My Favorite Films of 2011

While I didn’t see a ton of movies this year, these were the ones that passed my “would I stop and watch it if it were on tv” test. If you haven’t seen them yet, I say rent them in 2012.

50/50

Inspired by a true story, a comedy centered on a 27-year-old guy who learns of his cancer diagnosis, and his subsequent struggle to beat the disease. -IMDb

Great acting all around, although Seth Rogen only plays a mild variation of his teddy bear pothead persona. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Heath Ledger 2.0. The script was nicely balanced and knew exactly when to cut the sap with a joke.

Barney’s Version

The picaresque and touching story of the politically incorrect, fully lived life of the impulsive, irascible and fearlessly blunt Barney Panofsky. -IMDb

This movie feels like an epic even though it’s focused on a single life. It was goofy with a very good cast. Often funny, sometimes sad, always unpredictable.

Cedar Rapids

Tim Lippe has no idea what he’s in for when he’s sent to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to represent his company at an annual insurance convention, where he soon finds himself under the “guidance” of three convention veterans. -IMDb

A small comedy that wears its heart on its sleeve. John C. Riley is hilarious as an alcoholic buffoon. Also stars that guy from The Wire who always says “Sheeeeeit“.

Horrible Bosses

Three friends conspire to murder their awful bosses when they realize they are standing in the way of their happiness. -IMDb

My vote for funniest flick of the year. A thousand times better than Hangover 2. The 3 leads complement each other well but Charlie Day steals the show as usual. Give that guy his own movie.

Midnight in Paris

A romantic comedy about a family traveling to the French capital for business. The party includes a young engaged couple forced to confront the illusion that a life different from their own is better. -IMDb

A whimsical Woody Allen show, brainy and nostalgic. Not laugh out loud funny but definitely one of a kind. If you don’t like the Great Gatsby or Old Man and the Sea, you probably won’t be crazy about this film.

Moneyball

The story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane’s successful attempt to put together a baseball club on a budget by employing computer-generated analysis to draft his players. -IMDb

Aaron Sorkin writes the best dialogue and this film is no exception. Everything is well done and you learn a great deal about the inner workings of a professional sports team.

Senna

A documentary on Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, who won the F1 world championship three times before his death at age 34. -IMDb

Unlike most documentaries, this one doesn’t cut away to a narrator or talking heads and instead keeps it’s focus on actual footage of it’s subject. Senna was essentially seen as a saint, a Brazilian Tebow times ten, who was also the greatest driver ever.

The Tree of Life

The story centers around a family with three boys in the 1950s. The eldest son witnesses the loss of innocence.-IMDb

I wrote about this one before but aside from its stellar cinematography, it’s a deep meditation on childhood and how the temperaments of our parents shape the evolution of our lives. I hope this wins Best Picture.

The Five Funniest Characters on TV

“Yes, my good man, I’ll have the milk steak, boiled over hard, and your finest jelly beans… raw.”
Charlie Kelly, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

 


“I’ve always said that if my son thinks of me as one of his idiot friends, I’ve succeeded as a dad.”
Phil Dunphy, Modern Family

 


“One of my life goals is to be a best man. It’s a baller position. You get drunk, you make speeches, and you make love to the prettiest bridesmaid. Usually standing from behind.”
Tom Haverford, Parks and Recreation

 


“You know who wears sunglasses inside? Blind people and assholes.”
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm

 


“I want to go to there.”
Liz Lemon, 30 Rock

Six Movies You Might Not Have Seen to Watch This Halloween


Funny Games
Two psychopathic young men take a family hostage in their cabin.


Let the Right One In
Oscar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl who turns out to be a vampire.


The Thing
Scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people that it kills.


Rosemary’s Baby
A young couple move into a new apartment, only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences. When the wife becomes mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins controlling her life.


Jacob’s Ladder
A traumatized Vietnam war veteran finds out that his post-war life isn’t what he believes it to be when he’s attacked by horned creatures in the subway and his dead son comes to visit him.


Cube
7 complete strangers of widely varying personality characteristics are involuntarily placed in an endless kafkaesque maze containing deadly traps.

Netflix Picks: The Parking Lot Movie

Fascinating doc about a group of over-educated young men who all work as parking attendants at a lot in Virginia. Putting up with monotony is a large part of most jobs, so it is easy to identify with their plight (as well as their disdain for rich bitches in luxury SUVs).

The long hours they spend alone lead them toward enlightenment as they have little to do besides contemplate their own existence. Watching this film is like sitting through a philosophy lecture given by a dozen different slackers.

Sunday Matinee – The Tree of Life

This afternoon, I went alone to see The Tree of Life. I figured it would be long and slow and not for everyone. Films that exist as art first and entertainment second tend to be an acquired taste. I was the youngest person in the theatre by a good 25 years. Alas, I’m a sucker for any flick that’s universally acclaimed by the critics. This one lived up to my expectations.

The Tree of Life is more symphonic poem than movie and captures some of the most beautiful images I’ve ever seen on screen. It elicits the scent of sheets, fresh off the clothesline, and washes over you like a gentle summer rain. While I’m not a fan of organized religion, I do believe that existence is holy. Emerging from the darkened cinema, back out into the sun-drenched streets, I found myself able to once again see the world through the eyes of a child. Even if that feeling was fleeting, as bliss always seems to be, it was more than worth the price of admission.

Hulu Hooping – Workaholics

Workaholics (Wed 10:30/9:30c on Comedy Central)

If you have yet to stumble upon this comedic gem, get on it. Three slacker stooges with no respect for political correctness – think Office Space meets It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The jokes are sophomoric, yet inspired, and will surely leave you rolling on the floor, LYFAO.

http://www.hulu.com/workaholics

Netflix Picks: Documentary

As a cinephile with an insatiable curiosity, whenever I find myself with a free hour or two, I scan my streaming Netflix queue for a documentary to absorb. Non-fiction films seem to me a better product than most of the rubbish Hollywood churns out for the sake of entertaining the masses. While I’d never consider sitting in front of the TV to be a productive use of one’s time, documentaries at least provide us with food for thought. Here are a few gems you might want to check out the next time you’re feeling blasé:

Brother’s Keeper (1992)

This acclaimed documentary from filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky explores the odd world of the four elderly Ward brothers — illiterate farmers who have lived their entire lives in a dilapidated two-room shack. When William Ward dies in the bed he shared with his brother Delbert, the police become suspicious and arrest Delbert for murder, penetrating the isolated world that left “the boys” forgotten eccentrics for many years.

Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

A family in crisis is “captured” through home video in this searing documentary about the Friedmans, an upper-middle-class family who found their world turned upside down when father and son were charged with child molestation in 1987. The media inundated the airwaves with coverage of the alleged crime, but some of the best footage — seen here publicly for the first time — was shot by the Friedman family members themselves.

Cocaine Cowboys (2006)

This penetrating documentary from director Billy Corben pulls out all the stops to explore the many dimensions of Miami’s cocaine-trafficking boom of the 1980s, as told by the smugglers, cops and average citizens who were there. The film is an unflinching study of Miami’s most notorious and lethal vice — from how the drug was moved and its financial impact on the city to the havoc and violence that followed in its wake.

Collapse (2009)

In an avant-garde soliloquy, investigative journalist Michael Ruppert details his unnerving theories about the inexorable link between energy depletion and the collapse of the economic system that supports the entire industrial world. Helmed by filmmaker Chris Smith (American Movie), Ruppert’s monologue explains how the lies and political propaganda fed to Americans by big business will eventually lead to human extinction.

Touching the Void (2003)

Mixing interviews with dramatic re-enactments of the event, this gripping docudrama retells the mountaineering trek gone awry of Simon Yates (Nicholas Aaron) and Joe Simpson (Brendan Mackey), who falls and breaks his leg while climbing in the Andes. Yates, who’s tethered to him, attempts to lower him to safety but fails, forcing him to make a pivotal decision that may or may not save both of their lives. The question is, was it the right one?

Easter Sunday – Jesus’ Son

“The sun lowered itself through the roof of clouds, ignited the sea, and filled the big picture window with molten light, so that we did our dealing and dreaming in a brilliant fog.”
-Denis Johnson

Jesus’ Son is a book of short stories, some of the best I’ve read. The narrator, a young man known only as Fuckhead, possesses the drug-addled soul of a poet. As we accompany him on his journeys across 1970s America, his simple yet profound observations about the human condition affect us on a visceral level. He humorously conveys the pleasures and pains of existence in such a way that one can’t help but nod in quiet recognition of the notion that we are, all of us, borne from the same seed.

The 1999 movie starring Billy Crudup, as FH, and Jack Black, as a spastic emergency room orderly named Georgie, is also an underrated gem.