Sunday, January 22, 2012

2011 In Movies

I'm a little later than usual this year, but it's time to recap the 2011 movies I saw. Usually I restrict it to what I saw in the theater, but this year, I'm including some films I saw by DVD or Blu-Ray disc. If it was released in 2011, and I managed to see it, it gets reviewed!

So here we go.


Hall Pass

The Farrelly Brothers' comedy with Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis, about a couple of harried husbands who get the nominal document from their wives, which entails permission to have sex with any one they want for a weekend. This film was actually a friend's idea on a chilly February Saturday. Not the Farrellys' best (that distinction still goes to Kingpin...see it if you haven't yet) but there were some funny moments, notably the hot tub scene.

The Fighter

Actually a late 2010 film which won a couple of Oscars, Best Supporting Actor nods for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. Both give the film's best performances, Bale as Micky Ward, a promising young talent who never did realize his potential, and Leo as his domineering mother. A true story hook always pulls me in a bit further. Bale reminds you how completely he can transform as an actor.

Sucker Punch

Who knew Zack Snyder could follow up Watchmen with such a dud? It's all surface and not much substance. I've read a reviewer or two try to salvage the film, but it just makes me laugh. Despite the special effects, I was bored and waiting impatiently for it to end. I really hope Snyder rebounds with the Superman reboot he's currently working on.

Hanna

The thinking man's action film. Joe Wright directs his young star, Saoirse Ronan, whom he directed just as ably in Atonement. She's the daughter of an ex-CIA agent, played by Eric Bana, and they live in the frozen desert of northern Finland. He's trained her to be a killing machine, with some help from some genetic tinkering, revealed later in the film. Wright takes the film all over Europe and Africa, and throws in a pulsing electronic soundtrack. I enjoyed the travelogue feel while waiting for the next close call in Hanna's odyssey.

The Devil's Double

Another true story about the man who was the body double for one of Saddam Hussein's sons. It's a harrowing, front-seat account of the madness going on in the Iraqi dictator's family during his time in power. Dominic Cooper's star continues it's slow rise with this performance in a dual role, as both the real son, and the man who impersonated him.

Limitless

I liked Bradley Cooper in the Hangover films, but this is the one where he shows he can be a real lead in a movie. It's about a writer who can't finish a novel, and is a general failure in life, acquiring a new drug that is intended to harness much more of the brain's intellectual ability. He finishes the novel, watches it become a huge success, and goes on to prove his mettle in the financial field as well. Of course, it's all too good to be true, and we watch the fascinating unraveling in the second half. A good, tense script, and a nicely modulated performance from the lead.

Thor

I wasn't expecting much from this one, but was pleasantly surprised. Kenneth Branagh, known more for his turns in Shakespeare, directs a film that captures much of the Thor universe without getting too campy. Watching Thor finish off the Frost Giant monster by flying hammer-first through the creature's gaping maw brought back the thrills I used to get reading the comic. I wish there'd been another similarly staged battle later on in the movie, but maybe that's being saved for the Avengers spectacle, opening in May.

X-Men: First Class

Another great superhero turn, a revamping of the X-Men franchise. Smart, retro (it takes place in the 60s), and remarkably well-cast, this outing concerns the origins of Professor X and his initial band of mutants. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy provide the dualistic heart of the film. If they keep making X-films like this, the franchise could go on indefinitely. Nice to see January Jones, a Mad Men cast member, in the role of my favorite female mutant, Emma Frost.

Bridesmaids

A raucous comedy with SNL star Kristen Wiig (who hails from this area) as a woman bemoaning her single status as she prepares to serve as a bridesmaid in someone else's wedding. Some decent laughs as the humor went farther to the edge than a mostly female comedy usually dares to go. Still somewhat lightweight though, and it just reinforces the tired and false message that a woman is ultimately nothing without a man to give her babies.

Tree Of Life

One of my favorites of the year. Brad Pitt is a Texas family man, with Jessica Chastain as his wife, and their three sons. What we get is a meditation on family, life, loss, death, and dinosaurs, in Terence Malick's latest experiment. Malick is always good for at least an interesting time, as well as his transcendent visuals. I loved the film, far more than I did The Thin Red Line, his war movie from 1998. It's visual poetry with sparse dialogue, but the combination speaks volumes. Incredibly moving.

Meek's Cutoff

Another favorite from last year. Michelle Williams is a wagon train wife, part of a group of settlers traveling west in search of a better life. They spy a lone Native on the plains, then eventually capture him, thinking he's warning the rest of his group and they will be slaughtered. They end up depending on his knowledge of the land to survive. It's got an ambiguous ending...we're never told if they make it to water or not...but message is still clear. The rugged desert of the western Midwest is as much a stunning character in this film as any of the humans.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Marvel's getting good at these. Well done adventure yarn, set in World War 2, about the origins of Steve Rogers, the eponymous hero. Joe Johnston, who directed the Rocketeer 20 years earlier, evokes the period nicely. The action hardly lets up, and it stoked my anticipation for the Avengers movie.

Moneyball

Brad Pitt again, this time as the general manager of the Oakland A's a decade ago, and how he instituted a numbers-based system for building a competitive baseball team. The system almost succeeded. Jonah Hill gives a nicely understated performance as the statistical wizard who helps Pitt's Billy Bean character build an unlikely playoff team.

Hugo

Martin Scorsese's at it again, crafting a fine period piece with fantastic flourishes, about an orphan who lives in a Paris train station tending the clocks. He wants to somehow restart an animatronic doll that his father was working on, to find out its secrets. Along the way, Scorsese treats us to a cinematic history lesson regarding Georges Melies, the man who made some of the earliest films ever, over a century ago. It was a great holiday movie, with history, magic, and a big heart. Marty's getting up there in age, and I'll miss him when he's gone.

War Horse

Spielberg's latest, about a Devon farmboy's horse shipped off to the trenches of France during World War I. I was hoping for a little Saving Private Ryan realism, doughboy style, but you only get a taste of that toward the end. Still, it was a very emotional story of human and animal, friends through thick and thin, surviving and reuniting amid the chaos of war. I heard much sobbing as the lights rose. Spielberg kept it fairly simple, and largely avoided the sentimentality he can be prone to.

Sherlock Holmes: Game Of Shadows

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are back as the famous crime-solving duo from Victorian England. All of the pieces are there from the first film, but I wasn't as fond of this one. I think my favorite character is still Gladstone, Watson's bulldog, but there seemed to be less of him this time. This is a far more action-oriented version of the character than what I'm used to seeing. They should probably quit at two.

Hangover Part 2

Saw this last night on Blu-Ray. I'm not sure a sequel was necessary, though I did find a few good laughs. More of an amusement park ride than a film, really, but sometimes that's all I need. The sultry Bangkok atmosphere helped me forget the chilly night outside.


That's 2011 in films. I'm hoping to get to the theaters soon and get started on 2012. There's much to look forward to, other than the Avengers, and The Dark Knight Rises. I hope you find some good stories at the movies this year as well.

3 comments:

  1. I've come to a strange conclusion; comedies aren't for me. I redboxed Hangover 2 with great hopes and was very disappointed. I laughed once, was bored a lot, and thought it was a slap dash plot hardly worth remembering. After all the hype from the 1st I guess I wanted something special. I can't say I've seen all these movies on your list but out of the ones I have I'd give the nod to Hugo. Other than Bringing Out the Dead (damn you, Nicolas Cage) Scorsese is gold. One of the greatest directors of all time. A master at his craft. I saw it in 3-D which was actually pretty cool and not as gimmicky as I expected. Its message on film preservation was cool as well. Too bad it was only myself and a co-worker in the whole theater. I watched Bronson last night as a precursor to renting Drive (both by director Nicolas Winding Refn) It was disturbing but captivating and well worth a look if you haven't seen it. Anyway, nice job on your list.

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  2. And the Devil's Double looks great. I'm hopeful I'll be able to rent it soon.

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  3. Thanks, Jim. I also saw Hugo in 3D, and it made the experience that much more rewarding.

    Saw Bronson quite a while ago, and liked that too. Refn is a director who's become a go-to guy for me. If his name's on the movie, I'll go see it. Check out Valhalla Rising, also by him, if you haven't yet. I think he's very Kubrick-influenced.

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