The Best and Worst of 2011

The Best and Worst of 2011
Day One: Alternative Top 5 of 2011

Although I have already listed my Top 10 Films of 2011 list over at Inside Pulse Movies, there are strict rules about “no honorable mentions, no ties” and so on. That’s really what this list is about. One of these films I wasn’t able to watch until after I submitted my list, while others are just films that I enjoyed so much, I needed to include them on a Top Something of 2011 list. The only criteria for this list of films is that they must not be on my Inside Pulse Movies Top 10 list, and must be 2011 released films.

Honorable Mentions: Paranormal Activity 3Scream 4Red State

5. Attack the Block (dir. Joe Cornish) – 3 1/2 Stars
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This sci-fi action flick was all I could hear about when I was listening to podcasts over the summer. Everyone was loving it. The problem was that I lived nowhere near a theatre that was showing the film. I had to patiently wait for this one to be released on Blu-ray before I could partake in one of the most fun films of the year. To be honest, it took quite a while for me to start liking the main characters, but that just adds to my excitement for this movie: it is a slow build in both character and story, and it works extremely well. The CGI monsters are done expertly, much better than some main stream releases I watched this year, and the violence is nothing short of “baddassdom”. If you have missed the hype surrounding this movie, it follows a group of teenage punks from South London. They come face to face with an alien from another planet, kill it, and spark a mass alien invasion. The movie is about how they handle the aliens and each other as they face the apocalypse. It’s a fresh, unique, and hilarious look at a tried and true genre.

4. Paul (dir. Greg Mottola) – 3 1/2 Stars
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I adore almost every movie Nick Frost and Simon Pegg have done (Frost was actually in Attack the Block as well), and Paul is one of my favorites of theirs. Though it lacks the staying power of Shaun of the Dead, Paul is still one of the funniest films I’ve watched this past year. Some might find the far left leaning message a bit too much, but, for me, its witty implementation is much more refreshing than that of movies like Legion or Devil. Seth Rogen is hysterical as the titular character, and the three have an excellent chemistry, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched any of their films in the past. This movie is one of the most underrated of the year, and got a lot of hate when it was released, but don’t let the naysayers turn you off: Paul is a laugh-out-loud good time.

3. Source Code (dir. Duncan Jones) – 3 1/2 Stars
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This is another film that was all the rave on many of the podcasts I was listening to as I was scrubbing toilets this summer, but has now disappeared from almost every top list I’ve read this year, which is disappointing. I may be in the minority, but I love Jake Gyllenhaal (so much so that I can type his name without looking it up), and Source Code is another solid performance from him. This mind-bending sci-fi flick has a soldier (Gyllenhaal) re-living the same 8 minutes of a train ride that ends in destruction in order to figure out who is responsible for said destruction, and bring him to justice. It’s a simple premise, but is filled with emotional character connections, solid action, and a twisty ending that twists around itself again and again. Jones’ sophomore effort (his first outing was Moon) proves that he is a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.

2. Straw Dogs (dir. Rod Lurie) – 3 1/2 Stars
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This movie blew me away in theatres. It is nowhere near perfect, but it contains almost everything I love about 70s and 80s exploitation cinema, and puts it into a modern context. This film is what I called “Rednexploitation” on my podcast, and is just incredibly fun to sit through. It tells the story of David Summer and his new wife Amy. The couple moves from Los Angeles to the deep south of Mississippi into Amy’s childhood home.  Unfortunately for them both, the local boys don’t take well to the city type, and David’s personality immediately clashes with the small town life.  The tension that builds between David and Amy’s former high school sweetheart, Charlie, becomes a bigger problem than anyone could have expected, and the result is a bloody good time. Straw Dogs reminds me of films like I Spit On Your Grave, and Last House on the Left, but with a bit more heart and more artistic cinematography. The acting is wonderful across the board, and the relationships are engaging. This film isn’t for everyone, or even for many, but there’s a niche audience that will adore this remake as much as I do. If you think you might fall into that group, at least give Straw Dogs a rental.

1. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (dir. Eli Craig) – 4 Stars
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Dear Hollywood,
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is the perfect example of satire done right. It not only pays respect to the source material, but tells its own unique and hysterical story with excellent characters to boot. Please, follow these guidelines in all your satires in the future. Thanks.
~Movie Fanatics

What is there not to love about T&D? It is a near perfect parody of horror fanatics favorite sub-genres (backwoods and slasher), has one of the greatest, most endearing characters I’ve met in any film (Dale, played by Tyler Labine), and incredible special effects work. On top of all of this is a pitch perfect tone that the movie finds right from the start, and maintains throughout its entirety. Admittedly, I didn’t get to see this before I submitted my Top 10 list for Inside Pulse, but if I had, this would be in the Top 3, no doubt about it. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil sounds stupid enough: best friends – and hillbillies – Tucker and Dale are just looking to spend some alone time in their new vacation home in the backwoods of West Virginia. They run into a group of college kids, including the jaw-droppingly beautiful Allison (played by Katrina Bowden from 30 Rock), and this chance encounter will be one they never forget. Due to a bad look at the incident, the college kids think that Tucker and Dale are trying to kill all of them when Dale saves Allison’s life after she falls into a river. Bent on getting back their friend who they believe is being tortured by two evil hillbillies, the group of college kids starts attacking the unsuspecting Tucker and Dale. It’s a reverse Wrong Turn or Deliverance, and it is absolutely hysterical. The genuineness of Tyler Labine is what makes the movie so charming, and when you mix that with excellent special effects, you have a winning formula. If the old adage that “death is easy, comedy is hard” holds true, then Labine’s performance is one of the best in all of the horror genre, and is worth the price of admission alone. There are not enough positive things I can say about Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Luckily, I don’t have to keep trying, and instead, I can just link you to Netflix, where the film is currently streaming. Don’t waste any more time: see this movie! It is absolutely one of the best of the year in any genre.

These are all excellent films, and ones that could’ve easily made my original Top 10 of 2011 list, but, for whatever reason, they just missed the cut. They are movies you won’t see on many other Top lists, but are some of my personal favorites of the year.  Be sure to check out my Inside Pulse list as well, where I discuss 10 of my other favorites.

The Best and Worst of 2011
Day Two: Top 5 Disappointments

Today is the most depressing list to make: the biggest disappointments of my year in film watching. These are not the worst films I watched all year by any stretch, they were just victims of too much hype from either my own personal expectations or from other’s experiences. A lot of the films on this list find themselves here because they reeked of mediocrity when they could’ve been so much more. There are no exclusions for this list, so any film I viewed in the year 2011 is eligible. With that, let’s take a look at the top five biggest disappointments of 2011.

Honorable MentionsBuried (2010)The Crucible (1996), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2006)

 5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, dir. Steven Spielberg) – 2 Stars
This is a film that I have owned for years and never got around to watching until recently. As some might know, I will be teaching a film class this coming semester at my university, and I thought that Close Encounters would be a perfect film to discuss science fiction; not only is it a legend in the field, but it is directed by arguably the most influential director of all time. When I was finished, not only did it get rubbed out of my class syllabus, I was left asking “why the hell is this considered a classic”? I understand that in the late 1970s the film must’ve been a spectacle to behold, but that doesn’t mean it’s very entertaining, and it isn’t. The story plods along, and a lot of the scenes with potentially interesting alien interactions are destroyed by the silly piano conversations that are conducted. For such a classic – and a film on the AFI top 100 movies list – I expected something more exciting, or at least profound. I never thought an alien film could be so uneventful.

4. When a Stranger Calls (1979, dir. Fred Walton) – 1 1/2 Stars
Here is a perfect example of a remake being better than its original. I watched the When a Stranger Calls remake from 2006 years ago, and that film is more of a survival/slasher film (slasher in the sense that we don’t know who the killer is, not in that there are a ton of deaths), where as this film is more of a drama/stalker film. That would’ve been acceptable if it wasn’t so slowly paced, and lacking any tension whatsoever. To be fair, the first 20 minutes of the film are solid, creepy, and exactly what I thought the entire 90 minutes would be like. When the opening scene ended, I had to double check that I actually played the movie from the beginning because I thought the whole film would revolve around this one incident. Instead, it focuses more on “what happens next”. Unfortunately, that next part isn’t very exciting. Not only does this film find its way on todays list because I expected a different type of film, but also because the film that I received was flat out boring. I can appreciate how this influenced future slasher flicks, but I’ll take Halloween, or Friday the 13th over this any day of the week.

3. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (2011, dir. Bill Condon) – 2 1/2 Stars
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It’s almost embarrassing to admit that I had any expectations heading into this film, but for a series that has done nothing but improve over the years, starting out with one of the worst movies of 2008 (Twilight), to a solid effort that I genuinely enjoyed in 2010 (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse), I hoped the trend would continue. Enter director Bill Condon. Condon’s directorial decisions nearly killed the entire film for me. There’s nothing Condon could’ve done to make Bella a character I like (fact: I loathe Bella and everything she stands for), or to make Jacob less of a whiny teenager, but my goodness, Condon could’ve made the film move along at a quicker pace, and not had the werewolves talking in a ridiculous voice at the climax of the film. There were moments – such as the wedding scene, or the “uh oh” realization scene – that I wanted to jump into the projectionist booth to see if the film had paused. It was infuriating. What upset me most, though, had to be the fact that because of a bad directorial decision, the film was nearly killed in its climax. I was taken completely out of the film when I heard these cartoon-like sounds with some ridiculous reverb effects echoing through the theatre. There is an interesting story to be told in The Twilight Saga, but Condon makes choices that get in the way of the story instead of letting the script do the work. I know I shouldn’t be invested in a tween romance series so deeply, but it’s incredibly disappointing when a solid story is nearly ruined by poor direction.

2. The Thing (2011, dir. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.) – 1 1/2 Stars
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For some people, this movie never stood a chance. Myself, I wanted nothing more than to list this film as my #1 horror adventure of 2011. Much to my dismay, The Thing prequel finds itself as my second biggest  disappointment instead. For someone who hasn’t seen Carpenter’s version – first, smack yourself, then go watch it – there might be something to enjoy about this prequel: there are some decent gore effects, even if they are marred by an overuse of CGI, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is not only very pretty, but a solid actress who does a decent job in her role, and the story is fantastic, which has nothing to do with Heijningen, but is a nod to John W. Campbell’s original novella entitled Who Goes There? that the films are based on (read the whole novella online here or here). What The Thing prequel is missing, though, is the soul that drives the Carpenter version. Carpenter’s film is one of my favorite sci-fi horror films of all time (not to mention the film that took the place of Close Enounters of the Third Kind  on my Film 102 syllabus for next semester), and the idea of a prequel to that masterpiece had me giddy. Instead of a unique take on the story, we basically get the exact same movie with different characters who I couldn’t care less about, and a handful of scenes that had me wondering if Heijningen started filming a remake, then changed his mind halfway through. Now, looking back, I know that isn’t the case. In fact, the studio initially wanted a remake, but Heijningen and his producers begged the studio to allow them to make a prequel instead because Heijningen felt that Carpenter’s “was so perfect”. That’s what blows my mind: Heijningen obviously has a great respect for Carpenter’s film, but that respect means nothing in the finished product, and instead we get a typical action/horror movie with no heart. What made Carpenter’s The Thing so incredible was that the audience was in the character’s shoes in that we also had no idea who “The Thing” was at any one point. In the prequel, it is blatantly obvious who has been taken over by the creature, thus killing the tension that makes Carpenter’s version so special. I know me, though, and I am certain I will give this film another viewing. I don’t see my opinion changing much, but you never know. Anyone who wants to hear my thoughts on Carpenter’s version of The Thing should listen to The Drive-In Episode 3 right here.

1.  Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, dir. Stanley Kubrick) – 2 Stars
I’m sure this is a great way to lose readers, but I’d be more akin to read someone who I disagree with but is honest, than someone who puts up a front to make readers (or, more dastardly, studios) happy. Dr. Strangelove is the most disappointing film I’ve seen in the two years I’ve been writing this blog. This is another movie that I thought would be perfect for my film class next semester because its both a classic, and it would allow me to discuss an incredibly influential and important director. First off, it took me about three times to make my way through the film because I kept nodding off within the first 20 minutes. Second, most of the jokes just didn’t do anything for me. Sure I laughed a couple times – most notably at the “gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room” line – but the jokes wore thin fast. I appreciate President Merkin Muffley (yes, I get the joke) talking on the phone to the Soviet Premier, but I can only laugh at the same type of joke so many times before it starts to lose its luster. The biggest disappointment to me was the use of Peter Sellers’ Dr. Strangelove character. When he was on screen as Strangelove, it was quite enjoyable, but he is only in the movie as this character for about 10 minutes total. Call me crazy, but when I see a character planted on the cover of the Blu-ray disc, I expect him to be on screen for a good portion of the film. To be fair, I can’t place all the blame of my disappointment on Kubrick’s film. My lack of knowledge about the Cold War probably plays a huge factor in how mediocre I found Dr. Strangelove. This is a great example of the more you know, the funnier the movie might be. I’m aware of this, but that doesn’t change the fact that I only chuckled a few times to one of the “greatest” satires ever made. Needless to say I switched out Dr. Strangelove, and in its place I added what I feel is one the greatest black comedies of all time: Fargo.

It’s simply a fact of life that us movie lovers will be disappointed from time to time. As much as I try to keep my expectations in check as a film critic, I still get emotionally involved in movies simply because I want them to be great. I understand the work that goes into making them, and I want them to be successful. That will not always be the case, though, and that’s what brings about disappointment. The one shining light all five of these films have in common, however, is that they are being talked about on day two instead of day four (which houses my 5 worst films of the year).

The Best and Worst of 2011
Day Three: Top 5 Surprises

We’ve reached hump day of our five day long 2011 retrospective, and hopefully everyone’s New Year is going well. After a wonderful game of Michigan football last night, and West Virginia football tonight, I’ve been loving life. Nothing is better, though, than popping in a film that you think is going to be a forgettable meh-fest, or worse, and being pleasantly surprised. These surprises are what day three is all about. Though these weren’t the overall best films I watched this year, they are all still films worth your time, and they surprised me in one way or another.

Honorable Mentions: Dark Fields (2011), Jennifer’s Body (2009), Arthur (2011)

5. The Virginity Hit (2010, dir. Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland) – 3 Stars
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Four high school friends make a pact to smoke from a water bong every time one loses their virginity. The first three manage this pretty easily, but the fourth, Matt, is struggling. He and his girlfriend decide that they are going to “bump uglies” on their two-year anniversary. Unfortunately for Matt, a rumor begins that his girlfriend has been cheating on him with a college guy. When the group finds this to be true, they make a plan to exploit – and dump – the girl on video for their YouTube channel. Oh, yeah, it’s rated R. Do you see the problem here? The Virginity Hit is an R-rated comedy that is aimed at high school students, which is probably a large reason why it didn’t do so well financially. That is unfortunate, too, because The Virginity Hit is a hilarious movie that is headlined by some unknown but extremely talented actors. If you enjoy sophomoric humor then you will probably find a lot to enjoy about The Virginity Hit. If not, you will definitely be able to appreciate the fact that this a film with its own identity, and it doesn’t try to be Superbad or American Pie, even though the influences are there. The Virginity Hit is a great look at what high school has become in the Facebook/YouTube era, and that surprised the hell out of me.

4. The Swimsuit Issue (2008, dir. Måns Herngren) – 3 1/2 Stars
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Take a look at that cover. Does that scream “great movie” to you? It didn’t for me, which is why it ends up on today’s list. The Swimsuit Issue is a sports comedy with heart, soul, and a little extra. A group of  overweight and middle-aged friends play a prank at a friend’s party by showing up in speedos and performing a terrible water synchronization routine. The prank is a huge hit, and a rich old woman offers the men a large sum to do the same at her next party. The guys accept, train, and show up for the party. The training has made them “too good”, however, and the party doesn’t get the joke. This success-turned-failure gives the men the idea to become Sweden’s only all-male synchronized swimming team, and the summer Olympics is just around the corner. As you can tell, the story is absurd. That just makes everything funnier, though. Why The Swimsuit Issue earned 3 1/2 stars was because of the realistically flawed characters, and the actors that bring them to life. It’s a fun, touching, heartfelt romp that deserves a look.

3. Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet (2009 – dir. Frank Sabatella) – 3 1/2 Stars
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What could’ve been just another lazy, cheap slasher film is turned into a horror work of art thanks to the incredible direction and vision by Frank Sabatella. I called Blood Night “a bar-setter for future modern slasher films of this decade”, and I stand by that assessment. The movie takes place twenty years after the Mary Hatchet murders, who was said to have killed her family with a hatchet, when a group of teenagers who mock the event get a taste of Mary’s wrath. It isn’t deep, but it isn’t supposed to be: it’s a slasher film. Sabatella’s respect and admiration for that sub-genre spews through every scene of Blood Night, and fans of the Friday the 13th series will undoubtedly agree. With incredible special effects, a cinematographic vision not usually seen in the genre, and the appearance of horror legends Danielle Harris and Bill Moseley, genre fans will get a kick out of Blood Night.

2. Sherlock Jr. (1924, dir. Buster Keaton) – 4 Stars
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Breaking news: Buster Keaton is one of the greatest comedians to ever grace the big screen. With one of the most obvious statements ever made out of the way, we can talk about my new discovery of Buster Keaton’s work. Until this year, I had never watched an entire silent film, let alone a work of Keaton. I really just had no interest. Boy, was I wrong. Not only is Buster Keaton an incredible director, but his stone-faced performances are nothing short of genius. I first watched The General, which I loved, but it wasn’t until Sherlock Jr. that I realized just how incredible Keaton really was. The biggest shocker for me was to find out that this man did all of his own stunts! That’s unheard of nowadays (rightfully so), but is something I admire to no end. His impeccable comedic timing mixed with his wonderful sincerity and truth combine to create one of my new favorite actors of all time. He gives me a new idea of the word “clown”. Sherlock Jr. is must-see material for anyone who thinks they don’t like silent films, or have never witnessed the genius that is Buster Keaton. It is not only an important film in the history of cinema, it is genuinely enjoyable comedy.

1. Sledgehammer (1983, dir. David A. Prior) – No Rating
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Here is a film that defies explanation. I wrote a great deal about it when I first review it, so be sure to check out my Musings On… article on this site (linked above). The movie is undoubtedly the worst thing I have ever seen, but that doesn’t mean I don’t adore it. There is something magical about the terribleness of Sledgehammer. This was the first ever shot-on-video (SOV) slasher movie, and it now holds a special place in my heart. It’s not the aggravatingly long exterior shots, the hysterically slow slow-mo shots of turning doorknobs, the absurdly ridiculousness of a random food fight, or the dreadfully bad acting that make Sledgehammer so endearing; it’s the long exterior shots, the slow-mo scenes, the food fight and the bad acting as a whole that keep me coming back to Sledgehammer. When I first discovered this you have to see it to believe it horror film, I watched it every night for nearly a week. There is just something hypnotic about a group of people getting together with virtually no money, and putting everything they had into learning to make films. Let me say it again in case I haven’t been clear: Sledgehammer is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Fortunately, it knows that it’s a bad film, and it never takes itself seriously, which is another reason I keep coming back for me. When it comes to surprises, nothing even comes close to the feeling I had after watching Sledgehammer, which is why it is my #1 surprise of 2011.

The Best and Worst of 2011
Day Four: “Top” 5 Worst Movies

Sometimes, no matter how hard one might try to enjoy it, a film is plain bad. The five movies on this list are here as a warning to stay away, and nothing more. If you come across these movies in Redbox, or Netflix Instant Queue, just keep on moving. This last has no exceptions, meaning these films could be movies released in 2011, 1911, and everything in between. These movies do not need anymore fanfare than that, so let’s get to it.

Honorable Mentions: Sugar Boxx (2011)

5. Mandrake (2010, dir. Tripp Reed) – 1 Star
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To be fair, Mandrake is pretty inoffensive if you know what to expect coming in: bad SyFy channel, B-movie fodder. That doesn’t excuse it from making this list, though. This shallow, silly story of a killer plant-thing is a terrible abuse of CGI, which readers will know, I cannot stand. The script is awful, deeming the actors worthless (no matter how good an actor is, they can still be swallowed up by a terrible script, which happens here). If this one ever appears on Netflix Instant Queue, fans of low-quality B-movies might not turn it off. Anyone else will want to stay far, far away.

4. The Sound of Insects (2010, dir. Peter Liechti) – 1 Star
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The idea for this one sounds intriguing enough: a hunter stumbles upon a makeshift tent in the woods. Inside, he discovers the corpse of a man who killed himself by starvation, and a journal documenting the whole thing. This could’ve gone a hundred different ways and been interesting, but instead, The Sound of Insects moves ahead at a snails pace, various images shooting across the screen, all the while a narrator speaks the written journals of the deceased. It does nothing else. It doesn’t give any insight into the event, and does nothing that a reading of the written word couldn’t do. To put it bluntly: the movie is the epitome of pointless.

3. Camp Hell (2011, dir. George VanBuskirk) – 1/2 Star
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This movie pissed me off more than any other this past year. It is a 90-minute long sermon masquerading as a horror film. Not only that, the filmmakers decided to plaster Jesse Eisenberg’s face on the cover, trying to mislead the potential buyer to believe that Eisenberg stars in this atrocious excuse for a horror film. Eisenberg didn’t take this lightly – probably realizing how terrible the film is – and he has sued the creators for millions. Good for him. If my face was on this cover (and I had already made millions of dollars doing mainstream films like The Social Network, and 30 Minutes of Less), I’d do the same thing. Camp Hell is a terrible movie, and one that purposely misleads potential viewers. Don’t be fooled: ignore this like the plague.

2. Eyes of the Chameleon (2005, dir. Ron Atkins) – N0 Stars
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What a waste of time this movie was. This one is stuffed to the brim with terrible acting, a stupid story, cheesy special effects, and an annoying soundtrack. Troma releases some great B-movies, and they are usually fun to watch if nothing else. Chameleon is not only without any artistic merit, but it’s boring as all hell. How someone can make a boring slasher film, I don’t understand, but director Ron Atkins manages just that. The story is tries to be twisty, but just comes off as nonsensical. There is literally nothing positive about Eyes of the Chameleon, and that is a depressing thing to admit.

1. Hyenas (2011, dir. Eric Weston) – No Stars
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This is the review that brought about my first ever negative comment on The Movie Files, so it holds a special place for me. Hyenas is filmmaking at its worst. Much like 2010s worst movie (The Gunslingers), Hyenas contains terrible CGI in important moments, an incoherent story, terrible acting, and frankly, is a movie that never should’ve found its way onto store shelves.  It makes one wonder what in the world the distributors are thinking when they agree to put their name behind such sludge. Did they even watch the movie? Hyenas breaks the fourth wall, is filled with awful, incorrect dialects, and a predictable ending. More than any other film I watched this year, Hyenas reiterated the reason why direct-to-video releases get such a bad rep. It’s a terrible, terrible mess of 78-minutes.

The thing that struck me most during writing this year’s list of worst movies I watched was just how forgettable most of them were, as is evidenced by the tiny write-ups underneath each title. The only thing that really sticks out about these movies is just how utterly pointless I felt after I finished them. It takes tomorrows list – the ten best movies I watched throughout 2011 – to remind us why we all love going to movies.

The Best and Worst of 2011
Day Five: Top 10 Movies I Watched in 2011

The final day of The Movie Files’ 2011 retrospective is upon us, and today holds the list that matters most: the ten greatest films I watched this past year. 2011, as overall disappointing a year as it has been, will always be a year I remember as the year I met up with some of the classics of cinema. Not only that, but a good handful of the films that you will see on my (eventual) Top 100 Movies list will be films I visited first in 2011, including a number of the ones on today’s list.  2011 was also the year when I began to understand and appreciate the history of film, from its humble beginnings with D.W. Griffith, the Lumieres, George Melies, Edwin Porter, and the Edison Company. Following the craft from its inception is a breathtaking experience, and one that dazzles the mind. What’s most mind blowing about the whole thing is just how far it has advanced in its relatively young lifetime. Because I was able to watch so many different films that I wouldn’t have otherwise (including numerous short films that I didn’t add to my list, for some regrettable reason), I have found out why so many of the films that are deemed “classics” are labeled as such. In what was probably the most difficult top 10 list I’ve ever made, here are the ten best films I watched in 2011. These do not include any films released in 2011 (as I have already dedicated two lists to those; one here, and another here), and must be movies I watched for the first time in 2011 (I don’t want my old favorites taking over these lists every year).Honorable Mentions: Inception (2010), The King’s Speech (2010), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Breaking the Code: Behind the Walls of Chris Jericho (2010)The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)10. Black Swan (2010, dir. Darren Aronofsky) – 4 Stars
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There’s no doubt that this movie would’ve made my top ten in 2010 had I gotten around to seeing it before the new year struck. It is a meticulously crafted tale of obsession and love told through the beauty that is the ballet. If I’m being honest, I imagine that if I watched Black Swan later in 2011, then it might even be higher on the list. As always happens during award season, though, the movies we see early in a year are more forgotten than the films we see later. Black Swan made such an impact, though, I couldn’t leave it off the list. Aronofsky’s direction is brilliant, and Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis give beautiful, brazen, brave performances as Nina and Lily respectively. Vincent Cassel is also exquisite as Thomas Leroy, the brutally honest dance choreographer. Black Swan is a near-flawless joyride through the decaying mind of perfection’s flaws.

9. Deep Red (1975, dir. Dario Argento) – 4 Stars
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It isn’t very often I hand out a full four stars to a horror film, but Deep Red is more deserving than almost any other horror film I watched in 2011. It is truly an artistic masterpiece of horror, and a stellar film, regardless of genre. What’s most amazing to me is that Deep Red is a slasher film at heart. Argento proves that even the leanest and meanest of sub-genres can spawn the most artistic films, and he does virtually everything right: an excellent score, likeable characters, tension that just keeps building, and an ending most will never see coming. Netflix has a version of the film streaming right now, but it’s the US version, and not the much superior Italian Director’s Cut. If you want to see the latter version – which is really the only way to watch this as far as I’m concerned – then you need to purchase or rent the Blue Underground release which I reviewed on Inside Pulse. Not only does the US version contain cuts that hurt the character development, but it is also dubbed (I believe, anyway), and the original Italian actors do a much better job than their English-speaking counterparts. Anyone who loves horror movies owes it to themselves to see a film that is near the top of the list of greatest horror films ever made. Deep Red is an essential part of the horror canon, and undoubtedly one of my new favorites.

8. Blue Valentine (2010, dir. Derek Cianfrance) – 4 Stars
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If there are any young actors who read this blog, Blue Valentine should be moved to the top of his or hers Netflix Instant Queue. Blue Valentine is an absolute acting clinic lead by Professors Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Both of their work is nothing short of brilliance, and shows the potential power of improvisational script making. As admitted in my Inside Pulse Top 10, I have a huge man-crush on Gosling, and Blue Valentine is a big reason why I am not shy about it. He is one of the greatest talents living today, and can bring life to virtually any role. Michelle Williams is right up there with him at the top of the acting food chain. Her work is touching, sincere, and heartbreaking in Blue Valentine. The story follows the chance encounter of Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams), all the way through their relationship until its bitter end. The greatness of the film is only added to by the direction of Derek Cianfrance, who expertly weaves a time shifting plot together to create a wonderfully emotional story arc. This movie is must-see material.

7. Citizen Kane (1941 – dir. Orson Welles) – 3 1/2 Stars 
I have finally watched the behemoth that some consider the greatest movie of all time, and it did not disappoint. Some may notice that Citizen Kane is the only film on my list this year that didn’t earn 4 stars, yet it is still #7 on my list. I know this, and it is not a mistake. The reason Kane loses a half star is because it gets slow throughout the final 1/4 of the film, and as entertainment, it lost my attention a bit. The reason it is higher on my list than some other films that earned 4 stars is because of the other 3/4 of the film, which are magnificent. There is so much to appreciate about Citizen Kane that books could be – and have been – written about it. From the opening shot that has Kane’s window in the same position in every frame, even as the shot moves closer to his mansion, to the use of stock footage Welles found to fill up the first 15 minutes of the film, there is a small morsel of genius in virtually every frame. One of the most impressive things about Citizen Kane is that it was Orson Welles’ feature-length directorial debut. Has there ever been a greater debut in all of cinema? I doubt it. Even with the slow stages towards the end, Citizen Kane is a classic movie that even contemporary audiences can enjoy. Don’t let the “classic” label fool you: this is still an entertaining movie, and that is coming from a guy who enjoyed Scream 4 and Insidious! Amazon has an incredible deal going right now on the extras-packed 70th Anniversary Blu-ray that came out earlier in 2011: for less than the price of standalone BD, you can buy the 70th Anniversary BD and get the Amazon exclusive The Magnificent Ambersons on DVD. It is only $48.41 for both right now, so if you’re thinking of buying this, now is the time to do so.

6. The Godfather (1972, dir. Francis Ford Coppola) – 4 Stars
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The Godfather could be described as film perfection, and I wouldn’t bat an eye. Coppola’s violent and impassioned look at the Corleone crime family is startlingly human, and hauntingly genuine. The acting is about as good as it gets all across the board, the story is profound, exciting, and keeps the viewer guessing, and the script proves why it is one of the most quoted movies of all time. The small things that Coppola incorporates into The Godfather are what make it so uniquely wonderful: from the orange peel scene with Don Vito, to the night Michael decides to step up in the family, Coppola makes excellent choice after excellent choice, always moving the story forward. To be fair, I have seen The Godfather in the past, but I have never actually sat down and watched it from beginning to end in one sitting until this past year, which is why I am allowing myself to include it on this list. Any excuse movie fans can find to talk about The Godfather, we’re going to take advantage. If for some reason you haven’t seen this gem yet, you need to correct that. Not only is it an important film, but it is about as entertaining – and good – a gangster film you will ever see.

P.S.: The Coppola Restoration Blu-ray Trilogy is impeccable.

5. Brazil (1985, dir. Terry Gilliam) – 4 Stars
Any of these top 10 movies might find their way onto my Top 100 Film of All-Time list that I hope to construct in the coming months, but if Brazil doesn’t make it on, I will be shocked. This fantastical voyage into an almost dystopian, Orwellian future is one of the most memorable film experiences I’ve ever had. It is expertly acted, hilariously grim, and stunning to behold thanks to Gilliam’s larger-than-life directing style. Right now, I have the daunting task of choosing between Brazil or another of Gilliam’s works, The Fisher King, to show in my film class. I can’t go wrong either way, and even though The Fisher King might be the more “accessible” film, it didn’t hit me in the same way that Brazil did. Some might call it self-indulgent, but I don’t agree. What I see when I watch this is a complex film that can be discussed and debated for hours on end. I will admit: after one viewing, I am positive I didn’t “get” everything, but that just makes me want to throw it back in the player and watch again. This screams of a film that will only get better with each viewing, and that is what I will be doing this year if I choose to add it to my FILM 102 syllabus. This is a zany film, and one that only Gilliam could create. There are moments in the movie that remind me of The Matrix, Blade Runner, and even Labyrinth. Those connections can make just about any viewer excited about what is here. Sure, it is complicated, and not meant as “popcorn entertainment”, but that it makes it all the more interesting for me. If that sounds like it might be fun for you as well, give Brazil a chance to take you on a flight you’ll never forget.

4. Double Indemnity (1944, dir. Billy Wilder) – 4 Stars
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Double Indemnity was another first for me last year: my first rendezvous with film noir. Legendary director Billy Wilder’s tale of love, obsession, and revenge is one that absolutely everyone needs to see. It is beautifully shot, showing how powerful black and white filmmaking can be, has a delightfully pulpy script, and builds suspense and tension better than most horror movies I watch. This one is available on Netflix Instant Queue right now, and you should take advantage of it if you haven’t see this one yet. Double Indemnity tells the story of how far an insurance salesman is willing to go for love, and how much further he’ll go for revenge. It’s truly one of the great revenge movies ever, and one that can be watched over and over again, and still enjoyed immensely. Of all the films I was reluctant to put on this past year, I am most pleased that I decided to give Double Indemnity a chance.

3.  Pulp Fiction (1994, dir. Quentin Tarantino) – 4 Stars
For the past couple years, the thing I was most ashamed to admit about my movie watching habits was that I had never seen Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. That is no longer the case, and I can see why everyone talks about this one so much: it’s an utterly brilliant piece of filmmaking. The plot unravels unconventionally, and almost creates a puzzle that the viewer is asked to complete. The story itself is incredibly engaging, and presents us with some memorable and unique characters played by excellent actors, including Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Ving Rhames, and Uma Thurman. Nearly every scene in the movie is memorable for one reason or another, be it the action, the acting, the dialogue, or all of the above. It is never predictable, and, in true Tarantino fashion, always profound in one way or another. Tarantino mixes the violence with humor in a way only Tarantino could manage. If I had watched Pulp Fiction – or my #2 movie – in any other year, there is no doubt it would be at the #1 slot. In reality, though, you could slide around any of the movies on this list into any order – especially the top 5 – and I would be happy. Don’t be like me: if you haven’t seen Pulp Fiction yet, just do it. You will not regret it.

2. The Big Lebowski (1998, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen) – 4 Stars
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It’s incredibly difficult for me to move this gem to #2, but the power of my #1 film made me do it. Until a couple months ago, I thought for sure this would be the #1 film on my list. This Blu-ray, along with the Pulp Fiction Blu-ray, were two of my smartest Blu-ray purchases of the year. Not only do they both look incredible on Blu, but they are filled with special features. Both of them I would have to highly recommend. With that PSA out of the way, let’s get back to why The Big Lebowski is so wonderful. The Coen’s use of dark comedy, mixed with an intelligent script, slapstick humor, and film noir is a lesson in perfection. Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, and Steve Buscemi form the funniest threesome of friends I have ever seen. It’s much more than just a comedy, though, because anything directed by the Coen’s contains their incredible eye for cinematography, and Big Lebowski is no different. There is a dream sequence in the film that will leave you awe-struck. Every time I think of this movie, I just want to scream out “this is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!”, and laugh out loud. It is absolutely hilarious, and streaming right now on Netflix Instant, begging to be watched over and over again.

1. The Graduate (1967, dir. Mike Nichols) – 4 Stars
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Wow. That is the only word I can use after seeing this The Graduate. In 2011, there were two films that gave me literal goosebumps when they ended, and The Graduate was one of them. (The Myth of the American Sleepover, which I talk about in my IP Movies Top 10 list, was the other.) My film professor always says that “the art is in the choices”, and that is never more palpable than in Mike Nichols masterpiece, The Graduate. Every choice is clear, intelligent, and adds to the story. Dustin Hoffman is charismatic and likable as Ben Braddock, the recent college grad. The naive Ben (who’s father is played by William Daniels, or as my generation knows him, George Feeny from Boy Meets World) is seduced by one of his parent’s friends, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), at his graduation party. They begin a secret affair until Ben reunites with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, a former high school friend who has grown up while at college, named Elaine (Katharine Ross). The way that Ben handles this situation is what makes The Graduate so wonderfully memorable. Aside from the acting, the story, and the direction, the beautiful soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel take The Graduate from great movie, to one of the all-time best. If you decide to only watch one movie on this list, it should definitely be this one. The Graduate – along with The Big Lebowski – left me wishing I had another star to give away to the movies that are really special.

With that, 2011 comes to an end on The Movie Files. This was one of my favorite years of watching movies, and I have seen many movies that will stick with me for the rest of my life. There were many other great films I was able to see last year, but there just isn’t enough time to mention them all. Thank you for joining me on this look back at my year in movie watching! Hopefully you got at least a couple nice recommendations out of all these lists.

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