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I decided to do this about fifteen days early because the posts have been slow. This year was pretty bad for new movies (Battle: LA, Hereafter I think). Susprisingly though one made the list, and in fact there were quite a few recent titles. There were not however, enough movies, so this list extends to include TV shows.
For a quick recap, I really like the Genrebusters, so I stole their idea for Year End Reviews, where they talk about the movies they’ve seen that year, not the movies that came out. This, in my opinion, serves a better purpose, because these lists are all about recommending titles, and you’d probably have heard of any title from ’11 that I’d recommend. So here we go, with a title from ’11–
10. The Thing (2011)
Maybe not the best movie I saw this year, but definitely one of the most entertaining for my nerd-dollar. It’s sort of like fan-service; I really like the core Thing idea, and John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favorite things. Now for more of it, but this time the creature is faster, bigger, more deadly. It actually kills people (not just dogs); it’s predatory. To the rescue is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s flamethrower, and she goes to town on these gooey freaks.
Yes, you’re free to hate on The Thing just because it’s a remake of a cult classic (wonder what people will say when they redo Buckaroo Bonzai or Big Trouble?), but you’d be overlooking what is a very entertaining movie, one of the best horror movies to come along in recent years, and solid science-fiction entertainment. When it comes out on DVD I urge you to pick it up. Blame me if it sucks, only because I can’t spell the director’s name.
9. MST3K: The Girl in Lover’s Lane/I Accuse my Parents
I just can’t decide. I watched a couple of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes over the course of the year, including Swamp Diamonds and Gamera, but I’ve discovered that if you want the pure MSTK experience, you have to go for the cheesy black-and-white 50′s movies of questionable raison d’etre. Interesting to note is that The Girl in Lover’s Lane features Jack Elam in pre-Once Upon a Time in the West days, in something of an embarassing role in an embarassing film. Joel and the gang tear into these, and some of the one-liners made me lol out loud. Unfortunately I can’t really relate them because the jokes require the context. So a guy’s walking down the street looking frumpled and Crow says…
8. Clerks 2
This was, if I remember correctly, and if Netflix is to be believed, the first movie I saw this year. I knew while I was watching it that when I inevitably came around to doing this post I’d have to include it. Not only a very funny movie, it’s also a totally bold and necessary film. Indeed Kevin Smith has given us some rough times with movies like Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but he’s a surprisingly good writer/director, and Clerks 2 is his finest hour. It is also one of the most interesting sequels ever made, because it’s almost as if Clerks 2 should be a stand alone movie, and Clerks a prequel.
The passage of time between films has made a huge difference for the characters, and this is a major (and pretty heavy) theme. We return to Dante and Randall and discover they’ve moved on with their lives, but not up. Well, Rosario Dawson works at the new place, so that’s pretty good, but it still isn’t optimal. This movie’s all about self-actualization and coming to grips with reality. Time to grow up, but we really need to examine ourselves before we do.
If a theoretical Clerks 3 happens, and Kevin Smith has talked about this (in between airplane drama and cameo appearances in Die Hard 4), I can’t imagine it being anything but a retread of Clerks 2–it’s an essential story to… the saga of these guys’ lives, and to Kevin Smith, whose Zack and Miri was even more of a personal story, but unfortunately sucked balls. One good joke at the beginning said by Craig Robinson. And then silence.
7. Dexter: Season 5
Quinn gets an interesting subplot this time around, with Peter Weller no less, Dexter deals with a post-Rita family, and a new character enters the fold. Haters’ll hate, right? This is probably the least popular season, and there’s a reason. This one requires more suspension of disbelief than any other, with escapes and cover-ups that shy from logic. It’s also got that new character Lumen, who you could either see as a good thing like I do, or as a by the numbers revenge movie applied to the Dexter framework. I really appreciated it because I liked the relationship between Lumen and Dexter, even though I knew it had to end. The finale really shows the limitations of television as a medium of storytelling. SPOILERS. We know Lumen won’t last because she’s a movie star. Poor Dex.
6. Lust, Caution
This movie is long, but stick with it because it’s absolutely beautiful. I suppose that when you hear about Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, you hear about the sex scenes, and they are quite graphic, but that’s really not a big deal. They serve a specific purpose, and this whole movie is a tragedy, so I can’t imagine being aroused by it and its sombre mood. Tony Leung’s totally awesome, and if you like this movie I’d recommend checking out the movies of Wong Kar Wai like Happy Together and Days of Being Wild. Also, great music.
5. A History of Violence
I was none partial to Eastern Promises, but I really dug A History of Violence. It’s violent, and it’s a really cool story. It’s David Cronenberg at his most entertaining; this may not be his best movie, but it’s his most enjoyable.
4. Party Down
The cast and writing of a sitcom make all the difference. Premise is usually inconsequential, and in fact some of the more high-concept stuff I usually don’t like–Parks and Recreation, which is the direct opposite of high concept (and will be mentioned again regarding this show’s cancellation), is a great show, very funny. Anyway, the cast and writing of Party Down really shine. In terms of premise, we have these caterers working in LA–it’s essentially a retread of Clerks 2, because most of them aspire to higher things. Romances come and go, parties are ruined, profanities fly–wonderful. I also really like Adam Scott; he’s one of those actors like Mary Elizabeth Winstead or Nathan Fillion that I just really like seeing in things, even if it’s Pirahna 3D. I’m sure you have a few of those. In fact, I went out of my way to watch an indie movie that really wasn’t my style just because he was in it (also JK Simmons, who’s awesome), called The Vicious Kind and I even kind of enjoyed it. Party Down streams on Netflix–highly recommended.
It’s also not a major time investment, unfortunately. Like another TV show on this list, it was cut down in its youth. A lot of it had to do with casting issues–Jane Lynch left after the first season to be on Glee, which is really sad because Constance was one of the best characters, and Adam Scott left to be on Parks and Recreation. I like Parks and Recreation, it certainly picked up steam after an okay “well this is sort of like a watered-down version of what The Office (US) was before it started blowing assholes” first season, but I like this show a whole lot better. The characters are so memorable and the things they do can be so self-destructive but it’s alright–it’s a lot like Trailer Park Boys in this regard.
3. Dexter: Season 3
Another reason why people probably don’t like Season 5 so much is because it followed Season 4. I feel the same way about 2, but I totally understand this because 4 was probably the best season. My favorite however, has got to be 3. This year I saw 3 and 5, having seen 4 last year… that’s what not seeing TV live does to one, I suppose. The stakes in this season are at an all time low, nothing major happens to any of the characters, and we get a new guy Quinn who doesn’t do much and for now isn’t an adequate replacement for the dearly departed Doakes. (That’s what the last book’s gonna be called, Dearly Departed Dexter, I’m calling it now).
However. A new character is introduced, a fellow named Miguel Prado, and the friendship that he and Dexter cultivate that eventually turns dark was very engaging. Some of the exchanges, like the rooftop scene, were extremely memorable. Dexter’s created a monster, and the show did fool me for a moment there–I thought Dexter might have actually cared for this guy, and that idea rang true with me despite probably being false. Even though I knew what was going to happen in this season before it did (he mentions Miguel once in Season 4, a minor sidenote; his absence was somewhat noticeable in retrospect), it was classic suspenseful Dexter at the top of its game.
Like number one on this list I started watching Arrested Development on a lark. I had seen the first two episodes a long time ago (a friend of mine always pushed this show), and thought they were okay, but never ventured beyond that. In fact I believe I decided on Arrested Development because of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World–I actually just wanted to see more Michael Cera (and I wasn’t gonna watch Year One). It’s funny because Arrested Development in turn made me start paying attention to Jason Bateman, which drove me to Extract and Paul, and after it was over, I needed something to ease the pain, so I tore through as many sitcoms as I could, which was only really two, and two short ones at that. Spaced and then Party Down, with their powers combined could help me stop being sad that Arrested Development was over and not coming back.
A few months later I’d find out that it was in fact coming back, and I just about pissed in my pants. Arrested Development is not only the best sitcom I’ve ever seen, but the best TV show. It was so goddamn funny I want to fill this paragraph with expletives for no reason. But I won’t. As soon as it was over I wanted to watch it again; I got my sister to watch it (work in progress), and my roommate, who was hooked and we started marathoning episodes–like ten episodes a day.
It’s so layered, so rich, so… post-modern. You can go on Wikipedia to learn about all the in-jokes and hidden things, there’s too many to list. Season 1 was good, like pretty funny and effective in setting up characters: Michael is the perfect straight man, his son is awkward and in love with his cousin, his brother GOB is an aggressive moron, his sister a selfish airhead with a closet homosexual husband, his younger brother a motherboy. His dad’s in jail, his mother probably should be. It works, but this is the weakest season and kind of a slow start.
Stick with it, seriously. Season 2 starts out strong, and lever lets up. Recurring jokes are abound and always rewarding: Tobias is gay gives us some of the most quotable lines in network TV, Maeby as a studio executive reveals the absurdity of Hollywood, Buster losing is hand (foreshadowed like crazy throughout the whole season ["Never thought I'd miss a hand so much" is in Episode 3: Amigos]) is classic, Michael not liking or remembering George Michael’s girlfriend Ann clues us into his flawed-father character, and Oscar being Buster’s secret father is probably my favorite recurring joke. Something like Buster announcing “I guess my father’s not here,” will prompt the camera to zoom in slowly on Jeffrey Tambor in a wig and cue the dramatic piano for him to say, “Maybe he is.” Cut to Lucille rolling her eyes.
You could just go anywhere on the Internet and people talk this show up like I’m doing. They’re not afraid. You can’t oversell Arrested Development. You either love it or you’re trying to hate it. Don’t try to hate it. Do yourself a favor.
Shifting focus here on the Dreck Fiction. In the beginning, the first real things I ever wrote were about the movies of John Singleton–about as far from speculative fiction as you can imagine. Basically I was just using this blog to talk about things that appealed to me, and that’s pretty much over now because I’ve run out of things. I’m still gonna make movie reviews, but they’ll be slower.
Everybody needs their niche, and there isn’t one between talking about science-fiction and non science-fiction movies. I mean, there’s the Genrebusters, a web site you should visit frequently, though the updates are sporadic, and they balance all sorts of genre cinema, but in terms of Dreck Fiction, there’s nothing linking Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix to a movie like Poetic Justice. Itty blogs like this really oughtta specialize, because they aren’t an investment for the reader.
Blog 101 stuff–I know. I’m like a hormone-addled teenager, figuring himself out. There’s gonna be a new review, and then I’m gonna talk about Ghost in the Shell ad infinitum before concentrating on a recent preoccupation of mine.
See you later.
For those who read this site, there’s another to read instead – the Genrebusters.com, who have recently lifted their four or five year hiatus. Christ, that was a long wait, especially since I just found out about them right after they stopped putting out posts and recording podcasts. Well, they’re back posting, and everything’s totally cool. To celebrate their return, I figured I’d steal from them, and recycle a feature that I always liked from their site. The main guy wrote up reviews for each of his 100 favorite movies, and his culmination in Once Upon a Time in the West is what spurred me into renting that particular film, because it was such a high recommendation from a trusted source. And goddamn that movie is awesome.
Somewhere on the site there’s a secret Top 100 List of my own, but I’ll go in-depth with them ten at a time. I don’t have all that much to say about some of these movies, but I’m still young, and ten years from now, this whole list will be gutted. I haven’t even seen The Shawshank Redemption yet. And that reminds me – somewhere high on this list would usually be The Mist, but it actually slipped my mind. Wow. One of my favorite horror movies ever, and I just completely forgot it. So somewhere along the way I’ll have to make a note of where that would’ve been, and this will then become a Top 101 List.
So no this isn’t a Top 100 Greatest Movies Ever list, because nowhere will you find garbagio like Sunset Boulevard. This is a personal list, and hopefully it’ll serve the purpose of recommending in short some cool movies, or maybe making you look twice at some title you thought earlier was crap.
100. Slither, Dir. James Gunn
This movie freaking tanked, man. According to the profesh, and anyone with a sense of logic – it was that classic case of ‘too scary to be funny, too funny to be scary,’ that shied audiences from Grindhouse and I guess Snakes on a Plane. It’s true; the movie trailers for this one both freaked me out and made me laugh, but since back then I was a pussy (back then, that’s right), I didn’t want to see it. I think Grant Grant’s final form gave me the creeps because of the mouth. Even today, that’s a pretty wicked design. But don’t do what I did back in the day when I was a pussy, go check this one out, because it’s more than just another zombie movie. And in terms of genres, horror/comedy is my second favorite, and Slither is certainly a wonderful entry. Nathan Fillion is the man, man.
99. The Mummy, Dir. Stephen Sommers
Yeah this movie is garbage, and so is its sequel, and so is its spin-off, but I love all three. Well, I like The Scorpion King, but I really like The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. Both of them have a great sense of adventure akin to Raiders or Jurassic Park. The first one especially is pretty well paced, and the visual effects and creature designs always stuck with me when I was younger. Every set piece was different, but they were mostly all cool, and always had a cool new monster. A guilty pleasure, probably, but it’s only the first, as we’ll see very soon.
98. Doom, Dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak
While not a big fan of the original video-game – I was more of a Halo guy myself – this movie is a surprisingly high quality video-game adaptation, and if that wasn’t the most apologist way to begin a review, well just show me Ebert’s various Tron reviews, I guess. I’m a sucker for space marines, because I like it when big guys with big guns run down hallways and shoot aliens. And let me tell you – these guys are big, and they sure do run down hallways a lot. Screw the Spartans from 300 – if I want burly dudes doing manly things, it’s gotta be Doom, or DOOM, rather. This movie is so balls stupid, but a lot of fun. The creature effects were done in part by Stan Winston, so even though the notion of a genetically engineered demon is… idiotic… it’s a great visual action picture with sci-fi trappings that are sadly lost on America. Holdin’ out hope for Scott’s The Forever War…
97. Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, Dir. Shinichiro Watanabe
I actually saw this before viewing the series, which is possibly the most well-known anime of all time, at least in America, as it is quite western, genre-mixing noir with sci-fi with… jazz, with spaghetti westerns with blaxploitation with crime drama – it’s basically the best show ever this side of Stand Alone Complex. If I wasn’t such a GITS fanboy I’d say on the whole it’s probably better, and the movie is a great little reward for all those fans jonesing for more adventures with Spike and Jet. This movie is actually downright philosophical, and makes for an interesting watch.
96. Pitch Black, Dir. David Twohy
I’m glad I didn’t have to put The Chronicles of Riddick on this list because as much as I love it, it really, really sucks. Pitch Black on the other hand, is a genuinely solid sci-fi thriller starring Vin Diesel, of all people. It’s got a good premise, cool action, cool monsters, and – much to my surprise – a strangely poigniant arc for our future-super-double-unkillable-badass Riddick, who turned out to be a terrible character. Let’s try to remember when he was still good…
95. Appleseed, Dir. Shinji Aramaki
I used to think that this movie was just straight garbage, but I enjoy the visuals way too much, and even if the story is just a bootleg Ghost in the Shell, there are worse things to be. The action scenes in this movie are spectacular, and they make me realize that as much as I love the 80′s action genre, it’ll never quite be the same as a bunch of crazily designed robots shooting up the place.
94. Chasing Amy, Dir. Kevin Smith
Never thought a romantic comedy starring Ben Affleck would be… good. Well, The Town was a romantic comedy, but no, that was crap, so never mind. Chasing Amy on the other hand is a great Kevin Smith movie about people sitting around talking about sex. God, nothing I can say makes it sound good, so you really have to just see it. Once again this was a movie that the Genrebusters recommended, citing the friendship between the two main dudes as one of the most organic and best written.
93. 12 Monkeys, Dir. Terry Gilliam
People who talk about Brad Pitt have a lot of good performances to draw from: Fight Club, Seven, 12 Monkeys… I didn’t like those first two, but 12 Monkeys is the first Terry Gilliam (and last) I’ve seen – I’m still waiting on Brazil and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, aside from Holy Grail, I think? It’s bizarre and feels like something by the Jeunet/Caro team, who had paid homage to Gilliam with their Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. It’s a high concept story based off of a short film called La Jetee, and if you’re looking for a totally wacked-out experience, look no further.
92. 2010: The Year we Make Contact, Dir. Peter Hyams
Hard science-fiction is hard to come by in film, which is why all of it that I’ve seen is further on this list – Silent Running, Sunshine, and of course 2001: A Space Odyssey. The oft trashed on sequel, which has kind of a Terminator 3, Godfather 3, Mad Max 3 complex – exactly how do you follow that up? Well, you take the straight approach. This isn’t a cerebral, philosophical journey into both our minds and the deepest reaches of the universe, it’s a space story without the lasers, and an interesting drama with slightly overwrought political overtones, but the message is positive and not too Avatarized, if you catch what I’m sailing out there.
91. Grindhouse: Planet Terror, Dir. Robert Rodriguez
This was originally The Rock. That it is now Planet Terror is a testament to the fact that all these movies up here are kind of… shaky. I like them all, but The Rock just doesn’t match up, and so instead of bumping the whole list, I’ll just take it off. It’s still with us in spirit, at #102. Planet Terror on the other hand is a Rodriguez through-and-through, chock full of guns, explosions, blood, zombies, goo, and Tom Savini being thrown into a car made out of tin foil. It’s great fun, and has an excellent cast and a damn good script.
Tune in next week for 90-81, easily the best of the 100. Well, probably not.