Silent movies? Sexual addicts? Marilyn Monroe? Yeah right. As well all know, real movies are about intelligent apes, alien monsters, movie making kids, and psycho church groups. At least, that was the stand of Nerd Bastards as we compiled our Top 10 list of the Nerdiest Films of 2011.
Like all Top 10 Best Of… Lists our picks are completely subjective, so if you disagree, feel free to post your comments below. I’d like to say keep it clean, but, you know… “Nerd Bastards” and all.
1) Super 8
Teaming up J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg was going to be nothing less than epic, and the fact that they delivered an incredible film on top of that is almost secondary to the fact that right now Abrams is living every nerd’s dream. But in all seriousness, in a year that was pretty well stocked with above average popcorn fair, Super 8 stood out for crossing the divide between nostalgia and originality, and in the process delivered something that was heartfelt and thrilling. Sure, Abrams’ fixation with aliens that have limbs in weird places is apparent, and with his obsession with the name “Kelvin” and actress Amanda Foreman is kind of distracting, but the rest of the film is such a tremendous throwback to E.T. and The Goonies that you kind of get swept up in it anyway. Inside all us nerds is a kid with our first camera trying to make our zombie dreams come true. In the case of Abrams, dreams have become reality, but we hope that’s the case with each of us.
It’s interesting that the two nerdiest movies of the year are about filmmaking. In fact, even non-nerdy films like silent French film The Artist and the making of The Prince and the Showgirl bio My Week With Marilyn are about making movies. Well, Hugo isn’t so much about making films as making magic, and in this Martin Scorsese, a man whose filmography is synonymous with criminals and the dregs of the earth reality, makes one of the most beautiful and heart-lifting family films of the year. Scorsese also deserves credit for giving 3-D its groove back, and showed viewers that despite continued studio efforts to find gold in the format whenever they can, the artistry of 3-D depends on the film master wielding it. It will be interesting to see what Sir Ridley Scott makes of the format in next summer’s Prometheus.
3) Attack the Block
Picking up the baton of lo-fi alien invasion movies from American flicks like Skyline and Battle: Los Angeles, but doing it much better, is this hit from Great Britain. The film follows a group of hooligans trying to protect their council estate from a group of maraudering space dogs with fluorescent blue teeth. Think Boyz ‘N the Hood meets Critters, but, you know, British. Filled with three-dimensional characters and a great group dynamic between the cast of young actors, the fact that they’re fighting aliens is almost an after-thought. It’s like Goonies, but urbane, with more swears, and, you know, British.
4) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
From the opening credits featuring abstract imagery and a blistering cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” by Karen O, David Fincher has you enthralled by his take on the best-selling novel by Stieg Larsson. Rooney Mara immediately sets a tone as Lisbeth Salander, she’s not as blunt as Noomi Rapace was in the same role, but she’s quietly fierce and very determined. Between Mara’s transformation and Fincher’s fearless direction, keeping the story’s brutality mostly intact, any lingering accusation of misogyny or sexism from The Social Network should be whipped clean. But if we leave the big words alone for a minute, it’s just an awesome murder mystery with some really fascinating characters and one kick ass chick. This Girl does remake right.
5) Red State
Remember when Kevin Smith was about dick and fart jokes? Who are we kidding? Kevin Smith is still about dick and fart jokes, but in tackling Red State, Smith takes on several, striking new dimensions, and that is not a fat joke. First of all, Smith beat the odds by self-distributing the film with a multi-city, multimedia release. But more important than that, Red State itself was a startling departure in type and genre. Coming up with something akin to Tarantino meets the Coen Brothers, Red State is a thriller, it’s a political satire, it’s a bizarre character play, and it has a sense of humour to boot. We’ll see if Smith can reinvent himself again when he gets started on what supposed to be his final film, the hockey drama Hit Somebody.
6) Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope
I caught this at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, and was pleased to see that it was about more than the new Hollywood tradeshow aspect of the con, and was really about the fans. Featuring the epic nerd team-up of Joss Whedon, Harry Knowles, and Stan Lee, director Morgan Spurlock followed five fans at the 2010 Comic Con, including two aspiring comic book artists, a costume designer and a nerdish Romeo looking to propose to his Juliet. Each story has its ups and downs, but Spurlock’s camera captures all the drama, telling five different and fascinating stories about all those people that made, and continue to make, Comic Con what it is: the ultimate fan experience.
7) The Adjustment Bureau
On the surface, yes, a group of agents tasked with ensuring every person in the world follow their assigned plan, and the fact that they have access to shortcuts made available to them by virtue of their hats, is kind of silly. But the movie built around this conceit is fun, dramatic, romantic and thrilling. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have incredible chemistry together, and the story moves along briskly and intelligently, and doesn’t let any of the metaphysical, timey-wimey, hat-wearing, control freak stuff overpower the human story. It may not be as flashy, but perhaps one day The Adjustment Bureau can sit on a shelf next to Blade Runner and Total Recall as an all time great Philip K. Dick adaptation.
8) The Ward
There were two films released this year about five attractive young women locked down on a psycho ward being pursued by an unidentified supernatural evil. One was the bloated, misguided and nearly misogynistic Sucker Punch, which tried to pass off women fighting CG monsters in skin tight outfits as empowerment. The other was John Carpenter’s comeback The Ward, a film that was well-written, well-plotted, well-acted, and one where the ending actually made sense without having the director explain it to you. Guess which one was released in over 3,000 theatres and which one had a tenure in the multiplex was so brief it probably wouldn’t count for Academy Award consideration. As a bonus though, Carpenter one-upped Wes Craven, proving that the old masters still have some juice in them.
9) Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Forget 3-D, the real value for money in cinema these days is IMAX. And if you don’t get at least a little vertigo watching Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt free climb to the 130th floor of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, in IMAX, then you just might be Daredevil – The Man Without Fear. But really, on numerous levels, Ghost Protocol delivers some of the M:I franchises’ biggest and best thrills, not to mention a team dynamic that’s been lacking from the previous three films. This turn, each member of Hunt’s team was a full and complex character in their own right. Jeremy Renner was a great foil for Cruise, and if the Mission: Impossible movies continue him at the helm, along with Paula Patton and Simon Pegg, then I’ve got no issue with that. Presuming, of course, that Brad Bird is back in the director’s chair.
10) Rise of the Planet of the Apes
One of the consistent punchlines of the 2011 summer blockbuster season, there was no hope at all for this pre-boot of the 1968 sci-fi classic. But a funny thing happened on that first weekend in August, Rise of the Planet of the Apes opened and, if you can believe it, didn’t suck. And the people went to the theaters and they also discovered that it didn’t suck. What gives? Could it be that Twentieth Century Fox, the studio that couldn’t put Aliens and Predators in the same movie and make it not blow, twice, had found a secret formula to making their key franchises winners again. Bring together a talented group of writers, directors and actors together, give them the leeway to be creative and you’ll get a result that you can be proud of and still makes money. It worked for Apes, it worked for X-Men: First Class, and it looks like it’s going to work for Prometheus. Now if they can do something cool with Fantastic Four…