The end of the year is just around the corner, which means it’s time for a bunch of lazy journalists to do their year-end best and worst lists of 2011. But why should they have all the fun? I’m lazy too. And I already established an award for this last year–the TDYLFie. I’m going to capitalize on that laziness for an easy article. But first, let’s establish some scope. I don’t see nearly enough new releases to make any sort of reasonable “Best/Worst of 2011” list. Thus, this list will be comprised of movies that I’ve seen in 2011, which will run the gamut from era to era, genre to genre, and on and on. In reality, this is more of a list about my own experience watching movies in 2011 than it is about anything that was released in 2011. Moreover–and this is a serious problem that I plan on rectifying in 2012–I don’t have a thorough means of keeping track of what I’ve seen. I can see what I’ve received and rated from Netflix and Facets in 2011, and the rest of this is based on memory of what I’ve actually seen. There’s a very real chance that I’ll miss something. Whadayagonnado? Without further delay, here is the awards program for the 2nd Annual TDYLFies.
The “Why the Hell Did I Wait So Long to Watch This?” Award
The Apartment (1960)
There are a lot of contenders for this award, as much of 2011 has been about filling in some really obvious gaps. The entire Planet of the Apes series is a contender. It loses out because, frankly, there’s a lot of mediocrity mixed in with the fun. Other options include Serpico, Requiem for a Dream, and Bringing Up Baby. These were all fine options, but nothing struck a chord with my cynicism and sense of humor like The Apartment, Billy Wilder’s ingenious film about a struggling insurance company schmoe and a suicidal young woman. I really should have seen it much sooner than 2011 but I’d avoided it for so long because the cover art made it look like some zany 1950’s romantic comedy, which is not my thing. I could not have been more wrong and I’m thrilled that I finally took the plunge.
Best Lesser-Known, Low-Budget, or International Horror Film
Attack the Block (2011)
While 2011 was a dreadful year for horror in the theater, it was a fantastic year in terms of uncovering foreign and lower-budget gems. There’s a quartet of films that I saw this year that were all strong contenders for this award. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, and Troll Hunter each would have been worthy award winners for this category. None of them resonated with me the way Attack the Block did (just barely more than the others). Joe Cornish’s debut effort on the big screen supplied thrills, laughs, a brilliant economy of visuals, nostalgia for horror classics, and a social statement, and did so seamlessly.
Best Film About a Shotgun-Wielding Hobo
Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
If you were looking for movies about hobos with shotguns, the best place to look this year was Hobo with a Shotgun. It was the most shotgun-wielding hoboiest film in years.
The “Why the Hell Did I Wait So Long to Watch This?” Award (Foreign Edition)
The Complete Jean Vigo
It was a somewhat slow foreign year for me, but there were still plenty of fantastic options here. I bristled at the absurd length of Les Vampires (1915), only to discover that it was a really intriguing accomplishment. Cleo from 5 to 7 (1961) had been put off for no real reason; I’d just never gotten to it. And I never really thought much about Kung Fu/chop socky films, so Drunken Master (1978) hadn’t even been on my radar. The one that stood out most was The Complete Jean Vigo, which revolutionized cinema. It’s not so much that I’d avoided it. I just couldn’t find a copy. However, if I’d known it would be as impressive as it was, I would have made a far more active effort to find it before it was released by Criterion. You can find my write-up about it here.
Favorite New (To Me) Genre
I really hadn’t paid much attention to kung fu before this year. And I hadn’t liked a lot of what I’d seen. But a handful of my favorite films and directors have scenes and characters derivative of the genre. I gave it a chance… and wound up loving the shit out of it. I’m sure there’s a lot of mediocrity out there within the genre, so I don’t mean to imply that it’s a bullet-proof genre that can do no wrong. They’re just highly enjoyable, entertaining films. Picking a favorite would be a futile effort, although it’d be either the aforementioned Drunken Master or 5 Fingers of Death (1973).
Worst Viewing Experience
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
It’s been more than six months since I watched Salò and I still haven’t really gotten over it. Thinking about it for much more than a few seconds still makes my stomach turn, as one vile revolting act after another bludgeons my memories. What else can you say about a film that has an entire portion that’s named “The Circle of Shit”?
Best Viewing Experience
The Muppets (2011)
First, imagine all of the awful physical and emotional feelings that I got from watching Salò, the pure pitch-black soul-crushing awful feeling. The antithesis of that would be the way that I felt watching The Muppets. I like to make bold, insightful statements here and that’s a perfect example. The Muppets are the antithesis of Salò. (end self-deprecating sarcasm) I could not possibly begin to convey how happy I was seeing the Muppets back together on the big screen. Perhaps it was manipulative of Jason Segel and the film’s makers in that they were so obviously tugging at the heartstrings of people like me. I don’t care, not one iota. It was both an amazing throwback to my childhood and a spectacular introduction to the next generation. I dare say that if I ever needed an anti-depressant prescription, I’d just watch The Muppets instead.
Weirdest Sub-Genre Tackled
Films Starring Chevy Chase
For whatever reason this year, I decided that I needed to be sure that I had seen all of the movies starring Chevy Chase. I’ve joked that I want to add “Chevy Chase Completist” to my resumé. Who the hell in their right mind actively seeks out Chevy Chase films? I’m not talking about the obvious stuff. Everyone knows and loves the Vacation movies, Caddyshack, and Fletch. But what about Deal of the Century (1983)? Funny Farm (1988)? Foul Play (1978)? I watched all of those. They were bad in varying shades. I also re-watched two Chevy Chase movies that I hadn’t seen since the 1980s–Three Amigos (1986) and Oh! Heavenly Dog (1980)–and oddly, I liked them as much or more than I did the first time. It no doubt links back to nostalgia, because when I was a kid, I thought Chevy Chase was the funniest person alive.
Best Use of 3D
There’s a caveat here. I don’t really watch 3D, ever. The last time I saw a movie in 3D was probably on a TV screen when I was 6, watching some old crappy monster movie while wearing those ridiculous red and blue tinted glasses. When I went to see Hugo recently, I had no choice. It was 3D or not see the movie at all. And… WOW. I have no frame of reference for comparison, but the visuals were mind-blowing through much of the film, particularly the early portion of the film with the aerials of a snowy Paris. Leave it to the world’s biggest cinephile, Martin Scorsese, to take a much-maligned medium and pique my curiosity about it. Thanks to Hugo, I’m going to add 3D to my film-watching palate more often.
Best New (to me) Director
One of the cracks I was hoping to fill a little bit this year was with classic Hollywood cinema. On the recommendation of the incomparable Film CritHULK, I started diving into some Preston Sturges. And I found that his films fit me like a glove, particularly put into the context of the era in which his movies were made. The humor and the social commentary transcends decades and I am so glad that I’ve found a love and appreciation for Sturges. I still have a long way to go with his catalogue, which means I have a lot more fun coming my way. Runner-up in this category is David Cronenberg, with cult film director Larry Blamire taking 3rd place.
Best Cult Movie
Basket Case (1982)
It narrowly defeats The Warriors (1979) as my favorite cult movie of the year. Basket Case is the kind of movie that you would never believe actually exists until you watch it. It’s about a pair of conjoined twins who were separated. The normal twin puts the hideous twin into a picnic basket and takes him everywhere he goes. Also, he feeds him gobs of fast food hamburgers and hot dogs. It’s hilarious. It’s also awful, and yet lovable. It’s a lot like going to choose a rescue dog and selecting the most hideous, sinfully ugly dog there because you feel bad for it.
Best Really Long-Ass Tracking Shot
The final shot of Electra Glide in Blue (1974)
I’m thoroughly convinced that somewhere in a desert in Arizona, there’s a cameraman on a dolly still gradually pulling back to attain more footage for the ending of this movie. And really, this category is just an excuse to recommend a movie that most people have probably never heard of, but should. It’s one of those films that doesn’t really stand out in pop culture, but deserves a far better fate than being lost to the sands of time. If you like cop movies, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Most Eclectic Character
Tie: Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier Beale, Grey Gardens (1975)
To put it as succinctly as I can, THESE BITCHEZ IS CRAZY! Have you ever seen a really horrific accident on the highway and slowed down to gawk in amazement? Grey Gardens is a lot like that. The documentary is completely fascinating because of these two particular downtrodden heiresses living in their decrepit cat-infested castle.
Best Movie I Haven’t Really Talked About Yet So I Made Up This Category Because The Movie was a Shitload of Fun
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
I casually mentioned it in the international/low-budget horror category but it deserves more than that. Rare Exports is a fantasy/horror/comedy about evil Santa Clauses and it spoofs American action movies in a rousing, hilarious 20 minute denouement. It’s yet another case of Northern Europe banging out another unique take on horror. It takes all of the myth of Christmas and Santa (and elves–especially elves), and twists it into a genre-blurring, rollicking good time. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010) is a close second here.