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The Best and the Worst

by Jake Mynatt

New Years Eve is a night for reflection. It is our cultural birthday, in a way. We collectively look into the mirror, check for new grey hairs or abnormal growths, and think back to how we looked a year earlier in this exact same place. And then we start piecing together the 364 days that followed and try to figure out how the hell we got to where we are now.

As Gary spent his New Years Eve passed out on the couch with a slice of pizza half hanging from his mouth and the television station stuck on a six hour block of hard core pay-per-view erotica, I found myself reflecting on 2011, the year in film. Since a majority of the XXX features Gary had ordered were plot-driven, I needed something to focus on  other than the contrivances needed to turn a bank hold-up into a six-way orgy. I decided to rank the top 5 best and bottom 5 worst movies of the year.

My vantage point from within the confines of the walls of Gary’s house does limit my film intake in both viewing experience and variety, which may lead to some glaring omissions. Thankfully, Gary leads a life of soul crushing desperation that cries out for something to silence it, and film is his muffler of choice.

The Bottom Five Worst Films of 2011 (that I’ve seen) of the year, in descending order of suckiness:

5. Rampart – Starring Woody Harrelson

This one isn’t so much bad as it is incomplete. In it, Harrelson is touted as being the “most corrupt cop ever depicted on screen”.  If they include the small screen and can work Vic Mackey in there, then Harrelson’s character may crack the top 10, but he’s by no means the “most corrupt” of anything I’ve seen depicted on a screen. Not even the most corrupt crossing guard.

It’s an okay movie that just kind of goes on and on until it just ends. Not even an abrupt “Sopranos” series finale type ending, it just kind of dwindles away until you realize you’re looking at credits.

I was able to watch this while Gary was at work and his then-houseguest Edgar had scored a bootleg copy off of a kid who traded it for chewing tobacco and porno mags from the local gas station. I think Edgar got the crap end of that stick.

4. 30 Minutes or Less – Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari

This one broke my heart. Aziz Ansari is hilarious, and the always-funny Danny McBride is featured so heavily that it’s practically his movie. It just has a cartoon plot and the only grace brought to it was some witty lines and the charm of the actors delivering them. Car chases and gun fights just didn’t belong in this one, but I suspect that since it clocked in at 83 minutes, they needed something to fill the time.

Gary threw this one on one night, shortly after Edgar was carted off to jail for a DUI with “special circumstances” (legalese for "defecating out the window of a moving car"). Gary was feeling particularly lonely, so he ordered a pizza and figured he’d play this in the background, hoping to use it to strike up a conversation with the mildly attractive delivery girl with the nose-rings and jailhouse tats . When he explained the plot, which involved the kidnapping and attempted murder of a pizza delivery driver, he received a much deserved taser to the neck.

3. Season of the Witch – Starring Nicolas Cage

Edgar considered this to be “Shakespearean” fare, since Nicolas Cage wasn’t acting crazy and spoke with an accent (although exactly which accent he was going for will be debated throughout the ages). This film suffered from not really committing to being about something. It seemed like a weak criticism of the Catholic Church, but in the end pretty much confirms that the Church was right all along. In the end, it felt more like something that was produced to launder money for the Armenian mob than an artistic endeavor in any sense. There was effort put in. There was skill at work. It just seemed like it was infused with about as much purpose and passion as prison cafeteria food.

Sadly, it was my machinations that brought this into Gary’s home. I had devised a system for ranking Nicolas Cage's films according to how many times he does “that thing”. You know… that Nicolas Cage thing. It can’t really be described. There’s a lot of teeth involved, and head movements with some eye bulging. I only know that when I see it, I take a drink. And this movie didn’t even get me buzzed.

2. The Thing – Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead

This year’s The Thing is touted as a prequel instead of a remake. And it goes to great lengths to tie its, let’s call it  “plot," to the events of the John Carpenter masterpiece of the same name. Fans of the Carpenter version will recall the discovery of the ill-fated Norwegian camp in Antarctica by Kurt Russell and his beard and awesome hair. If the 2011 version hadn’t tried so hard to keep consistent, a die-hard fan of the Carpenter version, like me, wouldn’t be so hard on it for failing so miserably at it. I can go into the fanboy depths of why this movie does not jive with what it’s trying to jive with, but I’m also looking at it in terms of quality. It’s just not a very good movie. It’s not scary, the characters are disposable, and the special effects suck on their own, especially in comparison to its nearly 30-year-old predecessor.

Edgar scored a copy of this while working at The Juggs Hut, a strip club where he sometimes works as a bouncer. While a bachelor party raged inside, Edgar went through their cars and lifted several laptops, one of which had a plethora of bootleg movies.  Unfortunately, Sheila “The Kitchen Sink” Hogan, the featured dancer that evening, wound up stabbing one of the bachelor party attendees in the neck with the heel of her spike-heeled thigh high vinyl boot after the poor bastard staggered drunkenly on the stage and demanded a “face dance”. The guy recovered, but Edgar was let go for not being there to prevent the incident.

1. Shark Night 3D – Starring Sara Paxton

You know the kind of movies that are bad and they know they’re bad, so in a way they’re kind of good? If you’re aiming for bad and you hit the mark, the result can be enjoyable. But when you’re aiming for bad and you miss, boy oh boy does it suck. With some movies, like Showgirls, it bestows a certain watchable revulsion. But then you have something like Shark Night 3D

It suffers from one of those “we’re just kidding” plots combined with characters that aren’t even interesting enough to be eviscerated by sharks, which the movie does succeed at proving beyond a shadow of a doubt. It’s presumably SharkNight” because having the shark action take place in a well-lit environment would require better special effects. It was like watching Deep Blue Sea done with Muppets.

Edgar insisted that Gary watch this movie, it being among the films in the purloined laptop that had brought us such fare as The Thing. Edgar was especially appreciative that the film contained an ample helping of scantily clad females in danger of being assaulted by rednecks. So much so that he gave the film a standing ovation as it ended.  He insisted they watch it again as Gary had slept through most of it. The argument that ensued sent Edgar drunkenly off into the night, and the fateful DUI that followed.

The Top Five Best Films of 2011 (that I’ve seen) of the year, in descending order of okayness:

5. Our Idiot Brother – Starring Paul Rudd

Here’s a cute little flick that left me with a smile on my face. Paul Rudd plays a naïve, good natured hippy in upstate New York whose sweet nature keeps him blissfully ignorant of the struggles of the real world. He’s not so much a slacker or a stoner loser as he is an idealist. He believes in the best in everybody, and he assumes everybody does likewise. Naturally, this gets him thrown in jail, and when he gets out he must rely on his three sisters, who are much more “normal” by comparison, for support until he can get his life together.

This was a welcome treat in a year of sequels and remakes and cynical attempts to cash in on one fad or another.  It wisely avoids becoming the hipster showcase it could have and instead tells a human story about goodness and love that doesn’t descend into mushiness.

By the time this made its way to Gary’s house via Netflix, Edgar was in about the sixth month of his “one or two day” stay. Edgar was quickly disinterested in the film, but Gary tried to emphasize certain plot points, such as the Rudd character’s need to get a job, get his own place, get his life together. This all seemed to be lost on Edgar, evidenced by his request to borrow Gary’s credit card to sign up for a monthly subscription to an “extreme splatter fetish” web site. To date, the subscription has not been canceled.

4. Source Code – Starring Jake Gyllenhaal

This is sci-fi done right. That’s two in a row from Duncan Jones, whose 2009 film Moon was among my top five of that year. Here, Gyllenhaal plays a man who must repeat the last moments of another man’s life over and over again in order to solve the mystery of the terrorist attack that killed a train full of passengers. I was impressed by how the film played with time, identity, and the morality of tricking reality to save lives. There’s so much to savor in the revelations of the film that I’m hesitant to give anything away.

Gary had picked this film to watch on a first date with a woman he had met on a dating web site. Edgar had gone on a “smurf run” for the weekend, purchasing cold medicine from various stores across the state for a friend, so Gary had the house to himself. It was a good choice, as the romance of the film’s subplot is done quite well. If Gary had managed to sleep with her before she stole his wallet and his laptop, it would have been only the second most humiliating of his dates that I have witnessed.

3.  Horrible Bosses – Starring Jason Bateman

Here’s an example of when a movie relies on the charm of the actors and the wit of the dialogue to overcome its thin premise and gets it right. It’s got a simple set up: three guys have bosses who are each uniquely horrible people, and those guys decide to kill those bosses. The cleverness of the film is that it sidesteps any moral equivocating on behalf of the audience and just lets the weird shit happen. Horrible Bosses is packed full of big name stars in the crassest roles of their careers and it doesn’t misuse a single one of them.

Gary watched this movie in rapt amazement, not quite laughing but breathlessly nodding his head throughout. While I’m not sure what it is that Gary does at his job, I do know that his boss has been referred to as a “micromanaging dickhead” and a “know-nothing hack”.  So when the idea of killing the bosses is first suggested in the film, the almost erotically charged “yeah” that Gary let out sent chills up my spine, but did not diminish my enjoyment.

2. Contagion – Starring Matt Damon

This one can be considered Traffic with a virus instead of drugs. Steven Soderbergh manages to bring together a huge, far reaching cast spanning the globe into a singular, tight, cohesive narrative. The best comparison I can make is that Contagion is to Outbreak what Dark Knight is to the 1960s Adam West "Batman”.

A full review of “Contagion” is coming soon.

1. Drive – Starring Ryan Gosling

Here is an excellent example of when less is more. If someone were to ask me what my favorite part of Drive was, I would have to say it was the silences. The long, lingering silences where so much is communicated. And then broken. In essence, it was the elevator scene. Watch it and see if you disagree.

Ryan Gosling plays an unnamed hero who sells his time and expertise as a getaway driver. Just as he forms a rare connection with his neighbor, his world is thrown into turmoil when her husband returns home from prison, bringing with him a heist that the Driver participates in with the best of intentions. Albert Brooks gives an Oscar-demanding performance as a cold blooded bad guy who really just wanted things to work out, but knows when he’s gotta kill to protect his business.

Drive was another film brought into Gary’s home by Edgar, having acquired it in one shady manner or another. The aching loneliness of the film proved to be too much for Gary to handle sober, and it led to the drunk dial that resulted in a reunion with Penelope, his longtime ex-girlfriend and Edgar’s sister. Gary has also reunited with a love of alcohol and co-dependency with Penelope, so 2012 should be an interesting year.

At least when they’re both in a blackout drunk stupor it’s easier for me to sneak out of the walls and use the rest room.

Jake Mynatt is a writer as Charles Manson is a singer/songwriter. By trade, he's a computer guy. He's married, and loving it so much he hopes to start dozens of secret families all over the country. That's just a joke, unless you're interested. Send headshots and a signed pre-nup to jake.mynatt [at] theinclusive.net