2011 in Cinema: From Best to Worst
2077 7.8 7.81. Drive (2011)
"If I drive for you, you get your money. That's a guarantee. Tell me where we start, where we're going and where we're going afterwards, I give you five minutes when you get there. Anything happens in that five minutes and I'm yours, no matter what. Anything a minute either side of that and you're on your own."
Drive is the American debut for Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, who's best known for films like Valhalla Rising, Bronson, and the Pusher trilogy. However, unlike other directors who sold their souls upon entering Hollywood, the transition has not caused Refn to lose sight of the critical elements that constitute a great movie. At face value Drive may seem like a straightforward action movie, but it's far more than that - it's a riveting, multifaceted masterpiece which reinvigorates its ostensibly unoriginal narrative pieces and masterfully draws you into its largely unpredictable narrative. It's sure to give mainstream audiences a thrill, but cinema enthusiasts will no doubt get the most out of the picture and appreciate everything it has to offer.
1353 7.5 7.82. 50/50 (2011)
"See, but... that's bullshit. That's what everyone has been telling me since the beginning. "Oh, you're gonna be okay," and "Oh, everything's fine," and like, it's not... It makes it worse... that no one will just come out and say it. Like, "hey man, you're gonna die.""
It's not often that you hear the words "cancer" and "comedy" in the same breathe. After all, cancer is a heartbreakingly serious illness, and it would be insensitive to mine the topic for cheap laughs. Enter 2011's 50/50, a wonderful film which manages to extract humour from situations that occur due to cancer while at the same time treating the delicate subject seriously and with utmost sensitivity. How is it possible to make people laugh without being insensitive? How can tears be wrung without being mawkish? How can filmmakers make people laugh and cry without feeling calculated? It's such a daunting proposition that even the most skilled writer wouldn't even dare to try it. And yet, 50/50 - which was written by an actual cancer survivor - succeeds at these ostensibly impossible goals, making the process of combining honest-to-goodness laughs with fatiguing emotion look incredibly easy.
1599 7.1 7.53. Source Code (2011)
"What would you do if you knew you only had one minute to live?"
If Groundhog Day was gang-banged by 24, The Matrix and Murder on the Orient Express, Source Code would be the outcome. Written by Ben Ripley, this sophomore effort of filmmaker Duncan Jones (Moon) is a completely original piece of science fiction which works so well due to a mind-bending plot and several clever narrative gyrations. Added to this, viewers are also given a reason to care, as the makers paid attention to developing sympathetic, warm characters. How ironic it is that every smart sci-fi released since mid-2010 is compared to Inception as if that movie was the be all and end all of the genre, yet Christopher Nolan's overrated Oscar nominee came up short in the character department.
1598 7.1 7.54. Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
"The war between the sexes is over. We won the second women started doing pole dancing for exercise."
It's hard to remember the last time Hollywood begat a romantic comedy or a dramedy as heartfelt, clever and thoughtful as 2011's quirkily-titled Crazy, Stupid, Love. (two commas and a full stop?). Not a run-of-the-mill rom-com, writer Dan Fogelman and directors Glenn Ficarra & John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris) have concocted an incisive examination of contemporary love, with the film tracking a gallery of characters representing each different stage and form. The flick juggles a handful of subplots and secondary romantic storylines to fulfil its ambitions, yet none of the narrative pieces feel undernourished or short-changed. Most importantly, Crazy, Stupid, Love. is a comedy-drama that finds the perfect balance between poignant drama and quality comedy without feeling tonally schizophrenic or uneven.
2414 7.5 7.85. X-Men: First Class (2011)
"Listen to me very carefully, my friend: Killing will not bring you peace."
Smartly rebooting the X-Men series after two substandard instalments (X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class proves there is still mileage left in the blockbuster brand; not only living up to high expectations but also exceeding them with confidence. A discontinuity prequel which remains true to the already-established series mythology while at the same time revitalising the franchise with new ideas and fresh blood, the X-Men series is finally in the hands of filmmakers truly able to handle the mix of big action, genuine intelligence and drama the series demands, not to mention First Class is grounded in the socio-political allegory for civil rights, conformity and social misfits that made X-Men more than your average comic in the first place. Rather than a generic action film, this is a character-focused story, though the material never plods thanks to stylish technique, proficient pacing, and engaging dialogue. In a solid summer season (with Thor exceeding expectations in particular), First Class has arrived to declare itself the new king of summer 2011.
1531 7 7.16. Super 8 (2011)
"I've got property damage, I've got theft. I've got 9 people missing now. There are things happening around here that I can't explain."
Since mid-2010, an aura of mystery has shrouded J.J. Abrams' Super 8 like a dense fog. From its initial teaser trailer over a year before its release to a series of elliptical trailers and its substantial but mysterious marketing campaign, movie-goers have been wondering exactly what it is. In short, 2011's Super 8 is a nostalgia-dipped, Steven Spielberg-indebted science fiction thriller and a coming of age story; representing a homage to producer Spielberg and a valentine for those who have had a passion for filmmaking since childhood. Super 8 is a rare type of summertime release in this day and age - it conveys a clever, original story (it is not a sequel, prequel, spin-off, reboot or literature adaptation) without the necessity for a third dimension. There are state-of-the-art special effects and a few big action sequences, sure, but neither elements are gratuitous since, unlike most summer blockbusters, Super 8 is more interested in characters and storytelling than big bangs. In writing and directing this film, Abrams remembered a simple law from Filmmaking 101 that is commonly ignored by contemporary popcorn movie peddlers: that action and mayhem only has weight if the viewers can find themselves caring about the people in the midst of the chaos.
2496 6.8 77. Thor (2011)
"Thor, Odin's Son, through your arrogance and stupidity, you have opened these peaceful realms and innocent lives to the horror and devastation of war..."
By serving as an origin story for Marvel's God of Thunder, Thor denotes the next step in Marvel's superhero world-building effort leading up to 2012's The Avengers. Admittedly, the outlook for Thor was never overwhelmingly positive - the title role was given to little-known Aussie beefcake Chris Hemsworth (a soap star glimpsed oh-so-briefly in 2009's Star Trek), and the director's chair was allotted to Kenneth Branagh, who had never been near a big-budget spectacle in his career. Nonetheless, the film denotes another home run for Marvel - it's easily one of the best, if not the best Marvel feature to date. Hemsworth is truly an excellent find, while Branagh's directorial dexterity belies his inexperience with action extravaganzas. The first of four superhero movies to arrive during the 2011 summer season, Thor is a highly entertaining, assured masterpiece which kicks things off in style.
388 6.7 78. Trust (2010)
"Girls at my school have had sex with half the football team... I lose my virginity and my parents make a federal case out of it!"
Actor-come-filmmaker David Schwimmer's sophomore theatrical effort as a director, 2011's Trust deals with sensitive, challenging subject matter that most directors would refuse to touch with a 20-foot pole. Armed with a timely significance and a relevant message pertaining to the dangers of the World Wide Web, this is a powerful and provocative independent drama with a central premise that is neither "Hollywood-ised" nor sugar-coated. In a nutshell, Trust presents an intimate portrait of the full story behind what often amounts to an insignificant newspaper headline, and it explores the emotional traumas that emerge when an adolescent girl's vulnerabilities are cruelly exploited.
533 7.3 7.49. Take Shelter (2011)
"It's hard to explain, because it's not just a dream. It's a feeling."
Take Shelter is further proof that independent motion pictures are one of the most reliable sources of excellence in today's unstable cinematic climate. Rather than an in-your-face thriller reliant on big special effects, Take Shelter is a quietly involving, harrowing drama with a lot on its mind. The movie meditates on the nature of dreams and faith, explores the way that fear, anger and paranoia can effect one's mental health, magnificently captures today's shaky economic conditions, and even has a few things to say about climate change. Added to this, writer-director Jeff Nichols is a superlative storyteller, and the film spotlights an exceptional leading performance courtesy of Michael Shannon.
1493 7.2 7.610. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
"Careful, humans don't like smart ape."
After six feature films (including a remake) and two TV shows, a prequel exploring the apes' rise to global dominance seems to be the only avenue left to tackle in the exhausted Planet of the Apes franchise. Borrowing bits and pieces from earlier films (most notably Conquest of the Planet of the Apes), 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes starts from scratch, rebooting the tired saga and asking that we forget all the prior Apes pictures. This is a fresh, baggage-free outing which disposes of the franchise's pre-existing timeline to resurrect the Apes brand and pave the way for a whole new series. Surprisingly, the gamble has paid off. Directed by Rupert Wyatt, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a rare type of summer blockbuster which is more interested in storytelling and character development than mind-numbing action.
44 7.7 7.411. The Front Line (2011)
1076 6.6 7.112. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
"All I have are the choices I make, and I choose her, come what may."
The Adjustment Bureau is something rare: an enthralling, literate science fiction flick imbued with existential density, thematic texture, humanity and emotional warmth. In a sense, it is the motion picture that Christopher Nolan's over-celebrated, emotionally barren Inception should have been. Admittedly, there is a mainstream-friendly vibe pervading the final third of this picture, and a few clichés are inescapable, yet the movie succeeds due to the fact that the audience can easily become invested in the characters' fates. And, most importantly for a sci-fi thriller, The Adjustment Bureau poses thought-provoking questions and conveys provocative concepts. For a Hollywood product to tick such boxes in an age of brainless action extravaganzas, it's a miracle.
1181 6.7 7.413. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)
"The president has initiated Ghost Protocol. The entire IMF has been disavowed..."
The Mission: Impossible film franchise may be 15 years old now, and 2011's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol may be the fourth instalment in this series, but no trace of exhaustion or lethargy is showing through just yet. What began as a strictly okay action brand has now become something genuinely special, with 2006's wildly underrated Mission: Impossible III and now Ghost Protocol bringing the franchise to an all-time high. Well-written and stunningly well-made, this fourth Mission: Impossible is a sleek and enjoyable treat. It also denotes the live-action debut for animation specialist Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles), who easily puts veterans like Michael Bay to shame in his construction of some of the most breathtaking, armrest-clenchingly thrilling action sequences of the year.
1945 6.7 6.814. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
"General Patton has said that wars are fought with weapons but are won by men. Our goal is to create the greatest army in history. But every army begins with one man. He will be the first in a new breed of super-soldier. We are going to win this war because we have the best men. And they, personally, will escort Adolf Hitler to the gates of Hell."
Now this is what I'm talking 'bout! Awesome and rousing, Captain America: The First Avenger is a damn good home run of a blockbuster, showing up late in the summer derby to put most of its cinematic competition to shame. After Thor a few months prior, Captain America is summer 2011's second Marvel-produced action picture to provide a proverbial origins tale and function as a precursor to 2012's much-anticipated superhero mash-up The Avengers. Fortunately, the film doesn't feel like an extended trailer or an expensive advertisement for Joss Whedon's upcoming Avengers epic - rather, it feels like a wholesome, enjoyable action film that tells a good story and introduces a Marvel icon in a satisfying fashion.
1122 6.6 715. Paul (2011)
"Hey fucknuts! Probing time."
Following their parodies of zombie flicks (2004's Shaun of the Dead) and action films/buddy cop movies/murder mysteries (2007's Hot Fuzz), the endearing British comedy duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost turned to road movies and sci-fi for 2011's Paul. However, while Shaun and Hot Fuzz were British movies directed by Edgar Wright, American director Greg Mottola replaced the boys' usual collaborator to helm this American-produced comedy. Thankfully, though, these aspects do not dilute the boys' comic genius. In less adroit hands, Paul would've simply been a wacky comedy with relentless profanity, toilet humour and drugs. With Pegg and Frost having written the script, though, Paul is both a satisfying comedy and a valentine to the sci-fi genre. It is not a satire of science fiction or a parody, but a good old-fashioned road trip comedy that's endowed with a Spielbergian concept and loaded with movie references, fun absurdity and R-rated tomfoolery...and it just happens to feature an alien.
963 7 7.316. Fast Five (2011)
"Let me tell you a little something about these two men. One's a former federal officer, been in deep cover for five years, knows everywhere you're gonna come from. The other one's a professional criminal, escaped prison twice, spent half his life on the run avoiding folks like you."
It's not often that a summer blockbuster spawns a large number of sequels. And considering how awful 2001's The Fast and the Furious was, who would have imagined it'd launch a franchise still kicking a decade later? Moreover, who the hell would've thought that the film's fourth sequel would actually be good? 2011's Fast Five is easily the best, most satisfying Fast and the Furious picture so far, on top of being the franchise's first genuinely good film. It's a pretty dopey, clichéd slice of summertime entertainment, but it's also a lot of skilful fun. Added to this, Fast Five is not hindered by all the usual issues - against all odds, the dialogue is actually involving, the dramatic elements are perfectly tolerable, and the formula has been altered, thus introducing much-needed innovation into a franchise long past its expiration date.
376 6.2 6.717. The Beaver (2011)
"Crazy is being miserable and walking around half asleep, numb, day after day after day. Crazy is pretending to be happy. Pretending that the way things are is the way they have to be for the rest of your bleeding life. All the potential, hope, all that joy, feeling, all that passion that life has sucked out of you. Reach out, grab a hold of it and snatch it back from that bloodsucking rabble."
Contrary to most, this reviewer is an enormous Mel Gibson apologist, and it's tragic that every nuance of his private life has been broadcast to the oversensitive public who subsequently judge the man on isolated incidents without knowing the proper context. With his personal demons under the scrutiny of the public eye, the star is now shunned by an industry who once adored him. It's somewhat appropriate, then, that Gibson's first movie since the infamous leaked recordings is 2011's The Beaver, which has Gibson playing someone who loses it all and sets out to rediscover the man he used to be. In spite of its lukewarm critical reception, this is a wonderful indie drama which touches upon serious issues with sensitivity and maturity. Jodie Foster's direction evinces genuine care and passion, and Gibson's performance at the centre of the story is absolutely magnificent.
17 6.1 6.518. The Heineken Kidnapping (2011)
Some people might not know it, but Rutger Hauer hails from Holland, and he moved onto English-language motion pictures after starting his career in Dutch movies in his native tongue. The Heineken Kidnapping wound up being Hauer's first Dutch movie in 30 years, and it's hard to think of a more ideal role for the ageing actor. As beer magnate Freddy Heineken, Hauer is exceptional, both sympathetic and intense, not to mention he actually resembles his real-life counterpart. There's no other Dutch actor who could've played this role so perfectly.
761 5.7 6.119. Immortals (2011)
"My mark...will be left on this world forever."
The marketing team for Immortals want you to believe that the picture is a cross between 300 and the recent Clash of the Titans remake, situating muscular, sword-wielding 300-esque heroes within an action-packed tale concerning Greek Gods and myths. The description is somewhat suitable, but such a comparison would be trivialising Immortals; a film that's brilliant enough to stand as its own unique specimen. Although it won't get any acclaim for its script or human factor, the visual style is what makes this flick such a keeper. Coming from perfectionist Indian filmmaker Tarsem Singh, Immortals is a genuine stunner of a visual feast and an enthralling cinematic experience. This is the kind of stuff we go to the cinemas to see!
59 7.6 7.520. Red Dog (2011)
"He was like a dog...for everyone!"
Red Dog is a real charmer of an Aussie movie. Directed by Kriv Stenders, the film is based on the true story of a Kelpie who won the hearts of Western Australia during the '70s. With its myriad of heart and soul, Red Dog is a heart-warming, endearing, humorous and affecting portrayal of a mining town's love for the titular canine. The film's astute depiction of the relationship between man and dog, on top of the strong filmmaking and charming screenplay ensure that Red Dog can immediately join the canon of great dog flicks.
870 6.6 6.921. Unknown (2011)
"Do you know what it feels like to become insane? It's a war between being told who you are and knowing who you are... Which do you think wins?"
You could be easily forgiven for suspecting that Unknown is merely an unofficial sequel to 2009's surprise hit Taken. The trailers depicted a formidable Liam Neeson manoeuvring the back alleys of a European city full of unsavoury characters who need an ass-kicking. Yet, this is not Taken 2. With Unknown, director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan) and his writers (adapting the novel Out of My Head) have produced a thriller paying homage to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, John Frankenheimer and other directors who enjoyed putting a conventional everyman through the wringer. More or less an amalgam of The Bourne Identity and The Fugitive, 2011's Unknown may remind you of other films, but it does not recycle much in terms of narrative twists; pulling together a unique, original story that's sufficiently intense, bursting with intrigue and capable of withstanding scrutiny.
1020 6.4 6.822. Insidious (2010)
"It's not the house that is haunted. It's your son."
Insidious represents a collaboration of the Saw creators and the producers of Paranormal Activity, and the result is one of the strongest horror pictures in years. While all signs seemed to suggest that a clunker was imminent - Insidious is a PG-13 horror film about a possessed kid, after all - director James Wan has defied the odds, overcoming a derivative narrative and the limitations of a PG-13 rating to craft a properly chilling and thoroughly riveting horror experience. For those who enjoy watching scary movies, you're in for a treat with Insidious.
20 6.8 6.123. The Eye of the Storm (2011)
"My mother believes that being of a certain class entitles you to die whenever you damn well please. Don't we wish..."
On account of its dense and lengthy disposition, adapting Patrick White's acclaimed novel The Eye of the Storm for the screen was never going to be easy. In the hands of Melburnian filmmaker Fred Schepisi, though, the adaptation has given rise to an engrossing acting masterclass of a drama. Set in Sydney sometime during the 1970s, The Eye of the Storm possesses an old-fashioned, traditional tenor in all filmmaking aspects, from its gentle score and patient dramatic growth to its grand production design and non-flashy cinematography. Mature, psychologically complex and often sedate, Schepisi's feature is permeated with intricate themes about life, death and wealth. It's wonderful, sophisticated adult entertainment.
138 6.7 6.624. The Snowtown Murders (2011)
"When are you gonna grow some balls, mate?"
One of the most disturbing serial killer cases in Australian history, the Snowtown murders - or the "bodies-in-barrels" killings - were perpetrated in the late 1990s by John Bunting, Jamie Vlassakis, Robert Wagner and Mark Haydon. Between them, twelve people were tortured and murdered, and their corpses were disposed of at various places around South Australia, most notably in a disused bank vault in Snowtown. Contrary to what some may assume, Snowtown was just the location where a lot of bodies were kept - the grizzly murders were actually carried out in the lower class town of Salisbury North. 2011's Snowtown is a dramatisation of the chilling murders, and it is not a film for the faint of heart. Directed by first-timer Justin Kurzel, this is a bleak tale of murder, abuse and manipulation, and it's entirely without a positive angle or a redemptive arc. Snowtown is one of the most nihilistic and horrific Australian movies in history, yet it is also a compelling masterwork which benefits from excellent filmmaking and stunning performances right across the board.
305 5.8 5.825. Rubber (2010)
"Ladies, gentlemen, the film you are about to see today is an homage to the "no reason" - that most powerful element of style."
The opening moments of Rubber break the fourth wall, with a character randomly climbing out of a car boot to explain the principal of "no reason" which governs movies and real life. The principal essentially states that there are things we do not question because they have no real reason behind them. ("In the Steven Spielberg movie E.T., why is the alien brown? No reason.") Writer-director Quentin Dupieux invoked this "no reason" policy for every single aspect of Rubber's narrative, thus allowing himself the freedom to craft a dark comedy that's completely absurd. How is a tire alive? No reason. Why does a tire have psychokinetic powers? No reason. Why are there spectators watching the "movie" about the tire? No reason. It's a brilliantly innovative style of meta filmmaking which additionally explores the relationship between movie-goers and Hollywood, and functions as a hilariously biting satire of the movie-going climate of today.
1265 6.5 6.826. Bridesmaids (2011)
"You're like the maid of dishonour."
Bridesmaids is another R-rated summer comedy from the Judd Apatow humour factory. However, this is not your typical Apatow outing populated by males and sex jokes - instead, Bridesmaids is mostly concerned with females. Do not, however, mistake this for another superficial, harebrained chick flick like Bride Wars or Sex and the City, nor is it simply a female version of The Hangover. Bridesmaids is its own movie with its own identity - it's a poignant comedy-drama exploring tumultuous female relationships and the disenchantment of middle age. The film tells a heartfelt tale which feels real and focuses on a handful of well-developed, three-dimensional female characters. And it's also genuinely hilarious. In this sense, Bridesmaids is the antithesis of the onslaught of amazingly stupid chick flicks featuring the likes of Katherine Heigl and Kate Hudson.
217 6.2 6.827. The Inbetweeners Movie (2011)
"You better bring your wellies, because you'll be knee-deep in clunge."
A television show making the leap to a feature-length film is always a challenging proposition, and it doesn't always work. But fortunately, in the case of The Inbetweeners Movie, the translation from small screen to the big screen is for the most part a smooth one. Puppeteered by veterans of the original series, The Inbetweeners Movie has all the witty laughs and vulgar humour that made the show such a hit in the first place, on top of unforced depth to ensure that it doesn't just feel like a few 25-minute episodes stitched together. Maturity in a vulgar comedy is a feat to be celebrated in itself, but it's even better that it was achieved for the movie adaptation of a beloved TV series. Best of all, while familiarity with the original show is preferred for the movie since you'll have a better sense of what's at stake, it's likely that Inbetweeners virgins will come away equally satisfied with this wholly enjoyable romp beset with heart and laughs.
334 7.1 7.328. The Guard (2011)
"I can't tell if you're really motherfucking dumb or really motherfucking smart."
The Guard can probably be described as Lethal Weapon meets Quentin Tarantino by way of In Bruges. However, it does not feel like a derivative motion picture or a slapdash mash-up. Instead, this is a hilarious, well-written and satisfyingly tongue-in-cheek dark comedy which possesses its own unique identity. Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (his feature film debut), The Guard also reminds us just how good a buddy cop movie can be when the genre is handled correctly. McDonagh's picture is not quite as solid as something like 48 HRS or Lethal Weapon, but it's definitely worthy of them. With its doggedly offbeat and original sensibility, The Guard is often laugh-out-loud funny, and it affords more pleasures through clever writing and strong performances than all of those obnoxious, noisy summer blockbusters which earned more box office attention.
1341 6.3 6.929. Horrible Bosses (2011)
"We each have a boss, and we think it'd be better if those bosses...weren't around anymore."
Horrible Bosses is a delightfully refreshing dose of R-rated comedy in a summer season otherwise devoid of such pleasures. Due to the cadre of familiar parts used to construct the film, one could easily perceive this as another attempt to recreate the unexpected success of 2009's The Hangover. After all, Horrible Bosses has three male leads finding themselves in all sorts of outrageous madness, not to mention the film contains a few fun cameos and the script is full of vulgar dialogue. And you know what? It actually works to a certain degree; easily surpassing The Hangover's recent sequel in terms of both laughs and creativity. How ironic it is that the film has the word "horrible" in its title, but it's not nearly as horrible as some of the other comedies which were released during 2011.
1767 7.1 7.530. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
"I'm knee-deep in the single most important case of my career."
Even though it competed against Avatar during its theatrical run, 2009's Sherlock Holmes grossed in excess of $500 million at the worldwide box office, making a sequel a high priority for Warner Brothers. Arriving two years after its predecessor, 2011's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a well-realised follow-up that does an admirable job of ironing out the original film's creases while both retaining and building upon its strengths. It's perhaps not quite as good as it could have been, but A Game of Shadows remains meticulously crafted and fiendishly clever.
317 6.3 6.331. A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (2011)
"You have a good job, you make good money, and you don't beat your wife. What more could a Latino father-in-law ask for?"
To state the obvious, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas is not aimed at the demographic who enjoy watching Miracle on 34th Street or It's a Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve. Rather, this is a raunchy, profane, R-rated stoner comedy better suited for those who prefer unorthodox Christmas films more in line with Bad Santa. The law of diminishing returns is not in effect here, as this third theatrical instalment in the Harold & Kumar franchise is arguably better than its predecessors - it's a smooth, hugely enjoyable comedic ride, and its target audience will no doubt be satisfied. Best of all, one does not need to be a fan of Harold and Kumar to enjoy this festive-themed entry.
131 6.7 6.832. The Hunter (2011)
1672 7.5 7.633. Hugo (2011)
"I'd imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn't be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason."
With its PG rating, 2011's Hugo is the first Martin Scorsese project that could be considered a kids movie. However, it's not aimed specifically at children - this is a movie made by a lover of a cinema for lovers of cinema. While kids will likely be transfixed by Hugo's gorgeous visuals, the story's messages may be too cerebral and advanced for inexperienced minds. Meanwhile, older audiences and cinema aficionados will get the most out of this film, as they'll be able to comprehend the material laying underneath the picture's lush exterior. Based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (a distant cousin of David O. Selznick), Scorsese's latest film has a few issues in the scripting department, but its positives far outweigh the negatives. And while it's not the greatest 3-D movie in history, Hugo stands as one of 3-D's largest benefactors (right alongside Avatar). Planned and filmed in three dimensions, this is a film which demonstrates the format's marvellous capabilities when a master filmmaker is in the driving seat.
204 6.6 6.334. Kill List (2011)
Any preconceived notions of Kill List being akin to a Jason Statham action vehicle are disposed of quite early into the picture. Masterminded by Ben Wheatley, this is a purposely obscure British horror film which announces its uniqueness with images of eerie cult symbols and contracts signed in blood. What's also interesting about Kill List is the way that it switches gears with astonishingly effective precision. Starting out as a low-key domestic drama before becoming an assassin thriller, the movie eventually dabbles in visceral horror, leading to an intense finale that's not easy to predict. And, amazingly, it all comes together without feeling schizophrenic or contrived.
844 7 7.235. War Horse (2011)
"We'll be alright Joey. We're the lucky ones, you and me. Lucky since the day I met you."
War Horse brings a whole new meaning to the term "old-fashioned filmmaking." Though it carries a contemporary polish, it feels like the movie was written and meticulously storyboarded over half a century ago, intended to be directed by John Ford in the 1940s or '50s, but was eventually made in 2011 without any alterations to the original blueprints. It's a grand, sweeping 150-minute saga, infused with a level of schmaltz and corniness that no director has tried to get away with for a long time. Yet, it works under the careful control of veteran director Steven Spielberg, who brilliantly commits to the material, selling it with the right amount of conviction to render the enterprise sufficiently effective. Nevertheless, War Horse is not quite the masterpiece that many had anticipated, as it's too long in the tooth and in need of a sharper pace.
1036 7.1 7.136. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
"There's a mole, right at the top of the Circus. And he's been there for years."
A rare type of modern spy thriller, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is more interested in looks, pauses and intricate story machinations than guns and explosions. Mainstream audiences need not apply; this is the type of picture best consumed by more mature filmgoers who possess the sort of patience and attention that viewers can rarely be relied upon to bring to a cinema these days. However, despite gorgeous visuals, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy proceeds through its knotted scheme of espionage and secrets with a sense of utmost perplexity, ensuring you'll never be certain about what's happening even if you're able to grapple with the events and stakes of isolated set-pieces. It's intelligent and complex yet at times dramatically dry and detached.
440 6.2 6.137. Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
"If you grow up here, you're more likely to wind up selling your bodies on the streets, or shooting dope from dirty needles in a bus stop. And if you're successful, you'll make money selling junk to crackheads. And don't think twice about killing someone's wife, because you won't even know it's wrong in the first place. Maybe... you'll end up like me. A hobo with a shotgun."
With a title like Hobo with a Shotgun, surely you can easily ascertain everything you need to know about this motion picture. By no means is it an art movie, nor is it a date flick unless your date is a sick-minded gore-monger - Hobo with a Shotgun is a gleefully crazy blast of exploitative fun with the go-for-broke lunacy of your typical Troma picture. And if it sounds like it is the perfect filmic complement for the likes of Machete and Planet Terror, there is a good reason for this - the picture was born out of a faux trailer which won a fake trailer contest that was held to promote the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double bill Grindhouse in 2007. For the easily offended, Hobo with a Shotgun is a film to miss. But for the viewers who "get" this type of flick, Hobo with a Shotgun is a welcome buckshot of grindhouse-style insanity. This is a flick destined to tickle the pleasure centres of those who grew up sifting through the most bizarre, offensive-looking VHS boxes at their local video store.
173 6.5 7.238. Kill the Irishman (2011)
"Potato eater? Seeing as how the potato was the only source of nutrition in Ireland for 300 years and half the population including my ancestors died in the great famine, I'd say that term is insensitive. Speaking of culinary tastes, Mr. MacLeish, you're Scottish aren't you? Let's talk about Haggis. Haggis is seasoned lard stuffed into a sheep's colon. So I may be a potato eater Mr. MacLeish but I don't eat fat out of a sheep's asshole..."
Based on the nonfiction book To Kill the Irishman: The War That Crippled the Mafia by Rick Porrello, Kill the Irishman is a compelling walk through Cleveland's criminal underbelly during the 1970s and an informative look at a man who brought down the hammer on the mafia's golden age. To seasoned consumers of gangster movies, Kill the Irishman will likely trigger bouts of déjà vu due to its conventional construction, but it's hard to begrudge the film of this since it's a mostly accurate retelling of a true untold story (and it concerns the Cleveland mafia, thus giving Las Vegas and New York a well-deserved break). Sure, the film is no Goodfellas or Godfather, but it's a solid motion picture on its own terms thanks to astute direction, engaging performances and impressive production values (even despite the low budget).
977 5.9 6.239. Scream 4 (2011)
"Welcome home, Sidney. You're a survivor, aren't you, Sidney? What good is it to be a survivor when everyone close to you is dead? You can't save them. All you can do... is watch."
Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson reinvigorated the horror landscape back in 1996 with Scream; a part-scary and part-satirical postmodern commentary on slasher films featuring a handful of characters well-versed in pop culture and the "rules" of horror movies who wind up in their own slasher. After a solid sequel and a disappointing third instalment, Scream 4 thankfully continues the franchise in style. Benefitting from a whip-smart, savvy screenplay by Kevin Williamson (with uncredited rewrites by Ehren Kruger), Scream 4 is as much as reinvention of the once again worn-out slasher genre as the original Scream was 15 years ago. With the horror genre having entered new phases, and with both audiences and technology having further developed since Scream 3 entered multiplexes back in the year 2000, there was a metric fuckload of new tropes and clichés for Scream 4 to comment about. Despite a few missteps in the scripting department, Scream 4 is a marvellous juggling act between humour and thrills without either tone lessening or overwhelming the other.
1129 6.8 6.840. Hanna (2011)
923 6.6 6.741. Puss in Boots (2011)
"My name would become legend..."
The character of Puss in Boots has been a show-stealer ever since he was first introduced in Shrek 2 back in 2004, and he became the increasingly lacklustre franchise's sole highlight throughout the misfires of Shrek the Third and Shrek Forever After. Spiritedly voiced by Antonio Banderas, Puss is a stroke of screenwriting genius; a swashbuckling action hero in the Zorro mould distinguished by his typical feline instincts and adorable look. Puss' popularity guaranteed a solo starring vehicle for the adventurous kitty, which has now arrived in the form of 2011's Puss in Boots after years of rumours (it was originally planned as a direct-to-DVD adventure). It's always a risk to promote a supporting character to a protagonist, but this picture proves that Puss is more than capable of carrying his own feature. Although the storytelling is a bit leaden, Puss in Boots is full of hilarious isolated antics, making this easily superior to the latter three films of the Shrek franchise.
1148 7 7.442. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
"There's a clue to another treasure. How's your thirst for adventure, Captain?"
Created in 1929 by Belgian cartoonist Hergé, Tintin is an internationally beloved literary character in virtually every part of the world except America. Enter Steven Spielberg (back in the director's chair for the first time since 2008's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) and Peter Jackson, who've collaborated to give Hergé's creation new life in a glossy, mainstream Hollywood extravaganza hoping to appeal to both newcomers (Americans included) and established fans. The result is difficult to dislike, with the pair of filmmaking heavyweights using phenomenal state-of-the-art motion capture technology to vividly bring to life this world of danger, adventure and sleuthing.
653 6.3 6.443. Fright Night (2011)
"Welcome to Fright Night. For real."
In 1985's Fright Night, Peter Vincent pointed out that '80s movie-goers aren't interested in seeing vampires (or vampire killers) anymore; "All they want to see is slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins." In 2011, these words ring ever truer. The Twilight series has expunged any interest and menace that vampires once had, and not a lot of imagination or thought goes into today's successful horror movies. To reinvigorate cinematic bloodsuckers back in 1985, the original Fright Night employed a meta, postmodern approach to vampires, and it succeeded marvellously. While 2011's Fright Night failed to do the same thing for the noughties, it's better than expected; a rare type of remake which takes off in new directions as opposed to slavishly sticking to the original template. Retaining the same basic premise, spirit, characters and comedy-horror tone of the 1985 film while updating the background details, era and setting, director Craig Gillespie and writer Marti Noxon have produced a worthy tribute to its forefather that's unafraid to have its own voice.
520 6 6.344. The Thing (2011)
"In the three years I've known that guy, I've never seen him this excited."
Whether accidental or not, when Bill Lancaster was writing John Carpenter's The Thing a full two decades ago, he also designed an ideal set-up for a prequel/remake. Considering how many classic horror films have been remade in recent years, it's frankly surprising that it has taken so long for someone to take advantage of the prequel possibilities left behind by Lancaster. See, in 1982's The Thing, the characters find the charred ruins of a Norwegian research base, so 2011's The Thing explores what happened at that Norwegian camp. Thus, while this flick (annoyingly) shares the same title as the 1982 original, this is a chronological precursor to Carpenter's film rather than just a lazy remake. The resulting picture is a solid, enjoyable monster yarn which welcomely displays great respect and reverence for the film that spawned it. It even kicks off with a retro Universal Studios logo from the 1980s to establish the tone.
547 6.7 6.645. Attack the Block (2011)
"You'd be better off calling the Ghostbusters, love."
A curious mixture of The Goonies and War of the Worlds filtered through Assault on Precinct 13, Attack the Block is not exactly a typical alien invasion movie. Rather, this directorial debut for Joe Cornish is a more playful motion picture concerned with a bunch of British youths and stoners armed with whatever makeshift weapons they can find. An English production through-and-through (the British slang is thick as fog), the picture shares the same producers as the acclaimed Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (and the director of both, Edgar Wright, executive produced). But while this connection is the focal point of the advertising, Attack the Block was predominately made by talented unknowns. On top of this being Cornish's first feature as director, the film was photographed and scored by first-timers, and it stars a handful of first-time actors. Despite this, the entire production feels amazingly veteran, and it seems unbelievable to consider that most of the creative team were motion picture virgins.
547 7.3 7.346. Submarine (2010)
"My mother is worried I have mental problems. I found a book about teenage paranoid delusions during a routine search of my parents' bedroom."
Adapted from the 2008 novel by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine is the feature-film debut for director Richard Ayoade. Ayoade has been somewhat of a British television comedy luminary over recent years, with appearances on shows like The IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, the latter of which he directed and co-wrote. For his first film, Ayoade has predominantly eschewed his established form of comedy to concentrate more on poignant drama, rendering Submarine a shrewd drama-comedy about teen angst and the harsh realities of young love. While it does provide the occasional laugh, this is more of a quirky, almost arthouse-style fare. Suffice it to say, it's an acquired taste, but those who can tolerate the material may find this to be an enjoyable coming-of-age fable benefitting from a dry sense of humour and idiosyncratic visuals.
595 6.2 6.547. The Mechanic (2011)
"Good judgment comes from experience, experience comes from bad judgment."
The Mechanic can best be described as a typical Jason Statham action film in almost every possible way. There are a number of explosions and action sequences involving both gunplay and fisticuffs, and the plot is pretty standard-order but executed in a way that is not unduly boring. In short, it's a respectable action effort which compensates for lack of depth and drama with tight pacing and a number of tense, exhilarating action sequences. The "hook" of 2011's The Mechanic, though, is that it's a loose remake of the largely forgotten 1972 Charles Bronson action vehicle of the same name. However, this is one of those remakes done right; retaining the basic premise and a few plot twists, but updating various aspects of the story, changing narrative elements, and generally producing a fresh take of the classic which spawned it. Sure, there is not much difference between this and some invisible direct-to-DVD/Blu-ray action flick except for a bigger budget and laudable technical competency, but The Mechanic is a fun action ride destined to please its niche audience.
1537 6 6.148. Sucker Punch (2011)
"For those who fight for it, life has a flavor the sheltered will never know."
After dabbling in remakes (2004's Dawn of the Dead) and adaptations (300, Watchmen, Legend of the Guardians), director Zack Snyder finally stepped up to the challenge of conceiving an original project to test his capabilities. The result is 2011's Sucker Punch; a polarising cinematic experience which foundered at the box office and endured a vicious critical reception. For his first original undertaking, writer-director Snyder dreamed up a candy-coloured fantasy dreamscape with traces of fantasy, steampunk, sci-fi, ninja, pin-up, manga and horror iconography within the narrative structure of a Zelda video game. Not to mention, the leads are a bunch of scantily-clad women carrying badass machine guns, and thus the film additionally represents a teenage boy's fantasy. At first glance, then, it is perhaps tempting to dismiss Sucker Punch as a cynical attempt to appeal to as many fanboy demographics as possible. Yet, Snyder had loftier intentions; crafting a visually stunning piece of action filmmaking with profound intricacies under its surface. Sucker Punch is a depressing, bleak critique of the sexualisation of women in modern cinema (and in real life), and Snyder employed a number of those clichés in a satirical fashion to tell the story.
1100 5.6 5.949. The Green Hornet (2011)
"We've been completely wasting our potential. This city needs our help. We could be heroes! We will pose as villains to get close to the bad guys. That way, no one will suspect we're really the good guys."
The origins of The Green Hornet date back to 1930s radio serials created by George W. Trendle. The Lone Ranger was another Trendle creation, and with the Green Hornet he aimed to bring the iconic character into a modern setting. To this day, the franchise is best known for its shortest-lived incarnation: a 1960s TV show cancelled after its first season which is renowned for introducing the world to Bruce Lee and his unparalleled martial arts prowess. And now, decades on, we have 2011's The Green Hornet. However, this first big-screen feature film incarnation of the character isn't overly interested in the character's history - rather, it's interested in providing a fun time. The basic premise behind the franchise is retained, but the script - penned by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg - simply tweaks the average superhero story in order to suit Rogen's usual screen persona. Purists will likely cry over the changes, but those wanting an enjoyable romp should be pleased by this stylish, glossy blockbuster.
83 5.2 650. The Tunnel (2011)
"Directly below one of Sydney's busiest train stations is the forgotten water resource that is causing all the controversy."
Filmmakers Carlo Ledesma, Enzo Tedeschi & Julian Harvey clearly took heed of the philosophies and techniques of renowned scare-meister Alfred Hitchcock for 2011's The Tunnel, namely his mantra that less is more: it is not always what you see that scares you, but what you imagine. A low-budget horror pic filmed in 14 days and made for peanuts, The Tunnel is an Australian member of the notorious "found footage" genre. While it does not offer anything overly new or novel in terms of narrative (in fact the story closely resembles the 2001 film Mole), it does offer an inherently eerie location, a bunch of strong performances from the little-known cast members, and plenty of atmospheric thrills & chills. It is essentially The Descent mixed with The Blair Witch Project and [Rec].
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