A funny thing happened at the movies this year: absolutely nothing blew me away.
There were things I really liked, but my list of favorite movies is kind of a joke, really. They’re not bad movies (not in my mind, anyway), but there are few, if any, Best Picture candidates in the bunch. Compare that to last year, where six of my top 10 movies were nominated for Best Picture. This time around, that’s just not happening. Just want to lay that out up front.
Worse, there isn’t one movie that stands above the others. I liked my favorite movies equally, more or less. That might sound like a copout, but it’s true. Of the movies I’ve seen so far, this was the year where movies were just sort of…there. Maybe we’ll have better luck next year.
My Favorite Movies of 2011
Selling one’s soul is a popular subject in movies, since no two people are willing to settle for the same amount. “Margin Call” explores the subject on a massive scale, since the ripple effect of the actions of a few will be felt around the world. It’s not a thriller in the traditional sense, but it’s absolutely gripping. Kevin Spacey shines here, as does the ever-reliable Stanley Tucci.
It probably helped that I grew up in a small Ohio town not terribly unlike the one in “Super 8” (though no one used the word ‘mint’ the way Riley Griffiths’ character does here), but “Super 8” wasn’t merely an exercise in nostalgia; the movie delivered top-notch thrills, well-drawn characters, and the most spectacular sequence of the year with that jaw-dropping train crash. Elle Fanning, meanwhile, put on an acting clinic, and she’s only 13. Wow.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Rooney Mara gives it all, and shows it all, too. Did she really get her nipples pierced for the part? That’s dedication, right there.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Oh, is this movie fun. A pair of back woods regular guys are mistaken for serial killers by a group of college kids, who begin dying in horrific accidents that look like the work of, yep, a pair of serial killers. Tyler Labine and the great Alan Tudyk have terrific chemistry, and Katrina Bowden just might be the cutest thing on the planet.
Despite the fact that the movie ends with one giant unanswered question, this is one hell of a time travel ride. Duncan Jones (yep, he’s David Bowie’s son) is proving himself to be quite the director, and getting Scott Bakula to play Jake Gyllenhaal’s father was a great in-joke.
The Adjustment Bureau
You just met the girl of your dreams. Now imagine a group of “agents” telling you that they’ll turn you into a vegetable if you pursue her, because that is not your fate. What a neat idea, merging a chase movie with the concept of divine intervention, and peppering it with some of the most realistic boy/girl dialogue the movies have seen in years. The scene between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in the bathroom is one of the greatest meet cutes of all time.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II
Not only was this a blast from start to finish, it contained the most emotional weight of any “Potter” movie, namely the moment where Severus Snape reveals to Harry why he’s been so hard on him all these years. Still, Harry really names his son Albus Severus Potter? It’s a heartfelt gesture, but that’s almost as bad a name as Renesmee. More on that later.
The Ides of March
Was the movie an exploration of how quickly idealism gives way to survivalism, or a subtle promotional film for George Clooney’s eventual transition into politics? Either way, it was a well crafted, if not wildly original, exploration of how everyone in politics eventually gets his hands dirty.
Kung Fu Panda 2
Rare is the animated sequel that ups the action ante while fleshing out the back story in such a fulfilling way. “Kung Fu Panda 2” kicked ass, took names, and opened the door for a more grown-up “KFP3.” Also, Gary Oldman was awesome as the evil peacock.
The scene of Berenice Bejo pretending to be felt up by Jean Dujardin by slipping her arm into one of his jacket sleeves is pure poetry.
“The Hangover 2” may have taken in twice as much money, but I’ll take Bateman, Sudeikis and Day over the wolf pack any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Likewise, people are still going nuts over “Bridesmaids,” and while it has its good points, it isn’t a tenth as clever as the writing here (both EW critics put “Bridesmaids” in their Top 10? Really?). And just try looking at a Prius on the highway without thinking to yourself, “I don’t win much.”
Movies I still need to see
Martha Marcy May Marlene
The Tree of Life (though I’d rather not)
My Least Favorite Movies of 2011
This list was much easier to assemble than the first one. Isn’t that always the way.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Ugly, mean and pointless, and they destroyed the beautiful Chicago skyline in the process. There was one cool shot, and that was Char the Beef getting thrown out of, and back into, Bumblebee. Everything else was masturbation.
New Year’s Eve
Did you like how they used one Warner Bros. movie to promote another Warner Bros. movie opening the following week (“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows“)? And to think, that was actually one of the least obnoxious things about this movie.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part I
“Sleep with me.” “I really shouldn’t.” “Come on, we’re married now.” “Yeah, but I could, you know…” “What?” “Nothing.” “Cool. (*hot sex*) Hey, that was awesome, if a bit rough. Hey, why do I feel like I’m about to die?” “Oh, I guess I should have told you…” Are you fucking kidding me? And they named their daughter Renesmee? Like the world isn’t already overloaded with people who will saddle their kids with the worst, most idiotic names ever invented simply because they’re trendy? This is your cross to bear, Stephenie Meyer.
Cowboys and Aliens
This could have been so, so cool. Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde and Jon Favreau together on a movie, and it isn’t awesome? Huge, huge disappointment.
Battle: Los Angeles
The cinematic equivalent of a migraine headache. I’m not one to be snarky, but this movie is painful, in the worst way.
How did so much talent make a movie so aggressively mediocre? At least we had the Fratellis and “Chelsea Dagger” to pick us up at the end.
I was about to say that you have to think that James Marsden and Russell Brand gave each other a knowing look before every scene, the “Yeah, this sucks, but we’ll be able to buy vacation houses with the money” look. And then I think, “Wait, Russell was just doing voice work, meaning Marsden was on his own.” Tsk tsk.
Puss in Boots
My kids love this movie. They’re also 4 and 2. They like everything.
I feel bad ripping on something that clearly has noble intentions, but who wants to see this movie? Judging by the box office, no one.
Movies I didn’t see (nor could you make me)
Jack and Jill
I Don’t Know How She Does It
Season of the Witch
Big Momma: Like Mother, Like Son
I Am Number Four
Johnny English Reborn