Monday Morning Critic (Part 2) – Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz’s Favorite Films of 2011

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

A little bit of a break of format this week as I wanted to post my Top 10 of 2011 as a column as well as my usual thoughts on cinema but didn’t want to make it into a column of epic length. For part 1 of this column, click here.

2011 as a year kind of sucked for the ardent film buff. Usually there are at least 20-40 films worth viewing in a year and this year it was much closer to 20 than 40 in that regard. There was an awful lot of crap mixed in this year; I can’t remember a weekend without at least one film that wasn’t all that good. Some weekends it felt like torture to see a new film because of the sheer volume of garbage percolating throughout multiplexes. It reflected in the box office as well in one of the worst years in recent memory for box office revenues.

With escalating ticket prices and 3D charges driving up costs to begin with, ticket sales are down much more significantly. It’s being masked because of the uptick in prices but eventually it’ll really hit. In another year of the worst recession in memory, there still were some bright spots at the cinema. All in all 10 films still managed to prove to me that film can do wondrous things. Unlike the past couple years; the top of this year in terms of film is significantly higher than it has been in years past. That’s the thing that genuinely shocked me; there were more than the usual amount of great films. You just had to wade through a whole bunch of crap to get there and that’s what I did: watch a ton of what would wind up becoming bad films, praying like hell they were going to be better than I hoped and the rare handful of times being genuinely surprised at what I found.

Thus I present my Top 10 films of the year 2011.

10. The Adventures of Tintin

War Horse may be the sentimental favorite to win an Oscar this year but for my money the better of Spielberg’s films this year was his mo-cap adaptation of The Adventures of Tintin. Spielberg may have lost a bit on his fastball as he’s aged but when he manages to capture the full range of it he’s still the best director working. Tintin was a throwback to early Spielberg, more akin to Raiders, and Spielberg knows how to capture the spirit of the adventure film better than most.

9. Hanna

Reviewed Theatrically

Of all the directors currently working in Hollywood that haven’t handled a comic book franchise, Joe Wright seems to be the one that would probably benefit the material the most. Normally someone in more prestige picture types, Wright unleashed a brilliant action film earlier this year in Hanna that has all the templates of a good comic book film. With a couple of strong actors and remarkable styling, I’m shocked no one has looked at the director for something out of the Marvel or DC libraries of heroes. You’d think someone would want a big epic tracking shot of an epic super-powered battle for someone like Aquaman. Hanna was such a blistering good time that it was a shock it’d come from the same director as the guy behind Pride & Prejudice and Atonement .

8. Super

James Gunn is a tremendous interesting individual in terms of how he interacts with his fans, et al, but unlike some directors he doesn’t bloviate about his greatness. He just makes interesting films and Super is one of them. And it begins with a fairly novel concept: what happens behind the mask of a costumed crime-fighter isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.

One of the things I don’t think gets explored in depth in the superhero genre is the psyche behind someone who’d want to put on a mask and fight crime. Kick-Ass gave us a viewpoint into it of the man wanting to do something good in his life. But it’s always a bit saccharine when we see someone put on a mask and want to do the things we see in comic books and Kick-Ass is a bit much in that regards for some. I’ve always thought that Watchmen is one of the best vantage points into the psyche of the superhero; they were all damaged and brittle in some fashion and fighting crime was almost a psychosis for some. And that’s the best way Super can be described.

It’s about a damaged guy (Rainn Wilson) who dons a cape and brandishes a wrench to fight back. Everything else to the story is superfluous in a way.

Wilson fights crime but he’s a much more interesting person than crime-fighter. Why he’s doing it is way more interesting and evocative than the actual violence he’s committing against such criminals as thieves and those who cut in line. That’s the fascinating aspect to Super and what made it much more than Rainn Wilson playing his Office character in spandex like it could’ve been.

7. Drive

What a year for Ryan Gosling. He was stellar in Crazy, Stupid, Love. and carried Ides of March but his best film was the one in which he had the fewest lines: Drive.

With a vibe straight out of To Live and Die in L.A, Drive made us take notice of Gosling by playing against type. As a cool and collected driver, a man with no name straight of a spaghetti western, Gosling’s charisma is toned down to an absurd degree. This is a guy that blends in everywhere he goes and he has no problem with that. It’s fascinating because no matter what Gosling does his charisma on screen is undeniable; it’s remarkable for him to be able to tone everything down yet still manage to dominate the screen. It was such a departure from Love and March as well; both of those were different variants on nearly the same character. Both of those were good films but this was his best.

6. Anonymous

Reviewed theatrically

I’m not a fan of Roland Emmerich, not by a long shot, but I can recognize when a director does something marvelous and that’s exactly what this play about the true authorship of William Shakespeare’s plays was: marvelous. It was easy to joke about how waiting for something to blow up but Emmerich has taken his usual visually arresting style and applied it to easily the best story and plot he’s ever worked with. Who’d have thought that the guy behind 2012 could make a thoughtful story about love and betrayal in Victorian England? I didn’t. This was easily the most surprising film of the year, quality wise.

5. The Guard

Reviewed theatrically

Easily the funniest film of the year, The Guard was seen by not as many as it should’ve been and that’s a shame. It’s a film desperately demanding to be found, especially now that it’s out on DVD, and it takes a routine premise of the mismatched cops and mines it for a ton of comic gold. When you get an Irish local (Brendan Gleeson) and an FBI liaison (Don Cheadle) on the lookout for $500 million in cocaine, you have what could be a fairly routine and predictable film. The beauty is that Gleeson is remarkably brilliant and Cheadle the perfect foil; it’s easily the most quotable film of the year as well. Gleeson was gold in In Bruges and is even better here.

4. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

This was one of the films of the year that I didn’t expect to be as good as it turned out to be. I loved the story-telling manner of using the modern and the past with the same two actresses; it felt like four different women, honestly, and I had to double check IMDB to be sure it was the same two playing two different parts. There’s something touching about it that’s hard to describe; this is a brilliant film about the nature of friendship and how that at its core some people are never meant to pass out of our life.

3. The Artist

Discussed in last week’s column

There’s nothing particularly brilliant about this film on its face; we’ve seen variants on the theme of the silent actor being phased out in the talkies in a handful of films over the past 40 years or so. The brilliant thing about the film, though, is that it shows it through the method of a silent film itself. That’s the brilliant part; putting together a silent film that isn’t dialogue card heavy and having actors strong enough to pull the method of silent acting off, no easy feat, makes this film so remarkable. The degree of difficulty was off the charts and this film was insanely brilliant in how it pulled it off.

2. Warrior

Reviewed theatrically

The diehard MMA fan, which I am, will dissect the fight scenes to death because of small things that are more Hollywood than they are a true MMA fight. But the film itself isn’t about the fighting; it’s about the tale of a father trying to reconnect with two sons from a fractured family. Nick Nolte hasn’t been this good in years and Warrior is as much his tale as it is that of Brendan (Joel Edgerton) and Tommy (Tom Hardy). Nolte plays their father, the man who trained them as boys but was such a drunken goon that his wife left and took Tommy with her. Brendan stayed behind, marrying his high school sweetheart. Both find themselves in Sparta, the best tournament in the world, and wind up meeting in the finals. But it’s how they get there that’s remarkable and it’s in their relationship with each other and their father that we find their characters.

Both are deeply damaged because of him; Tommy views his life in the Marine Corps as more indicative of his family than his biological one. Brendan is a terrific father, perhaps overcompensating because of how poor his was. As Paddy tries to get his boys to be his boys again, he’s like Ahab chasing the white whale. Nothing he does will ever bring them back to him how he wants; it’s a tragedy of his doing that takes him the film’s running time to figure out. It’s a remarkable character and Nolte is Oscar worthy in it.

1. The Way

Reviewed theatrically

One has to feel bad for Emilio Estevez in a way. Wanting to make a small film about a father (Martin Sheen) trying to reconnect with his dead son (Estevez) via completion of a task the son had started, Estevez found no takers because it was a PG film that wasn’t the most marketable. In a recession and an era where Hollywood wants every film to have a market defined and a budget set to be profitable, Estevez made a film that resonated much deeper than most Hollywood fare.

This is a film about a father coming to grips with the son he didn’t know and a life he was living just for the sake of. It’s the one thing that I loved more than anything else; this wasn’t some kooky old man trying to do a crazy walk in memory of his son. Tom (Sheen) is a man who didn’t know his son and flies out to Spain to get his body. Wanting to do one thing right by him, he begins walking “El camino de Santiago” for reasons he probably doesn’t even fully comprehend. Running into three other people with various reasons of their own, they begin a collective path to healing the deeply damaged insides that brought them there.

Estevez hasn’t had a strong career as a director but The Way is remarkable story-telling. It’s also the best film of 2011.

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