Hollywood Grind: The Studio System and My Personal Top 10(s)
The new year begins for Hollywood tomorrow with the wide release of The Devil Inside, and in this weekly column, which is scheduled to appear every Thursday, I'll continue to examine filmmakers working within the studio system to produce and/or distribute their work.
As a boy growing up in suburban Los Angeles, I rarely saw films theatrically, but I was invariably glued to the television whenever classic Westerns or Japanese monster movies or science-fiction creature features popped up. Fortunately, when I became obsessed with movies in my late teens, Los Angeles still had a flourishing repertory theatre scene, and so I caught up with as many classic films as possible, while exploring every corner of international cinema possible.
But I never stopped watching the big Hollywood releases. It wasn't a conscious decision, but my feeling was: You never know. Movies that didn't look so hot on posters or newspaper ads could turn out pretty good, despite negative reviews in the Los Angeles Times or on television, where a local critic like David Sheehan might savage popcorn fare.
As I recall, for example, none of my friends thought Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark would be any good, because his previous movie, 1941, had stunk up the joint and failed miserably at the box office. And who wanted to see a movie about, ugh, the ancient 40s, with intimations that it was based on those stupid weekly serials, starring Han Solo? So off I headed by myself to a Saturday matinee -- to save money -- at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, a cavernous place that was almost entirely empty, soon after it opened. And I left punching the air with excitement. Which is why I continue to go see wide releases that, frankly, look dreadful in advance, and keep an open mind: You never know.
As a new member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Dallas/Ft. Worth Film Critics Association, I created a Top 10 list based on their criteria, which is that only films that were released theatrically in the United States during 2011 were eligible. I've already posted that list at Dallas Film Now, a site I created and manage for readers in Dallas, Texas. Looking at it now, I realize that only three of the films received a wide release (more than 600 screens), but I'm grateful that all of them made it out, in one form or another. I'm republishing that list below, along with my new list of Honorable Releases.
However, I also attended several festivals this year (SXSW, Dallas International Film Festival, Asian Film Festival of Dallas, and Fantastic Fest), which gave me the opportunity to see a number of films not yet released in the U.S. So I have two Top 10 lists for 2011, and I'll start with the one that reflects the 2011 films that I saw in a theater for the first time in 2011.
Top 10 -- Viewed Theatrically
Michael Roskam's directorial debut is a mesmerizing film experience that is capable of breaking every bone in your body through visual osmosis. It's a crime epic in miniature, told through the eyes and groin of a tortured soul.
2. Kill List
Ben Wheatley's film is quietly stunning, with shocking moments of violence that build out of, seemingly, nothing. It's like a standing high jump: How does it reach such heights so quickly?
3. Take Shelter
Michael Shannon displays a scary degree of vulnerability as an ordinary man who has nightmare of an impending apocalypse and is determined to do something about it. Not for himself, but because he has a family.
4. A Separation
Each step in Asghar Farhadi's drama seems perfectly logical to the person who is taking it. Each step has consequences. Most of them are not good.
5. Sleep Tight
Jaume Balagueró creeped me out with a thriller that never wastes a motion. It's soaked through with deceptive evil that keeps getting darker, somehow.
Distilling the essence of of late 70s/early 80s auto noir, Nicolas Winding Refn then added his own sensibility to the formula, highlighted by a great turn by Albert Brooks.
My post-screening tweet: "Opening credits LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL end credits."
8. Attack the Block
Like the creature features of my youth, only different. And better.
9. The Tree of Life
Terrence Malick floored me. Again.
10. Extraterrestrial / The Devil's Business
Because I have man-crushes on directors Nacho Vigalondo and Sean Hogan, it may be impossible for me to be objective about their latest films, to separate their friendly, gregarious personalities from their work. But both films showcase their personal sense of humor in a way that has been absent from their previous features. And while there are certainly bones that could be picked with either film, they are unmistakably distinctively products of their distinctive creators.
Here's my previously-published list.
Top 10 -- Released in U.S.
1. Take Shelter
2. A Separation
6. Attack the Block
7. The Tree of Life
8. Young Adult
9. The Descendants
10. Margin Call
And, added for today, 16 Honorable Mentions, listed alphabetically:
Hobo With a Shotgun
The Myth of the American Sleepover
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
X-Men: First Class