Sunday, January 1, 2012

Best Films of 2011

I figured I would start a little list of my 11 favorite films of the year, seeing as the year is almost over and it seems to be a more fitting number to list than 10. Anyway, I'll start out with number 11 and work my way down to the best of the year, but first a few honorable mentions. I enjoyed films like Captain America: The First Avenger, Kung Fu Panda 2, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Rango, Real Steel, Green Lantern, Pirates 4, Cowboys and Aliens, Source Code, and The Adjustment Bureau... some more than others. I possibly would put films like Warrior, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, The Adventures of Tintin and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol on this list if I had seen them before the year ended. But, since I probably won't catch up on them in the few days remaining in 2011, here are my favorite films of this year...

#11   The Muppets

I've been a fan of the rag-tag group of Muppets since I was a kid. To this day "The Muppet Christmas Carol" is my favorite cinematic version of Charles Dickens's classic. So, when I heard the universal acclaim The Muppets as garnering, I had to experience it for myself. To my overwhelming relief, this movie did not disappoint and my cheeks were hurting from laughing so much by the time the film ended. This is by far the funniest film of 2011, and the Muppets we all grew up loving have been satisfactorily updated for a new generation to enjoy. The cameos are hilarious, the musical numbers infectious, and the characters wonderfully whimsical. I absolutely loved this movie!

#10   Crazy Stupid Love

I have to provide a disclaimer right off the bat - this movie can get a little raunchy at times. Despite the somewhat exaggerated portrayal of teenage infatuation and hopeless school-girl crushes on older men, Crazy Stupid Love has a pretty emotional arc for the characters we are first introduced to. If you take the journey, I bet the movie's final lines will bring a lump to your throat. Having said that, it's also hilarious at times, particularly thanks to the surprising performance of Ryan Gosling. If you are sensitive to PG-13 dirtiness you might want to skip this one, but I really, really enjoyed Crazy Stupid Love!

#9   Thor

This was one of my most anticipated films of 2011, and I was not disappointed. Lara and I both had a great time watching Thor! I've been really surprised to hear others bashing this film, but I honestly could find little to complain about in this dimension-hopping blockbuster. Chris Hemsworth has a breakout performance as the mighty Thor, selling us on his emotional journey as well as the utter physicality that the role demands. Lesser actors might have quailed under the demands of a part like Thor, but Hemsworth seems to embody the legendary superhero on the same level that Robert Downey Jr does as Tony Stark. Loved Thor!

#8   The Help

I have to admit, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this film. From the poster alone this doesn't seem like the obvious choice for a 24 year old action-film buff. Having said that, The Help is one of the best films of the year with a cavalcade of wonderful performances from all of the amazing women in this picture. Despite the fictional nature of this almost historical drama, I was thoroughly attached to all of the characters, particularly Viola Davis' Aibileen, whose interaction with a sweet little girl brings tears to my wanna-be macho eyes. The Help is a great film and I think everyone should see it.

#7   Contagion

As I stated in my review of the film, Contagion is not a film to be taken lightly. Despite the amount of talent attached to the project, it isn't the most fun experience, and some might go so far as to call it unpleasant. However, the intricacies of the narrative and the realism with which this outbreak is approached cannot be undervalued. This is a harrowing, thought-provoking, and brilliantly-written film. One of the most frightening and realistic portrayals of a pandemic that I've ever seen. I highly recommend Contagion!

#6   X-Men First Class

This summer was riddled with Superhero movies, as almost any casual moviegoer could tell you. Not all were created equal, however, and X-Men First Class probably had the most to overcome. Despite my own rose-colored view of the previous installments, there is no doubt that something was lost between X2 and Wolverine. With this pre-boot it is clear that the magic is back. The crux of the story lies with the powerful performances of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor Xavier and Magneto respectively. Their friendship is one of the most sincere and at the same time devastating that I've seen in a while. The special effects are spectacular and Kevin Bacon is a terrific villain. This is a great movie!

#5   Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Coming into this film, I wasn't the most indoctrinated on the "Planet of the Apes" franchise. I have a spectator's knowledge of the series, with slightly more respect for the original Charleston Heston film than for the 2001 remake by Tim Burton. Having heard great buzz about this incarnation, and particularly about the brilliance of Andy Serkis's motion-capture performance as Caesar, I went in with fairly high expectations and I was not disappointed. This film has everything that I look for: humor, drama, heart-rending emotion, and visual spectacle almost unsurpassed in any film this year. Serkis deserves an Oscar nomination for his wonderfully nuanced performance. This was a powerful viewing experience and a perfect new beginning to the legendary franchise. I can't wait for the sequel!

#4   Moneyball

When I first saw this trailer I was instantly drawn in by the characters. Part of that is the wonderful acting by Brad Pitt, one of the best in the world, and Jonah Hill, putting in a surprisingly serious and believable performance. However, much of the credit has to go to the brilliant screenplay penned by two of the greatest at their craft-- Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List). The story revolves around a General Manager (Pitt) who is desperate to create a winning roster out of the mixed bag he's been offered after his stars have been courted by higher market teams. Abandoning the old-school methods of team-building, he recruits number-cruncher Peter Brand (Hill) who develops a system to create a winning team out of on-base hits rather than big names. It's a brilliant story with heart-warming interactions between Pitt and his daughter as well as his players. Moneyball is a terrific drama with some genuinely funny and also touching moments. Go see this movie.

#3   War Horse

 Nothing like waiting until the last second! Lara and I just saw this movie on New Year's Eve, and man what a movie it is! I had heard some pretty glowing reviews for this film, though some were less impressed with Steven Spielberg's latest effort. I therefore went into this movie with fairly moderate expectations, not wanting to get my hopes up. I needn't have worried, however, for War Horse is one of the best films of the year. It's the kind of film that is so uplifting and inspiring that it makes you want to be a better person after watching it. The titular horse is absolutely captivating and the relationship between the horse and his owner is one of the most touching things I've seen all year. We were both in tears (along with 3/4 of the audience) by the film's end, and couldn't fathom anybody disliking it. I nearly promoted this all the way to #1, but I wasn't quite ready to demerit the two above it quite yet. Anyway, if you're on the fence about War Horse, go see it! It's a beautiful piece of art that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.

#2   Super 8

A year ago when I first saw the trailer for JJ Abram's new sci-fi adventure, I was puzzled to say the least. It looked like a monster/disaster movie with the characters from The Goonies... and Coach Taylor of course. Despite my initial confusion, however, I went to see this movie on its opening weekend in IMAX. Can I just say that as much as I enjoy disaster/horror/monster movies, they're so much better when it's not really about the monster/alien/thing. Such is the case with Super 8. The film opens with the aftermath of a funeral for 14 year-old Joe Lamb's mother, and the movie's heart is his journey to come to terms with her passing. It's a beautiful piece of filmmaking. To those 5 people on earth who don't know, JJ Abrams is the mastermind behind the hit TV show "Lost" and the director of the Star Trek reboot. He has a wonderful grasp on his characters, his storytelling, and his message. Super 8 would have been my favorite film of the year if a certain boy wizard wasn't ending his saga the same summer. Anyway, I can't recommend Super 8 enough!

#1   Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2)

How could I not give this the #1 spot on my list? This series has been so beloved by not just me, but the entire world that I would feel almost a betrayal if I allowed another film to usurp the top position. Harry has been a part of our lives since he first came to the Dursley's steps in the opening chapter of the first novel almost 15 years ago and has held a special place in our hearts ever since. I found myself feeling slightly empty after I left the theater as the realization that we would never hear John Williams' immortal theme, or see the camera zoom through the giant "WB" at the beginning of each installment again. It is the end of an era, but it's been a heck of a ride. This film caps it off with a grand finale worthy of the franchise. The story is deeply moving, powerful in its themes, and ground-breaking in its visuals. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is, in my opinion, the best film of the year.

Let me know what your favorites are in the comments section!

2011 Star-Rating

This is where I'll be posting the star-ratings of every movie I've seen throughout each year, starting with 2011. These are all listed in the date they were released, which isn't necessarily the order they were reviewed. Sorry these films didn't all get an official review, but some of them are featured on my Best of 2011 list!

The Adjustment Bureau   ----------------------------------------------------->

Rango   ----------------------------------------------------------------------------->

Limitless   -------------------------------------------------------------------------->

Source Code   -------------------------------------------------------------------->

Thor   ------------------------------------------------------------------------------>

Water For Elephants   ---------------------------------------------------------->

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides   ---------------------------->

Midnight in Paris   ----------------------------------------------------------->

Kung Fu Panda 2   ----------------------------------------------------------->

X-Men First Class   --------------------------------------------------------->

Super 8   ------------------------------------------------------------------------>

Green Lantern   --------------------------------------------------------------->

Transformers: Dark of the Moon   ---------------------------------------->

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2   ------------------------>

Captain America: The First Avenger   ---------------------------------->

Cowboys & Aliens   -------------------------------------------------------->

Crazy Stupid Love   -------------------------------------------------------->

Rise of the Planet of the Apes   ----------------------------------------->

The Help   ----------------------------------------------------------------------->

Contagion   -------------------------------------------------------------------->

Warrior   ------------------------------------------------------------------------->

Moneyball   -------------------------------------------------------------------->

Real Steel   --------------------------------------------------------------------->

Breaking Dawn Part 1   ----------------------------------------------------->

The Muppets   ------------------------------------------------------------------>

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy   -------------------------------------------------->

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows   ----------------------------------->

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol   --------------------------------------->

The Adventures of Tintin   --------------------------------------------------->

We Bought a Zoo   ------------------------------------------------------------>

War Horse   -------------------------------------------------------------------->