A Two-Fist List: My Favorite Flicks Of 2011…

A Two-Fist List

…That I Actually Watched IN 2011

RUNNER-UP

Killer Elite

Director: Gary McKendry
Writers: Matt Sherring (Screenplay), Ranulph Fiennes (Book)

So even though the action scenes in this true (HA!) crime thriller about retired special forces assassins vs. secret ex-military society assassins (or some such shit) are unfortunately of the “fuck-your-senses-retarded” variety–I still happened to find myself sucking enjoyment out of the dusty, grey, over-edited air. In fact, of the dozen or so films that Statham or DeNiro have appeared in in the past couple, strike that, ten-or-so years–this is by far the best. Yup. This sure was a movie. About assassins! Yes, sir. Good stuff. Gooood stuff.

Alright, time to be honest, I did enjoy this flick, but it wasn’t anything special. The story was entertaining enough, the action passable (by today’s standards) and the performances of the main cast certainly suited the material (especially Clive Owen’s ‘tache), but this flick is a strict one, maybe two, time watcher, tops, and I’m really only bothering to mention it before my list because it was the best of the rest of what I saw this year. And with little offense to Killer Elite, that goes to show you just how bad I thought this past year in film was. However, I should state that a large aspect of this is the general population’s cinematic interest is of the lowest common denominator variety where I reside, so I’ve been inhibited from seeing the following: Martha Marcy May Marlene, A Dangerous Method, The Raid, Rampart, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Hungry Rabbit Jumps, Shame, My Week With Marilyn, The Descendants and a sure to be Rant Top Ten placeholder: The Artist; ’till well after the New Year…So…well, the following is the best of what I was actually able to get my eyeballs on.

Oh, and if you find yourself wondering why the following films: Beginners, 13 Assassins, Super, I Saw The Devil, Rare Exports, The Man From Nowhere and The Last Circus; are missing from my list, well, it’s because they were all originally released in 2010 and all those buttholes who keep placing them on their 2011 lists are wrong and I refuse to follow suit, despite the fact that they would make mine a vastly superior Top Ten then what I ended up with.  But, what can I say? I keep it real, folks. Happy Fuckin’ New Year!

10.

Red State

Director/Writer: Kevin Smith

Yeah–THAT Kevin Smith. The director of my favorite movie–and a bunch of ones I’d rather forget, has risen from the ashes that was Cop Out and made (easily) the most unique and challenging film of his career. Now, Smith is the first to condemn his less-than-stellar past decade, but in Red State‘s case, I failed to hear a single negative word about this project to be spoken and after watching it myself (after many, many months of hype being lobbed at my ear-holes via his podcasts), I was very pleased to find that Smith’s surprising lack of deprecating humor was for good reason–this is a solid fucking film. And aside from the opening 15 or-so minutes of charmingly juvenile banter between our horndog teenage protagonists, nothing about this film says: “I was written and directed by Kevin Smith.” Which, I’m sad to say, after the disappointing Jay & Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl, Clerks 2, Zach & Miri and the devastatingly shitty, Cop Out–was great for me. I never lost love for the man himself, but now I’m back on board the Smith-Train to Cinema-Town.

The story follows a Westboro Babtist-esq evangelical commune, lead by Michael Parks’ fantastically creepy Reverend Abin Cooper, and his cult’s violent and chilling unraveling at the hands of a kidnap mishandling. Few things are genuinely terrifying to me as religious zealotry (prison rape and cancer being the only two I can think of…) and this film embodies it to the max. The performances (especially Parks and Kerry Bishé’s young-girl-caught-in-the-middle, Cheyenne), atmosphere and blood-splattered horrors were captured and nailed in perfect symmetry like Christ himself upon his mighty T. Yes, sir, a truly great and original thriller, that I’m all-the-more happy was made by a man I’ve felt a kinship to since my teenage years. Smith is back, bitches!–and retiring apparently… Well, fuck…

9.

MI - Ghost Protocol

Director: Brad Bird
Writers: Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec

Now, maybe I’m bias–maybe, but even if this film had sucked ass–which it didn’t–but if it had, I’d probably still have liked it more than most as Tom Cruise is a righteous mother fucker. And I don’t give a squirt of piss if you think otherwise. That said–outside of Tommy–I only kinda, sorta dug this entry in the M:I series. My qualms were not with the action, which I believe was well shot and in keeping with the series’ over-the-top thrills and spills; nor was it with the direction in general by Brad ‘The Rad’ Bird, whom did a splendid job transitioning from kick-ass animated action to kick-ass half-CG animated action–but I won’t hold that CG shit against him as this series has never been very grounded in practicality…No, my problem laid purely with the lackluster story and the fact that Ving Rhames wasn’t riding shotgun to Cruise-Town. And where the fuck was Maggie Q? Did La Femme Whatever actually get renewed for a second season? I fuckin’ doubt it! Give me my established characters, god damn it and what the fuck!?

Sigh–OK, so I guess I should say something positive seeing as how this is on a supposedly positive Top 10–Tom Cruise. Did I mention how awesome he is yet? ‘Cuz he is. Shit, he must be pushin’ 50 and he’s still one sexy mothe–I mean capable action stud, I mean hero. Yes sir, I truly do cherish every time I get a chance to see him “On The Hunt” in a theater. Latent homoerotic ribbing aside, Cruise is, honestly, one of my favorite actors and this series is paramount in my love for his ability to entertain me. I can only hope that the much deserved success of M:IV fuels his drive to cruise the impossible at least one more time: M:I5–has a nice ring to it, does it not?

8.

Attack The Block

Director/Writer: Joe Cornish

“This is too much madness to explain in one text!”

Yo, ‘ere it is. A sci-fi action pic that, whilst may not re-defines the genre, gives
it the swift kick in the bullocks it so justly needed. The cast of youths is fuckin’
spot on and make for a new breed of Plissken-esq anti-‘eros worth rootin’ for, spite ’em being a bunch-a ‘ooligan shit-heads. These ain’t The Goonies, sure they too are fueled by society’s apathy toward the lower-class–however, it’s their obsession with violence, sex, swearing and pop-culture, not just adventure, that the charm fumes rise from out this batch of disguarded youth to claim the cup of anti-heroic entertainment. Trust. And the opposition, so deserving of our boys street-brand justice? Easily the best ‘Gears O’ War’-like shite I laid eyes on since Geiger got ‘is freak on wit a paintbrush back in the seven O’s. Yeah… watching ’em gorilla-dog bastards get their glowin’ grills kicked-the-fuck-in by a bunch of young bloods, made me reminiscent of my own Monster Squad-laden yoof.

ATB is fresh, original and packed to the nips with enough attitude and violence infused laughs to guarantee all those willing to read some slang-induced subtitles a movie-night worth remembrance. It’s good-times, bruv, believe it.

7.

Fast Five

Director: Justin Lin
Writer: Chris Morgan

This one’s a god-damned conundrum. What other franchise starts getting good at number 4, with the best entry (so far, mind) being the 5th? It’s fucked up. But I like it. Begrudgingly, I like it a lot. Now I enjoyed the first few FF’s, but it was strictly for ironic reasons. Though a lot of that changed with the return of the original cast in Lin’s sophomore series sequel and even more so with this entry. Now I say a lot and not all because these films are still targeting the lowest common denominator of action fans–(low-watt douche-bags) which is both fun and shame-inducing at the same time. Kinda like sleeping with a hooker. In fact–it’s a lot like that. These films are a series of prostitutes. But man, part 5 is of Heidi Fleiss quality. Just look at those titties!–I mean action scenes! Hell, the third act alone where Walker and Vinnie-D slaughter dozens of innocent policemen for money they don’t need during their high-speed getaway is so much dumb fucking fun it almost made me give a shit what make and model car I’d get when I hit my mid-life crisis. In short, this is mindless entertainment at it’s finest: Stupid, but not too insulting.

6.

The Adventures Of Tintin

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish

I don’t know what or who the hell a “Tintin” is, was or is supposed to be, but I’ll
be damned if I didn’t have a golly good time watching it pretend to be Indiana Jones. Wait… Didn’t Eric Draven stab this mother fucker to death in the alleyway? And since when was he a ginger!? Oh, wait. My bad, look at the cloths–this must be a prequel. Anyways, this flick had it all: mystery, suspense, action; pirates, gunfights, plane crashes; James Bond, Gollum, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost; drinking, fighting, and homoerotic romance–EVERYTHING! And not a single dumbass female supporting character of any consequence in sight. The Adventure Film is back! No joke. Hell, the third-act chase through Bagghar alone has to be the single best action sequence I’ve seen since Rambo turned those Burmese soldiers into marinara sauce back in ’08. Enough of this 50% CG Crystal Skull bullshit, this is what Spielberg should have done to the Indy franchise a long, long time ago. The animation and motion capture are superb. The action is beautifully choreographed, “shot” and edited. The score is nothing short of John Williams signature adventure gold. And the story is to-the-point, thoroughly entertaining, heartfelt and engaging. In short, everything you could ask for in an Action-Adventure tale. This film doesn’t fuck around. Honestly, if big-budget action continues to further root itself in the uncanny valley, I’ll throw my weight behind it so long as they all look and feel as polished as this.

5.

The Guard

Director/Writer: John Michael McDonagh

Clever, funny and snappy dialogue–it don’t exist much anymore no more, what with shit being all written by 15 or so Hollywood stooge wankers and the average Yank’s predilection with style over substance and whatnot now days. OK, enough of that. You know, this type of film really deserves it’s own genre, or at the very least it’s own sub-genre within ‘Crime’–Like a ‘U.Krimody’ or something far more clever… you know the type: The Guy Richie (Snatch), John Crowly (Intermission), Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake), Ian Fitzgibbon (Perrier’s Bounty), Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) type flick. And while I’m sure that for every good one that makes it overseas, there are three or four shite ones that don’t, but when compared to crap like the American super-hero or raunchy-comedy genres, I don’t think anyone could deny that this niche could well be the most consistently entertaining and well-made brand of cinema in the past 10 or 12 years. And, of course, The Guard is no exception. A smart, compact caper about a small-town cop, Sergeant Boyle (Brenden Gleeson), whose sharp humor and knack for rubbing people the wrong way is only overshadowed by his concealed heart-of-gold and apathetic, yet undeniably charming approach to his unintentional involvement in a cocaine smuggling ring. A concept so simple and so well executed, it effortlessly beguiled me to a state of cinematic bliss. The Guard is a pure winner, made bittersweet by the fact that it (and most other U.Krimodies) will never be mainstream enough to be included in casual cinema discussion, but neither is there danger of a watered-down Hollywood re-make within a year of it’s release. Speaking of which…

4.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Director: David Fincher
Writers: Steven Zaillian (Screenplay), Stieg Larsson (Book)

Look at that poster and fucking try to question me liking this film.

#1. James Bond
#2. Half-Naked Euro-Trash Suicide Girl
#3. Half-Naked Euro-Trash Suicide Girl’s Nipple

How could I not love this movie?

OK, so almost without exception, American Re-makes (or “English Language Adaptations”, if you’re one of those pricks) to popular and/or current foreign films are watered-down stains on the front of cinematic art’s panties–this is true. And this film–is not the exception. But! Neither is it the rule. No, this one sits on the fence. With a post up it’s balloon-knot, sans lube.

I was a fan of the original Swedish film and I even joined the cult of the 50+ white suburbanite women who seem to perpetuate the Stieg Larsson fanclub of rape and murder and I read the book as well (though mostly to have something to chat with the cougars about before kicking the old hornet’s nest, if you know what I mean…). And between all three, my feelings are–the book was well written, though too long and the films come out as different, though equally satisfying blocks of crime-fiction entertainment. Which, for me, is giving the American version quite a lot of praise. The cast was well chosen, the cinematography was superb, the score eerily soothing and grippingly tense at the same time, and most of the novel’s darkness and grit were surprisingly and most appreciatively, in-tact. Though I knew all these things would be true going in as it was directed by David Fincher. A man who sold me on seeing this by his name’s attachment alone. As even though his films are hit & miss with me (Seven–Fuck Yeah!, The Curious Case Of Forrest Button–WTF?), one thing is for certain: when it comes to crime-thrillers–few modern filmmakers can do it better*. So I came out of the theater in the exact state-of-mind I assumed I would: Pleasantly entertained through well-crafted sleaze and degradation. And there’s not much more to say than that. Either you’re interested in drinking the kool-aid, or your not. But for me, this one was good, bad times. Oh Yeah!

3.

Drive

Director: *Nicolas Winding Refn
Writers: Hossein Amini (Screenplay), James Sallis (Book)

Every once and a while, a neo-noir slips through the cracks and delights those few more sinister cinefiles, such as myself. Drive was this year’s, and it was a decadent d’lite. A slow-boiling hard-case flick that delivers the tale of a getaway/transporter driver and the dangers that his chosen life-style brings down upon those precious few whom he lets get close to him, like a punch to the kidneys. In a good way. N.W. Refn is arguably the best crime-fiction director to come along in the past 10 years (yes, better than Fincher, even), with the Pusher trilogy and Bronson, and now Drive–even a flagon of poison couldn’t stop this Danish prince of crime cinema. The action, when it’s finally sprung on us, is well paced, effectively edited and brutally violent. Bitches get shot, stabbed, exploded and even stomped the fuck to death. All good things. But the highlights of the film, at least for me, were actually the scenes in which the plot was forwarded by slow and steady shots of near dialogue-free emotional (or when concerning Gossling’s ‘Driver’, equally effective emotionless) contemplation by the all-around stellar cast. You know you have a damn good crime-thriller when you’re still enthralled while watching something as simple as three people sitting around a table just eating quietly for 5 minutes. Oh, and if Albert Brooks isn’t nominated for Best-Supporting actor, the Academy can go fuck itself.

2.

Scre4m

Director: Wes Craven
Writer: Kevin Williamson

It took guts (pun!) for the producers to sign off on a sequel to a decade old franchise, not to mention a blessedly simple numerical-titled one ( ‘Scream: The Next Generation’, anyone?), but thankfully the stars were aligned–not that they were up to much anyways… (anyone else think that Neve Campbell had died back in 2003?) And thankfully the horror genre had been (and still is) in such a different (and sad, IMO) state this past decade, that it was the perfect time for someone clever to come along and lampoon it. Ladies and gentlemen–Kevin Williamson’s back. The creative and satirical genius writer of the original took the writing reins once again and together with Craven in the D-Chair, churned out one of the best slasher flicks in years. Scream 4 was funny, smart and by-far the most violent entry in the series. And I absolutely loved it. Not to mention that I would stab my own best friend in the solar-plexus for a shot to give Miss. Panettiere the ol’ “Ghost-Face”, if you know what I mean…

1.

Hanna

Director: Joe Wright
Writers: Seth Lochhead & David Farr

Funny thing, I hesitated even going to see this one. Yup. While I had liked the director’s previous film, Atonement, NOTHING about that film screamed: I can make an awesome action-thriller! Much less a PG-13 one… Talk about pleasant surprises. And so much more. The concept of making modern fairy-tale films in a post-modern setting whilst keeping a Brother’s Grimm style of, well, ‘grimness’ is more rare than the aforementioned Neo-Noir–but much like the oft-overlooked 2006 flick, Running Scared, Hanna succeeded and furthermore, stands as the future basis for comparison.

The cinematography is beautiful and maintains a great sense of action geography. The script is fresh, smart and unfolds smoothly and seductively like a veteran stripper’s legs, but the highlights are definitely the cast and the score. Much like in Drive, the supporting cast is inspired and pitch perfect. Even Blanchett who normally gets on my tits was fantastic. But the standouts for me are most certainly Tom Hollander as the track-suit wearing, neo-nazi, theme-whistling assassin and, of course, the magnificent Miss Saoirse Ronan as the titular Hanna. With her stunning blue eyes and stone-cold milky-white complexion, she bored into my skull with her unassuming ruthlessness. And on the flip-side, was as sweet and charming as little Newt from Aliens with her childlike sense of wonder and social naivete. Mostly… mostly. From the martial arts and weapons training to the accents and multiple languages Ronin gave a perfect performance, and for once didn’t fail to hit her target’s heart–mine.

And the score by the Chemical Brothers? One of the best original scores in the past decade–easy. All-in-all, this is simply great movie.

Hanna's List

So, thereyahaveit. Them’s the ones I liked this past year. And here as a post script is a brief list of the other films I saw in ’11, from ’11 that didn’t completely blow goats (read: that I’d recommend checking out on video)…

Assassination Games – Bad Teacher – Blitz – Captain America: The First Avenger – Cowboys & Aliens – Crazy, Stupid, Love. – Drive Angry – Elephant White – In Time – Machete Maidens Unleashed! – Midnight In Paris – Rango – Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows – Source Code – Super 8 – The Adjustment Bureau – The Big Bang – The Lincoln Lawyer

~RANT

For discussion, questions, comments and especially praise… CLICK HERE