Overhyped/Underappreciated in 2011

A completely unrelated but pretty image
An somewhat unrelated image that somehow captures my feeling about film viewing in 2011

My film-going experience in 2011 was a mixed bag. Some of the films everyone loved left me cold; others that I really liked no one seemed to care about. In very short order, here’s my list of the underwhelming and under-appreciated:

The Underwhelming

Marcy Martha Mary Marlene – … was interesting, but I never quite connected with it emotionally. It may have been the mood I was in that night, or that the cult seemed so obviously fucked up that it was harder to believe that people would fall into it.

Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows – all the inner gayness of the Holmes/Watson relationship came out, which was great. But it was a criminal waste of two really terrific actresses (Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams), and there wasn’t a lot of detecting going on.

Thor… was fun. But I didn’t buy the romantic relationship between the leads, and the film looked murky as hell (still not a big fan of 3D, sorry).

Black Swan – Yes, I know this came out in 2010. But I saw it in 2011. Apart from some really good, creepy monster/swan stuff, I didn’t really get what the fuss was about. The Red Shoes from 1948 is a much better film, with more to say about identity, objectification, reality and desire.

TinTin – After eight years of motion capture-based human animation, I think we should just use the technology for non-humans and call it a day. I liked the film’s aesthetics, but I forgot about it as soon as I threw out my empty popcorn bag.

Crazy Stupid Love – I liked the performances and the direction. But the underlying message of the film was rather conservative and ultimately uninspiring.

Super 8 – J.J. Abrams could have made a great film about a movie-obsessed boy reconciling with his father after his mother’s death. Or a fun monster movie. Instead he tried to mash them together. But unlike Cameron’s Abyss or Spielberg’s Close Encounters, the result was less than the sum of its parts.

The Under-appreciated

In Time – This is a terrific sci-fi ‘B’ movie with real social relevance, by the same guy who brought us Gattaca and Lord of War.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Justly praised for its overall intelligence and for Andy Serkis’ performance. What was under-appreciated, however, was the work of John Lithgow and Brian Cox. Without these two – especially Lithgow, whose plight is in many ways the driving force of the plot – the film wouldn’t have much heft. On a contrary note, when will screenwriters figure out how to integrate female characters into their plots (see Sherlock above). Freida Pinto is stuck with absolutely nothing to do in the film.

Certified Copy – Abbas Kiarostami’s understated, tricky film about a relationship (or is it relationships) – possibly fictional, possibly real, perhaps both – was just wonderful to watch, especially after ingesting a series of overdone CGI hamburger helper.

The Tree of Life – This film should get a medal for giving a big middle finger to everyone out there with short attention spans (and all the technologies that service them). Most of the people who complained (to me, anyway) about the slow pacing, ambiguity, and near-plotlessness are the same folks who text while walking down the sidewalk. This film demands patience and a serene state of mind. But while it’s not a perfect movie, it has a lot to say and can wrap you in its beauty, if you let it.

Mumbai Diaries / Dhobi Ghat – This did well in India, but is unknown here. And that’s a shame. This is a beautiful look at Mumbai, through the eyes of four interconnected people who each have very different professions, classes, and outlooks on life.

This year also marked a turning point in my own viewing habits. I watched films, tv shows, and webisodes on almost every type of screen and using a variety of providers, without really thinking about it. The quality of streaming video often leaves something to be desired, but after about two minutes I stop worrying about it and just watch the film. The main reason for picking one delivery method over another had more to do with my mood at the time (impulsive, festive, social, etc.) than anything else. The big entertainment companies are running scared, and for good reason – with the consumer in the driver’s seat, they can’t dictate the terms. This is not necessarily good news for film professionals, but that’s for the next blog entry.