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Shortly after I posted last year's Annual edition, my computer crashed and burned for the last time. We had a good run, so I wasn't all that surprised or sorry to see it go. Unfortunately, that was the machine I had used to create that kinda ugly battleship grey site (I never claimed to be a designer). Around this time, behind-the-scenes developments at The Bits promised to make posting a whole lot easier for all of us. So instead of loading up my new computer with an obsolete program, I decided to put The Electric Theatre on hiatus until those developments were complete. Rest assured, the column will be back on a regular basis just as soon as possible.
Indeed, I may well have kept on waiting if so many people hadn't been asking me about this year's ten best list. I apologize for the delay but it was difficult for me to come up with a list this year. There are a number of movies that I simply haven't seen yet and really should, like The Artist and A Dangerous Method. Most of the movies I really liked this year took me completely by surprise, so I wouldn't be shocked if my favorite movie of 2011 is still out there, waiting for me to stumble across it.
Even with those caveats, there were more than enough good movies this year to assemble a solid list. The list changed several times and I regret that I couldn't find room for smaller movies like Even The Rain, The Trip and Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune. I even really enjoyed several big mainstream pictures like X-Men: First Class, Bridesmaids and Crazy, Stupid, Love. Consider them this year's runners-up. I highly recommend each and every one.
So, without further ado, on with Dr. Jahnke's Ten Best Movies of 2011 which, as always, goes to 11.
11. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes - After Tim Burton did... whatever it was he did with his reboot, I didn't just think the Apes franchise was dead. I thought it was tortured, executed, buried and the earth around it salted so nothing could grow there again. Rupert Wyatt made a summer blockbuster that was intelligent, exciting, and respectful of the original. This die-hard Apes fan couldn't have been happier.
10. Midnight In Paris - I don't necessarily believe this is Woody Allen's best movie in years. Both Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona are arguably superior. But at least people got a chance to see this one and that alone is cause for celebration. It may be a bit of a trifle but it's a hugely satisfying trifle.
9. Rango - The year's best animated movie featured character design that was anything but cute, cameos by Hunter S. Thompson and Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, and the awesome wind-up power of Mr. Timms. It's a funny, slightly surreal homage to the spaghetti western and an unexpected delight.
8. Super - As much as I like James Gunn, I wasn't sure how much the world needed another ordinary-guy-decides-to-become-a-superhero movie. It probably didn't, so if we could get rid of all the other ones and just keep this one, that'd be great. Super is a violent, dark, hilariously funny movie with a surprisingly poignant streak that sneaks up on you.
7. The Arbor - Clio Barnard's look at the life of playwright Andrea Dunbar and her children is one of the most unusual documentaries you'll ever see. Actors lip-sync audio interviews of the real people, creating a hybrid blend of fact and re-creation. It sounds off-putting but the story is so compelling, you quickly get used to it. If the late Dennis Potter had made documentaries, it might have looked something like this.
6. Hugo - Martin Scorsese still hasn't persuaded me that 3D is a necessary evolution in film but he came a bit closer than most. The gimmick (sorry, but it is) is used extremely well here but it's secondary to the story itself. It isn't until the second half that you begin to realize that something special is going on here but once you do, it's almost impossible not to be enchanted by it.
5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of the John Le Carré novel may be the quietest movie of the year but that doesn't prevent it from being a spellbinding thriller. Gary Oldman commands the screen with authority, surrounded by a remarkably impressive supporting cast.
4. Melancholia - Describing Melancholia as Lars Von Trier's most accessible film is probably a mistake. It's kind of like describing the door with seven locks as the most accessible entryway compared to all the doors guarded by wild dogs and snipers. This end of the world tale is hauntingly beautiful, often devastatingly emotional, and showcases a bold, eye-opening performance by Kirsten Dunst. It isn't my favorite Lars Von Trier movie but it's probably the one I'll suggest to newcomers from here on out.
3. The Descendants - Alexander Payne is probably the only director who could make an audience believe George Clooney as an ordinary schnook whose wife cheats on him (with Matthew Lillard, no less), can't control his daughters, and can't muster up an ounce of respect from his in-laws. Clooney is in top form here and Payne demonstrates once again that he's unparalleled at crafting big movies out of small moments in life.
2. Drive - If there was one rule in 2011, it was that if Ryan Gosling is in a movie, it's probably worth checking out. Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive was the best of a very good bunch. It manages the difficult feat of being both supremely cool and extremely low-key. It's a welcome throwback to the pensive but kinetic crime movies of the early 1970s. And Albert Brooks, I will be rooting for you on Oscar night.
1. 13 Assassins - Ever since his international breakthrough with Audition, I have tried (and mostly failed) to keep up with the work of Takashi Miike. I don't entirely blame myself for this. The guy's been so prolific that he makes Woody Allen look like a slacker with his measly one movie a year. 13 Assassins kicks Miike up to the next level of his career. The first half is leisurely but absorbing. The second half knocks you out with jaw-dropping, non-stop action. This is the best samurai movie since Kurosawa. I don't think he'd have made 13 Assassins in quite the same way, but there's no doubt in my mind that Kurosawa would have approved and loved it.
2011 AT THE HELL PLAZA OCTOPLEX
As I am not required to see every single movie released, I'm sure I did not see the absolute worst movies of 2011. For example, I didn't see anything starring Adam Sandler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Smurfs, chipmunks or human centipedes. So look at most of this list as the most disappointing movies of the year, if not the worst. Except for the first three. They really do suck.
1. Repo Chick - Alex Cox has made movies I love and movies I hate. But nothing could have prepared me for this disastrous crap-tacular. Shot on digital video with computer generated sets that look like they were rendered on a virus-infected laptop, this is a shrill, pointless, heavy-handed "satire". Usually if I have a disc I don't want anymore, I'll sell it or give it away. As a public service, I threw this one in the garbage. You're welcome.
2. Passion Play - Mickey Rourke is a sad sack trumpet player who rescues an angel (Megan Fox) from a circus, only to lose her to a sad sack gangster named Happy (Bill Murray). If you've ever been unsure about the definition of the word "pretentious", watch this. Or at least try to, since the only way this could be more unwatchable is if the disc malfunctioned.
3. Sucker Punch - I'll give Zack Snyder credit for one thing. At least he tried. But behind all the movement and noise, there's a whole lot of nothing.
4. Elektra Luxx - You know, I could have just written "disjointed mess" for all four of these movies and been done with it. Carla Gugino stars as a porn star/sex therapist who discovers she's pregnant, while two others head to Mexico for a vacation and a blogger yammers on about the porn industry. There are a lot of talented people in this film, all of whom apparently owed favors to writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez.
5. Rubber - A lot of very intelligent people whose opinions I respect really enjoyed this movie. To them I say, really? Quentin Dupieux's horror-comedy has a semi-clever idea with its killer tire, then works way too hard trying to show off just how clever and original it really is.
6. American: The Bill Hicks Story - As a long-time fan of the late Bill Hicks, I was surprised how disappointing this documentary was. The movie spends far too much time on the not-all-that-interesting minutiae of Hicks' life without delving into what made him such an important and revolutionary comedic voice.
7. The Ward - No one ever wants to see one of their favorite filmmakers retire but after watching John Carpenter's return to features, I'm ready for him to call it a career. This is an utterly forgettable horror movie with a twist you should be able to figure out within the first ten minutes. Worst of all, it doesn't even feel like a John Carpenter film. Anybody could have made this and it wouldn't have made a bit of difference.
8. A Continuous Loop of Trailers for the Films Referenced Above - ‘Nuff said.
And with that, the Electric Theatre closes the book on 2011 (at least until the Academy Awards, when we'll have to talk about it all over again). If you want to agree, disagree, or just express amazement that I didn't mention The Tree Of Life anywhere, drop me a line or head on over to the Jahnke's Electric Theatre page on Ye Olde Facebooke and have at it. Both The Bottom Shelf and the Electric Theatre will be back soon, so until then, enjoy your 2012!
Dedicated to Sharon Hansen and Martha Dohm
- Your pal, Dr. Adam Jahnke