Friday, January 6, 2012

Bob Ignizio Looks Back at the Year in Film for 2011

By Bob Ignizio

The most important and amazing thing I saw this year wasn't a movie; it was the birth of my son Vincent on January 31st. I try to leave my personal life out of this blog, but in this case it's relevant because having a baby in the house couldn't help but affect my movie viewing. On the one hand, I saw fewer films in the theater because I was busy being a stay at home dad. And yet I wound up seeing more movies overall this year than I ever have thanks to DVD, Blu Ray, Netflix Instant, and various On Demand services, all of which helped make those long nights waiting for the boy to wake up at 4 am expecting a feeding a little easier to bear.

I usually try to be a “glass half full” kind of guy, but I have to admit that 2011 was a pretty lean year for great movies. And as always, a lot of the more interesting films came out at the end of the year, many playing only in big cities like New York and Los Angeles solely for the purpose of Oscar consideration. Even among the films that have played Cleveland this past year, I wasn't able to see everything I wanted to. In particular, I really wish I had caught TAKE SHELTER, HUGO, MONEYBALL, THE IDES OF MARCH, THE DESCENDANTS, THE SKIN I LIVE IN, and MARY MARCY MAY MARLENE. Regardless, I feel confident that I saw a wide enough selection of the films released in 2011 to come up with a list I can live with.

Before I go any further, I should probably explain my personal criteria. The way I see it, a movie is a 2011 release only if it had its theatrical debut in NE Ohio in 2011, or else skipped theaters altogether and debuted on home video this past year. If I couldn't see the movie in Cleveland in some manner until 2011, then it's a 2011 release as far as I'm concerned. That's why you might see a few movies that are technically considered 2010 (or even earlier) releases on my lists.


TOP 10 FILMS OF 2011

1 . DRIVE – Critics and movie geeks loved this stylish thriller that spent most of its running time on a slow burn build-up before descending into the brutal violence of its final act. Mainstream audiences largely stayed away, and many of those who did see the film were disappointed that it wasn't another Vin Diesel car chase movie. One unhappy moviegoer even went so far as to sue the distributor over what she claimed was a misleading trailer.

2. CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH – A look at World War II, and the Rape of Nanking in particular told through the eyes of a sympathetic Japanese soldier, something that earned the film's director death threats in his native China. Down and dirty battle scenes, complex characters and themes, and compelling black and white cinematography are just some of the elements that make this a first rate war film that's both entertaining and powerfully affecting.

3. A SCREAMING MAN – Emotionally devastating film from Chad about a father who puts his personal pride ahead of the well-being of his son, and the consequences that result. I can't think of a better performance this past year than Youssouf Djaoro as the father.

4. SOURCE CODE – An intelligent science fiction film for adults that works just fine as an exciting thriller but also offers commentary on the value we place (or don't) on our military personnel without being heavy-handed about it. Duncan Jones is now two for two (his previous film MOON is just as good, maybe even better).

5. TERRI – One of the best movies ever made about being a teenage outsider. No heavy handed melodrama, no big showdown with the bullies, no tragic school shootings. Just a believable, human, and frequently funny film that understands that for a lot of kids, high school isn't the best years of their lives..
6. MELANCHOLIA – The end of the world never looked more beautiful than it does in Lars Von Trier's meditation on depression. Come on, you didn't expect happiness and sunshine from Lars, did you? Still, it's more accessible than you might think, and at least there's no genital mutilations like there were in last year's Von Trier film ANTICHRIST.
7. EVEN THE RAIN – A film crew sets out to make a movie about Columbus discovering America and the exploitation of its indigenous people that followed. In order to get the film done on time and budget, however, the film crew wind up exploiting modern day indigenous people themselves. Ultimately the director and producer must choose between art, commercial profit, and doing the right thing.

8. CAPTAIN AMERICASome complained that this World War II era superhero flick took too long to get to the action. Others were just burned out on super hero movies altogether. Personally I liked the time spent getting to know the characters, and I'm more than happy to see more superhero movies if they're as good as this one.
9. ALL GOOD THINGS – Technically a 2010 release, but it didn't open in Cleveland until early 2011. Excellent “inspired by a true story” crime film about a husband who may or may not have murdered his wife. Either way, the guy's clearly a bit off, and his story is never less than fascinating.

10. AMIGO – Set during the largely forgotten (in this country, at least) Phillipine-American War, AMIGO shows the difficulties faced by a village leader trying to keep his people safe without pissing off either the local rebels or the American soldiers occupying his town, a nearly impossible task. Any parallels to more recent conflicts are very much intentional.

Honorable mention: BELLFLOWER, BLUE VALENTINE (2010), CONTAGION, THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE, ESSENTIAL KILLING, IN A BETTER WORLD, INCENDIES, NORA'S WILL, RABBIT HOLE (2010), THE RUM DIARY, SILENT SOULS, THE STRANGE CASE OF ANJELICA, SUPER 8, WARRIOR, WHITE MATERIAL (2010), WIN WIN, YOUNG ADULT, and even though I have a lot of problems with it, I have to say anyone who is serious about film needs to see TREE OF LIFE, easily the most ambitious American film of 2011 (that I saw, anyway).

TOP 5 DOCUMENTARIES OF 2011

1. INTO THE ABYSS – Werner Herzog's true crime documentary certainly deals with the issue of the death penalty, but that's not its main focus. This is a film about the various forces and events that contribute to a murder taking place, and the ways in which that murder affects many people beyond just the victims and perpetrators.

2.
THE SKY TURNS – A haunting elegy for a dying village and way of life. Hard to describe in words, it simply needs to be seen.

3.
BEING ELMO – Even if you're one of those people who views Elmo as “the Red Menace”, you can't help but respect and admire Kevin Clash, the man behind the muppet.

4.
NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT – A poetic look at Chile's often turbulent past, and the difficulties the nation faces in coming to terms with it.

5
. ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE – Camboidan journalist Thet Sambath, whose family died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, interviews survivors on both sides of the Cambodian revolution that brought Pol Pot to power. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the film is the odd relationship that develops between Sambath and Nuon Chea, Pol Pot's number 2 man.
Honorable Mentions: AMATUER NIGHT: HOME MOVIES FROM AMERICAN ARCHIVES, AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY, ARMADILLO, THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-1975, CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS, HOT COFFEE, IF A TREE FALLS: A STORY OF THE EARTH LIBERATION FRONT, THE LAST MOUNTAIN, LOST BOHEMIAPAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE PARKING LOT MOVIE, PLAYING COLUMBINE, REJOICE AND SHOUT, THESE AMAZING SHADOWS

TOP 5 HORROR/CULT/EXPLOITATION/TRASH FILMS OF 2011

Instead of doing a worst of the year list and giving more attention to movies that don't deserve it, I decided I'd list my favorite low budget, low brow trash films for the year. Some people might call these guilty pleasures, but my first love has always been horror, science fiction, violent action, and exploitation films of all stripes, and I feel no guilt whatsoever for enjoying these kinds of films. I'm well aware these aren't necessarily the “best” films from a technical standpoint, and many (though certainly not all) have no socially redeeming qualities. All I know is I enjoy this kind of stuff, and I know some of our readers do as well.

1. ATTACK THE BLOCK – This British alien invasion flick really surprised me in a lot of ways, all of them good. Made for a fraction of what Hollywood spent on recent turkeys with a similar premise like SKYLINE and BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, ATTACK THE BLOCK not only delivers on thrills and action, but gives us interesting characters who grow as the film progresses. 
 
2. DRIVE ANGRY 3D – Nicholas Cage escapes from Hell to save his granddaughter from a Satanic cult. Features the most unforgettable sex scene of the year, with Nic taking out a gang of cultists while engaged in coitus. Yeah, it's trash, but it's my kind of trash.
3. VENGEANCE – Excellent Japanese gangster flick that asks the question, “What does revenge mean when you have forgotten everything?” The philosophical aspect aside, there's plenty of great action and macho coolness to go around.

4. TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL – Tucker and Dale are two genuinely nice good ol' boys, but a group of college kids out on a camping trip are sure the rednecks are a couple of murderous pyschos. Despite our heroes best efforts, they just can't seem to stop the kids from offing themselves as a result of their own stupidity. 
 
5. DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME – A fun period mystery/kung fu film from legendary Hong Kong writer/producer/director Tsui Hark. Just a good solid film of its kind.

Honorable Mention:
BLACK HEAVEN, CREATURE, DREAM HOME, HEARTLESS, I SAW THE DEVILKABOOM, VIVA RIVA!, THE WARD

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the lists. Several of these I skipped--and now I'm inspired to check them out :)

    ReplyDelete

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