giving way too much attention to characters' families and personal lives. It would have been right at home in a traditional big-game sports film, but Moneyball was anything but that.
Guys, stop rolling your eyes at the obvious symbolism of the locket, and the jumble of disconnected themes. It was fun. It was funny. The train crash sequence was really cool. The kids do a great job acting across the board, showing impeccable comic timing chops and establishing unique & lived-in characters (particularly Elle Fanning, but she gets the most noticeable proof-you-can-act material). It feels like the backlash against this one is made up predominately of people who walked into the theater grumbling "this shit better be every ounce as good as E.T" and not "I hope I enjoy this homage to films like E.T. on its own terms." Sometimes a story's just a story, and I really liked this one.
Yeah, really. I don't have much venom for Diablo Cody anymore - while I did hate Jennifer's Body, I reacted to Juno with more of a shrug. I spent most of Young Adult thinking, hey, this might be the first story from Diablo Cody I really like. All other aspects of the film are spot on, particularly the performances - the pure hatred that seethes out of Patton Oswalt in the scene with the "annoying cripple" is breathtaking. Then, sadly, the film took a nosedive for me right in its final moments (spoilers ahead, obviously). I get that you can call a film a "character study" and it justifies lack of any character change, hell, I'm all about it (did you see Big Fan? So fucking good, and, yeah, that's another Patton Oswalt movie), but Young Adult isn't Big Fan or The Wrestler - I just couldn't buy that this character hadn't grown a little by film's end.
She'd gone on such a clear tragic spiral and had even vocalized her problems, that I was really hoping we'd actually get a whole, real movie out of this. I get it, she's a psycho prom queen bitch, and her delusions and lack of character change led her to write the final chapter of her book in properly shallow fashion. But what if she'd actually grown a little and learned something? She could've even written the lesson into her book, elevating it from young-adult schlock into a successful standalone novel, or something. Call me old fashioned, but an optimistic ending would've been far more fulfilling, and, in the wake of all the "character studies" we've seen lately, a bit more surprising. The film's ending as-is just comes off as lazy. I loved Attack the Block for feeling like such a real movie, so I have to dislike Young Adult for only feeling like half of one, at best.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
Ugh. I'm already tired of talking (and hearing) about this, but I just really didn't have much fun with this one. David Fincher's one of my favorite directors, but I'd rather he go do something else that's actually interesting. The story's all over the place and the titular character isn't even in it that much, which is kind of disappointing after they set her up to be this totally cool don't-fuck-with-me badass (Rooney Mara kills it with a great performance, too, so props to her) but then she helps Daniel Craig (yeah, the actor's name is what I remember most about his character) solve a mystery by clicking through pictures on a Macbook. The egregious product placement didn't help shake the feeling that I was watching a mass-produced Hollywood product of a book that was really popular last year. Admittedly that's kind of harsh - it's great on a technical level and Fincher's direction could make anything watchable, but it does just that, distracting the audience from how little sense the story actually makes.
Then again, I actually like the movie Watchmen (though I'd also consider it a failure) as a fan of the book, and I'm no fan of the book that spawned this whole phenomenon, but I'm sure anybody who is probably enjoyed this movie, too. Like Watchmen, it feels less like a standalone film and more like a companion piece to the novel, something I never had any interest in. So, I'm sorry, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but you never really had a chance on my end.
I'll admit I had relatively high hopes for this one (which probably made one of me). I love the original '80s cheesefest and I was psyched for a new take on it - the basic premise of the original could go so many different ways. Blame my addiction to movie news for my expectations in this case; the script was getting great buzz, Craig Gillespie was an interesting left-field choice to direct, and each bit of spot-on casting raised my interest that much more. In the age of Twilight I was totally ready for an old school evil Vampire story. Alas, when I finally saw the film itself, it let me down to the point of confusion. It's kind of an uninspired mess, and I'm still a little flustered about what exactly went wrong. The thing moves so fast that it's a rare bad movie that I didn't consider to be long enough. Colin Farrell's great, but you've got to give me a reason to root against him, and none of the human characters really got there, save for maybe Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Evil Ed, whose totally shitty treatment at the hands of the film's "hero" just made me want Farrell to kill everybody even more. David Tennant's another standout in the cast, but he's really short-changed on screen time and appears to be in the film for no other reason than to lengthen such a bare-bones story.
Fright Night also holds the distinction of being possibly the most poorly-marketed film of the year. It's kind of funny that a film that was supposed to be an answer to the Twilight craze (though it ended up just making a lazy one-line throwaway joke about it) proceeded to run most of its commercials on MTV, marketing almost exclusively to the very demographic the film was attempting to lambast. It also didn't help being a mainstream horror film that couldn't secure an October release date. Regardless of what I thought when I saw the film itself, it wasn't much of a surprise when this thing bombed.
I Really Disliked
RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Great visual effects, and I actually liked most of the scenes that involved just apes and no humans. Unfortunately, those scenes take up maybe twenty minutes of screen time, as the rest of the film focuses on wooden "scientist" James Franco bickering with his glib boss (the dialogue in those scenes is actually so bad it's disorienting). Freida Pinto also shows up for no apparent reason, having nothing to do or say, and John Lithgow's subplot as Franco's dad-with-alzheimers has some good acting in it but ultimately left me wondering exactly what movie I'd come to see. Stupid characters make bad decisions and it's annoying to watch them do it. Give the visual effects an oscar, sure, but this is an uneven mess of a movie.
<nerdrage>And, okay, I tried not bringing this up, but in Rise of the Planet of the Apes we're actually presented with the idea that mankind succumbs to a devastating virus that makes people sneeze blood. The virus is a side effect of the tampering with apes to cure alzheimer's, but it fucks up people's sinuses instead of their brains, and apes are somehow immune. Fine, whatever, that makes no fucking sense, but I'd bite, except that this is a prequel to those other Planet of the Apes movies in which mankind clearly blew itself up in a kind of global thermonuclear war. That was the whole fucking message of Planet of the Apes, but now, no, it was Contagion. The virus appears to be some kind of explanation for why apes manage to take over even though mankind clearly outnumbers them, but it does little to explain why the apes are able to bring San Francisco to its knees even though their numbers do not grow in any way and the humans haven't had a widespread pandemic of this virus yet (by the time of the ape-attack it's only killed one dude.) Still, mankind and its machines have no idea how to react to apes throwing shit at them, and society crumbles. Fuck this stupid movie.</nerdrage>
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
Ah, shit, and I just used up all that nerdrage on the Apes. Ever since those first two actually-good X-Men movies, I feel I've just been mercilessly assaulted by shit. I've written about this before. But I was hoping that, with enough time having lapsed since the godawful X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Bryan Singer back on as producer, and good-director Matthew Vaughn behind the camera, X-Men: First Class might actually turn the tide back towards me having fun with this franchise. It's obvious that "fun" was on their minds here, but it's just so wrong, like a child telling a story and emphasizing the strangest aspects. There's literally a scene in this movie where all of the teenagers sit in a circle and go around reciting their mutant-name and power, which must have been a big help to the toy companies. By the time we're watching the climactic fight (in which the fairy-girl throws fireballs at the kid who flies by screaming so hard) things have gotten a little too goofy.
What makes it so much worse is that there's actually a third of a good movie in here - Michael Fassbender kills it as Magneto, and James McAvoy is pretty great as a young Professor X, as well, but instead of giving them the whole movie the film just keeps cutting back to those obnoxious fucking kids. Kevin Bacon's pretty good as the villain, too, aging gracefully into his Walken Years, but it's not enough to save this mess. Remember when these movies used to be good?
That said, I'll have to give this film the year's That Guy award for most recognizable character actors in bit parts. Bacon's our villain, obviously, but we're also treated to appearances by Jason Flemyng, Glenn Morshower, Michael Ironside, Matt Craven, Ray Wise, Rade Serbedzija, the immortal JAMES REMAR, and, of course, Oliver Platt as "Man in Black Suit." Too bad they gave all these cool actors like five seconds of screentime and the wooden January Jones gets to be integral to the plot instead.
Movies I Didn't Actually See Yet, But Here's My Opinion Anyway
THE ARTIST - I want to see it, but only for the dog. It's probably going to win Best Picture so I already unfairly don't like it a little, but I still really like that dog.
EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE - Why did you get nominated for anything? No. No, I'm still not going to see you. Stop it.
WAR HORSE - You're totally going to make me cry, aren't you?
MARTHA MARCY MAE MARLENE - Kind of like the opposite of Extremely Loud in that I already know how I'm probably going to feel about it when I see it, but in this case, I'm really going to like it. John Hawkes has achieved dealmaker status at this point.
Alright I probably forgot about a bunch of stuff but I'm gonna go. Thanks for reading, guys.
awesome animation by paul robertson
awesome video up top by kees van dijkhuizen