Honorable Mentions: Hugo. Tree of Life. Bridesmaids. Jane Eyre. Cedar Rapids. Crazy Stupid Love. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Of Gods and Men. Armadillo. Rampart. The Woman. Hobo With a Shotgun. X-Men First Class.

Films I Missed: Shame. The Guard. Moneyball. Margaret. Warrior.


Josh on Rango:

This is a movie I had to see a second time to “get.” And even then I was left with the feeling that I will need to see it a third maybe even fourth time to fully absorb. It’s not just that Rango is a strange movie – and it is a strange movie – but it wasn’t even remotely what I expected. Gore Verbinski and company must have hit the peace pipe pretty hard when assembling this gumbo of spaghetti westerns, Chinatown, Hunter S. Thompson, The Dam Busters, Road Warrior, and oblique existentialism as funneled through meta screenwriting analogies. This is a movie where moles ride bats like fighter planes, and the bats explode like fighter planes when shot by machine guns. Plus we’ve got Ned Beatty killing it once again (see last year’s Toy Story 3) as a Noah Cross homage, and Timothy Olyphant finally becoming Clint Eastwood.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: As much as I love Pixar (it is a love that burns hot) and have grown to love some of the more recent Dreamworks offerings, it is nonetheless refreshing to see a CG animated film that doesn’t fit into the visual or tonal aesthetics of either of those studios. Rango was a welcomed slap to the face. And Hans Zimmer really lets his freak flag fly on the soundtrack (he must have had a blast).

Performance to savor: Bill Nighy.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “A great way to trip balls with the whole family.”

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Josh on 50/50:

I’m a life long subscriber to the idea that anything can be funny, so a Seth Rogen brom-com about cancer never seemed questionable to me. I mean, Seth Rogen was already in a very funny comedy about cancer (Funny People). But where Funny People went uber-niche, becoming a bit bloated and unrelatable for most people, Will Reiser’s semi-autobiographical screenplay about his own real-life Rogen-aided battle with cancer stays simple and very identifiable. Sadly, I think a lot of people stayed away from this movie because they’re sick of – or never liked – Seth Rogen, which is a shame, because the movie is great and Rogen is great in it. And this is the film where director Jonathan Levine has finally gelled, evening out the potential he showed in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and The Wackness.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Though there is a strong rom-com element between Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anna Kendrick in the film, it is the very real feeling relationship between Rogen and Gordon-Levitt that holds the heart here. The simple and sweet moment when Gordon-Levitt discovers that Rogen’s typically Rogenesque obnoxious bluster has been something of a front is when the film sticks the landing for me.

Performance to savor: Angelica Huston.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “You having cancer isn’t funny. Joseph Gordon-Levitt having it kind of is.”

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Josh on Beginners:

2011 was apparently the “Year of Semi-Autobiographical Comedies About Cancer.” Here it was writer/director Mike Mills’ surprisingly light fictionalization about his elderly father coming out of the closet after the death of his mother, only to have a cap put on his father’s new life by cancer. A premise like that is enough to keep more people away then even Seth Rogen backlash, but let me be the one to tell you that Beginners is no depressing slog. While Ewan McGregor’s Mike Mills stand-in isn’t exactly adjusting well to his father’s illness, the key to the film’s breezy tone is that Christopher Plummer’s character is having a blast. What’s a little cancer to stop him from having a gay old time, in all senses of the word? And those of you who fell in love with Mélanie Laurent in Inglourious Basterds can continue your crush here.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: The tone. This film is just a good time through and through with great performances and a heavy helping of warm-fuzzies. Plus, the relationship between McGregor and his father’s dog (who McGregor imagines can talk, via subtitles) gives The Artist‘s man/canine duo a very serious run for its money.

Performance to savor: Goran Visnjic.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Like a master-crafted violin, Christopher Plummer’s notes just keep getting richer with age and use.”

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Josh on 13 Assassins:

There is a sad lack of foreign films on my list this year, but this bloody piece of badass almost works as several films, so hopefully that will do. Those who only know director Takashi Miike from gonzo films like Dead or Alive are in for a treat. Miike delivers the mayhem and carnage, but in a more elegant and Seven Samurai-esque execution (a film that 13 obviously owes a great deal to). As Mr. Nick noted in his Top 15 – I swear, I didn’t know he was also putting it as #12 – this is a well-walked subgenre. We get lots of talk of honor and steadfast adherence to tradition and bizarre cultural samurai rules. Yet Miike approaches the subject matter and characters with such verve that everything feels as fresh as it did in Kurosawa’s heyday. It is hard to pick a stand out performance, but Gorô Inagaki’s detached and chilling performance as our thirteen assassins’ dickhole target, Lord Naritsugu Matsudaira, may be the most unlikable villain of the year.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: I’m a sucker for assembling-a-team action movies, so this movie practically had me at its title alone. The fact that it is actually a great movie with a complex array of interesting characters was pure gravy.

Performance to savor: Gorô Inagaki.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “You’ll never want to see a gun in a Miike movie again!”

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Josh on Midnight in Paris:

Both Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese took a long swim in the nostalgia well this year. While Scorsese, in his typical and endearing way, wanted us to fall in love with Georges Melies and the silent era in Hugo, Woody Allen did his Woody Allen thing by seducing us in via Owen Wilson’s wide-eyed enthusiasm for 1920’s Paris, only to spin around on us with a clever commentary on the mundanely subjective nature of nostalgia. Allen is the workhorse all filmmakers in their senior years should look to if they’re serious about producing inspired work — just keep doing it and never stop. A lot of shit hits the silver screen because of Allen, but it is all worth it when every handful of years we get a Match Point or Midnight in Paris. Keep ’em coming, Woody.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: It was wonderful to see Owen Wilson back in the swing of things. It’s been far too long.

Performance to savor: Corey Stoll.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “If the word ‘charming’ could become an actual film, this would be it.”

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Josh on Rise of the Planet of the Apes:

In what bugnuts alternate reality were we living in this summer, where Rise of the Planet of the Apes was not only not a disaster but was fucking awesome? Having toiled through the entire Apes series in Franchise Me, never in a million years did I expect to be blown away by Rupert Wyatt’s unneeded reboot. But here we are. The simple genius of Wyatt’s approach was to give us the silent treatment. Talking apes would have been too silly to get into. Andy Serkis (and the animation team; let’s not forget them people) had to work harder to get us to follow Caesar’s emotions and schemes, but the end result was better. Not to mention the big pay-off when some talkin’ finally does start to happen — if you saw this in a packed theater, your audience gasped loudly, guaranteed.

Current rating: 4.0 out of 5

Contributing factors: The mo-cap. It was the way to go. Suits wouldn’t have done it. And certainly there was no way to make the film with real animals; even Jean Jacques Annaud would have died trying.

Performance to savor: Andy Serkis.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “This movie is bananas!” – sorry, I couldn’t resist.

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Josh on The Artist:

The backlash on The Artist was as inevitable as it is misguided. While it may be true that if ten silent films had been produced in 2011, this likely would not have been the best, that means jackshit. Cause there weren’t ten other silent films this year. Michel Hazanavicius’s silence gimmick is indeed a gimmick, just as his 1960’s cinematography was a gimmick in his previous homage-fest with stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, the Connery-era Bond parody OSS 117: Cairo, Nest Of Spies. But gimmicks and quality are not mutually exclusive. The Artist is a fun and delightful film. It’s story may be rote and slight, but that’s part of the gimmick too. Where things move beyond the gimmick is Dujardin and Bejo. If you’re not already in love with the film during Dujardin’s introduction, where he hams it up before an adoring crowd, then you might as well stop. This ain’t the movie for you.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Dujardin’s star wattage almost burns a hole in the screen.

Performance to savor: Jean Dujardin.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Fuck sync sound.”

CHUD Review

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Josh on The Descendants:

Alexander Payne needs to take a page from Woody Allen’s work ethic book. It’s been seven years since Sideways, and The Descendants proves that Payne’s is a voice that should be heard a bit more often. There is nothing particularly stand out about the film, other than some swell performances. No big set-pieces or killer monologues. But Payne has a gift for immersing us into the believable minutia of his locales that sparks flames of entertainment when he introduces the friction of his dark comedy. First it was middle-America, then Napa Valley, now Hawaii — not the Blue Crush everyone-surfs-all-day Hawaii, but the real Hawaii. All of the film’s elements are familiar, but they feel unusual in Payne’s hands. Plus, Robert Forster punches a teenager in the face. That’s always nice.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: The scenes involving Clooney’s comatose wife in the hospital are hard to watch, bordering on grotesque. But it is that unflinching honesty that makes the film what it is, forcing you to accept the painful reality of what is happening while also making you laugh.

Performance to savor: Shailene Woodley.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “George Clooney versus Matthew Lillard. At last!”

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Josh on Young Adult:

Speaking of backlashes…

Two Diablo Cody debates can now be put to rest. 1) She isn’t an untalented flash-in-the-pan. 2) Considering that Jason Reitman’s two best films have been off of Cody scripts, she also wasn’t being carried by Reitman on Juno. This movie demonstrates that we haven’t seen all of what Cody can do. Young Adult is one of the most unabashedly mean-spirited movies I’ve seen in a while; all the more so because Cody and Reitman aren’t pushing the jokes out for big guffaws. The movie has an easygoing plainness that only makes Charlize Theron’s unscrupulous and deranged behavior all the more so wicked, like a razor blade taped to your hairbrush. Only once the final credits roll do you entirely grasp what kind of deviously cynical ride Cody and Reitman sent you on.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: Cody’s script for sure, but this is also a big star performance movie, made or broken by Theron. And she makes the shit out of it. This is Oscar stuff. Patton Oswalt also continues his slow but steady transition into becoming an actor to reckon with.

Performance to savor: Charlize Theron.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Forget Dragon Tattoo. This is the real feel bad movie of the year.”

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Josh on Drive:

Drive was possibly one car-chase-finale away from being the movie of the year. But, despite the fact that I have issues with the climax, the other 90% of Nicolas Winding Refn’s film is the stuff of masterpieces. Conjuring thoughts of Paul Schrader’s fetishism of Richard Gere in American Gigilo with as heavy of helpings of thoughts of early Walter Hill and Michael Mann, Drive is cinema-cool at its sexiest and most stylish. And that soundtrack. Jesus Christ. Ryan Gosling wooed the ladies with his abs and Dirty Dancing references in Crazy Stupid Love, and he wooed men here with his pimp jacket and cipher stare (dudes love cipher stares, for some reason). Albert Brooks’ performance was regrettably over-hyped for me, but that doesn’t take away from how exhilarating it was to see him be fucking evil. His big scene (you know the one if you’ve seen the film) with Bryan Cranston’s character is goosebumpy. And then there is the out-of-no-where-ultra-violence. I haven’t seen a head take such a beating since Irreversible.

Current rating: 4 out of 5

Contributing factors: This is a style over substance film. The fact that the substance is there too is why it is so excellent, but this is definitely one for the film nerds. The look. The framing. The soundtrack.

Performance to savor: Bryan Cranston.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Ryan Gosling jams his foot on the gas… and some asshole’s head.”

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Josh on Attack the Block:

It is hard to get more fun than this. It is also easy to see why Spielberg and Jackson wanted Joe Cornish to help write The Adentures of TintinAttack the Block is a pitch perfect thrill-ride. Taking place in near-real-time, it hits the ground running and never lets up. The most impressive part – beyond all the fun, gore and laughs – is the way Cornish slyly sprinkles in backstory for both our heroes and the aliens so that when the ride finally stops, we realize we now intimately know these people. It also completely turns the Spielbergian kid-centric model on its head. These kids ain’t cute, and they don’t all live to see tomorrow. Instantly iconic, the creature design is a nifty-looking and brilliant cheat for a low-budget film.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: The setting. While the film surely plays slightly differently for Brits, for me it had the added value of sucking me into a whole new world while never making me feel culturally behind the step.

Performance to savor: John Boyega.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: Monster Squad for adults.”

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Josh on A Dangerous Method:

Is there anything better than a movie that ages like a fine wine in your brain meat without even needing to pay it a revisit viewing? Such is the case with David ‘The Body Horror’ Cronenberg’s latest piece. The film is so thin and, well, unCronenbergian (where are the chest vaginas?!) that even though I quite liked it upon first viewing earlier in the year, I nonetheless apparently could not fully appreciate it. There wasn’t enough. But so much of the movie, particularly the utterly delicious scenework between Viggo Mortensen and Michael “2011” Fassbender, has stuck with me and nagged and nagged and never left. My man-crush on Viggo exploded tenfold in this movie. Cast wildly against type and slathered in facial pieces to mask his famously angular and crannied face, Viggo skull-fucks his Best Supporting Actor Oscar contenders by doing seemingly little more than smoking a cigar and being smug. Fassbender also continues the “Hey ma, look, I have no character-type limitations” freakshow act he’s been doing for the past couple years. And Cronenberg continues to astound, now spanning five decades in his career and continuing to evolve and surprise.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: It’s all about the Viggo.

Performance to savor: Viggo!

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Sometimes a chest vagina is just a chest vagina.”

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Josh on The Muppets:

Let’s be real for a second… A sizable part of my enjoyment of this movie came from raw nostalgia – my nieces had zero interest in this film; they don’t give a shit about Muppets (though who is to say what they would have thought if they’d bothered to see the film) – but given that nostalgia was not only an intended factor in The Muppets, but part of its very fabric and storyline, I don’t think admitting that negates my opinion as much as it otherwise would. As with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, watching this film after burning through the entire theatrical Muppet series in Franchise Me put the film in acute perspective. I realize that praising the film for how well it served its purpose as a rebootquel to the existing Muppets franchise is little more than fanboy wank to those who could care less about Muppets, but it had to be right or there was little point in bothering. The past two decades had shown that without Jim Henson, the Muppets might not have a future outside of nostalgic fringes and lame TV specials. Jason Segel and James Bobin understood the Muppets in a way only true fans can. This is fan fiction backed by a studio. Their enthusiasm is palpable. Bottom line is — I had more unabashed fun watching this film than any other movie this year.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: The fantastic music by Flight of the Conchords Bret McKenzie. Plus, you know, the presence of The Muppets.

Performance to savor: Chris Cooper’s rap number.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “I rainbow connected with this movie.”

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Josh on Melancholia:

I’ve always respected Lars von Trier more than I have actually liked him as a filmmaker. Presumably that should indicate that Melancholia is something of an anomaly in his filmography. Whatever the case, I loved the change of pace. I never would have thought that I’d use the words “sumptuous” or “epic” or “beautiful” to describe a von Trier film, but those are the first words that come to my mind when thinking back on this abstract and literal exploration of depression. The opening slow-motion sequence is worth the price of admission alone. Some people have problems with the second chapter of the film, once we’ve moved away from Kirsten Dunst’s wedding, but I did not. Von Trier wants to challenge and push audiences, sometimes more so than he wants to tell an engaging story (for my tastes, at least), but in Melonchalia – for whatever his personal reasons – he strikes an ideal balance. This isn’t the movie I wanted or was looking for, he still pushed and prodded me from beginning to end, but never pushed me away. This is what arthouse cinema should be. And this is that at its near best.

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: Manuel Alberto Claro’s cinematography. A stellar cast all around, with Dunst in the role she was born to play (not sure how she’d feel hearing that).

Performance to savor: Kiefer Sutherland (who’da thunk it)

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Finally, a movie you’re supposed to hate Kirsten Dunst in!”

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Josh on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2:

Admittedly this movie has an unfair advantage. It is closing out one of the most popular film franchises in history, taking the baton in the last leg of a decade-long relay. Its huge emotional payoffs had their groundwork laid in 2001, not Act I of this film. Hell, this film doesn’t really even have an Act I; that shit was taken care of in the uneventful Deathly Hallows Part 1 (a movie I only marginally enjoyed). But there is a flipside too: this film also had a lot to fuck up. Alfonso Cuarón demonstrated how to make the Harry Potter franchise more than cute facsimiles of JK Rowling’s books, but as those books increasingly became longer and longer and more complex, the films started to feel a little off (to me), put in an awkward position of trying to cover all the bases while keeping run-times manageable — which I always thought made the films seem scatterbrained and wonky if you hadn’t read the books (which I hadn’t until last year). Director David Yates and screenwriter Steven Kloves found the perfect equilibrium in DHP2, hitting a sweet spot that allowed them to dump a huge percentage of Rowling’s monster book while staying extremely true to the material. Conceptually their choice could have been a disaster. There is almost no story in the film. The entire second half of the film is one long battle, and as the two Transformers sequels aptly demonstrated, it is pretty easy to get lost in endless carnage and FX. Yet in Yates and Kloves’ hands, this drawn-out battle actually fostered juicy character moments. The “old Harry” epilogue is somewhat silly, though certainly not unearned. At least the film only had one epilogue (I’m looking at you Return of the King).

Current rating: 4.5 out of 5

Contributing factors: DHP2 is a movie’s movie. Every aspect of it sings from the script to the direction to the acting to the casting to the editing to the visual FX to the set design to the score to the sound editing to the sound FX to the make-up and so on down the line. Other movies in 2011 may beat DHP2 in any of those individual categories, but none can come close to outmatching it in all categories. And that’s why I put it at #1.

Performance to savor: Maggie Smith.

CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Okay, Britain, this finally makes up for the War of 1812.”

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