Christmas has come and gone, New Year’s Eve looms on the horizon, and people everywhere are taking stock of what did and didn’t matter to them this year: it must be time for yet another Best Movies Of 2011 list. Indeed, the list below is just one of a bazillion that you’ll see online over the next few weeks, but we submit to you that ours is the only one to feature talking monkeys, Swedish brothels, alien invasions, and– to cap it all off– the end of the world as we know it. Read on to see what made the cut, my gentle Examiner readers…
Usually, we run our Top 10 Films of The Year list a helluva lot earlier than December 26th, but this year, roughly six-hundred new movies came out over the past ten days, which meant that we had a whole lotta movie-watching to attend to before we could offer up our final verdict (ironically enough, virtually nothing we saw this month came anywhere near unseating the films that did end up making our list below, but whatever: we had to give ’em their fair shot). Good thing, then, that we enjoy watching movies so much. Otherwise, this would’ve been a real chore.
Now, it should go without saying that one man’s Best Films of 2011 list is another man’s toilet paper, but– this being the internet– we feel compelled to remind everyone that the list below isn’t in any way “official”. You may have loved Transformers 3, and you might be outraged to discover that it didn’t make the cut below, but that’s because your opinion differs from ours. No one’s saying you can’t still love Transformers 3 (although, to be fair, if those people really were your friends, that’s exactly what they’d be telling you).
In other words, please do not waste any time harassing Comedy Examiner HQ about the difference between your opinion and ours. We’re well aware of the problem, and– even as we speak– the world’s best scientists are working out a way for your opinion to be the opinion held by every other living person. Progress is being made, but until they get all the kinks ironed out, you’re just gonna have to suffer through one more differning opinion. Just one. Don’t be afraid.
And, with that, let’s go to the list:
The tenth spot on this year’s list has changed, oh, about fifteen times over the period in which our list was being put together. Every time the list seemed finalized (“Ten’s gotta be Take Shelter, right?”), some older film would come to mind (“Hey, why isn’t Tree of Life on the list?!”), or a new film would come out and threaten to topple the whole thing (“Tintin‘s pretty great, shouldn’t that be on here somewhere?”). Frankly, it got kind of silly (“Hey, what about Your Highness?”), the amount of thought that went into the last-place slot on this list.
And so, here we are: in the end, Bridesmaids won the tenth-place lottery, and we’re happy with that decision. If we thought about it for long enough, we might even agree that it belongs even higher on the list, maybe as high as #5 or #6, but such thinking will only cause this article to be even tardier than it already is. Bridesmaids it is, and– y’know what?– it deserves it.
Before the film hit theaters, some of Hollywood’s biggest box-office prognosticators were predicting a quick and brutal death for Paul Feig’s film, mainly because (and, oh man, does this seem stupid in retrospect) Bridesmaids had the audacity to suggest that women can be just as funny and raunchy as men. What paying audience was going to line up to see that? As it turned out, a bunch of paying audiences. Over $100m worth of ’em, in fact. Here’s what they got for their box-office dollar: Melissa McCarthy, turning in one of the year’s funniest (and best) performances, Maya Rudolph crapping herself in the middle of a busy street (while wearing a wedding dress), and the official beginning of Kristen Wiig’s big-screen career.
Bridesmaids wasn’t the highest-grossing comedy of 2011 (that award goes to the totally-not-on-this-list-for-reasons-that-should-be-obvious Hangover Part Two), but it was probably the best-reviewed, and will certainly be the most beloved ten years from now.
Nacho Vigalondo put himself on the map with the time-travel thriller TimeCrimes (see it immediately on NetFlix Instant if you haven’t already), so there was a lot of interest in whatever the writer/director had planned next. At first, we heard it was going to be an “alien invasion” movie. Then, we heard it was an “alien invasion movie with a love triangle”. Then, trailers arrived that made Extraterrestrial look like a Spanish-language Signs. But when the film debuted at this year’s Fantastic Fest, it turned out that virtually none of these descriptions were correct.
Extraterrestrial, it turns out, is a rom-com. Who’d a thought? Yes, it’s true that an alien invasion kick-starts the film’s plot (a very limited “invasion”: we see UFO’s hovering over skylines on the news, but that’s about it), but moments later the film sets all that aside to become a modern-day farce: the night before the “invasion”, Julio has a one-night stand with Julia. The next morning, UFO’s appear, hovering over major cities. Julia’s boyfriend shows up to check on her safety, and– just like that– Julio and Julia begin spinning an elaborate web of increasingly-ridiculous lies to cover-up the previous night’s shenanigans. Toss in a hilariously bizarre (and jealous) neighbor, and you’ve got…whatever Extraterrestrial is.
Call it a rom-com, call it a “sci-fi-com”, call it a “love-tri-sci-fi-com”: call it whatever you want, just see the damn thing when it comes out. But, seriously, don’t be misled by the trailers: whatever Extraterrestrial is, it’s not an “alien invasion” movie.
Another movie you almost certainly haven’t seen, this one a dark comedy from Sweden. Apparently, Clown is a TV show over there, and– if it’s anything like the film version– I’m guessing Clown is Sweden’s answer to Curb Your Enthusiasm: you’ve got the borderline-unlikable lead character(s) doing morally reprehensible things, you’ve got the examination of socially acceptable/unacceptable, you’ve got the faux-documentary aesthetic. All Clown‘s missing is a Larry David cameo (and, of course, Marty Funkhouser).
The film concerns two ne’er-do-well, thirtysomething friends– one a womanizing lout, the other a somewhat-spineless pushover– and a vacation they’ve been meticulously planning: the pair have told their significant others that they’re going “camping”, when in actuality they’re on their way to the area’s most luxuriant brothel. Things go spectacularly wrong from the very beginning, particularly when one bad decision forces our heroes to bring a 10-year-old boy along for the trip. The whole thing’s hilarious, unmercifully filthy, and (thank the comedy gods) consistently offensive to…well, any reasonable person should be offended by Clown, but if you’re warped enough not to be? Oh, man, you’re gonna have a great time.
I caught Clown during Fantastic Fest, where it won the “Best Comedy” award (deservedly so, I might add). Shortly thereafter, I was thrilled to learn that Drafthouse Films– the film-distribution arm of Tim League’s Alamo Drafthouse– had picked up the film for release here in the States. As far as I know, there’s still no concrete release date in place, but as soon as I hear of one, you’ll be the next in line to know (assuming you’ve hit the “Subscribe” button up top, of course).
There’s another horror movie on this list– Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, which you’ll read about shortly– but it’s an entirely different kind of horror movie than James Wan’s Insidious. Whereas You’re Next is more of a pitch-black comedy with slasher-flick undertones, Wan’s Insidious is just a balls-out haunted house movie. And so, even though I think I enjoyed You’re Next more overall (just slightly), I’m prepared to deem Insidious the best horror film of 2011.
To put it another way: before Insidious, I’d never seen a horror movie that was able to provoke an involuntarily yell out of me inside a movie theater (I believe “Holy sh–!” was the exact phrase).
For whatever reason– probably Wan’s involvement with the Saw franchise, which at this point has more detractors than it ever did fans– there seems to be a backlash against Insidious. Prior to the film’s release, the buzz out of the Toronto Film Festival and SXSW (where I first caught the flick) was incredibly strong, but after the film’s release, the haters started crawling out of the woodwork. Ignore the haters, trust the festival-buzz: Insidious may get silly here and there, and it might fumble the ending a bit more than you’d like, but when it’s working as intended, it’ll scare the hell out of you.
6. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
When Caesar (the film’s original title) was announced, I took a look at the film’s log-line and rolled my eyes. When James Franco was cast as the brilliant scientist at the heart of the film, I rolled them even harder. And when the studio renamed the film Rise of The Planet of The Apes— one of the most unwieldy titles ever slapped on a poster– I rolled my eyes so hard, the Earth was very nearly rocked off its axis. From the beginning, I was prepared to dislike this film. No other outcome seemed possible.
And so, when everyone I know went to see the film and reported back with potentially-hyperbolic statements like “it’s the best film of the summer” and “it’s the best Planet of The Apes movie ever“, I had to assume that I had been chosen as the victim of an elaborate practical joke. Eventually, I decided to give the film a shot, and…well, what can I say? When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. Rise of The Planet of The Apes really was the best film of the summer, and now it’s sitting here on my year-end best-of list. If you’d have told me that’d be the case last December, I would’ve laughed you out of the room.
A note: 20th Century Fox is eager to get a sequel in theaters, and that’s totally understandable given the film’s largely-positive critical reception and its huge box office returns, but I’d have serious reservations about the idea of another …Of The Apes movie produced by anyone other than the creative team that gave us this one. There’s a reason this one rocked and Tim Burton’s didn’t, in other words. Let’s just keep that in mind going forward.
5. YOU’RE NEXT
I hate to pump this list full of films you couldn’t possibly have seen this year, but…well, just consider this a “Top 7 Films of 2011 and Top 3 Films You Should Be Looking Forward to in 2012” list. Adam Wingard’s You’re Next is absolutely one of those films, and I feel damn lucky to have caught the film’s (only) screening at Fantastic Fest this past October, which kicked the ass of every single person in attendance.
Here’s the basic set-up, but be aware that you should go out of your way to learn next-to-nothing about the film before it hits theaters: one weekend, a well-to-do family meets for dinner in their large, out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere country house. Dinner has barely started when the house falls under attack, apparently by a group of masked lunatics who have the home surrounded. Who are they? Why are they there? Who’s on who’s side, anyway? Discovering the answers is an absolute pleasure.
Based on what I’ve heard, Lionsgate (who snatched the film up for release just before its Fantastic Fest screening) is hoping to release You’re Next around Halloween, which is both good news and bad news. Good, because…well, any time a great micro-budget film (especially one with no big stars attached) lands a wide-release, it’s good news. Bad because, obviously, you’re going to have to wait until Halloween to see it. Trust me: it’s more than worth the wait.
4. THE MUPPETS
For years now, Jason Segel and Nick Stoller have been trying to make their very own Muppet movie. Finally, in 2011, they got their chance. As someone who grew up during the “cooling down” period of the Muppets‘ popularity, I couldn’t really understand what all the hubbub was about: this was still a series where puppets crack jokes, interact with celebrities, and sing songs about rainbows, right? Mmmyeah, probably not my kinda thing.
Or so I thought. I was utterly blindsided by The Muppets (which Stoller and Segel wrote; James Bobin directed), dumbfounded by how utterly joyous and fun and satisfying the whole damn thing was. Hell, the songs alone (by Flight of The Conchords‘ Bret McKenzie) are worth the price of admission.
I had long-since believed myself incapable of loving something this un-cynical, but The Muppets proved that there’s still a soft spot in there, somewhere. If you didn’t bother with the film when it hit theaters– perhaps because you didn’t think it’d be “your thing”, or perhaps because you thought it’d be more “kid-friendly” than “you-friendly”– you should absolutely give the film a shot.
The person who has no love for 2011’s The Muppets is a person not worth knowing.
Depending on variables like my mood, the weather, and the temperature in the room, Evan Glodell’s Bellflower might actually end up in the #2 spot on this list; it’s so close in terms of “all-around awesomeness” that it might as well have tied Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block for second-best film of the year. But “ties” are for the non-committal, so let’s just agree that Bellflower is a very, very, very good movie.
In short, Bellflower‘s a pitch-black drama dealing with a very messy break-up, but this isn’t the kind of film that benefits from a “short” description. It’s dark and challenging, emotionally ugly, and often feels so personal that the audience will feel like it’s been caught reading someone’s diary. Few films actually earn the term “harrowing”, but this is one of them.
Most of the people I’ve talked about the film loved Bellflower, but I have run across a few people who found the film difficult to watch. Even then, though, the non-fans have admitted that Glodell made something incredible here: whatever Glodell does next will be worth paying attention to.
2. ATTACK THE BLOCK
I first caught Joe Cornish’s alien-invasion comedy all the way back in March, when it screened during this year’s SXSW Film Festival. The amount of buzz those three screenings generated was incredible, but also deserved: Attack The Block is funny, scary, offers one thrilling moment after another, contains the best creature-effects I’ve seen on-film in years (compare the unique, immediately-iconic monsters seen here to, say, the monster in Super 8), and proves that one doesn’t need to make a big, important, “thoughtful” movie as their first feature in order to establish oneself as a major new talent.
There were a few speedbumps on the way to Attack The Block‘s U.S. release (the distributor was worried that American audiences wouldn’t “understand” the film’s thick British accents/slang), and the film didn’t earn nearly as much as it deserved to at the box office, but none of that matters now: the film will find a massive audience now that it’s on DVD/Blu-ray, and Cornish has already proven himself a director worth watching (his latest project is in theaters now: he co-wrote The Adventures of Tintin with frequent collaborator– and fellow genius– Edgar Wright). Can’t wait to see what he does next.
Melancholia won’t be for all tastes, but since when has Lars von Trier had his finger on the pulse of what’s “popular”? At first, Melancholia appears to be von Trier’s operatic vision for the end of the world (the film opens with a series of gorgeously-scored shots of the film’s main characters in the moments before the Earth is destroyed), but soon reveals itself to be an incredibly personal statement about depression (which, yes, von Trier has been treated for in the past). “Feel-good movie of the year” this ain’t.
As with any von Trier film, Melancholia isn’t for all tastes. Some viewers might be put off by how much time is spent wallowing in Dunst’s depression, and others might object to the fact that there isn’t a likable character in the entire film, and there are probably even a few people out there who’d call the film “boring”…but I’d disagree with every one of them. This isn’t a Michael Bay version of the apocalypse, people: this is Lars von Trier, a director who takes great pleasure in making his audience feel uncomfortable.
No other film released in 2011 shook me as deeply as Melancholia did, and no other film has held up as well to repeat viewings (I’ve seen the film three times now, and I’ve enjoyed it more with each viewing). On a slightly-more-personal note, it’s rare for me to enjoy a von Trier film as much as I enjoyed this one, and rarer still that I’d enjoy a Kirsten Dunst performance at all. For these reasons and a hundred others, Melancholia is my pick for best film of 2011. See it immediately, on the biggest screen possible, with the sound turned all the way up.
And that, my friends, is that: another year down, another top-ten list completed. As always, we invite you to stick around and hit the comments section if you’ve got anything you’d like to add to all this (and, by all means, hit the “Subscribe” button up top to get all future Comedy Examiner articles delivered straight to your inbox, free of charge, the moment they’re published), and we’d also like to remind everyone that our anti-top-ten list– The Top 10 Most Hilariously Awful Movies of 2011— will be along shortly. Stay tuned for that, folks.
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