Idiot Savant Online

John Lichman's third attempt at a personal blog and online savanting idiotic.

An Idiot’s Best of 2011

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Boiling an entire year down into a numerical list is something akin to masturbation of the highest caliber. Think about it: hundreds of films released, and a majority of critics–depending on location–only consider those which played for a week in a dingy spot at the Laemmle 5 or Quad Cinema to be valid. Honorable Mentions:

Battle Royale

This 2000 adaptation of Koushun Takami’s novelistic ode to wrestling’s battles royal never saw a proper US release until this year at theCinefamily in Los Angeles. It’s amazing that a film with the cult status it has–inspiring two manga sequels, a (lacking) film follow-up, the entire plot of The Hunger Games–never got a seven-day run in New York, despite selling out at the New York Asian Film Festival when screened.

The Man From Nowhere

When we had Grady Hendrix come visit Grassroots Tavern, we asked him to describe the recent trend of Korean revenge films. His answer: “Karenge.” If that doesn’t sum up The Man from Nowhere, I’m not sure what else would. Though not nearly as dark as I Saw The Devil, from savage bon mots (“How many gold teeth do you have? I’m a pawn shop owner and I want to know which to rip from your mouth”) to bathroom knife fights and a bittersweet ending, this sums up exactly what the Karenge genre boils down to: you can take revenge and kill everyone, but ultimately it will kill you.

A Seperation

Not optional.


Green Hornet

Captured in the Battle: Los Angeles game. Apt, no?

11The Green Hornet

Michel Gondry’s long-gestating attempt to make a superhero film from a script by Superbad helmers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg was meant for 2010 but pushed to 2011 —all to become the first film of many this year savaged for poorly done post-converted 3D. All this after Stephen Chow’s exit: originally attached as director and set to star as Kato, he left once Seth Rogen read his script (it involved turning The Green Hornet into Kato’s bitch for the second half of the film. The final result is a deconstructionist master class, mocking the genre it so desperately wants to be part of.

Gondry took Rogen/Goldberg’s script and turned it into an examination of what happens when a spoiled kid with daddy issues tries to prove his father wrong once and for all: team Apatow’s work with the absent dads reinserted. My love for this film freaks me out because I wound up in sync with the alternate persona I adopt on Twitter. This lead to horrifying questions: what aligned us? Did other critics’ utter panning and rejection pawn a necessity to explain the golden lining we found in a film that unintentionally proved a point that Kick-Ass played for shlock laughs?

10. Cedar Rapids

I planned on completely disliking this and writing it off as nothing more than Sundance programming–which is something I am painfully aware of in a post-The Company Men world. So consider my surprise at the effectiveness of Miguel Arteta’s coming-of-age by way of John C. Reilly mugging and Ed Helms man-child turned man-tween at a real estate conference. Everyone’s flaws shine: Joan (Anne Heche) uses the annual conference to party, Dean (Reilly) the party animal who can’t turn off , Ronald (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) is desperate to be recognized as salesman of the year for once. It’s weird to suggest this is the slightly lighter Glengarry Glen Ross but people love arbitrarily comparing films in these lists. So there.

"Pass the me-not-giving-a-fuck? Gladly."

9. The Perfect Host

Hands down, my guilty pleasure film for 2011. It’s on Instant now and the best description I can find for it is a low-rentTwilight Zone plot–which I think nearly every review referred to it as–launched into the stratosphere by David Hyde Pierce’s performance.  A robber fleeing a botched heist tries to hide in a random home, which belongs to a psychotic dinner party host (Hyde Pierce, duh) who reveals he’s got a lot more going on than just a skewed sense of reality. The twist is fun but the performance and the build-up is like (yes!) classicTwlight Zone. In the best way.

8. Love Exposure

This film explores everything Shion Sono’s touched upon in his previous films: family, cults, patriarchs, lineage, religion, conflict, panties, society, media, friendship, saviors, Female Prisoner Scorpion, youth, penis removal, strong female characters, Catholic guilt, Aum Shinrikyo. Ultimately what Sono created is a preview of his next moves after Noriko’s Dinner Table/Suicide ClubCold Fish (another 2011 release) built on the experimental self-mash-up that is Love Exposure.

7. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Unintentionally, 2011 focused on mortality and existence more than any year I can recall in recent memory. Still, Uncle Boonmee is the easiest version of dying to swallow, the final days of Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) who returns to his honey farm ready to prepare for death, reconnect with his son who became a Ghost Monkey and hear from his dead wife he’ll soon be joining.

Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul’s metaphysical examination of a seemingly straightforward man’s end of days is swift, simple and probably the easiest film from the year to watch and fall in love with. There’s also a catfish that eats this chick out, but you should take a bathroom break and ignore that. This will become the topic that will awkwardly hang out in the room while discussing Boonmee–much like a catfish performing oral sex on a woman.

6. Sucker Punch

When describing why this is legitimately worthwhile, it’s important to put yourself into the mind of an action fanboy. Ever since The Matrix, genre nerds have called for an ultimate culmination of exposive excess. It’s something that Stallone attempted to cash in using The Expendables, leaving most folks with a strange taste in their mouth–in theory, it WAS what they wanted, but the passing of time between their  1980s childhoods and present-day adulthood exposed the result’s staleness. With films like Crank and even Shoot ‘Em Up, the action film in evolving into a new beast influenced by anime and other previously beyond-the-mainstream influences.

Sucker Punch delivered the goods a decade too late. It’s a mash-up of anime and the Adam McKay school of absurdist exposition and plot points: how does Baby Doll (Emily Browning) dance? Why, like a steampunk nazi battling robots and schoolgirls and OH SHIT EXPLOSIONS THAT’S HOW. The irony came in watching the BuzzFeed culture turn their backs on the very type of film they demand.

Is Sucker Punch the equivalent of ASS: THE MOVIE, a real-world manifestation of Idiocracy? Sure. But Zack Snyder wasn’t at all wrong in his reading of the tea leaves when it came to what action fans want. This was his glorified test reel for the forthcoming Superman reboot. For that alone, it’s a must-see: a glorified production demo put out by Warner Brothers.

Scene from Margare--GODDAMN IT, FOX SEARCHLIGHT.

5. Margaret

The dark horse of 2011 is Kenneth Lonergan’s ode to New York neurosis and classical opera (here, subjects of equal gravity), distributed by Fox Searchlight with the strategy “let’s not advertise AT ALL–oh hey,  Martha Marcy Marlene May!” Ccookie cutter Upper West Sider Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin, pre-True Blood and all the Sooki nonsense) floats through her days until witnessing a horrific traffic accident. An examination of guilt and broken families, with the best random cameos you’ll ever find from Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno and Allison Janney.

4. Take Shelter

I often joked with a friend that post-Shotgun Stories “it’d be awesome if Jeff Nichols had a budget for CGI. Imagine what he’d do!” This was it.Take Shelter is worth every penny for the swarms of birds and Michael Shannon struggling to understand if he’s really experiencing psychosis, religious dreams or the fear of protecting his family in a world where even vacations are deadly. The final shot’s both a punchline and a gut punch.

3. Tuesday, After Christmas

Radu Muntean’s amazing Christmas movie boils down the relationships between a family man, wife and his dentist mistress into one amazingly tense braces-fitting session.

Proof I lost Photoshop and now use Picasa.

1. Bellflower/Impolex

List order is overrated! I became an Impolex fanboy at Cinevegas in 2009 which led to me semi-stealing a screener (i.e. forgot to send it back to Cinevegas, which folded a few months later) and rewatching it every few weeks. We had Alex at Grassroots to discuss the film (and again for his latest, The Color Wheel— also subject of an interview/podcast–which is dominating the 2011 Best Unreleased list at the Village Voice).

Likewise, there was Bellflower, a labor of love from a crew that ambivalently embraced a nerd subculture, undermining it with a terrifying point about what happens with enough dedication: you build your own cameras and install functional flamethrowers in cars. Message: extremes end poorly if you step too far into your neurosis.

In a weird way, which neither may like, they complement each other: Impolex is a search for meaning in life through duty and trying to forget the past while Bellflower revels in the background and memories of its director and characters. Both focus on unattainable goals (finding a downed V2 rocket in Impolex, waiting for the end of the world to be Lord Humungus from The Road Warrior in Bellflower) and how they can warp us for better and worst.

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