The Very Okay of 2011

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2011 was a volley of disappointment, for the most part, as the furry-browed Elliott Gould was nowhere to be found. Michael Sheen failed to have a starring role as an English Prime Minister. And Melanie Laurent was only in one movie. I couldn’t even, reasonably, compile a top ten list of movies that I loved. Instead, my list is a top ten of things I found worthy of mentioning, whether they were movies or events or bearded people. Read with caution. These lines are precarious – and riddled with grammatical errors.

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This year in cinema, animated films were host to implacably energetic animals that scurried about in deserts or fought in the far east. The biggest critter of them all, however, was not a mangy panda or a bony iguana in Hunter S. Thompson digs, but an actual person – Stellan Skarsgard. The Swedish actor with a receding mop of hair was Rick Rolling at least half of the movies that you’ve seen – and nearly EVERY movie you haven’t. With the stoic gaze of an Easter Island statue and the posture of a tipped over Beanie Baby, Skarsgard was the man of the year in film. Skarsgard turned in the best comedic performance of the year as as a downtrodden, steely ex-con in A Somewhat Gentle Man. He was seen slithering around corners in David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and he even showed up in a Lykke Li music video as a lovelorn diner at a swanky restaurant. But I’ll always remember him this year as the shifty business mogul whose overcooked personality saw him breaking plates like an inebrieted Greek at a holiday party in Melancholia. Cliff’s notes: Best person ever.

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Forgive Mamie Gummer for having a name that sounds like a 1920s vaudeville singer. The actress is so unheralded she is a dark horse’s dark horse. Gummer managed to thread the needle on one of the best performances of the year in the little seen Twelve Thirty. The tiny film was about as relevant as an eraser mark for most critics this year, but Gummer acted like a mad woman in movie, delivering dialogue like a seasoned vet and pulling off a scene of crying that had her eyes redder than ink marks on a bingo sheet. Seamless!

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The bulbous-nosed thespian caused a fashion stir with his Bob the Builder outfit in My Afternoons with Marguerite. Bill Cunningham, you would love this guy! Whether crowding the frame of a movie with his giant paws or stomping around in gardens, Depardieu was a shooin for this extraneous list of nonsensical achievements in film. Gerard as an affable French Humpty Dumpty with the carelessness of a toddler? I’m sold!

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The indie western that had, for most people, the most anticlimactic finale of the year, also had the opportunity to hoist up the award for best jaw growth in a movie. Bruce Greenwood’s Animal-from-the-Muppets-meets-Mick-Fleetwood look was so ridiculously out of control that it made Ian McKellan’s grizzled beard in Lord of the Rings look like a five o’clock shadow in comparison. The bushy, scraggly mess of hair made Greenwood look less like a person and more like a tumbleweed with a body. Also, the movie itself was pretty good in its own right. But who cares about that, really?

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Dirty, grungy, filthy, without redemption. A mumblecore movie with a hacksaw in one hand and chewing tobacco in the other. Evan Glodell’s picture is grainy, briny, and plain nasty looking. Even with the yellowed frames – did someone soak the film negative in gutter water? – Bellflower is so difficult to look away from. Wickedly incensed with malady and contempt? Check. Confoundingly weird and unrelenting? Double check. If you like this film, check out Dominic Murphy’s White Lightnin’.

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The putty brow of Michael Shannon is innately unnerving. The actor has primordial features. His bone structure mimicking a bombed out building or a crooked wall painting. What he does with his abstract look, however, is what plants him as an important actor. Take Shelter is a slow drip of despair, where every frame is a wick of hope going damp. Jeff Nichol’s film is one of the most important commentaries on the modern family. You could call it Nicolas Ray’s Bigger Than Life for a new, barbed era of financial uncertainty.

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Some call this film misogynistic, unsavory, vile in nature. It’s like a Swiss army knife of reprehensible things. Still, I Saw the Devil is like Six Flags Amusement Park in pureed form; you’re likely to feel unsettled, exhausted, entertained. You have to have a sense of humor that has been waterboarded a few times in order to enjoy this movie. If you’re a fan of The Housemaid, Oldboy, Dream Home, you’re likely to be smitten with Jee-woon Kim’s brand of hypervigilant extremism.

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Endearing and sweet without making anyone feel like they’re getting a root canal, Beginners is defined by its clever editing and its palpable chemistry between its two leads. Most players in romantic comedies look as stiff as two figurines on a wedding cake, but Melanie Laurent and Ewan McGregor move and react with a believable hesitance. The movie is buoyant without being cloying, making the experience, even with its top heavy romanticism, more identifiable and saddening than your usual saccharine laced date films. Also, it has Melanie Laurent and a terrier.

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Rooney Mara’s three-minute appearance in David Fincher’s The Social Network was enough to fishhook her into becoming Lisbeth Salander in the American remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The actress’ resume is about as long as a cocktail umbrella, but that doesn’t stop her from being the best thing in Hollywood since Amoeba Records opened. Future movies that I would watch: Rooney Mara in Rooney Mara Opens a Can of Soda, Rooney Mara in Rooney Mara Remakes Her Old Movies. It’s a solid win-win!

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My number one greatest thing to come out of 2011 is Drive with that Gosling kid. You know, the one that had the James Brolin beard in The Notebook.  This guy built the boat that dreams were made on, right? He’s distilled pheromones. As an actor, he was brilliant as the maladjusted, despondent high school teacher in Half Nelson. Later still, he trumped my expectations, once again, by turning in a performance as an emotionally neutered sociopath in Drive. How can anyone turn down a blood flecked, neo-Travis Bickle? Especially in a designer scorpion jacket! Drive was a restrained genre picture with the heart of shark. What other romantic flick this year had meet cutes with jetting blood and alabaster prop masks? Now that this list is over, time for some…

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Author: Rob Patrick

A member of the San Diego Film Critics Society, Rob created Cinema Spartan after he stepped down as the editor of a weekly. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. He has also introduced films with the Pacific Arts Movement. He co-owns two dire wolves, Buckley and Ruffin. At any given time, he can tell you superfluous hockey statistics. He is the chancellor of Tapatio, an advocate of iced tea, and an owner of at least 70 pairs of Vans.

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