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The best genre movies of 2011, part 2

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Continuing our list from yesterday here are five more of the best genre movies of 2011. Click over for our picks for the best romance, Western, horror film, legal thriller, and comic book movie. Today it’s time for the best spy movie, cop movie, sports movie, mystery, and science-fiction. Let’s do it.

The Best Spy Movie of the Year
“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (In IMAX)
Directed by Brad Bird

Even fans of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” would admit the film is more of a character study about spies than a true spy movie. For real genre thrills, I’m going with something bigger: much bigger. “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” delivered everything we’ve come to expect from this series — high-tech gadgets, ferocious fights, Tom Cruise running — on a grander scale than ever before. Director Brad Bird’s IMAX action scenes, especially one dazzling, dangling sequence atop the tallest building in the world, were absolutely stunning. Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci makes some excellent observations about the gaping holes in the film’s story. So why isn’t anyone talking about them? Because people get so caught up in “Ghost Protocol”‘s enormous imagery they don’t have time to think.


The Best Sports Movie of the Year
“Warrior”

Directed by Gavin O’Connor

This might be the most inexplicable flop of the year. “Warrior” was a shameless crowd-pleaser, with twice the underdogs of your typical underdog sports movie, but for some reason the crowds never showed up to be pleased. Maybe the lack of a bankable star kept people away, but the lack of a bankable star meant two very good young actors, Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy, got to play the lead roles of Brendan and Tommy Conlon, estranged brothers who both enter the same mixed martial arts tournament in search of a big cash prize. The final fight felt seriously anticlimactic and Nick Nolte goes a bit overboard in his alcoholic suffering at times, but the rest of this movie is just about perfect. Any sports movie would be blessed to have a lead character as good as Hardy’s or Edgerton’s. This one has both. If I had to bank on one 2011 movie slowly becoming a massive word-of-mouth hit on DVD and Blu-ray, I’d pick “Warrior.” It could easily become this decade’s “Shawshank Redemption.” Read my full review here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54vrgCP5nlc


The Best Cop Movie of the Year
“The Guard”
Directed by John Michael McDonagh

The buddy cop movie has had its up and downs in recent years but it rose from the ashes like a phoenix who was getting too old for this shit with the comedy “The Guard.” Brendan Gleeson delivers a brilliant performance as Sgt. Gerry Boyle, a small town Irish cop who stumbles, accidentally and disinterestedly, onto a drug smuggling ring. He teams with an American FBI agent (Don Cheadle, whose Southern accent is the one weak spot in the film) and together they make a classic pair of mismatched partners. “The Guard” was written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, brother of “In Bruges” filmmaker Martin McDonagh. I suspect if you liked the latter, you’ll dig the former, which has a similarly picaresque setting and dark sense of humor. Listen to my full review here.


The Best Mystery of the Year
“Cold Weather”
Directed by Aaron Katz

Mysteries are all about finding things in unlikely places and the DIY, improvisational genre of mumblecore is probably the last place in moviedom you’d expect to find a good whodunit. Yet here is Aaron Katz’s “Cold Weather,” a very successful experiment in marrying the off-the-cuff mumblecore aesthetic with the rigid structure of a drawing room mystery. A college dropout with an interest in forensic science and Sherlock Holmes novels moves back home to Portland and gets a job in an ice factory. An old flame comes to visit then seemingly disappears. Was she kidnapped? Or even murdered? While Hollywood turned Sherlock Holmes into a six packed, speed ramping action hero, Katz proved you don’t need any of that to tell a compelling story. All you need are a few interesting characters, one good brainteaser, and a pipe. Read my full review here.


The Best Sci-Fi Movie of the Year
“Attack the Block”
Directed by Joe Cornish

There was plenty of callbacks to old movies in “Attack the Block,” including 80s gang flicks like “The Warriors” and “Streets of Fire,” but the film was far more creative than your typical nostalgia pastiche. Even the design of the “gorilla-wolf” aliens that crash into a giant South London housing complex was refreshing (if something with glowing, razor-sharp teeth and a hunger for human flesh can be termed “refreshing”). Director Joe Cornish’s dazzling debut film was light on science but heavy on scares and humor, and it featured a cast of charismatic misfit kids who made the Goonies look like the Muppet Babies. Buried beneath the laughs and scares, there are even some powerful themes about personal responsibility and the dehumanizing nature of life in the projects. Believe, bruv: this movie deserved better than its $1.0 million domestic gross. Read my full review here.


Back to PART 1 of The Best Genre Movies of 2011.

What was your favorite spy movie, cop movie, sports movie, mystery, and sci-fi movie of the year? Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Southern Fried SNL

Watch Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein in SNL’s Southern Rock Supergroup

Fred and Carrie kept it mellow on the SNL season finale.

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Photo Credit: Saturday Night Live / NBC Universal

It was a veritable “band from comedy heaven” this weekend as a myriad of comedians assembled for a feel-good musical sketch in the Saturday Night Live season finale. Guest host Fred Armisen was joined by Portlandia cohort Carrie Brownstein as well as Maya Rudolph, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Larry David, and members of the SNL cast to form faux-southern-rock supergroup The Harkin Brothers — a band whose members managed to outnumber its audience.

If The Harkin Brothers’ smooth vocal stylings remind you of The Blue Jean Committee from Documentary Now!, that’s probably not a coincidence. The BJC first appeared in a different, more regionally-specific form in a SNL sketch with Sudeikis on drums.

Watch an all-star SNL cast perform a mellow tribute to Arkansas called “Summertime in Fayetteville” in the video below.

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Farewell Mr. Fred

5 Funniest Sketches From Fred Armisen’s SNL Season Finale

Is "Farewell, Mr. Bunting" the best SNL sketch of the season?

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Photo Credit: Saturday Night Live / NBC Universal

The 41st season of Saturday Night Live drew to a close this past weekend, and star of Portlandia and Documentary Now! Fred Armisen hosted the occasion. A former SNL player himself, this homecoming allowed Fred to show off the comedy chops and character skills he’s honed since leaving Studio 8H.

Here are the 5 funniest sketches from the season finale of Saturday Night Live hosted by Fred Armisen.

1. Farewell, Mr. Bunting

What appears to be a straightforward take on the maudlin climax of the 1989 Robin Williams classic Dead Poets Society takes quite an unexpected turn. But if you’re really watching, you’ll realize it’s completely organic and integral to the plot.


2. Fred’s Monologue and One-Man Show

Actor, writer, producer, musician, impressionist — Fred can do it all. So tackling the many characters in the story of his life is a cakewalk for such a talent. Here, Fred takes us on the emotional journey through the day he got the job at SNL and luckily he leaves no detail, however minor or insignificant, out of the performance.


3. New Girlfriend

We were wondering what characters Fred would bring back, but we didn’t predict Regine. Fellow SNL alum Jason Sudeikis appears in this sketch as Regine’s new boyfriend, who introduces his pals to his snarky, raunchy lady. Watch Aidy Bryant try not to crack up at Fred/Regine’s joygasms.


4. Expedition

Three of the biggest stars in American colonialism are Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Sacagawea. But what most history books choose to omit is the simmering sexual tension between the three explorers. Fortunately, a group of community players illustrate the historical figures’ lustful dynamic to a high school class in graphic detail.


5. Escape Pod

As an interstellar ship begins breaking apart, Fred plays the lucky member of the space crew who wins access to the last escape pod. But a heartfelt goodbye is mitigated by the pod’s virtual assistant ensuring all the luxuries and pampering are to the occupant’s liking.

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The Crying Game

10 Things You Didn’t Know About A League of Their Own

Batter up for A League of Their Own this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection

While there may be no crying in baseball, lots of blood, sweat, and tears went into the making of A League of Their Own. From sweltering July heat to concussions to the Material Girl causing trouble, making the hit film wasn’t exactly a homerun. Before you catch A League of Their Own on IFC, check out some dirt on the making of this sports movie classic. Hear that call! The time has come for one and all to play ball!

1. The cast really had to play baseball.

League of Their Own Quotes
Columbia Pictures

Director Penny Marshall was adamant that all of the actresses cast in the film could really play baseball. Prior to the start of filming, the cast (even Madonna!) trained eight hours a day, six days a week for over seven months to hone their skills and bond as a team. They initially practiced sliding using a Slip ‘N Slide, but that method was abandoned when both Tracy Reiner and Megan Cavanagh suffered concussions.


2. Geena Davis auditioned in Penny Marshall’s backyard.

Geena Davis
Columbia Pictures

The Fly and Beetlejuice star was the last person cast in the film after several other prominent actresses like Debra Winger, Laura Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Demi Moore passed. Davis had never played baseball but won Marshall over through a game of catch in her backyard. A natural athlete, Davis was outplaying most of the other actresses on the film. (Though she did use a double for the sliding portion of her infamous catch in the splits.)


3. Tom Hanks entertained the extras with puppet shows.

Tom Hanks
Columbia Pictures

Over 1,700 extras were used throughout the shoot, enduring long hours and occasionally extreme 100+ degree summer heat while on location in Indiana. To keep them entertained in between shots and scenery changes, members of the cast performed. Tom Hanks did puppet shows behind the dugout while Rosie O’Donnell would perform stand-up. Madonna reportedly refused to perform (what a shocker!), leaving the rest of the cast to perform imitations of her. Geena Davis suggested they perform “Bohemian Rhapsody” and songs from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, assigning Tom Hanks the role of Caiaphas.


4. Madonna wasn’t exactly a team player.

Madonna Bosoms
Columbia Pictures

To say the Material Girl was a bit of a handful during the shoot is an understatement. In addition to refusing to perform for the extras and ignoring requests for autographs, she often complained about coming into the film a star but being relegated to the background. According to costar and friend Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna brought a boombox to set the first day and warned everybody that if they broke it, they’d have to buy her another one. She also wrote a somewhat scathing letter about her experiences to a friend, calling Geena Davis a “Barbie Doll” and lamenting the lack of “beautiful men” in Chicago.


5. All of the injuries in the film were real.

Bruise League of their Own
Columbia Pictures

The real women of the All American Girls Pro Baseball League were tough, but their onscreen counterparts were equally as tenacious on the field. Penny Marshall had the actresses play a lot of real games with multiple cameras set up in order to get enough footage for montages, and they didn’t go easy on one another, jamming their shoulders, spraining fingers, and nearly breaking noses. The giant strawberry bruise Alice gets while sliding into base was a real injury actress Renee Coleman sustained during filming, and it lasted for well over a year.  Ouch.


6. Lori Petty and Rosie O’Donnell were the real most valuable players.

Rosie O'Donnell
Columbia Pictures

Though Geena Davis showed natural ability and was supposed to be the “best player in the league,” on-set coach William E. Hughes was most impressed by Lori Petty and Rosie O’Donnell. Petty could actually outrun Davis, so she was forced to slow her pace during the scene where the two race so as not to appear faster than Davis. She wound up throwing more pitches during filming than most Major League Baseball pitchers do in a full season. O’Donnell had actually played Little League baseball with her brothers growing up, so she excelled during training camp, learning how to throw two balls at once from one of the real AAGPBL players on set. O’Donnell and Petty often had hitting competitions and could hit the fences at Major League parks with little difficulty.


7. Even Tom Hanks didn’t know how long he would pee in the locker room scene.

One of the most memorable moments in A League of Their Own occurs when Jimmy Dugan introduces himself by bursting into the locker room in a drunken stupor and relieving himself in front of the rest of the Peaches while Mae times him. To keep both Hanks and the actresses on their toes, Penny Marshall stood in a stall off camera and made the noises with a hose and a bucket for maximum comedic effect. The actual length of Dugan’s epic #1 is an impressive 53 seconds!


8. Jimmy and Dottie had a romantic subplot that was cut from the film.

A League of Their Own Spit

The initial cut of the film clocked in around four hours before being cut down to its more slender two hours and eight minutes. Among the footage left on the cutting room floor were scenes depicting a growing romantic relationship between Dugan and star player Dottie. The conversation on the bus left in the final cut of the film hints at tension, but in a deleted scene the pair shared a passionate kiss late one night on the field which is what originally led to the scene with Dottie telling Lowenstein she was going home.


9. Jon Lovitz was almost upstaged by a cow.

In the scene where Lovitz’s character, baseball scout Ernie Capadino (a role specifically written for the SNL star), visits Dottie and Kit at their family dairy farm, the girls are seen milking cows. Unbeknownst to Lovitz, one of the cows off-screen was giving birth and mooing loudly, causing him to ad lib the line “WILL YOU SHUT UP?!” It was only after they finished filming that Lovitz found out a calf had been born, which the farm named Penny after director Penny Marshall.


10. Some of the cast reprised their roles on the A League of Their Own TV Show.

CBS aired a TV version of A League of Their Own for a brief period in 1993. Cast members Megan Cavanagh, Tracy Reiner and Jon Lovitz reprised their roles, with former “Bond Girl” Cary Lowell in the Dottie role and Sam McMurray channeling Hanks as Jimmy. As you can imagine, it only lasted five episodes.

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