By Amy Nicholson
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Calum Marsh
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Inkoo Kang
By Voice Film Critics
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
This Was the Year Of…
In 2011's echo chamber of movies celebrating movies (The Artist, Hugo, My Week with Marilyn), only one of them fully functioned as a well-tooled thrill machine on its own terms, and that was Drive. You could pick out the '80s homage stuck between your teeth, or simply savor the perfect action."—Joshua Rothkopf
This was a strong year for terrific genre films in less noticeable places. The big money-grosser was Paranormal Activity 3, but another thrilling mock doc, Trollhunter, is more deserving of acclaim. This brilliant environmental satire uses an overdone "found footage" conceit and does wonderful things with it—both technologically, with first-rate special effects, and by developing a highly original take on established folklore, re-imagining it within the context of government bureaucracy. The trollhunter in question is tired of playing babysitter to the country's unruly monsters, but he does the dirty clean-up work because it's the only thing that keeps him (and Norway) going. It's the Scandinavian Men in Black. — Eric Kohn
2011 has been strong, both in terms of world premieres on the festival circuit and foreign / independent features from 2010 which were reaching North American cinemas for the first time this year. By contrast, we're watching helplessly as the studios perpetrate one of the weakest crops of year-end Oscar-bait in nearly a decade—one auteurist triumph (Hugo), two shrug-worthy mediocrities (The Artist and The Descendants), and a bunch of movies based on "beloved properties," so focus-grouped that we're all tired of them before they even open. Who cares? The bottom line: the contrast between genuinely attentive critics and studio shills has rarely been starker. — Michael Sicinski
Soon after the Occupy Wall Street movement got underway, an organization called Occupy Cinema appeared. They programmed a screening of Peter Watkins’ 1971 Punishment Park. As good as Peter Watkins’ film is, I fear that its close association with the '60s counterculture inadvertently plays into the notion that OWS protesters are patchouli oil-scented neo-hippies. But what contemporary political films could they have chosen? Apart from some films inspired by the Iraq War, overt politics are notably missing from American narrative cinema these days, dwelling instead in the documentary ghetto. (Protected by genre and allegory, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a startling exception.) To be fair, Occupy Cinema did go on to present a contemporary film, Cédric Klapisch’s My Piece of the Pie. Of the films on my top 10 list, the Chinese documentary “Petition” seems most relevant to the Arab Spring and OWS movements. Made two years ago (and shown for only a week in New York), it depicts ordinary Chinese men and women standing up against their government, even becoming homeless in order to file lawsuits against it. Their courage is breathtaking. Director Zhao Liang then made the odd move of making a feature-length PSA about HIV awareness funded by the Chinese government. While not a bad film, it killed off Western festivals’ interest in him, even if he was the subject of a New York Times cover story last summer. —Steven Erickson
My comment on 2011 films? Look. The Descendants, The Artist, Moneyball, Hugo et al are all exceptional, four-star movies. But years from now, when I'm channel-flipping at home on a cold night, I'm heading straight for Bridesmaids. —Mara Reinstein
Oops, We Forgot Some Winners
Most Overexposed Actor, Double Entendre Division: Michael Fassbender.
Most Overexposed Actor, Non-Double Entendre Division: Ryan Gosling. The Ides of March would have been a lot more plausible—and maybe even more compelling—if we'd learned that Ryan's incongruously credulous PR "genius" had received a blunt head trauma just before the opening scene.
Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease Award: the wheezing wagon axles of Meek's Cutoff were the sound design coup of the year. Kudos to Leslie Schatz for finding the perfect aural corollary to Kelly Reichardt's dusty, trudging visuals.
Best Thor: not Chris Hemsworth's hammer-wielding hero, but Chris Zylka's brawny, bicurious dorm-room hunk in Gregg Araki's kinky Kaboom. Let's see Marvel's Thor try to give himself a blow job—and without CGI, I might add. —Adam Nayman
My Breakthrough of the Year was Kevin Smith, who finally was delivered from making one charming-or-less-charming slacker comedy after another...to creating a dark genre movie that riffs on the mythos of Fred ("God Hates Fags") Phelps and feels as perfectly in tune with the lunacy of this historical moment as any recent American picture. Zigging and zagging from an '80s teen sex comedy (with 2011 dialogue), to an Eli Roth torture-porn ritual (performed on a born-again altar), and climaxing in a Waco-style cops-and-wingnuts showdown that's more Carpenter than Carpenter, Red State is written as a series of High Church of Quentin virtuoso monologues but delivers action with sniper-school precision. The Too-Fat-to-Fly Guy finally got his robe and his little tasseled hat: he graduated to Real Filmmaker—and Real Good Filmmaker at that! —Matthew Wilder
Margaret Margaret Margaret
Rarely has the chasm between the year's best films and the ones being celebrated seemed so wide. Presented with twelve months of exciting international cinema, too many voting groups have already fallen in lockstep behind the same middling crop of prospective award contenders. On the other hand, the late wellspring of support for Margaret proves that taking up the cause of an unsung hero hasn't gone completely out of fashion. What value do any of us serve if we can't direct readers to something they've never heard of? — A.A. Dowd
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