Sitting in the Dark With Strangers 2011: Part Four

And here’s the last part of my 2011 movie reviews, parts one, two and three can be found by clicking their respective numbers. As I’ve stated before, this is my completely subjective and fluid opinion, and especially in these top 10 they might shift around in order depending on my mercurial mood. HERE IS THE FINAL SPOILER WARNING FOR SPOILERBABIES DON’T GET MAD.

X-Men First Class poster

10. X-Men: First Class

This was so close to being higher up, if it wasn’t for one stupid scene that I still can’t understand, as it has to do with how one guy’s specific mutant power is introduced and then immediately counteracted within 10 minutes. I don’t really want to go into it, as it just boggles the damn mind, especially given much of Hollywood’s track record when it comes to minority characters in film. Anyway, apart from that, this was an awesome Bond-film infusion of life into what had become a moribund franchise after X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In my mind anyway, this new continuity completely eliminated all the other films from memory. I really hope they do another one.

Giant Size X-Men #1 cover

The way I’d do it would be to replicate the impact that Giant Size X-Men #1 had in rejuvenating the comic book by setting the next film in the 1970s. That way you can introduce a bunch of new X-Men, including Wolverine of course, and have a lot of wiggle room when it comes to describing how the struggle between Professor X and Magneto has gone over the years. There’s many historical events the X-Men could have taken part in during the period, how about the OPEC raid by Carlos the Jackal (who’d obviously be some sort of cult-of-personality accumulating mutant), or the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, dealing with that’d be right up Magneto’s alley, especially if the Israeli athletes turned out to be mutants like him. Plus, like First Class did for the ’60s, you can show the cool version of the 1970s, using films like The French Connection, Taxi Driver and maybe Close Encounters of the Third Kind as touchstones for visual and narrative styles. This could potentially tie into the long rumored “Wolverine fights Yakuza grindhouse-style” project as well. The most complimentary thing I can say about First Class was that it completely re-energized me to watch X-Men movies again, not to mention think about them at length, and considering how shitty the last few ended up being, that’s definitely a feat.

The Muppets poster

9. The Muppets (saw for free for work)

Confession time: as much as I enjoy the Muppets and their body of work, I’m not actually sure how much of their stuff I came into contact with when I was an actual child. I seem to remember enjoying Muppets Christmas Carol when I was little, and I know the show was on PBS so we would have watched it when we had cable, but apart from that I don’t actually know how much of it I would’ve seen. I remember watching the late-night version of the show, Muppets Tonight, but that’s not exactly the same thing. Anyway, this movie still hit me on a pretty deep emotional level. I cried a little bit, but shut up whatever. Rainbow Connection’s just a beautiful song, alright? You can tell though, that as much as I like the Muppets, Jason Segel, the mastermind behind this project, LOVES the Muppets. And a film created with love for an audience that’ll love it back, that’s a beautiful situation. My highlights were the ’80s robot, Gonzo’s toilet factory, and the fart shoe walk denouement. I could have done without Chris Cooper rapping though, that was painful to watch.

13 Assassins illustrated poster

8. 13 Assassins (saw on blu-ray)

I’m counting this one on the list, because as far as I know the film never had an actual release in my fair city, and the BR only came out not too long ago. My list, my rules. Anyway, this movie is potentially one of the best samurai movies ever made. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, imagine Inglourious Basterds set in a Japan on the cusp of leaving the samurai era. A group of men is tasked with killing the shogun’s son, who has gone absolutely mad with power. The twelve assassins know that this is a suicide mission, as their honour will be forever tarnished by killing this high profile target, but they also know he must be stopped. With the help of a bandit they pick up along the way, the now 13 must face down 200 of the target’s personal guard. This is almost two different movies. The first half is an examination of the way honour and duty worked in the Japanese society of the time, and how no matter how bad your lord is, you have to follow him. The second half is one of the best extended action sequences you’ll ever see, as the men reinforce a whole town and turn it into a death trap. So, so good. If you enjoy either classical samurai films like those of Kurosawa, or the majority of the films director Takeshi Miike is known for, you owe it to yourself to track this one down.

Troll Hunter poster UK

7. Troll Hunter (Metro Cinema)

Keeping our theme of badasses doing badass things going, this movie was an absolute delight. An enigmatic man is tasked by the Norwegian government with keeping the local population of trolls in check. Yes, the trolls of mythology are real, and it’s one guy’s job to cover it up, just stay with me. A group of documentary film students initially think he’s poaching bears, but are soon brought into the conspiracy, as the Troll Hunter is tired of his job and wants to blow the whistle on it. Chaos ensues. This movie is a textbook example on how to use the found-footage format to cover up small budgets. The trolls are always shown to us through a filter, or at nighttime, or from far away, and this heightens the fear we feel from these weird looking guys in an interesting way. We never get close enough to one to see the digital strings holding it up, so our disbelief remains suspended throughout. The character of the Troll Hunter is a fascinating man, and his attitude towards his work almost reminded me of John McClane from Die Hard, just a regular guy stuck in a bad situation but making the most of it. He also starts out being very lonely, and we get to know the guy to a certain extent as the film progresses.

Submarine poster

6. Submarine (Metro Cinema)

Such a great little coming of age flick. We were talking about Nathan Rabin’s idea of the MPDG (Manic Pixie Dream Girl) when we had people over the other night, and I feel like Submarine presents an alternative to this sometimes grating archetype: the Manic Pixie Demented Girl. Oliver’s girlfriend Jordana’s a strange one, she enjoys the occasional arson, and so must he. So many good little moments in this one, I don’t really want to spoil them for you, but be prepared for some sadness should you decide to check this one out. Paddy Considine is especially good, as a douchey light and crystal-worshipping charlatan, who obviously must become the main character’s nemesis. Excellent use of animation in this movie too, I hesitate to make the comparison between it and Wes Anderson’s work (especially The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou), but it’s somewhat true.

Rango poster

5. Rango

As I’m looking over my list again here, it really strikes me how good of a year this was for kids films. 2011 was filled with entertainment that didn’t really talk down to children, at least in my experience, and this quasi-adaptation of Chinatown of all things was a great example. I haven’t talked to any actual children about whether or not they liked it, I guess, but I loved it. It provided Timothy Olyphant with his best role of the year, although to tell you who he was would ruin the surprise, and Johnny Depp was excellent as a kinder and gentler version of the lizard-beast he was starting to become by the end of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (joke). The music was also excellent. Running out of ways to say “great movie” here, so I’m just going to call attention to my lack of vocabulary and just move on.

Hugo poster

4. Hugo

Oh, hey, look another great kids movie. This one kind of hits a special place in my heart, and not just because I live with a Film Studies graduate. When I went to Europe with my family a couple of years ago, I made a special pilgrimage to the Cinémathèque Française, which is located in what felt like to me just outside of Paris proper in the 12eme arrondisement. I went there partially out of curiosity borne of my own love of film and partly out of the aforementioned graduate most likely wanting something to remember it by. When I got there after navigating the excellent Paris transit system, they were presenting a special exhibit of props from the oeuvre of a celebrated French director whose storywould eventually crop up again in Hugo. As I’d actually stayed relatively spoiler free for this one, and had not read the original book which we had for sale at my work, I was very pleasantly surprised to see an old friend who I travelled far out of my way to see before. This is one of the few movies I have ever recommended people to see in 3D. Scorsese’s pretty good at this whole movie thing by this point, and uses the new technology in very inventive ways to make a new cinematic experience. He’s a lot like the man at the centre of the film’s narrative in that way. Everyone does a great job in their parts, and it’s always nice to see Sasha Baron Cohen wearing elaborate clothes and sporting an even more elaborate accent. Words fail to describe this one.

The Adventures of Tintin poster

3. The Adventures of Tintin

This one brought me back as well, this time to afternoons spent enjoying the cartoon version of Tintin in my youth. I’m sure I must have read most of the books growing up, but it’s totally the TV show that captured the majority of my attention, and the movie definitely stirred the same adventurous feelings. I was so glad they didn’t tone down some of the aspects priggish parents might have found objectionable; people shoot one another, faces are punched repeatedly, Captain Haddock drinks like a fish with a serious alcohol problem. The pirate ship fight in this movie has retroactively made the Pirates of the Caribbean films pale in comparison. And the chase scenes! I tried to put myself in the shoes of the poor bastard whose job it was to storyboard the motorcycle/tank/falcon chase near the end of the film, and it must have taken like a whole damn year! Everything was so spot on, they didn’t tack on any stupid Hero’s Journey stuff with Tintin, we understand from just about square one that he’s a reporter who likes solving mysteries and that’s about it. What more do you need, really? I really hope they do more of these, there’s still so many artifacts to be retrieved from dusty coffers, and gangsters to be turned in to Interpol!

Drive poster by James White (Signalnoise)

Drive poster by James White (Signalnoise)

2. Drive

As I alluded to before, I really want to revisit this one as soon as that becomes a possibilty. It’s a slow burn, and the film has grown to a much bigger size in my head than I think I realized early on. Like Hanna, this was another perfect melding of music and pictures, a weirdly idiosyncratic tale of a guy who’s good at driving and that’s about it. I’ve been listening to a lot of the soundtrack while writing this article, and it never fails to make me feel like a badass. I feel like I like this film because it’s entirely, understandably realistic in spite of its hyper-stylized image. Driver feels like a successor to many ’70s-era heroes who got pushed too far, and I’m glad to see this particular genre make a comeback. While the normal poster was pretty cool, I had to use the above one, the development of which can be seen here. Again, words fail me when it comes to this movie. This is why I normally write about books. Apparently there’s a sequel to the original novel coming out, so maybe he might drive again in a few years time? I’d love to see that.

Attack the Block poster

1. Attack the Block (Metro Cinema)

One of the just straight up funnest films I’ve seen in a long time. While the accents were occasionally incomprehensible (I’ll probably use the subtitles for home viewing), no other film got me as engaged in the lives of its characters than this one. The narrative arc resembles another movie I absolutely adored, District 9, with the way it forces you to care about terrible people who turn out to be not so terrible, etc. Some people thought the aliens looked hokey, or cheap, but for me, having just gotten home from Metro’s screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, their other-worldliness reminded me instead of the very starstuff that informed the creation of the Monoliths from that film. I’m eagerly awaiting what’s next for the cast and crew of this film, director Joe Cornish was one of the three writers of The Adventures of Tintin, proving that this wasn’t some sort of fluke.

And that about does it for this year, tune in tomorrow for a wrapup of the list in its entirety, plus some film experiences which just didn’t fit into the list in this form and deserved to be singled out for further consideration. And hey, while you’re here, why don’t you use the comment section below to tell me how your own list stacked up against mine?