Ryan’s Top 11 Of 2011

This is the time of year when everybody starts making lists. And since this is the end of my first year as a film critic *cough* I figured I would throw my own tuppence worth in as well.

I spent most of this year catching up on older films, either from before my time or ones that had slipped through the net in recent years. I didn’t get to see as many new flicks as I might normally do, but of the 50 or so I did see, here’s my Top 11 of ‘11.

1.    The Guard

Who did it?

Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle, Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, John Michael O’Donagh (writer/director)

Why is it here?

A small-town cop who keeps confiscated drugs for himself, walks arm-in-arm down the street with a pair of call girls in Ann Summers-esque police uniforms and may (or may not) be a former Olympic swimmer shows the FBI how it’s done when it comes to bringing down a drug gang. Also, it makes a great double-bill with In Bruges (also starring Gleeson, and written and directed by O’Donagh’s brother, Martin)

The Best Bit

With a film this good it’s hard to pick just one. I nearly went for the climactic dock-side shootout, but it has to be the scene where the gang leader approaches Gleeson’s Gerry in the café in an unsuccessful attempt to buy him off. The last honest cop in the West of Ireland just can’t be bothered to be corrupt.

2.    Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Who did it?

James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Rupert Wyatt (director)

Why is it here?

The original big screen sci-fi franchise became increasingly hamstrung by ever-cheaper sequels and a perceived irrelevancy in the wake of Star Wars and its ilk, and Tim Burton’s attempted reimagining in 2001 turned out to be little more than a 2-hour Rick Baker showreel with the head-scratcher ending of all head-scratcher endings. Nobody really expected much from another damn dirty Apes movie. Then Rupert Wyatt was announced as director. The few dozen of us who had seen his great debut feature The Escapist started to get hesitantly interested. Then Andy Serkis was announced as Caesar, the lead chimpanzee, with another assist from the geniuses (genii?) at Weta Digital. The few billion of us who had seen Lord of the Rings and King Kong started to get really quite interested indeed. When the flick came out it was still surprising just how good it was. Action scenes built on character development instead of being just mindless Bay-hem, sentimental without being cloying, even the callbacks to the original movies were (mostly) subtle and organic. In my not-so-humble opinion, this is the best hard science fiction in a long time.

The Best Bit

NOOOOOOO!!!

3.    Oliver Sherman

Who did it?

Garret Dillahunt, Donal Logue, Molly Parker, Ryan Redford (writer/director)

Why is it here?

Read my review from earlier this year (as seen on IMDb!) Shamefully, it seems this film still doesn’t have a distributor.

The Best Bit

For sheer unnervingness, it has to be Logue and Parker’s son’s birthday party. You just know something bad is going to happen.

4.    Troll Hunter

Who did it?

A bunch of Norwegians you’ve never heard of.

Why is it here?

2011’s winner of my Nutty Scandinavian Monster Movie of the Year award (after Rare Exports in 2010 – which would have made this list had it been released four weeks later) is a mock-doc-meets-creature-feature that demonstrates exactly what you can do with some good old-fashioned local legend and a healthy dose of deadpan humour. Between this and the [REC] series, you could argue that European sensibilities work better than American when it comes to the “shaky-cam” sub-genre. In American flicks it seems to be either a bandwagon jump or a budgetary-enforced gimmick whereas the Europeans appear more able to justify the choice within the film itself. But anyway, that’s enough chin-stroking. Just watch the damn film already!

The Best Bit

As awesome as all the trolls are (and they are awesome), for sheer entertainment value I’m picking Finn and the Polish bear hunters.

5.    X-Men: First Class

Who did it?

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Vaughn (co-writer/director)

Why is it here?

When this movie was first announced, I wasn’t exactly overjoyed. For some reason, I almost expected Muppet Babies with superpowers (although, now that I think about it, how freaking awesome could that be?). Maybe it was just residual bad feelings towards Tim Allen in Zoom! but it took a while for me to really get behind this one. Fair play to Matthew Vaughn and his frequent co-writer Jane Goldman though, for nailing the 60s tone and atmosphere. They made it bright and fun but without resorting to parody. Where the subtext in Singer’s X-films was centred on the issues of homosexuality (“Can’t you just pretend to be normal?”) Vaughn and Goldman shifted tack to look at race relations and the Civil Rights Movements, with a bit of Cold War extravagance thrown in for funsies. They were doing so well too, right until the unfortunate adherence to what I have arbitrarily titled Hollywood Rule #24, illustrated here by Jon Abrams of the great Demon’s Resume site. Despite that minor misstep, this was a worthy reset to a bit of a floundering franchise, and there are still plenty of stories that can be told before events catch up to the initial trilogy.

The Best Bit

Rose Byrne’s impromptu undercover mission? The training montage(s)? The Auschwitz prologue? This film is full of crackerjack sequences but the undoubted winner has got to be Erik Lensherr – Nazi Hunter. Between this and Inglourious Basterds, Michael Fassbender has pretty much got James Bond in the bag when Vaughn’s first leading man decides to hang up the tux.

6.    Hanna

Who did it?

Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, Joe Wright (director)

Why is it here?

This is a fairy tale. There are no two ways around it. And like all the best fairy tales, it has a beautiful darkness to it. There is also something truly frightening about how good this 16-year-old girl is at killing people. Hanna is no Hit-Girl though. Where Chloe Moretz was a walking cartoon (intentionally), Saoirse Ronan gives Hanna a naivety and a sweet nature that is in stark contrast to her abilities. Performance of the year? Quite possibly.

The Best Bit

Joe Wright’s now-trademark single-take sequence is used devastatingly well in this flick, but my choice is Hanna breaking out of the base. Expertly shot, edited, scored, everything.

7.    Hobo With a Shotgun

Who did it?

Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Nick Bateman, Gregory Smith, Brian Downey, Jason Eisener (director)

Why is it here?

Hobo. With a Shotgun. Starring Rutger Hauer. Are you really still asking that question?

The Best Bit

Despite all the gloriously excessive violence, my favourite moment is when The Hobo and Abby decide to escape from Drake and run off to start a new life mowing lawns together. Hobo gives the typical “we’ll travel light” speech and then Abby, overcome with a childlike enthusiasm, picks up her television. Okay, written down like that it might not sound like much but when you see it you just want to hug her.

8.    Thor

Who did it?

Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Anthony Hopkins, Clark Gregg, Idris Elba, Kenneth Branagh (director)

Why is it here?

In a year seemingly overflowing with superhero movies, here’s another one for the list. The two more verdant offerings, Greens Lantern and Hornet, were ambitious but ended up crippled by mishandling of their source materials. Captain America was fun, well-cast and had a few great little moments, but in the final reckoning felt to me like an extended Avengers trailer. Yes, I know it actually was an extended Avengers trailer, and so was Thor, but Thor was a more rounded, self-contained entity (random Jeremy Renner cameo notwithstanding). Since Marvel started financing their own flicks instead of licensing out the characters they have developed a habit of picking initially unexpected directors, a habit that reached its peak when The Second Coming Of Lawrence Olivier™ signed on the dotted for this four-colour confection. The more we thought about it though, the more sense it makes. Who better than Branagh to take on the cod-Shakespearean tone of the Asgard sequences? And while the love story between Thor and Jane might feel a little rushed at times, the New Mexico half of the flick is saved by Kat Dennings and Clark Gregg bringing their A-grade snark to the proceedings.

The Best Bit

Anytime Idris Elba is being a badass Viking God, which is basically anytime Idris Elba is on the screen at all. Yes, I have a man-crush. No, I don’t care what you think.

9.    Talihina Sky

Who did it?

Caleb Followill, Matthew Followill, Nathan Followill, Ringo Followill, Cousin Nacho, Stephen C. Mitchell (director)

Why is it here?

Equally as revealing as Metallica’s Some Kind of Monster, but without the self-indulgent undertones, this is a portrait of not just Kings of Leon, but their extended family and the world they came from. I saw the flick at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival at a screening attended by the band themselves the night before they played in the city. You don’t so much watch a film like this, you just let your eyes and ears and brain and soul soak in it.

In fairness, Kings were one of my favourite bands before this, so your mileage may vary depending on your musical tastes.

The Best Bit

Depends on your favourite song, I suppose. I like the live acoustic version of the title song played at the end.

10.  Fast Five

Who did it?

Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Tyrese Gibson, everyone who ever appeared in any other Fast and Furious flick who isn’t already dead (except Tokyo Drift which hasn’t happened yet) and Dwayne Johnson, directed by Justin Lin

Why is it here?

Remember a few years ago when Mark Wahlberg and Edward Norton did a remake of The Italian Job? In the months that followed, there was talk of a sequel to be set in Brazil. Imaginatively enough, the script went under the working title of The Brazilian Job (no sniggering at the back, thank you very much). The Italian Job turned out to be watchable but ultimately forgettable and that sequel script just went dusty on somebody’s shelf until it was picked up, brushed off and – after a few cosmetic adjustments – rechristened Fast Five, or as I like to call it, Diesel’s Eleven. This is shameless popcorn cinema at its finest. Big and bombastic but never messy or incomprehensible, Justin Lin has spent the previous two entries in the series building up to this. Even the post-credits sting works as a set-up for the subsequent instalments (and Johnson deserves an Oscar for actually being able to speak in that little scene, what with the distraction perched on the end of his desk).

The Best Bit

Everyone gets their turn in the spotlight, but my favourite little character beat is the moment between Gal Gadot and new contender for Coolest Man Alive, Sung Kang when they’re trying to figure a way to get the bad guy’s palm print. Let’s not forget the final chase sequence though.

11.  Source Code

Who did it?

Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, Duncan Jones (director)

Why is it here?

Duncan Jones’ follow-up to the extraordinary Moon was another high concept but deceptively philosophical sci-fi, this time looking at re-living (someone else’s) past as Gyllenhaal continuously repeats the last eight minutes before a train explodes in order to find the bomber, with the help of Michelle Monaghan onboard and Vera Farmiga on “the outside”. To say any more about the plot would be a disservice to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but with his knowledge of events building each time – and the situation itself evolving – it never seems repetitive. It could be described as a turbo-charged Groundhog Day, but it also so much more.

The Best Bit

The last ten minutes. Go watch it.

As I mentioned earlier, there were quite a few new movies this year that I didn’t get to for one reason or another, so here is my Top 11 films that I reckon might have changed this list had I actually got to see them:

1.    Warrior

2.    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

3.    Attack the Block

4.    Super

5.    The Tree of Life

6.    Hugo

7.    Rango

8.    The Ides of March

9.    Drive

10.  Contagion

11.  Kill List

And there you have it. As usual, feel free to add your comments below. If there is anything you think I’ve missed, let me know.

5 comments

  1. state abbreviations · January 2, 2012

    good idea im gonna try it

  2. Pingback: 5-Word 365 #003 – Kill List | 5-Word Movie Reviews
  3. Brianna Hazekamp · February 2, 2012

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  4. Pingback: 5-Word 365 #038 – True Grit | 5-Word Movie Reviews
  5. Pingback: 5-Word 365 #184 – Drive | 5-Word Movie Reviews

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