Christopher’s Top 10 Trailers of 2011

Trailers are an under-appreciated art form insofar that many times they’re seen as vehicles for showing footage, explaining films away, or showing their hand about what moviegoers can expect. Foreign, domestic, independent, big budget: I celebrate all levels of trailers and hopefully this column will satisfactorily give you a baseline of what beta wave I’m operating on, because what better way to hone your skills as a thoughtful moviegoer than by deconstructing these little pieces of advertising? Some of the best authors will tell you that writing a short story is a lot harder than writing a long one, that you have to weigh every sentence. What better medium to see how this theory plays itself out beyond that than with movie trailers?

I’ll get this out of the way now: Harry Potter is not on this list. I only mention this as I was excoriated back in 2009 when I left Star Trek off the year’s best trailers list and today there is no sentiment I agree with more than /Film’s own David Chen when he wrote a couple of days ago:

About to publish my Top 10 of 2011 at @slashfilm. I feel like Maximus about to say “UNLEASH HELL.” Only it will be against me. By readers.

Yes, there is some trepidation in putting out a definitive list as you’re tacitly implying that “These 10 here are the only ones that matter and if you happen to be #11 then it’s not worth discussing.” Lucky for me, all I’m talking about is two minutes and thirty seconds worth of marketing savvy so the stakes aren’t that high. Although many will count their actual films watched in the dozens, I can honestly peg the number of trailers I’ve seen this year in the hundreds. In addition to the ones that I find and actually find a home in this column there are handfuls of trailers every week which aren’t even worth mentioning. Countless trailers just miss the mark and, honestly, there is a genuine art to it. Steven Reedy is one guy who I’ve mentioned a couple times this year and he would be the first to tell you how hard it is to get the tone, the tempo, the music, the cues, just right. However, there were some truly excellent trailers that came out this year, for both big and small films, and my hope is that at least some of you admires why it made the grade.

Alas, I know all of this won’t stop the super troll who will let no list, however petty, get in the way of their merriment. In an effort to alleviate the negative sentiment that is about to be unleashed my way, though, I offer some notable mentions that really deserve a couple more minutes of your time that didn’t quite crack the top 10: The Artist, The Devil’s Double (still the best use of “Personal Jesus” ever in a trailer), Headhunters, Kill List, Catatan Si Boy, Bombay Beach, Pina, The Other F Word, and The Swell Season. Enjoy the rest…

10. Beauty Day

Bless filmmakers like Jay Cheel who are out there making movies that speak to their artistic sensibilities. Specifically, making a movie about someone you’ve never heard of and someone, right after this trailer is finished, you couldn’t wait to know more of.

There is a certain level of impressed you have to be about the slick manner in which this trailer blends together really shoddy VHS footage, old newspaper clippings, scrapbook detritus, and a subject that anyone would love to bottle and sell as an energy drink. Christ, I thought this was a movie about David Lee Roth at first but not even Diamond Dave is daring enough to be so insane yet completely lovable at the same time as Ralph Zavadil is in this trailer. It’s mixed with the right amount of pep, fun, and biographical back story that not only draws you in with Cheel’s directing acumen to frame the story in the right way but it really comes together a the 1:30 mark when Dan Deacon’s “Crystal Cat” rears up in the background. Cheel knew well enough of how to bring it home and my ADD can barely keep up with the scenes that are interwoven in a pastiche of sight and sound where the only response after this visual assault that comes at two minutes should be: When can I see it?

All I know is that I’ve been waiting a while and I’m still hungry for it.

9. TT3D: Closer To The Edge

It’s been a good year for sports documentaries.

ESPN’s 30 for 30 series has been tremendously inspiring to those wanting more substance from their sports stories and movies like Senna did very well, critically, for those who gave that random race car driver a chance. This trailer, a movie by Richard De Aragues that is all about a single motorcycle race, just takes a foothold in your mind and doesn’t let go. The whole point of a trailer is to entice you but this trailer is seducing.

I knew jack about the Isle of Man TT race before watching this trailer but I watched this enough times to know that this one man has a story worth listening to, to be curious about. The trailer expertly sets up not only his story but the story of a race that looks damn vicious. Speed, death, a colorful protagonist, and the promise of a true underdog tale all makes for valid reasons why you would choose this over something less thrilling at the box office. This trailer has to sell passion because how else do you manufacture genuine concern for a guy I’m going to guess that 99% of us don’t know? By having the skill to make you care within seconds about this seemingly clueless grease monkey who has the minerals to try and win a race based on how fast  you can whip around a island at an average speed of 120 mph. The trailer captures that essence and sells it better than many other fictional stories I’m supposed to get invested in. Inspiring, and the trailer still holds up as an impenetrable marketing device even after the dozen or so times I’ve seen it.

8. I Saw The Devil

Now this is red band done right.

I’ve seen my share of horrific excuses for red band trailers and most of them are just blatant vehicles for foul language that offer nothing but a shallow look at a movie that most likely will blow. (See a recent example: The Sitter) What I appreciate about the use of it here is that it takes advantage of Jee-woon Kim’s violent beginning and takes you through this story, barely telling you anything too specific. The trailer consciously doesn’t stop with the killer’s capture which is an interesting element to reveal, however, by doing so it elevates this from a story about revenge to a story about a sadist looking for something else entirely. It’s sleek, lean, and there wasn’t another trailer this year that made me yearn to read subtitles more than this did.

7. The Trip

The Michael Caine voice off is reason enough to include this as one of the year’s best comedic trailers. It’s funny, it’s sweet, and even though these guys are relentlessly taking potshots at one another this preview gave you an evenhanded look at the two things at play in this movie: epicurean indulgence and best friend one-upmanship. The patois the two of them share is delightfully captured and anyone who gets that friends like this have their own way of speaking to one another will find a kinship immediately with these two men. Michael Winterbottom knows how to coax the best out of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as what’s shown in this trailer from the original series that this was truncated from gets the highlights exactly right. By focusing on these two and the food they share the trailer goes beyond this just being a funny film trailer, it’s an exploration of the moments men like this share with one another when they think no one is watching. It’s played up, to be sure, but there’s genuine affection between these two comedians and the trailer deftly sells male romance with a musical bed, while not wholly original, fits quite well.

6. Drive

I wish I didn’t have to explain what is so wonderful about this trailer but Nicolas Winding Refn’s flick about a man without a name doesn’t need words. It just needs Cliff Martinez’ score to carry you through what looked to be a movie that didn’t want your interest, it wanted your complete buy-in. To those who say that the reason the movie didn’t do well, fiscally, was because it wasn’t sold well. Wrong. I would assert it was sold exactly the right way and when things hit the 1:40 mark I am overwhelmed with the kind of joy some reserve for standing in awe of a work of art. It was the first movie where I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing Ryan Gosling being all tough and this movie delivered in a way I haven’t seen in years. Truth in advertising. Believe it.

5. Submarine

Oh, to be young again. Watching the trailer for Richard Ayoade’s coming of age tale it’s hard not to get wrapped up in Jacques Brel’s “Quand on a que l’amour” as we get to know Oliver Tate. We focus in on this unreliable narrator’s own myopic view on love and its mysteries and it’s glorious. With enough kudos plastered on the screen to write a short story and with enough disparate scenes as to thoroughly confound anyone who wants to try and put them into a cohesive order, this is exactly what young love should look like and how disjointed it should feel. And as the music crescendoed, so did my interest level in wanting to see more of this film and that’s about as high praise as you can give something like this. It knows what it is and it exemplifies it completely.

4. Shame

You can’t watch this trailer and not feel something. Be it dirty, bothered, or curious to know more, this trailer succeeds at making you respond. There is something about examining how far Fassbender will fall in his depravity that makes this a pitch perfect piece of advertisement. The huffing in the background, the short blasts of anger, the visual numbness this guy feels, it all is conveyed tragically and there is a tobacco like film that hangs on this guy’s soul you can see it. There could have been different ways to set this story up to viewers who didn’t know what the movie was about but the decision to craft a trailer that almost takes delight in exposing every tragedy that this man is guilty of is brilliant. Pulls no punches and, for better or worse, it’s a fascinating example of great marketing.

3. X-Men: First Class

How you wash away the funk of of a miserable movie like X3 out off your body, out of your eyes? This trailer had to accomplish a lot and it did it by not teasing and, instead, gave everyone what they wanted to see which was a reason to trust in this franchise again. By calling back to previous films in the opening moments it reminded people of the better installments and then built on that frame, whether you realized it or not, to craft something new. It didn’t waste much time to get down to it and by focusing on Fassbender as Magneto and McAvoy as Xavier, sans special effects, it grounded the universe somewhere tangible, more real. It’s really not until after we hit the minute mark before it lets loose with what we want but, when it does, it’s top notch and everything that one of the biggest surprises of 2011 could offer. You can have your fake male bravado and slick computer fonts, I’ll  take trailers like this that want to build something organically and intelligently all day long. The action trailer, re-imagined.

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I haven’t seen the movie yet but this trailer is pretty enough to run on a loop and be placed on the wall to watch in perpetuity. The moments we’re given are disjointed, obviously on purpose, but I’m glad it was set up this way as it goes well with the Trent Reznor & Karen O version of “Immigrant Song.” The music provides a haunting backdrop for what appears to be one of David Fincher’s most visually arresting movies. As an outsider looking in, I haven’t seen the Noomi Rapace version, read any of the books, nor really have any more than a basic understanding of the plot but I’m engaged fully with trying to piece it all together just based on the tempo and pace of this trailer. The scenes are stark and striking and with that song rattling through your skull you can’t help but feel like everything is awash in dread. Regardless of how well the actual movie is, the value proposition is a no-brainer here. Bend to its will.

1. Hanna

This is the epitome of what a great action trailer should look like. The Chemical Brothers’ “Container Park” playing heavily in the background while gonzo action melts around you like dripping ice cream makes for a preview that shook me awake when I first saw it. I kept watching it again and again; seeing this film that I never knew could exist after thinking The Professional had a lock on girls who could fight back mightily, I loved every scene that I was given. From Eric Bana’s curious change from Nanook of the North to three-piece suit guy, why Saoirse Ronan wants to snap the neck of Marissa Wiegler, to who the hell is leaning out of a car window telling this girl to “run little piggy” as he tries to kill her, and what it is that’s driving everyone involved. It’s tough to quantify the level of delight I get out of trailers like these but this one consistently evokes that same sense of wonder and awe at what this movie is actually selling. It’s an action movie, to be sure, but it has something genuinely ineffable. The truest translation of what you see is what you get.
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