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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2011

Remember when I made a list of 22 movies I needed to see before making my Top 10 of 2011 list?

Remember when, in December of 2011, I said that it would be half a year or so until I got around to making said Top 10?

Well, as it turns out, that was what we in Sweden call “being a time optimist.” Better late than never though, right?

The funny thing is that there are still movies from 2011 that look really good which I haven’t gotten around to yet. Into the Abyss, This Must Be the Place, Damsels in Distress, Weekend, Warrior, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Another Earth, and A Separation are all unseen by me still, to name but a handful. I could have held off on making this list longer to get even more stuff in, but I feel like I’ve waited enough already. These lists are never set in stone, so it’s not like I’m committed to these being the year’s best for ever and ever.

For those wondering how I’m doing on my 2012 backlog, well… Let’s just say that my Top 10 for that year is probably still a good 12 months or so away.

But this is 2011. On with the show!

Honorable mentions: 50/50, Attack the Block, Carnage, Headhunters, Young Adult, Your Sister’s Sister

 

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10 – HANNA (Joe Wright)

“Adapt or die.”

Equal parts stylish action flick and off-beat coming-of-age story, mixed in with plentiful fairy tale elements, Hanna is a unique beats of a movie. Saoirse Ronan is great in the lead, playing a girl who knows all about survival, little about human interaction, and who has to rely on both to escape the bad people who are chasing her.

 

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9 – THE INNKEEPERS (Ti West)

“Let’s go to the basement and find out what that fucking ghost’s problem is.”

The Innkeepers is kind of like what Clerks could have been if 1: it had been a horror film, and 2: if the lead characters had been interesting, entertaining, and brought to life by gifted actors. The work by the lead duo Pat Healy and (especially) Sara Paxton really helps to make you invested in protagonists, so that when the frights start piling up, you actually care about what’s going to happen, rather than just jump because something said “boo!”. This is a quality horror film.

 

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8 – THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (Steven Spielberg)

“Give me those oars! I’ll show you some real seamanship, laddie! I’ll not be doubted by some pipsqueak tuft of ginger and his irritating dog. I am master and commander of the seas!”

Speaking of creating investment in characters, that’s an area where The Adventures of Tintin had it easy, since I’ve been invested in Tintin, Captain Haddock and the others since childhood. But Spielberg’s film doesn’t prey on nostalgia. It feels very much like a modern thing, especially in the clever shots and action sequences where it really takes advantage of its animated form by pulling off stuff that would be hard to do with live action. Pure entertainment, this one.

 

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7 – MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL (Brad Bird)

“A crude drawing, but by your description, that could be Kurt Hendricks. 190 IQ. Served in Swedish Special Forces. Professor of physics, Stockholm University. Specialist in nuclear endgame theory. Asked to resign… well, because he’s crazy.”

It has been about 10 months since I saw this film, and I still haven’t recovered from that tower climbing scene.

 

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6 – TAKE SHELTER (Jeff Nichols)

“You think I’m crazy? Well, listen up, there’s a storm coming like nothing you’ve ever seen, and not one of you is prepared for it.”

An affecting drama with some real power acting on display, particularly from the always commanding Michael Shannon. I love the story in Take Shelter, about a man whose chief want is to keep his family safe, but who can’t be sure whether he’s justified, paranoid or delusional. And it looks great too.

 

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5 – THE RAID (SERBUAN MAUT, Gareth Evans)

“Pulling a trigger is like ordering takeout.”

It’s amazing how much variety you can have with your badass action when it all takes place within an apartment building. Evans here mixes gunplay with martial arts to craft an action film that keeps you on your toes from start to finish, and where every scene could be the stand-out scene in most other movies of its kind.

 

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4 – DRIVE (Nicolas Winding Refn)

“From now on, every word out of your mouth is the truth. Or I’m going to hurt you.”

At the end of 2011, I called this the best movie of 2011 that I had seen so far. Almost two years later, only three have managed to top it, and even then, it’s a close call. Drive remains an excellent and tense experience, like a spring that just keeps getting pressed and pressed and pressed until it explodes into scenes of horrific violence. Ryan Gosling in the lead is superb.

 

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3 – BRIDESMAIDS (Paul Feig)

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen you look ugly, and that makes me kind of happy.”

The only real comedy to make the cut this year, Bridesmaids is everything that’s good about Judd Apatow comedies; it’s absolutely hilarious, but there’s also a lot of heart and emotional resonance with the characters, here focusing on the nature of friendship. Kristen Wiig deserves the lion’s share of praise for this one, both putting in a pitch-perfect performance and having co-written the script.

 

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2 – WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (Lynne Ramsay)

“Just because you’re used to something doesn’t mean you like it. You’re used to me.”

In a long line of great performances, the one as distraught mother Eva in this movie might be the best work Tilda Swinton has ever done. This is a character stuck in awful circumstances, and just how Swinton mined the necessary emotions for the part, I have no idea. Remarkably, the story and directing is every bit as good as Swinton’s performance. As I’ve written (though not yet posted) in my Monthly Report for November, this is a film that would have blown my mind had I seen it when I was first getting into movies. And even now, it still does.

 

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1 – SHAME (Steve McQueen)

“We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place.”

While we’re still on the subjects of awesome performances and blowing my mind, there’s Shame, the best movie of 2011. This is a truly spellbinding film with a number of utterly convincing role portrayals, none sharper than Michael Fassbender‘s powerful performance as sex addict Brandon. McQueen peppers the movie with impressive long takes that, unlike many usages of them, feel like a part of the complete package rather than a cool gimmick. What’s not to like about this movie? Nothing.

What are you favorite films of 2011? What do you think of the movies on this list?

 
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Posted by on 14 November, 2013 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Review – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

I often think about genre biases. While I freely admit that they play a large part in my numerical ratings – which are highly subjective to begin with – I wonder how much of it is in play for people in general. It’s no secret that dramas tend to be held in higher regard than most types of film by many. Comedy, action, horror, and other genres can be well-liked too, of course, but it seems rarer for these types of films to reach the same levels of accolade as dramas often do. This of course begs the question: Shouldn’t all films be judged for what they are? Or are there some genres that are inherently “better” than others? If not, why haven’t there been any torture porn movies that have received rave critical reviews? Shouldn’t those too be “judged for what they are”? I don’t have any answers to these questions.

But let’s talk action, as well as the fascinating subject of review scores. How many action films have I given 5/5 to over the years? 10 or so, give or take a few depending on how generous you are with genre classifications. This is a far lower number than the corresponding one for dramas or comedies – though most comedies I love tend to be of the comedy-drama subset. So it’s rare-ish for an action film to well and truly win me over. Does this mean I’m biased against them?

Whether I am or not, I love it when a film like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol comes along. It’s a helpful reminder that I can love a film even if it doesn’t have anything special to say, as long as it’s just really entertaining. And Ghost Protocol is nothing if not entertaining. Truly great action films may be rare in my book, but when they do come along, they become all the more remarkable.

So, the movie. For the fourth time, Tom Cruise steps into the role of IMF agent Ethan Hunt. He’s in a Russian prison as the film starts (for concealed reasons), but is soon broken out of there by co-workers Carter (Paula Patton) and Benji (Simon Pegg). Soon enough they’re presented with a mission to infiltrate Kremlin and get their hands on some data files. This is the start of a chain of events that will pit the team – along with analyst and newcomer Brandt (Jeremy Renner) – against a radical nuclear strategist (Michael Nyqvist of Millenium trilogy fame). The villain’s goal: to start a nuclear war that will force humanity to grow stronger. The crux is that Ethan and the others, after some plot developments, find themselves without support from the rest of their agency. The fate of the world rests solely on their shoulders.

Nobody sticks around in the director’s chair in the Mission: Impossible franchise; the previous three films were directed by Brian De Palma, John Woo, and J. J. Abrams respectively. For Ghost Protocol, Brad Bird has taken the helm, thereby making his live action debut after many years’ work with animation. His efforts as a director in that artform include The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Watching Ghost Protocol, the fact that the man has never made a live action movie before is hard to believe. There is an assuredness present throughout this film. The action is clear and thrilling, the scenery beautifully captured, and the camera work fresh and inspired.

Everything in this movie just works so seamlessly. The pacing is excellent throughout, moving swiftly from scene to scene with enough exposition to make the plot meaningful but not so much that the film runs the risk of losing steam. The set pieces are all spectacular, with the stand-out being the much-talked about sequence where Ethan has to scale the exterior of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world. This part lives up to all the hype you may have heard, with plentiful gasps and jaw-dropping moments. I get the feeling that Bird’s past in animation worked to his favor when shooting this, as it’s something that could be taken straight from The Incredibles or some other Pixar film. Seeing it unfold in live action is all the more thrilling, though. Don’t hold off on this one for the DVD release; the Dubai part alone makes the film well worth seeing on the big screen.

Everyone on the acting-side deliver satisfactory performances. Cruise thrives in roles like these, as he has enough charm to make them fun even when the script doesn’t necessarily call for it. Nyqvist as the main antagonist feels intriguing, following in the footsteps of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Mission: Impossible III as a villain who might not look all that imposing physically but who through his actions comes off as a formidable threat regardless. Patton and Renner are rookies to the franchise and manage to slide right in. The former’s character perhaps feels a bit underdeveloped and is at a point or two reduced to eye-candy, but the actress makes the most of what she’s given and more than holds her own with some fiery scenes. Renner seems to be groomed to eventually take over as leading man for the franchise. If Ghost Protocol is any indication, this will be a fine choice. But a special gold star goes out to Simon Pegg, whose role from the third movies has been expanded upon as Benji is now a full-fledged field agent. He serves as the comic relief for the most part and reminds us that this is no easy task, as rarely has this type of character worked so well before. There’s plenty of screen time for him here, and every time he’s shown there’s laughter to be had. Truly one of the most gifted comedians the world of film has to offer today.

Ghost Protocol is, simply put, a damn fine action film. There’s enough hi-tech gadgets and wise-cracking to evoke thoughts of James Bond at times, and the action scenes are as exciting as they come. Slick, stylish, and a little silly every now and then. It is perhaps not the most ground-breaking film out there – although that Dubai scene is one-of-a-kind – but every aspect of it is polished and honed to… not perfection, but something approximating it. I have nothing major to complain about. Hopefully, you won’t either. Go see this film now. You deserve it.

Score: 5/5

 
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Posted by on 14 February, 2012 in Reviews

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2004

Where my 2006 list featured lots of comedies and my 2005 one had a disproportionately high number of documentaries, this one doesn’t really feature any remarkable trends. Indeed, as great as all the films on this list are, perhaps the most noteworthy thing about these ten is what a homogeneous collection it is. All of them are fictional movies, and they could all be said to be American (though three are by directors from other countries, and a fourth takes place solely in Europe). As I’ve said before, I make no concious effort to either infuse or stamp out variety in these lists of mine. It just so happens that my favorite films of 2004 just happen to be these ones. And there is at least genre diversity within the specific subgroup here, with drama, comedy, action, animation and romance all getting their time in the spotlight.

As usual, this is 2004 strictly as listed on IMDB (which is the reason why there can be two Best Picture Oscar winners on here). And it’s merely a list of my favorite films, and nothing more than that.

10 – THE INCREDIBLES (Brad Bird)

” ‘Greater good’? I am your wife! I’m the greatest good you are ever gonna get!”

This is my favorite Pixar film, and a large part of it is due to its relatable characters. Sure, the family of superheroes all have their superpowers, but their problems are all human and recognizable, from Mr. Incredible’s longing for his old glory days in the spotlight to his shy daughter Violet’s feelings of inadequacy. Having a bunch of cool action sequences helps too, of course.

9 – CRASH (Paul Haggis)

“That’s good. A little anger. It’s a bit late, but it’s nice to see.”

Some love it, some hate it. I’m among the former. Crash‘s strength doesn’t lie in what it has to say about racism (someone in my Twitter feed once suggested that’s it’s actually less about that than about grace). Rather, what I appreciate in this film is the power of its individual scenes, helped along by strong performances by Michael Peña, Matt Dillon, Thandie Newton and others.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 6 December, 2011 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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