Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Movies of 2011

I only managed to see 47 (No! 48!) movies in 2011, a drop from last year when I saw 53. There are several reasons for this: I think 2010 saw the overall quality of what was offered up to the movie-going public fall significantly (and I will clarify my thoughts on that in a moment); prices at the cinemas continue to climb; TV continues to impress with much of what it has to offer, and so a lot of my viewing time goes to programs I am invested in; the boys are involved in a lot more in their lives, and wish to see movies with friends, or not see the ones we would usually see together; and keeping with the boys, their lives are still so very busy, and often that involves me, coaching or cheering or watching or just chauffeuring.

Much has been made about the drop in movie attendance this past year, apparently the smallest paying audience in 16 years, and I think Roger Ebert really hits the nail on the head with his thoughts. I want to stress just how difficult it is to see many of these movies if you don't live in a major center. Saskatoon has a population a little shy of a quarter million; not huge, I know. Our movie theatre selection is therefore limited: Cineplex has a Galaxy Theatre downtown, with (I believe) 10 screens. Near our house they have another complex in a mall, with 6 or 7 screens, but they have no idea at that location how to properly run a projector or how to set the sound, so we steer clear. It's also dirt cheap compared to downtown, though, so plenty of people put up with being treated like crap to get the "big" screen and expensive popcorn experience, so what do I know? Across the mall from that one is the Rainbow, part of the smaller Magic Lantern chain. It shows second-run movies, the last chance to catch it in a theatre before it hits the rental market. They've recently invested in 3D for one of their screens, so some of the cheap movies also have a $3 surcharge. I do see lines there pretty regularly, but I don't think we saw one movie there this past year.

The other two options in town are both repertory cinemas, the Broadway (independent, a little scruffy around the edges) and the Roxy (also owned by Magic Lantern, gloriously redone on the inside to echo how going to the movies used to look and feel). We try and get to these theatres when we can, but as noted it's difficult. Also, even though Ebert in his article talks about the desire of the movie-going public to see intelligent, even challenging fair, I know for a fact that the Roxy has trouble attracting audiences to many great movies, and so they have to top things up by acting as a second-run house for films that have just finished at the Galaxy, only a few blocks away. It's frustrating for me, and I know it's frustrating for the management. And so they, like the Broadway, are turning more and more of their attention to live events which, coupled with the fact that the distributors appear to be dropping film in favor of all digital, may mean saying goodbye to the chance to see all sorts of excellent films on the big screen.

I have two specific examples about this monoculture mindset. When Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams came out, it was one of the few times I was excited about seeing a 3D film. And so of course it didn't come to the Galaxy, which has 3D (fun fact: doesn't matter how many emails you send to the distributor and the cinema owner, they will always blame each other for this unfortunate turn of events), but instead went to the Roxy, which doesn't. I quite foolishly held out, hoping that maybe it would at least go to at least the Rainbow, but that didn't happen. And so I will see it in 2D this year, in my own somewhat smaller home theatre. And then last night I talked with my parents. For New Year's Eve in Edmonton they decided to go out and see a movie (a rare occurrence for them), and went to see The Artist. At a major Cineplex cinema, no less. It's not here yet, and as far as I know will be at the Roxy, although they have yet to set a date on it. This is frustrating, as you might imagine.

I also wonder about how the cinemas approach their customers. When we went to see Fincher's English-language version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the audience was almost wholly made of people our age and older. Just the type of audience I suspect the theatres do not see nearly as often as they should. And so, to greet this well-moneyed but probably short of patience crowd, we were treated to the largest and longest collection of commercials I have ever see on the screen, followed by a series of highly inappropriate (for both the movie we were seeing and for the audience) trailers, including some jingoistic crap starring actual Navy SEALS as Navy SEALS (ask yourself this: is Canada suddenly keen on waving the US flag?) and the new Nic Cage Ghost Rider movie. Why bother going for a nice night out at the movies if this is how you're going to be greeted? And then, a few days later, we go to see the new Tintin movie and only get one measly commercial, followed by a series of trailers that includes The Hobbit and the new Studio Ghibli film, both of which had me and the boys (Jo, not so much, since she is less of a geek) shaking with anticipation.

There is another reason for seeing fewer movies this year, although the one is kind of a combo and could feasibly be divided into two reasons. The closest video store to our house, the only one even marginally within walking distance, closed down. Add to that, Netflix has finally come to Canada, and proudly boasts just about the worst selection one could hope for. If a movie is current, you can rest assured it will have been a major bomb, such as M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender. We may indeed invest the tiny amount of money required to stream older movies and outdated TV shows, but out of protest at being treated like the kid who gets all the hand-me-downs (and yes, I am aware that there is some strange vagary in Canada that apparently makes all this happen, although I couldn't tell you if that's just a crappy excuse) I have yet to fork over any money.

Anyhow, enough kvetching. Here's the list. As per other years, movies I saw in the theatre are denoted by an asterisk (*). I will also noted what year the movie is listed on IMDB, unless the movie was a true 2011 release. I think, though, that it shows just how tough a year it was to get to the movies by how much catching up I was doing, and by how few foreign-language films and documentaries I was able to see.

Iron Man 2 (2010) - To carry on with my inner-geek-getting-tired-of-this-shit theme from last year, I enjoyed the movie well enough, but then promptly forgot about it.

Agora (2009) - This is one I regret not having seen in the theatre. Not perfect, but a nice shot across the bow in the discussion about rational thought versus religion, and a great setting (the Library of Alexandria).

Pirate Radio (2009) - Originally known as The Boat That Rocked, this had a great cast and a can't-miss concept that, unfortunately, missed. Some fun moments don't make up for the disappointment I felt with this one.

Gran Torino (2008) - Nice to see Clint reaching out and trying to not always be so gruff. Oh, wait. Still, he played it against type by forcing us to think he was going with the grain when the movie came to a head, so that was good.

*The King’s Speech (2010) - Yes, I enjoyed it. Heartwarming, feel good, great acting, yadayada. And then it was over and I was ready to move on.

The Soloist (2009) - A little maudlin, a little too much over-the-top from both Downey and Foxx.

*127 Hours (2010) - I'd followed this story since it first happened and, as always, am intrigued by the choices Danny Boyle makes as a film maker, both in what he chooses to film and how he chooses to film it. Quite riveting.

The Social Network (2010) - An excellent film that suffers from the central character being such a cold fish that it's hard to find a central heart.

Alice in Wonderland (2010) - Hoo boy. We were airing out the house for weeks after this stinker.

The Cove (2009) - Astonishing and upsetting, this documentary about the slaughter of dolphins in Japan really should be seen by everybody.

Get Low (2009) - A nice, low key movie with Robert Duvall doing Robert Duvall as a crabby old hermit.

Monsters (2010) - Interestingly, one of three low budget monster movies I saw this year. Also interestingly, I think this was the weakest of the three. But I still enjoyed it.

Restrepo (2010) - A great doc about a year at a forward base in Afghanistan. Tim Hetherington, one of the directors and a great war photographer, was killed this past year in Libya.

The Town (2010) - I think Ben Affleck is really coming into it as a director. I do hope he continues to stretch, and by the looks of Argo, that may indeed be the case.

The White Ribbon (2009) - Quiet and disturbing as shit, this German film takes place just before WW1 and absolutely deserves to be watched.

Winter’s Bone (2010) - And hey, speaking of disturbing, this is the film that would have possibly upset True Grit to be my number one movie of the previous year, if only it had come to a theatre in town (again, barring a brief appearance at the rep cinema when I couldn't go). If you plan to see The Hunger Games this year, do make an effort to watch this one first.

*Paul - Yeah, I had fun, and I laughed. No, it's not a classic, and Pegg and Frost, as enjoyable as they are together, will probably not reach the heights of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz again. But that's OK, I guess.

*Source Code - A smart SF thriller that held my attention. But, and I don't know if it's the movie or me getting older and therefore growing up, I don't feel the urge to own it. And that's odd for smart SF thrillers.

*Hanna - I really enjoyed this movie, as preposterous as it was. Lots of smart foreshadowing and little tricks with what the camera chose to show you, and an absolutely propulsive soundtrack to boot.

Salt (2010) - Another thriller, this one not quite so good, but OK for letting the mind for for awhile.

*Thor - And again, I went to the cinema, shut off my brain, had a good enough time, then went home and didn't worry my pretty little head about what I'd just seen. Some of which was pretty damned stupid, actually.

*Bridesmaids - Laugh? I thought I'd die. Funny and smart and of course extraordinarily disgusting. Kristin Wiig is my new hero.

*Super 8 - I know opinions varied on this, but it hit my sweet spot. A little loud and over the top a few times (train crash, and crash, and crash anyone?), it still brought me back to another time and dredged up all sorts of great filmic memories for me.

The American (2010) - George Clooney in the quietest spy thriller you could ever hope to see, directed by the guy who used to shoot U2's cover photos. I quite liked this.

The Adjustment Bureau - This was a pleasant surprise, although since we usually like Matt Damon in this house, maybe it shouldn't have been. Another smart and fun SF thriller.

Buried (2010) - This one was tough to pull off, and sometimes I thought maybe they had, but in the end it's hard to hold you when you're inside a coffin with the main character and his only interactions are over the phone.

*Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 -  A grand finale to a series that has only gotten better with age.

*Cowboys & Aliens - This was a dog of the highest water. I really want my two hours back for this one.

Rango - Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp may have crapped on us with most of the Pirates movies, but this was a surprising delight from beginning to end.

*The Tree of Life - Another one that was guaranteed to divide people (and, frankly, to not even interest many), this was a stunning and sometimes confusing film from Terrence Malick.

*Horrible Bosses - Another very funny and very rude comedy. Jennifer Aniston, how I love you.

Win Win - Paul Giamatti as a sad sack high school wrestling coach is very good, but the young man who plays the wrestler he takes in was outstanding, and the film left me feeling very warm and like I could walk on air.

*The Debt - A remake of an Israeli thriller I never did see. Good because of a good cast, but I just don't know if it was really needed.

Troll Hunter (2010) - A Norwegian film, the second-best monster movie of the year.

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009) - Fun and silly and finally got to see it so I could get that itch out of my system.

*Drive - Wow and wow and wow. To that woman who was suing because the movie didn't have much, you know, driving in it, I hope you lose and are sentenced to a year of sitting and watching nothing but Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson movies with your eyes pried open.

*Life In A Day - This was that YouTube movie, produced by Ridley Scott. Quite good, actually, although the Roxy had only a slightly defective disk copy and therefore we had to put up with all sorts of fits and starts.

Cedar Rapids - Ed Helms is actually quite sweet in this, and it's fun and funny.

13 Assassins (2010) - A tremendous Japanese period piece with some major action and set pieces that didn't need buttloads of CGI to be effective.

*Attack the Block - My favorite monster movie of the year, this British film about an alien invasion coming in one of the poorer areas of London is a wild ride.

*Red State - In which Kevin Smith goes completely over the top. And honestly? When the heavenly trumpet sounded, I actually found myself hoping he really was going there.

Captain America - Well, I had more fun than I anticipated I would.

*The Guard - "I'm Irish. Racism is part of my culture." Brendan Gleeson plays it so very sly in this slightly askew take on the oddball cop/buddy movie. Well done.

*Hugo - I may have missed Herzog's film, but Scorsese shows how to do 3D right. No crap jumping out at you, rather you going in, discovering the literal depth of the movie. That, coupled with a neat story and a lovely tribute to films of old, made this one I was glad to see on the big screen.

*Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - Yes, I enjoyed it. That said, it almost enrages me to see how many critics put this on their top ten lists for the year. Listen, people, this is not a movie, it is a collection of set action pieces designed to show how exciting Cruise can still be, tied together by only the most tenuous of plot threads, full of ridiculous excuses to take us to exotic locations around the world.

*The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - The opening credits, as can often be with Fincher films (think Se7en) are alone worth the price of admission. I liked this one more than the Swedish version. Very good.

*The Adventures of Tintin - And here for me was the biggest surprise of the year. I have all the books, have owned them since I was a kid, and wasn't sure if I could expect anything good. But I am also firmly of the view that a movie and a book are two different things. And so I loved this movie, truly enjoyed the ride that Spielberg took me on.

LATE ADDITION KungFu Panda 2 - Forgot to mention we watched this with Brennan on New Year's Eve. Good fun, and then, like some many other movies of its ilk, it ended.

Now for my Top Ten. As usual, the usual caveat stands that I only list 2011 movies (aside from foreign films that might have been difficult to get here), and that my list of movies seen is woefully incomplete.

1. Drive
2. The Tree of Life
3. Win Win
4. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
5. Hugo
6. Attack the Block
7. Bridesmaids
8. 13 Assassins
9. The Guard
10. Super 8

Hanna and Tintin both wrestled and came close to number 10. I ruled out The White Ribbon because it was 2009, but otherwise it would have been top 5.


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