Monday, January 16, 2012

The Absolute Best of Film in 2011 (So Says Me)

So here it is folks...I know you all have been waiting with baited breath.  Feel free to exhale for the wait is over.  

This list, as with much in life, comes with a disclaimer.  My top 15 list is based on the movies that I saw this year.  I am an 80/20 dude, you should know that from the get go.  80% of the films I see are mainstream releases, the other 20% are comprised of indies and documentaries.  Also, I rank my top flicks based on what I see in a calender year.  For example, I have not yet seen WE BOUGHT A ZOO.  Not to say that this would for sure make my list, but because I haven't seen it, I didn't even consider it.

Okay, okay...enough rules.  Get to business already! want it, you got it!!

REEL RHINO TOP 15 of 2011
15. Attack the Block - 4.5 of 5 Horns
Joe Cornish has created a unique film, which may have been the most fun you didn't have in the theater this year.  Yep, you probably missed this one, but you need to give it a chance.  Cornish is from the Edgar Wright camp and this is a British inner-city spin on the alien invasion tale.  This film exists solidly on its own merit and the rag tag group of dudes are part Goonies, part Ghostbusters with a whole load of British swagger and cheeky humor.  The special effects were creative and a bit campy, which gave great ambiance to this film.  Bravo Mr. Cornish, Bravo.

14. Hanna - 4.5 of 5 Horns
Joe Wright created a wholly enjoyable and unique twist on the CIA/spy thriller.  Gritty from the word go and the fantastic score by The Chemical Brothers added ambiance to this film that did nothing but make it even more great.  Saoirse Ronan is spectacular as the titular Hanna and Erik Banna and Cate Blanchett are in their prime.  Banna's Erik is a bad-ass and he seems to have passed all of his tricks on successfully to the younger Hanna.  This film is very much a chase film from start to finish, and Wright manages the action like an old pro, when this is in fact his first dip into the action pool.  Hanna is not a perfect movie, but it is cool as can be.  It was released through an American studio but it Wright's touches give it a very palatable European sensibility. The tone shifts from dark to light to dark and so on, keeping you on your toes not knowing who is lurking around the next corner.

13. Rango - 4.5 of 5 Horns
This kid's flick ain't really for kids, folks.  It is a fantastic film that is rich in characters.  It is not to be missed and while there are enough interesting visuals to keep the kids semi-happy, the adults will really see the humor and the depth that this film has to offer.  Johnny Depp himself has become somewhat a cliche of wild character films, but he does Rango true justice and yes, even though we rarely get to see Depp in any kind of subdued role, his wild eyed range adds to Rango in the best possible ways.  In most animated films, it is hard to look past the voices to see the characters.  In this film, these characters live and breathe on their own.  I challenge you to pinpoint any of the talent behind the voices, outside of Depp and a very obvious Timothy Olyphant-astic.  This film is a pure animated spaghetti western disguised as Nickelodeon fodder.  You will have a great time watching this movie!

12. Everything Must Go - 4.5 of 5 Horns
The story of a man on the edge of disaster...well actually, his life is a disaster.  He is fired from his job, his wife has left him, and he's an alcoholic.  Oh yeah...his wife's swan song...she moves everything he owns onto their lawn before she leaves the house and changes the locks.  What really made this film shine for me was Will Ferrell.  His performance was a tour de force in my book and he give a performance that proves he is more than sports spoofs and occasionally funny goofball comedies.  His sidekick, a young boy named Kenny is played by Christopher Jordan Wallace who is non-other than the son of the Notorious B.I.G.  The young Wallace has a deadpan delivery but he is exceptional in this role, only his second ever, having previously played the child version of his pops in the 2008 biopic, Notorious.  This film was somewhat depressing with an exceptional sense of catharsis head towards the finish.  The film actually inspired me to get my own business together and clear out years of hoarding stuff...a few garage sales later, and I feel I now have a lot of wheat, and a lot less chaff.

11. Red State - 5 of 5 Horns
Asked and answered counselor...see also:

Red State (POST 1)
Red State (POST 2)
Red State (POST 3)

10. Super 8 - 5 of 5 Horns
J.J. Abrams has existed as one of my favorite folks in the entertainment industry for some time now. He solidified that opinion with the wonderful reboot of the Star Trek series. I’d like to say J.J. is a wunderkind director, but he’s been in the biz for over 20 years. In the 1980’s Abrams helped Steven Spielberg repair home movies he had made as a kid. That’s a pretty good break for a young wannabe filmmaker and this was just the first of Abrams/Spielberg interactions that would ultimately lead to this project. While Abrams calls Spielberg the Grandfather of Super 8; Spielberg maintains that Abrams could have travelled this road on his own. Super 8 is something of a Goonies meets E.T. alien adventure film, that is surrounded by all the mystery that both directors love. For further reading, please see also, Abrams TED talk on the mystery of the box. Well Super 8 is loaded with mystery. For starters, the mystery of who the hell are these kid actors? If they were to remake the Goonies, I would vote these folks in. Elle Fanning is charming and a chip off the old family block. I was also happy to see Noah Emmerich and Ron Eldard back in the blockbuster feature game. Super 8 is pure adventure from start to finish. See this movie.

9. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol - 4.5 of 5 Horns
Impressive is just about the perfect word used to describe this film...this extremely impressive first live action effort from PIXAR wunderkind Brad Bird.  He made his bones in the action genre with The Incredibles, but the question was, could he do it without the support of the great animators and collaborative effort that makes every Pixar film shine so bright.  The answer is yes.  And to our old friend Tommy Boy (Cruise, that is), I give you a hearty round of applause, for reascending to the ranks of proper action star.  I think that it was as important to have the Bad Robot (JJ Abrams) team on-board as producer of this flick, as evidenced by JJ's recent successes (see also: Super 8).  The IMF team assembled here play off each other well, in a comedic sense, as well as running missions like well oiled heists, making the impossible possible.  Jeremy Renner is the here and now, folks...he's the real deal.  Ethan Hunt is very similar to John McLane as a seemingly indestructible sometimes gets ridiculous, but somehow it works.  Ethan Hunt is truly the Energizer Bunny of movie heroes.  These action sequences really pop and watching this film gave me one of my favorite film going experiences of 2011.  And, oh yeah, what a joy to see some good old fashion US/Russia hostility captured sublimely on the big screen.  I'm all for world peace but the hints of Cold War conflict in this film gave me a sense of nostalgia ala Red Dawn and Hunt for Red October style of tension.

8. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - 4.5 of 5 Horns
When this project was announced, I shuddered.  Literally.  I was sick that we felt obligated to further demonstrate our ethnocentric way of being in the world of film, by taking a perfectly good foreign film and remaking it in the "American Way."  My fear were mostly assuaged when I heard the picture would be handled by David Fincher, who along with Christopher Nolan, is one of my favorite working directors of the day.  Fincher lives in a dark world on film, and who better to translate the dark world of Stieg Larsson to the big screens her in the states.  He succeeded on every level and he managed to translate the cute American girl -type in Rooney Mara into a very impressive Lizbeth Salander.  Yes, Mara is something of a scream-queen, having appeared in a variety of horror/thriller flicks in the past, but she is this cute little thing, who becomes something else entirely.  Out of the gate, I feared the worst...David Fincher delivered the best product we could have hoped to get.  $83 million domestically and so far only $29 million in the foreign box office, which is quite lower than expected and likely hasn't yet overcome the budget and P&A for this film.  I hope it gets greenlit for the two follow-ups as Fincher has a very solid grasp on this world.

7. Moneyball - 5 of 5 Horns
This is not a baseball movie, nor really even a sports movie at all.  Written in part by Aaron Sorkin, one my favorite writers, this film is a character driven, dialogue driven film.  Everything about the film is cleaver and not in a pretentious way.  Brad Pitt is true acting talent and he hits way more than he misses.  Jonah Hill is excellent in this film and I think his performance is something just short of perfection, potentially even an Oscar nomination waiting in the wings for him, as well as Pitt.  The world of profession baseball is interesting enough on its own, but when you throw in the drama that this film offers, you get a movie that is fun to watch from start to finish.  I was exceptionally impressed with the young Kerris Dorsey, who played Billy Beane's daughter, Casey.  She is cute and has a unique voice that really compelled you further to feel for Billy in the various dilemma's that he faces through this film.  Young Kerris sings a song to Billy in the course of the movie and when Billy listens to it, pensively looking out his window, it really his a great emotional chord.

6. My Week With Marilyn - 4.5 of 5 Horns
This is film is excellent...the acting, direction, writing, the overall look..everything. Michelle Williams was haunting in her portrayal as the Blond Bombshell  In her first moment on screen, I saw Michelle Williams in a Marilyn Monroe costume  By the end, all I saw was Marilyn Monroe.  The beautiful thing about this film is that it is a true story, written by Colin Clark, an ambitious young man with dreams of a career in film.  His family was privileged and he had been promised a job on the set of Sir Laurence Olivier's (Kenneth Branaugh) next picture. When he showed up for a job, it was his persistence that finally paid off.  He comes to meet and know Ms. Monroe and something of a complicated relationship ensues.  How I liked this film reminded me much of the way that I liked An Education from 2009.  This is a great story and the film as a whole was executed perfectly.

5. The Help - 5 of 5 Horns
I absolutely loved this film.  It hit my top five of the year the moment I exited the theater.  This is really one of the few times that I unequivocally put a film into the mandatory viewing category. The power of film is the ability to learn from the mistakes of our past. Such an opportunity exists here, providing biting insight to the hardships faced by African Americans in the racially divided south during a truly hateful time in World history.  Mistakes...such an understatement for the topic at hand. This movie demonstrates, albeit it watered down a bit for the masses, the brutality and hate of the era. But really, the brutality demonstrated here is not so much about muscle, as it was the complete demoralization of a group of people.  As we celebrate the recent passing of the law allowing same sex marriages in the State of New York, it brings to mind that while we have made great strides for the equality of all people in America, we still have some tough roads to travel.  I hope The Help rocks the Awards season, not because it matters, but because it will help give even more publicity to a film that everyone should see.

4. Win Win - 5 of 5 Horns
Win Win is an indie drama built around the spine of a sports film, loaded with comedic wit. I have never been a huge fan of Greco-Roman wrestling...never wrestled, rarely watched it in the rare instance it made it to the TV. Of course there was Vision Quest in the 1980's, but otherwise, when it came to wrestling, I was always more of a WWF guy. As far as the wrestling goes in this film, you will want more. The film is 100% a success as a comedic drama...but only built around the spine of a sports film, it doesn't give you that "hoisted on the shoulders and carried through town" ending so many sports films deliver.  The hunger that you have for a stronger ending to the wrestling story will be satiated by the resolution of the drama.  Thomas McCarthy is an amazing filmmaker (see also: The Visitor, The Station Agent) may know him as better as Dr. Bob from Meet the Parents.  Yep, that guy.  This movie was amazing and Paul Giamatti shines (per normal).  A great supporting cast included Amy Ryan and Bobby Cannavale.  This is the first movie for Alex Shaffer, who is Kyle, really a co-starring role to Giamatti's Mike.  The filmmakers wanted a fresh face for this film and boy did they get it.  Shaffer has a dry, deadpan delivery that absolutely just works.  Also, he's a former championship high school wrestler.  He probably still would be, except for a broken L-5 vertebrae.  When asked in an interview if he will be able to keep wrestling, he said no, but probably will anyway.  His minimalistic approach works with double success as when he does get excited about things in the movie, it has that much more impact.

3. The Adjustment Bureau - 5 of 5 Horns
The Adjustment Bureau was made with the highest of production values and the city of New York is a palpable character in this film.  Matt Damon is stellar (as always) and Emily Blunt is clearly established as one of Hollywood's finest young actresses.  Don't agree with me?  Watch this movie.  Yes, it is high concept and it is full of rich characters with roots in the oldest of human literature.  It is based on the short story "Adjustment Team" by a legend in Science Fiction, Phillip K. Dick.  I have heard complaints that this is more a romance than a sci-fi, but I disagree.  There is such thing as a romantic sci-fi.  The sci-fi is overt.  The romance is overt.  The message has been decried by some as corny, but I loved it.  Hence it sitting comfortably the top 3.

2. Hugo - 5 of 5 Horns
This is a movie lovers film.  Not just because Scorsese was helming, but because when it gets moving, it actually becomes centered around a true classic period in cinema and the earliest of days in film as a form of entertainment.  This all is built around this young boy, Hugo Cabret...a watchmaker's son, orphaned and sent to live with his Uncle, a drunk who seems to have found a purpose keeping the clocks at the train station running on time.  But in the opening moments of the film, you learn that the Uncle has absconded and it is in fact Hugo, the orphan, running things at the station.  Young Hugo has refined the art of the steal, lifting occasionally, toys from the station toymaker, Ben Kingsley, playing Papa Georges, grandfather in name to a young lady, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), who befriends Hugo and wants to share an adventure with him.  The adventure that unfolds is epic and the direction the story takes is wonderful.  I doubted Martin Scorsese could deliver from the trailers I saw for this.  I assumed it was some dream vanity project and it would amount to nothing short of an epic failure.  I was dead wrong.  This is rated PG and unfortunately it opened in week 2 of Twilight and against The Muppets and Arthur Christmas over Thanksgiving weekend.  It barely held its own in the box office and has made only $53 million domestically and $16 million in the foreign market.  This is a true shame.  Please give this movie a chance...see it as soon as possibly and if it happens to be playing right now in 3-D in a theater near you, go.  Go now.  You are a genius, Mr. Scorsese.

1. Warrior - 5 of 5 Horns
I gave this film a proper write-up after I saw it.  You can read that here:

Reel Rhino Review: WARRIOR - It's That Effing Good

This may not be the best movie of the year, but it certainly was my favorite.  This was the best time I've had in the theater since The Dark Knight, and probably in my all-time favorite 5 trips to the theater.  This was due in part to the impassioned crowd that I watched it with.  Their excitement was my excitement, and we shared an experience, to that I have no doubt.

This film made only $13.6 million  Doing the quick math, this means using an average ticket price of $10, only about 1.36 million people saw this movie.  Compare that to you "average" $100 million dollar box office blockbuster...not an uncommon feat to reach these days...$100 mil = approximately 10 million butts in seats.  Far too few people saw this movie!  To the film's defense, the largest volume of screens it played on at any time was 1883 screens, but all factors aside, with $30 million in the production budget, it's easy to think that this movie (so far) has lost money.

This film will make up some ground over time, and while it saddens me that it performed so poorly, I have a sense of joy that I was able to see it on the big screen.

Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton give heartfelt performances as estranged brothers, and Nick Nolte is as good as ever as their recovered alcoholic father.  This is a drama first and foremost..if these guys didn't bring their A-game acting chops, this film would have failed....well I mean more than it actually did!

Let me leave you with this:

IMDB: 8.3/10 with 47,120 votes
Rotten Tomatoes: 82% fresh with 165 critic reviews
Rotten Tomatoes: 93% fresh with 29,421 user votes
Metacritic: 71 of 100 rated score based on 31 critic reviews

I loved this movie...and so did most people who actually saw it!  Please give it a chance and go in with an open mind.  This movie touched me in the same way that Rocky did the first time I saw it...and let me be clear, I am talking about the Oscar winning film, Rocky...not the watered down sequels that were fun to watch but a little light on palpable drama.  Warrior is that good, I promise!!

It was a fun year and I'm glad to have shared it with you!!  I'll see you through 2012 for more adventures at the movies!  In the next week or so, I plan on doing a "what to watch in 2012" post...baited breath, folks, I know you'll be waiting!

Until later,
Reel Rhino

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I've not seen 5 of your top picks, that includes your number one. My list over at is a bit more usual with a few randoms to many other list. Give it a read and let me know what you think.