The Best and Worst of 2011
In 2010 my list was top-heavy with animated films. As a big fan of animation storytelling, I love it when a year has so many great examples of the art. Unfortunately 2011 wasn’t a good year for animation, and overall there were a lot of stinkers in theaters. While I did enjoy Arthur Christmas and had a fun time checking out The Adventures of Tintin, neither was close to the quality of How to Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 3 or Tangled.
This year had some great cinematic moments, including my top film of the year which I consider to be one of the best of the last decade. There was a lot of emotion this year, some terrific drama, and an immense amount of creativity and advancement of the cinematic art form. I was surprised to find that most of my favorites this year didn’t come out in December as is usual, but instead have been out for months and many are already available for you to watch at home.
As for the worst films? Why isn’t the new Twilight or Jack and Jill on there you might ask? That’s simple. I try not to watch bad films. I like to have at least the hope that I might like it if I’m to spend two hours or more watching it. All of these bad films actually held some potential at some point before I suffered through them.
The Best of 2011:
1) The Tree of Life. How do you even start to explore God’s complex relationship with mankind on film? Many artists have attempted to take on this task but none has ever done so as elegantly as Terrence Malick. The film has a dreamy, ethereal quality about it that asks more questions than provides answers, but it is all done in such a way as to bring comfort to the receptive soul watching it. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain turn in electrifying performances as the parents of three boys in 1950‘s Waco, Texas, but the film is bigger than the actors. While Pitt, Chastain and Sean Penn are the known stars of the film, they are really merely just the colors on the canvas being masterfully painted by Malick. Possibly the most polarizing film in many years (just as many folks hated it as loved it) but those that loved it, like myself, have a connection to the picture that is hard to explain. I was mesmerized and exhilarated by every minute. It’s the kind of theatrical experience I didn’t know was even possible.
2) Warrior. When Warrior was released in early September I was convinced that it would be a huge hit. Afterall, they took UFC fighting, a very popular sport, and created an emotional powerhouse of a story around it with a wallop of an ending that would have any grown man in tears. Watching the film land with a thud at the box office really hurt. I’m still convinced that the reason it isn’t getting the nominations from critics groups is that enough people still haven’t seen it. So now my hope is that when it is released this week on blu-ray and digital download that people will finally take a look. I feel this movie has the power to become the next Fight Club or Office Space if the word gets out. If there is one movie from this list that I insist you watch, Warrior is it.
3) Midnight in Paris. I will freely admit that seeing this film while flying to Paris last month added much to my enjoyment of it, but regardless, this is Woody Allen’s best film since Annie Hall. Allen’s story about a young writer living in Paris who is transported back to the 1920’s every night at midnight is absolutely magical. If you are one of those that just doesn’t like Allen due to personal feelings, you may be glad to know that he is only behind the camera here. But whether or not you love or hate him, it’s hard not to appreciate the genius of his work here. It’s hard to imagine this comedy not putting a big cheesy smile on your face. And just like Warrior, Midnight in Paris comes out this week on DVD and blu-ray.
4) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of this film yet as it won’t be released until late January, but let’s just say you’ll have a pleasant surprise in about a month. As you can probably imagine, making a movie about the events of September 11 without creating an aura of depression would be a difficult task. Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are the parents of a uniquely strange nine-year-old who is doesn’t know how to cope with the fact that his father has been killed in the terrorist attacks. When he finds a key belonging to his father he starts off on a journey to discover whatever it may be his dad left him to find. This movie is not completely without tears (you may in fact need a large pocket stuffed with tissues) but the story is as powerful as it gets and the performances are incredibly moving.
5) The Help. Making a movie about the 60’s civil rights movement that is as funny as it is sobering is quite an accomplished task. Relative new-comer Tate Taylor wrote and directed this adaptation of the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett and the risk by Disney and DreamWorks has paid off big time with its $200 million haul. More than that though, they made a movie to be proud of with one of the best ensemble casts seen this year.
6) 50/50. Before going to see this I was certain that I would leave the theater imitating David Spade by saying “I liked it better the first time I saw it when it was called Funny People.” Needless to say I was wrong. Yes, Seth Rogen again plays the friend of a cancer victim who is given a horrible prognosis, but the script here is so much stronger and strangely hilarious. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is terrific in the role of the young man with terminal cancer and Anna Kendrick once again redeems herself after putting us through so many bad Twilight films. The big star here though is writer Will Reiser and his very brave script based on his own life and his relationship with his friend Seth Rogen.
7) The Artist. I’m sure most of you are very skeptical about all of these critics talking so highly about a French black and white silent film. I was too until I sat down to watch it. The film tells the story of a silent movie star, played brilliantly here by Jean Dujardin, who becomes obsolete once the talkies hit the scene. Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has created a very original and lovely film that will entertain anybody willing to give it a chance.
8) Hugo. So much money was wasted this year on completely crappy 3D versions of movies. In fact, many audiences have shunn
ed the technology and have opted to both save money and have a more enjoyable time by not sitting through the lame effects studios have thrown down in the hopes of a bigger return. Fortunately there are still films like Hugo which uses 3D the way it should be used: to greatly enhance the storytelling. Director Martin Scorsese has done a tremendous job of creating an innovative family film about a young orphan in 1930’s Paris who finds himself struggling to not get sent to an orphanage by secretly living behind the walls of a train station. When the boy’s secret is discovered, so is his journey which his father led him to before he died. Hugo is simply a fun and beautiful adventure which perfectly utilizes the much-abused 3D technology.
9) Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Aside from the ridiculous “damn dirty ape” comment by Draco Malfoy at the beginning of the third act, this wildly creative film that sets up the iconic but silly franchise is anything but just another Planet of the Apes film. Every few years a film comes along that breaks new ground technologically, but in order to give that film credibility, a great story has to take place, and Rise does just that.
10) The Descendants. I love Alexander Payne films and The Descendants falls right in line with his other superb work such as Sideways and About Schmidt. The very understated performance by George Clooney as a husband and father who finds out his wife, who is in a coma, has been cheating on him, will no doubt place him once again as an Oscar front-runner.
Honorable Mention: A Separation, The Adventures of Tintin, Arthur Christmas, Beginners, Bridesmaids, Buck, Life in a Day, The Elephant in the Living Room, Horrible Bosses, Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, The Muppets, My Week With Marilyn, Project Nim, Shame, Take Shelter
The Worst of 2011:
1) Your Highness. Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman teams up with Oscar-nominee James Franco and Danny McBride for the most disappointing film of the year. The only excuse I can think of for this waste of space is that they were all too stoned to practice good judgment.
2) The Change-Up. The good idea was there, the perfect cast was assembled, but the atrocious script ultimately ruined any chance of laughter.
3) Sucker Punch. Okay Zack Snyder, I’ll admit 300 was pretty cool and Watchmen was interesting, but Sucker Punch? You’ve gone too far dude. There’s no excuse for this mess of a film. And don’t try crying about how the studio made you trim it up too much. I saw your director’s cut and it sucked just as bad.
4) Arthur. Let’s take a movie that wasn’t very good to begin with and remake it with a wannabe movie star who likes to act drunk all of the time in real life. Sound like a good idea? I thought not.
5) The Hangover Part II. Second verse, same as the first. If I wanted to see the first movie again, I would have simply watched it again. I really want to like these guys but I feel a bit deceived.