Across the board, 2011 has provided a lot of fantastic entertainment for genre fans. From mainstream sci-fi blockbusters to independent horror shockers, I was slightly surprised by how impressed I was when I started perusing the list of films I've loved this year. The variance between the films on the list has made sure that the list would be incredibly difficult for me to rank, but I think it also points out the fact that 2011 offered a little bit of something for everyone (unless you like Hollywood produced horror films, because they all pretty much sucked this year).
Enough rambling, let's do this!
Ashes (Dir. by Elias Matar), Bereavement (Dir. by Stevan Mena), Ghost From The Machine (Dir. by Matt Osterman), The Hagstone Demon (Dir. by Jon Springer), Rubber (Dir. by Quentin Dupieux), The Ward (Dir. by John Carpenter)
First Runners-Up: (You guys! It seriously kills me that I can't fit these movies on the list!)
- Attack The Block (Dir. by Joe Cornish): I'm just not as wild about this one as most folks are. But I won't deny that it's an enthralling and fun sci-fi flick that's one of the most unique movies in years.
- Drive Angry (Dir. by Patrick Lussier):This one's a guilty pleasure to some, but y'all should know by now that The Mike regrets nothing. There's some serious old-school drive-in stuff goin' on in this one, and I always dig Nic Cage. So sue me.
- A Foundling (Dir. by Carly Lin): Way back at the beginning of the year I was tempted into viewing this "Chinese Cowgirls vs. Aliens" movie, and I certainly don't regret it. One of the most well-acted films I saw in 2011; it's a truly sweet and original film.
- Grave Encounters (Dir. by The Vicious Brothers): One of the scariest films I experienced in 2011, Grave Encounters balances the found footage formula with some unique twists and an omnipresent sense of dread. The payoff is a little off, but the visceral impact of the film is legit.
- A Horrible Way To Die (Dir. by Adam Wingard): This one has grown on me a lot since my initial viewing, primarily due to the fantastic performances by the actors involved. It's probably the best dramatic horror film of the year, and a strong statement that star AJ Bowen is here to stay.
- X-Men: First Class (Dir. by Matthew Vaughn): I've never been the biggest X-Fan, but Vaughn's prequel is helped by a fantastic cast - led by Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence - and a fresh 1960s storyline. A great balance of popcorn entertainment and sci-fi smarts.
Number 11 - Paranormal Activity 3
(Dir. by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman)
I liked the first PA film a lot, and the second one made me interested in where the story was going. The third film - helmed by the folks behind last year's docudrama Catfish - takes the story back to the 1980s, and officially got me hooked on wherever this series is going with its demonic tale. The biggest triumph is probably the wonderful sequences with a camera on an oscillating fan, which is the most effective development in the found footage series' young life. Who knows where the next Paranormal film will go, but I think the third installment is a nice booster shot for these films.
(Check out The Mike's review of Paranormal Activity 3 HERE.)
Number 10 - The Innkeepers
(Dir. by Ti West)
Ti West's latest film didn't blow my socks off like his previous film did, but it's still an incredibly effective ghost story. The performances of the cast - including budding star Sara Paxton - do plenty to sell the film's scares, but it's West's ever-patient camera that really draws us into this haunted hotel chiller. The dose of comedy that's been added to the script feels quite realistic, but I wish the horror side of the film was as fresh. Still, it's a heck of a spook show.
(Check out The Mike's review of The Innkeepers HERE.)
Number 9 - Trollhunter
(Dir. by Andre Overdal)
Another found footage flick - we're down to only three of these on the full list this year! - but Trollhunter is more Cloverfield than Blair Witch. The Norwegian monster mash is certainly the giant monster film of the year, thanks to some fantastic special effects and plenty of great scenes of destruction. The film's spectacle makes the viewer forget about the handheld film's "true story" pledge at times, but I don't think that takes away from one of the most enjoyable films of the year.
(Check out The Mike's review of Trollhunter HERE.)
Number 8 - Black Death
(Dir. by Christopher Smith)
Like Ti West, Christopher Smith moved to 4-for-4 as a horror director in early 2011 with the release of Black Death. A tale of religious fervor and witchcraft that's set during the black plague, Smith's latest is a neat historical horror that has fascinated me a few times already. It's helped greatly by the presence of one of my favorite working actors, Sean Bean, who puts an armor and a sword one more time as the rugged leader of the film's quest. I don't get why this movie didn't get more publicity than it did, but I'm glad I found it.
(Check out The Mike's review of Black Death HERE.)
Number 7 - I Didn't Come Here To Die
(Dir. by Bradley Scott Sullivan)
The most pleasant surprise of 2011, at least for me, was certainly this yet-to-be-released horror film. We've seen "group goes into the woods, death follows" a million times before, but I Didn't Come Here To Die manages to do a couple of things that separate it from other films in similar settings. Most importantly, the film entirely skips the psycho killer/unleashed demons/deadly hillbillies cliches that we've already seen - which means that you really need to see this one, if only to figure out just how someone could make a horror film without those crutches to rely on. The result is a fantastic horror comedy, complete with plenty of gore and one of the most wonderful scream queens I've seen in a long time. (WHAT? Seriously! That Emmy Robbin is GORGEOUS.)
(Check out The Mike's review of I Didn't Come Here To Die HERE.)
Number 6 - Super 8
(Dir. by J.J. Abrams)
I gotta admit, the fact that Super 8 is only number 6 on this list kinda makes me furious. A lot of people like to diss this one - and to compare it to Attack the Block - but I just don't get why. This is movie magic, people! Maybe I'm a sucker for Hollywood (SPOILER ALERT: I am.), but Super 8 is the kind of movie I'd dream of making if I ever had the ability to make a movie. The child actors are fantastic, Coach Eric Taylor is a great lead, the effects are good, and it all looks and sounds like a perfect spectacle. I LOVE IT AND YOU CAN'T STOP ME FROM LOVING IT.
(There's no review because The Mike was on vacation that week in June. BUT I REGRET NOTHING.)
Number 5 - Hobo With a Shotgun
(Dir. by Jason Eisener)
I didn't want to like this movie. That's probably not fair to say - I really want to like EVERY movie - but the amount of hype around this Hobo was like the biggest big fish tale any fisherman or fisherwoman has ever heard. But it was all true. Eisener's film is carried by veteran star Rutger Hauer, but the amount of support around him from the supporting cast and the filmmakers helps the legend come true. The director seems to put the cherry on top of the production with his fantastic vision of carnage, which manages to use some humane scenes to back up the brutally violent side of the proceedings.
(Check out The Mike's review of Hobo With a Shotgun HERE.)
Number 4 - Tucker & Dale vs. Evil
(Dir. by Eli Craig)
Like I Didn't Come Here To Die, this is the rare horror comedy that brings something fresh to the table and doesn't buy in to the standard horror stunts. Tyler Labine leads the charge as Dale, providing a loveable hero for the comedic tale that provides gory mayhem and hearty laughs. This is a film that should make all kinds of viewers laugh, and is surely destined for the kind of cult classic status that's usually reserved for winners like Army of Darkness or Shaun of the Dead.
(Check out The Mike's review of Tucker & Dale vs. Evil HERE.)
Number 3 - Absentia
(Dir. by Mike Flanagan)
One of the most intelligent horror films to come around in a long time, Mike Flanagan's chilling Absentia (which is due for a DVD release this April!) boasts some of the most successful scares I've seen in a long time and a wonderfully acted bit of human drama throughout the film. Stars Courtney Bell and Katie Parker do a lot for the film, and the shift in focus halfway through the film is unexpected, but welcome. Oh, and did I mention that it scared me a lot? Because it did. If you're looking for a horror film for thinking adult audiences, you have got to seek this one out.
(Check out The Mike's review of Absentia HERE.)
Number 2 - Rise of the Planet of the Apes
(Dir. by Rupert Wyatt)
The unexpected big-budget winner of the year is certainly this prequel to the 40+ year-old classic, which offers a fresh origin to the Charlton Heston led sci-fi classic. James Franco gets top billing this time, but it's the jaw dropping ape effects - with the assistance of Lord of the Rings and King Kong veteran Andy Serkis - and a script that's much too intelligent for summer in Hollywood that allow the film to Rise to the top of the class. Hollywood didn't hit many home runs with their genre releases this year, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes will stand tall for years to come as a blueprint for making a successful Hollywood reboot.
(Check out The Mike's review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes HERE.)
Number 1 - Stake Land
To tell the truth, I'm not sure if there's anything more than a gut feeling that has pushed me to put Stake Land (Review HERE) ahead of the rest of the pack at the top of this list. (All of these flicks, especially the top 4, could have easily made the jump to this spot on a good day.) But Jim Mickle's post-apocalyptic vampire film is a strange kind of horror movie comfort food for me, playing off the ideas of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend while providing a beautiful cross-country tale of horror on the open road. It's full of great performances, interesting twists on vampire lore, and a couple of shocking and intense scenes that could remind any horror fan why they love this genre.
Stake Land is one of many triumphs to come out of 2011, but right now it's the one that stands out (if only by the smallest of margins) in my mind as my favorite genre film of the year.