Saturday, December 31, 2011

The 10 Best & Worst Movies of 2011

2011 was an awesome year for catching movies. There a record high of movies that I really enjoyed. The only downside was that there's equally high numbers of movies that really irked me. Of course there might be gems that I missed and some duds that I had purposely avoided (There's no way that I am going to pay for something that I know it's bad, specially if it's a sequel to a series of not so good movies). Without further delays, here's my 10 Best and Worst Movies of  2011 (click Read More to reveal the list).

The 10 Best Movies of 2011

10 - Flying Swords of Dragon Gate 龙门飞甲 is Tsui Hark's first movie that made with 3D technology (first for the Wu Xia genre) and for someone who do not like 3D movies, this is a remarkable effort. It's easy to see the effort that Tsui Hark and his team put in to this 3D Wu Xia movie and it works. There's a scene of a lone swordsman resting on a metal chain high up above a small jetty that showcase how the gradient in 3D could be effectively used to enhance the story. As a naysayer of 3D movies in general, Tsui Hark's 3D presentation of Flying Swords of Dragon Gate changed my opinion on 3D movies.

But still, it's not a 3D effect that makes a movie. There are a couple of reasons why this movie is in my top ten. First and foremost, this sequel to the New Dragon Gate provided some nice follow up to it's predecessor (i.e the further exploits of Zhou Huai'an and Ling Yanqui). It also provide similarities to the predecessor (whereby a group of people with different agenda gathered at the Dragon Inn) and spun something new and interesting (like a treasure hunt adventure involving sandstorm tornadoes). The special computer effects might be uneven at times but I enjoyed how the the niffy swordplay were done in this movie. Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is a nice homage to the 90s Wu Xia films and a  "standalone" sequel that I am anticipating to rewatch when the Dvd is out.

9 - Drive is a movie that easy to fall in love with and it's also no hard to see why people disliked this movie. This moody piece has a simple plot of a getaway driver getting involved with a married mom's life and mob money that getting people killed.

The crux of enjoying this movie depends if the viewer could delve right into the mood of this movie.

Personally, I love the groovy soundtrack that invokes the feel of the 80's, the cinematography that sets the tone of the movie and the unexpected brutal violence that punctuated the tender love story between the driver and his neighbor. Carey Mulligan had summarized the movie as 'staring longingly at Ryan Gosling for each day' and that worked for me. 

8 - Let the Bullets Fly 让子弹飞 brought back memories of  The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Three remarkable actors who were equally delightful in their respective roles and their performance were well worth the admission ticket.

Ge You plays the weaselly con man MA who was on his way to become a mayor of a remote small town. His train was hijacked by Zhang (Jiang Wen as the righteous bandit chief) and together, they heads towards the small town to scam some of the town's wealth. Their biggest challenge in their way would be the town tyrant Master Huang (Chow Yun Fatt playing the dual role of a devious merchant and his simpleton body double). A bloody game of wits between the three ensues as they tries to outplay each other.

Beyond the comedic action drama, it was said that Let the Bullets Fly is ridden with metaphoric criticism of the China's current government. It was also rumored that the China censorship missed those criticism and tried to ruin the box office collection by releasing high quality copies of this movie online. Theories are abundance online and reading them enhanced the movie even more. Let the Bullets Fly is a rare combination of an entertaining commercial release and a wicked "up yours" to the stifling government.

7 - Wu Xia  武侠 took a novel approach to the old tired Wu Xia (martial art hero) genre and it works. The usage of Chinese style forensic science to explain the exaggerated superhuman feat in Wu Xia fiction was innovative and it adds a new coat of razzle dazzle to the "old" flying kicks and bone breaking punches.

Donnie Yen gave one of his better recent acting performance as Liu Jinxi, a villager who might be a highly skill martial art expert hiding from his past. Tang Wei added a nice emotional angle as Liu Jinxi's "wife". Last but not least, Takeshi Kaneshiro stole the show with his role as a Sichuanese speaking detective who is unrelenting in finding out Liu Jinxi's real identity while suffering from split personality.

6 - Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a fine example on how to reboot a franchise and how a summer blockbuster should be made. For someone who didn't care about the old Planet of the Apes franchise and didn't really like needless sequels / prequels / remakes, this prequel managed to do something quite remarkable. It's making me clamoring for more sequels.

Andy Serkis's motion capture performance as Caesar, the Ape that first gained the ability to evolve and started the revolution for the Apes should get recognized. It's a morality tale that make us question how we treat the other creatures living in this planet and it also have a very good lead up to the future of this franchise. Without a doubt, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is this year's Batman Begins and Star Trek.

5 - Incendies was nominated for Academy Awards 2011's Best Foreign Language Film and it's one powerful movie that lingers long after the credits ended. It started with a strange request in an immigrant mother's will that made a pair of twin brother and sister to set off in a journey back to their mother's birth place. They were supposed to locate a half brother that they never knew existed and a father whom they thought was dead.

It's a long audacious journey that well worth the wait. Why did the mother chose to reveal such revelation after her death? The answer at the end of the movie is a horrifying and yet emotionally touching one. Incendies is a well structured tale that immerse the viewers into this unforgettable unique journey. 

4 - Margin Call is a terrifying reflection of how the recent US financial crisis started. Taking place over a 36 hour period at a large investment bank, Margin Call follows the decision made and action taken by the employee when they discovered that they are holding onto toxic assets that would bankrupt the company.

Margin Call is intense and gripping as we go through their discovery process, the decision making choices and the execution of the inevitable. Margin Call is filled with a strong ensemble cast and in particular, all the scenes that featured Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons were pure cinematic gold. Margin Call is a wake up call that everyone should heed, even for those who are not in the financial industry because at the end of it, money matters would eventually affect everyone else.

3 - I Saw The Devil | 악마를 보았다 will not sit well with everyone. Director Kim Ji-woon's tale of vengeance was so violent that the Korean censorship board made him recut the movie for theatrical release, resulting in a Korean theatrical version and an international version.

It features Lee Byun-hun as a special agent who is dishing his own brand of punishment on his girlfriend's killer (Choi Min-sik). While normal people would be content letting the justice system handle the criminal, I Saw the Devil had Lee Byun-hun's character played a cruel cat and mouse game with Choi Min-sik's character.

It's not expected of the usual heroic protagonist but this is not your usual serial killer. This movie posses the question on how do you extract vengeance against someone who is unrepentant of his crimes and so vile that no amount of punishment could break him? I saw the Devil provides the guilty pleasure of enjoying the comeuppances being delivered. Great performance by Lee Byun-hun and Choi Min-sik and a great farewell gift from Kim Ji-woon before he leaves for Hollywood.

2 - The Artist is not something that you get from cinemas these days. Beside the obvious fact that it's a black and white silent film, it's also a damn fine film that making the top ten list of many movie critics. Currently, it's nominated for six Golden Globes and the lead actor Jean Dujardin had won the 2011 Cannes Film Festival Best Actor Award.

But what makes it so good? It's a clever tribute to the silent cinema. The Artist is about the romance between two unlikely individuals with the transition from the silent cinema era to the talkies (where synchronized sound is incorporated into the film) as backdrop. He was once the silent movie superstar who is facing imminent decline in popularity and she was a fan who is raising to be the top actress in the world of talkie movies. The parallelism between the two characters and the transition of film format was made so wonderfully heart wrenching but yet it was managed to counterbalance it with endearing comedic moments.

Movies have the ability to transport the viewer into another era, a different place and time. While watching The Artist, I felt like I was transported to the olden age of the silent cinema era. It's filled with sense of wonderment and it made me want to linger around that period for a longer time. The Artist is a magical immersion of cinematic beauty that's been long forgotten.

1 - You are the Apple of My Eye | 那些年, 我们一起追的女孩 is not a perfect movie. It's a little too long and some jokes just missed the spot. But Director / Writer Giddens has a gift for storytelling and he delivered his autobiography tale about wooing a girl during school days with plenty of hearts.

Part of movie magic would be that it allows the viewer to reminisce the past and this movie definitely brought back plenty of relatable memories of school days. You are the Apple of My Eye also provided an avenue to ponder about the "what ifs" and that was personally the most heart wrenching moments for me.

Sometimes, the only reason to love a movie would be that it resonates with one's life experience and this coming of age movie tugged my heartstrings harder than the rest of the best movies in 2011. Last but not least, if Michelle Chen was my classmate, I would have studied my ass off.

and the other great movies of 2011 that somehow couldn't make it into my best 10 movies list are:  The Fighter, Black Swan, The Man from Nowhere 아저씨, Space Battleship Yamato ヤマト, Source Code, Water for Elephant, Beck, Four หลุดสี่หลุด, Gallants 打擂台, SuckSeed ห่วยขั้นเทพ, Gantz Perfect Answer, Win Win, Tatsumi, Dolphin Tale, Apollo 18, Delhi Belly देहली बेली, Attack the Block, Midnight in Paris, One Day

The Worst 10 Movies of 2011

10 - East Meets West 2011 东成西就 2011 is a showcase of how the director Jeffery Lau being overindulged in his own ideas and losing the comedic touch. It felt that he had big ideas for this "all star ensemble flick" but didn't know how to put them together. The story of seven reincarnated immortals who are seeking the evil eighth immortal had comedic potential and even a decent storyline but Jeffery Lau floundered in the allocation of time and material for these characters. Resulting in a mess up effort that squandered the talents and time of the artists that were involved with this project.

It should be noted that the stars in this movie are not exactly the same caliber as the stars that were in The Eagle Shooting Heroes 东成西就 (Jeffery Lau's previous Mo Lei Tau movie of the same format). Some of the stars in this movie are relative unknown outside the China and Hong Kong market. Some of the artists' celebrity status are questionable even in today's standard. The combination of a directionless director with a odd ensemble of celebrities seemed just the right mix for disaster. East Meets West 2011 just make me miss the good old Hong Kong comedies.

9 - Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D is pretty bad even for a kid show. The gimmicky Aroma-scope (scratch and sniff card) which was suppose to provide the fourth dimension was a big turnoff. Most of the scratch pads smelled like bubblegum and those that really stood out stinks pretty bad. I really don't think that Aroma-scope will become a norm for movie watching. I really hope it's the end of the road for Aroma-scope.

Gimmicks aside, the story of two kids discovering that their stepmom (Jessica Alba) is actually a spy and the world of fancy spy gadgets while their clueless dad host the spy hunter television program is pretty badly made. It's probably passable for a kids television program but when Pixar are bringing quality materials to the movies for both kids and adults, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D just felt like an outright robbery for the paying adults.  

8 - My Ex : Haunted Lover แฟนใหม่ is the sequel to Thai Horror Romance, My Ex and both movies managed to allocate a place in my 10 Worst Movies List. It's a supernatural horror about vengeful heartbroken ex that's not scary nor emotional. In fact the previous movie had a couple scary scenes that pretty well done. Here we get a comical jump from a building and landing head first with a scar on the face. I would assume that a fall in such manner would at least result in a burst skull but it's impossible to have a headless Asian Ghost movie. Just think of the potential loss in Hair Shampoo business.

My Ex the Haunted Lover is low on scares and dragged the unconvincing triangle love story for too long. The last straw for this movie was when it did a 180 degree turn for events at the end and it was a horrible twist to swallow. But still the Ex franchise is going strong with a third installment coming up and that to me is the real horror.

7 - 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy 3D肉蒲团之极乐宝鉴 created quite a buzz and sold a lot of tickets in Hong Kong but ultimately failed to live up to the expectation of a titillating good time. It's really hard to be aroused when the movie is infused with plenty of gory violence that involved mutilating of genitals. The Hong Kong actress revealed very little and the Japanese Adult Video actress performance weren't that spectacular either. It certainly didn't help when they made Vonnie Lui a transvestite with manly voice.

But what Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy ultimately failed for me was the story. The tale of a scholar who left his wife for pleasure elsewhere was the same story that told in Amy Yip's Sex and Zen. This update lacks the ball to carry out the sad ending that was in the original movie. Instead it pulled a happy ending where the protagonists had a 180 degree turnaround to what was being build up in the bulk of the movie. In the end, it's the viewer that got screwed.

6 - Legend of A Rabbit / Kung Fu Rabbit 兔侠传奇 has been called a Kung Fu Panda knock off right from the start. It's not hard to see the rationale behind the accusation.

Large furry animal - Check.
Novice mastering Kungfu - Check.
Kung Fu master who was badly injured by the Villain  - Check.

The list go on and on. To be fair, such plot devices for Kung Fu movies had been recycled a lot. But it's really how the execution of such plot devices were carried out. Kung Fu Panda was awesome and Kung Fu Rabbit gets a mention on my top 10 worst movies. The plot of Tu'er, a pancake cook who seek revenge for a dying kungfu master that he rescued was done in a naively crude China fashion. The protagonist was irritatingly dumb and naive. It simply lacks the sophistication that DreamWorks Animation had shown us. The only thing that make watching this movie easier was to spot the similarity between the two Kung Fu white furry creatures.  

Not forgetting that the computer animation is pretty lackluster when it stands alongside the recent offerings by Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, Blue Sky Studios and etc. It pretty much tells where is China's standard in computer animation these days.

5 - Legendary Amazons 杨门女将之军令如山 wouldn't get a mention here if it's meant to be a comedy because this Chinese historic war film was so unintentionally bad that it's funny. There's so many things wrong with this rendition of the legendary widows of the Yang Clan generals defending the Song Dynasty's borders from foreign invaders that I am going to point out a few of them.

The age disparity between Cecilia Cheung (Guiying) and the guy playing her son is simply too much. Excessive wire works made most of the fighting scenes look fake. The worst aspect of Cecilia Cheung's acting would be her emotional outburst and this movie made her cried one too many time. The movie made a point to introduce the numerous female warriors of the Yang Clan and subsequently put them aside as wallflowers until it's time to kill them off. The warfare weaponry used in this movie were inventive ... as in inventively funny in the wrong way. The production looks cheap and it's an epic fail whenever they try to stage massive battles.

Last but not least, as part of a Jackie Chan produced movie, there's the usual NG segment that usually depicts how hard it was to make a movie and Legendary Amazons NG segments showed just how "difficult" and "dangerous" it was for the ladies.

4 - Lan Kwai Fong 喜愛夜蒲 made me wonder if the folks who frequent Lan Kwai Fong are that superficial or was it the fault of this movie? It would be a genius move if the movie was purposely made in a superficial manner so that there's a form of parallelism but I really don't think that the case here.

The main story of Lan Kwai Fong follows the tumultuous relationship between Steven and Jennifer. The movie covers how they met, their one night stand that kick start their relationship, the breakup and the predictable attempts to patch back. Then there's the additional plot with the promiscuous Cat and Sean who got the hots for her. Last but not least, there's the club manager Jacky who abandon his pregnant girlfriend for a new target, only to wreck with guilt when he found out what became of her as the movie progressed.

These are not the only relationship arcs that covered in this movie. There are a few more subplots that involves ex triad and his long time admirer and a guy pretending to be butch to mess with underage girls. 

Needless to say, all these relationships are superficially touched on. What made it worse would be that these are not seasoned actors to begin with. It's almost impossible to feel anything for the characters or what they are going through. There's a only couple tantalizing shots of boobs grabbing actions (with clothes on) to ease the tedious viewing experience. But in the end, sex sells and Lan Kwai Fong made enough money for the sequel to be green-lighted.

3 - Beastly is a prime example on how classic are being horrendously updated for audience these days. Beastly is a re-imagination of Beauty and the Beast but yet none of the magic remains. The Beast in this movie was so badly established that the character felt superficial when he was trying to portray a superficial being that's overly concern about his looks.

The disfigurement was nowhere near ugly and the chemistry between the two leads were non existent. The story felt like a collection of poorly made scenes with very little substance to it. It's hard to believe that they had Beauty and the Beast as template but yet they managed to veered off by telling the classic story so badly.

2 - My Best Bodyguard | มาย เบสท์ บอดี้การ์ด is a blatant vanity project for the Princess of Thailand and she made a few crucial mistakes in bankrolling this movie. First of all, a story by C.R.A.B that played out like crap. A story that revolve around drug company that doing illegal testing, a reporter who refuse to back down and her dad who send her the best bodyguard to protect her. It tired to do too much when it lacks the ability to do so. Resulting in a badly patched up movie that was horrendous to follow.

The second mistake that the princess made was to fill the movie with good looking males. The disparity in looks was just too distracting. The princess probably should have taken acting class to match the rest in acting too. Not forgetting that the action sequence in this action flick was a tame affair. Last but not least, My Best Bodyguard should have provided subtitles for Shawn Yue's English dialogues in this movie.

1 - The Ultimate Winner | 赢家  ultimately turned out to be The Ultimate Loser. How is it possible that a movie released this year could pale in comparison with the old Hong Kong gambling movies and Singapore television gambling series in the 90s? Thru some divine intervention, The Ultimate Winner managed to do that. Horrible plotting, Christian evangelizing, weak gambling choreographing and bad acting makes it a wonder why this movie managed to get a theatrical release at all.

The Ultimate Winner also goes to show that very few actors should move on to the directing chair... here's looking at you Li Nanxing!

Other notable bad flicks that getting the thumbs down from me this year are The Roommate, Mr. and Mrs. Incredible 神奇俠侶, Sucker Punch, Wasao わさお, A Chinese Ghost Story 倩女幽魂, Battle: Los Angeles, SP : The Motion Picture | SP野望篇, Ghost : In Your Arms Again  ゴースト もういちど抱きしめたい, Exorcismus, The Fortune Buddies 勁抽褔祿壽, The Cat 고양이 : 죽음을 보는 두 개의 눈, No Strings Attached, Treasure Hunt 無價之寶, Sector 7, 11-11-11, Abduction, Sleepwalker 夢遊 & I Don't Know How She Does It

I would really like to include these two movies into the 10 worst movies of 2011 but since both of them were not release in a general commercial release ( one was screen at an invitation only screening and another one had a limited screening at a local Hong Kong film festival), I am just going to list them here.
  • The Devil Inside Me  夺命心跳
  • Quattro I & II  香港四重奏 I & II

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