My 10 Best Movies of 2011
Did you see any good movies in 2011? This past year must have been a good year for movies. How can I tell? Because at the end of 2010 I only managed to name my top 5 movies of the year. This was not a stylistic choice, but one of necessity. Because I couldn’t come up with ten. I saw a few more movies in 2011 compared to 2010 (19 compared to 15) but I must have seen more that I enjoyed because here’s my Top 10! Disclaimer: I obviously didn’t see everything. There are some movies out there that I have a feeling would have made this list, but I missed them. Let me know in the comments what you think should have made the list.
Starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman
A movie about sport is always going to be a tough sell for me. While I love strapping on the boots and running onto the field, sitting down to watch a game of rugby really isn’t my thing. I’m not much of a spectator. A sport movie about Baseball, a sport I really only know about from watching American movies and TV? You’re really going to struggle to get my attention. On top of that, make the movie about Baseball statistics? I mean really? A movie about baseball and math and you expect me to want to sit down in a cinema for two hours and watch? The only way a movie like that could be watchable was if it had a great cast and an entertaining script.
Fortunately for Moneyball, it has all of the above and more.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones
If you were checking out the racks of magazines and comic books in December 1940, you might have caught a glimpse of a brand new comic book called Captain America Comics. On the cover was an image of a man dressed in an American flag themed costume punching Hitler in the face. Which was pretty forward thinking of the artist, considering the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into World War II was still a full year away. Here was the very image of American freedom and pride in action. Since then, Captain America has been front and center amongst the pantheon of Marvel superheroes. So it was inevitable that Captain America would get his turn to shine as part of the Marvel Comics onslaught of the silver screen.
So here’s Captain America: The First Avenger. A lot could go wrong here. This is a superhero adventure movie set during WWII that also has to act as the next chapter in the ongoing Marvel movie continuity already set up by Thor, Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk. A lot could have gone wrong. But it doesn’t. What we have here is a film that manages to be a tight, heart-felt adventure that is one of the most consistently good superhero movies ever made.
The Conspirator (2011)
Starring James McAvoy and Robin Wright
In 1865, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, was assassinated. Lincoln was sitting in a theatre watching a play when John Wilkes Booth snuck up behind the President and shot him in the head. It was a tragic moment for the people of the United States. A nation was in mourning and demanded justice. Booth was shot and killed in the ensuing manhunt. But Booth did not act alone. He was part of a conspiracy to assassinate the President. Eight people were brought to caught accused of conspiracy to murder. One of them was Mary Surratt, the owner of a boarding house. The Conspirator tells the story of Mary Surratt’s trial. While the people call for her execution, questions begin to arise. Is Surratt actually guilty? And is the court more interested in vengeance than justice? The Conspirator is not just a movie describing a historical event. Because these are issues that still have an impact today.
X-Men: First Class
Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, January Jones
There’s something about the 1960s which just strikes me as being sexy and cool. I remember as a kid being exposed to a lot of Get Smart, Rat Pack movies, the old school Batman TV show and of course Sean Connery as James Bond. The music, clothes, style and attitude will always be associated with a certain kind of cool. The Beatles were rocking the chart, London was the fashion capital of the world and JFK was in the White House. And in America, a small comic book company called Marvel Comics was beginning to make it’s mark. They already had hits with characters such as the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor and Spider-Man. And then came the X-Men.
The X-Men was a book truly ahead of it’s time. The X-Men was about a group of outcasts who were hated and ostracized just because they were born different. They stood up to protect a world that hated and feared them. This is what made them special. This is what made them unique. And the new movie X-Men: First Class takes us back to the beginning of the X-Men. Super powered mutant vs super powered mutant with a 1960s backdrop.
And the results are groovy.
Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins
There are a stack of comic book movies coming out this year. In the next few months we’ve got Green Lantern, Captain America, X-Men: First Class to name a few. But the one comic book movie that I was quietly confident would be a satisfying watch was Thor. I’m not exactly sure why I felt that way. I rarely even look at the Thor comic book and I have no particular fondness for the works of Norse mythology. But from the start, my expectations were set pretty high. The reason? Kenneth Branagh. If any one could make this epic tale of a god who is exiled to earth work, it would be the man who makes movies based on Shakespeare plays interesting.
So were my expectations met or was this another comic book adaption failure?
Starring Nick Frost, Simon Pegg and Seth Rogen
Growing up, I loved me some science fiction. In my early years I lived on a staple diet of Doctor Who re-runs and movies full of aliens. I owned a book shelf full of sci-fi novels. Each week I would scour the TV guide so I could program the VCR to catch all those late night science fiction goodness. I’d seen every sci-fi movie at the video shop multiple times. Some of my younger readers might be wondering what a video or VCR is. You make me feel old.
The movie Paul is aimed squarely at guys like me. When you take into account that the movies starts at San Diego Comic-Con, the Mecca for comic book and sci-fi geeks, it’s not half obvious who the target market is. The two leads, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, play British geeks visiting Comic-Con they both comment that even though they’re miles from home, they feel at home. And From this point I want to be right there with them. When they pick up an extra-terrestrial hitchhiker, road trip hijinks ensue.
I wanted to love this movie. I was prepared to embrace this and own it as a movie that represented me. However there were some significant factors holding me back.
Battle: Los Angeles (2011)
Starring Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez
Some movies you see because they have a message you should hear. They use characters and situations to shed some light on the human condition and challenge your perceptions. Other movies you watch because things blow up real good. Battle: Los Angeles is the second kind of movie.
An alien force has begun an assault on planet earth. Key cities around the globe are being bombarded with meteorites, which, once they make contact, reveal they contain hundreds of alien soldiers ready for a fight. We follow a squad of Marines as they are tasked to rescue some stranded civilians in the city of Los Angeles before the Air Force comes and bombs the city back to the stone age. There is doom and gloom while things go boom. And that’s about it really.
Starring Matt Damon
Directed by Clint Eastwood
What happens after you die? It’s a question that cuts to the heart of our existence. Is this life all there is or is there a life after this one? For those who have lost a loved one, this is more than casual speculation. This is need to know information. Where are they? Are they okay? Can I speak to them one more time?
Hereafter is a movie that deals with the question of life after death. Through the stories of three different people from different parts of the world, director Clint Eastwood challenges our ideas about the afterlife and why it scares us so much.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Starring Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf
The original Wall Street is a classic movie. It’s the story of a Wall Street rookie, Bud Fox, who is tempted by guru of greed, Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas), to a life of hedonism and morally bankrupt decisions. As we see the effect that greed has on the young guy, we are also given a warning about the dangers of greed in 80s America. The personal story reflects and informs what is going on in the culture of the time. There’s not two separate plots going on here, just one plot with many layers.
A bit over 20 years later and the world has changed. For one thing, there was this thing called the Global Financial Crisis that shook the world. So here we have Oliver Stone, the director of the original Wall Street film coming back for a sequel. There’s a promise that we’ll find out what happened to Gordon Gecko and we’ll see how the greed of Wall Street power players caused the GFC. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Problem is, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps never delivers on its promises.
Starring Emma Stone, Amanda Bynes
There’s a format to making a teen comedy. Take a teenage social outcast, put obstacles in the way of their quest for popularity and/or the significant other of their dreams, add one or two quirky friends and season with a soundtrack full of Top 40 hits. Sure, not every teen comedy fits the formula. But most do. When a movie sticks too close to the formula, you’re left with something bland and almost unwatchable. The modern trend, pioneered by movies such as American Pie, tends towards gross out humour and over the top sexualisation to try and stand out from the crowd.
But what if you did something different? What if you took the formula and added self awareness, witty dialogue and heart? Easy A takes this route and the result is an enjoyable 90 minutes sitting in a cinema.
The Other Guys
Starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg
There’s no easy way of saying this, so I’m just going to put it out there: the makers of The Other Guys don’t trust you. If you watch the trailers for this movie, you’d be given the impression that this is a buddy comedy about two inept cops (Will Ferell and Mark Wahlberg) who end up showing up the two alpha-male cops (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson). Which is what you get if you only watch the first ten minutes of the film. Instead, this is a film about white collar crime and corporate greed. And the film makers don’t trust you enough to see this film without hiding it behind a buddy cop formula and Will Ferrell’s usual schtick. At the end of the day, nobody wins.
Starring Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand
As I sat down to watch Despicable Me, one thought dominated my brain space for the full 95 minutes of the film: Why aren’t I enjoying this? There are evil geniuses running around doing wildly over-the-top shenanigans. There’s a legion of yellow oompa loompa style minions speaking in their own made up language and providing comic relief. Some of my favourite comic actors, such as Jason Segel, Will Arnett and Jack McBrayer are providing voices. I should be entertained by this movie. Instead, I was bored. And I think I know why.
Starring Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber
The premise of Salt alone is enough to sell tickets: A CIA agent is interviewing a Russian man who wants to defect to America. The Russian knows the identity of a Russian spy, planted in the CIA, who is going to kill the Russian Prime Minister. The spy’s name is Evelyn Salt. The CIA agent replies “But that’s my name.” “Then you must be a Russian spy.” Now that’s a great way to start a movie. Salt (played by Angelina Jolie) goes on the run. Is she trying to clear her name or is she really a Russian spy? Unfortunately, the movie never manages to equal or better these opening moments.
Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin
Directed by Edgar Wright
I’m going to put it out there right at the start: this could well be one of my favourite movies of all time. There, I’ve said it. I mean, I’ll have to watch it a few more times to make sure, but it’s definitely up there. Have I set the bar suitably high enough? Good. Because Scott Pilgrim vs The World is truly an epic of epic epicness.
Starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan
Take a walk through the aisles of your local bookstore. When you get to the autobiography section, stop for a moment. There’s a lot of books there, right? Books written by rock stars, cricket players, movie stars, and politicians. People who have led amazing lives. Chances are the subject didn’t actually write the book, even though it has their name on the cover. Chances are a ghost writer did all the heavy lifting.
Now before you think I’m getting all spooky on you, I’m not talking about a literal ghost like Casper. I’m talking about an author who takes the words and the stories of the autobiography subject and makes them readable. And when they finish, they disappear into the background. They never get the credit. You never know who they are or how hard they worked to get the autobiography into your hands.
In Ghost Writer, Ewan McGregor’s character is hired to fix up the autobiography of the former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan). However, there’s a catch: McGregor is not the first man to take on the job. The previous ghost writer was found dead under suspicious circumstances. The former Prime Minster has secrets locked deep away and uncovering them may prove fatal.
At this point in time, I am not a parent. I don’t know first hand what it’s like to be a parent. But I do know lots of people who are parents. I’ve talked to them about their kids. I’ve shared meals with them where their kids would sit and eat with us. I’ve been there when times are good and when times are bad. The moments where the parent couldn’t possibly be prouder of their youngen. And times where the parent is literally pulling out their hair in frustrating and wondering about the process of adopting out their child. Parenting can be tough. But imagine how much tougher it would be if the child was a human/animal hybrid that you created in your lab and she was growing at an incredible rate.
I know some parents think that their children aren’t exactly human. In Splice, this is not an exaggeration but the situation a young couple find themselves after playing God with test tubes.
Me and Orson Welles
Starring Zac Efron, Claire Danes, Christian McKay
Orson Welles was a creative genius. He directed and starred in Citizen Kane, regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made. He was responsible for the radio adaption of War of the Worlds that was so realistic that it caused mass hysteria because people listening actually thought aliens had invaded. And for most people of my generation or younger, he’s best known for being the voice of Unicron in the 1986 Transformers: The Movie. Okay, that last one might not be a career highlight. But it can’t be denied that Orson Welles was an impressive guy.
Me and Orson Welles is a movie that shows us a snapshot of Orson Welles’ life as he prepares for his 1937 stage production of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theatre. Zac Efron plays Richard Samuels, a young aspiring actor who finds himself cast in the play and discovers that Welles (played by Christian McKay) is every bit the genius he imagined. However, he grows to realise that Welles also has a dark side.
A movie about a group of ordinary people holed up in a diner, surrounded by desert, using machine guns to fight off angels. This should be an awesome movie. Right? Right? Well it isn’t. Thankyou Legion for taking a good concept and turning it into a very, very bad movie.