Brendan Gleeson is a small-town Irish cop with a racist streak as long as your arm. He’s also very smart and loveable in a Columbo sort of way, but he hides those two personality traits in the aforementioned small-town Irish cop with a racist streak as long as your arm persona. John Michael McDonagh’s “The Guard” is hilarious in places, sentimental in others, and entirely entertaining from beginning to end. Don Cheadle co-stars as Gleeson’s foil, an American FBI agent who travels to Ireland to bust a trio of murderous dope dealers played with great flair by Liam Cunningham, Mark Strong, and David Wilmot. Easily the most amusing movie of the year out of Europe, and definitely worth your time seeking out. It’s not going to change your life or anything, but it will give you a chuck or two. Or a dozen.
Like “300″, but without the green screen. Don’t get me wrong: “Ironclad” is not the best movie of the year. It’s even not all that good, to be perfect honest with you, but it does have two things going for it: an awesome, smarmy performance from Paul Giamatti, and crazy, bloody medieval combat. James Purefoy swings that broadsword like nobody’s business, and the film is quite depressingly nihilistic, with an impressive body count piling up throughout the movie. Co-writer and director Jonathan English does make the mistake of succumbing to a silly happy ending that ruins the mood a tad, but everything that comes before that weak moment is vastly thrilling stuff that never quite goes in the direction you think it will, even if the basic premise of the film (a last stand for a hopelessly outmatched group with something greater at stake) is rather routine.
James Wan’s low-fi horror movie “Insidious” has been well-received by critics and fans who have seen it, but not everyone has seen it yet, and that’s why it’s on this list. A great example of what you can do without a big budget or shiny Hollywood gloss, “Insidious” harkens back to ’70s horror filmmaking, with practical effects and mood standing in for expensive CGI creature shots. A small cast consisting of Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and genre vet Lin Shaye make the film worth watching as they contend with a host of bothersome ghosts that have grappled onto a couple’s son. Not edge-of-your-seat scary by any means, but quite spooky throughout, “Insidious” is a film that succeeds because of creativity rather than unlimited resources, and deserves as many recommendations as it can get. So if you’re still on the fence about this movie, don’t be. Watch it now.
The Man from Nowhere
South Korean cinema has produced some major hits in 2011 that have been recognized Internationally, but “The Man from Nowhere” didn’t quite get the recognition that I think it deserves. A wonderful, intense action flick starring former teen hunk Won Bin, the movie looks and feels familiar, but there is a brutal grittiness about it that Hollywood films can’t match. The story is straight “Man on Fire” and “Taken” (again, there’s nothing new here), but it’s everything else in-between that makes the film stand out enough that you’ll forgive it for its familiar plot. Highlights include a fantastic knife fight and a bathroom encounter that will get the blood pumping. If you’re in the mood for some ballsy action movie (nevermind that it’s from Korea), “The Man from Nowhere” is the film you’re looking for. And if you need to see it dubbed in English, hell, go for it. It’s not as if dialogue figures all that prominently into the film’s greatness.
I’ve been pimping Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” to anyone who will listen, so this shouldn’t come as a big surprise. “Drive” is easily the best film of 2011, though I can understand why you ignored it when it opened. The film is really hard to market. A fantastically stylish movie with great performances all around, “Drive” is brutally violent and just plain cool. Ryan Gosling is nearly pitch-perfect as the deadly, unnamed Driver, and I finally understand why so many people think Carey Mulligan (as Driver’s cute girl next-door) is destined for greatness. But as one lady found out, “Drive” is no “Fast Five” — it’s actually good and not, you now, shitty. If you take one suggestion from this list, go see “Drive”.
Any films that you saw that aren’t on this list, or we haven’t been covering, that you think deserves some attention? Let us know.
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