My films of 2011
I saw a around 35 movies in 2011 so trying to think which was my favourite hasn’t been an entirely simple affair. It was the year of the sequel with the greatest number of sequels ever released in a calender year (28 if you were wondering). Out of my 35 I’ve worked out that at least 11 were a sequel, prequel or remake/reboot, which is a fair chunk. There were a number of good fresh films in there though as well as ones that are sure to spark sequels of their own; so what was my favourite? While I’d like to give honourable mentions to Hugo, Crazy Stupid Love, X-Men: First Class and Super 8, I’ve picked out two for the year that stood out the most for me. I should say they are not necessarily the best two films of 2011, but certainly the two I enjoyed the most :)
Attack the Block
The directorial début of Joe Cornish of Adam & Joe fame Attack the Block tells the story of an alien invasion on bonfire night in a South London council estate. Considering Mr Cornish used to send up classic Hollywood blockbusters using stuffed toys (with often hilarious consequences I might add) this is a wonderfully crafted and handled movie. With a new director and almost entirely new cast this always stood the danger of showing it’s inexperience but it never really falls into that trap.
The movie follows a typical street gang of hooded youths as they fight off an alien incursion on their block. We start by watching the boys rob a young overworked nurse on her way home unaware that not only does she live in the same block as them, but they will later be joining forces with her to defeat their extraterrestrial invaders. The film’s characters are well played by a young cast helmed by the excellent John Boyega as gang leader Moses. Their robbery is interrupted when something falls from the sky and the gang go to investigate. With Moses leading the charge they manage to kill the creature they find and take the corpse to a local drug dealer for advice.
Their is a naivety shown throughout that adds a real depth to the characters as Cornish treats them as human being and not just the “hoodies” they could have been. In some ways the film has much in common with 2006’s Alpha Dog which tells the story of the kidnapping and murder of a 15 year old boy. The murder was ordered by a 20 year old middle-class Californian drug dealer and carried out by his friends. The great tragedy in that film not only lies in the fact it’s a true story, but that the real life characters portrayed in the film are either in or barely out of child.young adulthood themselves. Attack the Block touches on similar areas throughout as these children who are living out adult lives are thrust into an extreme situation. We see them trying to deal with this in an adult way when really they’re partly exposed for the youths they are, caught out by a danger they never expected.
Classic genre devices are used throughout the film but dealt with in a very British and childlike way. After their initial victory we see the gang run out gun-ho to battle more aliens arming themselves with fireworks and BMXs and when things go wrong they look for refuge in a girls flat because they think the security gate over the door will keep them safe. It’s moments like this coupled with when Sam (our unfortunate nurse from earlier) discovers Moses is only 15 years old by finding his bedroom; complete with Spiderman duvet, that finds us rooting for characters who were first introduced to us as dangerous neighbourhood thieves.
Overall the rounded, realistic characters and setting we can identify with (be it from real life or the news) help to give the creature feature a real edge as we watch the boys defending their turf. Even with the localized slang and very London-esque threading you can easily get into Attack the Block as the film progresses and you’ll be hoping for victory for the boys as things play out. With the gritty alien menace nicely realised (whether by design or budget restraints) and some unexpected deaths you’ll be swept along by the films frantic last third. The ending, while a happy one overall, also manages to keep things realistic as when all is said and done the police only look to one place to lay the blame; those evil neighbourhood hoodies.
A part of human nature I can very easily identify with is the use of comedy to deal with tragedy. I’ve been in the situation where upon being told a family member has died I’ve had to leave the room to hide a smile. Not because I think it’s funny far from it, but because sometimes there are just things you don’t want to, or know how to, deal with; so you laugh. Examples are everywhere. Whether it’s jokes about planes flying into skyscrapers or hospital lights shining off a bald, newly chemo created head, we have evolved to deal with things using comedy. It’s in this way I found myself identifying strongly with Kyle (Seth Rogan) and his reaction to being told by his best friend Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that he has a cancer which he only has a 50/50 chance of living through. “If you were a casino game, you would have the best odds”.
While I spent my time identifying with Kyle, the excellent cast in 50/50 will have many identifying with others. Whether it’s Adam, the 27 year old whose life is completely derailed by his sudden diagnosis, young psychiatrist Katherine (Anna Kendrick) trying to find her footing in an extremely demanding profession or Dianne (Anjelica Houston), the mother dealing with a son who might die you’ll find amazing performances everywhere. Even the support cast which includes Adam’s girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and fellow cancer sufferers Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer) add depth and life in their smaller roles.
We’re introduced to Adam, a 27 year old who recycles and doesn’t smoke and whose life is just coming together. He’s got a job he likes and has just given his attractive girlfriend a drawer in his house. Adam visits the doctor after suffering back pain for a while and is told he has a rare form of cancer. Unable to understand how this could happen Adam begins to tell the people in his life of the news and deals with their responses. He tells his girlfriend who swears she’ll stand by him, his best friend who makes light of the situation and his mother who flies immediately off the handle and declares she’s moving in. While he tries his best to carry on everything in Adam’s life changes as the effects of the cancer begin to take their toll not just on him but also the people around him. Kyle wants to use it as a way to pick up chicks, Rachael begins to falter while looking after him and he shuts his mother out completely. The only person left for Adam to talk to is his hospital appointed psychiatrist Katherine. Unfortunately for Adam, Katie is actually a trainee and her innocent attempts to apply formulaic methods (calming music, touching his arm etc) only frustrates him more.
Once again like Alpha Dog, 50/50 has an added gravitas by being written from a semi-autobiographical perspective. Writer Will Reiser was diagnosed with cancer when he was 24 and Seth Rogan was his real life best friend helping him through it. The story doesn’t delve overly deep into the day-to-day effects of the disease and it’s treatments but shows us enough to keep things poignantly real. Obviously with Rogan being in the cast there is humour throughout and it feels here that he has really grown up. The flat out obscene humour he is known for, while still present, takes on a new dimension when attached to the context and you really get a sense he has lived through this role for real. As the film nears it’s end Adam himself develops a new appreciation for his friend when, having carried him home from a drunken night out he finds a book about supporting your friend through cancer in Kyle’s bathroom and begins to appreciate all he has actually done for him.
50/50 manages to avoid being an all out Hollywood style weepie where everything is laid on so thick it collapses under the weight of it’s own blatantness by keeping the comedy intertwined and it’s emotions honest and real. You’re never too far away from a joke but with the characters being portrayed so well the emotional connection is maintained. While Adam’s girlfriend Rachael is a little basic as a villain for the piece and his mother slightly over dramatic at times both are kept reigned in by their performances and never do you feel like they couldn’t be real life people. The excellent turns by Baker Hall and Frewer as Adam’s cancer patient friends are hilarious and they’re injected with enough life that when one of them inevitably dies it’s subtly heartbreaking and you fully appreciate its affect on Adam.
By keeping itself emotionally in check and letting the comedy grow to become touching 50/50 manages to walk that line between real and fiction admirably. It’s funny while taking it’s subject matter seriously and resonates without being overly sugary. I can only hope that if I were to ever find myself in Adam’s place, I’ll have a friend who likes my odds that much and I’ll work through it with the same level of character.
See you tomorrow,