Thursday, January 5, 2012

Top 10 Movie Picks of 2011

If you couldn’t tell already by being here, I love art in all of its forms as channels for human expression.  Film is one of the highest arts, taking teamwork, planning and of course months of execution to create.  For years I’ve loved talking about film with my friends and debating who would be worthy of our own praise.  Last year, I decided to begin a tradition of posting my own Top 10 Movies of the Year (Click here for my 2010 Picks!)  
inks on bristol / 2011
2011 was a great year for cinema and there were some tough cuts I had to make from a list which was constantly being revised throughout the year.  Some genuinely good movies with huge production value such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Limitless, and Water for Elephants (one of my wife’s favorites, based on a novel she loves) made my list initially but got bumped in the end.  Acting doesn’t always carry a film to the finish line with me either.  Look for Woody Harrelson to get an Oscar nod for his balls-out psychological portrayal of an anti-hero dirty LAPD officer in Rampart, a movie worthy of note that could only be carried so far by some really nice acting.  But hey, you don’t want to hear about who didn’t make the cut, right?  Let’s get to the films which did make my list this year…

Cheers to reinvention as the director of the first film we’ll mention from 2011 parts with everything he’s ever done to make an evangelical dose of mayhem which has been a crowd pleaser everywhere he’s taken it.  While parting with his usual bag of tricks and style, Smith went back to his roots to produce and distribute his new creation independently.  Here is a movie I liked more and more as days passed after watching it.  Going in, I expected a horror film with Kevin Smith dialogue.  I came out scratching my head only knowing I liked what I saw.  I felt things ended abruptly considering the short length of the film at 88 min and I think that threw me off kilter. I found myself pondering the unpredictable delight of it all for weeks afterward.   I really go into Michael Parks giving Smith the macabre performance of a lifetime as the antagonist of the story… a performance that stole it Praise Him in His Name.

As a lawyer, what do you do when your rich snot of a client tries to get one over on the system?  Michael Connelly (who wrote the novel this film is based upon) hand-picked Matthew McConaughey as defense attorney Mick Haller to answer just that for his audience.  The movie adaptation of Connelly’s suspenseful story makes my list this year mostly because of the way it takes the muuuuuuch overused courtroom drama and gives us something hew and hip with which to play.  Of course pumping Marvin Gay and Bobby Blue Bland for a couple hours doesn’t hurt your cause either if I’m watching.  I have a deep admiration for a story which can keep me guessing as to its final direction… the movie’s ultimate plot does that and well- I dig it.  Check this one out for some surprise plot twists and a great performances from a cast including John Leguizamo, William H. Macy, Michael Pena, Ryan Phillipe and Marisa Tomei. 

With Soderbergh at the helm and his niche for making fast-paced films with ensemble casts, this movie is a pretty pleasurable and intriguing ride.  Keep on your toes because no A-list actor is safe from an early demise in this web of a script spanning the entire globe as a new epidemic of a disease threatens to wipe out humanity.  Having eight Academy Award Nominated performers delivering the dialogue is a major boost to what is again (just like my Number 10 above) a premise which has been used before.  The best part of the film is how you, the viewer tracks the path of the virus, which is essentially used as a character more than a plot devise.  In the age of viral (pardon the pun) marketing campaigns, Warner Bros. pulled off one of coolest yet by putting some very large Petri dishes out in Toronto to promote the film.  The bacteria in these dishes grew over several days to create a biohazard symbol along with the title of the film.  You can’t go wrong with a super-group cast, a plague, and a puzzle you get to put together watching.

American and European cinema converge when FBI Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) travels to Ireland and teams up with a very unorthodox cop in acid-dropping, hooker-hosting Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) in their mission to bust what? A drug smuggling ring.  Gleeson is a purely delightful anti-hero who had me torn to pieces with laughter (which is really saying a lot if you know me and my hatred of Comedies.)  Watching this movie was genuinely fun if you like a dry humor that will still stick you in the side.  On a $6 Million budget (which is peanuts these days) and opening on only 4 American movie screens this past July, the film has little or no chance of ending up playing in your home unless you take my advice and proactively find it.  The actors truly carry the script and the chemistry between Cheadle and Gleeson is a real gas.  Most of the minor characters aren’t developed to deeply but you won’t notice amidst the riot and legend which is Sergeant Boyle himself. 

Steven Spielberg was reported to be on the set quite a bit for the production of this movie in his capacity as Producer.  Anyone who grew up with movies such as E.T. and The Goonies would agree that his influence on the tone of this movie absolutely polished J.J. Abrams’ vision.  Super 8 serves as an homage to 70’s and 80’s Sci-Fi as well as a nod to independent filmmaking with the entire premise of the movie surrounding the group of children shooting their own zombie flick.  I felt the entire cast of young actors pulled off very deep and emotional performances which were the backbone of the movie.  Keep an eye out for some neat Easter eggs like George Romero posters (the godfather of zombies and surely an influence on the young filmmakers) and a bike flying E.T. style amidst the debris gathering at the end of the movie’s finale.   Also stay for the credits as the cherry on top of this treat is getting to see the kids’ film project screen after the movie itself ends.

Set in the year 1215, this film tells the untold story of King John (Paul Giamatti) and the gruesome rampage of his team of mercenaries across the southern coast of England after being forced to sign the famous Magna Carta, which instilled the rights of free men.  In his campaign to restore tyranny, we are shown the brutality of war and the lengths men will go to in order to maintain power.  His reign of terror is held at bay when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object of the Knights Templar held up in Rochester Castle and led my Marshall (James Purefoy who stands out to me from his perfect embodiment of Marc Antony in HBO’s Rome.)  I’ll go out on a limb here and say this will be the most overlooked movie of 2011.  It’s a complete gorefest and for a period piece, it has some very very sharp teeth with knights, armor, executions, dismemberments and burning pigs hot enough to drop a castle… for real- oh… Spoiler Alert! 

Originally donned X-Men Origins: Magneto several years ago, the storyline of this film expanded and underwent a metamorphosis into First Class.  The ironic part about all of this is that all and all, it’s still the Magneto movie and Michael Fassbender completely stole the show with his portrayal of the metal-bending mutant leader.  I won’t hold my breath for him to get a nod from The Academy for Best Actor, but I dare say it would be better deserved than some who will surely end up with their names on the ballot this year.  The script for this film does a flawless job of weaving classic X-men characters with some newer ones taken from The New X-Men and translating them into nonstop entertainment.  Kevin Bacon also shines as Sebastian Shaw and along with the 1962 time setting, lays the ground for what turned out to be a hybrid of mutant lore in a James Bond style of action.  This one scores big in my book as the best X-Men movie and the best comic adaptation of the year, blowing Captain America, Green Lantern and Thor out of the water and out of the atmosphere.   First Class has a new and rawer feel which I hope sticks to the franchise. 

In the wilderness of Finland, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is raised by her ex-CIA father (Eric Bana) to execute her prey with some deadly skills with instinctual razor-precision.  Ronan trained for her role of assassin with Dan Inosanto (who trained alongside Bruce Lee) in grueling four hour sessions… take that Swan Queen!  Hanna attempts to adapt from the wilderness to a very new and real Europe after living a life of seclusion and training.   There’s just something about a 16 year old trained assassin which melts my heart.  The small cast of this film includes Cate Blanchett and packs a punch with some great character actors.  Over five years in the making and courting directors such as Danny Boyle, this movie was considered a risky script.  The creative team behind this movie delivered a flick in a style all their own.  Other production investments such as bringing in ex-CIA agents to advise really added to the feel of the final production.

First, I have to say welcome back Dave.  I really missed the edgy director of Se7en, The Game and Fight Club.   Fincher revisited the dark style of his earlier work with this adaptation of the Swedish novel and film of the same name.   He brings his big stick back out for American audiences with this film- a thriller which is leaving a mark on viewers with a range of response.   The role of Lisbeth, the gothed-out computer hacker who takes no prisoners was vied for my nearly every A-list actress in Hollywood but found the perfect player in Rooney Mara, who has a solid shot at taking home some awards for her intense portrait.  Such an acting job required not only diving into some very emotional territory but also acting without speaking so much as her character’s dialogue is minimal.  Of course, a soundtrack from Trent Reznor keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time despite the length of this maze of a story.   I love a good mystery and have been missing them from the film industry the past few years.  I have my fingers crossed for Fincher to take the reigns and finish the Millennium Trilogy for English viewers as only he can do.  Thanks for pulling me back to the edge of my seat Dave!

Here is the film we were waiting for based around the financial crisis America fell into after sub-prime lending.  What floors me about this movie is that it’s from a first-time director.  How in the Hell does a rookie filmmaker get together such an ensemble cast?  The script… period (which was written in a mere four days in-between job interviews while unemployed.)  

"It's just money; it's made up.  Pieces of paper with pictures on it so we don't have to kill each other just to get something to eat.  It's not wrong.  And it's certainly no different today than it's ever been."
-John Tuld (Jeremy Irons)

This is just one example of Jeremy Irons stealing the show among a star-studded cast.  I could cite another dozen quotes from this film which define the abstractness of money.  Money isn’t real anymore- it’s all numbers floating through the air and being manipulated by the brightest minds in the world who are lured to work on Wall Street for the obscene picture of wealth they are offered.  Margin Call addresses this, exploits it, explains it and in the end delivers a heart-breaking tragedy, not a thriller.   Margin Call boldly acknowledges greed and what men will do to keep the masquerade in play.  It acknowledges you and me and the guys at the top and how none of us want the bubble to burst.  When things backfire on an epic scale, someone takes the fall and we all look away.  We all live with the shame of knowing it’s corrupt and have to dig real deep sometimes to hide it. 

My Top Spot of 2011 goes to a movie which absolutely horrendously and pathetically bombed here in the U.S.  With a $21 Million budget, it brought in less than $1 Million domestically and is considered a complete and utter failure.  Of course, money isn’t everything.  Film should be about art and not money.  In comparison, I was in the red making my own artwork and spending more money than I made in 2011 just like 2010 and 2009 and 2008 and so it goes.  We live in a culture of celebrity worship where personal lives and politics are in the spotlight and take precedence over content.  Well, Hollywood decided they hated Mel Gibson.  In a perfect world, not blinded by tabloid headlines and divorce proceedings, Jodie Foster’s film the most intriguing and original in years.  I live in that perfect world for the most part because well, I don’t watch TV and have an objective opinion.

“I’m the Beaver, Walter, and I’m here to save your goddamn life.”

When these words breathed life into a hand puppet via Mel Gibson’s long-lost Aussie accent, a huge smile washed over my face and I knew I was in love with this film.  You’re already calling me crazing for putting The Beaver at the top of my list so I’ll kick it up a notch for you.  I equate this movie with films such as American Beauty as a perfectly executed tale of self-discovery.  Mel Gibson hands down gives the performance of his career.  He’s surrounded by a group of actors who create a dead-serious real world delivery of material which is silly and laughable on the surface as this family deals with their father’s great change.  Anton Yelchin (popping up everywhere from Star Trek to Terminator Salvation to Fright Night) gives his own supporting performance worth of an award nod as Walter’s son.  Walter has a break from his very vacant personality and begins communicating through a Beaver puppet on his hand.  The Beaver has taken the wheel and he can’t drive 55.  The Beaver IS Walter as he showers with him, eats with him, speaks for him, and even makes love to his wife with him.  The Beaver is in total control and he took me for a wild ride I enjoyed so much I went back for seconds… and thirds.  In a perfect world, Mel Gibson gets another Oscar because- well, Hell you gave him one before didn’t you?! 

"Everyone loves a train wreck, especially one they're not in."
-The Beaver 


  1. I agree with your Beaver pick. That movie was pretty amazing. I think I kept projecting the Mel Gibson crazy phone rants into the movie.

  2. I'm glad you found joy in The Beaver as well man. I can't get enough of it and hope it finds a cult audience over the years underground from Hollywood politics.

  3. I must say I agree also with your choice.. Awesome movie so underated and Mel Gibsons acting was excellent. I just think this movie was to hard to market and I have lots of arguements with people who I have recommended this movie to but wont watch due to Mels crazy phone antics... Shame Mel and this movie desreves much better... I made my wife and 16 yr daughter watch it and they loved it.. lots of emotions and food for thought....

  4. Jodie Foster already had a directorial debut....Little Man Tate.

  5. I see now that she did... I think I may have been misinformed reading about the film elsewhere! Thanks for the correction!

  6. interesting list - like a few of them, but have to check out the others -

    I can't stand how the Academy sometimes goes with flow, but am appreciative that Extremely Loud got some recognition. It's easy to criticize movies around 9/11 but honestly i thought it was well done, and the acting, direction, and script were excellent, Truly underrated and must not be missed in the theater.

    Disagree with X-Men (and i'm a big fan of Singer's original) - the opening is one of the worst i've ever seen (taking the brilliant singer's opening, and making it so laughable that Magneto didn't kill Kevin Bacon's character outright) and it wasn't that good frankly.

    Hanna - saw an early screening where we have to fill out questionnaire and I didn't like it all. It was kind of schizo, and the family bit in the middle with Olivia Wiliams as this comical mother was just off. Critics loved it for some reason, but the public rightfully did not

    Girl W/ Dragon: love fincher and thought he should have won for The Social Network (both film and director noms) but Girl was just bleh - well shot, and decently directed, but the overall story was ok, and acting was good by Rooney, but the character is just to powerful/all knowing to figure out things that fast. I don't know - not a fan of it, and am glad it didn't get best pic nom.

    Agree with Super 8 - excellent, excellent, and excellent!
    Contagion was great too, well done movie and effective filmmaking,

    Thought Drive should have gotten a best pic nom, or at least supporting for Al Brooks.

    Need to check out The Beaver (love Mel Gibson - period!, i'm not even christian but own the Passion on DVD, and then double dipped to get it on Blu-ray brilliant filmmaking/cinematography, and own Apocalypto on BR as well).

    Need to check out Margin Call (heard good things about it, and from the trailer - looks like what Stone should have done with Wall Street 2), Red State, Iron Clad, The Guard, and Lincoln Lawyer are the others.

    Regardless like the list.

  7. Thanks for the wonderful feedback and suggestions Parik. Were we watching the same X-Men: First Class movie?

    I still need to watch Drive myself as it is getting a lot of attention as a "snubbed" film from the Oscar nods this year. If you like Mel Gibson, definitely get on The Beaver as you'll be in for a treat. I thought Apocalypto was a very underrated movie in its own regard being a brilliant piece of movie-making! Also, Wall Street 2 did make my list last year but Margin Call blows it out of the water by a long shot! Hope you enjoy some of the suggestions and I'll give Drive a whirl as soon as I get the opportunity.

  8. Mel Gibson is just fantastic in this movie. 1st spot truely deserved

    1. I'm glad he's got a few fans left- thanks for the comment!

  9. I am a black jewish man of the homosexual persuasion so Mel Gibson doesn't really do it for me

    1. Just exactly who do you like?

    2. Well, at least you know your limits, homo-persuaded afro-hebe! The type of integrity Mel Gibson brings to the cinema and exhibits in his life by isn't really the stuff your psychotic heritage has any space for...

      nice try at the humor though...


  10. I also agree with your number one choice. The time it was released was when all the baby mama drama was going on, but I still am a Mel Gibson fan. Even thru all of his negative alcoholic rants, he is still one great actor. "The Beaver" was such a different role for him...I thoroughly enjoyed it...I have seen all the movies listed except for ""Ironclad" and "Super 8" the others on your list are also some of my favorites...Thanks!!

    1. If you liked everything else, you'll love Ironclad- it is a gorefest though... fair warning!

  11. Pretty great list with some unconventional picks. I appreciate that. We overlapped in a few areas. Here's mine:


  12. You have great picks of movies.I like all of them here.But of all the picks, my favorite is by Mel Gibson.

  13. Interesting list of movies, most of them i have watched and they are pretty good films especially Margin Call and The Lincoln Lawyer.

    1. Glad we have similar tastes! Thanks for the comment Lile.


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