Movies You Can Watch: A Retrospective Look at the Films of 2011

While I completely dropped the ball when it came to pursuing new music in 2011, my theater attendance was at an all-time high. Even while I lived in the U.K., where the price of a movie was roughly $20.oo after the conversion, I somehow managed to see just about everything I thought was worth seeing, and some films that might pass for entertainment if they were playing in the upper corner of Hell’s waiting room. Is there anything I can say about the year in movies as a whole? I suppose.

Actually, I do think Tin-Tin represents the future of blockbuster entertainment, and I hold The Artist and Hugo  in high esteem for gilding film history and incorporating it into entertainment. Then there’s the success of  The Tree of Life, which demonstrates how far people are willing to like something even if it is dense beyond comprehension… But otherwise, this was not the most remarkable year for the moving pictures. Speaking generally, the budgets of 3D action-adventure flicks continued to expand into the grotesque, and 3D technology itself became more engrossed in the production process, gaining the support of beloved American directors (Spielberg and Scorsese each made 3D films this year to much critical acclaim and equal audience satisfaction); even so, there was nothing really “innovative” or urgent about the movies of the past year. So why even talk about ’em?

Despite being cynical toward the future of the industry, there were plenty of things to enjoy on the big screen. Sure, nothing was absolutely life-changing, but after I shelled out my ten bucks for admission more often than not I left the Cineplex satisfied that neither my time nor money was wasted. I do think it’s sad that we’ve probably exhausted the grammar of popular film making to the point that entertaining innovation seems impossible, but let me say this: 2011, I ain’t mad at ya’! You reminded us of the charm of Woody Allen’s comedies; you lifted Ryan Gosling to the prince-like stature of a young DiCaprio; and you soiled the jeans of many fanboys, as Marvel completed their set of Avengers “prequels” with the promise of the biggest cross-over event in blockbuster history! This wasn’t the zeitgeist of twenty-first century movie making, but it certainly wasn’t a year to avoid theaters.

The following is the first part of my two-part breakdown of  the films of 2011, and represents absolutely every new movie I saw and loved in theaters, what I would have rather waited to rent from the Red Box, and what were traumatizing viewing experiences that left me disappointed and bitter at the world, and just about every living thing.

Fuck you, Ryan Reynolds. You make me sick!

“The Big Regrets,” or “Are you serious? I want my ten bucks back!”

“You’ve watched it, you can’t un-watch it!” These words, immortalized in one of Futurama’s “Tales of Interest” segments, encapsulate my feelings towards every flickering turd I was somehow convinced to watch. Now just to be clear, these five sucky movies suck for different reasons and on different scales; some are simply disappointing while others were downright torturous to sit through. The list will descend in dismal-ness.

5. Another Earth – I feel really bad about putting this movie on this list. Indie flicks have a hard enough time trying to compete with star power and inflated budgets with their more intimate stories and art student production value, and as far as the independents go Another Earth  isn’t so terrible. However, I was really looking forward to this and it was extremely disappointing. The trailer promised a mysterious girl, lonely cityscapes and ocean views, haunted by a perfect reflection of Earth floating in the sky. I didn’t exactly expect science fiction, but I did think that the emergence of a mirror-planet would be more compelling than a co-ed’s redemption story. Rhoda (Brit Marling) is a college student with everything going for her. After celebrating the end of finals by boozing it up with her collegiate chums, Rhoda makes the mistake of getting behind the wheel, and drunkenly crashes into John (William Mapother)’s family sedan, killing his wife and son. Rhoda goes to jail for her crime, and when she gets out, she gets modest work as a housekeeper. Guess what? She ends up going to work for John out of guilt, because cleaning house and fucking is how this movie puts these two broken people on the mend. The plot does takes a more unconventional twist when Rhoda enters an eccentric billionaire’s essay contest to see if she can win the grand prize: a trip to Earth 2. If you like the typical redemption arc, Another Earth isn’t all bad. The scenes of Earth 2 looming over Rhoda are inspiring, demonstrating the benefit of lightly brushing a film with CGI rather than dousing it with dinosaurs and talking monkeys. Marling and Mapother are competent in their roles, too. They’re not the problem. This movie is disappointing to me because when it gets to the end, that’s when it finally feels like the real story is happening. I would have liked to see director Mike Cahill and his co-writer (also Brit Marling) focus on another part of the story, in order to confront the real dilemma: if there is another Earth where all of your mistakes are reversed, how would you reconcile your dream existence with your tragic one? The movie proposes some interesting ideas, but its characters and the audience are left suspended. Some might argue that’s what makes this movie good, I guess.

4. The ThingI admit this is on here because I love the original remake, and therefore skeptical toward any attempt to revision it. John Carpenter is my favorite B-horror film maker, and his 1982 remake of the classic Christian Nyby/Howard Hawk’s film The Thing from Another Planet, is my second favorite Kurt Russell vehicle (the first being Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China), so even though these sequel-prequels are traditionally awful, I was compelled to see The Thing get the 21st century treatment.

Oh, I wish, I wish, I had saved my money and waited until A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas came out. Now there’s a film where I wouldn’t mind watching the same story again, only with special effects and 3D boobs.  I won’t explain the plot because it really is  the same story as Carpenter’s version. However, this film totally misses the mark by shifting focus from the claustrophobia and paranoia  its characters endure, to the  creepy design of the alien creature. Does it look cool when people’s faces crack open and they’re split down the middle so tentacles and claws can protrude? Sure! But it gets less exciting each time it happens. Any chance at suspense this film has is lost because it repeatedly shows the “thing”, and you never stay guessing who’s been replicated. The filmmakers don’t care. They’re playing for the sight gags – just how gnarly can they make the monster look? If it’s any consolation, the sound effects are very well done. Every time bones snap and flesh tears, the sounds make the sight really uncomfortable.

If you like that sort of “thing”, this would make a pretty O.K. Red Box rental. If you actually like being scared or seek amusement from monster-gore, I’ve heard Insidious and Shark Night 3D are worth the time, but I’ve neglected both because ghosts and sharks really, really scare me.

3. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – This is clearly an attempt to draw in suckers off the laurels of its predecessors, so why did I see it? My girlfriend made me. She’ll say she didn’t, but she totally has power like that. She is a HUGE J. Depp fan, and I knew I was going to end up seeing this with her one way or the other. I just wish it wasn’t for 12 pounds at the Norwich Odeon IMAX. If you didn’t know, Jack Sparrow is back, and guess what? He’s still as wacky as ever! I thought the shenanigans of the first movie were well entertaining, and Johnny Depp deserves credit for making pirates culturally relevant again, but after three more movies, I wish the public would once again turn their back on pirates the way they did with Cuthroat Island. But alas, there’s always money to be made.

This incarnation of Jack sparrow features zombies and mermaids, so at least there’s a feast for the eyes. I don’t remember much about this film, I think I was too busy biting my nails or trying to conceal farts, any distraction that popped in my head took precedence over Pirates 4. When I was paying attention, I recall being a bit perturbed by the Christian undertones in the relationship between the young sailor and the mermaid. Why don’t they give Sparrow his own movie without weighing the story down with the romance between young, British ninnies? (Jones and Knightly, I’m thinking of you.) I’m not saying I want to watch another Pirates movie (although, I’m pretty sure another is in the works), I’m just saying that Depp (and Geoffrey Rush, the other likable pirate) are the real draw for the flicks, so why not let them exchange the witty banter and effeminate mannerisms uninterrupted? This movie is forty minutes too long, every joke or gimmick has been done before in the other movies, and come on people! Pirates are so 2003!

2. Season of the Witch/ Cowboys & Aliens

These movies have awesome titles. If they went straight to DVD and had a no-name cast, I would still want to rent these movies based on their names alone. Yet we at Idle Time know the problem with judging books, albums, and films by their respective covers.  Season of the Witch is the only movie this year that I turned off  half-way through. Cowboys & Aliens  is the only movie that I put me to sleep in theaters! What went wrong with these movies? I just wanted to see some knight -on-witch, sword vs. magic battles and cowboys lassoing aliens for probing their livestock and abducting their virgins. How can you screw up a movie that’s premise is basically spelled out in the title? I guess not every titular film can be Snakes On A Plane. Even with decent casts, these movies didn’t deserve to make it past the SciFy Channel.  Harrison Ford plays a grumpy cattle baron, who of course, just wants his abducted son back, but it’s like watching an elderly Han Solo mop up carnival vomit. Daniel Craig plays the most unconvincing Wild West cowboy in film history. He struggles to order whiskey when we all know he’d prefer a shaken martini. The best part of Cowboys lasts thirty seconds: Olivia Wilde walks out of fire, naked. It’s not explicit, it’s a little exciting, but everything else in this movie you’ve probably seen somewhere else, maybe even in the shitty comic the movie is based on. The movie-rights for Cowboys and Aliens were purchased even before the comic hit the shelves, which should give the film the opportunity to be even better, but no! This should be a tongue-in-cheek action comedy on par with Men in Black , or at least Shanghai Noon, but instead it’s 119 minute nap you’re asked to pay to take. And how is it that the Native Americans and cowboys become friends? Why do the Apaches agree to help the cowboys destroy a foreign culture? Why do I expect logic from this film? I don’t have all the answers, but I’m happy to say that if this is the kind of unintelligent family entertainment Jon Favreau wants to make, then I’m glad he lost out on directing the Avengers (to Joss Whedon, whose film Serenity, is the perfect combination of Science Fiction and Western conventions).

Where does that leave Witch?  If you want to (continue to) watch Nicolas Cage flush his career down the toilet, watch this movie. Looking back on Cage’s performances in Wild at Heart or Leaving Las Vegas, it makes me so sad to see him in this movie. In Season of the Witch, two veterans of the crusade begin to question their faith after the wars, and take an assignment transporting an evil witch to an abbey far away from civilization. Behman (Cage) is particularly disturbed at the hypocrisy of the of the Church, and begins to sympathize with this witch, who may or may not be using dark magic to manipulate him. I can’t tell you what happened with this movie because I turned it off. Maybe you think I shouldn’t even rate this movie if I don’t know the end. Well, I spent forty-five minutes watching it and didn’t care what happened after that, and that says more about the movie than me. Because I actually do like stupid movies. Not even Ron Pearlman’s plucky portrayal of Cage’s right-hand man can soften this hardened dung-heap . Stick to the prosthetic-costumes, Mr. Pearlman. I still believe in another Hellboy movie.

These could be considered as rentals, but personally I will never attempt to watch either of these again…without a makeshift liquor-lobotomy.

1. Sucker Punch – I can’t begin to tell you how much I hate Zack Snyder. Advertisements hail him as “the visionary director behind 300,” but as a snobby film student, I scoff at such a claim! If excessive color-grading and slow-motion scenes are your idea of “visionary” filmmaking, then yes, Zack Snyder is the new Orson Welles. If you’re a connoisseur of trashy cinema, then you know  you can always look to Cameron, Rodriguez, and Tarantino for excess everything – violence, sexuality, memorable movie-dialogue; they are the masters. Snyder has proven himself resilient, but his movies get less and less impressive as time goes on. His 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead is  adequately done, but he merely gives  a modern paint job to an already perfect idea. However, the success of his first feature seemed signal to studios that he was apt to adapt. His next two films would be adaptations, first Frank Miller’s 300 and then Alan Moore’s Watchmen, both of which are shadows of the source material. The creative liberties taken by Snyder from Miller’s work are, to be brief, lame and make awful social commentary. This argument can be pursued another time, but I recommend not opening this can of worms around me when there’s alcohol to be had, because all you’ll hear is my Gerard Butler impression, and it gets loud. And offensive.

As for Watchmen, the fact that Snyder defends this movie by saying he remade the comic, panel for panel, shows just how uninspired he really is. If anything, Watchmen suffered from a lack of creativity; Moore’s graphic novel, which redefined how we look at superheroes, is too dense to be copied, page for page, onto film. A truly visionary director does not play it safe, and Snyder is a one-trick pony. I won’t lie, he has successfully established a certain visual style, but he isn’t in the same class as any of the aforementioned directors who give in to the excesses of R-rated cinema. Snyder makes the worst kind of vacant entertainment, and Sucker Punch proves it.

When I heard that this was Snyder’s dream project, I was intrigued. I don’t want to hate this guy, but his success bothers me. He’s just not that good! I keep thinking I’m wrong, that I’m being too critical on something that’s meant to be entertainment. So I went to see Sucker Punch. After watching it, I felt fooled. Snyder hadn’t finally created the action tour de force he had been aching to make since he found 16mm or what have you, but he did make one of the most immature, shallow, and chauvinistic movies ever . In a world suffering from random violence, and populated by sexy women and ruthless men, Babydoll (Emily Browning) loses her younger sister to her cruel step father. The step dad wants to get into Babydoll’s rich pocket (and her pants), but when she resists, he blame’s her for murdering her sister and she is forced into a mental institution for sexy babes. There, she is promised a life of sexual abuse and psychological experimentation by the male staffers, but she finds comfort in the therapies of Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino), who uses a form of hypnosis that unlocks the fantasies of her patients and gives them the strength to endure their miserable lives, and possibly “reform”. How do the girl’s unlock these fantasies? They dance. They dance like strippers trying to grind their way to freedom, and it is when they dance that they fantasize they are in some sort of hyper-surreality, where they sword-fight zombie Nazis and robots. I repeat: The girl’s emancipate themselves by dancing like strippers and turning into ninja-school girl warriors. What follows is a typical escape-plot, where a rag-tag group of disturbed, yet sexy women have to pull together to avoid getting lobotomized. Maybe that doesn’t sound all that bad to you. It actually doesn’t sound too bad to me either, but this it is so exploitative that I can’t get into it. This movie isn’t stupid, it’s awful. It reminds me of the wet dreams of the 9th grade, and Snyder is a sexual 9th grader stuck in a Hollywood director’s body. He disguises his fantasies as female empowerment, when actually it is merely  sex appeal that give the girls powers. Powers and stripper names. None of the over-the-top fight scenes have any impact on the real world, it’s their sexuality that gets them what they want. And this guy publicly admitted this was the kind of movie he wanted to make. I think that’s a little creepy.

Shortly after watching this movie, I made a vow to never see another Zack Snyder movie. I refused to let my cash become a part of his box office success, I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

Shortly after that, I learned Snyder will be directing The Man of Steel, the new Superman movie.


Well played, Snyder. Looks like you’ll be sucker-punching me in the balls again soon, all the way to the bank.

Dishonorable Mentions

One of the minor disappointments of the year was The Immortals, a movie I was so excited for, I actually took the time to write status updates about it on Facebook. The dialogue is cliched, but no worse than the average sword ‘n’ sandal flick, like Gladiator, but for having the likes of Mickey Rourke and John Hurt, and also being masterminded by the truly visionary director, Tarsem Singh, Immortals was not terrible action fair. The cinematography is amazing, and the costumes are absolutely stunning. Tarsem was inspired by romantic style murals, and certain scenes look like they were hand-crafted on to film. What this movie lacks in substantive drama, it makes up for in gore and beauty. I’d rather take a look at its brand of superficiality than endure sitting through any of the top five stinkers I just rambled about.

So here ends part-one of my 2011 retrospective. Watch your inbox for news of part-two, where I’ll break down the super hero flicks of the year, and asses the Idle Time top ten movies of last year.