Monday, January 16, 2012

Shane's Favourite Movies of 2011

So, it's that time of year again. I wanted to get this list out sooner but I've been trying my to catch up on some last minute titles I thought might influence my decision. About a week after my 2010 movie list went up I saw True Grit, and I loved it so much that it would have easily been in my top 3. But, alas, the list was already posted. It's always hard to choose five when there are still others I haven't seen and want to see.

This year I found it especially difficult to make my picks. There were plenty of films I thought were good, but few I thought were really great. I might feel completely different about the order and/or choices in this list a month from now. But it's time to commit. Here we go.

5. Red State 
I heard plenty about the development and release of this film from Kevin Smith's weekly "SMODcast" last year, and I was interested in seeing a film that seemed very unlike anything else he's directed. Red State certainly is different, but you can still see Kevin Smith's crude style infused throughout this violent, low budget horror film.

What I really like about this film (besides Michael Parks' performance) is how it pulls a From Dusk Til Dawn midpoint switcheroo. It starts as a bleak horror film where some horny teens become the captives of a fanatical religious family, and then it turns into a guns blazing, action film with John Goodman. High five! It's over the top, it's ridiculously fun, and it will probably catch you off guard at least once.

4. Rango 
It's really strange how things go sometimes. When I originally saw trailers for Rango I was filled with equal parts confusion and disgust. I couldn't quite tell what the movie was trying to be, but I knew I didn't like it. Then I started reading positive reviews, some friends gave it their seal of approval, and I decided to give it a shot. Much to my surprise and delight, it was a terrific film.

I really have to applaud the work of the animation team because the visuals are stunning. Most All of the characters are as grotesque as they are weird, but witnessing the level of detail put into their design is amazing. Everything in this film looks broken-down, scarred, and filthy ... in a good way. Plus, you wouldn't think a story about a lost pet chameleon becoming the sheriff of a dehydrated animal town would make a good western, but it does. The characters are eccentric and interesting, the jokes are funny and mature, and the story unfolds with plenty of action. It's a solid film, and it reminded me to never judge a chameleon by its skin.

3. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol 
I saw plenty of action films this year (Captain America, X-Men: First Class, Thor, Cowboys & Aliens, Adventures of Tintin, Suckerpunch, Fast Five, Green Hornet, Hanna, etc.) and this one stood out as having the most exciting, well paced action of them all. It's no surprise that the director of The Incredibles would have an idea of how to present action in a spectacular fashion. There's no downtime telling an origin story or getting lost in some boring subplot; it's just one insane assignment after another with a likable team, crazy gadgets, and unthinkable obstacles. It may not be realistic, but it is absolutely fun. For his first live action film Brad Bird delivered pure entertainment.

2. Super 8 
If you've heard anything about this movie it was probably that it shares a lot of similarities to Spielberg's movies from the 80's like E.T. and The Goonies. This is true. It's practically J.J. Abrams channeling the guy. And that's perfectly fine with me. This movie has such a good vibe to it, and I really like the kids playing the group of friends aspiring to make an awesome zombie movie; they're all very likable and fun to watch. There's a good chemistry between them and some fine performances (Elle Fanning, holy shit).

So, a group of friends witness a train wreck while working on their scary movie and suddenly there's a real monster wreaking havoc in their small town. Even as things get out of control, the kids keep working on their film and taking every opportunity to incorporate the escalating disaster into their movie. Super 8 isn't perfect (I wish the second half was more like the first half), but it wins bonus points in the nostalgia department for reminding me of the movies I watched growing up, and the comedy and monster movies my brother and I used to make with the family camcorder.

Also, it mixes a lot of things together nicely: the mystery and suspense of a monster on the loose, the humour of friends arguing over the details of making a movie, and the drama of a family dealing with tragedy. There's something everyone can like here and I recommend it highly.

1. Drive
This is a movie that seemed to get fairly polarized responses from people. It had a lot of word of mouth hype and people either loved it or thought it was overrated. It's hard to pinpoint what makes this my favourite of the year, but I suppose it's because Drive feels original. It exists somewhere between an action movie, a crime drama, and a hypnotic music video.

The story centres on an unnamed wheelman who does jobs as a getaway driver. After one heist goes bad he ends up having to take matters into his own hand to stay alive and protect those he cares about. Driver is a mysterious and cool character, though I can't decide if he's very clever or mentally unbalanced or both. In any case, Ryan Gosling gives a subtle, careful performance and I hope he does more stuff like this.

The soundtrack is one of best I've heard in a while. The opening sequence where Driver eludes the cops after a robbery is mesmerizing because the situation is stressful, but the music and lighting is calming and our protagonist is so composed. Drive has this interesting way of putting the viewer into a trance and then hitting them with a sudden moment of astonishing violence. I wouldn't say the film has a lot of violence, but the violence is ... potent, if that makes sense.

Of all the movies I saw last year, Drive is the one I want to watch again most. It's retro, it's artsy, it does something different, and I appreciate that.

So there's my list. I look forward to hearing what everyone else thought of 2011's cinematic offerings.