Long time, no see!
Okay, I’ll admit that I never usually end up seeing all the movies I really should any given year. I missed a lot of summer blockbusters this year due to travel and I probably won’t see Oscar bait films until sometime next year. However, out of the ones I’ve seen, these were the six I’ve enjoyed the most.
Honorable Mention: True Grit
This is such a weird one for me to include. I desperately want to include it in my favorites since it was the first movie I saw in 2011 and set such a standard for me. However, it was technically released in December of 2010, making it ineligible for this particular list.
However, this doesn’t mean I don’t suggest this film. In fact, I highly recommend it. Jeff Bridges is excellent as the surly Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon does exasperated fairly well. In true Coen Brother fashion, the action is a bit slow moving, but not boring, and the characters are plenty rich. The real standout of this movie though is Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. The original story is very much about Mattie’s quest for retribution against the man who killed her father and Steinfeld’s performance reminds us that what it’s really all about. She’s angry, stubborn, and much older than her fourteen years. At several points in the film, it was hard to forget that this was Steinfeld’s first major motion picture. She acts circles around Bridges, and that is no easy feat.
While I have since come to terms with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen and am very much looking forward to her performance, seeing this movie makes it easy to understand why Hailee was such a favorite to play the Mockingjay.
6.) Sucker Punch
However, recognizing all of that, I still enjoy this movie. The fantasy action sequences are gorgeous and exciting, especially the Steampunk WWI segment. Plus, the use of music in this movie appeals to one of my weaknesses when it comes to film. The soundtrack synchs up really well to the action and the covers and remixes on the soundtrack are actually fairly good.
Even with the film’s weaknesses, there is one thing it does have a positive in. In a world where it is rare for an action movie to have a female lead or more than one woman involved in the action, there’s an ensemble cast of five (six if you count Carla Gugino’s character). They do not fight against each other or betray each other purposely (Blondie’s situation being a very upsetting case of being stuck in a corner). They work together to achieve their goals and it’s doesn’t become just about Babydoll in the end. While this film will probably be a footnote against female ensembles like the cast of Bridesmaids and Friendship is Magic, female lead action films like Hanna, and next year’s Brave and The Legend of Korra, but I have to give it a positive point for that.
And did I mention the German Steampunk Zombies?
It’s extremely flawed, but it’s my guilty pleasure of the year.
Best Scene: GERMAN STEAMPUNK ZOMBIES.
5.) Cowboys and Aliens
Was it a game changing sci-fi that will define the genre for years to come?
Was it an iconic western movie that flawlessly incorporated science fiction?
It looks like one, but probably not.
Was it just a whole lot of fun that mixed classic westerns with alien invasion tropes?
You bet your ass it was.
Directed by John Favereau and featuring the most nerdgasmic cast to ever exist on film, Cowboys and Aliens follows outlaw Jake Lonergan as he tries to regain his memory and help members of a local mining town find their loved ones who had been kidnapped by the invading force. It provides a lot of B movie action on a large scale without a lot of the B movie schlock. The acting is also pretty good, but in his traditional way, Sam Rockwell as Doc manages to steal focus any time he’s on screen. Considering he’s on the screen with Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Olivia Wilde, that’s pretty impressive.
Best Scene: Jake carrying an injured Ella away from the river.
4.) Captain America: The First Avenger
I really want to give DC more credit sometimes since they’re my preferred comics universe, but between the reboot and their failings in film, it makes me want to switch over to the Marvel universe sometimes.
This year, Marvel hit it out of the park movie wise with two films leading up to next year’s The Avengers. The first being May’s Thor (which I will talk about later in the post) and then Captain America: The First Avenger in July. While neither film was quite as good as Favereau’s Iron Man movies, they each brought something that has been missing in superhero movies for years now. For Captain America, it’s the positive protagonist.
Lucas Lee Chris Evans, Captain Steve Rogers is probably one of the most likeable super heroes to come out on film in the past ten years. He’s honest, honorable, and caring of his fellow man. This makes it all very easy to like him as a hero. As for the story, it stays very true to the origins of the Captain America character as well as the story of the Howling Commandos. The movie is also a dieselpunk dream come true, which is probably due to director Joe Johnson and his experience in that field (see: The Rocketeer). Mixing the factors of World War II, the appearance of HYDRA, and the camaraderie among the commandos and the Strategic Scientific Reserve, it doesn’t feel just like a superhero movie. It feels like a war movie with superhero elements. I’m going to miss that in future movies with the Cap, but maybe we’ll get Bucky back!
Best Scene: ‘The Star Spangled Man’
3.) Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
It’s hard to think about what to say about this movie that I didn’t already say nearly two weeks ago after I saw the film. Still, if its presence on this list is any indicator, it’s cast and use of action made it one of my favorite films of this year. It was exciting, intriguing, and I sincerely hope there will be a third one.
With Stephen Fry coming back.
Though probably not naked.
Also, it is very hard to speak to people about this movie without wanting to ask them about the relationship between Holmes and Watson. He taught Watson how to dance. How is that not… Oh never mind. this is not the time nor the place for my fandom themed prattle. However, I do hope that this movie will be a launchpad for more Noomi Rapace in North American films. If it will not be this one, it will probably be Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.
Best Scene: Any between Holmes and Watson. Especially the train.
While Captain America: The First Avenger brought back the positive protagonist in a world full of brooding heroes, Thor brought back magic to a world that wants to know what would happen if a heroes circumstances were more realistic. While the realism can be fine, it often takes some of the fun out of the movies. This is especially true for the world of Batman. While he may not be magic himself, he interacts with the magic fairly often.
When it comes to Thor, it doesn’t just let the magic co-exist in the same universe as Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, and Steve Rogers, it reveres it. Thanks to the Shakespearean eye of Kenneth Branagh, we get insight into the gorgeous Asgard as well as the fall and rise of the titular God of Thunder as he is exiled to an unknown land and learns to be a more caring man. It’s emotional, magical, and grand, but that’s the touch of Branagh.
While I will admit that the romance between Thor and Jane did feel wooden, the cast is superb. It’s hard to pick one particular standout performance since everyone played off of each other so well. That being said, I especially enjoyed Jaimie Alexander as the warrior Sif, Kat Dennings as the ever suffering intern Darcy (we are kindred spirits, her and I), and Idris Elba as the simultaneously intimidating and comforting Heimdall, who protects the gate between the realms.
The end of the movie leaves it unclear as to how exactly Thor will be returning to Earth, but I cannot wait to see how he plays off the heroes of science in The Avengers.
Best Scene: Darcy tazes the God of Thunder
1.) The Muppets
I’ve already talked at length about this movie, but I’m still impressed about how well Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller, and Bret McKenzie understood what the Muppets really are about. It’s about making people happy. The Muppets are never mean spirited, dishonest, or (as Fox News would have you believe) anti-capitalism. As they said in the movie, they’re all about providing the world with laughter.
And this movie provides a lot of it.
The music is wonderful, the characters top notch, and the writing out of the park. I think if Jim Henson were here, he’d be proud of what the crew behind this movie has accomplished. Here’s hoping that there will be more Muppets for years to come!
Best Scene: Pretty much the whole movie, but the scenes of ‘Life’s A Happy Song’ and ‘The Rainbow Connection’ especially.
Tomorrow, I’ll be posting about my favorite books read in 2011!