The Five Best Films of Spring 2011

Now, for the controversy. Now, to stir up a spit storm or two. You can’t have ‘Worsts’ without ‘Bests’, and you can’t have either without some manner of aesthetic argument. Right now, there are lovers of a certain cotton-tailed character from a month or so back that can’t believe some cynical old jerk thought his merry little movie was one of 2011 animated abominations. Similarly, the minute this list of “likes” takes shape, there will be many admonishing the choices at numbers five and four (at least). It’s all part of the game, part of the process of trying to wrap one’s critical brain around what Hollywood hands us every January through April. Some years, selecting a group of good movies is not all that hard. In others, the pickings are slimmer than a supermodel.

In 2011, what we got the most of was promising if not completely successful content. Paul, for example, had the brilliant Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the leads (and with the script) and the always interesting Greg Mottola behind the lens. Yet the alien on the lam with two UK geeks comedy really didn’t deliver on its percolating nerd potential. Similarly, a movie like The Green Hornet tweaked a ton of comic book conventions (pissing off the funny book fanbase in the process) and yet couldn’t quite bring together its clever combination of superhero and satire. The Mechanic was a fine action effort…and that’s about it, while Fast Five did a direct job of addressing the franchise’s often obvious weaknesses…and little else.

Still, you’re probably going to be shocked to not see Source Code or Hanna among the following choices. Within the social soapbox that is the Interweb, those films are considered “untouchables”, works of wonder that demand blog BS attention, beyond whether or not they are truly successful films. And again, when you see the list included, those names (and others) are going to bite at the back of your brain like an embedded deer tick. Aside from the obvious criteria for make said selections (we had to see them before we could rate them), all compilations are matter of opinion. While it may sound like a cop-out/mea culpa, it’s the truth, just like the follow five films are what Shorts Ends and Leader consider to be the Best of Spring 2011:

#5 – Sucker Punch

Okay, we’ve just started and the list just lost ALL credibility, right? You just can’t imagine anyone – at least anyone who considers themselves a credible film critic – championing Zack Snyder’s excuse of male menopausal masturbation material, can you? Well, even if you decide not to continue on, hear us out. Sucker Punch, for all its Hustler by way of Heavy Metal sex fetishism, remains one of 2011’s grandest experiments. Sure, it tried to mesh the Burly-Q with battle and overdid the grrrl power grunt, but this was an amazing visual feast filled with electrifying imagery and inspirations. Did the story make a lick of sense? Hell no! Could that be because of studio interference, suits mandating that movie’s musical (?) numbers be cut for the sake of audience sanity? Perhaps. Maybe the upcoming Blu-ray will offer a new perspective. Whatever the case, thanks for stopping by…oh, and we will defend this pick to the death.

#4 – Limitless

This was one of those “sneaks up on ya” titles, a film that looked laughable during its pre-release trailering, but then delivered with a delicious wallop once the movie itself finally hit theaters. Neil The Illusionist Burger did a great job of bringing the joys (and the possible horrific harms) that come with advanced intelligence, and while it didn’t really follow the source material that closely (Alan Glynn’s The Dark Fields novel), he did end up with a real early season nail biter. It’s still hard to believe that Shia “is it time for another new Transformers film yet?” LaBeouf was actually going to play this part. Bradley Cooper’s combination of dork and dreamboat works so, so well. Similarly, it’s nice to see DeNiro dialed down a bit, avoiding his usual mainstream movie mugging for once. While not the headiest of sci-fi efforts, it sure was a lot of fun.

#3 – Rango

We said it in our initial review, but it really does bare repeating: Rango reminds one of how special animation can be. It transports us to a place we’ve seen and experienced before and yet does so with a viewpoint so new and novel that it reinvests our always ripe cynicism with a fresh new coat of hope. It features flawless character design, dizzying narrative fun, a lot of brilliant voice work, and just enough nods to the studio standard type to remind us of why it was made in the first place. It’s a billon times better than any Shrek, more fun than a barrel of minions, and runs rings around Rio and its ill-conceived ilk. This was a movie that tried things, that didn’t play it safe, and in the end, wound up with something wonderful. While not as popular as some of the other crappy cartoons floating around out there, it’s still the best.

#2 – I Saw the Devil

For a genre that has felt as redundant as imitations of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, I Saw the Devil is a revelation. It takes the entire police procedural/serial killer prototype into new and quite daring territory. Director Kim Ji-woon take the standard crime cat and mouse and creates a complicated, compelling look at how two men manipulate and mismanage their unholy animalistic urges. Even better, the movie thwarts every convention we expect from the type. It doesn’t try to play into the fear formulas established by the genre. Instead, it builds its dread from the characters up, allow us the rare privilege of actually ‘seeing’ what drives men to murder…and how the victims struggle to find a means of managing their burning hot desire for bloody, gory payback. The result runs ramshackle over what Hollywood considers to be ‘horrible’, and makes a strong case for Kim as one of the artform’s true masters.

#1 – Insidious

Like Poltergeist given a nice post-millennial update (and a much better production value), the latest film from James Wan and Leigh Whannell – of Saw franchise fame – is a brilliant filmic funhouse. It’s a ripping rollercoaster dark ride through a shocking, suspenseful set-up. Two angst ridden parents soon discover their comatose son, the presumed victim of a fall, is actually “haunted” by the spirits (and perhapsm a demon) from a spooky otherworldly plane known as “The Further.” Even better, a family history suggests no end to the dread. Employing every terrific trick in the gloomy Gothic “gotcha” handbook, the duo who gave Jigsaw his initial bite deliver a sensational good time, an indirect audience participation project where screams solidify the viewer’s sense of involvement and (in)security. This creepy crowdpleaser was definitely the best thing about Spring 2011 because of the missive discussed before – it promised one thing…and delivered on it flawlessly.