2011 came to and end, and now it’s time to recap those things we saw, those things we enjoyed, and those things we abhorred. In the next few weeks, there will plenty of dicussions and conjecture about what will win, who will win what, and who should have been given a chance to win something, but before that, here are some looks at our personal bests without the pressure of award ceremonies.
Question 1: Awards contention and all that aside, what is the best movie you’ve seen this year?
Bill Coffin: 13 Assassins, directed by Takeshi Miike. He’s known for his more blood-curdling projects like Ichi the Killer and Audition, which I also quite like, but this movie was something special. It is very much a spiritual successor to Akira Kurosawa’s classic, Seven Samurai. There are one or two traditional Miike moments in there that remind you just how thin the veneer of civilization can be, but for the most part, the movie is an incredible look at what happens when a warrior caste has no more wars to fight, yet one more cause to die for. God, I loved this movie.
Steve Barker: Beats Rhymes and Life the Travels of a Tribe Called Quest. I’m slightly biased on this one because I’m a huge Tribe fan, but I thought this was done really well with a perfect mix of interviews and live performances. It also explained why Tribe broke up, and most likely will never drop another album, a question I had been pondering since the 90s.
Dustin Freeley: Midnight in Paris. Sure, it’s a romantic comedy, and if it happens to take something home for Best Picture, it will be questioned as much as Shakespeare in Love’s upset over Saving Private Ryan, but it marks Woody Allen’s reemergence into quality cinema post 1999’s Sweet and Lowdown. Sure, Match Point was interesting, and Vicki Cristina Barcelona won an Oscar, but so did Mighty Aphrodite, not a film that’s being canonized any time soon. Here, Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams shine in their awkward, uberdisconnected engagement, Corey Stall is fabulously macho / slightly deranged as Ernest Hemingway, and Michael Sheen adds earnest, face-palmingly comical, condescending pomposity and pedantry as Paul.
Tim Adkins: The Interrupters was the most moving film I saw this year so that comes immediately to mind when thinking of choices for best flick. As for movies that gave me just about everything I wanted, The Debt tops that list. I avoided the big spoiler so I had a good in-theatre experience. Had I known the spoiler…maybe not as much. But with its pacing and Helen Mirren doing her badassed most, I’m sure it still would have been pretty solid.
Jared Wade: The Descendants. It was a small, unique story that showed a man in a scenario I’ve never before seen depicted on screen. How to handle learning about deception is difficult enough when it isn’t complicated by grief of and anger towards the near-dead. All this emotion, combined with a subplot that pits the common good vs. that of an individual fortune (the land-trust decision), would have made for an interesting flick no matter what. But director Alexander Payne’s real accomplishment was weaving all this heavy drama into a whimsical romp through Hawaii full of levity and flowered shirts.
Question 2: What’s the best performance of the year?
Bill Coffin: I think Steve Whitmire deserves a lot of credit for his turn as Kermit the Frog in The Muppets. I know that might seem like a strange choice, and perhaps one mired in nostalgia, but I don’t know anybody who went to see this movie and didn’t like it. (Those are somewhat salted results, as I can’t imagine anybody who isn’t a fan of the Muppets even seeing this movie in the first place, however.) But what really struck home for me was the bittersweetness of this film, and the notion that the Muppets realize they are yesterday’s news. There is a scene where Kermit sings about all of the Muppet friends he has lost track of, and how he failed to keep the gang together. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and with good reason: if Kermit the Frog can’t avoid living a life of regret, then what hope is there for the rest of us? This was a wonderful performance, delivered by a guy talking through a fancy sock on his hand.
Steve Barker: Rainn Wilson in Super. This movie proved that Wilson will have a career long after “The Office” goes off the air. The movie could have easily turned out hokey, but Wilson mixed loneliness, depression and humor so well that even though it was a pretty unbelievable plot it seemed realistic.
Dustin Freeley: Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Although the film wanes a bit with the introduction of Martha’s sister and brother-in-law, any scene with Olsen or John Hawkes as the focal point is hauntingly mesmerizing and convincing. Her expressions are subtle, and she acts with her eyes ever-so-much-more than the volume of her voice, something that is often lost in contemporary performances. More than likely, she won’t get any of the lauded nominations this year, but she certainly should never again be referred to as the “other Olsen sister.”
Tim Adkins: I’ll go with Carey Mulligan in Shame. For one, she owned that role to the extent that I didn’t recognize her at all. For two, she crushed a very dope cover of “New York, New York.” Thirdly, she was bold enough to go full bush. And lastly, her performance helped balance a film that could otherwise have been an elegant clinic by Michael Fassbender. Without her, it would have been like Kobe dropping 81. With her, it was like Pau Gasol helping the Lakers win two titles.
Jared Wade: Nothing stands out. The past few years have featured roles for the ages from Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) and Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine). This year, plenty of people performed well, but I’m having a hard time deciding which person to choose as “best” while grading on a curve. So I won’t.
Question 3: What film has been the most surprising or disappointing this year?
Bill Coffin: Mine isn’t for a particular film but for a category of film: superhero movies. I’m a lifelong comic book fan and you’d think a geek like me would have had a great year, but the truth is, I didn’t bother to see Green Lantern, Thor, Captain America or X-Men: First Class. I’ll eventually get to them, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy at least a few of those, but it’s saying a lot that what compelled me more this year was to watch deconstructions of the superhero genre (such as Defendor, Griff the Invisible and Super) rather than to watch celebrations of it. The superhero genre seems to have exhausted itself much as the zombie genre did a few years ago, which is a shame.
Steve Barker: Warrior. I had no interest in seeing this movie. I know virtually nothing about UFC and since I’d loved The Fighter so much the previous year, I figured this movie wasn’t worth my time. It wasn’t until a friend’s recommendation that I added it to my Netflix queue. I found myself emotionally invested in the characters and was happily surprised that the outcome wasn’t as predictable as your average “contender” type movie.
Dustin Freeley: I’m going to go with The Muppets here. Loved this film. Initially, I wondered if it was on account of nostalgia, but then I realized that the last few Muppet incarnations (Muppet Treasure Island and A Muppet Christmas Carol) stirred nothing in me but lamenting the loss of three total hours. Jason Segal and Amy Adams are superbly sweet and charming in this intelligent, tongue-in-cheek film about the Muppets’ attempt to save their old theater. Any statements made about society, culture, current film and media are there but subtle, so perhaps there’s some credence to what Eric Bolling suggests about The Muppet’s communist agenda, but who cares? Most importantly, the intent of The Muppets is to remind us that we all need a bit of fantasy in our reality, and it succeeds in doing just that.
Tim Adkins: Most Disappointing: Super 8. It was shot near where I grew up so I really wanted to like it. While I didn’t hate it, I found myself wanting them to hurry up and show me the damned monster. I would rather have watched Jaws for the 417th time.
Most Surprising: Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. Apart from the head-nodding trip down memory lane, it changed the way I think about Tribe and it helped me better understand why hip hop careers are often so short. How could any person who works in the most egotistical art form that exists hold any hope that their ego would not ultimately eclipse their art?
Jared Wade: The Adjustment Bureau is among the worst movies I’ve ever seen. I went in with low expectations, having embraced a preview-inspired tagline coined by someone I know: “The Matrix With Hats.” But it didn’t even hold up to these silly, faux-reality, chase-based thriller standards. Worse still, the first half-hour made it seem like it had potential. Then, of course, the rest of the movie happened. Apologies if you know what I’m talking about.