As we move into a new movie year, it’s time to do what everyone else does and give you my top and bottom movies of 2011. However, unlike the other lists you might see, mine includes all of the movies I saw on the big screen this year – all 40. The reason is to give context behind what I am picking. I find it annoying when all those other lists contain mostly non-mainstream movies that no one has ever heard of or seen, and I wonder if those people bothered to watch anything but independent films at various film festivals. In short, they have no basis for comparison for their picks. This way, you can see my rationale, read my full reviews if you want, and have a better set of reasons for calling me an idiot.
My Top 5
I considered doing the top 10, but I don’t think I’ve seen enough movies to justify 10 best. If I did, I would be no better than the NBA playoffs, which include far too many teams in the playoffs. This is more like baseball, if you’re not really good, you’re not getting in.
• The Adjustment Bureau – A very cool concept, and Matt Damon and Emily Blunt were nearly perfect together.
• X-Men: First Class – Fantastic casting (Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy), the best cameo ever (Hugh Jackman), and a very tight story. Plus, it’s the X-Men.
• Super 8 – Throwback to pre-CGI and a well-crafted movie, top to bottom.
• Rise of the Planet of the Apes – I could have included this in the Surprisingly Decent category (keep reading below), but it was just too good. Easily the winner of the ‘Surpassing Expectations’ trophy.
• Moneyball – Probably the best movie of the year and I base that on audience reaction. It was the only movie I saw twice in theaters and the audience reacted the same way both times.
You Almost Made It
These may be the most controversial of all my picks, but I thoroughly enjoyed all of these films, plus they were all solid movies in their own way. Regardless of how ridiculous some of them may be, they succeed on multiple levels, follow through until the credits role, and deliver exactly what they promise.
• Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon – Not as good as the first, much better than the second, plus you don’t have to endure Megan Fox.
• Horrible Bosses – My pick for comedy of the year, best non-nude nude scene of the year (Jennifer Aniston in a lab coat, panties, and nothing else), and best character name (Motherfucker Jones).
• The Muppets – One word: Nostalgia.
• Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – Extremely good follow up to the first film and the other movie I have yet to post a full review for. Let’s just say Robert Downey Jr. is the best actor in Hollywood right now and leave it at that.
• Larry Crowne – Another movie that a lot of critics hated for no reason at all. Tom Hanks is fun, the story itself is heartwarming, and the supporting cast is delightful. Yes, I said delightful.
This is the first of two categories where expectations play a big part in my opinion of the film. I had low or guarded expectations going into them and was pleasantly surprised at the end. All of them were movies that I probably would have blasted had I had high expectations going in, but none of them had enough problems for me to dislike them.
• Battle: Los Angeles – A well-orchestrated film whose one big flaw was bad dialogue. The plot was a typical survival movie, but was saved by very good special effects and cool aliens.
• Source Code – A lot of people didn’t like this movie, but I enjoyed it a lot. The premise was interesting, the acting was good, and the continuity was flawless. It’s hard to ask for more in a film.
• Tower Heist – I’m always skeptical of Ben Stiller movies, but this one kept him in check. He didn’t overpower the rest of the cast and the story was very tight.
Movies for Me
Make fun of me all you want for these films; I won’t even argue with you. In fact, I could make very strong cases against all of them, but they are films that I just like for no real reason. You’ll also notice that they are all science fiction movies and I always cut those movies slack, if I can.
• I am Number Four – The aliens were borderline absurd, but I thought it was a fun movie. Maybe if I had read the book, I might feel differently, but I suspect not.
• Apollo 18 – Another ‘found footage’ film, I actually think this was a very good movie. The only reason I put it here is because people tend to hate this particular type of film (like The Blair Witch Project) and really don’t want to argue with them.
• The Darkest Hour – I actually haven’t posted the full review of this one yet, but there wasn’t much I could find wrong with it. But again, people tend to deride alien invasion films, so just move on.
For some reason or another I did not write about these movies. Plus, none of them were particularly good or bad and maybe I was just being a little lazy.
• The Help – My wife thought it was very underwhelming compared to the book. I, myself, thought it was very tame for a movie about racism in the 1960’s deep south.
• What’s Your Number? – A chick flick that I can barely even remember seeing. Anna Faris and Chris Evans are in it and I think they both lose their shirts.
• Machine Gun Preacher – I’m not sure this movie was actually released despite multiple screenings and featuring Gerard Butler. The message is fairly powerful, but the movie wasn’t crafted very well. My friend and I agreed on this, but didn’t feel right blasting a film about a guy who sacrifices almost everything to help kids in Africa. It’s a true story, but it is Hollywood-ized.
We’re Really Only In It For the Money
Better known as ‘popcorn flicks,’ these are the movies that are uninspired, big-budget, CGI-heavy, money-makers. I’m not saying any of them are bad, in fact, I would re-watch any of them. But all of them were very short on story and included some elements that bordered on absurd, even for them. Oh yeah, and all of them are very obviously there for the sole purpose of generating large amounts of cash with no risk attached.
• Thor – Way too much CGI and no story whatsoever. But it sure was loud.
• Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – The biggest mistake (from a creative standpoint, that is) is maintaining Jack Sparrow as the central character. The word “pirates” in the title really shouldn’t be plural.
• Captain America – See Thor, though it was a little more entertaining.
• Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – More like Mission: Kind of Difficult or Mission: Impossible – Trust Us. Like Pirates, they really need to get away from a central character (Ethan Hunt) and branch out a little. I know that’s a lot to ask though.
• Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 – Come on, it’s part 2. There was no other reason besides money to split the final book into two movies, especially when the vast majority of part 1 occurs in a tent.
The second category where expectations are key. This time around, I had high expectations (foolishly) and walked out of the theater grumbling. It’s their own damn fault though, mostly by just being plain lazy on most fronts, especially story.
• Unknown – Mostly suffers from Taken being its closest comparable as well as January Jones doing her best impression of a mannequin.
• Limitless – I’m guessing the book is much better, but that’s no excuse for a making a movie as lazy as this one. Not to mention Robert De Niro should be ashamed of himself.
• Cowboys and Aliens – By far the biggest disappointment of the year. I recently found interviews with producers of the film that didn’t even like the final product (though they were happy to lay the blame on the studio and not the complete lack of a story or coherence).
A Waste of Time
At least ‘The Letdowns’ contained some entertainment quality. These films were all very boring, not the least bit insightful (as many critics would have you believe), and lacked any plot beyond the initial premise. They are the very definition of “two hours of your life you will never get back.”
• Sanctum – The second film to be shot entirely with 3-D cameras (like Avatar) and also involving James Cameron. The cave was pretty nifty and the cinematography was good, but the movie had zero plot and actually shows you the ending when it starts.
• Contagion – A bunch of big name actors that have their own storylines, centered around a virus that was poorly explained and not nearly as lethal as it should have been.
• The Ides of March – A political movie that reveals nothing we don’t already know and is getting all kinds of unearned praise from the media and academy. The pandering is just sickening and the acting is very forgettable.
Not the Worst, But You Sure Tried Hard
These movies weren’t even close to as bad as my bottom five, but they were all crap in their own ways (definitely “ways” plural).
• The Green Hornet – Seth Rogen as an action star? This movie was doomed before it even started.
• Country Strong – Decent music is the best thing you can say about this movie. I’d rather not go into the worst thing you can say.
• Just Go With It – Brooklyn Decker makes her big-screen debut by standing under a waterfall in her bikini. She does out-act Adam Sandler, though that’s not very difficult.
• Sucker Punch – Another movie lots of people will argue with me about, but they’re all wrong.
• In Time – Justin Timberlake should stick to flighty rom-coms and SNL hosting gigs. That way, he never looks like the worst thing on the screen.
Pooping on the Silver Screen
I realize that people have different tastes, but I’m sure that only one of these five will elicit any arguments. Bottom line is that all of these movies were dismal failures in every aspect imaginable, with the exception of Bridesmaids, which made a ton of money and most people liked. But our different opinions are what make movies fun.
• Red Riding Hood – If anything is responsible for the decline of the werewolf/vampire phase we’re currently in, this was it.
• Season of the Witch – Nicholas Cage should be ashamed, but then he also did Drive Angry.
• Bridesmaids – Easily the worst movie of the year. Not funny. At all. When my wife, who’s a female, wants to leave halfway through the movie, I know it’s terrible.
• The Thing – Falls under the category of ‘you’re remaking what movie now?’ Plus, the script was incredibly stupid.
• Margin Call – Was more a waste of time than anything, but its stubborn refusal to even attempt to explain anything was maddening.
There you have it and I’m looking forward to another year of the good, the bad, the lazy, the stupid, the obvious, and the surprises. My wish for the new year is that the writers try a little harder and that no books are ruined by Hollywood money-grubbing. And you’ll probably still think I’m an idiot.