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The best genre movies of 2011, part 1

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You’ve already got my list of the top ten films of 2011, but there were a lot more than just ten good movies this year. It’s time to highlight the genre standouts, the silly, scary, exciting, emotional stuff that doesn’t get the critical praise it deserves, especially at this time of the year when it’s all about gloss, and prestige, and actors eating half their body weight in ice cream and calling it “artistic commitment.” (Don’t you wish you had a job that let you call your obsession with Coffee Heath Bar Crunch art? Me too.)

This is part one of my list of the best genre movies of 2011. I’ve picked out a whole bunch of genres, from Western, to romance, to horror, and selected one exemplary entry for each. Be sure to come back tomorrow for 2011’s best buddy cop movie, best comedy, best sports movie, and more. Until then, here are our first five genre standouts.

The Best Western of the Year
“Blackthorn”
Directed by Mateo Gil

“Meek’s Cutoff” was the critical darling of the Western genre this year, but Kelly Reichardt’s bleak account of a doomed wagon train was too often an exercise in frustration to my taste. For a more satisfying frontier throwback, seek out “Blackthorn,” a sort-of-sequel to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” starring the wonderfully dyspeptic Sam Shepard as an aging Cassidy who sets out for the United States after decades in hiding in Bolivia. Along the way he encounters a man with some stolen money, which leads to plenty of double-crosses, chases, and shootouts, a new partnership to mirror the one he had with Sundance, and the occasional masculine contemplation of the meaning of life over a plate of campfire beans. “Blackthorn”‘s ending is almost as disappointing as “Meek’s Cutoff”‘s but you know what they say about focusing on the journey rather than the destination. This is a really interesting journey. Read my full review here.


The Best Horror Film of the Year
“Insidious”
Directed by James Wan

Speaking of disappointing endings, I wouldn’t for one minute pretend that the last fifteen minutes of “Insidious” — a haunted house movie from the writer and director of “Saw” — doesn’t completely fall apart after one too many predictable plot twists and a little too much unpredictable silliness. Until then, though, this story of troubled married couple and their spooky encounters in their new home on the corner of Hellmouth Drive and You Guys Are Totally Fucked Boulevard is absolutely terrifying. Every scene with Lin Shaye as the paranormal investigator called to cure the couple’s comatose son is killer. Not to be watched in a house with creaky floorboards or oversized grandfather clocks. Read my full review here.


The Best Legal Thriller of the Year
“The Lincoln Lawyer”
Directed by Brad Furman

Is “The Lincoln Lawyer” the most accurate legal thriller of the year? My night school law degree hasn’t come in the mail yet, I’m guessing probably not. But who cares? The broadcast television airwaves are littered with dozens of weekly hours of dry, by-the-books law shows; if you want pedestrian legal thrills, go there. If you want a batshit crazy story with big, fun plot twists and a deliciously evil villain, check out this sturdy adaptation of the novel of the same name by Michael Connelly. I can’t tell you who you the villain is because that would spoil some of the surprise, but I can say that Matthew McConaughey is in excellent form as Mickey Haller, a slick, smart Los Angeles attorney hired to defend a real estate magnate’s son from charges of rape. I walked into this movie almost at random on a day when I was stranded in Manhattan with several hours to kill. I walked out two hours later absolutely delighted by one of the most purely entertaining movies I saw all year.


The Best Romance of the Year
“Weekend”
Directed by Andrew Haigh

Two men meet in the bar on a Friday night and have a one night stand. The next morning, they discover a connection deeper than physical attraction but for reasons best left unexplained, their relationship has to end when the weekend does. This sweet, sad, and painfully accurate film about fleeting love evokes memories of David Lean’s “Brief Encounter” and Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise.” Director Andrew Haigh shot the film in practical locations with long, uncut takes because, he told me, he wanted “Weekend” “to feel almost like a documentary…you, as the audience, were almost sitting in the corner of the room just watching this relationship unfold.” He succeeded. Good luck trying not to cry as you watch this relationship unfold during the big climactic scene in the train station. You’ll need it. Read my full interview with Haigh here. “Weekend” is currently available on Netflix Watch Instantly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkC7xHAfxm4


The Best Comic Book Movie of the Year
“X-Men: First Class”
Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Technically “The Adventures of Tintin” would probably get my vote for the most accomplished comic book adaptation of the year. But I’ve never read any “Tintin” comics, and neither have most of the people who’ll be seeing it in the United States, which means Steven Spielberg didn’t have to contend with angry, judgmental fanboys freaking out over his every creative decision. Matthew Vaughn, on the other hand, had plenty of nerds looking over his shoulder as he made the fifth film in the X-Men franchise. He also had to retrofit a new story to fit within the framework of old comics and movies, deal with the fact that the previous “X-Men” prequel, “Wolverine,” was one of the worst comic book movies ever, and crank out the entire project from start to finish in less than a year. Somehow, he made it work. Michael Fassbender was such a badass antihero as the young, Nazi-hunting Magneto he suggested an avenue for a prequel to this prequel. Listen to my full review here.


On to PART 2 of The Best Genre Movies of 2011.

Got different picks for the best Western, horror film, legal thriller, romance, and comic book movie of the year? Let us know in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Nutty Professor Eddie Murphy 1996

Weird Science

10 Weird Movie Substances That Had Hilarious Consequences

Catch The Nutty Professor this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures/Everett Collection

If you’ve ever opened your refrigerator to find some seriously gnarly days-old potato salad, then you know that sometimes the most harmless-seeming things can turn freaky. Movies have conjured up some truly bizarre stuff, often the work of crazed scientists. Before you catch The Nutty Professor on IFC, check out some of the icky-est, gooey-ist and just plain weird substances on the big screen.

10. Flubber

Flubber
Walt Disney Studios

Professor Brainard’s “flying rubber” increases its speed every time it bounces, and increases the chaos, destruction and unlikely basketball-dunkage of anyone who uses it. Thankfully the movie ends before its thermodynamic impossibility cause the incineration of the entire universe.


9. Quantonium, Monsters Vs. Aliens

Monsters Vs Aliens
DreamWorks

In Monsters vs. Aliens, both action-packed parties are battling over Quantonium, an exotic material which massively empowers anyone who holds it. Literally in the case of Susan Murphy, whose exposure turns her into Ginormica and enables her to fight against Gallaxhar’s invasion force.


8. Sustengo, Little Fockers

Sustengo
Universal Pictures

After finally finding favor with his hard-bitten father-in-law, Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) finds himself strapped for cash and starts promoting Sustengo, an erectile dysfunction drug. Which means leaving boxes of ED drugs lying around a family who can’t even use a toilet without triggering a series of hilarious misunderstandings.


7. Iocane, Princess Bride

Iocane
20th Century Fox

Iocane is a deadly poison with no odor or taste that dissolves instantly in any liquid. The perfect tool for murder isn’t usually hilarious, but The Princess Bride makes everything funny. Hero Westley (Cary Elwes) tricks cunning Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) into drinking the poison in a game of wits. Vizzini lost, not knowing that the answer is “Don’t drink anything offered by someone who just talked about how awesome their poison is.”


6. PX-41, Despicable Me 2

PX41
Universal Pictures

The mutation compound engineered by PX-Labs turns anything into a purple, fluffy, indestructible killing machine. And when Despicable Me‘s famous Minions are dosed with it, look out. Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) crafts an antidote, PX-41 Antidote, proving he’s much better with chemicals than he is with names.


5. Mood Slime, Ghostbusters II

Mood Slime
Columbia Pictures

When the Ghostbusters came back for their 1989 sequel, the slime they encountered was sillier and scarier. The “Mood Slime” was a special form of ectoplasm utterly saturated in the emotions of everyone and everything around it. And while our heroes energize some positive vibes with Aretha Franklin tunes, the entire city of New York’s psychic outpourings are filling the sewers with something distinctly less positive.


4. The Stuff

The Stuff
New World Pictures

A science fiction soft-serve satire, The Stuff is about an oddly organic treat which is utterly delicious and zero calories. In fact it’s negative calories, because if you eat enough it’ll take over your brain and hollow you out from the inside.


3. Miracle Weight Loss Serum, The Nutty Professor

Buddy Love
Universal Pictures

The core component of The Nutty Professor‘s plot is a miraculous weight loss serum, a simple fluid which re-engineers human DNA all by itself. This allows sweet but sizable Sherman Klump (Eddie Murphy) to transform into the tight, toned and turbocharged Buddy Love (Murphy again). The serum is revealed to be fatally dangerous, but anything which allows Eddie Murphy to play himself cranked up to the max is pure comedy gold.


2. Cobalt Thorium G, Dr. Strangelove

Dr Strangelove
Columbia Pictures

Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb is about a bomb built with Cobalt Thorium G. It’s a doomsday device designed to annihilate all human civilization and is, slightly worryingly, based on the least fictional materials on this list. Cobalt and thorium both have applications in nuclear weapon design. Luckily we haven’t got them up to G yet.


1. Ectoplasm, Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters
Columbia Pictures

The Ghostbusters live in a world where ghosts are real but physics is still in charge. So while the ghouls are flung around with proton packs, they get the boys in grey back with their appalling ectoplasm, or slime, trail. As Venkman says, getting covered in the stuff will make you feel all funky.

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Fast Times Jennifer Jason Leigh

Retro Grades

The 11 Best Movie Comedies of the ’80s

Catch Fast Times at Ridgemont High during IFC's '80s Weekend.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

The ’80s gave us so many great things (Tab, anyone?), but when it comes to movie comedies, the Reagan years were a golden age of funny. In honor of IFC’s ’80s Weekend, we’ve selected the best big screen comedies from the decade that gave us Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy and other comedy greats. And like one of the movies featured below, this list goes to 11.

1. Back to the Future

“A high school slacker goes back in time, takes his mother to a dance, and gets dangerously close to becoming his own father.” The elevator pitch for Back to the Future doesn’t sound so charming, but the 1985 flick starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover is declared by many as being the perfect movie. (Though we can’t officially say if the Eric Stoltz version would’ve been better.)


2. Ghostbusters

The sheer number of childhoods that were professed to be ruined by the recent reboot should tell you how beloved the original film is. A perfect blend of comedy, horror and fantasy, Ghostbusters has an indelible cast at the top of its game and a heap of one-liners worthy of countless casual references. They have the tools, and they have the talent.


3. Airplane!

Speaking of one-liners, it doesn’t get much more quotable than the 1980 Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker classic Airplane!. Almost a one-to-one parody of the 1957 disaster film Zero Hour!, Airplane! works so well because of how straight faced the zaniness is played — which is something its many imitators fail to notice.


4. This Is Spinal Tap

Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer created the de facto mockumentary film with the hilarious 1984 rock diary This Is Spinal Tap. Heralded as one of the most accurate depictions of backstage life by actual real-life bands, the movie showcases an aging glam metal band struggling for the spotlight while keeping the group intact (especially the spontaneously combustible drummers).


5. National Lampoon’s Vacation

While Caddyshack and Fletch are quintessential Chevy Chase films, nothing beats the bumbling patriarch of the Griswold clan losing his mind en route to Wally World, America’s favorite family fun park. Yes, the sequels saw diminishing returns (aside from Christmas Vacation), but the one that started them all is endlessly watchable. Amen, let’s go!


6. Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Director Amy Heckerling and writer Cameron Crowe managed to capture exactly what high school life was like in the early-’80s. The awkwardness, the frustrations, the scares, the search for purpose and gratification, Fast Times presents its young characters as fully fleshed-out individuals (even the designated stoner shows nuance) and doesn’t talk down to its audience like many teen movies do. (Click here to see all airings of Fast Times at Ridgemont High on IFC.)


7. Beverly Hills Cop

A reminder of the days when Eddie Murphy was the edgiest comedian in showbiz, the one-two punch of Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hrs. set the template for modern action comedies. We wouldn’t have the Rush Hour franchise and every Kevin Hart film without Axel Foley.


8. Trading Places

A treatise on the Nature vs. Nurture argument at the height of Reagan-era excess, Trading Places depicts the lives that are held in the balance when the mega-rich make friendly $1 wagers and just how joyous the retribution can be. Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Lee Curtis are terrific as the leads, the Duke Brothers are delightfully evil, and in all seriousness, that is a nice purse.


9. Better Off Dead

This 1985 Savage Steve Holland movie is teen angst at its most surreal and affably goofy. John Cusack stars as Lane Meyer, a high schooler still reeling from the loss of his girlfriend to a cocky champion skier. (Is there any other kind in an ’80s movie?) With bloodthirsty paperboys, foreign-exchange street races and stop-motion hamburger interludes, Better Off Dead doesn’t let realism get in the way of accurately portraying pure teen heartbreak.


10. Midnight Run

Of all the critically acclaimed pairings that actor Robert De Niro has had through the years, few are as entertaining as his reluctant team-up with a persnickety Charles Grodin in 1988’s Midnight Run. Perfect foils, the bounty hunter and mob accountant race against time, the Feds and mafia hits until mutual Stockholm Syndrome kicks in and the partnership stops becoming merely professional. (The counterfeit bill scene alone is worth the watch.)


11. Heathers

Heathers is the kind of pitch-black comedy that would never get a major release in 2016. Unflinching in its satire of school shootings, teen suicide and the tragedies that come with the need to fit in, the movie remains relevant to the kids currently growing up in a cruel and judgmental world. And the fact that it’s laugh-out-loud funny while also making a sharp point about youth culture is a testament to how great the movie really is.

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Bill Hader in Conan Star Wars Audition Sketch

Acts of Wars

Watch Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy and More Audition to Play Young Han Solo

The Documentary Now! star shows off his best Han and Chewie.

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Photo Credit: TBS/YouTube

Thanks in large part to The Force Awakens not sucking, the Star Wars universe is about to get a lot more expansive. Sequels, spin-offs, TV shows, and more are underway — which means a helluva lotta casting calls. Fortunately, Conan O’Brien got his hands on a few audition tapes of celebrities trying out for a role as a young Han Solo.

Check out Documentary Now!’s Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy, Portlandia favorite Jeff Goldblum, Todd Margaret star Will Arnett and other funny folks offering their takes on what that younger, brasher space swashbuckler would be like.

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