2011 Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
5Jan/200

Forever connected: a comprehensive list of the best and worst films of the decade

I am not a fan of lists, and when I decided to do a list covering the best and worst films of the last decade it became clear that I needed to do the whole thing or none at all.

With that in mind, here it is, a comprehensive list of the best and worst films of the decade. This list covers 2010 to 2019 and, starting from the top, goes from the best on down. Each section is broken up with an image of reviews that reflect my best as a writer or a film that has earned special consideration of some kind.

The exception are my picks for the two best films of the decade, tied at #1, and a brief explanation about why they are at the top. After that, I hope that you'll join me through this decade of writing and growth. I've had stumbles, to say nothing of trying to figure out my voice, and haven't been able to review much recently. But I'm hoping to change and get back on my feet again starting with this overview of the last decade in film.

Let's begin at the top.

Our always-connected age means that we are more directly in contact with one another's feelings than ever before. It's overwhelming. One minute you could be happily watching a puppy play in snow then scroll down to find live camera footage of someone being killed. Scroll further and you'll see someone trying to sell you hair grooming products then further down a friend talking about the crippling pain they live with. It's overwhelming trying to figure out what to do with yourself amidst this never ending deluge of feeling. Good, bad, elated, traumatic - if you want to live in this world there's no way of turning it off anymore.

The best two films of the decade both confront what it's like to live in our always-connected age but take vastly different approaches. Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz's Upstream Color approaches our connection with experimentation and uncertainty. Zack and Deborah Snyder's Man of Steel mythologizes the open nerve of connection with grandeur and spirituality. Upstream Color is the angrier of the two, seeing those that would profit on our pain as aloof emotional vampires. Man of Steel is the more hopeful, watching the savior we don't deserve experience the worst of humanity while still finding the strength to go on by our ability to sacrifice for one another.

It feels impossible to discuss these two films in some kind of neutral state. In Upstream Color's case, the film has so few that have seen it and those that have struggle to find the words for the pain it so directly confronts. For Man of Steel, passions between what it did or didn't do to the legacy of Superman have become so embedded in neverending cultural and political warfare. Neither benefits from languishing in relative obscurity or being the cultural battleground for online liberals and conservatives alike.

Both have exquisite music that highlight our connection while confounding it. Upstream Color's melodies shying away from catharsis as one of Carruth's messy tracks bleeds into the next. Man of Steel never shies away from hope, finding the note to soar even in the most militant-sounding of Hans Zimmerman's compositions. One might seem sonic years away from the other, but in each I hear the same yearning to be felt and touched. To be reminded that what we feel is not what makes us alone.

The images match their conclusions. In Upstream Color, two people huddled in fear that don't understand their connection grow to accept the mystery, and one another, while they reach beyond species to comfort all living things. In Man of Steel, the scared boy who doesn't understand why his sacrifice frightens others grows to draw strength from that sacrifice as he inspires the best in his fellow humans. We are always connected and, many times, we are scared. But there is hope at the end of that painful connection.

Let their examples guide us. Do not accept the vultures that seek to profit off of your misery. Do not accept those in power who would deny the possibility of a messiah because they weren't born in your homeland. Accept that we are all that we are and, even if it doesn't feel like it, we have the capability of inspiring the best of one another in our darkest moments.

The Best

Great

Good

Zone of Indifference

Bad

Wretched

15Sep/160

Changing Reels Episode 1 – Better Luck Tomorrow

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Hello all!  I know things have been quiet recently, but the great results myself and Courtney had with our Denis Villeneuve series has led to a new podcast.  We've partnered with Modern Superior for our new bi-weekly show Changing Reels.

With Changing Reels, we hope to create a new cinematic canon focusing on diversity in front of and behind the camera.  Along with a feature-film, we'll be selecting two short films to discuss at the beginning of each episode.  Our first episode focuses on Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow, Patrick Ng's Real Talk, and Michi Que Doan's Evidence.

Show Notes:

  • 0:55 – Real Talk by Patrick Ng
  • 8:09 – Evidence by Michi Que Doan
  • 17:28 – Better Luck Tomorrow by Justin Lin.

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2Jul/150

Octodad (2011) and Octodad: Dadliest Catch (2014)

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Earlier video game writing was under the banner Why Video Games, now Pixels In Praxis.  For a FAQ on Pixels In Praxis and explanation of spoiler policy, click here.

OctodrewSeth, I have to say, I'm disappointed in you this week.  After our video game analysis started off so well with a good initial chat and great examination of Myst last week, I thought we were going to be in for something special.  After all, how do you follow walking around a mysterious island and interacting with unusual machinery?  Well, you don't do it by making me play a video game starring a perfectly normal father.  I mean, I was pumping water through a dilapidated ship last week, and this week I'm picking up groceries?  What's next, selling lemonade?

I kid, of course, but at the heart of any good joke lies a great deal of truth and the truth is I'm delighted that you wanted to talk about Octodad in both student game and retail release formats this week.  Delighted because it's one of the few examples of its suddenly overpopulated and mostly rubbish genre, of which I don't have a specific name so I'll go with "how the hell do I control this?"  Also delighted because it'll allow us to discuss something we didn't really get to talk about too much last week, that being how to engage the player through character and control.  Finally delighted because it has quite easily the best theme song of any video game released in the last five years (and was an initial pick for my fiancée and I's "coming out" music for the reception).

But, perhaps most importantly, we'll be able to see an evolution.  Because I played through Octodad: Dadliest Catch only a few months ago and had it fresh in my mind, but the student game was new to me.  It astonished me how much a simple change in design philosophy made the experience so much better.  In the student game Octodad, you are an octopus who happens to be a father, but in Dadliest Catch you're a father who happens to be an octopus.  A slight turn of expression did a world of good, and I'm curious if that was part of your plan in suggesting the two together, or if there was some other devious reasoning afoot?

OctosethYes, indeed. I see the two Octodad games as parts of an interesting statement. The student game seems to be a shot in the dark. An experiment. They Young Horses team took wobbly, nigh-unpredictable controls to a certain extreme, and went to work making a character so charming we didn't mind. I don't know how they decided on an octopus. But the interesting point is not the species of animal they selected. It's that they prescribed a series of goals to that octopus which weren't meant for it. There have been lots of games about animals doing human-like things. But they tend to be fully anthropomorphized and skilled (See: Ratchet of the Ratchet & Clank series and many others). In other words, the standard animal fantasy is to imagine that animal as having a level of sophistication similar to humans and run with it. This is not so with Octodad. This octopus is just an octopus. Yes, he wears a suit and has learned and accepted certain trends of human life. But we get to share in a wide-eyed bewilderment with this creature as we discover what it's like to explore and manipulate a world that was not meant for him.

The tasks had to be simple enough that the game was about experimentation. Those wobbly tentacles are the center of this game, and the glue that binds them to the world design is the Suspicion Meter, which is based upon consequences of physics rather than direct input. It's the things that we are doing unintentionally that alter our metered success in this role. Without that touch, it might have been a curious physics toy and not a fully-realized game.

It's interesting that we are given unmatched inputs and outputs, as it were. This is not a game about being an octopus. This is not a game about being a human or accomplishing tasks that humans value. It's a game about an octopus trying to be human. That's the subject, anyway. Weird place to be. Putting aside the specifics of the controls, or the setting (the fatherhood narrative), what do you think this says about the core fantasy of Octodad?

21Nov/120

Not Another Not Another Movie (2011)

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Watching and then sitting down to write about Not Another Not Another Movie has proven to be a microcosm of relaying a positive or negative review relative to how long ago the movie finished.  The first time I watched The Big Lebowski I hated it and two years passed before I gave it another chance.  In the case of NANAM (which, itself, is a fun acronym) if you caught me within the first ten minutes I would have said it was one of the surprise comedies of the year.  Alas, as the song goes, time keeps on slipping...slipping...slipping...

It's now been forty five minutes since the credits stopped and I'm struggling to remember what I liked so much.  The opening scenes of Hollywood big-shots forced to do z-grade motion pictures were amusing, especially given my admiration for their pluck.  But this is a prime example of how a premise cannot sustain a film.  The mockumentary of NANAM that becomes the film I watched would have worked as a splendid twenty minute short film, but stretched to an hour and a half is just too much.

There's another part of me that wants to scream, "So what?"  So what if the quality of NANAM degraded very fast, it was one of the only films this year that gave me a belly laugh.  This is the year of Kevin James as a street-fighter, what's a little harm in laughing at movie stars as they gradually fall into the abyss?  "Not much," replies NANAM, "as long as you don't want anything else."

7Nov/120

Arthur Christmas (2011)

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Arthur Christmas is nearly a  year old, and not a film I have been looking forward to seeing.  Despite its pedigree through Aardman Animations (they of Wallace and Gromit and this year's Pirates!) I was let down by their last effort, the surprisingly lackluster Flushed Away.  Then there was the matter of that advertising making every inch of the film look like prepackaged bland cheer.  There's not anything wrong with a bit of cheer, but after so many "We have to save Christmas!" expressions in a three minutes span it's hard not to feel a bit wary.

This is one of those moments I'm happy to be wrong, and for exactly the reasons I should have anticipated.  All of Aardman Animations films, even the ones that have left me a bit cold, are firm believers in the old Rocky and Bullwinkle principle of animated entertainment.  You have to hook the kids with the flashy animation, and then keep the adults happy with humor that will look silly to the kids but sly to the adults.

I'm happy to report Arthur Christmas accomplishes this in spades and is probably the darkest movie about Santa Claus ever made.  It's not "Santa is surprisingly racist and literally fighting the devil" dark, but the reality isn't that far off.  The world of Arthur Christmas has kamikaze elves and a Grand-Santa (a superb Bill Nighy) who I suspect was not a fan of the suffragette movement.   It's a strange Christmas film.