Posted: 01/12/2012

 

2011: The Year In Film

by Del Harvey




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These are the films that made my list in 2011. This year I saw close to 300. The films that are on this list stood out for one reason or another, and I do my best to explain that reason in the paragraphs below. When it comes to the summer blockbusters, the Transformers, the Harry Potters, and all the rest – if they did not make my list then they most likely did their job; they entertained. But these films did more… or less.


EXCELLENT

Sarah’s Key
Kenneth Turan in the L.A. Times said, “Sarah’s Key is more powerful than you expect.” And he’s right. Based on Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s emotional detective story and starring Kristin Scott Thomas, the film weaves back and forth between 2002’s uninspired elements and 1942’s compelling sequences, when Paris’ Jews were rounded up. Thomas is an American journalist living in Paris investigating the Velodrome d’Hiver roundup of 1942, when French officials and police, not Germans, rounded up 13,000 of the city’s Jews and herded them together for days in horrible conditions in one of the city’s indoor bicycle-racing tracks before dispatching them first to a transit camp and finally to Auschwitz. The film actually begins on that July day in 1942 in the Marais district apartment of the Starzynskis. With the family being rounded up under frightening circumstances, 10-year-old Sarah (an exceptional Mélusine Mayance) impulsively instructs her younger brother to hide in the bedroom cupboard. She then locks him in, instructing him not to leave until she comes to get him. What follows is the kind of madness and grim twist which only real situations can offer, and which leave generational scars. Kristin Scott Thomas deserves an Oscar for her performance in a film which will touch you deeply and remain with you long after you have left the theatre.

The Yellow Sea
Perhaps my second favorite film of 2011. As Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian put it, “This noirish South Korean gangster film is a deafening explosion of energy, gruesome violence and chaos that, despite its implausibilities, has brashness and style.” Gu-nam is a penniless gambling addict who is an ethnic Korean-Chinese living in China. His wife has left him to work in South Korea, but he is depressed, believing she has abandoned their marriage taken up with someone else. Embittered and desperate for cash, Gu-nam accepts a job from a local gangster to cross the Yellow Sea (that part of the Pacific dividing mainland China from the Korean peninsula), murder someone in Seoul and be smuggled home. But Gu-nam has a secret plan - to go to Seoul, kill this guy – and then kill his wife. The way the story unravels is part Hitchcock, part Rian Johnson, and part Michael Mann. Very stark and gritty and fueled by very raw emotions.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Although I enjoyed the original film adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s sci fi-fantasy novel,Planet of the Apes, I was never a fan of any of the prequels or sequels. And to be honest, Tim Burton’s remake of the original left much to be desired. But Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of those films that takes special effects to a new level and leaves audiences talking, whether they be techno-geek or multi-plex mall based. It helps that Rise works from a very emotional base as well as an intellectual one; James Franco portrays a doctor with real ethics whose boss and their mother corporation are driven by profit margins. The monkey in the middle is a chimp with higher than normal intellect, nicknamed Caesar, who is injected with a serum as part of a test of a new Alzheimer’s drug but which supercharges his thought processes. The result is akin to opening Pandora’s Box, only this time with evolutionary repercussions which test the limits of mankind’s accepted authority over the species. Thought-provoking and exciting and emotionally powerful equals one of the better big box-office features of the year.

Hobo With A Shotgun
This concept grew from a trailer included in the Tarantino-Rodriguez multi-part feature Grindhouse. In many ways, this was the most appealing concept of any film or imagined short included in that mélange. The realization leaves a little to be desired, but all of that - including some of the cheesiest special effects and visuals to rival anything ever done by Troma – all of that is hugely overshadowed by Rutger Hauer’s performance. He is the spectre of his own past and a symbol for every actor who passes the meridian of 40 and is relegated to the garbage heap in favor of sweet youth. He is a wraith-like character who haunts the back streets, reaping vengeance upon the greedy, grabby, bloated excess that is Hollywood and the Hollywood blockbuster as much as he does little criminals. Somehow Hauer’s performance elevates this otherwise abysmal cult fan favorite into something which offers commentary not only on contemporary society, but also the media which purports to represent the state of that society. Remarkable.

Midnight In Paris
Woody has truly found his muse, and a way to stave off eternity, through Owen Wilson. Wilson, whose performances are typically predictable in the extreme, is superb and totally believable as the young writer who simultaneously channels Woody’s persona into the character Wilson is portraying. It reveals a certain quality in Wilson which has heretofore been overlooked, or rarely glimpsed. It shows that Mr. Wilson is capable of much more than he has let on in his comedic turns to date. He gave us a fleeting glimpse of this in The Minus Man, but somehow, someway since those early days, Mr. Wilson abandoned that artist within. Now he’s back, and I hope he never goes away. Midnight In Paris is typical and terrific Woody at his best, in many ways a self-tribute to the best films he has ever made, and in many ways proof that he still has charm and style and grace.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Restraint, Mr. Oldman, that is the key. In this star-studded feature full of deception and betrayal, one character rises quietly and stoically above the rest; that of Gary Oldman’s George Smiley. Recalling the quiet yet powerful performance of Sir Alec Guinness, Mr. Oldman’s performance here elevates him above the quite impressive cast around him simply by use of restraint and a well-tempered voice. He is hidden behind graying temples, smudged glasses, and distanced visually by the beige trench coat and suits. But the wise wolf waits within, patiently weighing each second as everyone around him rushes headlong to their manifest destiny. This is a very faithful adaptation of a classic spy novel and co-stars Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds and John Hurt. Superb.

Page Eight
Any classy and classic British actors not mentioned in the previous title will most certainly get a mention in this, yet another thinking-person’s spy thriller. The suave and ultra-classy Bill Nighy plays MI5 analyst Johnny Worricker, long in the tooth but still agile of mind and quick on his feet. When his boss and best friend (Michael Gambon) dies suddenly after calling attention to a strangely incendiary missive from the Defense Minister’s office, Johnny knows something is wrong. He gets to the bottom of the mystery, along the way bumping into the likes of Rachel Weisz, Judy Davis, and Ralph Fiennes. Bill Nighy has a way of making the silliest of films look good (the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel comes to mind), but he also has a way of making a well-scripted film into something more. It comes through in this bit of enjoyable twaddle, emerging through all the personal interplay of characters tied to one another by work or blood or love. But most of all through Nighy’s interaction with each in their turn, until he comes face to face with the Prime Minister, who is played to sinister, eloquent and shadowy perfection by Ralph Fiennes. But even he cannot ruffle our rumply-elegant Johnny, who remains true to the course and Mother England. And thanks to Mr. Nighy, that’s what makes Page Eight so engaging and entertaining.

13 Assassins
How many times can a classic film be remade, or re-imagined? Or paid homage to? Japanese director Takashi Miike does just that in 13 Assassins. Taking place in 1844, our story begins after a long period of peace. The vicious Lord Naritsugu, a psychotic sadist whose action threaten the stability of the realm, must be destroyed, and only a team of dedicated samurai can achieve this. The quite elegant first half is dedicated to the selection and training of this elite group by the stately warrior Shinzaemon. The second half is the non-stop running battle which follows when the 13 honorable assassins ambush the lord and his vast entourage, a virtual army some seven times their number. It is a stunning sequence, magnificently staged, and an epic encounter with little in the way of special effects. It leaves the village in tatters and just two men standing. 13 Assassins is mesmerizing and kinetic filmmaking of the highest order.

I Saw The Devil
This film features the star of Oldboy, Choi Min-sik, as a psychotic killer whose latest victim is the wife of a highly-trained government secret agent. The agent eventually turns the tables on the murderer before relentlessly pursuing him to ensure that he experiences the same terror this madman instilled into his victims. As the roles of cat and mouse keep switching, the evil at play becomes so pervasive and corrosive that even those on the periphery of the agent’s quest for vengeance have their lives drastically changed or ended. I Saw the Devil is directed by Ji-woon Kim and Kim Jee-woon and is utterly compelling and adroitly told.

Outrage
In the latest crime thriller from Japan’s Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano plays Otomo, third in command to an underworld family leader named Ikemura (Jun Kunimura). But even Ikemura takes orders - in this case, from Mr. Chairman (Kitamura Soichiro), the boss of bosses in the shadowy world of Tokyo gangsters. He’s first seen ending what is obviously some sort of executive board meeting of family bosses, asking Ikemoto to stick around. Mr. Chairman, it seems, is unhappy that Ikemura has become friendly with another crime family head, Murase (Renji Ishibashi), whose gang deals drugs. Seemingly worried about where Ikemura’s loyalties lie, Mr. Chairman forces him to instigate an escalating feud with the Murase family. Not that Ikemura does any of this himself; he delegates to Otomo and his minions, in a series of increasingly violent encounters with Murase’s underlings and, finally, Murase himself. Kitano’s story says that unlike the yakuza of popular mythology, who are supposedly molded after the bushido honor codes of the samurai. Instead, real-life gangsters are just greedy, violent thugs. Even the most famous of yakuza gestures - the severing of one’s own little finger as penance for lost ‘face’ (i.e.: dignity) - is mocked here, treated as a far too insignificant and much too late action. Ultimately, Kitano’s story is a violent, Shakespearean tale of double-dealing underworld power struggles more fascinating than anything Hollywood has offered up recently.

The Guard
Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle star in this well-acted, explosively funny, and tightly executed Irish crime flick from writer/director John Michael McDonagh. An Irish Garda usually found rambling around the dank coastal area of Connemara, Gleeson’s Sergeant Gerry Boyle is a hard-drinking, pill-popping, fatalistic cop with a taste for role-playing prostitutes and a sick mother who needs his care. His bleak and black-hearted sense of humor primarily involves degrading, belittling, or slyly taunting everyone around him. Enter Don Cheadle’s Wendell, a Rhodes scholar FBI agent. Boyle feigns naïveté and says, “I thought only black kids are drug dealers.” When Wendell objects he replies, deadpan, “I’m Irish, sir, racism is part of my culture.” If you don’t like it, says Gleeson, “Fuck off to America with your appropriate Barack fucking Obama.” The rest of the film is similarly, giddily offensive: There are morbid jokes about molesting lambs, comic repartee spoken over corpses, crooks who absurdly name-check Bertrand Russell and Nietzsche, and only a few lines that don’t contain a creative new use of the word “motherfucker.” And when the climax comes, it’s a spaghetti western with Kalashnikovs instead of Colts to the strains of pastiche Ennio Morricone. Great fun when taken in the right spirit, which would be Old Paddy with a Guinness chaser.

Bridesmaids
One of the funniest comedies of the year, thanks to stars Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, just the tip of a very committed cast that includes Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd, Maya Rudolph, Wendy McLendon-Covey, Jon Hamm and Jill Clayburgh. It’s a fish out of water story from the feminine perspective, a very over-the-top rom-com all about dating and finding that right person. Everything is played to the hilt, but it works. And sure, there’s really a romance or three in here and it’s nothing new, but what is? The fun is in the getting there and in the new twists and turns, and Ms. Wiig and her companions prove they can make us laugh. And it was really great to see the actors enjoying themselves for a change. In so many other comedies which came out this year so many of the actors just seem so… bored. And when it shows, it wears down the audience. Thank goodness for these ladies and their enjoyment for their art.

Batman: Year One
I have to applaud DC Animated for actually understanding the vision of comic book writer Frank Miller’s four-part series of the same title. Because Batman: Year One is not the story of Batman; it’s the story of James Gordon, destined one day to become Commissioner Gordon. And who, in turn, is a mirror for what happens to the Batman. Both are first year crime fighters in Gotham City. Both are unsure of themselves. Both hold themselves to a higher moral value. And both hate what Gotham is and vow to fight for the city’s soul. Batman does it for vengeance; Gordon does it for family. But both men are intrinsically dedicated to their fight. Ben McKenzie (The OC, Southland) is cast as the young Bruce Wayne/Batman and Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston is Jim Gordon. Eliza Dushku is Catwoman and Katee Sackhoff is the voice of Sarah Essen, a female cop with whom Gordon has an affair. The animation recalls the original Batman: The Animated Series, which I loved. It is full of dark shadows and somewhat diffused inks, all of which simply add to the overall milieu. For my money, Batman: Year One is much more enjoyable and does more for animated film than most of the 3D blockbusters of 2011 simply by being just what it is – unpretentious and entertaining.

FUN

Drive Angry
Nicolas Cage is one of the Top 10 most bankable and in demand actors in Hollywood. He can make films about selling cream cheese to cows and people will watch. So when he cranks out an action film about a guy named John Milton who is supposed to be dead, but at the beginning of the film is seen driving a growling muscle car across a bridge from Hell to the Here-and-Now, bent on rescuing his baby granddaughter from the Satanic cult who enslaved and murdered his daughter, and now plans to sacrifice the infant beneath a full moon. The cult is led by Jonah (actor Billy Burke), whose slavish followers seem to have been bussed over from the latest Troma film. On their trail is an enigmatic character known only as The Accountant and played by the much under appreciated William Fichtner. His seemingly supernatural figure is relentless in his pursuit of these two characters, and yet he moves at a snail’s speed when he’s not at the wheel of a muscle car or a tank truck filled with liquid hydrogen. It’s all seriously mindless fun which leads to the inevitable showdown between Milton and Jonah at The Big Sacrifice Under The Stars, which for some reason seems to be held at a concert for white trash trailer park. All the more fun to burn to the ground and off in uber-violent ways. Along for the crazy ride are the sexy Amber Heard and the serious David Morse.

Take Shelter
Michael Shannon is the new Christopher Walken. Sort of. He’s just as talented. He’s tall. He’s got the kind of stare that will drive you crazy. And he talks funny. And he plays crazy really, really well. Try though it might, Take Shelter comes off like a strange combo of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Director Jeff Nichols gives us a story about a tormented soul’s apocalyptic visions. The problem, he isn’t sure if he has inherited his mother’s schizophrenia or if his visions are real. Thanks to Shannon, there are some interesting visual moments and Nichols does a decent job of keeping us guessing. Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain play Curtis and Samantha, a very happy couple in rural Ohio. Happy, that is, until the day Curtis starts having dreams and all-too-real hallucinations. When he starts building a survivalist shelter in the yard, like the one the travelers chance upon in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Samantha starts to get worried. But, you know, she did marry a guy who is the embodiment of Christopher Walken; what did she expect?

Alyce
This super low budget horror film really is one of the best films of the year. Alyce (Jade Dorfeld) is a fragile mind, a girl who acts on a random, deranged impulse resulting in the death of her best friend Carroll (Tamara Feldman) and that alters her life forever. Overcome with guilt, Alyce is tormented by her actions and spirals into a world of sex, drugs and violence. With each passing day, each darker step into depravity, Alyce’s mind continues to unravel and fracture. Soon Alyce is no longer in control as she begins to drown her sorrow and depression with increasingly disturbing and psychotic actions. Director Jae Lee (Zombie Strippers), does a truly amazing job with barely known actors and few sets and no budget. Alyce is nuts, but she’s fun to watch. That’s the amazing thing about this film; it’s a fascinating study of a young woman’s descent from simply odd to downright crazy. And the truly wonderful thing about it is that Lee presents the characters and their world in such as way as to make us believe such things are possible. As the world grows larger and more crowded, and relationships become less personal and more isolated, it’s not hard to imagine someone like Alyce walking the streets or riding the train, sitting beside us, headphones on while she zones out, bopping her head in time to the music. Just pray she doesn’t start to fixate on you.

Blackthorn
Director Mateo Gil’s homage to the American Western stars one of the greats, Sam Shepard, as Butch Cassidy. Somehow Butch managed to flee to Bolivia (where the film was actually filmed) and is quietly living out his days in a small village. Until a stranger comes along. A young man who tries to con his way out of every nasty corner he backs himself into. Of course, first time he meets Butch he gets him involved in gunplay. That’s all it takes to push our antihero back into action, unwittingly though he may be. Stephen Rea appears as a Pinkerton who has been tracking Cassidy since the Hole In The Wall days and who has always believed he survived. The film is gritty, the characters appropriately tough, stoic and charming, and Blacktorn reminds us of the simply joy of watching a well-made Western tale which plays off the morality of right and wrong, and the consequences of what happens when the law gets in the way of that.

Thor
Kenneth Branaugh understands mythology and the classics and brings both to bear on this adaptation of Marvel’s long running fantasy superhero of the same name. Thor first appeared in Marvel comics in 1962, the brain child of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Jerry Leiber. Branaugh does tweak the story a bit, but it doesn’t matter since this is film and comic books are always reinventing their heroes every few years or so. Chris Hemsworth is the God of Thunder, son of Odin, who is tossed out of the heavens for his fealty to the weak humans, mostly thanks to being discovered by one of our more perfect specimens, Natalie Portman. It seems his half-brother, Loki, has just been waiting for this moment and goes into hyper-ahole mode the moment that Odin goes into his annual hibernation. But Thor manages to retrieve his mighty hammer and defend the puny Earthlings, and even earns a kiss or two from the lovely Portman for his troubles. Along the way we are introduced to another future member of the Avengers, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). It’s all quite silly and quite fun. And though I had no issues with almost all of the casting, I was fairly disappointed in their choice of Ray Stevenson as Volstagg. Stevenson is a very competent actor, but the Vostagg in the comics was always as fat as old Falstaff. Surely there must be some overweight actor out there they could have used instead. I mean, what else is Val Kilmer doing?

Horrible Bosses
Most of the comedies that came out in 2011 were very unfunny. Horrible Bosses was not one of them, thanks in large part not to the three stars (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis), but to their nemeses – Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston. In fact it is the three “bad guys” who make Horrible Bosses worth watching. The film is, after all, named after them. It’s a great, simple concept; we’ve all had those bosses we wish we’d never met, the kind of people who turn your stomach and make your life a living hell. It’s the sad sacks who lose out to these yutz’ who need to work on their skillz, know what I’m sayin’? The buttheads in power didn’t get there by being nicey-nice, if you know what I mean. And along the comedy trail to enlightenment, our three goofs learn some of that. They did have some help, though. They had their own personal Gandalf, their own Alfred the butler in the form of Jamie Foxx. Foxx’s minor supporting role shines with gut-busting comedy as he schools the losers and takes advantage of them while doing so. And of the entire cast, it is Ms. Aniston who proves she’s got chops as she turns in a top-notch performance as the kind of character we have never seen her portray before. Keep stretching, Ms. A; you’re damn good at it.

Fast Five
The first film in this series was fun. The next four were… filler, more or less. And then comes the fifth, which is better than the first. Okay, so that’s not so hard to do. But there is finally enough back story about these characters that they are starting to have a little more dimension and feeling less like the 2-dimensional characters in a Grand Theft Auto game. In fact, the races of the previous games were given less weight than the use of vehicles to conduct various heists. Hey, it’s always better when there is a purpose to action. At least, that’s what we try to teach in film school. Our favorite lead foots return with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. And this time they’ve got a DEA agent in the imposing form of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on their tails. Of course, Zoe Saldana’s on hand so things can’t look all that bad. It’s big fun and hot cars and sexy girls and explosions and action and they manage to make most of it make sense for a change. Why should that be so difficult?

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
I have never been a fan of Tom Cruise. From the first time I saw him in the film Taps, where he played a supporting role to star Timothy Hutton, I was not impressed. Later, when I worked on the lot at Disney Studios and he was running around making films like Cocktail, Rain Man and The Color of Money, I was even less impressed. Occasionally, when he would turn in a cameo or supporting role in films like Tropic Thunder or Magnolia, I had to admit there was talent there. And when I saw him in Collateral I thought he was perfectly cast and was quite impressed with his taking on a character so completely different from any other he had ever adopted. But it was not until watching this film, the fourth in the series, that I could see what it was about the man that annoyed me. It is as though he is an actor almost to the point of having lost everything else about himself. As though he is so immersed in the role of being an actor that he does not know how to be a normal human being. Just like another actor whose popularity was gigantic, bigger than most of his films – John Wayne. Both of these men give up their lives to their art, such as it is. They live in different times and so the times demand different things of them, sure. But I am beginning to see a great similarity. And I have to admit that putting oneself so completely into their art, giving up so much of one’s life to the commitment of being something else, something more than just a man… oh, wait, that’s starting to sound familiar. Well, I hope you see what I mean. Hey, maybe I’m wrong; but it helps me understand the man better and to appreciate his performance. And I guess that means something.

The Lincoln Lawyer
Matthew McConaughey can be very annoying at times. This isn’t one of them. In fact, he’s downright enjoyable. In fact, he damn near has you rooting for him. Now that’s good acting. He plays criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller, who operates around Los Angeles County out of a Lincoln Town Car. Haller has spent most of his career defending garden-variety criminals, including a member of a local biker gang, until he lands the case of his career: Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe), a Beverly Hills playboy and son of real estate mogul Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher), is accused of the brutal beating of prostitute Reggie Campo. Adapted from a Michael Connolly novel, the film co-stars Marissa Tomei, Josh Lucas, Michael Pena, John Leguizamo, Bryan Cranston, and William H. Macy. As I watched this film I was reminded of Coppola’s adaptation of John Grisham’s The Rainmaker, which was an excellent film and not too shabby a comparison.

Captain America: The First Avenger
Big blockbuster adaptations of classic comic books continue to impress. Where Thor was bright, loud, and full of comedy relief, Captain America is subtle, dark, and full of suspense. It takes place in World War II, or an alternate reality World War II. One where America is perfecting a super soldier serum and turning short, scrawny kids into tall, muscle-bound athletes and where the villains are lead by a supernatural being known as the Red Skull. Even dark and serious, Captain America is still great fun and harkens back to what summer films are all about; escapism. Chris Evans, who has now starred in four or five different adaptations of comic books and graphic novels, does a very fine job as a young Steve Rogers, the kid who is turned into a nation’s living, breathing emblem of justice, Captain America. Hayley Atwell is smoldering as his WWII gf. Hugo Weaving is his typically menacing self as the Red head. Tommy Lee Jones growls and huffs as the Army general assigned to the super soldier project. But it is Stanley Tucci who turns in another quiet yet incredibly strong performance as the doctor who creates the serum and who believes in the scrawny young man who is willing to sacrifice his life for his country.

HONORABLE MENTION

Fright Night
Not that the original was really that much of a classic, even though there are a horde of fanboys out there who will argue with me, but they did a very decent job of adapting and updating on the original. David Tennant does a great job as the TV horror host who is afraid of his own shadow because he knows these things that go bump in the night really do exist. Anton Yelchin is excellent as the young man who discovers his next door neighbor is a real, live member of the walking dead. And Colin Farrell is convincing as the vampire masquerading as a night shift construction worker. It’s all surprisingly much more fun than expected.

Colombiana
Zoe Saldana is here to tell us that girls can kick ass, too. Like Chloe Moritz and Michelle Rodriguez and Milla Jovovich before her, Ms. Saldana plays a tough girl whose sole focus in life is revenge for the people who killed her parents. She takes it to a bit of extreme, becoming a highly paid killer, but a girl has to do what a girl has to do. And she does it very, very well. The thing of it is, the story holds up. It works. The characters a scarred and flawed, but real nonetheless. And the whole thing is amazingly tight.

In Time
I like this guy. I think he has chops. And even though this film is really more of a social study, I think that is an even smarter career move on the part of Mr. Justin Timberlake. The lovely Amanda Seyfried is along to make sure he’s not the only pretty thing on screen, and the two characters actually work well together. The story is part The Running Man, part The Prisoner, but it’s solid enough. And casting Cillian Murphy against Timberlake was perfect. Unlike so many musical performers who try to double up as actors, this young man takes the job quite seriously. So much so that he’s got me looking forward to his next film.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Cowboys and Aliens
Let’s see… oh, here’s an idea. Let’s take a graphic novel that has its loyal following – not much more, mind you – and load it up with special effects and big name talent. Oh, and lets not try to improve the story for film in the process. In the end we’ll have something that looks like a hodge podge of mismatched set pieces, a dysfunctional cross-pollination of genres so awful that it looks like a bad low budget sci fi film from the early 80’s. Yeah, great idea. Who needs writers, anyway?

Priest
A great comic book/graphic novel. A horrible adaptation. The cast was fine. The story was too much for one film. If the thing has such a huge following, why not make a “first in series” and do it right? Doesn’t Hollywood love a good franchise? What are these people drinking? ‘Cause I don’t want any.

Larry Crowne
So much wretched excess in Hollywood these days. I know, the industry is changing and they’re scared silly. So some actors have felt it necessary to crank out their own films. Which brings us to Larry Crowne. Like Cowboys and Aliens, it is a pastiche (or paste job) of romantic comedies, rather chunkily sewn together. The result is a Frankenstein’s monster of cringe-inspiring moments whose build up strikes a “No, you’re not…” moment in the viewer. So much talent, so poorly executed. Talk about wretched excess.

Drive
I really like all the other films by Danish film director Nicholas Winding Refn – the Pusher trilogy, Bronson, and the mesmerizing Valhalla Rising. Which is probably why I am so hugely disappointed in this film. The story follows a character so stoic we barely know he’s alive. His actions make sense, but only up to a point. By the end we are left thinking we must have missed something, because he’s just left the woman he loves to go out and… drive. Why? Who the f*** knows; it’s left so open-ended in such a stoic, distanced fashion that by the time we get to the few final scenes nobody cares about direction or destination. So I did what any sane person would do; I stopped thinking about it and walked out of the theatre, got into my car, and drove home.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Look, I’m in no way saying it’s easy to make a film. God knows the amount of issues and problems that can come up on a film set. But I also don’t care how many frickin’ names you give her; if you don’t give us a reason to watch your story, it doesn’t matter a whit what you call it. A film by the name Bland Boring Blech Bullpucky would work just as well.

The Rite
Anthony Hopkins is a truly gifted actor. He can be sweet and fatherly or terrible and frightening. He is one of those rare talents who can rise above most poorly craft scripts. Unfortunately, someone found a script which even the great Anthony could not rise above. And the great thespian is not getting any younger; he needs less of this type of poopie on his resume.

Tower Heist
How much did they spend on this turkey? Ben Stiller has lost his funny bone. Eddie Murphy tries hard but looks so out of place it isn’t funny. No, I mean it really is not funny. The only one with half a laugh in the entire thing is Matthew Broderick. But that isn’t enough.

Jane Eyre
Great cast. Lovely cinematography. Strange adaptation. And why, why make this film when BBC has recently remade this story with an equally talented cast and done it with such massively greater amounts of emotion and suspense? Such a waste.

The Comedies: Hangover II, Hall Pass, Your Highness, Zookeeper, Friends With Benefits, Crazy Stupid Love, What’s Your Number?, The Dilemma, No Strings Attached, Take Me Home Tonight
Show me the funny, or the romantic, please. Where is it in these films? Where is the snappy dialogue, the joyful interaction of characters? If directing is 65% casting, as John Frankenheimer said, then what nerf-for-brains was allowed to cast some of these things? Some Hollywood writers need to stop slapping themselves on the back and telling themselves they’re funny when they are so obviously not.

Abduction
I have no doubt that the sight of Taylor Lautner without his shirt causes some folks to drool and go all google-y eyed. But we don’t need any further proof that the fellow needs acting lessons. What’s worse is the blatant appeasing of the star that took place in this film from script through execution. Who does he have blackmail on? Is Twilight really such a huge franchise? Really?

New Year’s Eve
The old song asks, “What are you doing New Years Eve?” One thing I can tell you I did not do was watch this piece of floppy a second time. Big stars, big schmaltz, big nothing. Easily one of the most forgettable films of 2011.

Killer Elite
Sam Peckinpah did a film with this same title back in the 70’s. It was a huge action hit. This film has nothing to do with that one. In fact, this film features Jason Statham doing a lot of the things he does in a lot of other films, only this time there seems to have been a slight shrugging off of script. Sort of like they forgot to include it. But what’s to worry? They have Robert De Niro and Clive Owen… isn’t that good enough? Not by half.

The Thing
So, they remade the sci fi classic. Only they did it as a prequel. Only they didn’t change the title to reflect that. And instead of anyone trying to compete with one of the most iconic personas in film history, MacReady, they had one of the currently most popular young female actors attempt to fill that character’s shoes. This film is almost an exact copy of the original right up until the last few minutes, when it becomes the actual prequel to the John Carpenter classic. Until then, it’s all really weak and unconvincing, and that is just sad.

The Three Musketeers
Alexandre Dumas’ classic has become one of the most remade stories in the history of English language films. This one is a mish-mash of Richard Lester’s great 1973 adaptation, which was so faithful to the book that it had to be presented in two parts, each film running just over two hours. No such silliness for Paul W.S. Anderson. No, he found a way to cut out a lot of that silly filler and bring this one in at just under 2 hours. And he did it with more explosions! And a whole lot more really boring exposition. At least he found a way to shoehorn his lovely wife, action star and former model Milla Jovovich, into the film. Seriously, she is fine in the film. It’s the way that Anderson removed all that silly political and social commentary and replace it with far too over the top explosions and showy extravagance that irks me. At least they didn’t try to put a hip hop soundtrack over the thing.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.



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