The summer of 2011 was certainly a banner season – in terms of box office numbers that is. Quality wise, it was a less than stellar four months. While there were very few outright turkeys, there wasn’t an Inception, Toy Story 3, Inglourious Basterds or even something like The Hurt Locker. Instead, what we got was a slate of very good films. Of all the movies that came out in the last four months, the following were the best and the worst.
Honorable Mentions: Captain America: The First Avenger, The Tree of Life, Meek’s Cutoff
10. SUPER 8
J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 magnificently-shot homage to Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbusters of the late 70s and early 80s, was one of the summer’s only original pictures. Though it failed to live up to the immense pre-release hype, it was still a winner for the most part, with strong characters-arcs and wonderful performances by a talented cast of youngsters. What kept it from being a flat-out classic was its subpar central mystery. Despite its faults, one thing’s for sure… J.J. Abrams is the real deal.
9. RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
One of the summer’s most pleasantly surprising experiences, Rupert Wyatt’s fascinating reboot of the five-decade old franchise, boasted state-of-the-art visual effects, a magnificent performance from Andy Serkis, and an intelligent screenplay that promoted character development over mindless action. Best of all, you don’t need to have seen a single movie in the Planet of the Apes franchise to come out enjoying this one.S
8. CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE
The best romantic comedy since 2009’s (500) Days of Summer, Crazy, Stupid, Love reminded me that with the right actors, a cliché-free script and inspired direction, even the most trite of genres can be made interesting once again. Ryan Gosling’s showy performance as a womanizer kicked off what is sure to be a banner year in style while Steve Carrell proved once again, that he is a master at playing everymen in light dramas. Warm characters, charming cast, fun for couples of any age.
Smart, heartfelt and downright filthy, Bridesmaids is by far the best comedy I’ve seen in 2011 and judging y the upcoming slate, it’s going to be a mission to top it. Led by an incredible star-making performance from Kristen Wiig, who also co-wrote the film, this is a movie that women can get downright dirty alongside the boys. I can’t wait to see what Wiig comes up with next.
6. X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
Director Matthew Vaughn shot a bolt of lightning into the X-Men franchise with this summer’s phenomenal superhero prequel X-Men: First Class which stands alongside Bryan Singer’s X2: X-Men United as arguably the best film in the decade-old franchise. Not only is First Class a highly entertaining superhero movie, it’s also a fantastic film that transcends its genre with excellent performances from Michael Fassbender and James MacAvoy, impressive action sequences, and most significantly, a brisk and compelling plot that doesn’t dumb itself for kids.
5. THE HELP
Part coming-of-age drama and part historical document, this smartly-written and tightly-executed 1960s-set drama about a group of Mississippi women and their African American maids entered movie theaters last month with hardly any buzz emitting from non-fans of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel. But it’s the trio of touching Oscar-worthy performances from Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain and the remarkable direction of writer-director Tate Taylor that elevated this film into one of the summer’s best offerings. It may be pure Hollywood but when it’s executed so well, it’s hard to dislike it.
Told via flashbacks, this poignant and whimsical little comedy/drama about loss, acceptance, and the bonds between fathers and sons, is about two men – Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a lonely and emotionally distant graphic designer, and his terminally ill father Hal (Chrstopher Plummer), a man who comes out of the closet after the death of his wife at the grand old age of 75. Though the material meanders in downer territory, writer-director Mike Mills unexpectedly funny semi-autobiographical tale is buoyed by his usage of quirky film devices like animation, subtitles, cute talking animals, and the warm performances of McGregor and Plummer, who in a just world, will duly receive an Oscar nomination for his terrific work.
3. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2
Talk about going out with a bang! Masterfully executed and splendidly acted, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is the finale Potter fans had been envisioning the moment they closed the last page of the books. Emphatically engaging and exciting, it’s a film that left me overjoyed, teary-eyed and wishing for more. Combined with last November’s Part 1, Deathly Hallows stands not only as the best film in the franchise but one of the best fantasy films ever made. This is cinematic magic at its finest!
2. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
Five decades into his career and Woody Allen is still going strong. Midnight in Paris, his 41st feature as a writer-director was not only the biggest hit of the 75-year-old’s career but one of his greatest works. Sure, it lacks the substance of Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters, arguably his three best films but Allen never intended this film to have depth in the first place. No, it’s a lightweight truffle, sumptuously shot and enthrallingly performed by a host of magnificent actors… the biggest surprise being Owen Wilson who finally gets the respect he deserves.
The agony and the ecstasy of legendary Formula 1 racing driver Ayrton Senna is meticulously brought to life in Asif Kapadia’s riveting and mesmerizing documentary Senna. Simultaneously, a biopic and sports movie, Kapadia’s film is stitched together from archive footage taken from TV broadcasts, behind-the-scene prints and home-videos, with nary a talking head in sight. Chronicling the ten years in the career of the Brazilian racer, from his debut on the F1 circuit in 1984 to his tragic death behind the wheel at the age of 34, this is utterly compelling, heartbreaking and absorbing cinema –hands down, the best thing I watched in the summer of 2011.
I purposely decided to avoid listing The Smurfs, Zookeeper, Conan the Barbarian and Priest. Everyone with a conscious knows those are stinkers anyway.
1. GREEN LANTERN
The summer of 2011 was pegged as the summer of the superhero with no less than five comic-book based blockbusters opening. So it’s fitting that the worst film that I watched in this season turned out to be a superhero picture. Derivative, dull, plot hole friendly and just ugly to look at, Martin Campbell’s preposterously pricey adaptation of DC’s Green Lantern was the summer’s worst and most disappointing film. While it’s far from the worst superhero film I’ve seen, the amount of potential wasted here is what frustrated me.
2. COWBOYS & ALIENS
On paper Cowboys & Aliens should have been a home-run! It had a fantastic premise, a very good cast led by Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and James Bond (Daniel Craig), a high profile director coming off the two biggest successes of his career (Jon Favreau) and a trio of the most famous Oscar-winning producers on the planet (Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer). But if I had a penny for every concept that sounded magnificent on paper, then I’d be a millionaire. It’s hard to say what exactly went wrong but if I had to start somewhere, I’d start with the six credited writers on the screenplay. As a fan of the western genre, this is one tragic disappointment.
3. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES
Looks like all the joy in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise went overboard with the departure of director Gore Verbinski. On Stranger Tides, directed by one-hit-wonder Rob Marshall, was easily the worst of the Pirates films – overlong, unfocused and silly. As Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp is reliable as ever but it’s evident that the character has already become tiresome for many moviegoers. It’s amazing how two bad movies can automatically destroy the reputation of such an iconic character but that’s what has happened. Also tarnished is Depp’s credibility as a talented actor. He hasn’t starred in a good movie since 2007.
4. TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON
Though Transformers: Dark of the Moon is definitely more watchable than its putrid predecessor, Revenge of the Fallen it’s still an unholy symphony of noise. Yes, the action sequences that director Michael Bay orchestrates are some of the most elaborate and stunningly executed sequences I’ve seen but for all the explosions and screaming, there has to be a vested interest in the characters we watch, even if it is a Transformers movie. A wafer-thin plot, stock characters and a bloated running time simply doesn’t cut it.
5. CARS 2
Being a massive Pixar enthusiast, I find it extremely tough to place a Pixar on a Worst-of list but the simple fact of the matter is that even though Cars 2 may be the breeziest, most action packed thing Pixar has released, it’s punctured by its over-reliance on the astronomically-annoying character of Mater and its preference of style over substance. It’s the closest Pixar has come to an outright lemon and my hope is that they take this slight detour into account when prepping their next few releases.
Best Actor: Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class
Best Actress: Viola Davis in The Help
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer in Beginners
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer in The Help
Biggest Disappointment: Cowboys & Aliens
Biggest Surprise: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Best Superhero Film: X-Men: First Class
Best Case for Remake: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Worst Case for Remakes: Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night
Best Sequel: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Worst Sequel: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Best Comedy: Bridesmaids
Best Action Movie: Captain America: The First Avenger
Best Action Sequence: The collapsing building in Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Best Credits: Captain America: The First Avenger
Best Drama: Beginners
Best Rom-Com: Crazy Stupid Love
Best Family Film: Kung Fu Panda 2
Best Fight: Harry Potter and Voldemort at the climax of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Best Opening Scene: X-Men: First Class
Best Scene: The creation montage in The Tree of Life