Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Resonnances (2006)

"Echo" and "resonance" are two different words with two different definitions. Yet, they are similar enough to be linked together in both usage and accepted, general meaning by most folks. "Echo" refers almost exclusively to sounds and their repetition and reflection. Yet the word is often used to describe any type of callback, aural, visual, thematic, and so on. By that same token, "resonance," which is usually understood to have primarily (but not exclusively) to do with amplification of sound, enriching it, elongating it, is often described like an echo. We speak of images, songs, speeches as resonating with people. They stay with us, their impact on us grows. Both, then, can be seen as artifacts of the past, but they still have an effect in the present, even though they're not truly related in a literal sense. Just saying, is all.

Philippe Robert's Resonnances opens in medieval France. A woman (Livane Revel) wanders in the woods when a meteor crashes into the ground, sending her flying. As the smoke clears, the woman is chased by the creature in the meteor (which moves underground) and eventually killed. Cut to present-day France. Yann (Yann Sundberg) is taking Karine (Marjorie Dubesset) to a small barbecue along with his pals, Vincent (Vincent Lecompte) and Thomas (Thomas Vallegeas), and then the group (including the two other women they barbecued with) plan on going out afterward. However, the men and women take off in separate cars, and the guys soon find themselves out of gas. Stopping at a darkened gas station, the trio pick up a mysterious stranger (played by Patrick Mons, who I'm sure couldn't be the serial killer who recently escaped from prison, could he?). Tooling down a dark road, the guys are distracted by what appears to be a ghost, get smacked by what appears to be a tentacle, and soon find themselves careening over a cliff. And if they survive all that, there's a very old monster with an appetite waiting.

As a feature shot on almost no budget, on standard definition video, Resonnances is both ambitious and something for the filmmakers to crow about. Granted, the majority of the special and visual effects are computer-generated, but there also appears to be some miniature work which is by-and-large effective. I've probably said this before, but I feel it bears repeating; just getting a feature completed is a noteworthy accomplishment. When the work in question is as ambitious in scope as this one is, it's even more so. Nevertheless, triumphing over filmmaking adversity is no panacea against the ills that affect novice filmmakers.

As homage to a simpler style of horror film, the film wears its influences on its sleeve. Tremors, The Thing, Blood Beach, Evil Dead, Jaws, The Hitcher, and even Day Of The Triffids and some of the teen sex road comedies show their "faces" at various points in this one. There is a very obvious love that the filmmakers have for these films. A good deal of time is taken setting up the characters, and yet none of them is much more than a type. Yann is the young man in love, Thomas is the status-seeker who loves his Volkswagen, and Vincent is the gamer who's more concerned with leveling up than what's going on around him. Antoine is the lip-smacking villain of the piece, complete with buggy eyes (hello, BEM Awards). Karine, then, is the understanding, cool chick who "gets it." None of the characters is all that believable or well-rounded, but none of them is too unlikeable, either, and for a story like this, that goes a long way.

The road the boys slalom off of is called "The Road of the White Lady," and we soon find out the reason why when the "ghost" of the woman in the prologue appears floating off the side of the road. The most intriguing idea the filmmakers had was to connect this spectre with the alien monster. And yet, the concept is frustratingly never fleshed out. The apparition appears twice in the piece, does nothing, and interacts with no one, consequently leaving one wondering why it was included at all. If she (it, whatever) is meant to be an echo/resonance of the creature's first victim, an actual disembodied spirit, or just a lure like on an angler fish, it's not clarified. So why bother with it? This is one of those things where you want to give the filmmakers credit for being clever and for granting the audience a quantum of intelligence, but it feels more accidental than inventive.

As a presence, the monster is mostly shown burrowing after its victims a la the Blair-Alien of John Carpenter's The Thing or the graboids of Tremors. When it is actually shown, it's interesting (resembling a tentacular trilobite) but not overly-impressive. Wisely, Robert keeps it obscured in the dark for the most part. But movies of this nature are never really about the monster. That's just the MacGuffin. The main tension of the story is generated by the tensions between the characters (hence having a serial killer as one of the group). The filmmakers subvert the normal hero dynamic in this type of film, and this helps greatly in distinguishing itself from others of its type. I won't tell you exactly who does what, but I will tell you what the set up is. We expect Yann to be the dashing hero. We expect Karine to be the "Final Girl." We expect Vincent and Thomas to be monster fodder. We expect Antoine to get killed by the alien. We expect there to be some type of disquieting twist in the final shot. Some of these happen, some don't. This undermining of genre expectations is one of the video's stronger attributes.

One the whole, however, Resonnances doesn't feel like a complete piece. Large chunks of exposition are elided completely (perhaps this is better than dropping it into lengthy sections of clunky dialogue, but it does not help the viewer orientate himself). Characters disappear never to be heard from again. Other characters are ignored entirely or dealt with entirely out of hand. Further, the filmmakers want us to believe that this thing has been in this forest for centuries, yet we're never told how it has managed to do so. A reason is neither postulated nor suggested. 

The plain fact of the matter is that, despite the more innovative aspects of the story, the dots are not all connected, and the audience is not given enough evidence to connect them by themselves. And while one can hypothesize and conjecture (given the paucity of information from the movie) for hours on what things mean or how they were accomplished, it is not enough to provide a satisfying cinematic experience (and seeing as this was shot on video, I guess that statement is somewhat ironic). I'll revisit this one as a light diversion and a low budget achievement, and it is enjoyable on some level. But in the end, it just doesn't resonate (sorry) enough.

MVT: Philippe Robert is the one who got this thing made, and for that, he should be applauded for it. Unfortunately, he must also accept the blame for its deficiencies.

Make Or Break: The prologue scene has everything in it you can expect from this movie, good and bad. As such, it does what good prologues do, prepare you for what's ahead, and tease you enough to keep you watching.

Score: 6.75/10

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Top Line (1988)

Tell me this doesn’t sound awesome. Franco Nero stars as Ted Angelo, a former novelist is visiting a remote Columbian jungle. While there, he discovers a UFO. Hoping to cash in on this extraordinary find and revitalize his career, he attempts to sell the story. This triggers an onslaught of government agents, organized crime members, neo-Nazis, extraterrestrials and even a cyborg. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, it’s not. This sci-fi action flick has all of the ingredients for a fun romp, but never utilizes them correctly. Enemies pop out of nowhere, as if ripped from an arcade game. Most of them being agents and crooks. The aliens and cyborg only pop up sporadically. They don’t stick around for too long.

Franco Nero does his best with the material. He brings that cheeky charm of his and mugs at the camera for all it’s worth. One scene in particular perfectly encapsulates this. After discovering the UFO, he rushes home to phone a publisher. His description of his find is reminiscent of a young teen finding his father’s nude magazines.

Even Nero gets bored with the movie after awhile. There are quite a few times he’s seemingly sleepwalking through his performances. As if the film’s slow pace and lack of excitement has dragged his spirit down. I started feeling bad for the fellow.

As I mentioned, this film suffers from terrible pacing. Nello Rossati’s pacing makes a snail resemble Michael Johnson. It becomes nearly unbearable trying to trek through this story. It’s so simple, yet takes forever to be told. The first half hour alone barely moves, as if it’s stuck in a standstill.

There are two car chases in this film that also suffer from Rossati’s decelerated pace. One made sense, but simply went on too long. That would be when Ted, while on foot, is being chased by a criminal through a cactus patch. The crook isn’t trying to catch up with him; he’s torturing him.

The other car chase is inexcusable. The same crook lost track of Ted. Angelo has hopped onto the back of a watermelon truck and is hiding under a sombrero. When he is found out, a car chase ensues… at low speed. It does end with Ted niftily using eggs to take out the baddie, who goes tumbling down the mountain.

The other enemies don’t make much of a dent. A cyborg randomly pops up near the end, but barely does anything. Same goes for the aliens, though I’ll give credit where credit is due; their makeup was fantastic. As for the neo-Nazis, I honestly can’t even remember them. Was that a typo on Mill Creek’s part?

“Top Line” is like a lot of other 80’s direct-to-video action titles. It promises a lot, but delivers very little. The director seems more concerned with quickly churning this out than taking his time in perfecting it (or at least making it enjoyable). Nero, bless his heart, does his best. There’s just not much for him to work with.

“Top Line” also goes by the alternate title of “Alien Terminator”. It’s probably a good thing my copy didn’t go by that (even though it would have suited the Sci-Fi Invasion pack better). My hopes would have been much higher, even if I knew a film with a title like that wouldn’t live up to my expectations.

MVT: Franco Nero. He carries this film, though he completely drops it constantly. That’s not necessarily his fault, but you catch my drift.

Make or Break: The slow pacing and dull action sequences. There’s not one in particular I can pinpoint as being the concrete break. They all run together, which is why I’m including them as one whole break.

Final Score: 4/10

Alien 2: On Earth (1980)

It has been postulated and fantasized about for centuries that the interior of the planet Earth holds just as many thrilling and fearsome inhabitants as its surface holds. In Ireland, the area of Cruachan contains what is sometimes referred to as "Ireland's gate of hell." The area has been mythologized, and tales have been told of monsters, dead gods, and spirits emerging from the Earth here and causing havoc. The idea of a Hollow Earth inside the ground we walk on has also given way to the premise of an Expanding Earth. Essentially, this theory states that the crust of the Earth is flexible and ever-expanding (thus accounting for things like continental drift, plate tectonics, and so on). The reason it expands is because it is filled with material less dense than the crust (say, air?). Now, we know that animal life can exist at extremes of depth and pressure in the Marianas Trench (granted they're mostly single-celled organisms). So, if we know this to be true, it is at least within the realm of possibility (extreme though it may be) that life can also exist within this Hollow Earth (if we, in fact, take that to be true). And while we don't have to believe in this theory to explain anything about our world, it does make for some exciting flights of fancy, doesn't it?

Hardly-eminent speleologist, Thelma (Belinda Mayne), has an "episode" while taping a television show. You see, she's a telepath and can sense when things are happening or going to happen (which I suppose would also make her clairvoyant). Anyway, the world is meanwhile holding its collective breath waiting for a manned space capsule to splash down, and when it does, the astronauts are missing (though somehow I missed this bit of information while watching the film). There are also strange blue rocks showing up on the ground thither and yon, but none of this stops Thelma, her beau Roy (Mark Bodin), and their pals from going spelunking. Can the astronauts, the mystery rocks, and Thelma's telepathic spidey-sense all be connected?

If my synopsis of director Ciro Ippolito's (here hiding out under the nom de plume Sam Cromwell) Alien 2: On Earth (aka Alien Terror, aka Alien 2: Sulla Terra) seems disjointed and sloppy, that's only because that's what this movie is. It all starts with stock footage (and lots of it) from NASA showing various aspects of space flight, splashdown, and recovery. Meanwhile, we're being told that this is stock footage explicitly by characters onscreen, and we keep cutting back to this footage in an effort to build up a sense of suspense and atmosphere but ultimately failing miserably. 

Thelma's telepathy kicks in when it's convenient for the plot or for a cheap thrill. There is some slight attempt at grounding how this ability affects Thelma's life when she is told (by her doctor? Professor? Who the hell can tell?) that the monsters she sees all around her (but the audience never sees...or do they?) are all in her mind. To me, this is a fascinating idea, that one's worst enemy is oneself. The entire movie should have been structured around this idea, as there's tons of worthwhile material to be mined from it. There's the added aspect of Thelma's telepathic connection with the aliens and how her abilities develop during the course of the film, but none of this is anything other than plot devices. What's most disheartening about missed opportunities like these is that they are essentially cheap to put on screen, they don't require much in the way of production costs. But films like this are, let's be honest, only produced for the fast cash-grab on the coat tails of other, better, original work (I'll give you three guesses what movie this one is a cash-in on).

The amount of padding in this film is mind-boggling. Aside from the copious stock footage littered throughout the first act, we are treated to a leisurely drive to the television station with our two protagonists during the opening credits. This is really more a warning to the viewer than anything else. Regardless, once we hit the caves, there are interminable scenes of the characters rappelling, shining their headlamps at the camera to distract us from the fact that we can't see the background at all. We get all the minutiae of everyone helping out a fallen friend, yet bafflingly, we get none of the excitement that a scene of this nature inherently generates. It's like watching someone walk up the side of a building with no external help; We know it shouldn't be possible, and yet we are witness to it. Later, we get a very slow toe-to-head dolly shot of a stricken character. The bright side of this one, at least, is that there's a nice, gory finale to the shot.

This, then, is the film's big upside. There is a ton of gore in this film, and it is delivered wet, chunky, and graphically. Characters aren't just attacked. They are attacked, and then we get to see their head and part of their internal organs slough off the rest of their body. Now, there has always been an unwritten rule about children in peril in films. Either the danger is a red herring, or the child is hurt/killed offscreen. When a child's death is portrayed onscreen, it signals one thing to the audience: Anything goes. It was interesting, then, to see a child killed offscreen early in the film, but we get to see the aftermath vividly and moistly. Naturally, I don't wish to see harm come to any child, but seeing this scene gave me a twinge of hope for this movie. It was soon to be dashed.

The core conceit of the film (the inside of the Earth is just as alien as the furthest reaches of outer space) is engaging. The first shot we get of the cave interior shows the characters crawling in, the foreground limned by stalactites and stalagmites, essentially creating a nasty-looking set of jaws just waiting to chomp down on our merry band. This is reinforced throughout our time in the caves, the odd rock formations created over millennia forming an alien landscape akin to the Space Jockey's derelict ship from Alien. The actual aliens, then, are so disappointing in comparison. They are formless, wet, sort of tentacles with a hole at the end (sometimes), and sometimes, they just appear to be animal innards hurled at the actors like the pudding scene in Hot Shots!

The film's end almost makes up for the sloppy, lazy, tedium-bordering remainder of the runtime, but "almost" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Still and all, this is one of those movies I'll come back to thinking that it couldn't possibly have been that dull and apathetic, that there must be something to get behind on it. And even knowing this and knowing that I know this, I know I'll probably voluntarily watch Alien 2: On Earth again in the future and search desperately for what I must have missed the first time around.

MVT: The gore is the only saving grace I could find in this film. If gobs of lumpy red stuff are all you need in a movie, you'll be satisfied here.

Make Or Break: Between the confusingly strung together stock footage and the exhaustingly drawn out credit sequence road tour that kick starts the film, you'll be checking your watch well before the first ten minutes of runtime has passed.

Score: 4.5/10

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Episode #172: A Minor Discourse

Welcome to a new thing for the GGtMC!!!

This week Will brings in guests to shoot the SHEEEE-IITTTTT for about an hour and 40 minutes because we ran into some issues with scheduling this week. Stay tuned next week for our year end top 30 films and I want to thank the participants for stepping in for me this week....

Direct download: MinorDiscourseRM.mp3

Emails to

Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Karl Brezdin's Top Films of 2011: Yes, I Watched Something Other Than Don "The Dragon" Wilson Movies

This was the first in many years where I made a conscious effort to see new releases in the theater. In some cases, it worked like gangbusters (Take Shelter, Drive) while other films have continued to elude me (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Shame, Melancholia). I decided to take a break from grad school and not updating the Fist of B-List blog to share some thoughts with the GGtMC community on my favorite ten films of 2011, in reverse order.

Attack the Block
Everything a popcorn flick should be: fast, funny, and slick as all hell. John Boyega looks like a star in the making and the movie contains the latest and greatest in visually iconic screen creatures. Somewhere in there, the filmmakers also managed to include some actual character development. What a concept!

Midnight in Paris
In his return to magic realist territory, Woody Allen achieves a funny and charming cinematic meditation on nostalgia, art, and relationships. Owen Wilson is cast perfectly as Allen's artistic "man out of time," an aspiring novelist in a modern era which values the book far less than it values his current trade (hackneyed Hollywood film scripts). It features terrific performances from Michael Sheen, Rachel McAdams, Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, and the always enchanting Marion Cotillard. The present is boring because we're stuck here, the future is hopeful because we're going there, and the past is alluring because we can't ever go back.

Great documentary films take any subject, no matter how unfamiliar to the audience, and find ways to make it engaging and fulfilling. In weaving archival footage of the life and times of Formula One racer, Ayrton Senna, director Asif Kapadia has made the finest documentary film of the year, and one of the best sports films in recent memory. The doc touches on all the elements which make sports narratives so compelling: rivalries, comebacks, organizational bureaucracy, transcendent greatness, and sadly, unfulfilled potential.

Underdog sports stories are nothing new. Alcoholic mentors have been done to death. In 2011, however, well-acted films about estranged brothers beating the piss out of each other joined wrestler retirement speeches and dog/soldier reunions as manly things that make me weepy. Nick Nolte's performance is incredible. The end.

Little known fact about the guy who covers Billy Blanks and Art Camacho movies: I'm a total sucker for romances and tearjerkers alike. Beginners hits all the right beats for me with respect to technically sound filmmaking and authenticity of emotion, and it shifts between sadness, sweetness, and hilarity without feeling forced or twee. Performance-wise, Christopher Plummer is getting all the press, and Ewan McGregor is typically solid, but Mélanie Laurent is armed to the gills with 1,001 ways to steal your heart. If you like your stories about beautiful people falling in love backed by some frequently bittersweet notes, Beginners is eminently qualified.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
The talent and beauty of star Elizabeth Olsen can't be overstated, but the deliberate pace and jarring narrative jumps in Martha Marcy May Marlene made this a more complete film than most performance-oriented criticisms might have led you to believe. I felt the film's stinging notes of unsettling paranoia in the central character nicely echoed 1971's Let's Scare Jessica to Death, which also featured a damaged woman cracking up before our eyes as she attempts to rejoin the normative societal fray. Throw in a gaunt John Hawkes playing folksy backwoods menace to a T, and you've got a fantastic debut feature film from director Sean Durkin.

The Skin I Live In
Two decades following Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Antonio Banderas and Pedro Almodóvar reunited for this total gem of a psychological thriller. Fantastic performances, a deliciously sick premise, and a solid score combine for one of the best cinematic punches to the dick in years.

A Night in Nude: Salvation
Gonin director Takashi Ishii's fantastic return to the noir-tinged universe of 1993's A Night in Nude was underseen on account of its one-night U.S. showing at the 2011 New York Asian Film Festival back in July. Have no fear though, you needn't see the original to appreciate this follow-up because it works just fine as a stand-alone film. Naoto Takenaka and former model Hiroko Sato deliver the dramatic goods and Ishii's attention to shot composition in this world of beating rain and Tokyo neon is admirable. Add in Joe Shishido achieving a level of sleaze somewhere between Noah Cross and Frank Booth, and you've got a finely twisted piece of Japanese cinema that will stick in your craw for days on end.

Other writers have already sung the praises of Nicolas Winding Refn's entry for Coolest Cinematic Shit of the Year better than I could hope to do. This film was a well-polished marriage of sound, image, pace, and mood, while providing the moments of violence and action plenty of room to breathe. We'll look back on Gosling's character as one of the most iconic of its time. I still want that jacket.

Take Shelter
Stellar direction, a potent allegory, and fantastic performances from Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain combined for my favorite film of the year. Shannon joins a short list of contemporary actors who can act circles around most of his peers with his face alone. Jeff Nichols has the potential to be one of the finest directors of his generation. I'll stop there and take this tumble down the hyperbolic wormhole offline.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Freakin' Awesome Network's Justin Oberholtzer's Top 30 Films of 2011

With the Oscars right around the corner, the "Cinemasochist" Justin Oberholtzer reveals his top thirty films of 2011. Be sure to head over to the Freakin' Awesome Network to read more of his writing, as well as that of the entire crew.

30. The Other F Word
-This documentary focuses on punk rockers and their newfound fatherhood. Ousted by society as freaks and misfits, these rebels must cope with now being the authority figures. Simply put, it’s a funny, engaging look at parenthood through the eyes of those that aren’t expected to be good role models.

29. Win Win
-The always reliable Paul Giamatti turns in another fine performance as Mike, a part-time wrestling coach who takes custody of an elderly man. His trouble grandson, Kyle (Alex Shaffer), lands on his doorstep after another fight with his mother. Taking him into custody, Mike discovers his true talent of wrestling and puts him on the team. This funny and heartwarming tale is a sweet little slice of life.

28. The Last Circus
-Alex de la Iglesia’s latest is a twisted tale of a sad circus clown, Javier (Carlos Areces), who gets entangled in a love triangle between Sergio (Antonio de la Torre) and his lovely girlfriend, Natalia (Carolina Bang). Faster than you can say “clowns are scary”, the film goes off the deep end into manic overdrive, which is why I loved it. It’s a lot to take in (especially the finale), but it’s well worth it.

27. The Last Mountain
-This eye-opening documentary focuses on mining operations in West Virginia and their disastrous effects on the communities around them. Local civilians fight back against Massey Energy Company, leading to some truly shocking abuses of power. “The Last Mountain” is this year’s “Gasland”.

26. The Trip
-Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play thinly veiled versions of themselves in this delightful comedy. When Steve is asked by The Guardian to tour the country’s finest restaurants for an article, he’s tasked with a dilemma. He can’t take his girlfriend due to relationship issues. Who does he take? He enlists the aid of his longtime friend Rob, who tends to get on his nerves. The two tour the country and share exuberant conversations from jobs to Michael Caine impersonations. A well-written script and cheery performances by Steve and Rob make this comedy a delectable treat.

25. Attack the Block
-Alien creatures invade a block in Southern London. Fighting back are a group of mouthy delinquents, as well as drug dealers and the female they mugged. Simple creature design goes a long way in this fast-paced, exhilarating sci-fi extravaganza.

24. Super 8
-JJ Abrams’ love letter of sorts to super 8 filmmaking and Steven Spielberg is a wildly fun sci-fi yarn. A group of adolescents film a train crash while shooting their latest zombie film. As strange happenings overtake the town, they investigate and get more than they bargained for. Incredible special effects (even with the unsatisfactory monster), tolerable and relatable pre-teens and tight direction make Super 8 an enjoyable popcorn flick.

23. Warrior
-A by the numbers account of family turmoil mixed with MMA. It’s done so well that I simply didn’t give a damn about it’s clichéd nature! Nick Nolte plays the father of two distant sons. Joel Edgerton is a loving husband and father struck with financial issues; Tom Hardy is a former soldier drifting through life. Both enter a huge MMA competition and, lo and behold, wind up facing each other. The direction is focused more on the emotions of all three men, leading to quite a few tear-inducing scenes.

22. Certified Copy
-Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film follows author James Miller (William Shimell), who is doing a book tour in Tuscany. He meets a French woman named Elle (Juliette Binoche), who takes him on a tour of the town. A romance brews or does a pre-existing relationship stir back up? This romance challenges the viewer, but the chemistry between the two leads is what carries it. No matter what outcome you draw, the love story itself is beautifully told. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

21. Cold Fish
Here’s a movie that, on the surface, doesn’t sound that great. When Syamoto’s (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) daughter is caught stealing, rival fish store owner Murata (DenDen) generously forgives her and gives her a job. As time rolls on, Syamoto finds out the sickening truth behind the seemingly perfect life of Murata. It may not sound like much, but this tightly wound thriller is nearly perfect. It’s near two-and-a-half hour running time just flies by.

20. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
-This prequel to the classic “Planet of the Apes” is a smart and stylized dissection of man’s selfish power and the impending doom when nature strikes back. James Franco plays a scientist working on a cure to Alzheimers. When his testing goes awry and the experiment is shut down, he smuggles home his guinea pig, Caesar. Franco finds the cure and raises the ape. When he’s taken away and abused in a shelter, he forms an alliance with the other apes and stages a revolution. Jaw-dropping special effects and a stunning performance by Andy Serkis as Caesar elevate what could have simply been a cash-in revival.

19. Weekend
-Russell (Tom Cullen) and Glen (Chris New) have a one night stand after a night of partying. Attempting to make something serious out of it, the two men spend the weekend learning about each other and possibly falling in love. What’s refreshing about this film is that the director, Andrew Haigh, treats his characters like human beings and not homosexual stereotypes. This is a love story that just so happens to be between two gay men. It’s a wonderful one, at that.

18. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
-This hilarious and at times emotional documentary follows the late-night talk show sensation’s “Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour”. We witness candid shots of the funnyman in his natural demeanor, as well as his struggles with the anger and depression of losing the job he fought so hard to get. The film also deals with how he copes from being away from his family, his relationship with his co-workers and his love and admiration for his fan base. You don’t have to be a Conan fan to enjoy this film, though it certainly helps.

17. Hugo
-Martin Scorsese’s latest film, his first family and 3D venture, adapts the Brian Selznick book to the big screen while implementing his own personal love letter to cinema, as well. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station. He befriends Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and the two set out to fix his father’s automaton. What they discover is the making of film itself. This magical tale is enchanting for both adults and children. Cinephiles such as myself will be drawn in deeper, due to the aforementioned love letter to cinema.

16. These Amazing Shadows
-This documentary is for the film fan in all of us. Documenting the importance and creation of the National Film Registry, Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton interview those working for the company and famous directors and stars of cinema. The reasoning behind a film’s inclusion into the registry, as well as the fight to preserve and salvage older film reels, make for an enriching watch. It’s easy to get lost in this one’s magic.

15. Rango
-Who would have guessed that a Nickelodeon animated film would be so much fun for adults and, especially, western fans? To much surprise, this Gore Verbinski film does just that. Johnny Depp voices the titular character, who is mistaken for a hero in a small, defenseless town. With humor the whole family can enjoy and enough nods to westerns from the likes of Sergio Leone, this animated comedy exceeds all expectation and is one of this year’s most surprising delight.

14. Horrible Bosses
-It’s hard for a comedy to hit all of the right notes. Once the story picks up, the laughs usually begin to subside. That’s not the case with this somewhat dark comedy about three disgruntled workers (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) who plot to murder their despicable bosses (Kevin Spacey, Collin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston). Once the film starts, the laughs begin and never end. The three leads have tremendous chemistry and their horrible bosses bounce off of them perfectly. This is the type of comedy I love. One that simply ceases to stop being funny.

13. Beginners
-Mike Mills’ film about the relationship between a father, Hal Fields (Christopher Plummer) and his son, Oliver (Ewan McGregor), is quite wonderful and touching. Loosely based on his relationship with his father, Mills gently tells the story of Oliver’s feelings when he discovers that, not only does his father have cancer, but that he’s gay. He reevaluates his life and relationships, including his current one with Anna (Melanie Laurent). This simple story is told so elegant and sweetly that it’s hard not to fall in love with it.

12. Tyrannosaur
-In the second most depressing film of 2011, Joseph (Peter Mullan) is nearing self-destruction. Not being able to cope with his rage and short temper, he finds an unlikely companionship in Hannah (Olivia Colman), a Christian shop owner. Her seemingly perfect life is actually quite dark. She has an abusive husband (Eddie Marsan) who treats her like garbage. The two new friends both struggle with their emotions in this deeply effective and gloomy dissection of depression and angst.

11. Senna
-In what has to be the most shocking entry on this list for me is this documentary on famed Formula One driver Ayrton Senna. Why is this so shocking? I have absolutely no interest in Formula One racing and am unfamiliar with Senna. That doesn’t matter, as Asif Kapadia’s documentary lays out his life story, rivalry with Alain Prost, his many championship wins and eventual tragic end. This is almost as gripping and involving as high-caliber fiction, if not more so. I went in with no interest or expectations, but came out loving every second of it.

10. The Artist
-This love letter to silent films is much more than that. It’s about the downfall of former star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), whose pride gets in the way with the transition from silent films to talkies. When Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) picks up the ball and runs with it, she’s transformed into Hollywoodland’s “It” girl. George watches on with jealousy and anger, as his plight becomes much more tragic. Despite this grim description, the film is also very cheerful and exuberant. John Goodman is wonderful as director Al Zimmer, as is James Cromwell as Clifton, George’s assistant. Nearly stealing the show is Uggie, George’s loveable dog. Done almost entirely in silence, this film takes a risk and it pays off.

9. Trust
-Leaving behind his persona as Ross Gellar from “Friends” and cementing himself as a serious director is David Schwimmer. His latest film tackles the treacherous subject matter of online predators. When Annie (Liana Liberato) is raped by an online predator, her parents, Will (Clive Owen) and Lynn (Catherine Keener), are stunned. When Annie reveals she’s in love with the man, Will nearly loses it in hunting him down and finding the reasoning, while Lynn simply tries to console her daughter. This could have easily slipped into “Lifetime Movie of the Week” territory, but Schwimmer’s solid direction and pacing keeps this film from sinking. As of right now, it’s the best film to tackle the subject matter.

8. Beautiful Boy
-Another film that tackles a heavy subject matter. This one being about a college shooting. More so, it’s about the aftermath of the shooting and the parents’ (Maria Bello and Michael Sheen) response to their son’s (Kyle Gallner) actions. As they dig deep to find the answers, they struggle with their marriage, blame themselves and fight the demons inside of them. This is the second film of the year to tackle this subject (the other being “We Need to Talk About Kevin”). In my opinion, this one is superior.

7. A Separation
-This powerful drama centers on the troubled marriage of Nader (Peyman Maadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami). The wife wants a divorce, but the courts don’t deem her cause worthy. She wants to move out of Iran and have a better life for her daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhardi). When an incident occurs (which shall be kept secret), the stakes are raised and emotions run wild. This is a nail biter that kept me hooked until the end.

6. The Descendants
-A touching, real and honest observation on the death of a mother and wife and it’s effect on her family. George Clooney turns in one of the finer performances of his career as Matt King, a grieving widow-to-be who’s not only dealing with the stress of his wife’s death, but just now learning about her affair. He’s also dealing with a huge settlement issue that can effect the entire state of Hawaii, as well as raising and coping with his daughters, Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alexandra (Shaliene Woodley, in a breakthrough performance). It really is quite wonderful.

5. Biutiful
-This one may be a cheat in many people’s eyes, as most view it as a 2010 film. Despite having some Oscar nominations under it’s belt in last year’s awards spectacle, this wasn’t highly accessible for me until afterwards. I may have let it slide from appearing on the list if it wasn’t so damn good. It’d be a shame for me to leave it off of this list, considering how powerful it is. Javier Bardem plays a father who is stricken with cancer and is coping with his mortality, as well as his children growing up without him possibly being there. Even the supernatural elements play in nicely to the story. Just like “Cold Fish” it’s nearly two-and-a-half hour running time flies by.

4. The Skin I Live In
-Pedro Almodovar’s latest film is a twisted medical thriller that is strikingly original. Plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is haunted by past tragedies which play into effect on his current project, Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya). The reveal halfway through that ties everything together is nothing short of brilliant and is utterly shocking.

3. Snowtown
-The most depressing film of the year is made all the more unpleasant thanks to it being based on a true story. Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) falls in with his mother’s new boyfriend, Gavin (Bob Adriaens) and his flock of neighborhood watchmen. He turns out to be a violent sociopath who forces murder upon Jamie. This film is brutal, violent, unnerving and intense. Not for the squeamish.

2. The Tree of Life
-Terence Malick’s newest film is best related to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, simply in it’s cinematography and execution. His dissection of human life and our mortality is a beautiful and elegant film that is challenging, well acted and dazzling to look at. Some have questioned his choices (such as the dinosaurs), while others have embraced them. I’m of the latter.

1. Drive
-The film to take the coveted number one spot this year is one of the most loved. That’s for good reason, as Nicolas Winding Refn’s character evaluation of the Driver (Ryan Gosling) is tense and gripping. The Driver is a Hollywood Stuntman by day and getaway driver by night. When he is left with a briefcase belonging to Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Nino (Ron Perlman), his life and that of his neighbor/love interest Irene (Carey Mulligan) are in serious jeopardy. This isn’t a “Fast and the Furious” film, despite a few car chases being present. It’s a character assessment on top of being a crime thriller. It’s a near-flawless one at that.