Yer Obligatory 2011 Film List

Hi folks! Wishing a happy, slightly belated, non-apocalyptic 2012 to you all! I feel, having a blog and all, that I’d be remiss if I didn’t chime in with some kind of 2011 film industry postmortem, so thought it’d be good to submit my own faves of the past year. With no further ado, here are my thoughts on 2011, film wise (next blog will be back in the purely musical realm, I ‘spect):

Evil Twin Music’s Best Films of 2011

1. The Tree of Life – Not just my favourite film of the year, possibly the film that effected me more than any other in the last several years. There’s been so much written about Malick’s masterpiece that I don’t know what more I can add, other than an observation about my response to this most personal of his films. Honestly, I can’t remember the last film I saw where, roughly every 10 minutes or so, I had both my breath taken away because of the beauty of an image, and a lump in my throat because of the non-specific, but very tangible spirituality at the core of each of those images. Beautiful film, with lovely original music by Alexandre Desplat as well as contributions from composers such as John Tavener, Zbigniew Preisner, and Henryk Górecki. I’m almost scared to revisit it on home video, since nothing can compare to seeing these images on a huge screen.

2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes / Project Nim – And thus I begin my cheating… but then again, I never said I was offering a “top ten” list. Since I have a few favourites that were so inextricably linked in my responses that I couldn’t possibly rank one above the other, I’ve got a few instances like this where I couldn’t really rank one film higher than the other. When I saw “Rise”, like most filmgoers I was mightily impressed, particularly by Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar. The degree to which the film elicits sympathy for the apes, even at their most destructive, is, of course, greatly aided by the degree to which the humans in film are shown to be unsympathetic bozos, and there’s no shortage of that sort of stacking of the emotional deck. But the film is skillfully made enough for us not to mind the manipulation. Besides, once a person sees “Project Nim” (and I defy you to identify a more perfect double bill in 2011!) you can’t help but feel that when Mother Nature does finally decide to put us in our place, we’ve had it coming for a long time. This documentary, about Herbert Terrace’s efforts in the 60s and 70s to explore language learning in primates demonstrates, in a moving, infuriating, funny, but ultimately tragic way the toll exacted by academic hubris (plus a healthy dose of early-70s hippy-dippiness) on both man and beast.

3. Rango – this gorgeous, hilarious, absurdist take on Westerns sometimes feels like an animated Coen Brothers film, and some of that, I’m sure, is thanks the dryly humourous vocal work of the cast. MUCH more of it, though, is due to having the Coen’s cinematographer Roger Deakins on board as a visual consultant, making it the best looking animated film since “Wall-E” (which also benefited from his touch).

4. Super 8 – sure the climax of the film can’t possibly live up to the build-up (and the terrific character work by the cast of mostly new young actors) that preceeds it, but goshdarn it, if the first hour or so wasn’t a perfect evocation of what caused many of us to fall in love with films in our younger days (especially fun summer films from names like Spielberg, Dante, Donner and Zemeckis attached to them), I don’t know what is!

5. Hugo – I have to admit, I’m torn on this one and feel like I should have loved it more. If you’re going to have to have a film in 3D, I can’t think of safer hands to be in than Martin Scorsese’s. He does things in this film with light and dust particles and textures that show real visual artistry, and make it (along with Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”) one of the few films this year that truly needed to be seen in 3D to be appreciated. The central story is a moving one as well, and educating the young’uns about Georges Méliès is all well and good. I’m just not certain who this film was made for; parts of it that were clearly aimed at kids (the rather ineffective slapstick with Sasha Baron Cohen) seemed pitched too low, and some of the grief and regret in Ben Kingsley’s Méliès (not to mention some of the pacing) seemed to be pitched at an older crowd. Still and all, I was in awe for much of the film; I just wished it had grabbed me on a more emotional level than it did.

6. The Muppets – and then there was this unalloyed injection of pure nostalgic joy. Except, I must note, I was heartened by the fact that the younger members of the audience I saw this with (my 9 year old niece included) enjoyed the film greatly, even without having the 40-plus years of exposure to these characters that we old farts have. Sure I could nitpick (Jim Henson’s Kermit will never be replaced, though I had a far easier time adapting to the non-Frank-Ozzian cadences of Miss Piggy and Fozzy) but the film is infinitely better than it had any right to be, and a great way to wrap up my movie-going year!

7. Captain America: The First Avenger/The Adventures of Tintin/X-Men: First Class – a threefer this time, packaged together because of their overall content (period piece action/adventure films) and because I happen to be a sucker for period piece action/adventure films of this ilk. Having been burnt a few times in the past (although, I hated “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” far less than many) my response to all of these was “holy crap, I’m enjoying myself way more than I thought I was going to!”. Captain America, in particular, really did capture a certain “gee whiz” quality that you’d get in comics from that time, and is easily Joe Johnston’s best film since “The Rocketeer” (which says that Mr. Johnston has a definite niche, and needs to avoid further “Jumanjis” in his future).

8. Source Code/The Adjustment Bureau – these two had all the intrigue and mindbending “nature of reality” vibe of the previous year’s Inception, but with the added novelty of being love stories that actually worked, with strong performances across the board, and a lot of chemistry in the Jake Gyllenhaal/Michelle Monaghan and Matt Damon/Emily Blunt teamups.

9. Kill the Irishman – maybe it’s just that it’s been several years since a great gangster film came our way (not counting terrific foreign films like “Mesrine” and “A Prophet”), but I enjoyed the heck out of this film. Nothing earth-shattering or innovative, but Jonathan Hensleigh’s direction is kinetic and involving, and watching Irish and Italian thugs blowing up and shooting each other can be a sort of cinematic comfort food (for some of us, anyway). What’s more, Ray Stevenson (I’m still hoping to see some forward movement on those long-promised “Rome” theatrical films in 2012, though they sound stalled) has a lot of charisma, and ought to be employed more – being in both the new Billy Bob Thornton film (Jayne Mansfield’s Car) and the next G.I. Joe film shows him to still be an actor caught between serious “legitimate” films and pure action fare.

10. The Guard – starring an ACTUAL Irishman, Brendan Gleeson, this film is, on the surface, one of those “fish out of water” stories with the big time sophisticate from the US (in this case an FBI agent played by Don Cheadle) being put in his place by the charmingly quirky residents of a small Irish village (the template of course being Bill Forsythe’s Local Hero). The difference in this case is that the “loveable, quirky” character in the piece is actually a racist drug abuser with a penchant for prostitutes, but his low-level sociopathy makes for a very, very funny “anti-buddy” movie!

And that, my friends, wraps up my favourites of the year! What do you think…any favourites of yours that I’ve forgotten? Feel free to weigh in! At any rate, 2012 has been pretty hoppin’ with activity, both musical and extracurricular thus far, but I guarantee that the blogging will continue unhampered! We shall talk again soon!


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