Thursday, January 12, 2012

Year End Recap Part One

 Okay, I have to call it some time. Believe me, I'm only halfway through the movies I wanted to watch before writing this recap, but it's already the second week of January and I'll be eating up most of the month chipping away at the list. With that in mind, I'm going to give up on watching the following films before I start talking about the good-to-best films I saw in 2011:

 The Skin I Live In, The Future, Tabloid, Project Nim, The Adventures of Tintin, Win Win, Our Idiot Brother, 50/50, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Catching Hell, The Captains, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, The Mill and the Cross, Troll Hunter, The Devil's Double, and Blackthorn.

 They'll join other movies, like Captain America: The First Avenger, Cowboys and Aliens, Kung Fu Panda 2, The Beaver, Source Code, Meek's Cutoff, Moneyball, Super 8, Wrecked, Friends with Benefits, and 30 Minutes or Less in the list of movies I wanted to get around to seeing but haven't. Yet. It sounds like reviews for the first three months of 2012 are going to be pretty stacked, eh?

 Oh, and there's Your Highness. Well, I'll explain when we get to Your Highness. That's going to need its own review, I think.

 Let's start today with the middle. I've already dealt with the bottom on Monday, and from here on up every movie is one I'd recommend in some form or fashion. Many of them are movies you really should see and as soon as possible, even if not perfect in every way.

 I've divided the films into three distinct levels, from "enjoyed" to "holy crap!" and will move through them over the next three days.Today we're going to start with movies I think back fondly on, will almost certainly will watch again, but that didn't have the distinction of haunting my dreams for days to follow (and the top six are still bouncing around in my brain, even a week later from the most recent).

  Not to damn the following films with faint praise, but we have to start somewhere. Again, these all come with strong recommendations; I'll be including thoughts on films that don't have existing reviews and some additional notes on things I saw earlier this year. They are presented in no particular order.

 A Dangerous Method - I'm a little surprised to find the new David Cronenberg film - one about Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, no less - on this part of the list, but I have to admit that the film didn't really pull me in the way I'd hoped it would have. Intellectually, I can't argue that A Dangerous Method is worth the price of admission, and the scenes between Michael Fassbender's Jung and Viggo Mortensen's Freud crackle with electricity, but they make up so small a portion of the film that I wanted more.

 Fassbender and Mortensen are excellent (the latter particularly so, as the guarded Freud, wary of those who want to discredit his burgeoning claim to fame, psychoanalysis) and Vincent Cassel has a nice moment or two as Otto Gross in what amounts to a trivial role in the film. It feels like I'm hanging the failings of A Dangerous Method on Kiera Knightley, which I genuinely don't wish to. As Jung's patient (and later mistress), Knightley is asked to act out the tics of a mentally disturbed young woman, and because Fassbender and Mortensen are so reserved, Knightely sticks out immediately, like a visitor from another world. Her contortions, strange accent, and mannerisms are a sharp contrast to the reserved, distant approach that Cronenberg brings to the film.

 That's not to say it's her performance that's the issue - it's more that Sabina Spielrein feels like a contrivance of a character in the film, rather that an actual person who lived and breathed alongside Freud and Jung. While the story is true (or some variation thereof), I can't help but feel that she adds very little to a film that orbits around the slow falling out between legends of psychoanalysis, the teacher and the pupil. It may simply be that the film reminded me of Cronenberg's Crash, but instead of car sex fetishes, it was instead about suppression of sexual desires and Freud's omnipresent cigar (seriously, I don't think there's a scene in the film where Viggo isn't holding one). While nobody has sex in a car, there is ladder sex followed by an escape from Jung's institution and descriptions of humiliation fetishization, all told with the same level of detachment in Crash.

 Again, it's not that I didn't find A Dangerous Method interesting; I just wasn't as engrossed by the finished product as I was in the premise.

 The Dead

 Thor - I've watched Thor again, and I still think it's fun. I don't know how I didn't mention Branagh's use of dutch angles that give JJ Abrams' lens flares in Star Trek a run for their money, but otherwise it's still fun. Joss Whedon is going to have to push much harder for Loki to be a credible threat in The Avengers, but otherwise I still dig it.
 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

 Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - It could have been better, sure, but the first half of the film is still pretty creepy.

  The Adjustment Bureau - Apparently I liked it a lot more than Professor Murder did.

 Pearl Jam Twenty

 Jackass 3 and Jackass 3.5 - What I like here is that 3.5 really feels like a rebuttal to the "guys are getting old and even they know it" reviews for Jackass 3. They're both still funny in a way you can enjoy and then never tell your "civilized" friends about, lest they shun you.

 Hobo with a Shotgun - Almost everybody else I know who saw it loved it. I still think it's too nihilistic to be properly trashy fun, but I admit it's sleazy enough to kick back a few beers to.

 More Brains: A Return to the Living Dead

 American: The Bill Hicks Story

 Paul - I can't put my finger on why the first sections with Paul don't quite work, but Kristen Wiig's arrival raises the film up almost immediately. A movie that could have been really special is instead clever and is engaging enough by the end to be worth checking out.

 Drive Angry - Trashy. I mean traaaaaaaashy. The best thing Nicolas Cage was in this year by a long shot, and that's not a knock on Cage or the movie. If you're in the mood to pair Hobo with a Shotgun up with something, invite some friends over, get out the booze, and have a grind-tacular double feature.

The Puppet Monster Massacre

 Fright Night - I think I was one of the three people in the world that still likes this movie. It doesn't have a good reason for being, especially with the changes, but Anton Yelchin, David Tennant, and especially Colin Farrell make this worth your time.

 X-Men: First Class - I wasn't as gaga about this as everybody else seemed to be, but I admit it was better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: The Last Stand. Matthew Vaughn now is two for four in Cap'n Howdy's book. At this point the review is probably better known for the fallout from incorrectly identifying the concentration camp than anything else, although I'm not interested in saying any more about that. It's enough that it's over and done with.

 Come back tomorrow for more! If this is the "low end" of the middle that you should see, the high end and the top are movies you MUST see.

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