Top 10 Film Trailers of 2011
Richardson's Film Top 10 List
Michael Richardson
Film trailers are truly wonderful things. Though their editors rarely get any credit, the trailer is always your first instinctual impression of a film, shaping expectations and setting a tone. The very best trailers are often far better than the film itself (I will never forgive you, Watchmen, for falling so low). So here, in recognition of those marketing teams who slave to make coherent messages in 2-minute clips, are my favorite trailers from 2011

10. Martha Marcy May Marlene

The majority of the films on this list are genre exercises in some way, as those styles offer a more immediate visual vocabulary, the kind of images that immediately grab a viewer and immerse them in a different world. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a slow, thoughtful film lacking in the spectacle of other films on this list. But it manages to make up for it in evoking the tense conversations that so draw the film into a deep examination of existential crisis. From the dueling musical motifs to the strange fluidity of its structure, the trailer for Martha Marcy May Marlene conveys the film's unease, and makes a lasting impression.

9. The Dark Knight Rises

The Internet has dissected this trailer enough to render anything I say unoriginal, so let's summarize: that football field scene looks unfortunate, but at least it took Ben Roethlisberger down; Does Batman have a hovercraft?!; Boy, I hope I don't have to struggle to understand Bane, because no matter what Nolan says, having garbled speech doesn't make your movie smarter; Nolan loves himself some frowning men in suits. But even if it's not perfect, it's still Batman, and that last two musical notes will uplift any nerd's heart. Merry Christmas to us all.

8. Battle: Los Angeles

Remember up there when I mentioned how trailers can often be better than the films themselves? Remember Battle: Los Angeles? If you don't, you're lucky. It was terrible. But the trailer, oh, how the trailer was full of promise. Set to a song by Swedish artist Johann Johannsson (what a goddamn name), the trailer promised Black Hawk Down amid an alien invasion. Even though we never saw that executed, it's still a trailer worth marveling at, as an exercise of squeezing a glass of lemonade from a single shriveled lemon.

7. Prometheus

At this point, I don't care if it's an Alien prequel, sequel or just a shot for shot remake of Avatar. Our first look at Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" is moody, atmospheric, and enigmatic. Scott may not always be a sure bet, but this first look into his new film should put most detractors into an awkward place. Even if the plot is a trifle, those striking visuals will carry over. There's not much to say about this one - the trailer says it best, by not saying anything.

6. The Artist

To those who say that audiences won't respond to a silent movie, I offer this purely anecdotal evidence: this trailer made my girlfriend tear up. Michel Hazanavicius' homage to the silent films of yore is a long shot to capture the imaginations of the movie going audience, but the trailer makes it look as if nobody will ever miss dialogue. It's lead actors are so expressive, the musical cues so emotionally resonant, and the in-jokes to classical movies so omni-present that one could just watch this trailer repeatedly as a 2-minute intro to film making. By bringing it back to basics, the trailer for The Artist does what the best of trailers should - wrap us up in the story before we even step into the theatre.

5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

John Le Carre, master of the spy novel, made his name by declaring who he wasn't. Reading Fleming's novels about James Bond's martini-soaked escapades, Le Carre, still working for MI6 himself, wrote The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, an international bestseller that exposed the spy game as what it really was - hard, dangerous and unglamorous work. The trailer for this year's adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy maintains the integrity of Le Carre's style. Every word spoken by the all-star cast seems to be dripping with malevolence and double meaning, in a world where one misspoken phrase can end a career or a life. All this is complemented by a single pull on the stings of a violin, repeated over and over as the music builds and the atmosphere tenses even further. To call this trailer cold is a complement - coldness is what it takes in the spy game.

4. Carnage

Polanski's best films sprawl, encompassing casts of characters that each bring something to the table. Carnage seems like a departure for that reason - two couples contained within a single apartment, where the arguments shift and change and temporary alliances dissolve and solidify. The cast alone creates an immediate reason to get involved (I would pay extra money to watch Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilley fight). And thanks to the shrunken-head quality of trailer craft, we get treated to the most explosive moments the movie has to offer without sitting through the sedated parts.

3. The Muppets

A conversation I'm sure that happened:

Head of Studio: It's a movie about how the Muppets aren't cool or popular anymore, and how they get new fans to recognize how great they are.

Marketing team: But the Muppets aren't cool anymore, and WE'RE the ones who have to get people to recognize how great they are!

And lo, the marketing team did roam the wilderness, until they came up with an idea that could not fail. They would create Muppet parodies of classic genres and other trailers, and people would realize the Muppets were, in fact, hip. And people saw them, and they agreed. Some of their targets were a little easy - even romantic comedies are ripping on romantic comedies these days. But take their parody of the famous Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trailer (see Entry #2) - the elements are arranged pitch-perfectly, while still throwing in the meta-humor that marks each Muppet movie as something special.

2. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The trailer so prominent The Muppets managed to parody it directly, no single piece made me more excited to see a movie I could otherwise skip. By quickly cutting Fincher's cold, austere aesthetic with the screeching chords of Trent Reznor and Karen O's cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" ("We come from the land of the ice and snow/from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow"), the editor truly proves the hero in this case. It might have been easy to make this look like a turgid thriller, but what was once Nordic brooding turns into white hot tension. As the trailer dissolves into bolts of static, and the images become less impressionistic, it manages to give the preview actual momentum, enough to get me to the theatre.

1. Tree of Life

Earlier this year, an article in Slate Magazine jokingly asked its readers to differentiate from pictures of a Discovery channel nature documentary and screen caps from Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life. The point was to show how, with the advent of cheaper, finer cameras, anybody can create images of breathtaking beauty that Malick has been showing off since Badlands. But this trailer alone shows how reductive it is to claim that Malick's gift lies in technical genius. No other director since Kurosawa brings such a painterly quality to his film, where each shot is so meticulously choreographed to remain indelible, from the fires of the dawn of the universe to the tense melancholy of the dinner table. Set to Bedřich Smetana' "Má Vlast Moldau," each fleeting image is seemingly stitched into the next, a montage of emotion and a true microcosm of the film itself.

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