2011 in Review: If You Have No Expectations Don't Call it a Letdown

I watched a lot of Italian films in 2011. Old ones from the 1970s about crime and revenge filled with copious amounts of violence and nudity and cussin’ — ones about murder and mystery with the names of animals and colors in their titles. A lot of them are available on Netflix to watch instantly. You can see a list of them here.

In 2011, I watched a bunch of B-movies with a group of friends I met on Twitter. Movies with titles like Teenagers From Outer Space. I watched lots of Godzilla movies. I watched a lot of Universal monster movies.

Also, over the course of this past year, I got caught up on some classics that, for some reason, I have never gotten around to watching before — films like Chinatown and High Noon. (Loved the first. Would’ve enjoyed the second a whole lot more was I not so Westernphobic.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re looking for a comprehensive 2011 “Best Of” list, you might want to try elsewhere.

Last year around this time I was grabbing any movie screener I could find off of the Internet, a both illegal and morally dubious activity of which I take no pride in. When you’re poor and you love movies, sometimes you just can’t help yourself. I figured, to be a good critic, I had to see everything I could.

I’d like to say I had a crisis of conscience this year and kept my BitTorrent downloads to material in the public domain and really obscure stuff unavailable anywhere else. I guess that’s kind of true — but really, it was more like there wasn’t a whole lot that I was interested in seeing that I couldn’t wait to pick up through Netflix or Redbox. I’ve become quite the Redbox addict lately.

Still, there were some pleasant surprises in 2011. I guess that’s what this list is about. Movies, music, television, books — stuff that jumped out at me over the last year and got me excited.

Favorite Film of 2011: “Drive” directed by Nicholas Winding Refn

Runner up: “13 Assassins” directed by Takashi Miike

My two favorite movies of 2011 were both highly stylized and highly violent. I don’t know what that says about me. I’m not violent. My favorite color is gray. I wear flip flops and a hoody … a lot — even in the winter. I am not a stylish person. Maybe my gravitation toward really groovy-looking bloodbaths is some kind of fantasy and/or wish-fulfillment.

I’m a diehard Takashi Miike fan. “13 Assassins” contains the most amazing battle sequence I have seen in possibly ever complete with FLAMING FUCKING COWS. It could easily have been my number one choice.

Then, along came “Drive”, at which point I figured I was going to be flipping a coin to decide my top pick. Seriously, it was that good.

So, why “Drive”? It’s quite a personal thing. To me, you could have a million flaming cows and it wouldn’t compare to the amazing realization that occurred during one of “Drive”‘s most pivotal scenes. It happened toward the end of the film and the scene is set to this song which is something just lovely and somewhat familiar sounding. Cut to Wikipedia and the discovery that the song is “Oh My Love” by Riz Ortolani. That last name sounds vaguely Italian, no? In fact, Ortolani was a longtime collaborator of Italian filmmaker Gualtiero Jacopetti. He won an Oscar for the song “More” from Jacopetti’s “Mondo Cane”. “Oh My Love” is the opening song from Jacopetti’s 1971 film “Goodbye, Uncle Tom”. “Goodbye, Uncle Tom” is the most likely the craziest bug-fucking insane movie I have ever seen. I could tell you more about it, but I don’t want to get too off-track. Anyway, I kind of adore “Goodbye, Uncle Tom”. I don’t know why.

“Oh My Love” is a tender but soaring ballad in the middle of a film filled with such dehumanizing violence. “Goodbye, Uncle Tom” is a faux-documentary about slavery in the pre-Civil War South — an absolutely vile movie. For “Goodbye, Uncle Tom” to open with a song like “Oh My Love” — just what the fuck was Jacopetti trying to say by that choice of music? What the fuck is Refn trying to say by invoking “Goodbye, Uncle Tom” in “Drive”? These mysteries are what I love about film.

“Drive”‘s soundtrack is amazing. Not just “Oh My Love”, which actually stands out as the rest of the movie is full of 1980s-influenced electronic music. It gives the whole movie the feeling of “Grand Theft Auto – Vice City” come to life.

Let’s talk about the cast: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman. Not a bad name in the bunch.

There really wasn’t another film like “Drive” in 2011. There really has never been another film like “Drive”. There certainly wasn’t a movie half as cool as “Drive” in 2011. I read somewhere that 10 years from now we’re going to look back at “Drive” and realize how influential it’s been on a new generation of filmmakers in the same way that Reservoir Dogs and Clerks influenced filmmakers in the 1990s and beyond. I hope this is the case.

Honorable mentions/Other great movies of 2011: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”, “Machete Maidens Unleashed!”, “Tuesday After Christmas”

Movies I have yet to see/Want to see: “The Descendants”, “The Artist”, “Hugo”, “The Adventures of Tin Tin”, “Cedar Rapids”, “The Future”

Movies I saw/Didn’t do it for me: “Super 8”, “Melancholia”, “The Tree of Life”

Favorite Television Show of 2011: “Breaking Bad”

Where have I been for the last three or four years? “Breaking Bad” is pure genius. If it came in meth form, I would gladly become an addict. Thank you Twitter for alerting me to the awesomeness of this show. I’ll forgive you for ruining the Season Four finale, although the moment which was spoiled for me still came at me out of no where and hit me like a ton of bricks.

“Breaking Bad” has perfect writing, flawless acting, an engaging storyline which makes you want to keep coming back week after week like a junkie needing his or her fix. It has a sense of unpredictability that’s only rivaled by HBO’s “Game of Thrones”, my runner-up for this year. Anything can happen. Anybody can die. Shit piles on top of shit on top of shit. Hank constantly remains only a step ahead of the many folks wanting to take him down. (The only reason that “Breaking Bad” takes this year’s top spot is that “Game of Thrones” is based on a preexisting work. It, too, is a absolute asskicker of a show.)

“Breaking Bad” fills the hole in my heart created when “Lost” ended.But comparing “Lost” with “Breaking Bad” is useless. “Breaking Bad” is a unique beast. It’s filled with the most unlikeable characters this side of “Six Feet Under”. Still, you do care about these characters. The show manages to give you just enough empathy for the characters that you don’t want to see bad things happen to them — but bad things will and do happen to them … quite regularly.

Runners up: “Games of Thrones”, “Portlandia”

Continues to disappoint/Don’t know why I keep watching: “Dexter”, “Saturday Night Live”

The humor of “Portlandia” is hit and miss. Still, I could watch this video all day.

Favorite Album of 2011: Yuck, self-titled – I love Yuck, but maybe it’s because they almost seem like they were custom made for me (Me, of course, meaning a 30-something year old who grew up on early 1990s indie rock.)

Yuck sounds like something that would have been birthed in a garage sometime in the barely pre-grunge 1990s in some nondescript New England town — picture Dinosaur Jr. fronted by Thurston Moore playing Lemonheads covers. Except Yuck isn’t from Amherst, Massachusetts or Grantham, Pennsylvania. They’re not even from the United States — well — except for their drummer, who’s from … New Jersey.

They’re from the U.K — and that’s not the only glorious contradiction that Yuck brings to the table. The average age of each of the band’s members is barely 20-years-old.

I love contradictions. Yuck is the children of the new school playing the sound of the old school … and it’s marvelous. They should be opening up for My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus and Mary Chain. They’re too good for this world. From start to finish, Yuck’s self-titled debut is fuzzy, distorted flawlessness.

Favorite Book of 2011: “The Men Who Would Be King” by Nicole LaPorte – Originally released in 2010, re-released in paperback in 2011, it’s the story of the rise and fall of Dreamworks SKG. Ego and talent in Hollywood … self-interest and revenge. A good read.

Favorite Video Game of 2011: “Batman: Arkham City” – Basically, it’s “Arkham Asylum” but 10 times bigger with a new, carefully-crafted storyline. Basically, it’s exactly what I wanted it to be. I have a feeling I’m going to be playing this one for a long time — going out of my way to pick up every little collectable, completing every side quest, every challenge mode stage … and then there’s the DLC. Between this and Rockband¬† 3, I don’t really need any other video games, thank you.

Farewell 2011. I hardly knew thee.


3 responses to “2011 in Review: If You Have No Expectations Don't Call it a Letdown

  1. Batman was pretty awesome. The story was a pretty sad excuse to incorporate as many bat-villians as possible, but it was fun, and that goes a long way in a video game. If I had to pick one, it would either be Dark Souls for it’s Super Metroid inspired exploration and risk / reward system, or Zelda: Skyward Sword for it’s incredible controls and willingness to turn the standard zelda structure on it’s head.

    Loved 13 assassins. That final battle does not dissapoint.


  2. I didn’t watch the movie, but loved your picks for TV, music.

    As for the video game, I have to go with Portal 2, but I’ll disagree with Nate a little bit in saying that I think the Batman game is a very defensible choice for GOTY. What little I played of Skyrim was pretty great, too.


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