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A Savagely Partial Look At The Films Of 2011

December 23, 2011

Here’s a review of the year in film about which I make only two promises: it’s monstrously skewed towards whatever I managed to see, and it contains swearing. I already did a similar-ish thing (with less swearing) about games for The Observer which you can read here if you want.

So January, which began with podgy Russell Crowe prison break thriller The Next Three Days, the highlights of which included Liam Neeson deploying his now customary ‘scowling man of action’ routine in a cameo of throat-punch intensity, and all the fucking about at the end which I fast-forwarded through. Better things were to come, but not until I Spit On Your Grave depressed with empty misogyny and anal savaging, and The Mechanic proved that Jason Statham vehicles should stick to being heavy on the roundhouse kicks and as light as possible on any kind of material that stops Jason Statham doing roundhouse kicks. Things looked up a little with the arrival of The Green Hornet (although if you think too hard about the limitless imaginative potential of Michel Gondry being reduced to servicing Seth Rogen slapstick you will start crying) and then looked up a lot with Black Swan and Tangled, which make for a diverse and thought-provoking double bill about representations of femininity in Hollywood. And that horse was pretty fucking funny.

The Fighter arrived in the UK in February following Oscar success and heaped in shiny praise from Stateside critics, who’d all apparently fucking forgotten that Raging Bull existed. Sanctum 3D was demonstrably worse despite the above-the-title bleat of James Cameron’s name, mostly because it was like a remake of The Descent with all the monsters and tension replaced by water. Mark Romanek’s beautifully photographed Never Let Me Go was a poetic sci-fi drama about love, death and acceptance that conjured an England of thick sweaters, buckled shoes and fuzzy childhood colours, while True Grit saw the Coen brothers in fine, unflamboyant form and only strengthened the claims of Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon to the respective titles of Man I’d Most Like To Be My Uncle and Most Interesting Actor At Least You Know At The Moment. The month was rounded off by Paul, a messy tribute to Spielberg, science fiction and the San Diego comic con that lost the chemistry of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in a swirl of CG effects and smug gags, while throwaway alien adventure thing I Am Number Four would have benefited from having a less shit name, like I Am A Fucking Badass Alien, and Drive Angry had Nic Cage coming back from hell to drive quite fast, and all the charm of a car full of lads making a wanker sign at you in the highstreet.

March was a finely balanced scale of shit and unshit. Bad were Hall Pass, in which Owen Wilson irritates his wife into agreeing he can sleep with other women if he’ll fuck off for five minutes, and Battle: Los Angeles, a motion sickness ET invasion hewn from solid cliché. Wavering somewhere in the middle were medieval siege ’em up Iron Clad (alright, it’s shit really but also set in Rochester Castle, which I used to climb as a child so I could look over the side imagining how unlikely it was that I’d survive the fall), Faster, an effective revenge headbutt starring The Rock, and Unknown, which is exactly what would happen if you combined Harrison Ford Euro-thriller Frantic with Total Recall and Liam Neeson’s fists. Johnny Depp was good in the admirably unusual, Three Amigos-ish animation Rango, and I’ve just remembered that Roman buddy movie The Eagle should really have been in the shit pile because the only bit I can really recall is everyone being painted blue for some reason. The Adjustment Bureau was better, a magical realist romance in which Matt Damon battled the agents of fate and their dashing hats to give Emily Blunt a kiss on the face, and none of them were as good as Submarine, Richard Ayoade’s stingingly accurate portrayal of teenage love which contains an excellent amount of duffel coats, Godard fringes and ostentatious posing. It is my favourite film of the year, and here is a bit of it which ends with Miles running on a beach like he’s channelling Jean-Pierre Léaud.

My least favourite film of the year was released in April. Sucker Punch somehow loses the moral thread in a story of domestic abuse and institutionalised rape because it’s busy staring at moronically over-stylised sequences of fantasy violence. Also lacking any urgent reason to exist was slasher reboot Scream 4, or Sre4m, or W4nk, the latest in a series once founded on self-aware cool which now has all the edge of liking your mum’s holiday photos on Facebook. Insidious was a domestic horror in the line of Paranormal Activity which creeped the shit out of me for 45 minutes before simply giving up and becoming a tribute to Living TV’s Most Haunted, Fast Five was utterly stupid but undeniably good at making cars go in the air and on fire, and Thor was an uneasy mix of magical bits in a frankly shit-looking Asgard and quite funny moments of a de-powered Thor smashing coffee mugs and searching for a steed. Finally, Source Code, Duncan Jones’ follow-up to the exceptional Moon, had big ideas but a more wobbly premise and ended up feeling a little too much like a feature-length episode of Quantum Leap.

May was a month of the unexpected. Kiddie assassin thriller Hanna looked threadbare during the hyped killing bits but did do a nice line in teen friendship drama, and despite the evidence piled up over two overlong, overwank sequels, the fourth Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, On Stranger Tides, was sort of alright, mostly thanks to having finally dumped the bland-faced ballast of Bloom and Knightley. Dystopic vampire nonsense Priest had the kind of hook (ninja priests fighting the undead!) that might’ve earned it Prophecy-style cult favour had it not been quite so bad, while The Hangover Part II didn’t feature enough original thought to be considered a true sequel, and was more like a two-hour headache with bumming and a smoking monkey. Hilarious! The best movies of the month were Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules, which is far smarter and funnier than parents everywhere dreaded it might be (and I’m not just saying that because my son met the stars and they were super-nice), and Joe Cornish’s south London sci-fi Attack The Block, which pre-riots made some timely points about community and belonging in the UK, and which had the same tight urban intensity that made John Carpenter’s films brilliant until he began to make them rubbish.

In June origins story X-Men: First Class was watchable thanks to better-than-it-deserved leads James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, and Kung Fu Panda 2 made a sequel about a fat bear who does stomach-based martial arts surprisingly enjoyable thanks to dazzling fight sequences. Green Lantern really was a film about Ryan Reynolds’ emerald onesie versus Peter Sarsgaard’s massive head, in case any of you thought you’d imagined that, and just scraped by on Reynolds shouting “I KNOW, RIGHT?” every time things got extra stupid. Transformers: Dark Of The Moon was an over-produced disgrace grasping for meaning like a sinner on his deathbed and finding nothing but sun-flared, plastic oblivion, while Bridesmaids was dead funny and featured a charming romance between Kristen Wiig and Chris O’Dowd.

Once in year five at school I got a new orange A4 Design and Technology book and I wrote on the front “DESIGN AND TECH” and then because I’d taken up too much space had to write “nology” really small. That was a lot like how Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 felt in July – after all the staring and dancing and tents of Part One, suddenly three things are happening every minute in a rush to squeeze in all the various deaths, duels and shouting. Plus the white corridor bit made it look like Dumbledore had opened a dentist’s surgery in heaven. Cars 2 felt like the first truly soulless Pixar film for reasons I’ve discussed in an earlier blog, seeing Jennifer Aniston say rude words turned out not to be enough of a reason to watch Horrible Bosses, and thanks to Chris Evans being so handsome and likeable Captain America was the year’s best superhero movie, even if the fact expensive digital effects were deployed to make him look runty and normal while the ubermensch physique was all his own is, you know, sickening.

In August I loved the fact that the goofy bmx-gang kids in Super 8 looked like authentic ’80s children (the hair? the shirts?) even if in the end it felt like a soft remake of Spielberg rather than an electric tribute. There were many problems with The Smurfs, but none of them was Hank Azaria’s Gargamel, or the fact that his cat was played by the original voice of Megatron, while the big issue with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was that it was secretly not very exciting nor was a planet of apes featured at any point. Spy Kids 4 continued Robert Rodriguez’s descent into wilfully awful b-movie dreck, while the big talking points surrounding Cowboys And Aliens were Harrison Ford’s grumpy nearly-villain being the most fun he’s been to watch for ages, and the fact that JESUS CHRIST HOW DO YOU MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT ALIENS AND COWBOYS THIS BORING. The Inbetweeners Movie was the best of the month, losing none of its gleefully adolescent humour or eye for a painful teenage truth (clearly it’s going to take me a lot longer than I hoped to recover from my own awkward home counties teens).

September saw the release of The Killer Elite, in which Jason Statham (not a single roundhouse kick) and Robert De Niro look totally bemused to be in the same movie as each other, let alone Clive Owen’s moustache, period Ford Anglias, and a script so clunky it might as well have been a giant tower with a big fucking flashing sign saying “EXPOSITION” written on it. Body-swap comedy The Change-Up saw Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds switch places via the magic of having a piss, pretty much the only thing the film added to a genre that’s now surely ready to walk into the snow and fucking die. Also very much concerned with people dying were tense and grimy British nasty Kill List, which is best approached in total ignorance, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, which mixed bits of Lynch, Friedkin and Carey Mulligan’s lovely smile to excellent effect, even if it did result in everyone going on about Ryan Gosling far longer and louder than is generally acceptable.

I only saw two things released in October. The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn was dashing and full of zip and adventure, and also strangely flat. I put this down to seeing the front of Tintin’s face, which is distracting like realising there’s an extra dimension and staring at the fourth side of your hand for ages, and also the fact that Uncharted 3 had many of the same set-piece beats and was, you know, better. Then there was Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, which was like Traffic with germs, with the same sense of cross-section, right and wrong, and everything going on regardless.

In November Aardman released Arthur Christmas, which had an excellent hook (the army of elves and military precision behind Santa’s global present delivery, and how they eclipse the joy of giving) but didn’t make me cry because I’m dead inside. Then in December I missed The Thing prequel (which if it really wanted to let everyone know it was a prequel should’ve been called “The… You Know…”) and instead caught Puss In Boots, which was better than every Shrek ever even if Zach Galifianakis’ weird egg bastard made me feel sick.

And that’s the end of the year. The best thing I saw which wasn’t a film was Danish crime series The Killing seasons one and two (Troels!) and the best non-2011 films I caught up with were Le Samorai and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Things I feel stupidest about missing are The Ides Of March, The Artist and Hugo, though I’m hoping to set the last two right at the cinema before New Year.

Happy end of this enormous post!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 24, 2011 12:36 pm

    This is a fantastic read, humorous and mostly on point. Bravo!

  2. Sam Jones permalink
    December 24, 2011 1:26 pm

    Lost interest after declaring “Submarine” to be your favourite film of the year…plodding, dull plot and unrealistic characters – the film I fast forwarded the most this year

    • December 24, 2011 2:28 pm

      Thanks for reading that far! Appreciate it’s not for everyone, but it definitely is for me.

  3. December 24, 2011 2:12 pm

    Submarine ‘contains an excellent amount of duffel coats’. Never a truer word spoken.

  4. merv permalink
    December 24, 2011 9:46 pm

    Sucker Punch was shit. Drive was ace. There were many I haven’t seen, but I’m glad I caught that. And the Dark Knight Rises trailer. And The Hobbit trailer.

    Oh any mention of Tinker Tailor….?

    • December 25, 2011 12:01 am

      Yes! And no. The film being released prompted me to get hold of the old Alec Guinness BBC version, which I thought was incredible. Went straight on to Smiley’s People which I also thoroughly enjoyed. Guinness is spectacular.

  5. SolidChris permalink
    December 30, 2011 12:45 am

    This just reminded me of how little I have watched this year. I haven’t even seen Green Lantern and that was going to be a thing. I ended up enjoying Thor and X-Men more than Cap, but not by any great margin. I think because I watched Cap last I was suffering from superhero fatigue. Which is a constant risk when you’re on the comics like I am.

    Mainly though a bloody nice piece, which I enjoyed reading. And it made me feel inferior as a writer, which I secretly hate and enjoy. Well, perhaps not so secretly any more.

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