Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 - The Year That Was (and Has Been)

Everyone's got their lists for the passing year - what was good, great, awful, and just plain eh.  Of course, I love to reflect on the passing year, reminding me what was so totally awesome and what to avoid in the upcoming year.  I've no doubt that heated discussions will arise by lists (they do that, don't they?) and I'm just asking that we avoid all Bill Maher-Bill O'Reilly heated debates.  'Kay? 

Here are my top ten films of the 2011 year and my favorite books of the passing year.  Read, watch, try something new!


Suprisingly 2011 was an outstanding year for movies.  The box office receipts don't indicate this, but it seemed that some of my favorites really amped their game.  Like Woody Allen, for instance, or the fine folks at Disney (not you, Pixar).  While the summer offered it's wealth of disappointments (that's for you Johnny Depp, aka corporate stooge), there was a lot of real gems scattered in the summer's offerings.

10. Winnie the Pooh.  This came out in July and was quickly headed to DVD.  Apparently Winnie the Pooh doesn't hold the same weight it once did.  Okay, more for me to enjoy.  The reboot was outstanding in every single way.  For starters, the casting of John Cleese as the very understated narrator was brilliant.  Zoey Deschanel's songs melodiously rebirthed thoughts of childhood folly.  But, more importantly, it was old school - no 3-D, no CG.  Just a near carbon copy of the 70's predecessor.  Outstanding and easily 4.5 out of 5 stars.

9. Captain America: the First Avenger.  Yes, it was a wonderful summer popcorn munch of a flick, but Joe Johnston captured a definitive style.  No surprise...this is the genius who brought us the underrated Rocketeer.  The eerie thing about this one was the timing.  What better flick to chew on than this, following the death of Osama bin Laden.  Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Dominick Cooper are America's super team.

8. The Devil's Double. Speaking of Dominck Cooper, let's flash to the Devil's Double.  This is the true story of the man forced to stand in as Uday Huessein's double.  One word: Fuck.  This film is rough to get through, but it is outstanding.  Uday was a freak and Dominick Cooper's performance of the duel men is nothing but brilliant.  Not sure who's doing publicity for this, but the fact that Cooper's getting no buzz whatsoever for awards is truly sad.

7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Absolutely brilliant.  As a fan of the books and the Swedish film, I was skeptical.  Fincher, though, demands your respect.  This is the sort of material that David Fincher does best with.  He never shirks away (you can almost hear Hollywood beggin him to do so) from the grit, and he gets a spectacular performance out of Rooney Mara, who until now I only knew from the crappy Nightmare on Elm Street remake.

6. Project Nim.  If you hated the Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which I didn't think was inherently bad), you might take a peak at this documentary.  Again, timing is interesting as this came out right before the Planet of the Apes prequel.  I typically love my documentaries, but rarely see them at the theatre.  This was the exception this year.

5. Drive. It was a great year for Ryan Gosling, and I'm proud for the kid.  Drive was probably the best of the wealth of films he gave us.  Not only does it feature an amazing Albert Brooks, but this was the gritty slow burn for a film that I haven't seen since the 1970's.  It easily could have been a clone of Scorsese's best and Coppola's best.  I loved it!

4. The Muppets.  I adore the muppets and was happy to see them return.  It's pure nostalgia; I got goosebumps when they did the actual show opening theme.  Is it cheesy?  Sure, but that's what the Muppets are.  And, it's pure and innocent - no potty humor, no pop culture references, no 3D and CGI.  Plus, the cameo by Jim Parsons was genius.

3. I Saw the Devil.  Probably one of the most uncomfortable films I saw all year.  This was something that was wickedly funny and shocking all at the same time.  Like Tarantino and Fincher, I wasn't sure if I was supposed to find amusement in such a dark little thriller.  Enjoy it now, 'cause I'm sure it will be remade for "Americans" who don't like reading subtitles.

2. Midnight in Paris.  Love is all I've got for this Allen film.  I adored ever single second.  Especially of note is Corey Stott playing Ernest Hemingway and Loki playing Fitzgerald (although Adrien Brody is pretty fun as Dali).  It's easy to imagine this being Hollywoodized with big special effects for a time travel film.  Woody Allen doesn't do that, though.  Again, this harkens to the 40's of Hollywood and it works.  It never feels fake. It just feels wonderful.

1. Beginners. This film will get Chris Plummer his Oscar...finally.  I've heard people gripe about this being that "gay film".  Not so.  It's moving and the romance between Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent is touching and real.  The relationship between father and son is also moving.  Like sa few others on this list, this film came out this summer and was virtually lost to all audiences.  Fortunately it's out on DVD in time for award season.


What to do with a year that featured no new releases from some of my favorite authors?  There were some great gems, though:

10. Devil Red by Joe Lansdale.  The latest in the trials and tribulations of Hap and Leonard.  Not only is it great, but it takes a much darker turn than the previous entries and Lansdale's the best when he takes it to the dark, dark places.

9. A Town Called Suckhole by David Barbee.  Hilarious and raunchy and deep fried.  Barbee's tale of rednecks with tech is easily an homage to Lansdale's southern-fried fiction.  It reads like a video game, which isn't a bad thing, and rarely disappoints.

8. Doc by Mary Doria Russell.  It could have been a biography, but wasn't.  I found this yarn about Doc Holliday to be insightful and almost educational.  Who knew that Wyatt Earp wasn't as big a fan of Doc?  Apparently Russell has more than Hollywood.

7. When Elves Attack by Tim Dorsey.  Yes, I'm a huge Dorsey fan, so I'll not apologize for this entry.  It is an inside joke of a book for fans of the Serge series.  If you're not a fan, you won't like the book.  If you're a fan, you'll eat it up a few times over.

6. 11/22/63 by Stephen King.  Yes, I had issues with this one a few weeks ago.  Not sure why it made the list, but over the past month, I've had it percolating in my noggin.  Is it great?  No.  It's definitely got flaws, but it's still a good read.  And, it has stuck with me ever since I read it.  Especially the ending.

5. The Exterminators by Bill Fitzhugh.  Pest Control is one of my favorite funny novels.  This book is not listed as being released until the 3rd of January, but it's currently already available.  Yay!  It's the long-awaited sequel to Pest Control and it's just as wild as the first one.  All the characters return, all the zany returns, all praise the return of a wonderful storyteller.

4. Drama: An Actor's Education by John Lithgow.  Not quite a memoir, but a look back at the man who gave Lithgow his devout love for performing - his father.  This is a wonderous achievment and reads like poetry.  Is there nothing that John Lithgow can't do?

3. Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean.  Damn, Orlean's created a massively amazing book on a Hollywood icon.  Screw Lassie, man.  Rin Tin Tin was the hero of the time.  I was a little young to capture the series, but this book does rip through all the myths and showcases true heroics.

2. Karaoke Death Squad by Eric Mays.  Yes, it's a shameless plug, but I've actually revisited this several times this year and it is funny.  Should you read it?  You know the answer to that.

1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  Cline is a geek amongst geeks and his first novel is an homage to all things 1980's.  Beta players, D&D, and a wonderful debate about the two Ewok movies are just a few of the things that play here.  Basically, this is a modern retelling of Willy Wonka, and it's fresh, original, and entertains in very interesting ways.

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