2011 Best/Worst

Nate’s Fassbender-Sized Wrap-up of 2011’s Highs, Lows, and Everything Between

Well well, here we are again. It’s you and me movies, my old friend. These end-of-the-year wrap-ups keep getting later and later. I saw over 120 movies again this year, and yet I kept dragging my feet when it came time to rank the very best. I know it’s become a cliché of film critics, but this year really felt like a rather down year for movies as a whole. There were several good movies, even a few great to terrific movies, but honestly few raised my passion like previous years. I began a tradition three years ago to revise my Ten Best list after another year of deliberation and catching certain movies that were lagging or did not find a theatrical release. I’ve looked back and feel that my Top Ten list for 2010 stands. I would not alter a placement. In fact, I think any one of my top four films from last year would easily be my top movie of this year (those movies, for the curious few, would be The Social Network, Toy Story 3, Black Swan, and Inception). Enough griping; time for my awards.

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PART ONE: THE 10 BEST AND WORST FILMS OF 2011

BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR

10) The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau is a sometimes corny but often deeply satisfying movie. It may distract with some efficient and just-smart-enough sci-fi leanings and magic tricks, but it’s really a unabashed romance at its core. Not just that, it’s a good romance, once that flutter the heart and causes the ends of your mouth to do that thing, you know – smile. It helps when you have movie tars as gorgeous as Emily Blunt and Matt Damon, and are such good actors that they can fill their roles with dangerous amounts of charm, but let’s credit writer/director George Nolfi (The Bourne Ultimatum, Ocean’s Twelve). He takes a fairly routine concept (powerful forces control our lives and choices) and turns it into a finely tuned character-driven romance. The Adjustment Bureau, on paper, should not work. A sci-fi fantasy that’s unapologetically grounded in romance. A tone that nestles firmly in a safe, bubble-wrapped whimsy. And those magic hats, need we forget them? On paper this should be one overly silly, dumb, tonally disjointed, cornball movie worth venomous mocking. And yet it works; it does better than “works,” it succeeds. Blunt and Damon are terrifically charming together and imbue the movie with a sense of cheerful optimism in the face of uncertainty (and perhaps heaven itself). You desperately want these two crazy kids to get back together; they’re good, decent, charming people, winning personalities apart and even better together. What might have fallen apart in other hands becomes this endearing, fizzy piece of studio entertainment that fulfills and exceeds most expectations. I was really taken by this movie, won over by its effusive charm offensive, and left buoyant with happiness by the time the tidy, perhaps too tidy ending, came rolling. The Adjustment Bureau is hooey but it’s my kind of hooey.

9) 50/50

50/50 is an unsentimental film that manages to be moving and genuinely entertaining on its own terms. It can be rude but that doesn’t mean it lacks sincerity. Instead of hitting cheap sentiment and milking cancer for easy tears, the movie, thanks to writer Will Reiser’s sharp script, forgoes false feelings and finds something more rare and true. There’s no real playbook for something as unexpected as a person in their 20s being diagnosed with terminal cancer. The characters and their dilemmas feel all too relatable, even the ones we hope don’t become us. The 50/50 production has followed a subdued edict, forgoing sappy melodrama and easy pathos. These emotions are earned the old fashioned way, through characters we care about and drama that feels truthful. The mixture of the course and sweet gives the film a decidedly Judd Apatow (Knocked Up) flavor even though his name is nowhere to be seen. 50/50 also treats its characters with a bittersweet sense of reality; these people are flawed and relatable. They are not instantly made into self-actualized saints thanks to cancer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who at this point can do no wrong in my eyes, gives one of the best performances of his already accomplished career. The comedy, lead by Seth Rogen’s obnoxious best friend, keeps the movie from being bogged down in melodrama. It’s the only way to stay sane, and 50/50 recognizes this and delivers a film that earns its tears and laughs.

8) Tuesday, After Christmas

This movie is something of a small miracle in how naturalistic it plays. The dialogue is splendid, reverberating with the rhythms of real speech but also giving weight to the characters, fleshing out personalities, relationships, and penetrating subtext. I was luxuriating in the dialogue and its nuances. To some people Tuesday, After Christmas will be a boring movie, but for me I was on the edge of my seat thanks to the dialogue and characterization. If ever Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life) were to make a Romanian film, it would be this. Like Linklater’s Before Sunset, watching these actors speak such truthful, personable, revealing dialogue is like listening to birds sing. It’s such a pleasure for the ears. I know “Romanian relationship drama” probably doesn’t sound like a rollicking night out at the movies, but Tuesday, After Christmas is such an expertly crafted film, carefully observed, impressively acted, gloriously naturalistic in dialogue and direction, and even humorous. Yes, for a movie about infidelity and the possible explosion of a marriage, there is plenty of humor to be found naturally. You may feel stirring of romantic happiness with Paul and Raluca, so much so that you too share in Paul’s guilt. You’ll feel the disquiet during that meeting of mistress and wife. You’ll feel the ache when Adriana really lays into Paul, a deserved and withering attack. You’ll understand where every person is coming from. But mostly you’ll feel like you’ve watched a really good movie. Tuesday, After Christmas is richly attuned to the subtleties of human joys, conflict, and reactions, and a movie that will linger with the ring of truth. Don’t be a stranger to Romanian cinema. Start here and work your way back. The rewards are worth it.

7) Rango

It’s Chinatown remade with anthropomorphic desert creatures. It’s a Western by way of Hunter S. Thompson. It’s a loving parody of cinema’s wide canvas. It’s one of the most wild, anarchic, oddball animated films to ever be released by a major studio, and it is stupendous. Steeped in weirdness and bravado, Rango has a playful and occasionally macabre sense of humor that kept me in stitches. Director Gore Verbinski (the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks) translates his visual verve into a animated movie that dazzles the eyes with its magnificently drawn features as well as the pointed personality in every stroke. This is a movie with character, not to mention some pretty entertaining characters (including talking road kill). Johnny Depp delivers an idiosyncratic vocal performance for a household lizard that finds himself pretending to play sheriff for a town in need of a hero. When you think Rango will fade into familiar territory, or easy moral messages, the film keeps surprising, forging its own unique path. This is a lively, peculiar, and overall enchanting animated film that’s suitable for families but may well play better for adults with eccentric tastes. I’m still scratching my head, and celebrating, how something like this slipped through the system.

6) The Myth of the American Sleepover

This movie is about teenagers grappling with emotional connection and personal identity, but it never drags out a soapbox or breaks from its verisimilitude. Every single character in this movie, even the ones meant to be seen in a questionable light, is deeply empathetic. Being an ensemble, you’ll gravitate to different characters and their pursuits, but the movie balances a nice mixture of storylines, cutting back and forth to build a graceful picture of the uncertainty of adolescence. The Myth of the American Sleepover is a sincere, observant, insightful, gentle, and overall wonderful little movie, brimming with life and the rocky experiences of growing up, but mostly it will make your heart sing. The details and small gestures feel completely believable; building an ode to youth that feels earnest without being sentimental and knowing without feeling like a know-it-all. There wasn’t a moment in this movie that didn’t leave me smiling, chuckling to myself, and feeling immersed in this innocent, heartfelt, exuberantly youthful world. The pleasures of Sleepover are small but numerous, and I don’t mind admitting to tearing up at several points, shaking in anticipation, and celebrating the personal triumphs of the cast of characters. The Myth of the American Sleepover made me feel like a teenager all over again, nervous, anxious, excited, and beguiled by the imprecise negotiations into adulthood. I’m sure some people will find this movie boring or too embryonic, a coming-of-age tale crystallized in dewy emo-earnestness. For me, I fell in love with this movie. It filled me with joy. I know it will do the same for others; Sleepover just needs a little tenderness and an open heart. The movie and its homespun magic will do the rest.

5) Young Adult

Young Adult is a dark comedy of squirm-inducing, uncomfortable bleakness and a drama of surprising poignancy and depth. Much of its humor, and it is very funny, is built around the pained awkwardness of Mavis’ self-involved, self-destructive mission. My friend was nervously fidgeting in his seat the entire time (he may have just had to go to the bathroom). The sense of dread is palatable; we’re watching a slow-moving car crash, waiting for the inevitable to hit. Every scene carries the apprehension of, “What is she going to say/do next? Is this it?” And yet Diablo Cody’s sharp, pointed writing makes the film compulsively watchable. It’s the good kind of uncomfortable, the kind where you can’t look away or leave the vicinity of your seat. The dialogue and characters are eerily recognizable, miles away from the cuteness of Juno‘s sunny, optimistic fairy tale inhabitants. Young Adult is a more nuanced, droll, mature work that deserves as much recognition as Juno and cements Cody, in my mind, as one of the most thrilling writers today (I can almost forgive her for Jennifer’s Body. Almost). Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt are fantastic. Cody’s gift with words, teamed up with Jason Reitman’s gift with actors, makes a beautiful combination even when the end product is charting the misery or a miserable person. The measured tone is kept from start to finish, meaning even when the movie appears on the precipice of life-lessons and Mavis might turn her life around, it pulls back. There will be no hugs and gained wisdom with this movie, a crackling comedy that’s also one of the best pictures of the year. Take that, popular girls who never gave me the time of day.

4) Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a Hollywood movie with a soul. Finally late in the summer a major studio movie emerges that has the right balance of brains, brawn, and thrills. It’s an exciting action movie, a poignant drama from an animal’s point of view, a tour de force of special effects that manage to make the film more emotionally involving, and a sci-fi prequel that’s actually worthy of its name. Andy Serkis’ gifts for physical performance are invaluable to the emotional core of the movie. By going back to its DNA, Rise of the Planet of the Apes has given new life to a franchise whose best days were 40 years ago. I don’t see where the series can go from here. A prequel to the prequel seems superfluous. A sequel would only really showcase the waning days of humanity and also seem superfluous. Then again, until the moment I was watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes I would have said this very movie was superfluous too. Instead this is the finest summer spectacle of the year and destined to make my top ten list for the year. If you can’t beat them, join them, damn dirty apes and all.

3) Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids is a terrific gross-out adult comedy told from a distinct feminine point of view. They can be just as crude as the dudes. But what really sets it apart is that it’s even more so a story about the dynamics of female friendship and the pain of growing apart due to the circumstances of life. Much like the joyous male camaraderie as one of the hallmarks of an Apatow film, we get to witness an entirely female dynamic that feels authentic. These women, their troubles, their friendships, all feel real and deeply felt. Even the supporting characters get a chance to be fleshed out with added dimension rarely seen in mainstream comedies. The movie expertly lays out setups, finds satisfying payoffs, and ties up its storylines in worthwhile ways. Bridesmaids is a comedy, and it is one hell of a comedy. It may no be the best movie under the ever-expanding Apatow banner, but it is easily the funniest film yet. Yes, I said it. Bridesmaids is funnier than Knocked Up, The 40-Year Old Virgin, Superbad, and all the rest. Wiig deserves to become a star, and so does McCarthy. This movie left me sore from laughing and giddy with happiness. It’s funny, touching, and genuinely entertaining, and destined to become a modern classic worth revisiting. I foresee this becoming a word-of-mouth sensation this summer, particularly from appreciative female ticket-buyers who feel like they finally have a worthy, relatable, very funny comedy that they can call their own. It’s kind of like the old slogan for female deodorant: strong enough for a man, made for a woman.

2) The Descendants

Alexander Payne’s specializes in pitch-perfect bittersweet character-based comedies, ones that seem to unfurl over a journey of self-awakening. His fictional worlds feel exquisitely rendered, where every character beat and every line of dialogue feels genuine. That’s quite an achievement for a filmmaker of any scope. Even when dealing with caricatures (like in 2002’s About Schmidt), somehow Payne gets away with it. The Descendants is an incredibly observed human drama, a humane and touching comedy, a movie so engaged and plugged in to the messiness of human emotions, eschewing the bitterness of some of Payne’s earlier works. This is a thoughtful and nuanced flick that is elevated to even grander heights due to the excellent performances of father/daughter team Clooney and Woodley. The film hits all those traditional emotional notes but on its own terms. The movie approaches a graceful resolution by accepting the incomprehensible disarray of life. The Descendants is just about everything you’d want in a movie: supreme acting, strong characters, an affecting story, and emotions that are completely earned. Payne’s mature and tender movie is, by the end, rather hopeful, a celebration of family above adversity. It’s not schmaltzy in the slightest but a powerful antidote to simple cynicism.

And the best film of 2011 is…..

1) Take Shelter

This is very likely the most nerve-racking, tense, dread-filled film I’ve watched since 2009’s Oscar-winner, The Hurt Locker. Writer/director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories) masterfully lays out the particulars of his tale. Even the family drama has some nicely constructed tension. There are some terrific standard thriller moments, like some well-calculated jump scares and many nightmare fake-outs, but the film’s real skill is drawing out tension to the point where you want to shout at the screen. This is a deliberately paced thriller knotted with unbearable tension. There’s a moment toward the climax, where a storm door needs to be opened, and I simultaneously was dreading every second leading up to that door opening and silently screaming in anticipation. Every part of me wanted to see what was going to happen next and I could not guess where Nichols would take us. I was a nervous wreck. The dread was so heavy, so all consuming, and not just from an apocalyptic standpoint. Curtis understandingly thinks he may be nuts, especially since his own mother is a paranoid schizophrenic. The threat isn’t just the strange apocalyptic signs but also Curtis himself unraveling and lashing out. He worries that he’ll become a danger to his own family, and if he cannot discern the difference between reality and fantasy it’s only a matter of time before he jeopardizes his loved ones. Take Shelter is an intelligent, expertly constructed, suspenseful drama with powerful performances and a powerful sense of dread. Michael Shannon’s coiled intensity nicely fits the mounting tension. Nichols has created a taut thriller, a fiercely felt human drama, and an involving character-piece attuned to the talents of its cast. Take Shelter is a commanding, unsettling film that puts the audience in the unreliable position of the main character’s point of view. You may almost hope for some actual apocalypse just to validate the guy’s struggle. When was the last time you secretly hoped for the end of the world just to give one person a sense of relief? And for some extra pride, the best film of 2011 was shot in my state of Ohio.

Honorable mention: Attack the Block, The Muppets, Submarine, Warrior

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WORST FILMS OF THE YEAR

10) Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is such a misguided, crass venture that’s also extremely shameless and incredibly cloying. The main character is unlikable, exasperating, and portrayed by a rather amateurish child actor. Stephen Daldry’s hackneyed direction will settle on treacle and contrived sentiment whenever possible, but the emotions never feel properly earned. He’s pressing buttons and forcing tears, and several viewers will be unaware of how efficiently they were manipulated into having a moving experience at the theater. I know I can’t be alone is seeing through the manipulation and feeling indignant about the ordeal. I’m not against tackling the difficult subject of 9/11 in movies (I declared United 93 the best film of 2006). Here’s a good question for you filmgoers out there: is there that big of a difference between this movie and 2010’s unpleasant teen drama, Remember Me? Both use the 9/11 attacks to cover narrative and characterization deficiencies, vulgarly exploiting our feelings of the events to engender feeling, and both don’t belong anywhere near an awards stage.

9) The Change-Up

The Change-Up is a mean-spirited, objectionable, classless, clueless comedy that’s tonally all over the place. The characters are unlikable, the comic setups are cartoonishly drawn, and the dramatic shifts are flatly false. After being a distasteful cartoon for so long, the film wants to be dramatic. It wants to be emotional. Tough break, Change-Up, because you cannot have it both ways. The dramatic parts ring resoundingly false, a last-ditch attempt to class up what is a deeply unclassy picture. The tonal shifts are jarring and land with crashing thuds. It’s mostly because these characters are deeply unlikely, particularly the Ryan Reynolds persona. He’s not just some brash, rude individual who sidesteps social mores, no this guy is downright sociopathtic.  What’s even worse is that the movie just seems downright hostile toward women. Just because it has a scene where Leslie Mann gets to vent the frustrations of the put-upon wife/mom doesn’t mean women are given a fair shake. I’d be more forgiving if the vulgar comedy was ever funny. The Change-Up erroneously believes that having characters say dirty words or inappropriate remarks is the same as comedy. It can be a component of comedy but rarely does it work as a whole substitute. The jokes fall flat, the drama feels forced, and the characters range from nitwits to jerks to deviants and back to jerks once more for good measure. Why would anyone subject themselves to nearly two hours with these people? I just felt bad watching this movie. The Change-Up makes humanity look like a species that deserves an extended time-out.

8) Meek’s Cutoff

The early frontiersmen lead difficult, backbreaking struggles as they migrated west to start anew. The pioneers had a perilous journey, and judging from Meek’s Cutoff, they had a hard time asking for directions. We follow a wagon train hopelessly lost in Eastern Oregon, blindly hoping they are getting ever closer to water. This awful movie feels about as adrift as the characters. Director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy) recreates pioneer life in obsequious detail, which means that for most of the interminably long 104 minutes we’re watching characters walk. And walk. And walk. Hey, now they’re doing something, nope back to walking. Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine) has the most personality of this taciturn bunch, but I couldn’t have cared less about her lot. The movie is practically indignant about the narrative demands an audience has for its movies. This is not some arty examination on the treacherous nature of the human spirit, or some conceited claptrap like such. And in a growing trend of 2011 Sundance films, Meek’s Cutoff ends absurdly abrupt, just as the characters appeared at a crossroads and on the verge of mercifully doing something interesting. Instead, Reichardt ritualistically kills the movie on this spot, robbing the audience of any payoff after 104 minutes of fruitless and tiresome artistic masturbation. If I wanted to watch a recreation of frontier life without any regard to character or story, I’d watch the History Channel. This is an exasperating, maddening, crushingly boring movie that makes you feel trapped on that misbegotten wagon train.

7) Passion Play

You would think that a movie where a jazz musician (Mickey Rourke) gets in trouble with a mobster (played by Bill Murray!) and while on the lam he discovers a girl (Megan Fox) with angel wings working in a circus sideshow would be interesting. How could you go wrong with all those interesting elements? Mobsters, circus freaks, angels, Mickey Rourke! Well Passion Play found a way, a triumph of failure. This would-be parable just sleepwalks from scene to scene, rarely making much of its fantastical sci-fi elements. Fox swears she’s no angel, just a girl born with bird wings, and people let this be a conversation ender. Rourke’s character is a pathetic coward who nets little empathy. Not reverent or weird enough, Passion Play was the passion project of writer/director Mitch Glazer but the movie feels devoid of anything approaching passion. The actors seem bored, the romance between Fox and Rourke is a non-starter, and the lame ending borrows a page from An Occurrence at Owl Creek as a last-ditch attempt to interject some meaning into this unholy mess. The only reason I can foresee (sober) people watching this is for the mistaken belief that they might glance upon some heavenly nudity from Fox. Sorry boys, the gal keeps her purity. The entire production is just so wrong-headed and listless; I can’t even work up a good dose of bile to proclaim its utter inanities. This is a terrible, silly, puzzling, dopey movie made even worse by its pseudo-intellectual twist ending.

6) The Smurfs

What a smurfin’ terrible movie. This big screen debut for the little blue commune dwellers is a painful experience, magically transporting the little creatures to New York City. They find themselves in the care of Patrick (Neill Patrick Harris), an ad man who’s pretty much a jerk, especially to his doting, pregnant wife. At one point, in his ad man frenzy, he yells, ” I never wanted any little people running around here!” Oh no, what a bizarre outburst that somehow cuts directly to his fears of being a father. The movie spends so much time with the human characters, who are shrill, exasperating, and dull form the get-go. The comedy is a mixture of slapstick and insufferable kiddie wordplay, replacing “Smurf” for just about any word in a sentence for a miserable attempt at humor. It’s like the screenplay was a Mad Libs page (Am I being too generous crediting a whole page to the script?). The Smurfs is clearly designed for a 3D audience, hence there is crap flying at the screen at every turn. Yeah, another stupid thing thrown at the screen. Hank Azaria plays the thankless role of Gargemel, the man who created Smurfette (voiced, not too badly actually, by pop singer Katy Perry) but schemes to capture Smurfs for their… smurfness. I don’t know. If this guy could create his own Smurf, why doesn’t he just keep doing this? Instead, Azaria runs around New York speaking in an arch manner, falling down a lot. I suppose the real question is whether this piece of blue excrement could entertain children, its target audience. Perhaps the youngest of tykes will be tickled by the Smurf adventures, but I think most kids will be puzzled and bored and weirded out by the movie, wondering what they had done wrong to deserve watching this dreck.

5) Red Riding Hood

This is a disaster of epic fairy tale proportions. Red Riding Hood attempts to reshape the oft told tale into a palatable mix of sex and violence for today’s pre-teens (teenagers will surely be bored by this), somehow forgetting that the original tale is filled with macabre violence. This youthful infusion of hollow artifice and misplaced attitude, as well as a fumbling attempt at ill-conceived edge, makes the movie a metaphorical bratty teenager. You get tired of its taxing nature and empty posturing. It’s trying to be cool with last year’s catalogue. Red Riding Hood is a tragic misjudgment on the part of just about everyone involved. The screenwriter thought he must have been making a serious allegory, Hardwicke thought she was making a wild and witchy cousin to Twilight, and the producers thought they were making a film that had genuine appeal. They were all categorically wrong. The reworking of the fairy tale elements is mostly mundane. She gets a red cloak from her granny but otherwise this story might as well just be about a girl and a werewolf. It’s not an imaginative update or a clever reworking, this is just a dumb werewolf story with extra dashes of Twilight for seasoning. The key to unlocking the Red Riding Hood story is not by introducing a sterile love triangle. This hyperactive hodgepodge mistakes setting for atmosphere and a high number of characters for mystery. I was astounded as I sat and watched this movie; turn after turn it veers wildly in tone and execution. I haven’t even talked about the special effects for the wolf, and there’s a reason I am leaving that unsaid. Red Riding Hood is a movie 12-year-old girls might fawn over. If you find yourself outside that marginal demographic, then you’ll likely find this movie to be an irritating, nonsensical, dopey, pitiful bore. You can stuff that in your picnic basket, Red.

4) Blubberella

Leaden puns, obvious jokes, clueless pacing and comedic construction, tiresome one-liners, incessant yet flaccid sex jokes, a desperation to be shocking, Blubberella is a bizarre and staggering failure even by Boll standards. The lingering problem with Blubberella, besides its overwhelming incompetence and inexplicable existence, is that it feels more like a gag reel accrued for the cast and crew of Bloodrayne 3. This doesn’t feel at all like a movie or even an attempt at a movie. I’m of a mixed mind when it comes to actress Lindsay Hollister. The central Ohio native (represent, girlfriend!) is probably not going to get many starring roles, though she has shined in guest roles on numerous TV shows like My Name is Earl, Big Love, Law and Order: SVU, and Scrubs, so I can’t blame her for jumping at the chance to be the lead star, the headliner (she’s also listed as a co-writer). Hollister is actually a pretty nice actress and has strong comedic instincts; however, that doesn’t mean she will rise to the occasion if left to her own devices by Boll’s paucity for scripted jokes. Boll isn’t exactly the most creatively nurturing collaborator. It’s all one big fat mess. You want the most telling moment? It occurs during the dull outtakes peppered throughout the end credits. One of the actresses, little seen in the flick, remarks astutely, “It’s not working. It’s not funny.” In six short words, she has summarized Blubberella better than I could ever hope to.

3) Atlas Shrugged: Part One

Maybe Atlas shrugged because he got tired of how unbelievably boring this movie is. Oh my goodness, I was rolling my eyes and checking my watch every five minutes. The vast majority of this film involves ideologues disguised as characters talking about esoteric business practices. A full 80 percent of the dialogue has to be about railways and steel and this manufacturing and ore mines and… I’m sorry I fell asleep in the middle of writing that sentence. Seriously, this movie could be a cure for insomnia. It’s so crushingly boring that it makes you wonder how anyone could ever pick up Rand’s novel and think, “This deserves to be a film.” Atlas Shrugged the film seems almost like an unintended ironic statement on Ayn Rand’s belief of the superiority of the individual. That’s because movies are a profoundly collaborative medium, where many hands toil away to create a work of art. It is not the result of one man or woman but the results of hundreds of men and women working together, each knowing their role, playing their part, and working toward something greater than individual self-interest. Huh, how about that? It pretty much doesn’t matter that Atlas Shrugged is a powerfully boring, braying, incoherent, tedious chore that is merely a message disguised as a movie. The intended audiences will more than likely hail the final product, ignoring “details” like the talky exposition-heavy dialogue, horrible acting, laughable special effects, and plodding pacing, and overall poor production. The Rand faithful are not going to this movie to be entertained, they are going to see their beliefs reflected upon the big screen. The overall quality of Atlas Shrugged is an afterthought to them. I just wish it wasn’t an afterthought to the people making the movie.

2) Love, Wedding, Marriage

I keep wanting to mistakenly refer to this movie as Love, Marriage, Divorce since that seems like a more prevailing plot element in this abysmal rom-com. Mandy Moore plays a couples counselor who’s a newlywed herself, having just gotten hitched with Charlie (the Twilight Saga’s Kellan Lutz). Her life is great, that is, until she learns her parents (James Brolin, Jane Seymour) are splitting up. Their pain will soon be felt by every person watching this wretched movie. Incompetently directed by actor Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding), the movie’s tone approaches something like spastic cartoon. Mulroney frames everything in uncomfortable close-ups, which magnifies the exaggerated gyrations and facial expressions of his cast. It looks like every person onscreen is suffering a stroke at one point. The acting is so shockingly terrible. It’s like the actors have been replaced with the amateur dinner theater versions of themselves. Moore’s character is too shrewish and self-involved to be compelling, and Lutz, whose name rhymes with putz, is so wooden you’d swear they carved him out of a chunk of balsa right before cameras rolled. The sitcom plot suffers from every cliché imaginable in the rom-com genre. This is the worst case of bad drunk acting since 2006’s The Black Dahlia, where actors over-do just about every action. The funny part is that it’s only a slight difference from the ay the characters are behaving sober. Criminally unfunny, I have only one theory how Mulroney was able to get this movie made because clearly the screenplay wasn’t reeling investors in. In the end credits are many producers and executive producers, several of them with Slavic surnames. There’s also a Slavic model with in a key role. Mulroney turned to the only people who would finance Love, Wedding, Marriage – the Russian mafia. If you see Mulroney in a wheelchair from an “accident” in the near future, you heard it here first.

And the worst film of 2011 is….

  1) 11/11/11

To call this movie low-rent is a disservice to grungy pornographers, exploitation peddlers, and inept amateur filmmakers. This movie is pathetic on just about every conceivable metric of filmmaking. 11/11/11 is a date that will live in infamy, birthing this laughably awful, painfully ridiculous, atrociously inept movie, even by low-budget direct-to-DVD standards. The only entertainment you’ll find with this movie is the derisive sort, yukking it up over the unintended comedy bonanza that awaits. If 11/11/11 was just a supremely dumb movie it might work as camp, but it’s also inept as a scary movie. I don’t think director/co-writer Keith Allan could find an interesting looking shot if it held up a giant “11” sign. There is nothing scary about this movie whatsoever. All the shots of things with 11, it just doesn’t work, yet Allan keeps hitting it ad infinitum, mistakenly believing that while not effective on attempt 51, perhaps it will become effective on attempts 52-68. The movie is vague, silly, and overwhelmingly dumb, beholden to an inane numbers conspiracy that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. I know my expectations should be kept at the minimum when dealing with this kind of movie, but that doesn’t mean I just ignore and excuse every artistic blunder, especially when I feel assaulted by them. 11/11/11 did bring on the apocalypse, and every audience member has left to go to a better place – the bathroom. Bousman should take some comfort knowing that the production house behind this movie, The Asylum, is somewhat notorious for rip-offs. I give you The Asylum releases: Battle of Los Angeles, Paranormal Entity, Transmoprhers, and The Day the Earth Stopped. 11/11/11 can hold one more numerical distinction: it’s the worst film of 2011.

Dishonorable mention: Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, Season of he Witch, The Hangover: Part II, Breaking Dawn: Part One


PART TWO: VARIOUS AWARDS AND ACCOLADES

Best titles of the year: Hobo with a Shotgun, Cowboys & Aliens, The Devil’s Double, Red State, The Skin I Live In, Martha Marcy May Marlene

Worst titles of the year: Gnomeo and Juliet, Mars Needs Moms, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Columbiana, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Titles that could be confused with porn: Big Mammas: Like Father, Like Son, Bad Teacher, 30 Minutes or Less, Young Adult (I will not grab the low-hanging fruit that is A Good Old Fashioned Orgy or The Beaver)

The Best 10 Minutes of 2011: The “Diary of Anne Frankenstein” segment on Chillerama. The absurdity of its premise and the assured demented sense of comedy of its creator, writer/director Adam Green (Frozen, Hatchet), had me laughing until I was in physical pain. Hitler creates his own Jewish Frankenstein-like creature, though a missing film reel reveals his true motivation for reanimating this corpse (and he sings!)

Runner-up: Snappy fake-out opening of Scream 4; the climax to Warrior.

Most Awkward 10 Minutes of 2011: Watching elfin, forever youthful actress Ellen Page in Super wear her superhero costume, perform a seductive dance, and essentially rape Rainn Wilson.

Breakout Star of the Summer: After this Transformers: Dark of the Moon and X-Men: First Class, the breakout star this summer is archived footage of JFK (man did he have a full plate, mutants and robots, and the man still found time to bang Marilyn Monroe)

Best Film I Saw in 2011 (that wasn’t released in 2011): Piranha 3D

Biggest Disappointment: The Hangover: Part II. Because the same joke is just as funny the second time around, right? This empty enterprise gives its audience exactly what they want, which is precisely the same experience they had with the first film. But so much of comedy is predicated on surprise, so how can you recreate the experience of discovery that people so heartily enjoyed with the first film? The Hangover: Part II is like a cheap comedy Mad Libs game: it reuses the same gags and just fills in the blanks. Hey, if Joke A worked before, why couldn’t we just have Joke A in this different location (instead of two guys walking into a bar, they walk into a different bar)? It’s like somebody copied and pasted the screenplay from the original movie, changed the locations and minor details, and cashed a check.

Weirdest “Feel Good” Ending of the Year: Crazy, Stupid, Love is an all right film that’s entertaining but still chiefly exists in that Rom-Com universe, so the cliches are all there. But one storyline involves Steve Carell’s 13-year-old son crushing big time on his 17-year-old babysitter, who, incidentally, is crushing on Carell. Before you can say “awkward” the babysitter (not taking a page from the babysitter’s club, unless there was a book I missed and the series went in a radical new direction) takes naked pictures of herself to send to Carell. You can imagine there are hilarious misunderstandings. The end of the film involves the babysitter handing the pictures to Carell’s son, kissing him, and it’s supposed to be a moment of triumph. This is the dissemination of child porn! Doesn’t anybody feel weird that we’re meant to cheer this?

Wanted to Like it Better, But Couldn’t: The Artist, Hugo, Drive, Super 8, Shame

My Week with Skepticism: Allow me to question the voracity of author Colin Clark’s account of his tryst with Mairlyn Monroe, which became My Week with Marilyn. He waited until 1995 to publish his film set diaries, and then after his first memoir of his time with Monroe sold well he published another one in 2000, this one filling in a nine-day gap he says was that fateful week with the sex icon of the twentieth century (eat it, Clara Bow!). The second memoir was written fifty years after the fact and from the nostalgic perspective of an old man looking back to his youth. I feel that the particulars have been smoothed over and romanticized. The fact that surviving actors from The Prince and the Showgirl cannot verify any sort of relationship, and that several sources say that Monroe and her new husband Miller were inseparable at the time, cause me to doubt the validity of this personal account. In his first memoir, Clark even criticizes Monroe’s physical appearance (“Nasty complexion, a lot of facial hair, shapeless figure and, when the glasses came off, a very vague look in her eye. No wonder she is so insecure.”). Yet in the second book he becomes her defender. So which is it? Who wouldn’t, with sixty years of hindsight and a best-selling first memoir, embellish their one-time dalliance with a star like Monroe? The most desired woman in the world and he, a 23-year-old nobody, was the one to become her confidant? Aren’t we full of ourselves? And he crawled into her bedroom and was asked to stay the night and didn’t consummate that relationship? If this is the relaxed standard for getting a movie made, then I look forward to the eventual film adaptation of my soon-to-be-released novel titled, My 28 Hours of Incredible Sex with Angelina Jolie.

I’ll Take the End of the World Half, You Keep the Tedious Wedding Half: Melancholia

Somebody Explain to Zack Snyder What “Feminism” Means: You can tell with Sucker Punch that Snyder was trying to crowbar in a meek message about female empowerment, but I ask you: is it female empowerment when the women have to be reduced to pretty play things that still operate in the realm of male fantasy? Just because women fight back does not mean that you are presenting a feministic message. Baby Doll’s mode of power is erotic dancing? And her main outfit looks like a grown replica of Sailor Moon’s, which should be a dream come true for just about every male fan of the animated series. You think having characters in short skirts and names like “Baby Doll,” “Sweet Pea,” and Sucker Punch is no more about female empowerment than some ridiculous women’s prison movie where they all fall into long lesbian-tinged shower sequences.

Why Didn’t Anyone Suspect the Horse?: War Horse. After all the people end up meeting unfortunate ends, why doesn’t anyone look at the one common factor they all shared – the horse?! Maybe the horse was responsible for World War I.

Best Time I Had in a Theater in 2011: Bridesmaids. Seeing this with a packed theater, a crowd that was so involved, created the kind of moviegoing atmosphere you tell your pals about.

Most Ridiculous Plot Element of 2011: Digital nudity. The Change-Up has the single most bizarre moment of any film this calendar year, and it has nothing to do with the metaphysical mechanics of body swapping. Wilde (Cowboys & Aliens, TRON: Legacy) at one point gets rather frisky and takes off her clothes, the last piece her brassier. Mitch’s hands cover her breasts for most of their onscreen freedom except for a handful of side angle shots where Wilde’s breasts are out and ready to greet the audience. Except those are and are not Wilde’s breasts. The in-demand actress was topless but had pasties to cover her nipples, which has always befuddled me why this is more acceptable (“I’ll let everyone see 95% of my breasts but if it comes to nipple that’s too far.”). The pasties were then digitally removed in post-production and replaced with CGI nipples. Let me repeat that for the slower amongst you – CGI nipples! It was some guy’s job to spend weeks painting nipples onto Olivia Wilde’s breasts. That’s the greatest assignment for an animator ever since a breast fondled itself in 2000’s Hollow Man. But why was any of this necessary? Wilde’s done nudity before in 2007’s Alpha Dog. Granted the actress has a much higher profile now but why must we go through this dastardly trickery? Jessica Alba started this “digital nudity” trend by in Machete, but how far does this madness go? To make matters even worse, Leslie Mann (Funny People) has hinted that her own nudity in The Change-Up was also digitally altered, giving her a larger set of breasts (where is the media’s feminist outrage when it’s needed?). My libido doesn’t know what to trust anymore. When I see nudity, can I trust that it’s real, or was it doctored by some computer technicians who are laughing at me the whole time? What is happening to this world when it makes me distrust the very sight of breasts, normally a point of internal celebration now a confusing mystery again?!

Runner-up: The fact that the robot is sentient and nothing happens with that, Real Steel; the buddy cop theme of Season of the Witch; alien rocks in Apollo 18.

Least Believable Hitman: the 90-pound soaking wet Zoe Saldana in Columbiana.

Trapped in the Closet: J. Edgar

Thora Birch Award for Hottest Actress in 2011: Jennifer Lawrence. Whether it was as a high school valedictorian (The Beaver), a stateside love interest (Like Crazy), or a shape-shifting blue mutant (X-Men: First Class), Lawrence was dreamy. And in X-Men, she got to prance around in what is essentially a scaly blue bikini. Lawrence is a beguiling young actress who has the talent to be around for decades.

Runner’s-up: Emily Browning in Sucker Punch; Amber Heard in Drive Angry.

Thanks for the Help: The Help‘s mixed message on race relations reminds me of a similar situation with 2009’s beloved The Blind Side. That movie wasn’t so much about the triumph of a black athlete so much as a glowing picture to how great rich white people can be. And Sandra Bullock got an Oscar for it; that’s how great a white lady she was. The Help is another example of Hollywood taking a story primarily about minorities and having white people necessary to tell that story. Why are white people always necessary to tell some other race’s stories? Skeeter (Emma Stone) is an open-minded gal that speaks her mind and stands up to the Jim Crow South. That’s how she starts. By the film’s end, she’s now… an open-minded gal that speaks her mind and stands up to the Jim Crow South and now she has a publishing career. Good for her! Good for heroic white people! They had so much to lose back then.

Didn’t I Already See This Movie?: The Hangover Part II, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Final Destination 5

Great Message for Girls: In Breaking Dawn: Part One, Edward and Bella finally, after three movies of moping, get to have sex. He doesn’t kill her but he does leave bruises all over her body. Bell assures her new husband that he’s not to blame, arguing, “You just couldn’t control yourself.” What kind of irresponsible message is that sending to teenage girls? But after enduring three movies of “save it until marriage,” the message is made even clearer when Bella, after one bout of sex, gets pregnant. Boom. Bella breaks the news by saying, “The wedding was 14 days ago, and my period’s late.” Edward stares dumbfounded and replies, “What does that mean?” Apparently, after graduating from high school 200 times just for kicks, Edward must have been absent every damn time for sexual education (“Condoms go OVER? Oh! This whole time I thought they went UNDER, you know, to hold everything in.”).

Best Onscreen Death: “On the count of three, I’m going to move the coin,” in X-Men: First Class. Very satisfying end for a pretty evil Nazi.

Best Villain: The horrible bosses (Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey) of Horrible Bosses.

Runner’s-up: Loki in Thor; Hilly in The Help; Jerry in Fright Night; Abin Cooper in Red State.

I Am Number ODD: The point that caught my attention, and was scantily mentioned but once without nary a rejoinder from any character in I Am Number Four, was the fact that the big bad evil aliens are killing the alien teens in order. No reason is ever attempted. There are nine super alien teens but for some reason these interstellar killers are uncontrollably anal-retentive (“We may be vicious monsters, but we respect the value of numerology”). It makes little strategic sense to stick to the doctrine of taking out your enemy one at a time and in a pre-determined order that everyone knows about. It also means that presumably Number 9 will be the hardest to vanquish since they will have the longest time to master their super power. Later on, Number 4 gets an added boost from a sexy, slinky Aussie who happens to be Number 6. My first thought: “What the hell happened to Number 5?” Then I figured that Number 5 has to be locked away somewhere in a protective safe house at an unknown location. Because that affords Number 6 to do whatever the hell she wants; the evil aliens would just have to stop and say, “Look Number 6, we’d really, truly love to vaporize you right now, but first we gotta go find and kill Number 5 first. See ya later.” If that’s the case then Number’s 7-9 need to get off the bench and team up. Number 4 can’t keep this up forever, guys.

They Nominated THAT?: Look below and you’ll find the 30-40 something movies I felt were better, and more deserving of Best Picture nominations, than actual nominees, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, War Horse, The Help, The Tree of Life, The Artist, and Hugo.


PART THREE: OVERALL MOVIE GRADES

I have reviews and mini-reviews for almost all of the graded movies, and I invite readers to check them out at PictureShowPundits.com for further details.

A
Bridesmaids
The Descendants
The Myth of the American Sleepover
Rango
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Take Shelter
Tuesday, After Christmas
Young Adult
 
A-
50/50
The Adjustment Bureau
Attack the Block
Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol
The Muppets
Submarine
Warrior
 
B+
A Dangerous Method
The Debt
The Future
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two
Horrible Bosses
The Ides of March
Insidious
Margin Call
Midnight in Paris
Moneyball
Paul
Rubber
Senna
Source Code
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
Win Win
X-Men: First Class
 
B
The Artist
Beginners
Captain America: The First Avenger
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Cedar Rapids
Chillerama
Contagion
Coriolanus
Crazy, Stupid, Love
Drive
Fast Five
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Hanna
The Help
Hobo with a Shotgun
Hugo
I Saw the Devil
Limitless
The Lincoln Lawyer
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Super
Super 8
Tabloid
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Thor
The Trip
 
B-
Circumstance
Cowboys & Aliens
Friends with Benefits
The Green Hornet
The Guard
Happythankyoumoreplease
J. Edgar
Melancholia
My Week with Marilyn
Red State
War Horse
Unknown
 
C+
Battle: Los Angeles
The Beaver
Cars 2
Immortals
In Time
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
 
C
Bad Teacher
Columbiana
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
The Dilemma
Drive Angry
The Eagle
Final Destination 5
Green Lantern
Hall Pass
I Am Number Four
The Mechanic
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Real Steel
The Robber
Scream 4
Shame
Sucker Punch
Take Me Home Tonight
The Thing
The Tree of Life
Water for Elephants
 
C-
Apollo 18
Bloodrayne: The Third Reich
Breaking Dawn: Part One
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Hangover: Part II
In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds
Just Go With It
Priest
The Zookeeper
 
D+
The Change-Up
Season of the Witch
 
D
Atlas Shrugged
Blubberella
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night
Meek’s Cutoff
Passion Play
Red Riding Hood
The Smurfs
 
D-
Love, Wedding, Marriage
 
F
11/11/11
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