Rounding off this year is a tricky proposition. How to wax lyrical about the year’s best genre films after the buzz has died down and said films have already been assimilated or dismissed from the pop culture juggernaught. Instead this week, here are five films of 2011 that might have passed you by, but with the holidays looming - and some extra time on your hands - are worthy of your consideration.
The year got off to a cracking start with the release of masked crime fighter action comedy ‘The Green Hornet’, from director Michel Gondry and starring Seth Rogen. Despite intense scepticism surrounding the rather leftfield choice of director, more commonly known for thoughtful but visually inventive films such as ‘Be Kind Rewind’ (2008) and ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ (2004), Gondry’s willingness to experiment with the usual superhero tropes delivered a film that provided both thrilling action and enough neat twists to keep the viewer hooked. Seth Rogen too, while seemingly more at home in slacker comedies such as ‘Pineapple Express’ (2008), nevertheless brought a bemused fish out of water quality which contrasted nicely with the largely uber confident and muscle bound leading men of the summer superhero movies. Villan Christoph Waltz, sidekick Jay Chou, Cameron Diaz and fan favourite Edward J. Olmos bring wit and class to this fun alternative to the mainstream superhero genre.
Drive Angry is a film so wrong that it turns out thrillingly right in almost all respects. Released early this year, Drive Angry is a chase/revenge movie in the ‘Grindhouse’ tradition with a supernatural twist. The film stars Nicholas Cage as hard drinking, hard driving loner who has escaped from hell to save his granddaughter from the clutches of an evil religious cult. Teamed up with relative newcomer Amber Heard, Cage gives a straight up, adrenaline fuelled performance that recalls the heady days of ‘Con Air’ and ‘Face/Off’ (1997), almost redeeming a decade of risible offerings in between. The film's villain, the cunningly titled ‘Accountant’ provides a suave counterpoint to Cage’s down and dirty hero, and is played by possibly the greatest supporting actor you never remember, William Fitchner. Director Patrick Lussier deserves some kudos for fun use of 3D for the cinema release, but even without this extra dimension, drive angry is a reliably raucous fun.
With the ‘found footage’ style of filmmaking proving to be surprisingly tenacious, Apollo 18 went largely unnoticed in a year in which the genre's most celebrated offering was the third in the increasingly ponderous supernatural horror series 'Paranormal Activity'. The aptly titled Apollo 18 take the premise that there was a final manned moon mission, which for reasons of national security and horrendous failure, went unreported. The format is a natural fit for the American space program for several reasons. Not only were all such missions filmed with handheld cameras as a matter of course, but the claustrophobic conditions and familiar yet alien environment on the moon, provide the ideal setting for the films mix of suspense, conspiracy theories and body horror. When the hype and negative buzz surrounding the found footage genre has died down, expect Apollo 18 to remain as a highly regarded sci-fi thriller in its own right.
Riding high on the critical, if not commercial success of 2009's original sci-fi thriller 'Moon', director Duncan Jones found Hollywood calling with the offbeat yet slick 'Source Code'. Starring Jake Gyllenhall, Source Code is a science fiction thriller with a time travel twist, as Gyllenhall's war vet turned Government agent is sent back to the scene of a terrorist bombing time and again in a desperate search for clues. So far, so Groundhog Day. While Gyllenhall gradually earns the trust of both his superiors and the audience after a slightly grating first twenty minutes or so, Jones avoids repetition by injecting a great deal of thoughtful character moments to offset the brutal thrills. It is pleasing to see Jones developing a distinct directorial style, characterised just as much by emotional resonance as the obvious intelligence he brings to his work. Source Code requires concentration, but is ultimately the years most rewarding watch.
Finally, the Watcher would like to recommend a film whose status as a piece of genre filmmaking is questionable, but which will certainly appeal to fans of this type of filmmaking. This film is Hanna, essentially a brutal spy/chase thriller from director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice), with a cunning streak of fairytale weirdness. Raised by her father in an isolated cabin in the woods, 16 year old Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), has been raised as the perfect assassin following a traumatic event that has forced them into hiding. Forced out into the open, the pair must chase across europe to rendezvous in an abandoned Brothers Grimm themed amusement park (a real location). The action and thrills are as brutal and convincing as anything Bond or Bourne has to offer, and the supporting cast are chillingly portrayed as twisted fairytale archetypes by Cate Blanchet as the wicked stepmother and Eric Bana as the father/saviour. Taking in concepts such as eugenics, conspiracy theories and stealing a dash on this/next years hot topic of fairytale themes, Hanna is quite possibly this years finest thriller.
So, with only one month left of 2011, it will soon be time to look forward to next year's big releases, with a quick pit stop to consider the upcoming 'The Thing' remake.
Robert Barton-Ancliffe is wishing his December away.