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Year-End: Film

CITY OF LIGHT: Marion Cotillard and Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s 2011 hit, “Midnight in Paris.” Courtesy photo.

Cinematically speaking, 2011 was an off year. The movies weren’t great and ticket sales were dramatically down. Movies which managed to win me over were the ones that were willing to take risks. There were some truly unique pictures out there for folks willing to look hard enough. I can’t remember a year-end list with such a dramatic mish-mash of mainstream comedies, art-house films, and even (gasp!) a family film.

There were so many awful films this year. The ones that were truly terrible defied all logic and convention. The Danny McBride comedy “Your Highness” was bad enough to almost make me leave the theater. Not even Natalie Portman’s glistening ass could save it. “Sucker Punch” was truly terrible, a movie designed to give teenagers perpetual hard-ons, combining robots, Samurai, war and scantily clad models. Overall, the horror film was brutally savaged this year with garbage like “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and “Red State,” contributing to the disintegration of a once great genre.

Still, a few movies made their way into my bag of greats. Here’s looking back at what was worth the admission price.

1. “Midnight In Paris”
Woody Allen has found a new muse in Europe. “Midnight in Paris” is his latest across-the-pond romp, and it matches (if not exceeds) the brilliance of “Match Point” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.” He does the City of Light proud with this comical tale of a writer pining for the good old days. When he actually gets there, he realizes the allure and the trappings of nostalgia.

The sharpest, wittiest Woody Allen movie in ages and the most entertaining.

2. “I Saw the Devil”
Chances are, many folks didn’t see this Korean export since it had a limited theatrical run in March. But they should have.

A simple cat-and-mouse premise between a serial killer and the man hunting him down descends into a psychological game of one-gunmanship. There’s a moment in the movie where the audience realizes the “hero” of the film may not be someone for whom to root.

It’s violent, disturbing and one of the most terrifying movies I ever sat through. So few movies really ever take us somewhere; “I Saw the Devil” is not just a film but an endurance test for those who think they know what horrible looks like. Not for the faint of heart.

3. “Hugo”
Martin Scorsese continues to impress late in his career, making his peers look rusty and showing a younger generation just how to make a movie. “Hugo” is a love letter to cinema and evokes a pleasant nostalgia for yesteryear when good movies told simple, effective stories. “Hugo” uses the best classic storytelling techniques merged with new technology and creates a beautifully rendered world.

4. “Melancholia”
There was a lot of really average films in 2011. The movies that stood out were the ones that took risks. “Melancholia” is a beautiful tragedy of a film, a movie about people and characters dealing with small problems, following every looming threat and inherent struggles of annihilation. Kirsten Dunst gives one of the most interesting performances of the year. Lars Von Trier turns in a dark, twisted movie that is equal parts gorgeous and gut-wrenching.

5. “Attack the Block”
It’s an alien invasion on the wrong side of the tracks. Five teenage street thugs are forced to defend their tenement building against savage monsters from parts unknown. Director Joe Cornish has crafted a very fresh tale from a very stale sci-fi/horror premise. It’s an action-packed and wryly humorous trip through one long night of mayhem and survival, with a bunch of foul-mouthed British street urchins. Arguably the most fun I had with any movie this year.

6. “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”
I hate romantic comedies. Actually, hate isn’t a strong enough word. Yet, somehow the ice-covered brick in my chest managed to slightly warm over with this story of middle-aged love gone wrong, and one man’s attempt at finding life after separation.

Steve Carell has managed to slowly become an old-fashioned movie star—the kind of guy that you not only like but can identify with. Ryan Gosling changes gears from his usual roles and shows that he’s just as good playing a carefree ladies man as he is the more dark and brooding characters for whom he’s known. There may be hope for the rom-com. But probably not.

7. “Bridesmaids”
“Bridesmaids” is the year’s funniest, laugh-out-loud movie. It was one of those movies that I went into with a lot of apprehension. I was convinced I was walking into an estrogen-heavy flick that wouldn’t make me laugh or hold any interest. I was wrong.

“Bridesmaids” is one of those rare comedies that transcends gender. A great ensemble, including Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne, Jon Hamm, Chris O’Dowd and Maya Rudolph, manage to make something that is equally funny and, dare I say, heartwarming.

8. “Source Code”
Duncan Jones (Moon) did the impossible: He made a smart, tense, science-fiction thriller. That’s not the impossible part. He made Jake Gyllenhaal not just tolerable but entertaining. A bomb has gone off on a train. The only way to find the man responsible is to send a soldier back through a new technology that lets him relive the eight minutes prior to the incident through the eyes of passengers. It’s a little “Groundhog Day” and a little “Marathon Man,” and it’s exactly the kind of high-concept mainstream filmmaking I’d like to see more of.

9. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”
Making a movie where the main character is a monkey sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. By all logic “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” should have been awful. Yet, the movie turns out to be one of the more thought-provoking pieces of pulp I’ve seen in a long time. Sure, there is an element of ridiculousness and credibility strained.

Casting James Franco as the most advanced scientific mind on the planet is, well, bold. But the film works because the movie is really about the apes. It’s also a turning point for motion-capture technology. Caesar (Andy Serkis) is an amazing example of how life like a simulated character can be.

10. “The Muppets”
Chalk one up for ridiculousness. There were so few movies this year that were fun—pure, unadulterated enjoyment. Jason Segel has managed to capture everything right and ridiculous about our favorite puppet friends of yesteryear. It’s nice to see a movie that knows not to take itself seriously. It’s crazy, it’s meta and far more entertaining than 99 percent of the sewage I waded through in 2011.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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