Best of 2011 – Genre Films

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Looking for something to Netflix? Look no further, Grisly Gunnar picks his top 5 movies of 2011 from each genre.

ANIMATED

1. RANGO

Absolutely gorgeous animation from first-time animation production company Industrial Light & Magic. Outdoes Pixar at its own game in making a film that flawlessly references the world of film in creative ways. Johnny Depp is perfectly cast as the film’s title lizard, and he is thankfully able to blend into the character without stealing the film — as he has often done in his recent live-action work. An all-around brilliant voice cast adds more to any animated film this year.

2. KUNG FU PANDA 2

Slightly better than the first Kung Fu Panda and probably the most strictly fun animated film of the year. Jack Black is definitely a highlight, delivering yet again some of his best work. Also, any film that can manage to make a peacock a frighteningly sufficient evil villain gets extra points.

3. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

Although a film that I enjoyed, I can’t help but think The Adventures of Tintin is a bit of a disappointment. It is certainly entertaining, but given that this is Steven Spielberg’s first foray into animation, I was expecting a little more oomph than this mostly thin film delivered. Still, probably the best mo-cap film I’ve seen (yes, not a lot of competition).

4. WINNIE THE POOH

A sweet throw-back that feels anything like a cash-grab nostalgia picture. Pretty light weight, so it won’t have any lasting impact, and its 65 minute run-time is both a blessing and a curse.

5. PUSS IN BOOTS

Funnier than it has any right to be and far better than the films it was spawn off from, Puss in Boots is a fun, though artless, animated film. Considering it’s not Dreamworks best film of the year says something about the lack of a quality Pixar film — though I imagine they’ll rebound in a big way next year with two exciting films.

BLOCKBUSTERS

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1. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL

If you want non-stop action with setpieces that are thrilling and unique, Brad Bird’s first live-action film was made for you. Maybe not the most intricate plot, but that doesn’t matter when nearly every scene delivers a major action sequence. Unlike a lot of similar spy films, it doesn’t hold your hand through the espionage or the gadgetry, as it focuses on showing the audience instead of talking to it. Definitely the best of the Mission: Impossible franchise, and its worth seeing for even those who haven’t watched the first three films.

2. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

One of the absolute best super hero film translations. Delivers on every front: a superb ensemble cast; a great evil villain; well-staged action sequences. Unlike most comic-book adaptations, Joe Johnston gave the film its own trademark style — it provides much more texture than the typical comic book action film we’ve been so crammed with the past few years. The greatness of Captain America is single greatest reason why The Avengers just might be my most anticipated super hero film of 2012.

3. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

At times a little sloppy, but the film is redeemed and then some by the central relationship of Charles and Erik (complete with fantastic performances from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender). The X-Men will almost always be compelling material on screen, but director Matthew Vaughn created a great period piece disguised as a comic book film. Filled with emotion and philosophy, First Class never plays down to the lowest denominator.

4. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

One of the biggest surprises of the year, Apes is indeed a pretty darned good film, even when the human beings try really hard to screw it up. Andy Serkis is phenomenal as Caesar, the too-smart-for-his-own-good chimp that sets in motion the doom of all those stupid humans. It’s a little weird to openly cheer for what will inevitably become our all-powerful overlords, but I suppose its a success for Rise of the Planet of the Apes that it did that so well.

5. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2

A thrilling and worthy cap to the long-running film series. Perhaps it suffers by relying a bit too much on its loyal fans love of its characters, but still absolutely beautiful filmmaking, even without a strong emotional connection to them.

COMEDY

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1. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

Maybe not the funniest film of the year, but Midnight in Paris is in one word “delightful.” A wonderful return for Woody Allen, who is the best at blending whimsical fantasy and witty dialogue. Some memorable one-liners and fantastic performances from Corey Stoll (Ernest Hemingway), Adrien Brody (Dali) and Owen Wilson, as the Allen surrogate. Heartwarming, without being pandering or emotionally manipulative.

2. 50/50

What works so well for 50/50 is its great mixture of realistic drama and low-brow comedy. Perhaps Seth Rogen’s best performance as the best friend side character — just enough of his trademark humor without going overboard.

3. YOUNG ADULT

A dark, never-flinching look at a woman who just can’t grow up. I never have thought of Charlize Theron as incredibly funny (even after her stint on Arrested Development), but she absolutely shines as the young-adult novelist going back to her small-town Minnesota home, in hopes of reconnecting with a former flame. Patton Oswalt is enough reason to see this film alone — one of the best stand-up comedians in the world given free rein to just be funny is endlessly watchable. It may drive some viewers nuts without much of a character arc, but I found the conclusion to be much more realistic than other mainstream comedies.

4. THE TRIP

Perhaps the most laughs-per-minute, but with flaws as a film. The banter between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they tour Northern England is incredibly funny. Even while their impressions don’t always work, when they do (see: Michael Caine) the results are some of the most memorable moments in the year of film.

5. THE GUARD

One of the more low-key comedies of the year, The Guard stars Brendan Gleeson as a small-town cop who gets wrapped up in the biggest case of his career. A wonderful character-driven comedy, the film delivers some of the most racy jokes of the year — you don’t want to laugh at some of the things Boyle says, but you just can’t help it.

DOCUMENTARY

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1. THE INTERRUPTERS

Of special interest to Chicago residents, The Interrupters is a devastating (and surprisingly uplifting) look at violence in a big city and how deep the problem runs. A group of former gang members volunteer as “violence interrupters,” with Steve James follows their pasts, personal journeys and daily struggles. James remains incredibly invisible with his camera in the middle of a number tense altercations. The film doesn’t offer any solutions to the wide-scale problems, but shows just how much impact a brave individual can make.

2. SENNA

Senna is a biographical documentary on the life of Formula One race car driver Ayrton Senna, who reached incredible heights in his sport and as a hero in his native Brazil before his untimely death. Flawlessly edited, the film is able to tell a complete and compelling story without the use of narration or talking-heads. For anyone unfamiliar with the film’s central figure, it is an incredible story filled with success, failure and tragedy. (Note: While Senna was released internationally in 2010, it made its U.S. debut in 2011)

3. CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS

No one quite makes a documentary like Werner Herzog, and Cave of Forgotten Dreams incorporates his strange sense of wonder with his sharp artistic eye. Exploring what is known to be the world’s oldest cave paintings, the nature cinematography is stunning, but Herzog’s incredible humor raises the film far above a “Planet Earth” knock-off.

4. LOUDER THAN A BOMB

Another Chicago-based film, Louder Than a Bomb follows a group of high school students from different backgrounds competing in a city-wide poetry slam competition.

5. BUCK

Buck is that great kind of biographical doc making a person or subject you have no interesting in completely compelling. It is an extraordinary feat to make as enjoyable a film about the man who inspired the film The Horse Whisperer and it is satisfyingly pulled off.

HORROR

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1. CONTAGION

In a weeker-than-average year in horror films, I’m going to take a little liberty with Contagion. Yes, it’s not technically a “horror” film, but name me a scarier movie that came out this year — as soon as it is over you’ll want to go buy a mask and some sanitizer, believe me. The film also draws on horror conventions in its pacing and final scenes, so I’ll allow it. In the same vein, tweener films like Attack the Block and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil also deserve recognition, but I wouldn’t quite consider them a member of the genre.

2. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3

Just when I thought the series was already around too long after two films, directing team Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost (who made the wonderful Catfish in 2010) come along with the third Paranomal Activity. It sticks true to the series, while bringing in a few interesting wrinkles, including a camera connected to a fan and actual characters. I also applaud the filmmakers for completely not using any footage from the trailer — instead, displaying these scenes in different and surprising ways. I don’t think I need a fourth film in the series, but I’ll always be interested in what these young filmmakers will deliver.

3. STAKE LAND

The best of the horror “indies” this year, Stake Land is a gritty, bloody vampire film. It starts to fall apart in its third act, but it brings great world-building and a different take on the very popular genre. An ultra-serious film, it reads like Daybreakers meets The Road.

4. FINAL DESTINATION 5

A wonderful mix of horror and incredible death scenes and a good use of 3D technology. If you are in the mood to watch a bunch of bland, horrible young people get picked off one-by-one (in increasingly ridiculous ways), Five-nal Destination is as good as it gets. If you’ve ever considered being a gymnast, using a coupon for free spa therapy or getting Lasik surgery, THINK AGAIN! Also, there is a nice wink to all the loyal fans of the series.

5. INSIDIOUS

A creepy haunted house flick that completely blows itself up at the end. Most of the big scares come from a creepy soundtrack and lots of loud banging noises, but it is effective in causing a tense and scary film. Helped by good performances from Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne. Probably wouldn’t make my top 5 list from many other years, but it’s a film worth a look for genre fanatics.

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