2011 in movies so far: Winners and losers

A little past the halfway point of 2011, I have no clear-cut favorite of the year. There are quite a few that could make my top ten list at the end of the year, but nothing I’m convinced, at least for now, that I would put at the top. Having seen close to 150 movies at this point, nothing jumps out as the top dog.

There have been plenty of “dogs” I’ve seen already and that I wish I could burn from my memory. The Green Hornet, anyone? [Read Jay Gabler's Daily Planet review.] Can anyone explain what that movie was about other than a spoiedl rich kid trying to live up to his dad’s legacy? Did something like that even need to be 3D?

Hobo with a Shotgun might have been the most unpleasant film I’ve seen. Watching poor Rutger Hauer go into a pawn shop and decide between a shotgun and a lawn mower—which, believe it or not, were the exact same price—was hard enough to sit through, let alone root for.

Or what about the extremely lame Norwegian Blair Witch rip-off, Trollhunter? Does it even count, since I walked out about halfway through?

While it could have been a lot of fun, watching Rainn Wilson run around in red spandex in Super was far from anything close to the words “enjoyable" or "hilarious." It was about as fun as getting hit in the face with a wrench—which, believe it or not, was a part of the film that I think was supposed to be meant for laughs, but was plain rotten.

I could go on and on but there is plenty that has come out in the first six months and six days of 2011 to root for and get excited about—many of which I’ve already written about.

First off: watching Kim Jee-Woon’s I Saw the Devil (out on DVD/Blu-Ray) for a third time this past weekend was as if I was watching it for the first time. The film is still as punishing as anything I’ve ever seen and still haunts after multiple viewings. It's not for the squeamish, but anyone who can handle its extreme violence will be rewarded with an excellent mystery/suspense/thriller that is near top of its genre in 2011.

Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip (still playing at the Uptown Theatre and available on demand; photo above courtesy IFC) is a perfect summer film: Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel across the U.K. exploring some of the finest restaurants, as Coogan has been asked to write reviews on them for The ObserverThe Trip evolves into a great buddy comedy as Coogan and Brydon (reteaming for the first time since 2005’s Tristram Shandy) are always trying to outdo one another when it comes to celebrity impressions along their travels—including spot-on impressions of Michael Caine (both his younger years and his current voice). The Trip was cut down from a six-hour BBC series, but two hours with Coogan and Brydon have been two of the most rewarding hours in a theater this year, and the film has a surprisingly heartfelt ending.

This Friday at the Walker Art Center, The Future will be screening. I saw it at Sundance; it's the second film from artist/filmmaker/writer Miranda July, who’ll be present at the screening. The Future doesn’t open until later this summer, so this is the Minnesota premiere of July’s film, which is a bit of an oddball romance, with sci-fi time traveling and talking cats. It may not be for everyone, but July’s narrative slowly becomes an intoxicating spell that's not likely to get undone by any film released this year. Perhaps there is no other film that has so confused and split audiences this year. (Watch for my interview with July to be posted in mid-August, and for a review by Jay Gabler of the first 40 minutes of the film—which he walked out on.)

The film that probably has the most people talking this year is Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life (still playing in theaters), which many people went into thinking it was the “new Brad Pitt” movie, and left completely stunned. Malick’s film will only get better as the film season continues into the fall and then shortly around the corner from Oscar season. Very few directors have the creative control Malick has: he’s made a semi-experimental film with big stars attached and a vision unlike anything I’ve seen in years.

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Jim Brunzell III's picture
Jim Brunzell III

Jim Brunzell III (djguamwins [at] yahoo [dot] com) was born in the 70's, went to school in the 80's, played sports in the 90's, and has been writing on film for the Daily Planet since 2007.  He is also the Festival Director and programmer for the Sound Unseen Music/Film/Art festival in the Twin Cities, lead programmer for the Flyway Film Festival in Pepin and Stockholm WI, the creator of "The Defenders" series at the Trylon microcinema and has been working on a novel since finishing college.  You can follow Jim on Twitter at (@JimBrunzell_3).