Monday, January 2, 2012

Ten Best in 2011

As the New Year begins, A Wasted Life wants to once again look back upon all those films, good and bad, that we watched in 2011. We didn't even review a lot of the movies we saw – anything seen in a theater, for example, was not covered, nor were most "found footage" films, or anything caught accidentally on TV and butchered by commercial breaks – but of the forgotten total number feature-length films we wasted our lives watching, more or less a meager 44 were deemed worth either praising or damning on these digital pages. (To the 44 films came an additional 33 entries: the 12 short films of the month, the 21 R.I.P. features and the Best Film in 2010 article.) Some of the movies were really good, some were OK, some were truly crappy and some bowled us over so much that we had trouble controlling our bladder.
As any regular reader of A Wasted Life – there actually seems to be a few, unbelievably enough – knows, what counts to us is not the excellence of the film, per say, but the reaction it got from us. To quote the 2010 entry: "The choice here is also not necessarily based on the quality of the film, but rather how it affected the viewer. Did it leave A Wasted Life open-mouthed in shock? Was it fun to watch? Did it truly entertain?" To that, while the year the given film is from is immaterial to us, what is of importance is that we saw it the first time in 2010: to make our list, the film had to be a new discovery, not a re-watch of something we had seen before. Thus, for example, neither Red Rock West (USA, 1992) nor Soylent Green (USA, 1973) made the list, although they were both definitely highlights of the past year; likewise, the wonderfully trashy Zombie Holocaust (Italy, 1980) also didn't make the cut – perhaps we thought we were seeing something new and unknown when we popped it into the DVD player, but it proved to be a fabulous blast from the past, and thus cannot be included no matter how much we enjoyed it.
Furthermore, none of the monthly short films are eligible, even though the February 2011 Short Film of the Month, The Hangman, from 1964, truly deserves to be on someone's Best Films list.
Our initial list, after the disqualifications above, numbered eleven films that we deemed worthy of special mention, one too many for a Top Ten. After much hemming and hawing, we decided to cut the kimchi western The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Korea, 2008) from the list. Yes, it is a truly great film and well worth watching, but we can't help but find that the filmmakers lacked the balls to give the film the truly shocking, nihilistic ending it so needed, and thus it failed to make our list. Likewise, The Good, the Bad, the Weird was the most expensive film to have been made in Korea up till then, so it had the money to be good – although, as Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich both amply evidence, big budgets don't necessarily mean good films. Still, we decided to allow budget to influence our decision this year.
As always, the films are NOT presented in any order of preference. The titles are all linked to the original reviews presented on A Wasted Life. Read and enjoy – or better: go watch the films yourself.

Nightmare City
(Italy, 1980, dir. Umberto Lenzi)
AKA: City of the Walking Dead. The zombie attack on the disco dancers alone made this film a shoo-in on our list. Starring one of the all-time most wooden actors in the world, the Mexican exploitation-film king Hugo Stiglitz, Nightmare City is an ecologically-minded trash classic that is a lot more fun than it is good. As one of the first "zombie" films to feature high-speed flesheaters, it delivers the goods in gore, bad acting, non-sensical plot development, and bad dubbing. One of the few films that ever saw us cheering when the lead female actress died, the true ending should break the film – as the trick has so many other films – but oddly enough, it really seems to fit this enjoyable piece of classic Italo-trash.

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
(USA, 2010, dir. Eli Craig)
Can someone explain to me how this baby has managed to slip through the cracks like it has? Yeah, sure: You've heard of it – like everyone has. So why haven't you seen it yet? This intelligent twist on the killer-hillbilly dead-teenager film is a blast – high on blood, heavy on laughs and, for the gals, it even has true love and a happy ending. (OK, no nekkid flesh, but this a film from 21st century USA, so do you really expect any?)

(USA, 2007, dir. Robert Rodriguez)
It seems almost ironic that the original Grindhouse double-feature project as instigated by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez ended up with Tarantino making his to-date worst film and Rodriguez making one of his best. As an imitation of the real thing, this faux-Grindhouse film has almost all the right ingredients – only the lack of that essential Grindhouse ingredient, nekkid boobies, keeps it from achieving perfection. But it nevertheless comes close enough to the classic experience to almost make you literally smell the rancid air and feel the sticky seats of the best skid-row theaters of yesterday. Planet Terror kicks ass! Its sly visual reference to Thundercrack! (1975) is only one of many highlights in a film that overflows in tactless gore and goo and intelligent stupidity.

(Italy/USA, 1964, dir. Sidney Salkow & Ubaldo B. Ragona)

The plot, as supplied on Internet Archives: "This classic features Vincent Price as scientist Robert Morgan in a post apocalyptic nightmare world. The world has been consumed by a ravenous plague that has transformed humanity into a race of bloodthirsty vampires. Only Morgan proves immune, and becomes the solitary vampire slayer." We had read about this film for years before we finally got around to watching it. We're a big fan of both the original novel the movie is based on, Richard Matherson's I Am Legend, and the 1971 Charlton Heston take on the tale, The Omega Man (trailer), but it took the abysmal Will Smith film of I Am Legend (2007 / trailer) to make us finally check out the low-budget, Italo-American Vincent Price version that legendarily inspired Night of the Living Dead (1968 / trailer / full film). Of all the film versions we've seen, as uneven as The Last Man on Earth is, it is also the best. Without a doubt a classic of modern horror films, it is well worth watching.
Full film:

(Spain, 2007, dir. Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza)
We here at A Wasted Life are not a fan of the horror films by the Spanish filmmaker Jaume Balagueró; in fact, up until [REC], we hadn't liked a single film he had made. Despite the obvious dues [REC] pays – like hundreds of other films – to the found-footage technique of Blair Witch Project (1999 / trailer), the film is nevertheless well made, well paced, scary as hell, horrific, and well anchored by an extremely likable heroine. We weren't just surprised when we saw this flick, we were literally bowled over – not only had Balagueró finally made a good film, but unlike his others, [REC] lived up to its word of mouth. Still, we almost dropped this film in favor of The Good, the Bad, the Weird, even though the two films have nothing in common. You see, two years after making [REC], Balagueró & Plaza regurgitated the first sequel to the film, [REC]2, a film we so hated that we wanted to slight [REC] out of simple spite. But in the end, we decided to be fair: ignoring the fact that Balagueró & Plaza have created another unneeded, dead-horse-flogging franchise from what was a truly good film, [REC] is simply far more consistent in its vision than The Good, the Bad, the Weird, and thus definitely deserves it place on our list, where we now put it with gritted teeth.

(UK/Denmark, 2009, dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
Once again, a film featuring actor Mads Mikkelsen makes our list – the decidedly odd, religiously-minded Danish head-trip Adam's Apples (2005 / trailer) made our Ten Best Films in 2009 list. As we say in our review of the movie, "Valhalla Rising is genetically enhanced crossbreed of sativa and indica." A wildly arty and violent film, Valhalla Rising is a love it or hate it film – and we thought in came close to being newly waxed poontang.

(USA, 2008, dir. Gregg Bishop)
This film definitely has its cuteness factor: real teens playing in a zom-com about teens vs zombies. Well-made with a young and game cast, the dialog is witty without being overdone, and the action is bloody and violent without ever being mean-spirited. Good for the nights that you know you want a funny film that doesn't insult your intelligence and doesn't overstay its welcome. Dance of the Dead is one you can watch with the whole family...

(USA, 1985, dir. John Carr, Phillip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Jay Schlossberg-Cohen & Gregg C. Tallas)
This is a film that has to be seen to be believed. Night Train to Terror is without a doubt one of the worst films ever made in the world – or rather, worst films ever culled together, as this "anthology film" was sewn together from four other films in various states of completion: Cataclysm (1980 / full film), Death Wish Club (1983) and Scream Your Head Off – the last, unfinished, was eventually molded into Marilyn Alive and Behind Bars (1992). But, as sometimes happens when a film really goes so utterly, terribly wrong, something unexplainable "right" occurs, and the monstrosity suddenly becomes something surreally entertaining. We love this film – it's the perfect film to show, for example, as a double-feature with Slugs (1988 / trailer), a film that made our Ten Best Films in 2010 list.

Trailer provided by Video Detective

(USA, 2007, dir. Toby Wilkins)
How much you'll like this film will probably depend on how much you like Jack Arnold films and the like. Splinter is a truly nostalgic experience, but in contemporary clothing. It might not offer anything new, but that's not the real point: it shows a love and understanding of the classic monster films of the 50s that once dominated the afternoon Creature Feature shows of local TV stations, paying loving respect to the source while adding enough of the new to not simply be a rehash. We liked it a lot... the perfect double feature with the first Tremors (1990 / trailer) movie.

(USA, 2009, dir. Michael Dougherty)
Trick 'r Treat is another one of those films that can only lead you to the conclusion that studio heads are fucking retards. Like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil above, this baby has been unjustly mishandled by the ones in charge and illogically treated like a first wife that you just don't want to deal with – possibly because she is both better looking, more intelligent and sexier than your present one. This film is scary, is funny, is well shot and well acted and well edited – in other words, it is simply a really good film. Yeah, once again: You've heard of it – like everyone has. So why haven't you seen it yet? Make it your yearly Halloween tradition, it deserves to be!


Kev D. said...

Great list. Nightmare City, Last Man on Earth, REC and Dance of the Dead???!?!

That's a good year.

Abraham said...

I'd say so, as well – tho I did have to wade thru some crap, too... how was your year of films?

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