Monday, January 2, 2012

The Best Genre Films of 2011

Genre films are smart films; even when they contain slang spewing kids slicing aliens with samurai swords or hillbilly’s dragging half eaten bodies past police, answering ‘nothing’ when asked if anything is wrong. They are smart because they add up the collective film knowledge of an audience, mix it in a blender and create an entirely new experience out of it. Genre films build on their own history, creating sub-genres from genres and micro-genres from sub-genres. What you get is a “sci fi/horror/child in danger/women in prison/monster on the loose/nature run amok/meditation on a women’s right to choose/ children’s film” that rewrites everything you knew about all of those genres. They are a Frankensteins Monster; assembling old pieces to create a new being.

Genre films are only as smart as their audience, good thing a genre audience knows every movie, television show and cartoon that has been released. And instead of ignoring that fact the genre film embraces it, soothing you with elements you know and love and turning the rest around and surprising the hell out of everyone. All done with smarts.

So, here are the best genre films of 2011, humbly submitted by yours truly.

10) Super (released in April 2011)

Aren’t all superheroes insane? ‘Super’ does not tell a superheroes tale. It examines the psychology of a superhero. The sad, emotionally sick and disturbed psychology of a superhero. And it is a laugh out loud riot!

9) 13 Assassins (released April 2011)

Old school meets new school on a blood-soaked battlefield. Everything I love about samurai films from the 50s and 60s and everything I love about the strange, perverse cinema of Takashi Miike rolled into one. I love to see filmmakers who push the boundaries of their own sanity get large canvas’ to paint on (with lots of blood).

8) Monsters (Video on Demand 2011)

A complete re-invention of the giant monster movie. Realism is something that a movie about five story high Octopi killing people on the Mexico/American boarder desperately needs. ‘Monsters’ has the tone of 'Syriana', but at its heart is all Kaiju action!

7) Red State (released March 2011)

The best performances of the year combined with an absolutely unsettling structure makes 'Red State' a surprisingly great film. I say surprisingly because much of it is a mess, but Michael Parks and John Goodman hold the film together until Kevin Smith finally figures out what he's doing and creates one of the best endings in apocalyptic horror.

(Poster by Shalimar Luis)

6) The Last Circus (released August 2011)

I don't like it when film critics use the term, ‘tour de force’. Maybe it's because I really don’t know what the phrase means. With that said, ‘The Last Circus’ is a muthafuckin’ tour de force! It is an outtacontrol action horror clown character study masterpiece! The story is about a sad clown who falls in love with an acrobat. The acrobat happens to be the girlfriend of the lead clown, who is the big man under the bigtop. A quirky love triangle morphs into a huge budget spectacle and a summation of monsters in life, cinema and the circus.

5) Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (released November 2011)

This film is an instant classic. I have become so tired of horror comedies and their laziness. ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’ is a hard working, blue collar horror comedy. We get to know the characters, like them, spend time with them THEN they jump into wood chippers, get impaled on spikes and shoot themselves in the face.

The tone is pitch perfect. The film uses gore and over the top physical comedy to create a living Loony Tunes episode. And the way they turn the Texas Chainsaw Massacre plot (used by dozens of horror films) on its head is very smart, deceptively smart.

(Poster by Rachel Anderson)

4) Black Death (released March 2011)

‘Black Death’ is raw, visually and emotionally. A companion piece with the Wicker Man, but with more cojones (meaning a male driven/action oriented film not naked hippies dancing around a dead rabbit). It tells the story of soldiers (for the church) going to a village that has been spared by the plague, which is ravaging the countryside. Of course they suspect a demonic presence because no town is too good to escape God…err’ the plague! Each soldier's faith is tested and lots of intestines are spilled.

Before we move onto the next film, let us all collectively thank actor Sean Bean for consistently and bravely lending his incredible acting talents and complete believability to low budget horror films. Because sometimes that movie actually rises to the occasion and THAT movie is ‘Black Death’.

3) The Reef (released July 2011)

'The Reef’ is too real. This is a killer shark film that is less about a shark killing people and more about people surviving nature, nature sometimes being represented by a killer shark. Our characters are stranded in the ocean and must swim a day or two to shore. That is horrific by itself, but when a rogue great white begins to stalk them the tension becomes unbearable. It is enough to walk out of the room. There are scenes in this film that are projections of my nightmares. It is the universal fear of being completely helpless, away from home and at the mercy of nature AND being eaten alive by a fucking killer shark!

2) Attack the Block (released July 2011)

This is what a mainstream genre film should be. All major studios take note and that does not mean remake it! When the characters are kids, cast kids. They will be immediately more identifiable than any plastic ‘twenty-something’ actor. No matter how ludicrous the set-up, treat it realistically and so will the audience. And lastly, have fun with it. Too many huge budget genre films take themselves WAY too seriously (ahem...Michael Bay, Chris Nolan...ahem). Attack the Block is your standard alien invasion film, it just so happens the aliens land in the ghetto of South London. Too bad for the aliens.

(Poster by Alex Pardee)

1) Hobo with a Shotgun (releases May 2011)

‘Attack the Block’ may be the best genre film of 2011, but ‘Hobo’ surpasses that. ‘Hobo with A Shotgun’ is not just a film but an experience. When I watched it I don't see the individual images, but the collected images of every genre film I have ever seen; all the emotional highs and none of the languid lows, everything that is good and righteous and FUN about movies and none of the pretentious, ‘raising the material out of the gutter’ horse-shit that is seen in most great genre movies. ‘Hobo with a Shotgun’ lives freely in the gutter and so should everyone else.

(Poster by Peter Strauss)

There you have it. My top 10. Of course there were a lot of films I didn't see and in doing so may make this list completely bogus. They are: Drive; Hugo; The Skin I Live In; Contagion; Super 8; and Hanna...just to name a few.

The End

*Top image: Frankensteins Monster pumpkin carving by Ryan Wickstrand


  1. Great list. Man I missed a lot of movies this year! Still have not watched The Reef, Black Death oor the Last Circus. Loved everything else listed. Monsters was great.

  2. Fantastic--thanks for giving me a taste of the unknown and unheard of. That's the land I want to explore.

  3. Still need to see "Skin I Live In", the trailer reminds me so much of one of my favorite films, that being "Eyes Without A Face"

  4. "I Saw the Devil", "Troll Hunter", Legend of the Fist" and "Tetsuo:The Bullet Man" were also great movies. Add "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and you have 11 through 15.
    A lot of good genre films this year.

  5. Good call on ATTACK THE BLOCK, MONSTERS and 13 ASSASSINS. I thought the other seven on your list were pretty abysmal, especially HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN.

  6. YES. Fantastic list, and I lol'd at the "tour de force" usage in The Last Circus paragraph. Thanks for stopping by my blog! Mind if I add a link to yours in my blogroll?

  7. Nice list! Looks like there's a few that I still need to see. I've only heard good stuff about "Tucker and Dale vs. Evil," so I need to check that out. Thanks for covering movies that matter!

  8. Great list, but THE REEF?! I must've been way off when I turned it off after 15 minutes. But seeing how solid the rest of your list is, you've convinced me to give it another shot.

    That TUCKER & DALE poster is amazing.

  9. It's funny because I did the same thing with Open Water a few years back and some people told me I should have stuck with it, but I never went back for a second viewing.
    Go with your gut, if you thought the first 15 minutes of The Reef was boring (or just plain bad)then I don't think you will like the rest. But the footage of the cast and a great white in the same frame, just feet way from each other was amazing. Probably a mix of CG compositing and real divers ballsy enough to get in the water. But just the fact that I'm not entirely sure how they did it and it looks so real makes me have to include the movie.

  10. Some really great picks here. Hopefully, 2012 will be an even better year for cinema, big and small.