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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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4 reasons why Crank is the best action movie of the 2000s

Bourne is too shaky, Avatar is gorgeous but narratively familiar, the Fast franchise can never quite shake its street racing roots, Minority Report is meh, most of the superhero movies all blend together, and Drive, while one hell of a film, is way too restrained for me to truly think of it as an action movie.

No, the real king of the 2000s is a film that rarely gets the full recognition it deserves: Crank. It’s written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, and stars Jason Statham as hitman Chev Chelios who after ruffling some feathers in the criminal underworld of L.A. gets injected with a lethal poison that will kill him if he doesn’t keep his adrenaline levels high. Essentially, it’s Statham in the role of the bus from Speed. The movie is a crazy ride that never takes itself seriously. It’s loud, mindless (not to be confused with stupid), preposterous, occasionally outrageous, and, above all else, pure fun. It’s a movie that fully accomplishes everything it sets out to do, and does so in style.

While there have been a fair share of truly great action movies so far this millennium – Inception, The Dark Knight, The Raid, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, to name a few – Crank is the best of them all. Here’s why.

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1. It actually delivers non-stop action.

So many movies are described as non-stop action, but few actually are. There are always lulls and breaks, dialogue-sections to enhance the plots of flesh out relationships between characters, or a myriad of other non-actiony things. Take Shoot ‘Em Up, for instance, a movie I tend to describe as “good, but why would I ever watch it when I could watch Crank instead?” It’s another mindless action flick with plenty of cool and outrageous amounts of gunplay going on, and yet it’s bogged down by stretches of plot that feel like padding. Shoot ‘Em Up has a humdrum story that adds nothing to the film and takes away from what you want to see, I.E. Clive Owen running, leaping and sliding around guns akimbo. Crank, however, is a different beast. Due to the premise of the poison being kept in check by adrenaline, there is an in-story need for the action to just keep rolling. Sure, there are some scenes focusing on dialogue here too, but they will generally be interrupted or interpunctuated by action, even if it’s just something minor like Chelios shoving his hand into a waffle iron to keep his heart going.

Of course, I’m not saying that story and dialogue are bad things. You get more invested when you care about what’s going on with the characters in a film, so they most certainly serve a purpose. Pacing is also a factor. As an example of this done right, there’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It has that long desert section in the middle that acts like a cooldown before the high-octane final act, and the film is better for it. But Crank’s non-stop approach works too, because it serves the particular story being told. And it makes no bones about it. When a film can’t even have establishing exposition without setting it during a high-speed car chase through a shopping mall, you know you’re in for something out of the ordinary.

Also: bonus points for Statham doing all of his own stunts.

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2. It has interesting dynamic between protagonist and antagonist.

Another unique thing about Crank is that it’s made clear from the first scene that the villain has essentially already won. Ricky Verona (Jose Pablo Cantillo in a great turn) has injected Chelios with poison that will kill him. There is no cure. Chelios will die. It becomes a matter of just whether he can keep himself alive long enough to kill Verona before he goes down himself.

This opens up possibilities that the film takes full advantage of. In most action movie, you need to build up the bad guy as threat throughout the movie, to make you feel like the protagonist is in danger and might not make it. The antagonist has to be kept strong. He needs to always be one step ahead of the hero, whether in terms of brains, brawn, wit, or what have you.

In Crank, there is no such need, as the villain has already accomplished his goal. So Verona becomes an atypical action antagonist. Never during Crank is he seen as truly in command of the situation. He’s cocky and arrogant, but it’s clear that he’s just trying to overcompensate; in truth, he’s a small snivelling sycophant – more middle management than an actual crime lord – who has to rely on his stronger brother and his numerous henchmen to get anything done. He calls up Chelios on his cell phone just to taunt him, but all his threatening and gloating just gets brushed off by the snarky hero in hilarious fashion, causing Verona much frustration. He’s like an ineffective schoolyard bully who throws tantrums whenever he doesn’t get his way. Yet even this serves the movie, because even if we don’t perceive him as a continuous threat – the poison is the real danger in Crank, not Verona – he’s still such an annoying jerk that we can’t wait for Chelios to get his hands on him.

As for Chelios himself, well… He certainly doesn’t fit into the Bruce Willis Die Hard “vulnerable everyman hero” mold. Not at all. In fact, he’s quite unstoppable. If not for the poison, he’d be the archetypical invincible action man. Appearance-wise, he’s no Schwarzenegger-ish übermensch, but the attitude is certainly there. How much of it is based on desperation, though? He works successfully as a hitman, a job that would require a modicum of finesse and patience – qualities rarely on display from him in Crank. What we do see is him robbing a convenience store for copious amounts of energy drinks, riding a motorcycle while standing on it with no hands, and fleeing from a hospital in nothing but a patient’s gown. Is this desperation on display? Determination? The acts of a man with nothing left to lose? What would a prequel to Crank look like, with no threatening poison? This may be more pondering than what a movie like this should ever warrant.

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3. The presentation matches the content.

Crank is a highly stylized movie. While it has some aspects of action movies of days gone by that I dig, you’d never mistake it for anything but a product of the 2000s due to its visual style. When the plot of the film has the hero scrambling to keep his adrenaline running, the directing and editing becomes key. This is where Neveldine, Taylor, and editor Brian Berdan shine. Through liberal use of montages, quick-cuts, fast-forwarding, cut-aways, color filters and other tricks, we’re constantly in the same mind-state as the protagonist: that of a frantic pursuit. Thankfully, despite this, Crank never descends into shaky-cam hell. I loathe when you can’t make out what is actually happening on-screen in movies, and it’s something a great many post-Bourne action films falls prey to. But Crank knows that it’s an action movie, and it knows that the viewers want to see the action. So when shit goes down, it keeps things clear and in focus.

The soundtrack is also worthy of mention, as it adds a lot of variety to a film that could easily be seen as one-note. There are songs by Quiet Riot, The Crowd, Harry Nilsson, Jefferson Starship, NOFX and more on display here, all adding unique flavors to various parts of the movie.

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4. It’s really funny.

Chelios’ mildly annoyed look when an entire room of gangsters point their guns at him. Verona’s Seinfeldian telephone-slamming freakouts. Ditzy love interest Eve (Amy Smart) imploring Chelios to help her adjust the timer on her microwave oven. There’s a lot of humor crammed into Crank, and pretty much all of it works and suits the overall tone of the film. Statham in particular really has a lot of fun with his character, playing the sarcastic British badass to perfection. The sequel, Crank: High Voltage, did the slight mistake of upping the ridiculous comedy, which made for a movie that felt like it tried too hard to be silly. The original is more measured.

It’s all nicely integrated into the rest of the movie, too. Crank doesn’t have comic relief per se, because everything in the movie is equally ridiculous, so there’s nothing for it to relieve. It makes for a smooth viewing experience. Or at least as smooth as a high-strung film like this could ever be.

What do you think of Crank? And what is the best action movie of the 2000s? Comment below!

 
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Posted by on 22 October, 2013 in Misc.

 

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Monthly Report: March 2013

One year ago, I made my first Monthly Report post here on A Swede Talks Movies. I didn’t plan for this at the time, but the Monthly Report has become the real rock of this blog. Even as the amount of posts has decreased throughout the last year, the Monthly Report provides regularity and stability. I like that.

Mighty Aphrodite (Woody Allen, 1995)
The whole Greek theater angle was largely lost on me. The story itself is solid Woody Allen, with a couple of pure gold lines here and there and some effective and affecting performances. Not the best film I’ve seen from the director, as in the end it doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s a fine enough watch.
3/5

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Lorene Scafaria, 2012)
For some reason, I was expecting something more comedic. I was also expecting something not as good as this ended up being. The whole coming apocalypse thing is shown with lots of fascinating details, but the real goodness here comes from the relationship building between Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Superb chemistry, and I found myself genuinely moved by their story. It’s a healthy reminder of just how great Carell can be with the right material, and of how Knightley is capable of so much more than just looking good in a period dress. Perfect ending, too.
4/5

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The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans, 2011)
Badass to the highest degree.
5/5

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969)
I haven’t explored the western genre enough to really say with any degree of certainty that it isn’t my thing, but what I can say is that there is little about the genre that makes me inclined to investigate it further. I liked this movie, though. The banter between Paul Newman and Robert Redford made for a lot of fun scenes, and the story of the two outlaws was compelling stuff. The extended music scenes felt a bit weird, though.
4/5

Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
Some movies manage to really get under my skin. It might take a little while, but once they get through, they’re free to work whatever brand of magic they’re capable of, and it’ll just stick with me in a certain way. This does not mean that they’re better movies than others; it just means that they manage to operate in a different manner than most. Shame is such a film, and it achieves it through spellbinding long takes, a tremendous lead performance by Michael Fassbender, and a take on addiction different from the norm in films. The previous McQueen-Fassbender collaboration, Hunger, was a movie I admired more than I liked. Shame, I admire and adore in equal measures.
5/5

Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)
The most boring movie I’ve seen in quite some time.
1/5

Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
The lavish production of it all is what I found myself liking most about this film. The whole shebang looks great, from the costumes to the art direction to the environments. My main problem is Barry himself, who for most of the film is really quite boring. The story fortunately picks up a bit in the second half. All in all, though, this is one of my least favorite Kubrick films.
3/5

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Stephen Daldry, 2011)
Rough goings early on with this one, as I didn’t like the main character – more to do with the writing than Thomas Horn‘s performance – and found there to be too many shortcuts. Having the kid always carry around a tambourine that he shakes whenever he’s nervous is a lazy way to show his emotional state, for instance. That said, this film definitely managed to win me over as it went along. It unabashedly tugs on the heart-strings, and Daldry ultimately makes it work. Bonus points for fine performances by Max von Sydow and Sandra Bullock.
4/5

Set It Off (F. Gary Gray, 1996)
Very run-of-the-mill bank robbing movie, full of clichés and overwrought melodrama. Not very good.
2/5

Cleanflix (Andrew James & Joshua Ligairi, 2009)
A surprisingly compelling documentary on the business of edited movies, IE when companies buy and edit movies to remove content they deem unsuitable or immoral. Fair arguments are made for both sides of the argument, and while the process to me certainly seems legally wrong, the movie did make me pause to ponder the morality of it. This was more than I expected to do, so that was cool. What drags the movie down is the form, with lots of talking heads and floating text to provide narration. You watch it for what it has to say, not for the way in which it says it.
3/5

The Girl (Fredrik Edfelt, 2009)
Heartfelt and frank story about a 9-year-old girl (Blanca Engström) who has to spend a summer taking care of herself. The clash between childhood and adult life is potent here, and the movie does a good job in sweeping you along in its smooth pace. A Swedish film that rises a bit above the norm.
4/5

About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 2002)
Jack Nicholson is great here. It’s the kind of performance that make you wish there were more strong meaty roles like this one for older actors out there. The rest of the film is good too, although I was a bit bothered with the over reliance on narration in various forms to tell the story of Warren’s state of mind.
3/5

[Movie]11-14 (2003)

11:14 (Greg Marcks, 2003)
A black comedy thriller of sorts, with a number of different plot threads that intersect with one another. I found the tone of humor to be an ill fit for the more gruesome parts of the story, but it’s nonetheless fun to see in what ways the various plots are connected.
3/5

Morning Glory (Roger Michell, 2010)
The story of a plucky young career woman getting a new job and having to deal with old cranky people in order to show what she can do is nothing new; Morning Glory’s writer Aline Brosh McKenna herself handled similar subject matter four years prior in The Devil Wears Prada. The formula still works here though, largely thanks to Energizer bunny Rachel McAdams and a Clint Eastwood-channeling Harrison Ford. The whole movie is imbued with an energy that many comedies are missing these days, in fact. Everything just clicks. Morning Glory doesn’t break new ground, but it offers for a very fun time regardless.
4/5

Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day (Mike Clattenburg, 2009)
Me and a friend were nursing hangovers and flipping through Netflix when we saw this film none of us had heard about before and decided to give it a go. We didn’t know that it was based on a TV show, and not the first film to be based on it either. Regardless, I enjoyed it. The material itself runs a bit thin at times, as there’s not enough to fully sustain its 102 minutes, but the characters are amusing and have an off-beat kind of dynamic with one another. I found myself wanting to see more of them, so…
3/5

Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (Mike Clattenburg, 2006)
…naturally, I checked out this one too. It’s roughly on par with Countdown to Liquor Day. A bit better paced and with a sharper plot, but it’s not quite as funny – possibly due to less focus on Bubbles (Mike Smith). Nonetheless, I don’t see how you could like one of the films and not the other.
3/5

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Intolerable Cruelty (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2003)
Oddly flat in content for a Coens film, but the humor is there and the cast has a good bit of fun with it all. The ending seemed weird to me, but then that’s par for the course when watching one of the brothers’ movies for the first time, so I’m not holding that against it too much.
3/5

The Substitute (Robert Mandel, 1996)
Pretty bad in most every way, from the clichéed story and poor action scenes to the cheesy acting. But it’s at least the kind of bad that you can laugh at if you watch it with some friends. If I can give Troll 2 a score of 3/5, I can give this one a 2.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 18
Average score: 3.3 / 5
Best film of the month: Shame
Worst film of the month: Valhalla Rising

 
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Posted by on 2 April, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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