One Last Glance at 2011 – Kirk Haviland’s Top 15 of the Year

Editor’s note: I’ve been meaning to open up Entertainment Maven to other contributors and give readers a little more bang for their…click, and I couldn’t think of a better guest writer than Kirk Haviland to contribute the first piece. I met Kirk this past year at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and was stunned at how knowledgeable he was when it came to talking about movies, not to mention he’s a pretty decent guy as well.

As a film blogger, it’s my responsibility to be as knowledgable as I can be about the subject matter I’m writing about. If I knew half as much as Kirk, I think I would be in pretty good shape.

Matt Hodgson

When I first sat down to start this list I figured it was going to be easy. I mean 2011 wasn’t an amazing year for film, right? It was when I started going through the list of releases that I realized something, there may have been A LOT of movies I disliked this year, but there were also a lot I loved. I have changed this list about a dozen times in ranking and will probably do so again, but these sit as my top 15 (yeah that’s right 15, never said editing was my strong point). Also, I must add that I have not seen some of the films most critics have listed in their top films lists, such as Melancholia, Tree of Life, The Artist and Take Shelter, so they won’t be included here. That said, here we go.

15- Super 8

A loving homage to the films I grew up on like ET and The Goonies. The kids in the film are all very well cast and deliver strong performances to drive the film, especially the very talented Elle Fanning. So maybe the monster plot line doesn’t work, still ranks as one the most fun movies I saw all year.

14- The Innkeepers

Saw this at TADFF back in October and instantly loved it’s throwback style and belief that simply building tension and creepiness is just as effective at scaring people as gore and jump scares. Sara Paxton is excellent in what I consider a star making role. Miss Paxton you will never get me to watch your cinematic gems like “Sydney White” or “Superhero Movie” but you are now on my radar. And maybe now I’ll watch Shark Night 3D…maybe. Opens in theaters in February, seek it out.

13 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The concluding chapter to the most successful film series of all time did not disappoint. Grand in scale with strong performances from the three leads, the filmmakers proved they were right to split the last film into two parts, as condensing the two films into one would have left much wanting.  Now whoever convinced the Twilight Filmmakers to do the same idea…(have not yet subjected myself to the torture that will be Breaking Dawn part 1, for full disclosure).

12- Martha Marcy May Marlene

The Exceptional performances from Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes drive this film about a cult devotee trying to re-conform to society after she escapes back to the real “real world”. Both shocking and subtle, the film unravels through flashbacks as we are told the story of her immersion into the cult, while we see her struggles after she leaves. Expect Olsen’s name to be a strong contender come awards season.

11- 50/50

This highly underrated/overlooked gem is an extremely effective look at coping with a serious issue like Cancer with humor, dignity, forgiveness and strength. Joseph Gordon Levitt and Seth Rogen are pitch perfect here (this is a semi autobiographical film for Rogen as it’s based on the writer Wil Reiser’s  own bout with cancer. Rogen, friends with Reiser, then encouraged him to turn it into a screenplay).

This film also encouraged my ever growing “infatuation” with the lovely and talented Anna Kendrick.

10- Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Into the top 10  and I’m leading of with Apes?  Yes indeed, RotPotA (for short) was one of the biggest surprises and most effective films I saw all year. Andy Serkis’ Motion Capture performance as Caesar is fantastic and managed to make us feel more attached to the Apes than the humans in this picture. James Franco continues to make interesting choices in his career and this one works like Gangbusters. By Far  the best of the “Summer Blockbusters” this year.

9- The Descendants

When I first finished watching this film I was impressed with its tone and the superb acting of the two daughters in the film. I mean Clooney was great, but he usually is strong for the most part, right?  It wasn’t until days after and this film sticking with me that I realized that Clooney was perfectly cast in this and delivers one of his strongest and most complete performances of his career. Alexander Payne’s direction is solid once again, and a standout supporting cast,  this IS the best thing Matthew Lillard has ever done, help round out the story.  Will be a strong contender for the Oscar.

8- Attack The Block

Joe Cornish’s directorial debut about a juvenile street gang fighting aliens in London’s West End was the only film that left me visibly giddy as I left the theater. Where Super 8’s weakest point was the aliens, Attack the Block’s creatures are excellent and the reason why they are stalking the children throughout the movie unfolds as the movie progresses. The film also gets serious in the third act, showing that there are consequences to all actions and sometimes it’s the ones around you who pay the price.

7- Moneyball

A film about statistics, and it’s GOOD? That’s right, Moneyball delivers what is probably Jonah Hill’s finest performance and while Brad Pitt doesn’t completely disappear into the character of Billy Beane, his swagger does him well in the role. Moneyball is one of the most plain fun films of the year.

6- Hugo

Martin Scorsese’s film may be polarizing among critics, but I found it to be the best advertisement for 3D film making outside of Avatar. But where Avatar fails (script anyone?), Hugo does not. A perfectly crafted story of a orphan finding his way into the adventure of a lifetime. And getting to see George Melies’s “La voyage dans la Lune” in high def 3D doesn’t hurt either. A loving tribute to the earliest pioneers of film.

5- Tyrannosaur

Paddy Considine’s film contains my choice for best male performance of the year as well as best supporting female, with Peter Mullan’s brilliance on full display and Olivia Colman stealing scenes left and right. The film, which I saw at TIFF in September,  is a character piece as Mullan’s Joseph is the titular Tyrannosaur, a widower who leads a solitary life and likes it that way, until Coleman’s Hannah comes crashing in. This film deserves more attention as it gets slowly released in limited theaters this January.

4 – Some Guy Who Kills People

My biggest surprise of TADFF 2011 was Some Guy Who Kills People. Going into the fest I knew my friend Christian Burgess, a programmer at TAD, had been hyping this for a long time. The trailer left me underwhelmed, but the movie was FAR from underwhelming. Filled with humor and a lot of heart, this black comedy is one the most refreshing tales I have seen in a while. This was my favorite film of TAD, which is saying something as it was a VERY strong line up. Seek this film out, do whatever you can to see it, it’s worth the effort.

3 – Shame

Shame is one of those films it’s hard to say “I Love that movie” about because of how damn harsh and unrelenting it is. Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan are superb as a brother/sister dealing with the issues surrounding the addiction(s) they both try to cope with everyday and how it leaves them incapable of truly being emotionally invested in anyone. Powerful movie, but I’m not in a rush to see it again.

2 – Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

When I first heard that they were going to do this remake I was dismayed. I had watched the original Swedish films and was in awe of Noomi Rapace’s performance as the enigmatic Lisbeth Salander. Then they announced David Fincher as the director. Fincher manages to create a film with great depth and with a sense of dread hanging over most scenes. Daniel Craig is excellent, much better in the Mikael Blomkvist role than his Swedish counterpart, and the supporting cast superb. Rooney Mara does an amiable job filling the role of Lisbeth. I certainly hope the studio will back the two follow-up films with all the major players intact, including Fincher, as I feel the two novels can produce better films than what the Swedish films delivered. I am almost always against remaking films just so the north american audiences don’t have to read subtitles, but in this case the film is an achievement on its own.

And finally at number 1

1- DRIVE

No other film this year has stayed with me longer and made me keep going back to it than Drive. Be it the stoic lead performance of Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan stealing scenes in yet another film this year,  the phenomenal supporting cast with the likes of Albert Brooks, Ron Pearlman and Bryan Cranston, or the score which has been in regular rotation on my I-Pod since. Nicolas Winding Refn’s film delivers in so many ways. Is it violent? Yes. Does it earn the violence? Also a yes. By the time the infamous elevator sequence occurs you’re totally invested in Gosling’s character’s journey and quest for redemption. The Blu Ray, when released, will be a welcome addition to my shelf.

Rarely do you do these lists without leaving off other deserving films and this list is no exception.  Honorable Mentions go to :

The Raid (TIFF 2011) – brilliant action film, Great ZomComs Juan of the Dead, and TAD’s Deadheads. Also from TAD the gripping Lonely Place to Die and brilliantly understated Midnight Son. Jason Eisner’s awesome Hobo with a Shotgun. Jason Reitman’s Young Adult and my favorite documentary this year Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest.

Kirk Haviland

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review

‘Remake’ is such a dirty word, but one that many feel defines a large portion of Hollywood releases these days. I’ve seen comments on film review blogs castigating the reviewer for calling a particular film a remake because it was in fact a re-envisioning based on the same material, or in the case of 2011’s The Thing, a prequel. Perhaps these comments are ‘technically’ correct, and some of these films that feel like remakes do not fit the definition; however, language is not perfect. When I hear the word ‘remake’, I do not think of a rigid definition that only encompasses films that are strict recreations of previous films. No, I think of films that draw heavily on previous material, often trying to revive the soul of exciting stories that used to light up dark theatres to the applause of excited viewers, but have since been relegated to the shelves of DVD collections.

For a film to be a remake in my opinion, the filmmakers need not take much: a name, Freddy Krueger (A Nightmare on Elm Street), a situation, living next-door to a homicidal neighbour in Disturbia (Rear Window); or even just some thing (The Thing). Borrowing from a movie or paying homage is commonplace in original screenplays, but utilizing a critical aspect (call it the soul or the backbone) of a previous work will forever be what remakes are made of in my eyes. As I have said, language is not perfect, and at the moment we don’t have a better or more commonly used word to describe the type of films I’m speaking about. That said, on to my review of the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

This time around director David Fincher deals with the same material that Niels Arden Oplev worked with for Sweeden’s 2009 version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (TGWTDT). Based on the book of the same name by Stieg Larsson, TGWTDT tells the story of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) who it seems has just been unceremoniously sued for libel by a powerful businessman as a result of one of Blomkvist’s investigative articles. In turn, the suit has completely emptied Blomkvist’s savings account. However, ss luck would have it, it is only a matter of days before Blomkvist is offered a lucrative job to solve a 40-year old murder. Aided by Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a troubled, anti-social, and brilliant computer hacker, Blomkvist sets out to solve the mysterious murder, encountering plenty of resistance at every turn from the pack of vipers that make up the murdered girl’s extended family.

The remake of TGWTDT is really quite a solid movie. The acting was fairly good across the board with Mara and Craig turning in great lead performances. Although there were a few awkward moments in which Craig would yell, one particular bellowing of the word ‘cat!’ sticks in my mind and struck me as quite odd. I don’t really remember Mara from The Social Network, but her performance in TGWTDT will stick with me for all the right reasons. She was not quite as effectively withdrawn and robotic as Noomi Rapace in the original film, but did a great job as Salander, and brought more sex appeal to the role (not that this was necessary, but it worked).

Not surprisingly, Fincher puts his talent to work and manages to make some of the more darker and grisly parts of the original even more so. Although it should be said that this was by no means a weakness of the original, Fincher just does it better.

Finally, the relationship between Fincher and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails continues in TGWTDT, a la Seven, with an uncomfortable opening sequence depicting human bodies, made of some black liquid, interacting with and assimilating each other, while computer cables and cords protrude from and intertwine with the bodies. This imagery is accompanied by a Nine Inch Nails cover of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, with Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on vocals. The bizarre imagery and hard acoustics may not be the most appropriate for TGWTDT, it’s not as dark as Seven, but openings of this quality are always enjoyable.

Having now seen both versions of TGWTDT (the original when it was out in theatres), I think it would be nitpicking to say one version is superior to the other. The stories are nearly identical as far as I can tell. The acting is quite good in both versions. The run times are both very lengthy, the original was 152 minutes while the Fincher version is 158. Not considering the context of the why the Fincher version was made, I have to say that it is quite a good film. TGWTDT is suspenseful, intriguing, visually gorgeous, and at times horrifying. New viewers should most certainly make it out to the theatres for this one. For those who have seen the original, I would only recommend a viewing if you are particularly fond of TGWTDT or the work of Fincher. In the end I still have to wonder, with the release of the original just a couple of years behind us, why was the Fincher version was even made? For money I suppose.

That always seems to be the answer.

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