Friday, January 13, 2012

The Top 35 Films of 2011: #35-#21

                                                                          35. How to Die In Oregon 

If this isn’t the grimmest, most devastating movie of the year...well, then please don’t tell me what is. How to Die In Oregon takes an up close look at legalized assisted suicide, both in its legal and personal repercussions. It makes for a tough, at times almost unwatchable ordeal; yet the film is always honest, and never gratuitous or insensitive. And regardless of one’s own political beliefs, it’s impossible to deny the power in watching someone take life-ending prescription pills and then waiting for the end to come. Don’t watch the film to be entertained; watch it to be be pained.

34. Brotherhood 

This sharp little indie thriller, which details the aftermath of a college prank gone horribly, brutally wrong, came and went in March 2011 to little fanfare or attention. Yet Brotherhood stands as not merely a riveting tension-machine, but also as a harsh look into modern masculinity. And at only 82 minutes, the film doesn’t run long enough to outstay its welcome. It’s a movie that offers the best type of suspense– that which is sharply written, uncomfortably personal, and methodically executed.

33. Cowboys and Aliens 

I already recounted my feelings on Cowboys and Aliens in my Underrated Films of 2011 piece, so I’ll just say this: as a high concept genre flick, Cowboys and Aliens delivers exactly what its title promises, often in a grandiose and occasionally even inspired fashion. It’s may not be high art...but when it comes to delivering the fun, it doesn’t skimp out.

32. My Week with Marilyn 

Sometimes all you want after a hard day’s work is to sit down and watch some good old fashioned Hollywood fluff, to which My Week with Marilyn is more than satisfactory. Michelle Williams strikes a compelling portrayal of the late bombshell, as does Kenneth Brannagh in depicting the acclaimed auteur Laurence Olivier. And the script, written by Adrian Hodges, is shameless in its lenience on old Hollywood nostalgia. My Week with Marilyn may not be especially dense or even particularly filling, but as cinematic cotton candy, it’s quite divine while it lasts.

31. I Saw the Devil 

Hemophobes, beware: Kim-Ji-Woon’s ultraviolent revenge fantasy I Saw the Devil is about as grisly a venture that 2011 ever saw. Yet thanks to the strength of its two main performers and Woon’s ever-creative direction, I Saw the Devil manages to elevate itself from the ranks of torture porn such as Saw and Hostel, and up into the ranks of more respectably garish fare, such as Oldboy and Ichi the Killer. It’s not for everyone, but for those craving a little late night bloodfest, this should hit the spot.

30. Evil Things 

Judged purely on the merits of its appearance, one wouldn’t be remiss in dismissing Evil Things outright as yet another straight-to-DVD horror misfire. Neither the DVD box cover nor the lack of any type of marketing campaign do it any favors, either. Yet underneath all of the negative artifice lies one of the year’s most buried gems: a tight, shrewdly crafted little genre picture that takes the oft-used ‘found footage’ format and does something–gasp!–different with it. Melding elements of The Blair Witch Project with Atrocious, as well as a touch of Steven Spielberg’s Duel, director Dominic Perez’s feature is the rare chiller that actually has more on its mind than blood-letting or cheap scare tricks.

29. The Green Hornet 

Like I said in my Underrated Films list: you either like Seth Rogen or you don’t. What can I say–his brand of lunkhead comedy works for me. The Green Hornet doesn’t do anything particularly new for the superhero genre, but for me, that’s part of its charm–I like the way that director Michel Gondry manages to mix laid back farcical elements with oft-used superhero tropes. All in all, it makes for a tastily sour concoction of a film. 

28. Tower Heist 

This was a case of a movie that had no excuse to be anything but terrible, and yet somehow, managed to be kind of great. The actors worked; the jokes landed; the narrative never dragged; even the direction by Brett Ratner was solid. Tower Heist is the rare example of a movie that met its bad buzz head on...and blew right through it.

                                                                           27. The Ides of March 

George Clooney. Ryan Gosling. Paul Giamatti. Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Marisa Tomei. Jeffrey Wright. With a cast such as this, The Ides of March should have been one of the top five films of the year. Instead, it was content to merely remain a well made, albeit standard political drama. It’s hard to not be disappointed with the missed potential inherent in the story–especially in the midst of our own ongoing election–but as is, The Ides of March still stands as solid adult entertainment.

26. Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol 

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol was fun. There, you have my review. Sure, I could go on about the nifty gadgets, or the fun characters, or the exhilarating action, or Tom Cruise’s general awesomeness ...but I won’t do that. I’ll let the movie’s badassery speak for itself.

25. Friends with Benefits 

Now this was a pleasant surprise–a sex-buddies comedy that managed to actually be sexy and funny? Wasn’t this concept supposed to be really played out? Didn’t Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman already plumb similar cinematic depths in No Strings Attached–released in the very same year? Regardless of the two films plot similarities, quality-wise, there’s no comparison. In a summer filled with CGI spectacle, Friend with Benefits stood as a refreshing and charming antecedent to the typically migraine-inducing fare.

24. Attack the Block 

Every year, it seems like there are two or three little indies that premiere at a film festival, capture the attention of bloggers and critics, and subsequently ride a wave of praise into theaters...where, inevitably, they are met by disappointment by the oh-so-excited audience. For instance, past examples of this love-turned-sour event include 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine and 2007’s Juno. Now, there's 2011’s Attack the Block. Which isn’t to say that the movie is lacking in quality–not at all. In fact, Joe Cornish’s directorial debut is praiseworthy in all the right ways. The problem wasn’t the movie, but the insane, Second Coming-like hype that surrounded it. No movie could have lived up to that. And for what it is, Attack the Block offers more than solid genre material. With more than a tinge of Spielberg, mixed with an irreverent Edgar Wright-esque edge, Attack the Block remains 2011’s most shrewdly crafted action flick.

23. 30 Minutes or Less 

I behoove you: for those who haven’t yet managed to catch 30 Minutes or Less, please do so. You want laughs? You got it. You want action? You have it. You want gore? Trust me–it’s here. It’s been a long while since we’ve had a good ‘plan-go-horribly-wrong’ movie–the last that I can recall is 2008’s Burn After Reading, and before that, Fargo (yes, I am lumping 30 Minutes or Less in with those greats)–but Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer proves that the model still has more than a few drips left in it.

22. The Beaver 

It’s no secret that Mel Gibson hasn’t had the best last couple of years. In between disgustingly sexist, racist phone calls and ugly lawsuits, however, Gibson did manage to star in a little film called The Beaver. And you know what? It may just be the best performance he’s ever given. The movie, directed by Jodie Foster, isn’t perfect–the movie never firmly takes hold of its own tone, and at times, Foster seems to be reaching too much for emotional truths that aren’t quite there–but as a close look at one man’s depression, it’s quite moving, and often even slyly relatable. Say what you will about Gibson the man–Gibson the actor is as good as he’s ever been.

21. Midnight in Paris 

Oh, Woody–if only every one of your films were as sharp, funny, and charming as Midnight in Paris. Then we wouldn’t have had to suffer through the likes of Hollywood Ending, Cassandra's Dream, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Whatever Works, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger... Those were all...bad. As in, like, terrible. Like, hard to sit through. Like, “what the **** is this?” quality. But still: Midnight in Paris was really good. More of this, please.

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