Brian Gallagher's Top 10 Movies of 2011
2011, we barely knew you, and you're gone already. It's been another crazy year for me here at the site, which included a lot of traveling to movie sets, some of which I can't tell you about yet, and, of course, news, interviews, and screenings, not to mention the annual lunacy that is San Diego Comic-Con. While I haven't seen every movie out in 2011, some by choice (*cough* Green Lantern *cough*), and many others due to a sheer lack of time, I'm compiling a few year-end lists anyway.
I have always been a "bad news first" kind of guy, so first up are the Most Overrated Movies O The Year. Now, granted, most of these I did like, in some way, but I just didn't like them as much as, apparently, everyone else. These are in no particular order, so lets get cracking.
Most Overrated Movies of the Year
Hanna - 71% on Rotten Tomatoes
While I dug Joe Wright's hypnotic direction and some truly innovative fight scenes, Hanna just didn't quite do it for me, overall. Rookie screenwriters Seth Lochhead and David Farr do their best to overcomplicate this rather trite plot about a teenage assassin (Saoirse Ronan) who is trained in solitude by her father (Eric Bana) and is sent out into the world for... revenge? To test her skills? Whatever. By the time this came to an end, I was left with a stylish yet unsubstantial thriller that may dazzle the eye, but bores the brain.
Young Adult - 80% on Rotten Tomatoes
I can't truly hate this movie, by any means, because of the outstanding performances by both Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt. What I do hate about it, though, is that, essentially, nothing happens. Don't cry foul because I "spoiled" something for you, because this is exactly what screenwriter Diablo Cody was going for. I know many colleagues who loved this film, and I did too until I got to the end, and saw there is absolutely no character arc here whatsoever for Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a bitchy writer who thinks she's a bigger deal than she really is, and tries to prove it during a trip to her Minnesota hometown. Call me old-fashioned, but I need something to happen to the lead character that actually evokes some sort of change, either good or bad, which doesn't happen in Young Adult at all.
X-Men: First Class - 87% on Rotten Tomatoes
I have noticed this on a few colleages' Top 10 lists, and I can certainly see why they would feel that way, because it is a very solid movie with some inventive sequences from director Matthew Vaughn. However, I recall reading an interview with Vaughn where he said X-Men: First Class was the most hectic production he had ever worked on, so I suppose it's a minor miracle this prequel turned out as good as it did. I still can't get past perhaps the worst performance of the year by January Jones as Emma Frost, and some rather corny writing by two sets of good writers: Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz (Thor); Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass). The whole "mutant and proud" crap had my eyes rolling every time it was uttered, and I guess I was expecting more than the cookie-cutter montage training scenes we got here. Granted, I only saw this movie once, and I heard it does get better with subsequent viewings, so I'll have to give this another shot sometime down the road, but, as of now, it's overrated, in my eyes.
Bridesmaids - 90% on Rotten Tomatoes
First off, yes, this is a funny movie. I can't claim that it isn't, but people were treating this movie like it was the Second Coming of Comedy Christ, or something along those lines, and, frankly, I just don't see that. Perhaps, like X-Men: First Class, I need to watch Bridesmaids again, because I just saw a funny movie that only stands out by making it one of the few "chick flicks" that guys will actually enjoy as well. There are plenty of places where the editing was hinting I should laugh, but just didn't, and this Apatow motif of the 125-minute comedy is getting old. I'm not sure why mostly everything he directs and produces has to go over two hours, but I found a significant chunk of Bridesmaids to be rather unnecessary. That being said, I love Kristen Wiig's work here, along with some breakout performances from Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson. It's not a bad movie by any means, but I guess I don't get the overwhelming amount of love for it.
Most Underrated/Underseen Movies of the Year
For every overexposed studio blockbuster, there is a fantastic little indie that just never took off at the box office. These are the five movies that I loved in 2011, that I wish more people saw.
Attack the Block - $1.02 Million
Trust, fam, Attack the Block is the real deal! Despite a heavily-hyped world premiere at South by Southwest in March, this hilarious alien invasion tale couldn't capitalize on the buzz when it hit theaters in July. Writer-director Joe Cornish, who also co-wrote The Adventures of Tintin, makes a remarkable feature debut with a no-name cast (aside from a minor turn by Nick Frost) and fantastic effects, making this genre tale look like it cost much more than its $13 million budget. We also get our first glimpse at a possible star in the making with young John Boyega, who excels as Moses, the leader of a rag-tag group of South London hooligans who step up to defend their block against these bizarre, blind, beasts. This movie hits all the right beats, at the right times, and I was hoping this could be 2011's Little Miss Sunshine, the indie that just wouldn't quit. Sadly, it floundered at the box office, but hopefully the word-of-mouth will spread on this genre gem to make it a cult classic on BD and DVD.
Hesher - $382,946
With a fantastic and diverse cast including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson, and the wonderful Piper Laurie, I was hoping Hesher would have enough mainstream appeal to transcend its platform indie release. Sadly, writer-director Spencer Susser's feature debut did not quite take off like I had hoped, and it's too bad because it's a fantastic story with the perfect balance of levity and drama, chocked full of fantastic performances by the aforementioned cast, and newcomer Devin Brochu. Add in the wonderful snippets of classic Metallica songs, and Hesher is a delightful little indie gem that truly deserved a better release than it received.
White Irish Drinkers - $31,056
This is a movie I most likely wouldn't have seen had I not conducted interviews with stars Stephen Lang and Karen Allen, even though the title is literally something I can relate to. Just going off the title alone, I was expecting some sort of goofball comedy, perhaps revolving around a night of drinking gone awry, or something along those lines. White Irish Drinkers is most certainly a welcomed surprise from my initial expectations, a wonderful indie drama set in 1975 about a dysfunctional Irish family in Brooklyn. Both Stephen Lang and Karen Allen deliver powerful performances, as the patriarch and matriarch of this family, and young actors Nick Thurston and Geoffrey Wigdor also shine as their children, who have taken very different paths in life. This is a very effective drama that I'm glad I saw, but disappointed that hardly anyone else did.
Ceremony - $22,270
Like White Irish Drinkers, Ceremony is another indie gem I likely would not have discovered on my own. Fortunately, I was sent a screener before interviewing Lee Pace, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This tale of unrequited love, which centers around a young man trying to break up his one-time belle's wedding, features a lovely ensemble cast including Uma Thurman, Michael Angarano (in one of his best performances to date), the aforementioned Lee Pace, Jake M. Johnson, and my future wife, Rebecca Mader. It's quite a charming little indie that never seemed to find its footing, despite debuting on VOD a month or so before hitting theaters in April.
Killing Bono - N/A
This fantastic true-story drama, adapted from Neil McCormick's memoir, is so under-watched that I couldn't find ANY box office information on it at all! Director Nick Hamm crafts a fascinating true-story tale about an aspiring Irish musician who grew up with the members of U2 in Dublin before their astronomical success, and becomes obsessed with surpassing their meteoric rise through the music ranks. We're treated to sensational performances from Ben Barnes, Robert Sheehan, Krysten Ritter, and the final screen appearance by Pete Postelthwaite. This is simply a delightful romp of a movie that sheds some light on an intriguing period in music history, and gives us a brilliant glimpse into the underbelly of the music industry.
The Top 10 Movies of the Year
I don't think I need to elaborate on this category much. Ready... BREAK.
#10 - Contagion
For a guy who supposedly is/was retiring, director Steven Soderbergh is still as relevant as ever with this taut, rather brilliant thriller. I've also seen/reviewed his wonderful action movie Haywire opening next month, so he's on a bit of a hot streak. The director does to the virus-spreading genre in Contagion what he does to the action genre in Haywire: giving it a much-needed dose of intelligence. From Minute One I was completely compelled by Contagion, which features the same kind of globe-trotting style he employed in Traffic, and a ridiculously-talented cast (Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, John Hawkes). Besides all that, any movie that makes someone think twice about sneezing in a movie theater, is one powerful piece of work, in more ways than one.
#9 - Another Happy Day
Sometimes, the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, and, sometimes, that's a great thing. Writer-director Sam Levinson, son of Barry Levinson, made his feature directorial debut this year with Another Happy Day, a fantastic indie drama which presents family dysfunction in both hilarious and heartbreaking ways. You also get one of the best performances of the year with Ellen Barkin's eye-opening, Oscar-worthy portrayal of Lynn, the odd duck in this effed-up family who all gather for a wedding, which causes crazy drama from all directions. The entire cast is quite phenomenal, with fantastic turns from Ezra Miller (who also pops up later on in this list), Ellen Burstyn, Demi Moore, Thomas Haden Church, George Kennedy, and a small but riveting turn from Kate Bosworth. With an outstanding feature debut like this, Sam Levinson has certainly become a director I'll be keeping an eye on.
#8 - Warrior
I was almost tempted to throw this on both my Underrated/Underseen list and the Top 10, because it's just a damn shame this fantastic sports drama only made $13 million at the box office. Then again, it shouldn't have been dumped in early September and should've been treated like the sensational movie that it is. Aside from featuring three rising stars - Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy, and the growing sensation that is mixed martial arts - viewers are also treated to a towering performance by Nick Nolte, perhaps one of his finest and one which hopefully will be recognized by the Academy in January. Director Gavin O'Connor is no stranger to the uplifting sports drama, with Miracle under his belt, and he has put together another superb tale with Warrior.
#7 - Win Win
I have absolutely loved the films of Thomas McCarthy since his directorial debut The Station Agent in 2004, and his follow-up The Visitor in 2008. This year he returned with Win Win, which follows suit with his simple, character-driven formula, with absolutely no bells and whistles attached. His characters hardly ever swear, there is usually no violence, and I doubt there are any special effects at all. This time around, we follow the plight of Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a lawyer struggling to keep his small practice afloat, who also coaches the local high school wrestling team. When the grandson of his client has nowhere to stay, Mike takes him in... and discovers he is one hell of a talented wrestler. While Thomas McCarthy's films have been embraced by the critical community, I'm hoping that some day the rest of the moviegoing public will start flocking to his work.
#6 - We Need to Talk About Kevin
Director Lynne Ramsay returns with her first film in nine years with this incredibly compelling drama that you can never take your eyes off of for a second. This disjointed drama goes back and forth in time, without explaining the shifts at all, and, yet, Lynne Ramsay makes We Need to Talk About Kevin rather easy to follow. Tilda Swinton stars Eva Khatchadourian, a downtrodden lonely woman in some scenes, and, in other scenes, an affluent mother with a loving husband (John C. Reilly), a charming young daughter (Ashley Gerasimovich), and a brooding, mysterious son (Ezra Miller). Tilda Swinton deserves another Oscar nod for this powerful performance, and Ezra Miller proves he's no fluke with another incredible performance, which is vastly different from his turn in Another Happy Day. Don't be surprised if this title keeps popping up around the awards circuits in early 2012.
#5 - Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Honestly, I expected Rupert Wyatt's sci-fi prequel to be a solid summer spectacle, but I wasn't expecting it to be THAT good. This movie really blew me away in ways I wasn't expecting. We all know Andy Serkis is the motion-capture messiah, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes brings out his amazing skills in such breahtaking ways with his portrayal of the ape who started it all, Caesar. Shortly after its release, a grass-roots Oscar campaign rose up for Serkis' stunning portrayal, from fans who still feel the Academy slighted his work in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The humans are pretty damn good in this one too, with solid turns from James Franco, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, and especially John Lithgow. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that rare summer movie that perfectly blends popcorn thrills with a cerebral flare.
#4 - Drive
Movies which are stuck in development hell as long as this one did, normally don't turn out to be nearly as good. I read the James Sallis novel about four years ago, when it was initially picked up for Hugh Jackman to star as "Driver," with Neil Marshall directing. While I loved the novel, the project fell off the face of the earth until it was resurrected by Ryan Gosling and director Nicolas Winding Refn, and turned into one of the best movies of 2011. Everything about Drive, from Cliff Martinez's award-worthy score, to Ryan Gosling's scorpion jacket, to Nicolas Winding Refn's fresh/dingy portrayal of L.A., is super-effing-cool, and I loved every second of it.
#3 - My Week with Marilyn
When I saw this at Grauman's Chinese Theater during AFI Fest, I spotted Harvey Weinstein in a corner of the lobby, gauging reactions from the crowd after the screening. He looked a tad bit nervous, and rightfully so, because this movie was quite a gamble. Hopefully, Harvey's gamble pays off with a slew of Oscar considerations for Michelle Williams and first-time feature director Simon Curtis, because I absolutely loved the s&*t out of My Week with Marilyn. Michelle Williams turns in one of the year's most delicious performances as screen icon Marilyn Monroe, absolutely nailing every aspect of the Marilyn the world fell in love with, while showing us sides of her personal life we hadn't seen before. Her supporting cast shines as well, with fantastic turns from Kenneth Branagh (who I also hope gets some Oscar attention), Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Julia Ormond, and Emma Watson, who plays a muggle, for once. Anyone who has any interest in movies, filmmaking, or Marilyn Monroe needs to see My Week with Marilyn, post haste!
#2 - The Descendants
Not too long ago, I read an interview with George Clooney who said he believes director Alexander Payne needs to work more. It's an arguement that can easily be made, because it's been seven years since Alexander Payne's last film, the brilliant 2004 dramedy Sideways. However, as long as he keeps making films as outstanding as The Descendants, I really don't care how long it takes. George Clooney shines, as always, playing Matt King, a father who tries to connect with his daughters after his wife suffers a near-fatal boating accident. Much like the films of Thomas McCarthy, Alexander Payne embraces the simplistic storytelling ideals, with incredibly rich characters and dialogue, while putting the stunning Hawaiian landscape on display in beautiful new ways. Shailene Woodley also delivers a breakthrough performance as Matt's eldest daughter, and Matthew Lillard delivers a fantastic turn as well, although I would have loved to see more of him. I hope we don't have to wait another seven years for Alexander Payne's next film, but if it's as terrific as The Descendants, I have all the time in the world to wait.
#1 - The Artist
This is another stunning Harvey Weinstein gamble, but this makes My Week with Marilyn look like doubling down on 11 by comparison. In a landscape of escalating budgets, 3D enhancements, and overall visual spectacle, The Artist goes in reverse by dazzling us the old-fashioned way with this black-and-white silent film. Yes, you read that right, a SILENT FILM. In 2011. Simply amazing. This might be one of the ballsiest movies of all time, with The Weinstein Company putting their stock in director Michel Hazanavicius' gorgeous portrayal of Hollywood in the late 1920s, right on the cusp of "talkies" breaking into the cinematic oeuvre. Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo are names you'll be hearing a lot this award season, and rightfully so for their superb performances as a huge silent film star and a rising young actress who cross paths and see their fortunes change for better and worse. This truly has it all with big laughs, big drama, some wonderful little song-and-dance numbers, and even an adorable little dog thrown in to boot. I was smiling from ear to ear throughout the entire film, which is one of the few movies released in 2011 that proves originality isn't totally dead in Hollywood after all.
That's all, folks! Thanks for checking out my final article of 2011, and here's to more movie awesomeness in 2012! Also, if you want to sing my praises or lash out at my pics o the year (or my insistence of saying "o the year"), hit me up on Twitter @GallagherMW. Peace in. Gallagher out!