I write two different Top Ten lists every year because I believe that there are two different kinds of “favorite movies.” There’s the kind that one appreciates for being a masterfully crafted film that nourishes the intellect, and there’s the kind that one enjoys for being so much darn fun. It’s very common to generalize and assume that one kind is lesser than the other, but they’re both perfectly valid ways to enjoy the medium of cinema.
As such, I present my second “Best of 2011″ list. Unlike my “Masterpieces” round-up, intellectual merit and thematic depth have absolutely no bearing on this list. Rankings are determined solely on one factor: How much fun I had while in the theater. These are the films that made me laugh hardest and cheer loudest.
Here’s one of many films in 2011 that should have been awful, but turned out to be spectacular. Several of the characters fell flat, but Andy Serkis makes up for all of that with his groundbreaking mo-cap performance. Not only were all of the effects spectacular, but the action scenes were very impressive as well. I didn’t think that a simian victory over hordes of armed SWAT officers could be made plausible, but this film found a way. It may not have been a perfect film, but it’s far better than it had any right to be.
Again, both of these movies had absolutely no right to be amazing, yet they brilliantly succeeded at delivering brainless, spectacular action. They’re also sequels that improbably managed to be better than their prequels, which is very impressive in itself. These movies succeeded at making me a fan of both franchises, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
This was an amazing year for Marvel. First they released Thor, which was a perfectly decent film, even if the romance subplot was forced and the action was subpar. Then Marvel’s chief rivals thoroughly humiliated themselves with the release of Green Lantern. And then there was this movie.
Captain America did a thoroughly splendid job of bringing Steve Rogers to the screen, portraying the ultimate patriotic role model in such a way that he didn’t seem remotely boring. A great deal of that has to do with Chris Evans’ phenomenal work in the role, though I also give credit to Alan Silvestri and the kickass theme he composed. The wonderfully presented WWII setting definitely helped, and some great supporting turns by Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, and Stanley Tucci were icing on the cake. The visuals may have been lacking at times and the action scenes left a bit to be desired, but this is still a very fun movie with a lot of heart.
I know that two tied entries on the same list is bending the rules a little, but I honestly couldn’t decide which of the two Danny McBride comedies I enjoyed more. Yes, 30 Minutes had incredible pacing, but Your Highness had far better production than it had any right to. The humor in Your Highness was decidedly more crass, but the jokes were no less funny for it.
Both movies had excellent casts, with Aziz Ansari and Justin Theroux stealing their respective shows. Even better, both movies took genres that don’t normally lend themselves to comedy — crime thrillers and epic fantasies — and did a remarkably clever job of twisting them to suit the filmmakers’ purpose. These are both very clever, very funny comedies and I had a great time with them.
Like I said, this was an amazing year for Marvel. In addition to the two aforementioned films released by Marvel itself, 20th Century Fox — of all people — defied all expectations to deliver this little piece of awesome.
It was tough giving this the edge over Captain America, but I can’t help admitting that it’s the better movie. Yes, the other one has a great performance from Chris Evans, but this one has even better performances from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. What’s more, this film had action scenes and special effects that were done with far more creativity and spectacle than anything seen in either of Marvel’s two movies. Yes, this movie often stumbled over how much it was trying to cram in, but I’d much rather see a movie trying to be too ambitious than not ambitious enough.
It’s hilarious, quotable, and deceptively intelligent. I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of humor found here, and a lot of the performances are very good. I especially love how the characters on both sides of the employee/boss conflict are all heightened enough for crazy and homicidal shenanigans, but the movie is grounded enough to call the characters out on their own shit. In a year full of great adult comedies, this is undoubtedly the best among them.
4. The Muppets
This movie is like concentrated nostalgia and childhood joy. The film was crafted with so much love for the Jim Henson era that it’s positively contagious. Even if a couple of songs don’t entirely stick, the ones that do work really fucking work. Even if I’m uncertain about Walter’s future as a full-time Muppet, he still made for a fine protagonist in the context of the film. Even if Miss Piggy’s character arc left quite a bit to be desired, it was a magnificent thing to see Kermit and the gang back on the screen and better than ever.
The meta humor is adorable, and there’s just no substitution for the youthful glee that the Muppets deliver. I love this movie, flaws and all.
Even with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg at the reins, I just wasn’t impressed enough with the source material to think that this would make for a good movie. This is probably one of many reasons why they’re internationally known cinematic superstars and I’m just some guy with a blog.
The action scenes in this movie were outstanding, the pacing was wonderfully tight, and the technology of motion capture was used with astronomical creativity. From start to finish, this was one of the most inventive and thrilling cinematic adventures that I’ve ever had the pleasure of undertaking. And now, for something completely different…
2. Drive Angry
What a shlocky, filthy, twisted, and sickly imaginative thrill ride this was. It’s pure sex, violence, Satan worship, gunfights, car chases, and non-stop action, all of it impossibly over-the-top and filmed in gimmicky 3D. But what really makes this movie work are the lead actors. Nicolas Cage delivers brutal insanity as only he can deliver, and William Fichtner is awesome as a cool and collected badass, while Amber Heard plays the sexiest and strongest female character I’ve seen all year. This movie is extremely exaggerated in a very self-aware way, which makes it absolutely glorious as an action film and a comedy all at once.
Where do I even begin to talk about how much I love this film?
The imagination on display is absolutely staggering. Not only were the filmmakers inventive enough to make a fully-fledged alien invasion movie on a minimal budget, but they were creative enough to take the entire genre and make it their own. In terms of horror, comedy, and action, this movie succeeds completely in ways that I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing before. On top of that, the characters in this movie are phenomenal. John Boyega is of course the breakout star — and rightly so, to be damn sure — but all of these characters were so wonderfully designed and portrayed that watching them fight and grow was an absolute thrill.
It’s a standard “kids against monsters” flick, but delivered with an ingenious twist and powered by tremendous amounts of heart and brains. It’s got explosions, it’s got scares, it’s got laughs, it’s got amazing characters, and it even has a bit of anti-government sentiment thrown in for good measure. This is easily the most thoroughly enjoyable film of the year that you probably didn’t get to see, and shame on Hollywood for that.
As we go into 2012, let us remember to vote with our dollars. Please try to be better and smarter than the closed-minded caveman that so many studio execs think you are. I urge you all to keep an eye on your local arthouses in addition to the major multiplexes, and don’t be afraid to go out of your way to find good cinema. In the best case scenario, we can send Hollywood the message that rehashing the same old franchises and stories isn’t good enough anymore. In the worst case, at least you’ll have seen some awesome original movies that the layman can’t or won’t see.
I sincerely thank you for reading my Year in Review of 2011. If you’ve been the least bit enlightened and entertained by my lists and reviews, I hope you’ll keep reading through the next year. In any case, here’s wishing you a prosperous 2012 and a year of great times at the movies.