I’ve changed things up somewhat this year, loosening the restrictions as to what counts as a “2011” movie. It could be listed in the IMDB any time back to 2009, but it just needs to have strayed in to my consciousness in some way this year. Might be a cinema release, DVD release somewhere, or even showing up on cable. My theatrical experiences have remained light, so it’s more likely a film won’t get a chance until it becomes available by some other route. I’m thus a bit more flexible, simply because I’m aware of a risk some great movies might miss out on recognition, for fairly spurious reasons.
There are, of course, a few which still missed out exactly because they did not stray across my retina in a reasonable time. Leading the way is À l’intérieur (Inside), which was probably the best horror movie I saw in 2011. However, since it came out on DVD in the United States in April 2008. that was just too much of a stretch. Two others that were similarly eliminated were Onechanbara: The Movie, and Five Fingers.
Before we get to the list, here are eight honorable mentions, which ended up getting to the final round before being eliminated. Not without some heartbreak and much agonizing, it has to be said. These are, in alphabetical order: Attack the Block, The Girl Who Played With Fire, The Last Exorcism, Page Eight, Point Blank, Red State, Restrepo, Toy Story 3. And with that, on to the actual top ten. Links go to the full review on TC or GWG.org as appropriate.
10. We Are The Night
Having endured the Twilight trilogy this year, it was gratifying to be reminded that vampires don’t have to sparkle, emote or… Well, suck. The Lost Boys tagline – “Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never die. It’s fun to be a vampire.” – could be applied every bit here. Except it’s a philosophy expressed as, “We eat, drink, sniff coke, and fuck as much as we like. But we never get fat, pregnant, or hooked,” with a gang of female vampires making Berlin their playground. Sure, there’s not much new here in terms of plot, but the execution is supremely slick. Summary: “A glossy, shiny movie, set in a world that looks like a car advert, where the streets are perpetually wet and the only light is neon”.
9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
A very pleasant surprise, opting to enliven a story – that, let’s face it, we know how it’s going to end – by telling it from the monkeys’ point of view. Andy Serkis proved, once again, why he’s the go-to guy for simians, putting over more emotion without words than most actors could manage with a dictionary to work from. Ok, mostly without words, the exception resulting in the cinematic moment of the year. While not skimping on the action, the script and performances give it a emotional foundation before the monkey mayhem breaks free. Oh, that all big-budget blockbusters took such care in their execution. Summary: “Probably the finest praise I can give this, is that it actually makes sense.”
8. Dossier K
Belgium. Land of Stella, Front 242 and surprisingly-good movies, going all the way back to Crazy Love. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film from there I didn’t enjoy, and this was no exception, a crisply-plotted police procedural that shows how even a society with a general reputation for tolerance is nowhere near ‘integrated’. In this case, the Albanian culture of honor killings sits very uneasily in today’s Brussels, but its the kind of story which you could see happening in any big city with its “new ghettos”. Summary: “That’s where the film excels, painting all the participants in shades of grey: there’s no “bad guys”, as such, just people operating by different moral codes.”
We move a little further up the North Sea coast for the next film, a twisted fairy-tale which takes a character beloved by children and turns it into the stuff of nightmares. Which is exactly what the Brothers Grimm intended originally. Director Dick Maas brings a gleeful sense of fun to his psychotic Santa, even if I had to explain to Chris why it’s perfectly normal for packs of Dutchmen to put on blackface and roam the streets. It’s a throwback to the straightforward slasher pics of a bygone era, yet possesses a knowing self awareness and characters you don’t mind spending time with. Summary: “I’m thinking this will replace It’s a Wonderful Life as a festive favourite, at least in TC Towers.”
Yep: a Uwe Boll film makes it into a ‘Ten Best’ list. That can’t have happened often. But it’s difficult to deny this one a place because of Boll’s spotty track-record. When he stays off the video-game adaptations, as here, he shows that he can be a more than competent film-maker. What’s delivered here is a million miles from House of the Dead, basically 90 minutes of being punched in the gut and reminded of how just wrong people can be to each other. I don’t think I’ve been so shaken by a film based on real events since Men Behind the Sun, though the shaky-cam approach sent Chris scurrying for the office. Summary: “Even if the “entertainment” value here is low, there’s no denying this packs an immense wallop.”
Most zombie films are about the outbreak or the relatively short-term aftermath. One of the twists which make Eaters stand out, in a recent glut of such movies, is that some time appears to have passed, and a new anarchically feudal structure seems to have showed up. It kinda works…and kinda doesn’t, and that’s where the plot gets its impetus. Heroes Igor and Alen are the only semi-sane inhabitants in a land of the totally dysfunctional, and make for appealing anti-heros, whizzing round the countryside in search of scientific subjects and singing Wham! songs. Summary: “Likely the best zombie flick to come out of Italy since Cemetery Man.”
4. Sucker Punch
I get the feeling history will prove kinder to this one than contemporary critics, who flayed director Zack Snyder alive for a “greasy collection of near-rape fantasies and violent revenge scenarios disguised as a female-empowerment fairy tale.” Well, I wouldn’t have said it was that good…and I note that men and women have rated it exactly the same score on the IMDB (a respectable 6.2). But it’s impeccably imaginative, in a way no other movie managed this year, and was unsurpassed in terms of producing cinema as an imaginative, visual spectacle. It’s the only Blu-Ray DVD I bought this year. Summary: “For all its undeniable flaws, this is a rare beast: an action film where women [rather than a singular woman] take center-stage.”‘
3. 36th Precinct
It plays somewhat like a Gallic version of Heat, with Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil butting heads as shady and scrupulous cop respectively, battling for a promotion in their department. In the short term, it seems that the former gets ahead, with the good guy losing everything in the process. However, the morality is not quite as cut and dry as it seems, and that lends the change of fortunes in the final act, an almost Shakespearean air of tragedy. Great actors, going head-to-head in a well-written script, is always a pleasure, and this is no different, with two of France’s finest delivering the goods. Summary: “Karma, c’est une biche.”
2. Hobo With A Shotgun
The faux-grindhouse film has become something of a pseudo-trend of late, but it takes more than a few digital scratches on the high-def print to resurrect the genre. Machete, while fun, largely fell short. Hobo, on the other hand, hit all the marks, led by Rutger Hauer’s most memorable performance since… ooh, Split Second in 1992? But even more of a revelation was Brian Downey as evil mob-boss The Drake – having only seen him as uber-wimp Stanley Tweedle in Lexx, this was a stunning bit of casting against type. It has the exploitative elements, but most importantly of all, it has the right ‘tude. It was the sole film we saw as the short-lived but much missed Mesa Royale. Summary: “Eisener is deadly serious, and the film is all the better for it.”
1. Four Lions
Who knew? Chris looked at me sideways on seeing the synopsis of the movie I’d DVR’d: “The inept members of a jihadist cell in England try but fail to carry out terrorist attacks”. Doesn’t exactly scream comedic gem, doe it? But I’d forgotten about the godlike satirical genius of Chris Morris – understandably, since the last thing of his I saw was Jam, back in 2000. This has moments of similar surrealism e.g. the cell’s method of avoiding surveillance cameras, but remains more grounded, only engaging in relatively minor exaggeration for comedic effect. But it’s a very human movie too, that manages to point out the lunacy of extremist beliefs, without turning them into sneering caricatures. Well played, Mr. Morris. Summary: “Genuinely funny, far beyond what you’d imagine possible.”