A lot of people put out their “best of” lists at the end of the year/beginning of the new year. This isn’t that. This is my list of “TV Shows, Videos, and Movies that I watched and enjoyed and you might not have heard of or enjoyed.” If I did a “best of” list, it would contain a list of movies and videos that you cut cut and paste from a number of different people. I’m just not that unique.
It contains films and TV series from this past year, as well as a few things that are a bit older, and a brief description of them. I got thinking of it when a friend visited yesterday and we got talking about videos and I started mentioning some of the stuff I had watched last year he might be interested in.
The main common thread is that these are all things I watched (or re-watched) in 2011 and enjoyed, and think that other people might enjoy too. If it contains things you’ve never heard of, then those are the first things you’ll want to try out.
So here’s the list, in alphabetical order:
Format: Short TV series (3 episodes)
Each episode is a stand alone story. The basic premise is that each one represents a future based on current tech trends, if we allow things to go just a little bit “off”.
These are extremely well written, very smart “Big Idea” science fiction stories written and produced by Charlie Brooker. If you know who Charlie Brooker is, then I really don’t need to say much more. He’s probably the smartest Sci-Fi/TV Fiction writer in the UK right now. Sooner or later, he’s going to make the jump to the big screen and then everyone will know his name.
Genre: Sci-Fi/Pandemic Pron
Origin: Big Budget U.S. Theater Release
You might have heard this one referenced, it was a popular media subject when it came out. The premise is pretty stock – new pandemic contagion causes panic, lots of people die, the U.S. saves the world (again). Blah-blah-blah.
But it’s fairly well done. The science and theory in it hold water. The actions of the government and individuals make sense. It has a good a-list cast who give their parts some depth. Much smarter, overall, than your average American blockbuster.
Genre: Zombie Horror Comedy
Format: Weekly 1/2 hour TV series (12 episodes)
It’s a “what if” zombies/vampires/werewolves etc we real, and instead of society collapsing, the LAPD just formed a special unit to deal with it, and LA just keeps rolling along, only marginally weirder than it already is.
Humor level is college frat-boy. Think Reno 911 meets zombies and you’ll be pretty close. Dumb, but fun, and not a lot of commitment to watch. Got bupkus for ratings and was cancelled after the first season.
Genre: Action/Super Hero(ish)
Origin: Mid-budget U.S. Theater Release
You’ve probably heard of this one, might have even watched it. Basic premise is “what if some Asperger dude starts wearing a costume and wandering around pretending to be a super hero. Injuries ensue.”
Stars Woody Harrelson, and it’s fairly dark. Well written, good movie. Came and went from the theaters in minutes. Don’t expect to be uplifted by this movie, although I wouldn’t call it depressing either. Woody brought his A-Game to this one, and I think it was just a little too offbeat to succeed in the theaters.
Game of Thrones:
Format: Weekly 1 hour TV series (10 episodes)
Awesome. Just…. Awesome. This is serious Fantasy done right, with good budgets, great acting, a good base story to work from (based on a series of novels by George RR Martin).
WARNING: It’s only just getting going when the season ends, and you’ll have to wait until the summer of 2012 for Season 2 to start.
Origin: Mid-Budget U.S. Theater Release
Smart little drama about a smaller brokerage outfit on the eve of the 2008 collapse. Ensemble cast of A-Listers. Essentially a “24 hours in the life of a brokerage house” with the onset of the 2008 collapse as the story driver. Remarkably light on the moralizing, no one is presented as particularly evil – maybe a bit slimy and self preserving, but not evil.
Got rave reviews from all 10 people who saw it in the theater. Did poorly at the box office, probably because by the time it came out, everyone was sick of hearing about the banking/stock collapse of 2008. Combined that with intelligent writing (never a good sign for commercial success), and a lack of violence/guns/explosions (almost mandatory for a film to make money in the U.S. nowadays), and it just didn’t have anything for the marketers to promote.
Genre: Comedy/Super Hero
Format: 1/2 hour TV series (6 episodes)
One of my greatest annoyances with the UK TV scene in general is that they’ll run a quirky little show like this for a 6 episode season, and regardless of the ratings and critical reviews (which were both very good in this case), simply forget to ever get around to making a second season.
Follows the lives of B-List superheroes, who’s powers aren’t that great, and who mostly can’t even afford their own cars so have to take public transport or cabs to get to crime scenes. Mostly centered around a superhero hangout pub, with tons of “in” jokes for comic book superhero fans (which were mostly lost on me because I never got into comic books). Funny even without knowing the in jokes.
Genre: Fantasy (duh – just look at the title) / commedy
Origin: U.S. Low budget, limted release, B-Movie schlocker
B-Movie schlocker that was just kind of fun. You have to be in the mood for a b-movie schlocker or this just isn’t going to work for you.
The production quality is better than I would expect from a movie with a non-existent budget, a PR team so weak it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry or it’s own website, just an “official” Facebook Page, and a viewership so small Rotten Tomatoes hasn’t even gotten around to giving it a meta-critic score yet.
From the Facebook page:
From deep under the mountain, a horde of ancient warriors has been unleashed. They prey on human fear. They live to kill. They are coming. And they won’t stop until we’re all dead.. ORCS! The ultimate Orcs movie is coming soon.
Format: TV Series
Only 3 episodes in season 1, plus an un-aired pilot. Watch the real episodes before you watch the pilot (if you can even find it).
Nice re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes set in modern times. All around great little British gem of solid acting and writing, with good production values.
Best part? It got picked up for a second set of 3 episodes to be aired January this year.
Origin: U.S. Mid Budget
This is another one that came and went from the theater in seconds, mostly because I don’t think people got it.
Like Defendor, it features a non-super-powered guy who sets out to become a superhero, injuries ensue. Different take on it, though. The guy who becomes a superhero is fully aware of how nuts it is, he just has a very specific motivation for doing it.
Neither uplifting or depressing, it’s one of those movies you watch and just kind of say “Huh” at the end of it, but in a good way.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen:
Origin: U.S./UK Big Budget Theatrical Release
This is what happens when Terry Gilliam (Monty Python, Brazil) decides to make a “kids” movie. You’ve probably already seen it, but it’s worth watching again. I watch it every couple of years and it never gets old.
Delightfully quirky, and even though it’s billed as a kids movie, it’s actually quite adult.
The Princess Bride:
Origin: U.S. Big Budget Theatrical Release
You’ve seen it, you love it. Watch it again and love it all over again. This is another of those films that I watch every couple of years and fall in love with all over again.
The Troll Hunter:
Origin: Norway – Theatrical Release – Subtitled
Bill in most of the world as “Dark Fantasy” – it was actually considered comedy fantasy in Norway when initially released. Makes you wonder about Norwegian humor.
This is an incredibly tough movie to describe. The best I can come up with is somewhat like The Blair Witch Project, only the student film makers come across a weird hermit dude who wanders around the Norwegian wilds tracking and occasionally hunting Trolls.
The effects are quite good, with a few “gotcha” moments, with a cameo by the Norwegian Prime Minister at the end of the movie.
This ended up on a lot of hardcore film buffs “Best Of” and “Must See” lists since it was released on BluRay this year, and for good reasons. There’s a ton of stuff in here that you just wouldn’t see in a normal western production, and it’s a very fun watch.
Format: Movie (animation)
Origin: U.S. Theatrical Release
Another movie I watch every few years to bask in its greatness. Only this time the movie is on the obscure side.
I have to admit that I’ve been on a mission over the past few decades to get everyone I know to watch this movie. Its a Ralph Bakshi animation when he was at the top of his game, and had the money and freedom to do what he wanted – within a few years of this movie, his career spiraled into oblivion during some epic booze and drug fueled battles with the studios.
This is not a kids animated fantasy movie, although Ralph figured it was. Of course, we’re talking about a guy who made the world’s first x-rated full length animated movie (Fritz the Cat).
The art and animation in this movie are amazing, all hand done cels mixed with rotoscoping and some other techniques. Everyone I know who went to art college is in awe of this movie for the artwork. Everyone I know who was into fantasy or played RPG’s as a kid is in awe of it for its story and obvious faith to the genre. Hard core movie buffs love it because it’s such a stand-alone unique, wonderful little movie.
And having said that, there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll hate it. It’s just one of those movies that you either love or hate, with very little ground in the middle.