This begins a series of posts looking back on 2011 in film. I’ve got a few more movies to see before I formulate my official “Best and Worst” list (which will be extensive, let me tell you), so I figured that this would be a fun way to ease into it.
Alright then, here we go. Let’s start with the Top Five…
Most Disappointing Films
This might have some crossover with my “Worst” list, but don’t confuse the two. These are movies that I either expected or hoped to be good that didn’t measure up. These movies aren’t all bad, some of them not by a long shot. They just aren’t as good as they should have been.
5.) The Green Hornet
This was actually on my “Most Anticipated Films of 2010” list. How foolish of me to think that it wouldn’t be moved again. I like Michel Gondry, and I’m a big fan of Seth Rogen. But both of them were awful choices for this story. Gondry has no business doing a big-budget studio action flick, and Seth Rogen, while he is very talented, is not a leading man in this regard. This was a big, bloated mess of a film.
4.) The Adjustment Bureau
Much like War Horse, I was sure that this movie was a victim of bad marketing. The trailers were, to be frank, some of the worst that I have ever seen. But the concept looked fascinating. I had to give it a shot. Unfortunately, I felt that this film was pretty mediocre. In constraining itself to a 90-minute running time, it failed to fully explore the full complexities of its own themes. When you open up a box like, “Can humans defy the will of god, and should they?”, you are obligated to dig deep into that. I feel like there is a much better cut of this film out there somewhere that does exactly that. But we’ll never get to see it.
Kenneth Branagh is a great director, but what the hell was he doing with this movie? The entire thing is so incompetently made. The cinematography is bland, every other shot is a dutch angle, and overall the film shows none of the grace or the passion that Branagh is capable of. And if that wasn’t enough, the story was sloppy and the characters were cardboard.
2.) Super 8
I firmly believe that at least half of someone’s opinion on a movie is what they want it to be. Harry Potter fans hate when people poke at the flaws of the film series, because they want the films to be perfect and untainted. I had a similar feeling going into Super 8. Hell, I even left the theater saying, “That was a perfect movie.” But it wasn’t. It was very, very flawed. I’m still shocked that people talk about the “storytelling brilliance” on display here when it seems so clear to me that the story is the weakest part of the film. I mean, here we have a movie wherein you could remove the main characters entirely without affecting the ending. They have absolutely zero impact on how the story turns out. That’s poor form.
1.) Cars 2
See, for this one I have no excuse. I really should have known better. “But it’s Pixar!” Guess who’s never saying those words again? I can’t even get excited for Brave when its trailer displays more of the juvenile humor that sank Cars 2. Oh well. It’s in the past now.
Best Child Performances
While trying to form this list, I had a startling revelation. “Huh. There were like 3 movies with good kid actors in them.” All of these performances are still great, of course. I’ll refrain from going into depth about all of them, but suffice to say that they all actually “act” in these films, a skill beyond most kids whose parents claim that they are “actors”. They showcase a wide range of human emotions with dexterity, grace, and realism.
5.) Hunter McCracken, The Tree of Life
4.) Amara Miller, The Descendants
3.) Joel Courtney, Super 8
2.) Jessica Tyler Brown, Paranormal Activity 3
1.) Elle Fanning, Super 8
This has a rather broad definition. A “moment” here could be anything from an extended take to a full-on scene to a simple shot. A “moment” is that thing that sticks with you about the movie long after you’ve seen it.
5.) Cap’s USO Tour – Captain America: The First Avenger
As I said in my review of the film, this was the scene that made me realize that this movie wasn’t going to suck. They somehow managed to make a Captain America movie that took shots at American exceptionalism.
4.) Ethan, Benji, and the Magic Screen – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
This bit had me laughing out loud in the theater, more than any comedy this year did. Basically, Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg are hiding behind this high-tech screen that covers a hallway. On the other side, the screen shows an empty hallway, so that the guard won’t know that they’re there. Not only is this a brilliant invention on the part of the screenwriters, but it is an enormously complicated device that is used in a very simple scene in the story. That’s great directing for you. The device uses a camera trained on the guard to capture his eyeline, and change its “perspective” on the hallway accordingly. There’s a great visual gag where tons of guards rush in, and the device glitches. The movie never stops to explain what’s going on, you either got it or you didn’t. Brad Bird’s refusal to lead his audience with a trail of breadcrumbs is part of what makes him so successful.
3.) Anything with the fan – Paranormal Activity 3
Oh my god, this freaking fan. This was pure genius, let me tell you. If you haven’t seen the movie, and if you are any sort of horror fan, you need to rent it if for no other reason than to see how the film makes use of this fan.
Confused? Well, let me explain. Every successive installment of this franchise has added new elements to keep the series fresh. In the second one, it was a series of CCTV cameras all around the house, and in this one, it was a camera that was attached to a rotating fan, so that it would pan back and forth across a room. This was used to tremendous effect in Paranormal Activity 3, and it provided the scariest moments of the film by far.
2.) The truth about Colter’s situation is revealed – Source Code
Though I had problems with the ending, Source Code still had lots of fantastic moments scattered throughout. However, none of them hit me quite like this one did. I won’t spoil it, but for those of you who have seen it, it’s the scene where Vera Farmiga opens the capsule and shows Colter’s condition. I wasn’t trying to piece together the “secret” of the Source Code, as I typically prefer that the movie reveal itself on its own terms. Because of this, this revelation hit me like a ton of bricks, and it still did on later viewings.
1.) Snape’s Memories – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part Two
This was the only part of this film that genuinely moved me to tears, and even months later on DVD, it still does. It is heartbreaking, plain and simple. Every single beat works perfectly, and Alan Rickman’s performance is Oscar-worthy. It’ll be a sham if he doesn’t get a nomination this year.
Worst “Good Guys”
We live in a morally grey world. Most of these films weren’t attempting to emulate that, though. They were just being incompetent. I’m not talking about Lisbeth Salander or the guy from Drive. I’m talking about characters who were presented as heroes, but who acted in evil ways.
5.) Edward Morra, Limitless
He’s ostensibly the protagonist of the film, and we’re supposed to cheer his successes, but he’s a bastard! He cheats his way into every one of those successes, and he does it all through his crippling drug addiction. There was no attempt made by the end of the film to reflect on whether or not his use of the drug was good or not. We’re just supposed to accept, “He’s super-rich because of the drug and that’s it. The end. Roll credits.” I really hated this guy.
4.) Thor, Thor
Okay, I know that his arrogance is a major, intentional character flaw, and that he works to overcome it, but once he made his turn, I still hated him. At the end of the day, Thor saves the lives of thousands of horrendous, evil villains to get back at his brother, who was probably doing the right thing. No matter which way the movie spins him, Thor is an unlikable jackass.
3.) Bella Swan in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
I haven’t actually seen this movie (and you can’t make me do so, dammit!) but I think this is a fair assumption. After all, I’ve read the book, and I doubt they deviated much. I’m sure that Bella is still an evil, manipulative idiot who puts the lives of everyone around her in danger to serve her own interests. I wrote a whole article on her, so refer to that, but she deserves a place on this list.
2.) Mater, Cars 2
Speaking of characters that I’ve written entire articles about, Mater, a character whose sole purpose is to make funny faces, fart jokes, and oodles of cash. Mater is an awful person, whose stupid antics get his friends into trouble countless times. However, the movie treats this like no big deal, and makes the friends apologize for “not accepting him for who he is.” That’s such an awful message for kids that I don’t even know where to begin.
1.) Optimus Prime, Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Optimus Prime has had a steady decline from heroism to psychopathy throughout the Transformers trilogy. In the second film, he shoots an unarmed, defenseless Decepticon agent in the head for no reason. This seems innocent enough. The robot had killed lots of humans (supposedly), so maybe he deserved it. But in the most recent installment, he goes off the deep end. He fakes his own death and refuses to come to the aid of a desperate Chicago. He allows thousands of innocents to die. Why? To prove to humanity that they truly need him for protection. That is straight-up evil, there’s no debate. And as if that weren’t bad enough, instead of taking the (defenseless, helpless) villains into custody once the battle is over, he brutally murders them in the most graphic way possible. If the movie was smart enough to realize this, maybe it would have been an interesting theme to explore. Then again, this is the series that brought us the jive-talking, illiterate racist robots in the last one, so maybe those hopes are a bit too high.
There are more Top Fives to come in the next installment, as well as my Best and Worst Films of 2011 lists. Stay tuned!