Rants and Raves: The 2011 Year in Review
The Best, the Worst, and a Few Oddities
Monday, January 2, 2012
KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando looks back on the best of 2011.
Take a look back at the best, the worst, and a few assorted oddities from 2011. You can listen to my feature for the top ten and then check out the rest of my awards below.
Last year had more bad than good and what was bad (see below for worst list) was very, very bad. Yet when it came time to count off the top ten, I had more films than slots. So in the tenth spot I have a tie because there are two ultra-low budget films that deserve highlighting for their ingenuity and inventiveness.
Jason Eisener's 70s grindhouse throwback from Canada, "Hobo with a Shotgun" saturates the screen with colors that pop like fresh graffiti on a wall. There's such a visual vibrancy that you can't help but feel amped up by the images on the screen. Blood flows by the gallons as Rutger Hauer plays a homeless man who grabs a shotgun and starts making some changes in a corrupt town. Or as a headline reads: "Hobo stops begging, demands change." The film proves that you don't need money to deliver a bold and wickedly fun time at the movies, just talent, imagination, and audacity.
The same holds true for "Attack the Block," which is easily summed up by its tagline: Inner city versus outer space. Filmmaker Joe Cornish gives us a film that's both over-the-top and rooted in the real world. So when aliens drop in on a South London project, the local teenagers take a break from mugging locals to attack the new intruders. But in the downtime between assaults the teens reveal what life in the block is like and how marginalized they feel. It makes a good companion piece to "Harry Brown." "Attack the Block" is fresh, funny, clever, and even offers an insightful window to contemporary South London.
Then from nearby Wales comes Richard Ayoade's "Submarine."
"My name is Oliver Tate and I know it's a bit of an affectation but sometimes I wish there was a film crew following my every move." Oliver explains that the story is set in Wales, and he thanks us Americans for never invading his country. Oliver (Craig Roberts) is a precocious 15-year-old obsessed with two things: saving his parents' marriage and losing his virginity. "Submarine" has the goofy charm of "Gregory's Girl" with the offbeat style of "Rushmore." It's the best romantic comedy since "(500) Days of Summer" and Oliver is a delightful character because he is so unreliable as our narrator. The story is told through his eyes but he doesn't always report the truth, and the discrepancy between fact and fiction is part of the fun.
From the U.S. comes "Marwencol," a superb documentary about a man recovering from a violent assault. Mark Hogancamp built a 1/6 scale World War II village, peopled it with dolls serving as alter egos for those he knows, and then photographed them.
"I created my own therapies," Hogancamp tells us, "I could act out my revenge, my anger, my rage in my photographs."
Revenge and rage figure prominently in a pair of Asian extreme films. From Japan, "Cold Fish" delivers a disturbing, provocative, hilarious, and brilliant film. Director Shion Sono, who also did "Love Exposure" that screened at SDAFF, takes you on what feels like an epic rollercoaster ride that can leave you feeling both drained and exhilarated.
Much darker but equally stunning is Korea's "I Saw the Devil." It blends a serial killer procedural with a revenge tale. The twist director Kim Jee-woon throws at us is that the line differentiating good from evil grows blurred and dangerously thin. The protagonist's personal revenge is very different from the justice the police seek. As with many Korean films the extreme nature of the story highlights the destructive nature of violence and how it can damage those on both sides of a conflict. In a country that has been torn apart by war with families split across a border, the film suggests revenge may not be the best way to heal pain and loss.
Sony Pictures Classics
Revenge and obsession are at play in Pedro Almodovar's latest, "The Skin I Live In." It brilliantly mixes a Hitchcock thriller, a Cronenberg body horror film, and just a splash of ripe melodrama. Plus gorgeous production design, an evocative score, and sublime acting by Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya.
Sublime describes Italy's "Le Quattro Volte." Sometimes you crave fast food and sometimes you need something to satisfy more than just your hunger. "Le Quattro Volte" is cinematic slow food. It takes its time, is meticulous in its presentation, and then serves up a satisfying and nourishing feast.
A measured pace along with a superb sense of editing and cinematic space is on display in the hypnotic "Drive." Nicolas Winding Refn is like a jazz artist riffing on other works yet still delivering a product that manages to be totally his own. We just need to watch, follow along, and then figure it out. Most of the story plays out without dialogue or exposition. But when there is dialogue we get great delivery from the likes of Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston, and Ron Perlman. "Drive" is a satisfying and stylish thriller that resonates beyond its formula trappings.
A mother's relationship with her troubled son is at the heart of Lynne Ramsay's impressionistic "We Need to Talk About Kevin." Once again Tilda Swinton floors us with a subtle and nuanced performance, and Ramsay (who's debut film was the finely crafted "Ratcatcher") shows how much storytelling can be done through images and sound design.
Which brings us to the best of the year: Terence Malick's "Tree of Life" is by no means perfect but it aspires to a level of artistry that leaves most other filmmakers in the dust. He's as interested in filming such intangibles as sunlight and wind as he is in his actors. His film is true cinematic storytelling, and his film seduces us like one of Proust's Madeleines "Tree of Life" achieves transcendence and delivers a religious experience for cinephiles.
Even in a slim year it's hard to keep the list to ten because films are so diverse and can offer such different kinds of joy, satisfaction, and artistry. I'd like to give honorable mention to Takashi Miike's epic action film "13 Assassins;" Tom McCarthy's finely scripted "Win Win;" Ralph Fiennes' Shakespearean's adaptation "Coriolanus;" Alexander Payne's quietly nuanced "The Descendants;" the smart indie film "Another Earth;" the documentaries "The Interrupters," "Into the Abyss," and "Cave of Forgotten Dreams;"and the cleverly crafted "silent" film "The Artist."
And here are a few other awards I'd like to give out.
Best Actor: Tom Hardy, "Warrior"
Runners up: Joseph Gordon Levitt, "Hesher" and "50/50;" Rutger Hauer, "Hobo With a Shotgun," Andy Serkis, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
Best Actress: Tilda Swinton, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Runners up: Jessica Chastain, "Tree of Life" and "Debt;" Elena Anaya, "The Skin I Live In;" Brit Marling, "Another Earth"
Best Supporting Actor: Albert Brooks, "Drive"
Christopher Plummer, "Beginners;" Christoph Waltz, "Carnage"
Best Supporting Actress: Vanessa Redgrave, "Coriolanus"
Amy Ryan, "Win Win;" Shailene Woodley, "The Descendants"
Most Improved Franchise: "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol"
I would also give this an award for best stunts and best use of IMAX.
Twentieth Century Fox
Biggest Surprise: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
Best Action Film: "13 Assassins"
Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezi, "The Tree of Life"
Runners up: Newton Thomas Sigel, "Drive;" Erik Alexander Wilson, "Submarine"
Best Editing: Joe Bini for showing how to tell a non-linear story in "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Runners up: Mat Newman for showing how important NOT making edits can be in "Drive," and Chris Dickens for reminding us how much fun editing can be in "Submarine"
Most Wasted Use of Great Production Design: Tom Fowden, "Immortals"
Best Make-Up and Visual Effects on a Budget: "Hobo With a Shotgun," "Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil," and "Attack the Block"
Best collaboration of artists to create an illusion: making audiences buy into the ape world of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
Best Use of 3D: Pot smoke spilling out over the audience in "A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas"
Most Egregious Missed Opportunity: Not having Neil Patrick Harris do a musical number with Miss Piggy in "The Muppets"
Runner up: Chris Sarandon in "Fright Night" remake.
Here's one I normally don't do but this year had such fine work I had to make note of the artists at work making music for the movies.
Best Score: Cliff Martinez, "Drive"
Cliff Martinez, "Contagion;" Chemical Brothers, "Hanna;" Alexandre Desplat, "The Tree of Life"
Best Comeback Film: We thought we lost you Woody but thanks for reminding us what a great writer you still can be with "Midnight in Paris"
Worst Casting Choice: Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover
Most Impressively Distracting Eyebrows: Beau Bridges, "The Descendants"
Most Effectively Squirm-Inducing, Cringe-Worthy Scene: Min Sik-Choi getting his Achilles tendon sliced in "I Saw the Devil"
The WTF Are You Doing In That Movie Award: Al Pacino in "Jack and Jill" and Robert DeNiro in "New Year's Eve"
The Unnecessary Prequel/Sequel/Remake Award: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "Footloose," "Fright Night," "The Thing"
And the worst of the year:
"Take Me Home Tonight"
"Red Riding Hood"
And here's the award for films whose trailers were so terrifyingly bad that I could not bring myself to see the complete film in theaters for fear I'd gouge my eyes out.
"Jack and Jill"
"New Year's Eve"
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