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2011

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Fast Five (2011)
Written by Chris Morgan
Directed by Justin Lin

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Dominic Toretto is on his way to prison when Brian O’Conner and Mia show up to bust him out. Months later, Brian and Mia show up in Rio de Janeiro to meet up with Vince, from The Fast & The Furious. Dom is on his way, and Vince has a job involving hijacking a train for cars belonging to local crime kingpin Reyes. Turns out one of these cars actually holds vital information to Reyes’ drug empire and Dom uses this as an opportunity to get rich. The DEA was transporting the cars on the train and want their evidence back. They dispatch Agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and his team to recover the car and take down Toretto and crew. To pull off the heist of Reyes’ fortune, Dom is going to need help and calls in Gisele, Han, Tej, Roman Pearce, Leo, and Santos. All of these people come together to make an insanely crazy action movie.

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Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011, dir. Sean Durkin)

Purchase Martha Marcy May Marlene on Blu-Ray
or Rent on Amazon Video

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This is my first stab at the Cinematic Immersion Tank, so I decided to go with doing a write up after each viewing. In future, I may do something more comprehensive, more of a critical analysis that isn’t as fragmented, but that would take a little more time. In the meantime, please watch Martha Marcy May Marlene *before* reading over this. I hope you find as much beauty and sadness as I did in this amazing film. My biggest take away from this film is the power of Elizabeth Olsen’s acting (she has some of the most powerful eyes) and the amazing supporting cast that surrounded her in this film. Every actor pulls so much depth out of their role.

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As I have done every year since 2005, I keep a list of every film I watch for the first time in a year. Here are the ten films that topped my list:

10) Super 8 (2011, dir. J.J. Abrams)

This was my most anticipated summer movie and it definitely delivered what I wanted: a return to the  wonder filled Spielberg-ian cinema of the late 1970s/early 1980s. It wasn’t a perfect film in terms of an tightly written script, but it was a technically strong film. It also showed Abrams deft hand at recognizing the core elements of a style of filmmaking. I’d like to see him attempt to recreate other iconic mainstream directors’ styles in the future.

9) Blood Simple (1984, dir. The Coen Brothers

This was the only Coen Brothers film I hadn’t seen and I had avoided it for a long time. From production stills I was wary due to the very 80s specific production design. Being so used to a more stylized approach in their modern work, I assumed Blood Simple would be an inferior work whose purpose was more to develop what would be their future style. Was I wrong! Its as if these two men were born with an inherent ability to make perfect films.

8) Dogtooth (2010, dir. Giorgos Lanthimos)

I only became aware of this film with his Oscar nom in the Foreign Language category and was a bit apprehensive at first. What I discovered was a dark allegory that perfectly captures life in a “free” society. Depending on your perspective the film is about governments or the church or authority in general. Its also a great example of the strength of quiet European cinema. The events that unfold in the final minutes will linger with you longer than the majority of films coming out in your local cineplex.

7) Melancholia (2011, dir. Lars von Trier)

I am not a von Trier fanboy, more I admire the idea of what he attempts. I enjoyed Antichrist but didn’t fall in love with it. Melancholia is a different story. I expected a subversion of the sci-fi genre, but what it is here is actually a more faithful ode to science fiction literature than film. This is a short story made film, a perfect example of the fantastic being used as an overlay for a human story. It also has some of the most beautifully composed shots you’ll see in a film this year, particularly the opening montage.

6) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1978, dir. Steven Spielberg)

This is another of those films that got away from me for a long time. I was very glad I watched this mere days before Super 8, as it got me in the perfect mood for that film. It also reminded me of what an amazing filmmaker Spielberg can be. Since the 1990s, he seems to have become a different filmmaker. While the work he does now isn’t terrible, there is a nostalgic side of me that misses the cinema of wonder. His films now seem more horrific (War of the Worlds, Minority Report, AI) or experimental (The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can, War Horse). Part of me would like to see this Spielberg come back one more time.

5) Rubber (2010, dir. Quentin Dupieux)

You will not see another film like this in your life: A tire comes to life and proceeds to go on a telekinetic killing spree in a world wherein the inhabitants seem to know they are fictional. There is very little to say about this film other than, just got to Netflix and watch it.

4) Red, White, & Blue (2010, dir. Simon Rumley)

This film is the perfect antidote to the mindless torture porn horror craze that seems to be a large part of cinema these days. The opening acts of the film are torturously slow and methodical. But there is a reason why we are introduced so completely to the three main characters. When the violence begins it doesn’t let up and it devastates the audience. Everyone is guilty, yet everyone could plausibly claim innocence. A horror film that will truly haunt you.

3) Amer (2009, dir. Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani)

This almost wordless homage to the Italian giallo horror genre is one of the most beautiful looking films I saw all year. The film follows one woman from childhood through adolescence to adulthood using the framework of classic 70s European horror. Its incredibly interpretive and hypnotic. I popped it on one Sunday afternoon, expecting something that would simply serve as background noise. I quickly dropped everything I was doing and was fully absorbed.

2) Drive (2011, dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

I first became familiar with Refn when I saw Bronson (2008) and was fairly impressed. Little did I expect a film of this level of style to emerge years later. Drive was able to capture the atmosphere games like Grand Theft Auto pray they can. Everything about the film felt exactly right, as if all LA Noir type films must be set in an 80s synth inspired environment from now on. It was particularly nice to see Bryan Cranston and a highly out of character Albert Brooks.

1) The Tree of Life (2011, dir. Terence Malick)

Tree of Life is a perfect example of film as art. First, its an incredibly personal work that shows how, as an artist becomes detailed and specific, they in turn become universal. Secondly, it has produced highly passionate and differing reactions. Its the sort of film that upsets some viewers because it asks them to participate on an intellectual level, something many films today do not. It does this, because it respects the audience’s intelligence. Malick is almost more of a composer than a narrative filmmaker, and he produces some very sweet music.

I watched a lot of television this year. If you’d like to know my thoughts about the first half of the year, that’s right here. Here’s what I thought about what I saw during the second half.

5) Enlightened Season 1 (Created by Mike White and Laura Dern)

I started out more excited over Bored to Death’s return to HBO, but ended the year anticipating what came next in this Laura Dern-led dramedy. Enlightened is a very difficult concept and I completely understand viewers who might be turned off. However, I think staying with the show pays off. The set up is that Amy, a cosmetics company executive, has a totally nervous breakdown in the wake of an affair with her colleague. Amy is the sort of character that is mocked and put into the background of most shows, but here we follow her in the wake of the breakdown. Enlightened succeeds in present a balanced view of the self-help society we live in. Its comedy is subtle and its characters are nuanced, a nice change of pace overall.

4) Workaholics Seasons 1 & 2 (Created by Anders Holm, Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine, and Kyle Newacheck)

I brushed this one off as another shitty Comedy Central attempt to appeal to the idiot demographic. Then I heard it mentioned by comedian Jimmy Dore in a favorable light and began to see friends online also praising it. That was enough to pique my curiosity and three days later I was kicking myself that I hadn’t been watching this from the beginning. Workaholics is the post-grad equivalent of Always Sunny or The Whitest Kids U Know with a plot and structure. Its not a work of comedic genius but it is a more enjoyable comedy than 99% of what is on the television these days. Despite what the ads would have you believe, this is a modern day Marx Brothers, three absurdist goofs becoming involved in ludicrous situations. Its surprisingly lacking in sexism as well, a VERY rare element in comedy these days.

3) American Horror Story Season 1 (Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk)

I hate Glee. I didn’t care for Nip/Tuck. So I was shocked that a new series from the men who created both of those was so damn enjoyable. Yes, the season had its moment of ludicrous behavior and some contrived ways to stretch the plot out. There were episodes where nothing of significance happened. But, when I stand back and look at the season as a whole, I see an amazingly ambitious project. The announcement that Season 2 will be a completely new cast, new locale, and new type of horror has me loving it even more. The series is essentially a season long anthology or expanded mini-series. Each season will be one complete and singular horror story. The story possibilities can’t help but make me drool for news on what is waiting for us in the Fall.

2) Boardwalk Empire Season 2 (Created by Terence Winter)

The first season was a slow burn, but season two seemed to aim higher from the start. We appeared to be seeing the rise of Jimmy Darmody and the American mafia, while Nucky Thompson fell from grace. All the while, Irish immigrant Margaret Schroeder had a crisis of the soul. When everything came to its conclusion, I was left stunned. While Game of Thrones feeds the high quality soap operatic side of me, Boardwalk Empire is there for the more ambiguous and literary side of me. The penultimate episode of the season, which focused on flashbacks to Jimmy’s short lived stint at university, was painfully devastating. Coupled with the events of the finale, the season overall is a bleak set up for what will come next.

1) Breaking Bad Season 4 (Created by Vince Gilligan)

Breaking Bad is still the strongest show out there. Its the perfect combination of great writing and solid acting. I had never really joined the Aaron Paul/Jesse fandom till this season, but I found the character to really grow as a complex person. Walt almost seemed to take a backseat for a lot of the episodes this season, which payed off in the final two of the season. The moment that stands out for me is not the season ending reveal, but the moment where Walt lays in the crawlspace, having just learned a devastating detail and laughing insanely as the camera zooms out. That single moment packed more of a dramatic punch than some whole seasons of television.

This was a big year in comics, particularly for DC which relaunched its entire line of books, meaning they cancelled everything and started over from issue one. As a result, I ended up becoming distant towards the company that used to dominate my list for favorite comics, and moving over to more Marvel fare.

Detective Comics #878 – 881 (Creators: Scott Snyder, Francesco Francavilla, Jock)

One of the few DC books I enjoyed was this final arc in the first volume of Detective Comics. Snyder really brought a sense of horror to the title and the sort of horror that truly hit home. While Gotham goes about its typical chaos, Jim Gordon Jr., the son of the Commissioner is hiding a dark secret. His cousin, Barbara (the former Batgirl, now Oracle) fails to convince Gordon about the sociopathic side of his son until its too late. Truly one of the best Batman stories of the decade.

Batwoman (Creators: J.H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman)

The only title from the DC Comics relaunch that has really clicked with me, probably because these stories were written pre-re-launch. The series follows Kate Kane, the Batwoman, an heiress who fights crime in Gotham and isn’t just a “girl partner” to Batman. The series is made great thanks to Williams’ layouts which are unlike anything else coming from DC right now.

Avengers Academy (Creators: Christos Gage, Mike McKone)

I was probably least excited about this title during the big Avengers re-launch two years ago but it has grown to be my favorite of all the titles. I think it reminds me a lot of the old New Teen Titans issues I got my hands on in the 1990s. Its a simple fun series about some interesting characters. It also features some older heroes acting as teachers so you can have classic Marvel elements included from time to time (Quicksilver is an instructor, so his pop Magneto shows up one ish. My favorite part of this year was the weight they put on killing. One student, Mettle, has to kill an enemy during battle and its a plot line that carries on for the majority of the year as he struggles to deal with his actions.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man (Creators: Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli)

While the media tried to turn this into a surface level “Spider-man Iz a Blacks Spanish Person!!! OMGZ” story, they ignored the fact that it was also a classic origin story. This was the perfect move to make the alt-verse Ultimate Spider-Man his own character and not have to simply be a parallel to the standard universe. The art and story here is perfect and feels fresh. This is the story you could hand to a kid and immediately have him hooked the way kids got hooked on Spidey back in the early 60s.

Wolverine & The X-Men (Creators: Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo)

Speaking of fun, Jason Aaron, who I associated with darker work, has produced the most fun X-Men comic I have read in ages. Wolverine has split the X-Men proper and left their San Francisco island to re-start the Westchester School. Following him are Beast, Kitty Pryde, and Iceman as headmasters to a cast of adolescent mutants. The series is chock full of crazy ideas and it makes you groan when you come to the end of an issue, wanting to desperately get the next one in your hands.

Locke and Key (Creators: Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez)

After Lost ended was despondent about what the next television series would be that evoked that same sense of mystery and questioning. Little did I know it would come in the form of a comic book series. Locke and Key is the story of a family’s dark secrets and house where a cache of keys each possess a magical effect. Looming over the family is a dark figure from the past who knows all the keys and how to manipulate them to achieve its ends, and is happy to kill whom ever gets in his way. One of the most exciting and intriguing comics published today.

Uncanny X-Force (Creators: Rick Remender, Jerome Opena, Robbi Rodriguez)

I never thought an X-title, much less an X-Force comic would top my favorites of the year list. Rick Remender, the mad bastard who came up with a Frankenstein-ed version of The Punisher last year,  managed to take decades of convoluted and difficult continuity and turn it into an epic saga that even a novice comic reader could read and enjoy. The culmination of Remender’s story focused on the tragic Archangel was the first comic I have read in years that made me emotional. He gives a perfect  superhero death scene that doesn’t go for crass shock and focuses on poignancy instead.

American Horror Story (created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk)
Starring Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton, Taissa Farmiga, Evan Peters, Denis O’Hare, Jessica Lange,  Frances Conroy, Jamie Brewer

Horror is tricky genre to tackle on television. It traditionally ends up in the anthology format and the few occasions it hasn’t been an anthology it hasn’t stayed pure horror, typically becoming a drama with a horror veneer (Dark Shadows, The Walking Dead). The minds behind Glee and Nip/Tuck have decided to create a new horror serial that actually cements its legs firmly in the tropes of the genre. I have to admit, during the promotions of the show during the late summer I wasn’t really sold. However, after viewing the opening five minutes of the pilot I was hooked. Murphy and Falchuk have managed to create an ongoing series that actually gets what makes horror so horrific.

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Drive (2011, dir. Nicholas Winding Refn)
Starring Ryan Gosling, Cary Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks

There is a sort of anti-hero, noted in films like Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai or Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, who is the epitome of the strong silent type. So too in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, we have the hero who chooses to act, rather than speak. Its also a role that matches so perfectly with its star, Ryan Gosling, its hard to imagine anyone else playing the part (Hugh Jackman was attached for a time). Drive is a deceptive film in its public perception, having been marketed as a Fast & The Furious analogue, though it is anything but. Drive is a methodical, existential, and ultimately pop 80s movie.

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