Please note one glaring exception. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES would surely be on the list... had I watched it in 2011. I didn't get a chance to see it until a week or so ago, which makes it the flick to beat for the 2012 list.
A LONELY PLACE TO DIE (2011)
Mountain climbers in Scotland discover a kidnap victim hidden in a remote hillside. A cat and mouse game ensues as they try to protect the girl. Filled with spectacular and breathtaking scenery as well as first-rate tension. Definitely the best film I saw last year and one that's meant to be seen in a theater.
CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2 (2011)
The first LAID TO REST flick surprised the hell out of me with its wet and grisly effects and a grim, sadistic killer who required no backstory. The inventive sequel picks up where the first film left off and quickly twists and turns my expectations inside out. Brian Austin Green continues his trash renaissance as a conflicted middle manager/serial killer-wannabe. And yes, this one's filled with gnarly effects, too.
FAST FIVE (2011)
I can only think of one other instance where such an advanced sequel emerged as my favorite of the series (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART IV: THE FINAL CHAPTER). Ditching the CGI car porn of the fourth installment, FAST FIVE injects Dom and Co. into a South American heist flick with The Rock along for the ride. Easily my favorite popcorn franchise of the moment.
I SAW THE DEVIL (2010)
You know a flick is riveting when you're on the edge of your seat despite having spent nine hours in the car. Oh, and did I mention it's in Korean and 141 minutes long?! As good pal and Actionfest traveling companion Bruce Holcheck put it, it's the most "bludgeontastic" flick you'll ever see. A secret service agent seeks revenge -- over and over and over -- on the serial killer that murdered his wife. See it before the inevitable American remake screws it up.
MEMPHIS HEAT (2011)
The best documentaries leave you wanting more and when this look at the history of Memphis wrasslin' ended I yelled "Nooooooooooo!" at my tv. (Luckily, the DVD release is packed with about four hours of extras.) A funny and informative look at one of the last great bastions of indie wrestling from its black and white roots to its time in the national spotlight before the emergence of the WWF (now WWE) as a major, national wrestling league.
NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY (2010)
I think my interest in the ELM STREET series peaked with Chuck Russell's inventive and fun DREAM WARRIORS (#3 for those of you scoring at home). But that didn't lessen my fascination with this riveting four hour (yes, four hour!) documentary that takes an exhaustive look at the entire – and I do mean entire – ELM STREET franchise.
TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL (2010)
I'd been hearing about this horror comedy since it screened at a DC horror film festival back in 2010 and I anxiously waited for it to hit video. And waited. And waited. As it turns out, the last film I'd watch in 2011 would also be one of my faves (obviously, since it's on my "best" list). A series of unfortunate accidents and misunderstandings leaves a pair of lovable hillbillies fighting off a gang of college kids who have mistaken them for backwoods psychopaths. I'm usually not a big "horror comedy" fan but this take on genre tropes hits all the right notes.
NEVER BACK DOWN 2: THE BEATDOWN (2011)
While A LONELY PLACE TO DIE was the "best" movie I saw at last year's installment of Actionfest, my "favorite" movie was the directorial debut of Black Dynamite himself, Michael Jai White. It's your standard "hassled con/former ultimate fighting champ (MJW) trains a bunch of misfits to compete in an underground MMA contest" but the fight sequences -- choreographed by Larnell Stovall (UNDISPUTED III) -- rise above the standard drama and black belt Scottie Epstein excels as a comic/record nerd bullied into becoming a savage fighter.
BLACK DYNAMITE (2009)
Speaking of Black Dynamite, I finally got a chance to see this buzzed about blaxploitation spoof on the big screen (with MJW sitting a couple rows behind us). White flexes his comic chops in this almost flawless parody of the black action genre spearheaded by the likes of Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Isaac Hayes, etc. In a league with genre parodies like YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, OSS 117: CAIRO, A NEST OF SPIES and the first Austin Powers flick.
NIGHT WARNING (1983)
Holy crap! Every year the fine folks at Exhumed Films end up screening a film that literally blows my mind, a la WICKED WICKED, TEENAGE MOTHER, or RAW FORCE. This year it was the mind boggling NIGHT WARNING, in which Susan Tyrrell delivers one of the most fearless performances ever captured on film. As "Aunt Cheryl" she smothers her orphaned nephew Billy (Jimmy McNichol), gets him tangled up in a messy murder investigation, keeps him away from the slutty girl who played Stephanie on 'Newhart', and slowly goes insane on screen. In fact, her performance is so riveting that she may have *actually* gone crazy.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Grotesque (1988), Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009), X-Men: First Class (2011), Bail Enforcers (2011), Super (2011), Undisputed II: Last Man Standing (2006), Undisputed III: Redemption (2010), Angel of Destruction (1994), No Way Out (1973), Stagefright (1987), BKO: Bangkok Knockout (2010), The Face with Two Left Feet (1979), 13 Assassins (2010), Piranha (2010), Tourist Trap (1979), Amy's in the Attic (2010).