As we turn the page and leave the year 2011 behind, staring the world’s potential destruction down, I feel it’s only appropriate to take stock of whether or not Hollywood delivered audiences a good time in what might be the last full year of civilized society. That’s right folks, it’s time for my favorite films of 2011! Due to my indecisive nature, I refuse to create a top 10 list, instead I’ll list categories and mention why I placed a particular movie there. Sound fun? You betcha!
Favorite Family Friendly Film:
I Am Number Four:
Based on The Lorien Legacies, a young-adult book series, this Action/Sci-Fi flick is a fun watch. I must say it’s one of the more pleasant surprises of 2011. I went in to it not expecting much and came out of the theater eager to see the film again. The story is compelling, featuring a nice blend of action, suspense and thrilling moments. I Am Number Four isn’t exactly child friendly, but it’s a movie pre-teens and teens can enjoy with their parents.
In my review of Super 8 I mentioned that it was one of the hardest films for me to review. I’m not sure if it’s because I had hoped it would be related to Cloverfield or if I let my “job” as a reviewer get in the way of my enjoying the film as a viewer. It’s a damn shame that I had this problem, as I do believe it was one of the better family-friendly films of the year. Super 8 is more or less J.J. Abrams’ love letter to the old Amblin Entertainment films such as E.T. and The Goonies.
My inner turmoil aside, I ended up recommending the movie. I still believe that the train crash sequence was one of the most exciting, anxiety-producing sequences I saw in a movie theater all year, which is saying something since Super 8 shared 2011 with Mission Impossible 4. If you missed the film in theaters though, I’d say you’ll be most impressed with the great acting by the young cast. Young Elle Fanning is a revelation and her cohorts are all great in the film. Super 8 is PG-13, so it might not be for really young kids, but who knows. Check out the parental guide on IMDB and decide whether it’s something every member of the family should watch together or only mom, dad and the teens. Regardless, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Top Family Film of 2011:
I loved this film. Perhaps it’s because I grew up with the Muppet Babies cartoon. Maybe it’s because one of my most vivid childhood memories is our van breaking down on the side of a Michigan highway in late December on our way to see The Muppet Christmas Carol, only to be helped by a nice couple from Georgia (Southern Hospitality FTW!) who helped salvage a night where I’d be introduced to chimichangas and one of my favorite adaptations of Charles Dickens’ classic ghost story. I can’t say for sure why I loved the movie so much, but I was probably the guy laughing the loudest and most frequently in the theater.
I think what makes The Muppets so great is how clever the comedy is. On it’s surface it’s a movie about puppets trying to save a theater, but the film is a love letter to childhood and friendship. Kids should enjoy themselves, but in a way the movie might have more to say to adults. I could be wrong, but I imagine The Muppets were some of the first to really perfect the idea of comedy that appealed to adults and kids equally. The Muppets is rated PG, making it the perfect family movie. The jokes and music are great, with enough variety to appeal to children of all ages. The Muppets is probably still in theaters most places, if it is, go see it as soon as you can. It’s one of the best films of 2011.
Judd Apatow really burst onto the scene after the release of his feature film debut, The 40-Year Old Virgin, in 2005. In the years that have followed Mr. Apatow has directed (Knocked Up), written (Pineapple Express) and produced (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) some of the most successful comedies to come out of Hollywood. With Bridesmaids Mr. Apatow scored another hit as a producer.
Of course, the majority of the credit for the film’s success should be attributed to its star and co-writer, Kristen Wiig. As I mentioned in my review, Ms. Wiig brings “humor and pathos to the role of Annie”. The movie is funny, but I think what has captured audiences and won the movie so much praise is that the movie has a strong emotional heart to it. Life lessons and an emotional core are trademarks of Apatow films and Bridesmaids is no exception.
I know mentioning the emotional core of a comedy makes it sound like it’s not funny, but that’s not the case. Bridesmaids delivers laughs aplenty, but it’s not a non-stop string of jokes. There are serious moments and the cast, under the direction of Paul Feig, really take the movie to another level with their ability to balance between the extremes of humor and seriousness. My message to viewers about Bridesmaids: Come for the funny cast, including Ms. Wiig & Melissa McCarthy and stay for the laughs...maybe even a few tears.
Bridesmaids has been receiving a lot of praise (rightfully so), including Golden Globe nominations (Best Comedy or Musical & Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical = Kristen Wiig), but it wasn’t my favorite comedy of 2011. Although I really appreciate Bridesmaids for having an emotional side to it, I can’t say that it was the funniest movie I saw all year, that honor belongs to another movie, Horrible Bosses. Although it starts a bit slow, once it gets going, Horrible Bosses doesn’t really let up on the laughs.
For me, one of the problems with comedies these days is we see most of the funny bits in the trailer or promotional clips. The Hangover: Part II and Bridesmaids both suffered from this problem. Horrible Bosses saves some of its biggest laughs for the auditorium. The movie’s premise is simple. Fed up with their mistreatment at the hands of their respective bosses, three friends decide to swap murders. The casting for the movie is really wonderful, from the three leads to their horrible bosses. Although everyone scores laughs, Charlie Day really steals the show. The It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star is in top form and this movie should help him land more film roles. Day’s performance is perfectly complimented by Jennifer Anniston as his sexually harassing, super-sexy dentist boss. Horrible Bosses is the funniest movie I saw this year, but it wasn’t my favorite comedy of 2011.
Take Me Home Tonight:
I know some probably think I’m crazy for saying Horrible Bosses is the funniest movie I saw all year but not naming it my favorite. As I’ve said before, for me, best is not synonymous with favorite. My favorite comedy of 2011 is Take Me Home Tonight. Why? Take Me Home Tonight delivers big laughs not found in clips and trailers as well as a story with an emotional heart. I had wanted to see Take Me Home Tonight since seeing a trailer and went to see it opening weekend. Unfortunately, I think I was one of only a few thousand people who caught the movie in theaters, as it was in and out of the local movie house within two or three weeks. I feel that this is a shame as it’s a wonderful movie that will probably hit home with a lot of twenty-somethings.
Normally I’d sit here and describe the acting or writing, but I think it only fair to explain to you why this is my favorite comedy of the year. There are a few simple reasons. The first is that I’ve been in the throws of an extended quarter-life crisis for a few years now. Like the film’s protagonist, Matt Franklin, I find myself with a college degree and no real idea of what to do with my life. Sure I could take a job in my field, but looking down the line, is that really what I want in life? I struggle daily with deciding whether or not I should try to find my “truth” or find a secure job, wait out mundane day after mundane day until it’s time to retire and be content with having a pretty ordinary life with a few really happy days sprinkled throughout.
Matt struggles with similar issues. Being torn between taking the path his parents and peers have expected him to take or finding what truly makes him happy, starting by finally forming a relationship with his high school crush, Tori Frederking. Perhaps it’s the hopeless romantic in me who believes I’ll find the perfect girl & perfect job that the film truly spoke to, but whatever it is, I can’t think of a movie I watched all year that really “hit home” like Take Me Home Tonight.
Ron Howard served as a producer for the film and he perfectly captured my sentiments in a piece for The New York Times, “Young people are all waiting for this night to roll around when they’re going to change, understand, find that person”. Maybe everyone isn’t bound to find happiness, meet the “one” or change the world through a job they love, but I’ll be damned if Matt Franklin doesn’t give me hope that they do.
Favorite Action Movie:
One of the weirder films I saw all year, this Joe Wright directed movie represents a bit of a departure for the director whose previous films include The Soloist and Atonement. Hanna isn’t a pure action film, as it has elements of the mystery and thriller genres. Although it isn’t the best action film of the year, I think Hanna is worth a look for several reasons.
The first is Hanna herself. Saoirse Ronan is wonderful as a teenager trained in isolation by her father to be an assassin. Young Miss Ronan is pitch perfect throughout the film. Her performance has been nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award and I am a bit surprised she isn’t getting more buzz for other awards. Her performance is complimented by strong turns by Cate Blanchett and Eric Bana.
The fine acting featured in the film sets the foundation for the movie’s good action sequences. The film feels very European. By that I mean that the action seems very practical and the stunts appear to have been performed by real people. This is a refreshing change of pace from a lot of the big action movies you see these days which rely on CGI and visual effects. The action throughout the film is perfectly accented by a score composed by The Chemical Brothers. One of my favorite songs is the devil is in the beats. If you’re a fan of action you owe it to yourself to take a look at Hanna.
Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol:
Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol is probably the best action movie of 2011. Honestly, it’s probably the only pure action film on my list of favorites. I’ve seen every movie in the Mission: Impossible franchise and have to say that the two most recent films are the best of the series. I think it’s rare that a series improves with time, but 2011 has proven it’s possible, with Ghost Protocol and Fast Five showing audiences are willing to watch sequels if filmmakers produce a quality product.
I really enjoyed Mission:Impossible 3, but Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol takes the action to another level. The story might not be as emotional as M:I:III, but it serves it’s purpose by keeping viewers interested and propelling the movie along towards its amazing action sequences. I mentioned above that the train crash in Super 8 is probably the best action sequence I saw in theaters all year. That’s true, but Ghost Protocol delivers the best overall action of any film I saw in 2011. The movie is pretty relentless. The Impossible Missions Force is faced with their biggest challenge in any of the movies and as such the movie really doesn’t ease off the accelerator much. I remember being on the edge of my seat at several points during the movie. I rarely get as engrossed in the action, but Ghost Protocol draws you in and doesn’t let go until you walk to your car.
Tom Cruise, as always, is solid as Ethan Hunt. Simon Pegg provides some much needed comic relief to help break up the tension between the suspenseful moments. Jeremy Renner proves he can be an action star like Mr. Cruise and his performance has me anticipating The Avengers even more than I was. Paula Patton is good as the gorgeous, super deadly female IMF agent Jane Carter. Of course, you won’t be talking about the acting, but the action once you see the film. Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol is not only the best action film I saw in theaters in 2011 but also a film that has set the bar for what audiences will expect from action films in the future. A new bar for excitement and pacing has been set. Can’t wait to see if anyone tries to raise it.
Favorite Action Movie:
X-Men: First Class:
As mentioned above, as far as pure action movies go, I think Ghost Protocol is tops for 2011. My favorite action movie of the year though is X-Men: First Class. The movie had plenty of action, but what really sets it apart from Ghost Protocol and Hanna is character development. In each of the other favorites the characters are more or less presented as absolute. They aren’t cardboard characters, they do have depth, but we don’t really see them develop as characters. We just know that Hanna was raised to be an assassin, we know that Ethan Hunt and his team are trained agents of the IMF. With X-Men: First Class we get to see the experiences that made Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr into the future Professor X and Magneto.
Like The Dark Knight before it, X-Men: First Class is not only a wonderful superhero film, but also a great movie in general. It features a wonderful story, interesting characters, exciting action and strong performances from its leads (James McAvoy as Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Erik Lensherr). With his reboot of the X-Men franchise Director Matthew Vaughn proved that he is one of the best in the game today. McAvoy and Fassbender are both incredible in their roles and credit should probably be given to Vaughn for helping make sure a weak link, like January Jones, didn’t derail the whole operation.
Even if you aren’t a fan of superhero movies you owe it to yourself to watch X-Men: First Class. On the surface it’s a film about “mutants” but at its core it’s a film about human beings and each of ours’ desires to find somewhere we belong and someone who understands us. Those are universal themes that appeal to people from all walks of life. I believe everyone owes it to themselves to behold the genius of X-Men: First Class. It’s an action movie with a heart and emotional center, a refreshing change of pace from typical summer blockbusters. Basically Vaughn crafted a summer blockbuster without the superficial elements. Maybe he’s a mutant.
Favorite Sci-Fi Movie:
Cowboys and Aliens:
Cowboys and Aliens is one of my guilty pleasures from 2011. It was panned by critics, but I really had a good time. Is it a wonderful film? No. Is it a hell of a lot of fun? You bet. Taken as a summer “popcorn” flick I think Cowboys and Aliens works quite well. There isn’t any new ground being broken, but what did people really expect from a movie entitled Cowboys and Aliens?
As I mentioned in my review, I think it is important for viewers to look at the film as a western and not really an alien invasion film. At it’s heart Cowboys and Aliens is a western whose villains just so happen to be extraterrestrials. If you go into the movie willing to suspend disbelief for a few hours you should really enjoy yourself. John Favreau, who also directed Iron Man, does a great job of fusing sci-fi elements into a traditional western, the result is a fun movie that can serve as a great way to pass some time.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes:
I have a confession to make: I really loved Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001). I don’t know why, but I really liked it, seeing it in theaters multiple times. Since I was so fond of Burton’s movie I was a bit upset when I heard they were making a new Planet of the Apes film that didn’t pick up where Burton’s left off*, but after seeing a special on Rise of the Planet of the Apes' production I decided to check it out. I’m glad I did. The movie really is great. To me, this film does for the Planet of the Apes Franchise what The Dark Knight did for superhero movies: it shows that the subject matter, treated properly can make a great movie that can appeal to a wide variety of people.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes features a great story that is made even better by strong performances by James Franco, John Lithgow and Andy Serkis. Serkis’ performance could be the best I saw in any film in 2011. What makes it so amazing? For one thing, he plays Caesar, a chimpanzee. Through motion-capture technology the filmmakers created a computer generated character capable of evoking true emotion in the audience. Without this human element showing through in Caesar, I don’t think the entire film works as well as it does.
As I mentioned above, the film’s story is wonderful. For me, great science fiction is grounded in some sort of real science or modern theory. A great example is artificial intelligence. Presently we have created artificial intelligence, such as Siri. To me good science fiction would deal with the ramifications of how much like a human we’d like to make a machine and whether or not you could create a machine that can “love”. If we create machines that feel and think, do we give them civil rights like humans? Basically I believe good science fiction can serve as a basis for us to reflect on ourselves, where we’re going and where we draw certain lines, if we even do so.
Having laid all that out, I think Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a wonderful example of great science fiction in how it does raise ethical issues associated with drug development and man’s ability to control the world around him. Even if you’re not a fan of science fiction, I think that you’ll enjoy Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It’s just a really good movie.
Favorite Science Fiction Film:
Although Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a wonderful film that raises questions based on current science, it is not my favorite science fiction film of 2011. That honor belongs to another film that raises other questions. My favorite science fiction film of 2011 is Duncan Jones’ Source Code. It’s well acted and has a wonderful premise. See it. I doubt you’ll regret it. While you’re at it, check out Duncan Jones’ other film, Moon. It might just be better than Source Code, which is saying a lot.
The Adjustment Bureau:
After seeing Team America: World Police I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to watch another Matt Damon movie and take him seriously. Thankfully I’ve been able to, as The Adjustment Bureau is one of my favorites of 2011. Had it not been for some really strong entries in the genre this would have been my favorite drama for the year.
When people ask about this movie I tell them they have to see it because the chemistry between the two leads is incredible. Their performances really make you believe that Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are in love. This chemistry is what really helps make this movie so successful as the audience really wouldn’t care if two people who didn’t seem to have any connection were being kept apart by mysterious forces. If you need to see an example of a movie hindered by poor chemistry between leads, check out Water for Elephants. Pattinson and Witherspoon might as well have filmed their parts separately in front of a green screen and had them joined together in post. That might’ve made their “love” more convincing. Maybe.
I’m pleased to see that the film has been nominated for a People’s Choice Award for best drama. In my opinion it deserves more recognition than it’s been getting. Although the chemistry between Damon and Blunt is a sight to behold, the movie’s story is compelling and features enough twists and turns to make The Adjustment Bureau a compelling thriller. Check it out, but beware, you’ll be hard pressed to find actors with better chemistry than The Adjustment Bureau’s leads.
While The Adjustment Bureau featured the best chemistry between leads in a movie this year, The Help features the best acting amongst an ensemble. I can say with confidence that everyone in The Help holds up their end of the bargain, with several actresses putting in a couple of the finest performances of 2011. I mentioned in my review that we were probably dealing with one of the major award contenders of the year, turns out I was right. The Help was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Drama, while three of the film’s actresses were nominated for individual awards by the Hollywood Foreign Press. Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain were nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, while Viola Davis received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
In all honesty I don’t think I can express why I loved The Help any better than I did in my review, so please check it out.
A few years ago I experienced a strange phenomenon. I watched a movie and knew I had just seen something amazing, but couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly why I knew it was a great film. The movie that evoked this feeling was No Country for Old Men . It ended up winning the 2008 Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the Year. I hadn’t experienced that feeling again until seeing Drive this year. The more I thought about Drive, the more I longed to see it again to try and pinpoint exactly what had evoked “the feeling” again.
I’ve had a month or two to think about it and I’m pretty sure there are several reasons I loved Drive. The first is it’s just a cool movie. It is, without a doubt, the coolest movie I saw all year. How is it cool? I think one of the key elements to making the movie so cool is the soundtrack. It’s very understated. This helps because the movie itself is very understated. There’s no unnecessary dialogue. There’s no unnecessary action scenes. The film is clean and well put together. The story never drags, but takes its time developing, without being plodding. This is how you make a movie.
This movie made me fall in love with Carey Mulligan. She’s great in it. Ryan Gosling is even better. It’s amazing that in the same year The Adjustment Bureau showed me how much great chemistry can help a film, Mulligan and Gosling come close to matching the chemistry of Blunt and Damon in The Adjustment Bureau. What’s remarkable is how well Mulligan and Gosling portray how much their characters care for one another with very little dialogue. Instead the two rely on subtle expressions such as appreciative smiles and longing glances to show their characters’ mutual affection. Their chemistry really helps you remember the reason you love being in love, the small moments you share with one another.
I do think there are two things you should know about Drive other than it’s awesome. The first is it’s not really an action film. Of course the film features action sequences, but this isn’t Mission: Impossible 4. It’s much more a character study so don’t expect the wall-to-wall action. As I said the film is very deliberate, so when there’s action it’s for a purpose and well done.
A second thing to know is the film features some violence; some brutal, realistic violence, so use caution. If you’re squeamish you might want to hold off on seeing Drive until someone you know personally has checked it out. For you ladies out there, this ain’t The Notebook’s Ryan Gosling. This is the Ryan Gosling your man is going to wish was his buddy; he drives cool cars, kicks ass and wears the sweetest jacket this side of Gene Chizik! Drive is one of my favorite movies of the year. It’s unlike anything you’ll have seen this year, probably ever, so check it out when you get the chance.
The list is nearing the end, but as I mentioned in the opening, I wanted to know whether or not Hollywood delivered fun to audiences in 2011. To me, that’s what movies are all about: having a good time and if only for a few hours, escaping from the monotony of everyday life. Watching a movie in a theater will always hold a certain charm for me. It’s not just the big screen and sound, it’s the entire experience. It’s being treated like a special guest as the theater opens it’s doors and rolls out the red carpet for you as a customer. It’s the ability to share the fun and experience with complete strangers. It’s sharing a special bond with fellow audience members as you exit the theater unscathed after a run in with danger or have just returned from a journey to a far away land. It’s simply, the magic of the movies.
So what movie delivered the most fun for me this year? Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
I absolutely loved Sherlock Holmes. It’s one of my favorite films of all time. I was really excited to see the sequel, but in my heart I was worried that it couldn’t recapture the magic of the first. Thankfully, Guy Ritchie and crew have quelled my fears. A Game of Shadows is better than the first Holmes movie.
The action is superb, as is to be expected with a Guy Ritchie film. I know some don’t like Ritchie’s style, but I personally love it. The slow-motion fighting allows viewers to see what they’re looking for once the fight is played out in real time, as well as showing off Holmes’ keen intellect, letting us know he’s always thinking several steps ahead of those he’s battling with.
Chemistry between leads was a big element in two of my favorites of 2011, The Adjustment Bureau and Drive. The rapport between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson is great. The two seem to not have missed a beat in picking right back up where they left off with the first Sherlock movie. I know some might think it’d be easy, but look at a movie like The Hangover: Part II. The guys still get along, but a lot of the magic from the first is gone from the second. You have to believe part of it can be attributed to the fact that the leads have been apart from one another and away from their respective roles, making it difficult to get back into character.
As far as the story goes, the stakes are much higher in A Game of Shadows than the original film. Professor Moriarty, Holmes’ arch-nemesis and intellectual equal, serves as a nice counterbalance to Holmes’ genius, helping add suspense to the film. I highly recommend the movie. It was the best time I’ve had at the movies in quite some time.
Now some end of the year awards:
Ryan Gosling (Drive) = Gosling has been nominated for 2 Golden Globes, neither of which is for his performance in Drive. I’m surprised, but he was wonderful in Crazy, Stupid, Love and I’m sure he’s equally as good in The Ides of March.
Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) = As mentioned above, X-Men: First Class features some of 2011’s best performances. While James McAvoy is great as Professor X, I think Fassbender’s performance as Magneto is more impressive. It’s one of the better performances of the year and I feel it’s only being overlooked because it’s in a comic book movie, which is a shame. Ironically, Fassbender is getting recognition for his work in Shame.
Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) = Arguably the best working in motion-capture performance today, Mr. Serkis has a history of strong motion-capture performances, having played both Gollum and King Kong. With Rise of the Planet of the Apes he’s taken motion-capture performance to another level. The amount of humanity he brings to the role of Caesar is a sight to behold. His performance is remarkable because you get just enough of the human to show through without losing the illusion that you’re watching a chimpanzee. It’s good stuff.
Octavia Spencer (The Help): Ms. Spencer’s performance as Minny Jackson is one of the best of the year. Minny’s a character audiences can get behind and cheer for. Ms. Spencer’s performance will have you howling with laughter and wiping tears from your eyes. She really nails the performance. Probably my favorite bit of acting from any actress all year.
Saoirse Ronan (Hanna): Ms. Ronan does a wonderful job of playing a teenage assassin. Hanna isn’t a film made for teenagers, it’s a film aimed at adult audiences that just so happens to center around a teenage protagonist. Ms. Ronan is able to show great maturity and childlike vulnerability when needed. It would’ve been easy for someone to make Hanna a total “wild child” since she was raised in the woods, but Ms. Ronan is pitch perfect as Hanna.
Elle Fanning (Super 8):
Thankfully Dakota Fanning’s younger sister doesn’t play Dakota’s role from a lot of her earlier films, screaming/crying young girl. In fact, Elle Fanning, does just the opposite. She plays a level-headed young woman thrust into extraordinary circumstances and doesn’t once make you wish she’d get off the screen because she’s annoying (which always happened with Dakota). As I mentioned above, the kids in Super 8 are wonderful. Elle Fanning is the best of them all. I’m fairly confident, barring a Lohan-esque breakdown, Elle Fanning will be displaying her fine acting skills for audiences for many years to come.
If 2011 does end up being the last full year of civilized society, I’d say we were sent out with a pretty good lot of movies. Sure there were disappointments along the way, Sucker Punch and Rango come to mind, but overall I think Hollywood provided a good variety of films that will appeal to many different audiences. Of course, I’ve only listed my favorite films, I make no argument that they’re the best films of the year, but that’s not what this blog is for. I’m here to tell you whether or not a movie is worth your time and money. I think each of the above films are worth your time and money. Thanks for taking the time to read and support the blog during it’s first year. I look forward to seeing more of you in 2012. At least until it all ends...
*part of this is probably because I was looking for answers to that ending that I couldn’t come up with as a 17 year old