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The 4th Annual Munchie Awards; or 2011 in Review - Part 1

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The Oscar-bait has been released, the Liam-Neeson-As-Badass/Nicholas-Cage-Has-No-Shame movies are coming out and my salary is being direct deposited into Landmark Theaters' coffers - that must make it January, time for...The 4th Annual Munchie Awards!!!! I like to write a couple blogs each year alternately celebrating and eviscerating the year's offerings. All told, I saw 89 releases from 2011 (JEEZ!) and this year had plenty to celebrate and plenty that left me very, very cold. So without further ado:

I'm typically open with Best Picture, but I'm going to briefly postpone that and give attention to the documentaries of the year, which I think were overall better than the feature films and simply never get the attention nor a wide enough release. There were a lot of very innovative and truly entertaining docs that deserve a look. My six favorite:

The Arbor
Bill Cunningham New York
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
The Interrupters
Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times
Tabloid

All wonderful. The Arbor, specifically, is an aesthetic achievement. It's an odd duck of a film. It consists of recorded interviews with relatives of British playwright, Andrea Dunbar, who lived a truly tragic life. The interviews are actually lip-synced by actors portraying the interviewees. It's unlike anything I've seen before. Engrossing, unsettling and really quite beautiful. But this Munchie was always going to go to The Interrupters. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams), it tells the story of ex-cons on the streets of Chicago who put themselves in harm way by counseling potentially violent youth on nonviolent resolutions to problems, even to the point of entering volatile situations and talking people down. Documentaries are made or broken by the "characters" and this one has one of the most magnetic, powerful ones I've seen - an interrupter named Ameena Matthews. She is simply a force of nature. If this were fiction, you wouldn't believe her. It's a complex, powerful film.

Top 15 feature films of 2011

15. Submarine
14. The Artist
13. Winnie the Pooh
12. Warrior
11. The Help
10. The Ides of March
9. Contagion
8. Take Shelter
7. 50/50
6. Margin Call
5. Weekend
4. Hugo
3. The Tree of Life
2. Drive
1......Up until about 2 months ago, I thought 2011 was actually a pretty bad year for film. I knew there would be some December releases that would make it, but I wasn't excited about many of them and overall I thought it was an underwhelming year. Nothing much jumped out at me as memorable or iconic. But then I sought out some lower profile films that turned out to be fantastic (Margin Call was a surprise, Take Shelter is amazing work from a first time director and Weekend, is one of the greatest LGBT-themed films I've ever seen, like a gay Before Sunrise). And then I rewatched a few films that impressed me artistically but kinda baffled me, specifically Drive and The Tree of Life, which I was delighted to discover on 2nd viewing are masterpieces. But only last week was I able to catch up with The Descendants, a film I adored. Not as ambitious as my #2-4, but a charming, emotional, character-driven film with outstanding performances. Basically, the type of film I've come to expect from writer-director Alexander Payne. It was the most complete film I saw this year. Emotional but not sentimental, Funny but not slapsticky or overly raunchy. I fell in love with it.

Some honorable mentions: I also greatly enjoyed The Guard, Bridesmaids, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Young Adult, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Everything Must Go and Trust

Best Actor
George Clooney in The Descendants
Jean Dujardin in The Artist
Michael Fassbender in Shame
Brendan Gleeson in The Guard
Ryan Gosling in Drive
Michael Shannon in Take Shelter

This is maybe the strongest crop of performances in Munchie history and very diverse. In fact, Gosling and Dujardin give pretty much the exact opposite performance. The Munchie goes to Michael Shannon. Shannon is a tremendous character actor, previously nominated in the inaugural Munchies for Revolutionary Road. In Take Shelter, he plays a man who begins having apocalyptic visions that may signal the onset of schizophrenia or maybe not. His behavior begins to wreak havoc on his family, his community and his own life. Shannon has to hit many different notes in this film. He's a man losing his mind quietly, in bits and pieces, but he also has maybe the most exhilarating and frightening scene in a film this year, when all of the tension finally boils over. He is outstanding through ALL of it.

Best Actress
Juliette Binoche in Certified Copy
Viola Davis in The Help
Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin
Charlize Theron in Young Adult
Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn
Yun Jung-Hee in Poetry

Basically Tilda Swinton gets nominated every year for one award or another. She's amazing in everything she does and she came kinda close to being the first two-time Best Actress Munchie winner. The real internal struggle for me, however, was between Viola Davis (another previous Munchie winner) and the surprising winner, Charlize Theron. Mentally compiling the list, she was an also-ran. But hers was the performance I remember most fondly. She plays a vile, outrageously contemptible young adult writer who goes back to her small hometown in an effort to win back her high school sweetheart, now happily married with children. I cannot overstate what a disgusting, awful woman she is...and you feel for her. It's really an astonishing achievement from Theron to make us care for this person. Her self-destructiveness is made sympathetic and her vitriol becomes understandable. I cheered for her despite her being objectively reprehensible. Most actresses could not have pulled this off.

Best Supporting Actor
Albert Brooks in Drive
Jeremy Irons in Margin Call
Nick Nolte in Warrior
Patton Oswalt in Young Adult
Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life
Christopher Plummer in Beginners

Six phenomenal performances by 6 heavyweights. Jeremy Irons is actually barely in Margin Call but in his 4 or so scenes, he is so sinister, so cold and ruthless, it really affected me (I'm obviously attracted to the wrong kind of character). And I wanted to give it to Albert Brooks, who also has a few wonderful scenes as a very sinister gangster who is oddly sympathetic. But I was most impressed by the outstanding performance of Christopher Plummer. There was something so infectious and charming about him - his eagerness to try new things and make up for lost time (he's a gay man, who only comes out at age 70), his fearlessness and humor. You want to root for him - cheer for him really.

Best Supporting Actress
Bérénice Bejo in The Artist
Jessica Chastain in Take Shelter
Jessica Chastain in The Tree of Life
Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer in The Help
Shailene Woodley in The Descendants

Believe it or not, I also considered Jessica Chastain in The Debt and Jessica Chastain in The Help. Who is this woman, why is she so amazing and why was she in 80 films last year? This was an incredibly difficult pick to make. I adored all of these performances. Janet McTeer suffers from being the shining light in a truly terrible film. Bejo is truly delightful in a film I was a bit disappointed by. Likewise, the winner benefits from appearing in a film I flipped for - The Descendants' Shailene Woodley. She plays George Clooney's irresponsible teenage daughter and I had great fear that she was going to play a stereotypical rebellious daughter, angry at the world. And thats how the character begins, but she grows and matures as the film progresses and becomes a really fun, complex, delightfully foul-mouthed, surprising young woman as the film progresses. I'd actually never heard of Woodley before this movie, but she's one to watch.

The 'Alfred Hitchcock Memorial' Best Director Munchie
Michael Hazanavicius - The Artist
Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life
Nicholas Wending Refn - Drive
Alexander Payne - The Descendants
Martin Scorcese - Hugo
Lars von Trier - Melancholia

Melancholia is not a film I enjoyed but I can't lie - I was really impressed by the artistic vision of it. In its way, it's no less ambitious than The Tree of Life, but significantly less watchable (and that's sayin' something). The first and last 10 minutes of Melancholia are astonishingly beautiful, though. These are all masters of the craft. Every one of them. Scorcese managed to make a watchable 3D film, Hazanavicius made a wonderfully entertaining silent, black and white film in 2011 and Terrence Malick successfully made a film about life, the universe and EVERYTHING. However, this award usually goes to director whose film excited and exhilarated me in most profound and unexpected ways, so the Munchie goes to Nicholas Wending Refn for Drive. This is a dreamy, surreal, unpredictable film - stylish, outrageous, slick. It's just so...cool. It's an audacious piece of filmmaking, full of adrenaline. I can barely imagine the fever dream that spawned it but I think it's the film that 2011 will be remembered for. It's all guts and imagination.

That's the good. But 2011 was full of disappointments and downright disasters, as well. And The Transformers finale wasn't even the worst of them. Stay tuned, the Munchies' evil twin brother, The Doobies will be coming soon.

I should add the films I wasn't able to see that may have had an impact on these prestigious awards: The Iron Lady, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, A Separation, Senna, Into the Abyss, Higher Ground, The Muppets and War Horse. Mea culpa.

Thanks for reading! And once again, please comment. I live for film discussion!

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Updated 02-23-2012 at 10:45 AM by munchin

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Comments

  1. aedra1119's Avatar
    I always look forward to this, munchin! The Descendents was definitely the movie I was most pleasantly surprised about from last year. The teenage daughter's boyfriend annoyed me for most of the movie, but I understood the need for some comic relief. What a heavy movie. It really made me think after it was over which is rare these days with movies. I know all the talk is going to the older daughter, but I really connected with the younger daughter a lot more. I thought she did an excellent job as well.

    Was Young Adult really that good? I must admit it looked awful to me in the previews.
  2. munchin's Avatar
    Young Adult, as a movie, had a few problems. Parts of it didn't really ring true, but it succeeds on the backs of its cast, the wonderfully brutal screenplay (Diablo Cody strikes again) and the characters. Theron and Patton Oswalt are especially great.

    The younger daughter in The Descendants was good, but I have a thing about precocious children. They don't do much for me. I saw a string of 70s movies a couple years back that ALL had children like that and I just grew cold towards them as an entire character-type :\
  3. Moose's Avatar
    I have been through a streak the past few weeks - saw three movies in a row that featured outstanding female lead performances in otherwise (what I believed to be) dismissable movies. Michelle Williams in "My Weekend With Marilyn" (what a shame Williams wasted her Marilyn movie on such a second rate film), Theron in "Young Adult" (she was great, Patton Oswalt was good, and the movie was boring - it was such a great premise that never hit its mark, I felt), and then Meryl in "Iron Lady". I want to find an all-male film just to break the streak.
  4. munchin's Avatar
    Go see Weekend, Moose. Do you have Netflix? It's already out on Instant. There's nothing but men...and a little bit of the accompanying man-parts.
  5. shtexas's Avatar
    Yay for choosing Shailene Woodley! Sorry the Academy ignored her. There are a lot posters on IMDB who HATE her. It has something to do with whatever show she's in on ABC Family network. But for me, she was new, and she was terrific.
  6. mmmm8's Avatar
    I liked Submarine a lot, but, at times, I thought it tried too hard to fit into the quirkiness mold. I guess I knew what to expect from it and was a little disappointed when I got it.

    I need to catch up on A LOT of films.
  7. munchin's Avatar
    Yeah, the super-quirky thing got a little tiresome in the middle. But I think it was made by a first-time director, which I found pretty impressive for the self-assuredness he approached it with.
  8. munchin's Avatar
    And all that said, Submarine is bumped out of the top 15 by A Separation, which I'd probably put at...#7