It was a lackluster year for the movies. The bad movies were just slightly abysmal, while the good movies failed to be great movies. We couldn’t find a single amazing movie out of the bunch in 2011, but we came close to finding ten really good movies, and ten really bad movies for the year. 2011 was just a lull for everything in pop culture and the media and you’d be hard pressed to find something excellent that stood out among the rest of the muck. 2011 had a varied year of films, but while we did find more than enough great movies to fill our top 10 we didn’t find a masterpiece until the end of the year, and even then we’re having a hard time using the M word. Nevertheless 2011 was a year for new experiences, unique films, and most importantly underdogs. The best films flopped and the worst films excelled at the box office. There were surprises, some neat twists and of course the box office was at its all time lowest. While Congress is working on that censorship thing with SOPA, we appreciate our time delivering these top ten lists for our readers.
Sure they may not be the most agreeable lists on the site, but they arouse conversation and we love to debate with our audience. What with the increasing demand from the indie world we weren’t able to cover all of the year’s films, but we tried to tackle all of our most promising and we compiled lists of 10 great films, and 10 really bad ones. And for the first time ever we compiled five indie films you should look out for. Of course we couldn’t catch many films in time due to our demands on the site (Warhorse, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Take Shelter, The Artist), but we have a nice little mélange of 2011’s banner films that we felt warranted mentioning. So by all means indulge in Cinema Crazed’s official Top 10 and Worst 10 of the year 2011!
10.5. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Directed by Eli Craig
Out of all of the comedies to come to theaters this year, no film made me laugh harder and more frequently than “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.” Take the talented Tyler Labine, and the ultra-talented Alan Tudyk, put them in to horror trappings, compile a meta-movie and throw in some dark comedy and you have comedy gold. Whether you can classify this as horror comedy or dark comedy is debatable, but “Tucker and Dale” is a movie that was struggling for distribution and it’s not a shock. It may be a hard movie to market to fans. But like many others of its ilk it’s now just a shelf filler waiting to be discovered by a comedy fan or horror geek.
It’s a simple movie that takes the psychotic hillbilly premise and throws it in to its head twisting it in to a self-aware and awfully ridiculous comedy that takes two hapless well meaning brothers (both in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy) and pits them against testosterone fueled college kids, all of whom are convinced Tucker and his brother are straight out of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” I knew very little about this film going in to it, so suffice it to say I was shocked to discover this film was awfully clever and rather rip roaring funny at every turn. Plus no one can handle one-liners and deadpan humor like Alan Tudyk. No one.
Best of the Best:
Best Woodchipper scene since “Fargo.”
10. Hobo with a Shotgun
Directed by Jason Eisener
Some audiences love it. Some absolutely hate it. But we appreciate the heart and soul behind “Hobo with a Shotgun,” because we appreciate indie success stories. For the uninitiated, “Hobo” began its life as a fake trailer at the beginning of the 2008 event film “Grindhouse” and was so popular and beloved it eventually became its own film under the grindhouse banner. Incidentally it ends up being even better than its daddy “Grindhouse” and presents much more soul than fellow spiu-off “Machete.” Infinitely more watchable than both predecessors, director Jason Eisener’s revenge thriller is a gritty, grimy, and disgusting tale about a man seeking redemption trying to preserve the soul of a child in a harsh and amoral world that looks to destroy lives and innocence at every turn.
Rutger Hauer’s return to form is magnificent as this man on the verge of madness who seeks justice with his shotgun at his side, taking on gangsters, thugs, and a pair of brilliantly armed swordsmen, all of whom want to taint Hobo’s city, and damned if he’s going to allow them to destroy his reality. “Hobo” will split everyone down the middle, but our hearts are with the indie film circuit as they often go overlooked and under appreciated. “Hobo with a Shotgun” is a very underrated gem and we proudly own it in our gallery of grindhouse nail biters.
Best of the Best:
The head in the manhole sequence followed by the blood geyser dance is truly memorable.
Directed by James Wan
We’re big fans of the “Paranormal Activity” series and “Insidious” feels as if someone took “Poltergeist,” cribbed some of the most harrowing moments from Oren Peli’s series and created a sick and twisted hybrid with one of the most demented climaxes we’ve seen all year. “Insidious” is a hell of a scary film with some brutally intense moments that rely on a unique concept to draw out tension and suspense in a truly creative turn that assembles an unusual cast to battle dream demons in a dark world trying to consume a boy’s soul. James Wan has the ability to invoke this incredibly original tone with his films, even when he fails to deliver the goods and “Insidious” never escapes the clutches of his truly genius storytelling prowess.
The family on the brink of destruction is one who finds themselves at the mercy of a group of evil spirits residing in a dream plain anxiously trying to fight for the soul of a little boy who has an innate ability to travel dimensions in his sleep. With Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and the incomparable Lin Shaye, “Insidious” is a warped and often uneasy bit of supernatural cinema that succeeds in frights and jump scares with pure ease and skill. Moments in this film left us in awe and the final scene is so absolutely twisted you’ll turn around and watch this all over again as soon as humanly possible.
Best of the Best:
The “Tip Toe Through the Window” sequence is still haunting.
8. A Lonely Place to Die
Directed by Julian Gilbey
We can’t for the life of us understand why over exposed talentless waifs like Milla Jovovich are being pegged action heroines when the true article has been making movies for years and proving herself to a wide audience. Melissa George is a real action heroine, a woman willing to do whatever it takes to show her abilities on screen and has taken many roles in truly great films that have gone under the radar and utterly unappreciated. An understated beauty and unusual sex appeal, George is more than capable of handling herself in the thriller and action genre and shows her chutzpah yet again in “A Lonely Place to Die.” In this unique and utterly harrowing picture, George stars as a mountain climber who, along with her friends, discovers a young girl in a hole begging for her life.
What begins as a disturbing discovery amounts to a fight for survival against all odds as two hitmen are on the trail of the mountain climbing group led by George. George’s character evades death and injury at every turn, taking the situation under control to ensure the survival of the young kidnapped girl, and does whatever it takes to live. George impressed us in “30 Days of Night,” wowed us in “Triangle,” and tops herself in this claustrophobic survivalist thriller that’s action packed, utterly engrossing, and filled with surprises at every turn. It’s one of the more riveting movie experiences of the year. We love Melissa George, and you should too.
Best of the Best:
The mountain climbing scenes will have you clutching your partner’s arm in agony.
7. Martha Marcy May Marlene
Directed by Sean Durkin
FOX Searchlight Pictures
One thing I love about this movie is that the character of Martha Marcy May Marlene is such a brainwashed tool that everything spouted from her mouth is borrowed from somewhere. Taken from someone. Learned from something. And expressed in the guise of someone she looked up to previously. Martha Marcy is a girl without an identity, she’s a woman without individuality. When she’s not spouting off about values and morals taught to her by her sister, she’s often expressing views that were frequently explained by her cult leader in her previous life. Martha Marcy may come off as a character almost impossible to root for. She makes bad decisions, she has no empathy to her, and she has nowhere to go in life. But what do you expect from a woman whose never grown? What to expect from a young girl whose never quite learned to think on her own?
She went from strict parents to learning to think by the rule of a cult, right back in to mainstream society where she’s forced to confront violations of the tenets of her cult before her very eyes. And all she can do is preach with the reliance that her cult leader’s words will perhaps express some truths she believes or subscribes in. Elizabeth Olsen’s performance is such a revelation here because everything Martha Marcy says is greeted by a subtle double take by Olsen as if to ponder “Did I really just say that?” and “Do I really believe that?” Every action, every gut reaction is borrowed and she’s nothing but a hollow shell of a woman trying to find where she begins and her teachings end. Olsen is something of an understated beauty whose appeal is not surprising in the film. She’s enticing and alluring, but so damned fractured she loses her charm within moments of introduction. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is a brutal and uneasy little tale about learning to think for yourself and breaking free from the trappings of childhood and vicious violence.
Best of the Best:
The climax will leave many an audience looking at one another asking “Wait–what? What was that?”
6. Super 8
Directed by JJ Abrams
We’re fans of JJ Abrams, we’re not going to lie. He gave us the brutally entertaining “Cloverfield” which left us addicts of viral marketing in 2007, and he even turned us on to “Star Trek.” This time around he gives us “Super 8” a bonafide Spielbergian Love Letter to everything cinematic in the world that we could not love anymore if we tried. A truly excellent throwback to the golden age of eighties cinema, Abrams cast a myriad of truly talented young actors to tell the story of a town on the verge of emotional collapse, brought to its knees by an alien invader and a harsh military willing to do everything to bring it down.
Even if it means preying on its innocence. “Super 8” masterfully draws out the suspense and mystery of our alien character by depicting its characters as well fleshed out and three dimensional beings, all of whom have their own personal battles in the world but are brought together by their love of filmmaking. When they seek to create movie magic one night, fate knocks down their doors and brings them face to face with an alien menace prone to kidnapping the town’s animals and are tasked with rescuing one of their friends when they go missing in the middle of the carnage. “Super 8” is an undeniably charming and magical film with great direction, a charming young cast, and a stand out performance by Elle Fanning who is remarkable in her role as young Alice. The ultimate mystery involving the alien is truly gripping and utterly horrifying at times and leads in to an ending that tips its hat to modern storytellers like Spielberg, warts and all.
Best of the Best:
The unveiling of the monster in the picture is one of our favorite cinema moments of the year.
5. Attack the Block
Directed by Joe Cornish
These days whenever I make the trek to go to the movies, it has to be a very special movie to garner my money and effort. Or else I’ll stay home and wait for the home video release. In 2011, I made the effort to travel to deep in to Manhattan here in New York to see “Attack the Block,” and was rewarded with one of the better movie going experiences in years. What would happen in aliens invaded a lower class city block? What if aliens invaded a South London city block and the only hope were a group of thugs? “Attack the Block” is a funny, entertaining and downright exhilarating first time outing from director Joe Cornish who unveils a slew of up and coming stars and elicits a seemingly simplistic premise that is realized in an epic scope with such a small budget.
Starring the powerful John Boyega as leader Moses, “Attack the Block” is a very exciting and hysterical alien invasion flick that mixes rotoscoping and classic animation to create some truly unique alien menaces, all of whom go up against neighborhood thugs in an effort to consume their block. A veritable throwback to “The Goonies,” don’t be fooled by the young cast as the film is filled with gore and gut chomping but with a slick sense of levity to keep the events lively. In a world where alien movies are suffocating the market, it’s a rare treat to find a science fiction flick that is actually worth seeking out, especially in a year teeming with sci-fi films front and back. “Attack the Block” stands as a very clever and memorable genre hybrid that has re-watch value up the wazoo. Allow it.
Best of the Best:
Moses scampering from apartment to apartment running from the aliens is still an exhilarating sequence. Trust.
4. I Saw the Devil
Directed by Jee-Woon Kim
Whether or not it’s a 2011 film is debatable, but it was given a video on demand and limited release in America in 2011, so we’re counting it. One of the most riveting revenge thrillers of the past five years, Jee Woon Kim’s cinematic tale of blood lust and evil had us at the edge of our seat ready for anything. Destined to be a classic by every definition of the word, Kim’s film is a horror outing and genuine thriller that takes a look at the thirst for blood and what it can do to a man’s soul at the end of a long journey of mourning and grief. Min Sik Choi is a remarkable scoundrel as a disturbed and perverse man who spends most of his time looking for women around his town to kidnap. This time around he’s succeeded in kidnapping and raping a young girl stranded on the side of the road.
After mutilating her, her husband Kim Soo-hyeon played marvelously by Byung-hun Lee, vows vengeance on her killer. He then seeks out every suspected serial killer in the city inevitably finding Kyung, an anti-social murderer whom he succeeds in beating and disabling. What ensues is a journey through madness and pure darkness as the two men engage in a battle of wits as one man seeks to inflict pure pain on the other for his crimes ending in a very disgusting and disturbing battle of wills and wits. “I Saw the Devil” is yet another in a series of modern revenge stories that ends with no winners and doesn’t seek to stylize the act of payback, finishing off on a low note that is both justified and artistically logical. I was engrossed throughout the chokehold that is this modern gem.
Best of the Best:
The scene in the taxi with the multiple stabbings is expertly filmed and absolutely mind blowing
3. The Tree of Life
Directed by Terence Malick
FOX Searchlight Pictures
We’re not usually fans of Terence Malick’s films, but we’ve found a lot of love for films in 2011 that were under appreciated or misunderstood. “Tree of Life” is another in a line of films that deserve an audience because it’s a riveting breathtaking look in to the mysteries of life and disconnection of family. The family here serve as a microcosm for mother nature and god as they share the duties of caring for a trio of young sons, all of whom are evolving in to their own beings. The oldest of which has sought to question his very belief system and put to task his mom and dad in the face of his blossoming adult hood inevitably leading him in to a cold and sterile existence in a world that’s void of beauty and natural charm.
Whether or not this film is a testament to the power of theism, or the bold statement about the freeing nature of atheism doesn’t really matter as “The Tree of Life” will leave many audiences breath taken and pondering on the subtleties of its message and its look at a world too scientific to have a god and too beautiful to not have a creator behind it weaving at its beings relentlessly. Malick’s film is a near masterpiece, a testament to slow and steady filmmaking that has completely celebrated the beauty of star Jessica Chastain while acknowledging the screen presence of co-star Brad Pitt who is utterly three dimensional as a father seeking to do right by his sons, playing the role of authoritarian and leading them in to adulthood even if it means sacrificing their love in the end. Reportedly, “The Tree of Life” has a six hour uncut version waiting in the wings. And we’re anxious to see what comes out of it, should the studios ever decide on releasing it in the future. The film is just that good.
Best of the Best:
The subtleties behind character Mr. Brien’s relationship with his sons make for some of the most compelling moments.
Directed by Gavin O’Connor
It’s going to be called a sports film. It’s going to be called an MMA film. To us it’s really an underdog movie about a fractured relationship that is irreparable. On what note the film ends is up to you. Is it ambiguous? Sad? Happy? Inspirational? Regardless we’re watching two men incapable of repairing their relationship trying to work out their demons in the ring. And they may or may not have succeeded. Like many sports films before “Warrior,” Gavin O’Connor’s film is about men. It’s about the bonds they share, the relationships they hold, and the fragile thread in their lives that can be broken and spell doom for them once and for all. This film in particular is about the precious relationship between dads and their sons and how a good role model can decide who the child will become. Will they be a family man barely getting by?
Or will they be a boiling ball of rage and resentment doomed to slide in to a pit of self-destruction? 2011’s “Warrior” is an underdog in every sense of the word. A flop at the box-office, this is destined to be revered on home video as a tale about men living in a cruel and vicious world that’s offered them no breaks. And they’ve found their therapy in the ring battling out their personal traumas and inevitably facing the one and only true fate in their lives. Each other. If there was ever a film to remind us that Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are two humongous talents ready to storm the US box office, it’s “Warrior.” Very few films have touched us and enraged us so much this year. A truly remarkable underrated gem, Gavin O’Connor’s film is man cinema in every sense of the word and reminds us why the father and son relationship is every bit as important as the mother and son relationship.
Best of the Best:
Tom Hardy is a monster on camera, he needs a break out role soon.
And The Best Film of 2011 is…
Directed by: Nicholas Winding Refn
Written by: Hossein Amini
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mullgan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks
“Drive” is one of the most misunderstood cinema outings of the past five years. Essentially, it’s a film about a getaway driver who steps in to a heist that goes terribly wrong, but it’s not anything resembling a “Fast and the Furious” film. It’s about crime and cars but it’s nothing remotely similar to anything from the aforementioned series. Almost like a lost Michael Mann movie, “Drive” is very much in the tradition of “Taxi Driver” and “Shane” in where a man must seek redemption and atone for his sins through the world around him. The cityscape painted in “Drive” is colored in neon hues in eighties fashion and donning a proudly unique soundtrack, focuses on a lousy world inhabited by mean people. One of whom is named Driver. Driver is an enigmatic individual whose own sense of morality and limitations are foggy at best. He has standards and ethics but he’s more than willing to help criminals who’d gun someone down in cold blood so long as he’s been paid.
“Drive” sets up the tumultuous and tense world from the prologue where we view the stomping grounds of Driver and his job and how he handles himself in the everyday world. It’s a world over run by crime and he’s managed to find a way to pick at it to earn some money for himself. His only escape is through his neighbor Irene, a source of innocence and purity who he’s absolutely infatuated with. When he insinuates himself in to the lives of Irene and her son, he becomes a bastion for new experiences. But as “Drive” shows the world is a mean and cruel place and what begins as a romance transforms in to Driver’s attempt to preserve the innocence and beauty of a young woman whose yet to be tainted by life’s woes, even in spite of the entrance of her son’s father, an ex-convict who isn’t too fond of Driver.
Like a flower in concrete, Irene is a woman who can be stomped on at any moment, and Driver’s mission becomes preserving that flower from violence and madness that reigns in his world. With remarkable performances from the entire cast and a mélange of bittersweet music paired with stark photography and an almost dream-like series of montages, “Drive” is easily the best film of 2011, if only for Ryan Gosling’s quiet and humble performance as this man pushed to the brink of violence, willing to embrace it and own it if he can prevent his one true love from coming face to face with it.
Best of the Best:
The elevator scene essentially sets the tone for the entire film and the fight for innocence that defines the narrative.
All Star Superman, Bridesmaids, Stake Land, X-Men: The First Class, Midnight in Paris, Super, Melancholia, Rise of the Planet of the Apes
YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T SEE IT BUT YOU SHOULD, YOU REALLY SHOULD:
Last Train Home
Released in 2009, this docudrama was released on DVD and Blu-Ray in very late 2010, so we count this as a film that’s been lost in the shuffle but deserves your attention. Based around the Zhang family in China, this film centers on the Chinese New Year and the trek dozens of families take every year to rush in to the train station and visit their families. Only allowed a single free day the Zhang parents take the day from working at their factory to trek across the country to pay visit to their children whom are living with their grandmother in a farm.
Desperately trying to keep their family together, they watch helplessly as their daughter enters in to the dead end life of a factory worker and anxiously try to bring their family together dissolving in to a war of words, bitter resentment and an inevitable confrontation that will leave many viewers absolutely disgusted. This compelling documentary deserves as much attention as it can muster up because it’s absolutely excellent.
OUR GUILTY PLEASURE OF 2011 is… I Am Number Four
A lot of it didn’t make too much sense and it’s pretty melodramatic in the first half, but “I Am Number Four” is one of our favorite guilty pleasures of 2011 because it’s so damn entertaining and musters up some creative action set pieces in its final half. We really hope there’s a sequel somewhere down the road because we enjoyed following these characters in their efforts to preserve the world and themselves in the process. With some truly entertaining action sequences and a very fun final half, “I Am Number Four” is the cookie in the jar we’ll keep gnawing on, even if we know it’s filled with no nutritional value. Something about stories about messianic super powered beings appeals to us.