Man this was hard. These 5 movies are all incredible. The top 3 especially are separated by a hair. Anyway, these are my picks for the 5 most must see movies of 2011. Three of them are on DVD, and the other two will be coming shortly, so you have no excuse not to expose yourself to...HEY, not like that! Put it back on. I meant ...oh nevermind. Anyway, Nathan most definitely says check all 5 out. 2012, the bar has been set. Let's see what you've got.
2011 was the year of the neo-exploitation movie, and this was the most high profile release of the faux-grindhouse wave. While it’s going for the grindhouse style, it reminded me more of one of those great 80’s Troma movies, but with a much larger budget and less poop jokes. The film has a unique look, with its saturated colors and fluid camera work. It has a surprising amount of twists and turns for a fairly simple story about, well, a hobo with a shotgun. The violence is creative, featuring some of the most ingenious weapon selections in quite a while. It can be brutal at times. I mean, come on, they take a flamethrower to a schoolbus full of kids. That takes balls man. It’s also one of the most hilariously quotable films of the year, offering such gems as “First I’m gonna have to wash this guy’s asshole off of my face,” “When life gives you razor blades, you make a baseball bat covered in razor blades,” "You can tell Mother Teresa when she's finger banging you in hell,” and my vote for movie quote of the year “I’m going to wash this blood off…with your blood!” What really puts this movie in the upper echelon of 2011’s cinematic offerings, however, is an outstanding performance by the always great Rutger Hauer. He plays the hobo with such a believability and dead serious sincerity that you can’t help but buy into the scenario no matter how ludicrous it becomes. He delivers lines stone faced that lesser actors could never have pulled off without a “wink wink nudge nudge.” So far, this is by far the best Grindhouse spin off, and is likely to retain that title unless “Werewolf Women of the SS” eventually sees the light of day.
When we finished watching this flick, Joe (of EC3 fame) declared it the best horror comedy since Shaun of the Dead. I think it’s competing with Zombieland for that title, but I can’t really argue with him. Either way, that’s saying something. It’s definitely more comedy than horror, but the red stuff certainly flows freely. The strongest aspect of the flick is the acting. Not enough can be said about the chemistry between Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine). They really are the best comedy team to come along since, well, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. These two play off of each other so well that they really do seem like life long friends. The writing is whip smart without over thinking itself. Sure, once you know the central joke, you see a lot of the twists coming, but it doesn’t make them any less effective. For example, when you see the wood chipper, you know exactly what is going to happen. How someone comes to find themselves in the wood chipper is the funny part. The way it turns the conventions of the “backwoods horror/crazy redneck” genre upside down is genius. When it takes a turn towards straight horror near the end, it still manages to pull it off. It’s impressive that this is writer/director Eli Craig’s feature debut, as it shows a skill usually shown by much more seasoned filmmakers. All of you indie filmmakers out there producing this glut of “self referential” snark-horror and lame parodies, take notice. This is how horror comedy is done.
There are two types of movie fans in the world, those that hear a title like “Dead Hooker in a Trunk” and turn up their nose at that kind of filth, and those who hear that title and think, “Holy hell, I have to see that NOW!” If you’re reading this blog, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re in the latter category. Like Jabba said, you’re my kind of scum. Well folks, take it from me, here’s a flick that lives up to the promise of its title. I don’t just mean that there is an actual dead hooker in a trunk, but that it’s as irreverent, gritty, over the top, and entertaining as the name would suggest. The debut feature from Canadian filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska is often lumped in with the “faux grindhouse” wave, but it doesn’t attempt to recreate that era aesthetically. Instead, it successfully captures the independent spirit that has remained through all eras of exploitation flicks; the manic energy, DIY aesthetic, “up yours” to conventional standards of cinema, and the attitude that being as outrageous as possible is the name of the game. It’s as much Tarrentino as it is Corman. The unpredictable plot follows a great cast of characters (played by an equally great cast of actors) as they careen from one misadventure to another, all in an effort to give the dead hooker a proper burial. What makes me love this film the most isn’t the chainsaw dismemberment, drug dealers, cowboy pimp, serial killer, eyeball extraction, necrophilia, bestiality, power drill torture, tied up cops, or God driving a taxi. None of that stuff hurts of course. No, the best part is that the passion the cast and crew had for the film, their love for film in general, and the fun they had making it is evident on screen. I dare you NOT to have a blast watching this flick. It can’t be done. With Dead Hooker being released on DVD at the end of this month, and their next flick American Mary due later this year, 2012 looks like it just might be the year of the Soska sisters.
As you can see by my top 10 here, the neo-retro-exploitation trend was a major contributing factor in genre cinema this year, and that trend produced some really good flicks. Hell, it produced some really crappy flicks too. It also produced one great flick, and that flick is Dear God No! So many films in this year tried so hard to feel authentic. Dear God No didn’t have to try. This flick IS authentic. Everything needed to prove that is present right in the first scene. After a “you scared me there for a second” moment, you realize that this actually looks like film. Well guess what, it is! The flick was shot on 16mm. You tech geeks can continue to besmirch your shorts over the newest hi def blu ray digital “upgrade”, but this old school movie geek will take actual film any day. THIS is how they used to make movies, and this is what a movie is supposed to look like dammit. Analog has a warmth and texture that can’t be reproduced digitally; no matter how hard you try or how much money you spend. Aside from the look, it has the authentic “anything goes” attitude found in the best exploitation classics. Need proof? Like I said, look no further than the first scene. There’s drug use, entrails, full frontal nudity, mutilation via motorcycle, a biker repeatedly kicking a dead raped nun in the crotch, and an exploding drive-in. In the first scene alone! If you’re not hooked, then I’m not sure you and I can be friends any more. You must be a Todd. From there Dear God No takes you on a bikers vs. bigfoot thrill ride you’ll never forget. The practical effects are great, the acting ranges from great to appropriately cheesy, the soundtrack is killer, and the story is as unpredictable as it is sleazy, violent, and enjoyable. More than once you’ll find your self thinking “They’re not really going to…holy shit they did!” I’ve always said that the one thing a movie has to be above all else is fun. Did I have more fun watching any other movie this year? Dear God No! When it becomes available, this future cult classic will be THE must own DVD of 2012.
I want to state for the record that Magnet Releasing is hands down the horror MVP of the year. They were responsible for releasing 3 of my top 5, as well as Rubber, Black Death, Last Circus, and Troll Hunter. Thank you Magnet. You rule.
Anyway, I Saw the Devil was on a lot of top 10 lists last year. It made its DVD debut in the US this year, so it’s on a lot of top 10 lists again in 2011. It’s well deserved too, because this flick is amazing. I originally hesitated to put it on my list because it’s technically a crime thriller, but deep down in its black heart it’s a stalk and slash flick. A serial killer rapes and kills a cops girlfriend and the cop goes after revenge. We’ve seen that a million times, right? Well, this time, the cop plays a cat and mouse game of “catch, assault, release, repeat” with the killer that will keep you on the edge of your seat for every minute of this movie’s 144 minute running time. It’s a showdown between two men who will stop at nothing to get what they want, the agony and destruction of the other. The movie is perfectly paced, and continues ratcheting up the intensity until the almost unbearably tense final act. It knows when to punctuate the goings on with black humor however. Try not to laugh out loud when the police inspector says, in true TV detective form “Come on son, you’ve got to tell us who broke your balls.” (My runner up for movie quote of the year.) It is expertly shot, with the peak if its cinematic artistry coming during the much hyped “taxi cab scene.” This movie is worth seeing just to behold the blood soaked beauty of this murder sequence. The greenhouse fight is bad ass as well. The two leads deserve a lot of credit for the brilliance of this film, as it just wouldn’t have been as gripping without their virtuoso performances. Byung-hun Lee as the cop plays the character as cold and calculating, but with a flood of grief and rage threatening to break through any minute. That’s a difficult dichotomy to pull off without over or underplaying it, but he’s pitch perfect. As the serial killer, Min-si…you know what, it really doesn’t matter what the actor’s actual name is. He’s Oldboy to me. Oldboy plays the serial killer! MOTHERF’N OLDBOY! Sorry, I love that flick. Anyway, in I Saw the Devil, he’s downright scary. The evil in his eyes and the icy menace in his voice bring to mind a hint of Hannibal Lector. They make perfect counterpoints for each other. One is good, one is evil, but both are sadistic, brutal, and uncompromising. Speaking of brutal, the effects are practical and well done enough to be absolutely wince inducing at times. I’ve seen much made in other reviews of the “questioning which character you’re sympathetic to” aspect of the story, but I didn’t get that at all. I just saw a good old-fashioned revenge story with a new twist that featured great acting, direction, cinematography, writing, and effects. Korea continues to establish itself as the current horror capital of Asia. Best flick of 2011.