Saturday, January 14, 2012

My Best Movies of 2011

2011 was a wretched year.  This was a year in my life where everything that could go wrong did, and quite a few things that couldn't go wrong went wrong too.  Honestly, there isn't all that much that happened this year that I'd consider worth celebrating and I really just want 2012 to happen already.  Somewhere between "Dance With Dragons" and "Captain America" and most depressingly "Skyward Sword", I think I have to officially declare this the Year of Broken Dreams.  But luckily the movies weren't so bad.  On a cursory glance, you might be fooled to think 2011 was an awful year because Hollywood made a lot of really bad Blockbusters and failed to make a single good comedy.

Last year I just listed off nine movies that I particularly liked and ranked them by some arbitrary standard of quality.  I'm not doing that this year.  Its a pointless pain in the ass deciding which movie is better than another when I loved all nine of those movies in different ways.  Did I enjoy "Winnie the Pooh" more or "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"?  Its completely ridiculous to try to compare them together, since they're such different movies working on such different emotions.  When you start quantifying how much you liked something, then you aren't really still enjoying it.  So let's instead give all the movies by how they managed to be completely genius in their special categories.  (All categories are made up with a wacky title.)

As I mentioned before, I don't actually see every movie made every year.  So if you don't see one of your favorites below, please tell me about it and maybe I'll review it.  There are still a couple of movies left that I want to see in 2011, so maybe you can motivate me to see more.  These twelve movies I list here aren't the limit, I would like to see this list grow:

The Lil Bro Award for Best Children's Movie: "Winnie the Pooh" - 2011 was not a great year for Western animation, especially considering the grave shocking disaster that was "Cars 2".  "Winnie the Pooh"'s newest movie isn't exactly a groundbreaker, it plays the story up exactly as it was shown in its first cartoon form more than fifty years ago.  Its a classic revival of the cartoon friends we've had for years, its just a happy movie that anybody can enjoy.  Winnie the Pooh and friends have a short adventure in the Hundred Acre Woods with a series of interlocking stories.  Pooh Bear wants Honey, Tigger wants to show off, Eeyore is depressed because his tail is missing, everybody is running away from an imaginary monster.  The characters interact with their letters and talk directly to the narrator, its just a fun movie.  And Zooey Deschanel sings the soundtrack which is memorable in its catchiness and its sweetness.  And that's what this new "Winnie the Pooh" is:  a sweet little song you've heard all your life.  Isn't it so lovely to hear it one more time?

The Instrumentality Award for Best Anime Movie: "Evangelion 2.0"* - On the more gritty scale of animation, we have "Evangelion 2.0:  You Can (Not) Advance", the second in the planned four-part film remake of the Evangelion series.  The first movie was a straight remake of the first part of the classic anime series, but "Evangelion 2.0" is something new, a radical departure in the story, a wild twist to the left when everybody saw a turn to the right.  Evangelion always has been one of my favorite anime series, and I loved the action-packed and bizarre finale film "End of Evangelion".  This new series, however, is letting Shinji finally do something heroic, an finally is taking a stand to protect somebody he loves.  In the old version, he was a pathetic wretch that never really accomplished anything.  But the tone isn't lighter, "Evangelion 2.0" goes off the rails quite badly towards the end, with an explosive finale that you wouldn't expect in the second part of a four-part series.  I can only wait for the next two to come out.  I have no idea where this series might go, and that's exciting.

If you love Eva you'll love this movie.  For non-fans, watch the first one first and this should still be a damn good anime film.  For people who don't like anime, well, there's no hope for you.  Luckily I have ten other movies to recommend.

The Dodge Charger Award for Best Stupid Action Movie: "Drive Angry" - This is easily the most ridiculous movie I have on this list.  There were a lot of stupid action moves in 2011, and not a lot of them were very good.  But "Drive Angry Shot in 3D" was the only one that seemed properly honest with itself:  this movie knew it was a stupid action movie, and so set off to be the stupidest action movie.  That's certainly a hard task in a year with both a "Transformers 3" and a "The Fast and Furious 5", and its debatable if "Drive Angry" actually succeeded.  But it did succeed in being a really awesome action movie.  I'm going to admit that this movie isn't really perfect and its definitely not for anybody, but if the idea of Nic Cage killing bad guys while having sex with a barmaid while drinking a Jack Daniels appeals to you, then this is your movie.  Also, the Accountant character is probably the most awesome person to appear in a film in the entirety of last year.

Still, this is a Nic Cage movie, so every professional critic on Earth hated this movie.  I'm not going to say its perfect, Nic Cage is pretty bad in this movie, but everybody else is so good.

The Groovy Mutation Award for Best Superhero Movie: "X-Men First Class" - Can you believe it?  A good Superhero movie actually came out in 2011!  And it wasn't just a barely serviceable Superhero movie, it was actually a really really good X-Men movie, probably the best of the five.  Something about the stylized world of the swingin' 60s fits perfectly for a crazy SciFi concept like mutants and nuclear submarines.  There's also Kevin Bacon in the most awesome turtleneck.  More importantly, even though "First Class" wasn't afraid to be a fun movie and take advantage of its time period, it also took itself very seriously.  This is, above all else, the story of how Magneto turned became Magneto, starring an extremely badass Michael Fassbender.  Magneto's personal crusade against Nazi war criminals is a good enough movie on its own, then throw in the great supporting cast and the excellent storyline, and you have a really good movie.

Unfortunately, the latter parts of the movie do seem to fall apart in a few respects, I must admit.  Its like the director stopped caring after awhile, leaving a lot of messy scenes and a couple of atrocious visual effects.  The Beastman outfit would have been laughed at fifteen years ago.  But those are minor issues, the whole is a very good movie.

The Drunken Irishman Award for Best Comedy:  "The Guard" - After two movies that actually got a wide release, I'm back to the obscure films!  Right where I belong, huh?  "The Guard" was actually a movie I almost missed, having only seen thanks to sneaking into it after seeing the unspeakably awful "Another Earth" (which now occupies a very proper spot on my "Worst Of" list).  "The Guard" is the Irish Big Lebowski, a hysterical odd-beat comedy starring a corrupt Irish cop in his battle against drug smugglers and every single sense of decency.  Brenden Gleason is clearly loving every second of his role while he mocks his superiors, hires prostitutes, and eventually defeats evil.  (The evil group includes the incredible Mark Strong.)  Don Cheadle is an exasperated American law officer lost in the strange world of Ireland, having to deal with Brenden Gleason's Captain Boyle because ironically, the most corrupt cop in Ireland is the only one not on the take.

I could not think of a single complaint for "The Guard" when I reviewed it, and I still can't.  If any movie this year deserves to have a sequel, its this.  Captain Boyle is a true original, an amazing character that I'd love to see again.

And this was the only comedy to not suck last year.

The New Coke Award for Best Movie with an 80s Robot: "The Muppets" - Disney managed to hit two home runs last year, one was the revival of "Winnie the Pooh", and the other was the revival of "The Muppets".  And much like "Winnie the Pooh" this is a great movie to watch if you ever want to feel really happy about life for an hour and a half.  The classic Muppets meta humor is back along with all the other great characters (except Rizzo for some reason), along with a few human hangers-on.  However, unlike so many tragic remakes in the last few years, the humans actually have a purpose in this movie, instead of standing around wondering what happened to their careers.  Jason Seigel, who both wrote the script, the music, and stars in this movie, wisely let the Muppets take center stage, and I have nothing but respect for that decision.  There a lot of great songs, a lot of great laughs, just a wonderful movie.  Perfect for anybody, especially if you already love the Muppets.

The Sad Trumpet Award for Best Spanish Clown Movie:  "The Last Circus"** - Oh wow.  "The Last Circus" is definitely the strangest movie on my list, and it was the only movie I watched with subtitles.  I still don't really know what to make of "The Last Circus", it was an experience unlike any I've ever seen.  Its a movie almost impossible to describe.  Based in Franco's Spain, its the story of two maniac clowns fighting for the love of a beautiful and masochistic ballerina.  Then things get darker and darker.  I can't tell if this movie was a straight horror movie or some kind of black comedy or a true drama, maybe it was all three.  Its a world absolutely gone mad, a tragedy of psychopaths.  I may not be able to understand "The Last Circus", but I can recommend it as a great little deranged movie.

The Tumbling Tumbleweed Award for Best Western Movie:  "Blackthorn" - As the sole person on the face of the Earth who saw "Blackthorn" last year, I have to say you guys are seriously missing out.  This is a classic Western movie starring an aged version of a classic cowboy hero, Butch Cassidy.  "Blackthorn" is the story of his final adventure across the unspeakably beautiful Bolivian landscape as he travels home.  When he runs into an outlaw, Cassidy has to choose:  will he go back to his old criminal ways or will he find a new way through life?  I was very impressed to watch a version of this movie that was properly bilingual, almost a third of dialog was in Spanish, without any subtitles.  With basic context clues you should be able to understand the movie anyway.  And this is the most beautiful movie of the entire year.

The Spy vs. Spy Award for Best Thriller Movie:  "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"- "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is the movie that kept me from putting up my 'Best Of' list until just today.  I actually had this entire post mapped out, outlined, and ready for viewing... but I just couldn't release it until I was sure about this movie.  And "Tinker Tailor" belongs here, definitely.  Like a whole lot of films on this list, its a period piece, taking place in the paranoid world of British espionage in the early 70s.  Gary Oldman, playing a detatched robotic machine of spying, has to find the mole at the top of British intelligence.  Along the way he runs into a complex web of disinformation, multiple motives, and Mark Strong, who is as awesome as ever.  "Tinker Tailor" also features the greatest cast of British actors I've ever seen.  If you're a lover of great actors, or just a person who really likes to watch them act without it getting physical, you'll enjoy this movie.  If you want a strong intellectual thriller without being bored to the point that your eternal soul flees your body, this will be it as well.

The Broken Robot Award for Best Oscar Bait Movie:  "Hugo" - Unfortunately, out of all the truly incredible movies I've seen in 2011, "Hugo" is the only movie that has any chance at all of winning Best Picture come March.  And even then, it isn't going to win.

I should admit properly that I didn't actually see "Hugo" in its entirety, having missed the first twenty to thirty minutes because of Mapquest's complete and total ignorance of Hudson County.  (If I were in charge of the directions we would have arrived ten minutes early, let me tell you.)  But even so, what I did see was a movie that was very special.  Part the story of a lonely orphan boy's journey to find his place in the world, part a love letter to early cinema, "Hugo" is the kind of touching remarkable movie that Pixar would usually make every year.  Instead, Martin Scorsese took up the flame, and what a wonderful job he did.  The 3D effects are utterly pointless, and the movie is an ugly blue and orange contrast, but otherwise "Hugo" is a beautiful movie that should not be forgotten any time soon.

The Dead Baby Award for Best Worst Movie:  "Twilight 4"- HAHAHAHA!  What a super troll, I am, putting one of the worst movies of 2011 on my 'Best Of' list.  I hope somebody out there is getting really pissed about that, just like I hope somebody got really pissed that I called "The Tree of Life" 'the worst movie ever made'.  But anybody who didn't enjoy "Twilight 4" just can't enjoy bad movies, and that's unfortunate for them.

"Twilight 4", as I noted on my 'Worst Of' list (yes, its on both lists), is easily the worst of all four Twilight films.  And since I come into those theatres hoping to see clownish embarrassing disasters, this was exactly what I wanted - and more.  First of all, "Twilight 4", for all its preposterousness and idiotic plotting, was the first movie to actually have that most beautiful feature of storytelling:  a plot.  Something actually happened instead of characters just running around for no real reason all movie.  Bella has a vampire baby, that's a funny enough concept, but then Jacob falls in love with it!  You have an utterly impossible plotline that really makes no sense compounded with the most unintentionally disturbing and hilarious plot twist ever.  I think I laughed more times watching "Twilight 4" than I did watching "The Guard".  I had so much fun watching this turd of a movie.  Its amazing.  If you must watch any Twilight film, make it this one.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for, the No. 1 movie of the year:

Best Movie of the Year:  "Drive" - I knew "Drive" would be the best movie of the year when I wrote the review for it.  In fact, I knew this movie would be one of my favorites in the theatre.  I sat in awe of this movie while watching it, knowing that what I was seeing was an amazing piece of art, possibly one of the best movies I've seen in my entire life.  "Drive" may be the best movie I've reviewed on this blog, though "Toy Story 3" is a very close contender***.  The last movie I've seen that I loved so completely was "Coraline", which was years ago.  This was a unique feeling, my entire life evaporated away as I sat down and was engrossed in pure cinema.

I hate to talk down about the other movies on this list, but "Drive" easily shines far and above beyond them.  This movie really was something very special, something incredible.  If every movie were as good as "Drive", I would die of an overdose of bliss.  Its just a movie where every detail seems to work:  from the 80s pop soundtrack, to that BADASS Scorpion coat, to every actor's performance, to everything.  It was a stunning film.  I can't gush about it too much.

Ryan Gosling's main character is a dark stranger, a lonely creature brought to the limit trying to save the family he's met.  Albert Brooks is the frightening villain, still funny but brutally efficient and chilling.  The driving scenes aren't just explosive stupid action, they're strategic, tense chases.  The violence is real, every move a true punch to the audience, all of it absolutely essential for the movie.  None of the violence is out to glamorize this lifestyle, nobody is proud of what they're doing, they're breaking down and doing horrible things.  This isn't an escapist male fantasy, you don't want to be Gosling's Driver, this movie is tragedy.  All these amazing characters crash into each other and tear each other to pieces.  That jacket, which I love so much, gets drenched in blood by the end.

I know such a thing is impossible due to the sheer number of movies that I love, but if I ever had to make a list of the Best Movies I've Ever Seen in my entire life, "Drive" would definitely be on it.  I want to see this movie a million times more.

Goodbye 2011, thanks for the film memories, if nothing else.  Happy 2012, everybody.


The Boot to the Face Award for Best Kung-Fu MovieDetective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame - Okay, I'm sorry, I don't see every movie that comes out every year, and even I can miss the more obscure ones.  "Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame" was a joint Chinese-Taiwanese production that came out in English in 2011, but I was able to catch it on Netflix in 2012, so I'm adding it now.  Basically "Detective Dee" is a Sherlocke Holmes mystery set in the year 690 during the Tang Dynasty and the reign of Empress Wu.  Its part mystery, part kung-fu, part political thriller, and all parts awesome.  This is a movie that features talking magical deers, a giant Buddha statue the size of a skyscraper, puppet ninja throwing logs, really angry albino detectives, and people spontaneously combusting.  If you like Wuxia, if you like mysteries, if you like a dude kicking a CG kung-fu deer in the face, this is your movie.  Loved this thing.

* Technically "Evangelion 2.0" was first released in Japan in 2009, but it never saw any of American release until two years later in 2011.  Thus, its on this list.  I don't think I'm ever going to write a "Best Of" list for 2009, so its either here or nowhere.

** Technically this is a 2010 film.  If you're wondering why its on this list:  FUCK YOU that's why.  Its too awesome to be ignored, and I think the DVD release was only this year in America.

*** I now have to accept that I was wrong last year to place "Toy Story 3" as No. 2 behind "Scott Pilgrim".  I was a different person back then, what I can I say?


  1. Was a bit dissapointed with Winnie the Pooh, actually. It's beautiful and good, but it wasn't the tear-inducing movie the trailer promised

  2. This is unrelated to 2011 Blue, but you should watch some of the work of Satoshi Kon. He's probably the best anime director behind Miyazaki.

    1. Yeah Satoshi Kon's pretty awesome. A good one to start with would probably be Paprika. That's the one that allegedly inspired Inception.

    2. As much as a like to keep conversations on topic, yeah, I've seen a few. Paprika was pretty good, but I think Perfect Blue was a lot better. That really was a damn good psychological thriller,only animated.

    3. Perfect Blue is my favorite film of his followed closely by Millennium Actress. If you haven't seen it, definitely watch Paranoia Agent. It messes with reality even more than Perfect Blue and tells a complex, multilayered story in only 13 episodes.

  3. Nice list Blue, pretty much everything belongs up there, but I do have comments on them:

    1.A great movie for the family to enjoy. My only problem was that it was really short. Only 1 hour? Come on Disney let's do better then that.

    2.Did anyone else do a girly squee when this came out. I know I sure as hell did and I'm proud of it. Hopefully Shinji will only get better with time.

    3.It's Nicholas cage what do ya expect? But you know I think deep, deep, deep, deepdeepdeepdeep down inside we all like him. Sorta like that drunk Uncle who comes over to Thanksgiving and manages to say something to piss off everyone. Or maybe I'm just insane.

    4.One of the best superhero movies ever made. The pacing was good, I loved how they somewhat changed Xaviar and Magneto's relationship, but not too much. My only problems with it was at the end it kind of felt rushed on and that Havok was born in the 60's which is really weird for a X-man nerd like me. Plus they killed the black guy with the most interesting powers :(

    5.I totally agree with you on that. After watching movies like Transformers and Twilight it's back to the back allies of the movie world for me.

    6. Who doesn't love the muppets? Hopefully this movie is just the stepping stone to bringing back some of those goood old muppet feelings for our generation and the newer ones to come.And I think they didn't put Rizzo in this one, because (A)The Hollywood producers are dicks and don't like him and so told Jason Seigel to cut just him out or no movie at all or (B) Jason Seigel thought there were to many characters all ready and he will include him in the next movie.

    7. Enough said.

    8. Surprisingly I have yet to see this. I remember you writing about a few weeks ago, but between cursing my school to the deepest parts of Tartos and moving upstate I haven't had the large amount of time that I used to. But I love western movies! And a sequel to a second? It's got to be good!

    9. Haven't seen yet either, but from what you said it sound s good.

    10. Sadly yes this movie will be looked down upon, because the unknown dickwads who make the nominations and choices are going to feel this is too thought prevoking and put Twilight in it's place. Dickwads.

    11.Speaking of Dickwads this movie is stupid. But not any ol' stupid it's soap opera stupid! I swear to god if they put commercials breaks and have someone wake up out of a coma you'll tune in every day 2 o'clock.

    12. I only have one thing to say: Doe's that jacket come in black? Black goes better with my eyes. But seriously this ovie was awesome. Not only a badass kick butt film, but it had awesome characters that made you feel pity for them. If you haven't seen it you got to catch.

  4. best movies of 2011.
    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy