Rack Focus: Sex, Trees, Wizards, and Aliens, or The Very Best of 2011

Hey there, gang! My name is Gary Sundt, and this is my very first piece as film critic for At the Buzzer. To those who know my film criticism, hello again. To those who are new to the game, glad you could make it, and check out my past reviews over at garysundt.wordpress.com. And to those who have a problem with my opinions and wish to strike up a debate about films and filmmaking, please feel free to do so as I’ll be thrilled to pound your very wrong opinions into the ground.

Now that we’re done with formalities, let’s get to my breakdown of the Best Films of 2011. While I thought coming up with 10 films I loved from 2011 would be difficult, I’m rather surprised to discover just how much there was to love. I’ve written a lot of these lists in the past, and I’d like to try something different this year by merely denoting my favorite flicks and giving them awards I’ve seen fit to make up.

From lizards to mutants, from aliens to sad people, from sex to sex with the Irish — here’s my recap of the very best of 2011 in film.

Favorite Film of 2011: Shame

In the wake of the celebrity sex scandals that are rocking Hollywood, there is perhaps not a more timely film on this year’s list than Shame, an unsympathetic depiction of a true sex addict from writer/director Steve McQueen. At its core is an unimaginably solid performance from Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a man whose compulsion for sex keeps him from maintaining any healthy relationships of any kind. We see him orgasm several times — with men, women, and himself — but these moments are never once of ecstasy.

Brandon is forced to wander aimlessly through his day without purpose, witnessing men chase after women that he’d only need to wink at, as he’s spent years perfecting and maintaining a physique and technique that will allow him to fulfill his unquenchable need to perpetually orgasm. That he is faced with a challenge in the mere presence of his sister (Carey Mulligan) is all the more telling to the debilitating nature of his mental condition. These are two people who have been hurt by their family and the world, and are perhaps the only hope for the each other’s mental and social salvation — if only they allowed themselves to be saved.

Indeed, the Tigers, Charlies, and Ashtons of the world should be sat down and forced to watch Shame, if nothing else to emphasize, “Dude, you’re not a sex addict…You’re just an asshole.”

Funniest Film: The Guard

This was my favorite film of the year until Shame came along, and I say that for many reasons. Here is the story of Gerry Boyle (Brandon Gleeson), a sergeant in the Irish police force. He barely works. He jokes at the (often fatal) misfortunes of others. He drinks like a fish and swears like a sailor. He sleeps with prostitutes and he takes good care of his mother (the timeless Fionnula Flanagan). He is jaded indeed, and the people he is surrounded by are a good indication why. He is as I imagine a cop to be were the formalities of courtesy and respect completely removed.

But immoral he is most certainly not, and that takes a long while for American FBI Agent Everett (Don Cheadle) to realize. They are thrown in together when a massive drug deal is rumored to be going down in Galway, a town along the Irish coast. The two are fantastic together, and the film strikes a hilarious chord while remaining firmly in a realm of sheer darkness.

Some Americans may be put off by The Guard’s pitch-back sense of humor, with jokes about black criminals, dead bodies, classic philosophy, and sheep molestation. But as Boyle points out early in the film, “F— off to America with your PC-Barack f—ing Obama,” and just have a great time.

Best Comic Book Film: X-Men: First Class

Director Matthew Vaughn continues to imprint his identity as a true filmmaker with X-Men: First Class, a film that was sealed in the minds of many fans to be the very worst set-up imaginable. Were they listening to fans? No. Were they following any of the lore set by the film series’ or the comics? Not really. Were those ignored fans denouncing not only the film, but also the careers of all the players involved? Yup.

But is it awesome? Hell freakin’ yes.

Set against the background of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film features James McAvoy as the young and rich Charles Xavier, and the aforementioned Fassbender as the young and angry Erik Lensherr. Packed with powerhouse performances from many of Hollywood’s most promising talents and featuring Kevin Bacon as perhaps the scariest villain the film series has ever seen, X-Men: First Class pulls the magic trick of creating extreme emotional weight in a situation that is highly ridiculous. This is a super hero movie that can sit comfortably among Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight as the best of it’s genre, while maintaining a breakneck pace that zooms into a climactic, franchise re-establishing finish.

Most Likely To Piss You Off But Keep You Coming Back: Tree of Life & Martha Marcy May Marlene (TIE!)

Both of these films are as fantastic as they are frustrating. Tree of Life is an engrossing attempt at encapsulating the full experience of chasing one’s memory, while Martha Marcy May Marlene tackles the challenge of running away. They are entirely different films that almost certainly shouldn’t be lumped together on any list, but they are both so unreasonably tense and frustratingly in their own time and space that they deserve this award.

Plus, as Jack says in Tree of Life, “It’s your house. You can do what you want to.”

Best Driving and Awkward Silence Put to a Rad Soundtrack: Drive

Ryan Gosling’s driver brings little in terms backstory and development, but he is surrounded by complicated individuals with situations so convoluted that perhaps he’s better off without these ties to the world. His impenetrability in both mind and body exemplifies the defiance of Drive itself to be a conventional story. This is a film about actions, not words; about people, not events. Many claim that if you take the soundtrack out, the film falls apart. I argue that removal of any element of a great film would hinder its impact, and I will concede that Drive is no different.

Most Romantic Film of the Year: Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris functions as both a love story between a man and a woman and between a man and a city. One is certainly easier to love than the other, at least when the film is painted in saturated colors while the people are mostly saturated with their feelings. As Owen Wilson transports between the present we know and the past Allen’s script imagines, we too fall in love with the magic of Paris. If you’ve got a heart, you’ll leave the film glowing.

Film Most Delivering of its Promises: Melancholia

Here is a fine film that promises and delivers the apocalypse at a level of sadomasochistic realism only accomplishable by writer/director Lars Von Tier. Kirsten Dunst manages to pull off a hat-trick in her performance — convincing us that she is the most insufferable person on the planet until faced with its destruction. If you are depressed by Melancholia’s ending, take solace in the fact that no other characters need to suffer the torments endured — at least until Von Trier’s next film is released. (Note for the kids: It’s promised to have “a lot of very, very unpleasant sex!”)

Best Harry Potter Film: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Harry Potter winned against Voldemort and Mrs. Weasely said, “Get away from my daughter, you bitch!” ‘Nuff said.

Best Alien Movie: Attack the Block

Aliens + Drug dealers + Inner-city kids with sweet accents = Attack the Block. I know many might cry Super 8 when asked which was the best alien invasion movie of a year very saturated with alien invasion movies, but that’s merely because they haven’t seen this little British flick.

The film is set in South London, where a teen gang has stumbled upon an alien invasion on their block. Written and directed by Joe Cornish (co-writer of The Adventures of Tin Tin) and executive produced by Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Shaun of the Dead), the film is foul, fierce, and a whole lot of fun. It boasts one of the strongest ensemble casts of young people ever assembled, backed by a script that is smart and funny and scary all at once.

Attack the Block may be some of the most fun you can have while watching teenage kids get eaten by really scary monsters. And they did it on a fifth of the budget of Super 8. So there.

Best Documentary: Knuckle

You want to know what’s more hardcore than Irish bare-knuckle boxing? The sort of violence done to each other by the two warring families in Knuckle, a look at bare-knuckle boxing in the “traveler” (see: white trash) community in Ireland. The film is directed by Ian Palmer, who had the unique challenge of befriending and earning the trust of both sides of a brutal society. Knuckle manages to humanize individuals who are known throughout the world as violent thugs, and raw brutality of these live fights are enough to give even the toughest lug a twinge in his stomach.

Best Movie for the Wee-Ones: Rango

Remember Rango? Not since The Nightmare Before Christmas have such an array of distinct animated characters been rendered so successfully. Director Gore Verbinski makes up for all the crappiness of the second two Pirates of the Caribbean flicks with this chameleon-out-of-tank story. Voiced by Johnny Depp, Rango hits all the right beats as he works tirelessly to save the rodent-ridden town of Dirt from the merciless outlaw Rattlesnake Jake (voiced by Bill Nighy).

I will admit, there were two other great films for kids this year: The Muppets and Rio. Were you to ask me on any other day which was the best, I may have a different answer. But at 6 p.m. on the Friday before this is posted, I can’t think of a film with more visual wiz-bang and sheer narrative fun than Rango.

Runner-Ups for the Top Honors (In Alphabetical Order)

  • Fast Five
  • Karate Robo Zaborgar
  • My Week With Marilyn
  • Rio
  • The Muppets
  • Warrior

Note: Your favorite film of the year may have not made my list. Know that I work a lot, and so I will admit there were some great films I didn’t have an opportunity to view. These are the films I’ve heard are fantastic, but I have yet to watch.

  • 50/50
  • The Artist
  • Hugo
  • Margaret
  • The Descendants
  • Terri
  • Take Shelter
  • A Separation
  • Another Earth
  • Submarine
  • The Future
  • Meek’s Cutoff
  • Bridesmaids (I know, I know. I’m seeing it on Sunday)

If your favorite flick of the year still didn’t make it on this list, then it probably just wasn’t as good. Watch all of these flicks and come back to me with your favorite after you’re done. Go on now. I’ll wait.

For more of Gary’s reviews and musings, visit garysundt.wordpress.com.
For more information on Gary’s work as a filmmaker, visit summertimekillersmovie.com.

2 thoughts on “Rack Focus: Sex, Trees, Wizards, and Aliens, or The Very Best of 2011

Join the Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s