This is the eighth year I’ve kept track of all the media I consumed. I like to keep track of things. As always, this may be of no interest to anyone but me, and you are welcome to skip it, or to read it and then send me angry emails for wasting your time.
I watched exactly 400 movies in 2011. The roundness of that number is not a coincidence. I realized on Dec. 31 that I had 397 under my belt, and I was planning to watch two that day anyway, so I threw in a third one for good measure. Technically, I watched 387 different movies in 2011, but there were 13 that I watched twice.
It is my great fortune to have a job that not only permits me but requires me to watch a lot of different movies. My regular columns at Film.com — Eric’s Bad Movies, What’s the Big Deal?, and Re-Views — account for three movies a week, and then there are the new theatrical releases on top of that. Does that leave any time for me to watch something just for the fun of it, without any obligation? I would have thought it didn’t, but looking at the list I see about 75 movies I caught this year that had nothing to do with work. (And of course plenty of the “work” movies are enjoyable, too. It’s not like I’m out digging ditches.)
As anyone who watches a lot of movies can tell you, a certain sameness starts to creep in after a while. Not just in the content of the movies (though that’s certainly true) but in the circumstances of watching them. Either I’m sitting in one of the five local theaters where press screenings are usually held, or I’m sitting in my ugly but comfortable yellow chair in my apartment, or I’m sitting on Jeff Bayer’s couch. Those scenarios alone probably account for 80 percent of all the movies I watched in 2011. So the times that I saw something under less common circumstances tend to stick out in my mind, even if the movies themselves weren’t anything special.
Some of my fondest movie-watching memories of 2011:
– At Sundance, I attended a 10:30 p.m. press screening of “Bellflower” because I had nothing else to do and my buddy Drew McWeeny was going. The only thing I’d heard about the movie was from someone who’d caught a public screening earlier that day and told me it wasn’t worth my time, but he underestimated my willingness to waste my time. And I’m glad I did: The movie wound up being one of my favorites of the whole year. I’m still friends with the person who had warned me away from it, just not as close.
– Seeing “The Devil’s Double” — a ludicrously over-the-top story about the man who unwillingly served as the public lookalike for one of Saddam Hussein’s insane sons — late at night at Sundance with pals Matt Patches and Dan Mecca was a memorable experience. We laughed a lot. (The movie is not a comedy.)
– My friend and podcasting co-host Jeff Bayer and I watched a lot of movies together this year, either because we were at the same press screenings or because we were watching the movie at his house. Sometimes when his doctor wife has to work the graveyard shift I’ll come over and we’ll watch comedies late into the night. This year we ran through such classics and semi-classics as “Airplane!,” “Stripes,” “Police Academy,” “Volunteers,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Animal House,” “The Jerk,” “Wet Hot American Summer,” and “Super Troopers.” As a comedy nerd, I love analyzing these movies in an informal setting with someone who is also a comedy nerd.
– Jeff and I also did a “Lord of the Rings” marathon, watching the whole trilogy (the extended editions!) in one day when he was immobile due to knee surgery. It was the first time I’d seen the movies in their entirety since they were in theaters, and watching them straight through was a great way to immerse myself in that world. Also, Jeff was on painkillers, and he started doing “You shall not pass!” with his crutches. Good times.
– I have two particularly fun memories from the Tribeca Film Festival. Unfortunately, neither of them involves the festival itself or any of the movies that screened there. One night several of my New York City-based movie writer pals and I gathered at someone’s apartment and watched an obscure 2002 comedy called “She Gets What She Wants” (formerly titled “Slap Her, She’s French”) on Netflix. This was done at my recommendation. We paid casual attention to the movie while talking amongst ourselves. It was a joyous evening. My other fond memory from that week was when I got to join just about every movie writer in New York at the “Fast Five” screening. Never mind the actual movie. I just enjoyed seeing it with people I don’t get to hang out with very often.
– Local radio clowns and geek heroes Cort and Fatboy sponsor a midnight movie the first Friday of every month at Portland’s Bagdad Theatre, and the tragedy is that somehow I only made it to one of them this year. It was a great one, though: “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” on a scratchy old 35 millimeter print, and in the company of a few friends. It’d been a while since I’d seen “Raiders” at all, let alone on the big screen. I pledge to attend more of these events in 2012.
– My friend Eugene was visiting one weekend when I got a text message from another friend asking if I wanted to join him that night for a screening of a movie called “Who Can Kill a Child?” I asked Eugene if that sounded like something he would enjoy, and he did not hesitate to say yes, obviously, he wanted to see a movie called “Who Can Kill a Child?” It was sponsored by the Northwest Film Center, which that month was showcasing Spanish films. “Who Can Kill a Child?,” a rarity from 1976, is a creepy “Children of the Corn”-ish thing that underwent a lot of censorship back in the day and is seldom seen anymore. I didn’t love it, but I sure loved the experience of spontaneously catching a movie I’d never heard of with two friends who’d never met each other.
– Along those same lines, late one night I got a hankering to play movie roulette, and to watch whatever Turner Classic Movies happened to be showing next. It must have been fate, because TCM’s selection was “Wicked, Wicked,” a 1973 oddity that was never released on VHS, let alone DVD. It’s a campy horror flick about a killer bumping off guests at a resort hotel. The gimmick is that the whole thing’s in split-screen, showing either two different scenes or different angles of the same scene. That gimmick is hilariously pointless, and the acting is generally pretty bad, but what a fascinating artifact! I was really glad to catch it, especially because it’s something that no one else I know has ever seen.
And here are the movies:
2011 theatrical releases that I reviewed (155 of ’em!):
The Adjustment Bureau
The Adventures of Tintin
American: The Bill Hicks Story
Archie’s Final Project
The Art of Getting By
Attack the Block
Battle Los Angeles
Beware the Gonzo
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son
The Big Year
Breaking Dawn — Part 1
Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star
Captain America: The First Avenger
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop
Conan the Barbarian
Cowboys & Aliens
Crazy Stupid Love
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Everything Must Go
Final Destination 5
Friends with Benefits
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
A Good Old Fashioned Orgy
The Green Hornet
The Hangover Part II
Happy Feet Two
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Hobo with a Shotgun
The Human Centipede 2
I Am Number Four
I Don’t Know How She Does It
I Melt with You
The Ides of March
Jack and Jill
Johnny English Reborn
Just Go with It
Kung Fu Panda 2
Madea’s Big Happy Family
Mars Needs Moms
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Midnight in Paris
Mission: Impossible Ghotocol
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
The Music Never Stopped
New Year’s Eve
Paranormal Activity 3
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Puss in Boots
Red Riding Hood
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The Rum Diary
Season of the Witch
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
The Skin I Live In
Take Me Home Tonight
30 Minutes or Less
The Three Musketeers
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The Tree of Life
Tucker and Dale vs Evil
A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
We Bought a Zoo
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Winnie the Pooh
X-Men: First Class
2011 festival movies that I reviewed that have not yet opened theatrically:
A Bag of Hammers
A Boy and His Samurai
The Devil’s Business
The Good Doctor
Juan of the Dead
Kill Me Please
Two Eyes Staring
2011 releases that I saw but did not review:
At the Sundance Film Festival:
The Catechism Cataclysm
The Devil’s Double
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
The Troll Hunter
At the South By Southwest Festival:
Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
The Key Man
Sound of My Voice
At the Tribeca Film Festival:
Beyond the Black Rainbow
Jesus Henry Christ
Rid of Me
At Fantastic Fest:
Elite Squad 2
Juan of the Dead
New Kids Turbo
(Note: Some of these are end-of-December releases that I’ll get around to reviewing in the next couple weeks.)
A Dangerous Method
In a Better World
The Mill & the Cross
The Myth of the American Sleepover
Nightmares in Red White and Blue
Pre-2011 releases that I had seen before, and reviewed, that I re-watched this year:
All About My Mother
Anatomy of Hell
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Austin Powers in Goldmember
The Brown Bunny
Dr. T and the Women
Dude, Where’s My Car?
For Love of the Game
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Freddy Got Fingered
House of 1000 Corpses
The Illusionist (2010)
In the Loop
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Kung Pow: Enter the Fist
Land of the Lost
The Last Samurai
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Man on the Moon
Not Another Teen Movie
The Passion of the Christ
Planet of the Apes (2001)
Pokemon The Movie 2000
Scott Pilgrim vs the World
She Gets What She Wants/Slap Her She’s French
War of the Worlds
Wet Hot American Summer
Pre-2011 releases that I had seen before but did not review, that I re-watched this year:
Aguirre, the Wrath of God
Beauty and the Beast (1946)
The Big Lebowski
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
The Final Sacrifice (via Mystery Science Theater 3000)
The Great Escape
It’s a Wonderful Life
The Last Picture Show
Lawrence of Arabia
The Lion King
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
The Naked Gun
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Red White & Blue
Some Like It Hot
A Streetcar Named Desire
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Pre-2011 releases that I saw for the first time this year:
For Eric’s Bad Movies:
Above the Law
Body of Evidence
Can’t Stop the Music
Empire of the Ants
Happy Birthday to Me
Hawk the Slayer
Hercules in New York
Lost in Space
Magic in the Water
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
Teen Wolf Too
Under the Cherry Moon
For What’s the Big Deal?:
An American in Paris
The Battle of Algiers
The Gold Rush
The Grapes of Wrath
Last Tango in Paris
The Sound of Music
Straw Dogs (1971)
The Virgin Spring
For other reasons, or occasionally no reason:
Bride of Frankenstein
Cannibal! The Musical
Eddie Murphy: Raw
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Lady in the Lake
Make-Out with Violence
The Man with Two Brains
New Year’s Evil
Picnic at Hanging Rock
The Secret of Kells
Superman II: Donner Cut
Who Can Kill a Child?
These are the shows I watched regularly this year, listed in approximate order of how much I like them.
“Breaking Bad.” Would-be writers should study the way this series is constantly raising the stakes for its characters, even after you’d think the stakes couldn’t possibly get any higher. What a great show.
“30 Rock.” I like a lot of comedies, but this is the one that presses my personal funny buttons the most. It has its own unique blend of madness, and that blend is suited to my tastes.
“Parks and Recreation.” Just about as funny as “30 Rock,” with the added bonus of being heartfelt. This series has actually choked me up a couple times, which few comedies do.
“Community.” Clever, calculated, and detail-oriented comedy aimed at people who eat and breathe pop culture. Funny stuff, but it’s not for everyone.
“Fringe.” Really gutsy storytelling on this show, which is the best successor “The X-Files” has had. I’m amazed it’s still on the air.
“American Horror Story.” At first I was compelled by how off-the-charts insane this series was, especially because I wasn’t entirely certain that it was supposed to come off as crazy as it did. But by the end of the season, I was flat-out hooked on its macabre tales.
“Bob’s Burgers.” Wry, offbeat humor. It’s coming back to Fox sometime in the spring.
“Louie.” Louis C.K. happens to be a genius, so giving him free rein to do whatever he wanted with his own half-hour sitcom was a smart move. This show experiments with formats, ideas, and concepts that no sitcom has ever tried before.
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Still raucously, offensively funny after all these years.
“Modern Family.” The bloom’s off the rose a bit in the third season, but this one’s still good for some laughs.
“Saturday Night Live.” If you’re one of the people who say, “Oh, is that show still on??” or “Who watches ‘SNL’ anymore??,” shut up. It’s still on, and it’s as funny as it ever was — which is to say, hit or miss.
“Childrens Hospital.” Love this absurdist medical-drama spoof on Adult Swim.
“South Park.” Nothing else to say about this, except that its longevity and continued high quality are impressive.
“Futurama.” There were a few episodes that made me wonder if resurrecting this canceled cartoon was a good idea after all, but my faith has been restored.
“The Killing.” The AMC series upset a lot of fans with its open-ended season finale. I don’t blame them. Nonetheless, I really liked the slow, quiet intensity of the show, and I’ll be back for season 2.
“Southland.” A good, solid cop drama.
“The Simpsons.” Every five or six episodes one will pop up that’s as brilliantly funny as the classic shows of yesteryear.
“The Walking Dead.” I don’t know about this one. I’m close to giving it up. We’ll see how the second half of the season goes.
“The Office.” I quit watching after the season premiere. I was just done with it, and that seemed like a good stopping point. A great series while it lasted, then a good one, and now one that I’m simply not interested in watching.
I also finally started watching “The Wire” this year (I’m in season 3 now), and I love it. “Happy Endings” is backed up on my DVR; I’ve liked the four or five episodes I’ve watched. I also wish “Mad Men” had been on 2011.
Like everyone else, I wish I had more time to read. (Maybe I should watch fewer movies?) I was in a book club with some friends for a few years, which meant I read at least one novel a month, but now that group has disbanded and I am left to my own devices. But one of those devices is now a Kindle, so perhaps the novelty and convenience will inspire me to read more.
The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. This is the story of an automobile racer and his life’s dramas, as told by his dog. Despite some implausible soap-opera stuff that happens to the guy, I found the book sweet and moving, not least because I love dogs and love the idea of dogs loving me too. Nearly everyone else at my book club disliked the novel, though I note that several of them do not like dogs at all, so they can’t really be trusted.
Beyonders: A World Without Heroes, by Brandon Mull. The author of the enjoyable Fablehaven books starts a new series here, in which a couple of 13-year-olds are magically transported to a world ruled by an evil wizard who must be defeated, etc. Standard fantasy premise. I probably wouldn’t have read this if Mull weren’t a friend of mine (fantasy isn’t really my thing), and it’s geared toward younger readers than me, but I found it genuinely clever and exciting.
Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin. Steve Martin is one of my professional heroes. He’s a brilliant writer and performer (his many bad movies notwithstanding), and his sharp mind is a place of wonder. Why it took me until now to read this memoir, which came out in 2008, I don’t know. He covers his childhood and his career as a standup comedian — a career he walked away from when he grew complacent with it, even though he could have kept going forever. His analysis of joke-writing and joke-telling is manna for a comedy nerd like me. Reading this book made me respect him even more, both as an artist and as a person.
The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To, by D.C. Pierson. A funny and imaginative novel about a geeky high schooler whose new best friend has never slept and apparently has no biological need to. The boys are way into science fiction and fantasy, and their adventures begin to resemble the stories they’ve conjured. Fun stuff.
Catching Fire and Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins. These are the second and third parts in the Hunger Games trilogy, which I’ve seen a lot of people dismiss because the marketing department keeps comparing it to Twilight, which is a turn-off to many readers. Don’t be fooled! Except for being narrated by a teenage girl and having a bit of a love triangle, this series bears no similarity to the Twilight saga. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic America in which two children from each of a dozen districts are chosen every year to compete in a battle-to-the-death for entertainment purposes. (That concept is similar to the Japanese movie “Battle Royale,” but that’s as far as it goes.) One girl tries to bring down the system. By the end of the trilogy, I’d been shocked several times by the intensity of the story’s events, and by how caught up in the action I was.
The Dead-Tossed Waves and The Dark and Hollow Places, by Carrie Ryan. These are the sequels to The Forest of Hands and Teeth, a post-zombie-apocalypse young-adult novel that has one of the best titles I’ve ever heard. Like The Hunger Games, the narrator of each book is a teenage girl; unlike The Hunger Games, the love triangle aspect got to be a bit much for my tastes. (The target audience is young women.) It’s a satisfying story, though, if you’re into the whole post-zombie-apocalypse thing.
A Friend of the Family, by Lauren Grodstein. A New Jersey doctor is alarmed when his 19-year-old son starts dating the daughter of the doctor’s best friend. Why? Because several years ago, the girl was charged with committing a terrible crime, and though she was acquitted, doubts remain. This was a book club selection, and I confess remembering very little about the book except that I liked it. Pretty good depiction of a parent’s protective instinct, I think. Sorry, I’m not much help here.
The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman. Loved this book. It’s set at an English-language newspaper in Rome and follows the lives of the people who work there (or used to work there), each chapter telling a different but connected story. The writing is sparkling, funny, and insightful.
Mere Anarchy, by Woody Allen. A collection of his humor pieces, many of them originally published in The New Yorker. Woody Allen is frequently so good as a filmmaker that we tend to forget how good he is — and he is more consistently good — as a writer of prose. There’s some very, very funny and urbane material in this volume of silliness.
An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin. I didn’t find this examination of the hoity-toity art-collecting world quite as engaging as I have Martin’s other novels, but the man has an undeniable way with words.
Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. I had one of those inexpensive mass-market paperback copies of this book, and it occurred to me that I had never read an entire Dickens novel before, and so I took the plunge. What fun! This Dickens fellow may be on to something. I adore the quirks of old-timey language, and I was frequently amused by the humor of this story, which hardly follows the musical version at all. So here’s a thumbs up for Charles Dickens, if you were looking for someone to vouch for him.
The Raw Shark Texts, by Steven Hall. This is an original and mind-bending thriller about a man with a memory condition trying to learn the mysteries of his former, forgotten life while being pursued by conceptual enemies. Words, thoughts, and memories are the abstract things that become concrete (sort of) in this highly unusual but accessible story.
Room, by Emma Donoghue. There was much contention at book club about this one. Nobody was lukewarm — everyone either liked it a lot or hated it a lot. It has a pretty harrowing premise: a woman has been held captive in an 11-by-11-foot windowless room for seven years, and the book is narrated by her 5-year-old son, who was sired by her captor/rapist and has never been outside. I was morbidly fascinated by the thought of viewing the world through the eyes of a child who doesn’t know the world exists, and I found the mother’s fierce devotion to her son very moving. But I can see why people hated it, too. It’s written in the kid’s language — his mother is the only human being he’s ever had interaction with — and some of the content is grueling.