5 Scenes Worth Remembering From Otherwise Forgettable 2011 Films
With all this laudatory talk of the best of the year and Nelson Muntz-style "HA hah"-ing at the worst, isn't it time to spare a thought for all the films in between, the ones that are neither remarkably good nor jaw-dropping awful? 2011 saw hundreds of films hit theaters, some only on offer for a week or two before being shunted off to other platforms, others providing an adequate or mildly disappointing few hours of entertainment at the multiplex. But just because a movie is middling doesn't mean it can't have some memorable, even exceptional scenes. Here are five from flicks that likely won't be on many year-end lists, but that still deserve a second look.
Paranormal Activity 3: The babysitter in the kitchen
The third installment of this lo-fi horror series took its suburban surveillance shocks back to the '80s, but otherwise kept to the familiar formula of grainy footage, door slams, strange noises and vague demon mythology. The one exception? A camcorder mounted to the base of a rotating fan, slowly turning between the kitchen and the open living room of the haunted family's California tract home, allowing for spooky scenarios to develop between the two places as we are kept to the automatically toggle of the unmanned camera. In the best sequence, a babysitter does her homework at the kitchen table, unaware that in the other room a figure wearing the sheet she had used to tell her charges a ghost story has appeared, the camera swings slowly away, and when it turns back the would-be specter is directly behind her. It's an amazing example of how timing and a sense of space can make something simple into something improbably frightening.
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold: Spurlock drinks the POM
Morgan Spurlock's meta-doc was entertainingly and annoyingly about nothing -- a film about product placement whose main content was the process of getting companies to fund a film with product placement. And the long pre-credits sequence, in which Spurlock offers up smirkily over-the-top pitches to marketing directors -- every other beverage that appears in the movie, he tells one drink company, will be blurred out -- and is, of course, shot down, doesn't exactly promise a nuanced take on what's becoming a considerable factor in the entertainment world. But then people start taking him up on his ridiculous offers, and then POM Wonderful buys the above-title slot for a million bucks, and the film is a go. Spurlock buys and drinks the
Kool-Aid pomegranate juice and, as promised, all of the options in the case behind him blur out, and in the screening I attended the audience burst into applause, so well did it encapsulate the exhilarating, terrible delirium of selling out.
Never Say Never: The hair toss
That Jon M. Chu's 3D Justin Bieber biopic/concert film was meant and probably only entertaining for devotees of the teenage pop star goes without saying. If there was darker stuff on the Biebs to be dug up, there'd be no reason for the makers of Never Say Never to try to find it. But Chu managed some interesting things in this giant exercise in fan service, best of all a slow-motion shot of its subject tossing his famous (and now shorn) 'do directly to the camera. As Etta James' "At Last" plays in the background, Bieber's bangs flop across his forehead in luxuriant 3D. It's hilarious, but also totally hypnotic -- you understand why it was a haircut that drew so many shrieking tween crowds.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark -- The opening sequence
Despite the talent attached, including writer/producer Guillermo del Toro adapting a 1973 made-for-TV movie he found unexpectedly terrifying, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark was a letdown, with unscary evil pixie antagonists that would be more likely to have you running to call an exterminator than in fear. But the opening sequence was genuinely spooky, promising frights the film unfortunately failed to deliver. Set in the past, the prologue finds the owner of the haunted mansion summoning his maid down to his dark basement workroom where he attacks her mouth with a hammer and chisel, then presents the fruits of his labor to malignant whispering forces in the fireplace. It's a horrible and thoroughly effective exploitation of dentophobe vulnerabilities that's compounded by the fact that the dark offering is rejected -- it's children's choppers the monsters want. The whole scenario, including the dish of bloody teeth, is unforgettably creepy.
Jack and Jill -- The Dunkaccino commercial
While Adam Sandler's twin comedy is much-maligned, it's hardly the worst thing that's been put in theaters this year (Sandler's own production company has on its own managed to put out films that have been leagues worst, including Bucky Larson and Zookeeper). And Jack and Jill has Al Pacino in what's… well, I hesitate to call it his best, but it's certainly his most lively role in a long time, as an exaggerated version of himself in the midst of a breakdown. When, at the end of the film, he actually does the Dunkin' Donuts commercial Sandler's character has been pursuing him for, it's the kind of thing you watch with your hands over your eyes. And then rewatch, again and again. He raps, he dances with a guy in a coffee cup costume, he actually says "Say hello to my chocolate blend!" Is this joke on him? On us? It doesn't matter.