Dread Central's Best and Worst of 2011
In 2011 I was fortunate enough to see a lot more good films than bad so while the second half (the Bottom 5) of my list of the best/worst movies of the year was a piece of cake to compile, it was much more of a struggle to come up with the first half (the Top 5). In addition, I've been accused in the past of including too many "fringe" films (i.e., not pure horror) so this time I'm leaving off a trio of my favorites since they could easily be categorized as more sci-fi than horror, but you can find them as the first three listed among my honorable mentions.
Topping my Best of 2011 compilation is Absentia, which I saw very early in the year but still managed to stay in the forefront of my mind as the months wore on. It's a perfect example of a filmmaker doing a lot with very little. That is, if you consider an intelligent script, completely natural actors, and a director (Mike Flanagan) who gets that we don't need absolutely everything explained in minute detail to be "very little". For me it was enough for Absentia to be my No. 1 film of the year. It's accompanied by the following (in no particular order):
Stake Land - As a fan of vampire films, I was ecstatic to see director Jim Mickle and his co-writer Nick Damici (who also stars as the mysterious vampire slayer simply named “Mister”) put some bite back into the sub-genre. This isn't the first offering from Glass Eye Pix to land on one of my year-end lists (see 2009's I Sell the Dead), and I'm sure it won't be the last.
Attack the Block - Without even seeing my fellow Dread-heads' lists, I'm pretty sure this film will land on more than a few of them so I won't bother going into a lot of detail about why I selected it other than to quote Drew's five-knife SXSW review from back in March: "A fantasy-adventure that hearkens back to Eighties monster movies…Attack the Block transcends the genre it's referencing, becoming a truly fresh and exhilarating marvel rather than just an homage to what came before."
Sint (aka Saint) - A pair of holiday-themed horror flicks came out in 2011: Rare Exports, which garnered the lion's share of attention, and my favorite of the two, Sint from the Netherlands, which flew in a bit more under the radar. I'm not usually a huge fan of slashers, but this one is so fresh and unique that it totally won me over. The Black Petes alone are worth the price of admission. If you're looking for a new Christmastime classic, this is it as far as I'm concerned.
A Lonely Place to Die - You want intense? How about nail-bitingly suspenseful? This movie is all that and more. It's actually the first film I've watched in years that I had to pause in the middle to go outside and get some air. Melissa George really shines in A Lonely Place to Die, and as Gareth wrote in his review, the on-screen violence is "harsh, impactful, and shocking…a thoroughly gripping, expertly crafted, and visually sumptuous mix of white-knuckle tension and adrenaline-pumping action." One of the biggest surprises of the year.
Honorable Mentions: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Contagion, Super 8, Paranormal Activity 3, The Road, Insidious, The Caller
Memorable Performances: Since I always have to bend the rules a little when it comes to these best/worst lists, I wanted to be sure to include a couple of shout-outs to those actors and actresses who gave the most memorable performances of the year, even if the projects in which they appear aren't listed elsewhere.
In movies we had Gretchen Lodge from Lovely Molly, who thrilled me like no one else in 2011 with her raw, brave portrayal of the title character as she terrifyingly descends into madness. Or is there more to it? Seek out this film and find out for yourselves! There's also Brian Austin Green from ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2, who chilled me to the bone as ChromeSkull's facilitator turned nemesis Preston. We already knew from "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" how much BAG has matured from his "90210" days, but ChromeSkull really sealed the deal.
On TV we had Mos Def, the one shining light in what turned out to be an uneven (yes, I'm being kind) season of "Dexter" - they never should have killed him off! But the one performer who stands heads and shoulders above them all is Jessica Lange as saucy Southern belle Constance in "American Horror Story". The accolades have been pouring in for her all year, and I must once again add mine. Jessica, start writing your SAG, Golden Globe, Emmy, etc., acceptance speeches! Note to the powers-that-be at FX: Do whatever you can to keep her on the show for at least one more season please.
Now we turn to the Bottom 5. In all honesty, a few of these films were such stinkers that as soon as I finished watching them, I promptly did my best to forget they existed so my comments regarding each will be minimal.
The worst of the worst has to be Creature. I really hate to add to the disdain my cohorts here at Dread Central have been piling on this flick, but there's simply no other option but to do so. Fred M. Andrews, your heart was obviously in the right place, but it takes a lot more than heart to make a good film. Try to include some of those other ingredients the next time.
Kill Katie Malone - If listing Dean Cain as the "star" of your film when he's in it for probably a total of five minutes is the best you can do to market it, then maybe you should find another line of work. On top of that, Kill Katie Malone was dull, silly, and mostly senseless. Steer clear.
Red Riding Hood - Oh, what a letdown this one was! With the likes of Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Julie Christie, and Virginia Madsen being directed by Catherine Hardwicke, I had hopes of Red Riding Hood transcending its "teen fantasy movie" tag and delivering a product worthy of its big-name roster. Obviously, since I'm putting the film in this position, my hopes were dashed.
Psych: 9 - Here's another instance of the bad outweighing the good. A decent premise that starts out okay turns muddled and melodramatic with some over-the-top performances that pull out every cliché in the book. As Uncle Creepy said in his review, " It's all been done before and done much better."
Ghost from the Machine - Another film I had high hopes for given its premise (bringing dead loved ones back to life), but it was so sloooooooow and booooooooring. It might have made for an interesting short film, but trying to stretch it out to feature length just didn't work.
Dishonorable Mentions: The Rite, Hellraiser: Revelations, The Howling: Reborn, The Sacred, Super Hybrid
Biggest Disappointment: Sucker Punch might not technically be a horror film, but it got quite a bit of coverage here on the site by virtue of being directed by genre darling Zack Snyder and including several of our favorite actors/actresses. I'm not one to get offended by anything, but man, is Sucker Punch offensive in just about every way. I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, but as it wore on … and on … and on, I could feel my anger rising … and rising … and rising. The people I was watching it with wanted to leave, but oh no, not me! I had to stay for every single sordid moment of this abomination. Was this really Snyder's "vision"? If so, I felt duped and dismayed. Certainly everyone is entitled to a misstep or two along the way in their careers, but it's going to take some time for him to work his way back into this Woman's good graces.