2011 in Review: Not Exactly a Best-Of List

What can I say about the Year in Film- 2011?  Well for one thing, there were too many sequels, superheroes—and superfluous 3-D.  I mean—enough already with this universally accepted shell game aimed at wresting more shekels from unwilling viewers. Only a few of these films (such as Hugo) showcased the technology in an aesthetically pleasing manner.  And still, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have preferred these movies without 3-D.   In any case, what follows is not a “Best” list, but rather a very subjective “Favorites and Least Favorites” List—with some other thoughts tossed in for good measure. Several of these favorites (and least favorites) are now available on DVD. Feel free to disagree:

The “Favorites”

1. The Trip – I loved this movie—mainly for the involving, amusing interplay between Steve Coogan and Ron Brydon, several hilarious scenes (namely dueling Michael Caine impressions) and a surprising undercurrent of disappointment and regret.

2. The Guard – Brendan Gleeson is towering as a seemingly dim Irish constable investigating murder and drug dealing in a quirky, comic thriller with Don Cheadle as an FBI agent-and Gleeson’s unlikely straight man.

3. Captain America – The one superhero movie that I would gladly see again – courtesy of a sincere, heroic turn from Chris Evans, and an engaging romantic subplot—and some exciting action sequences.

4. The Descendants – George Clooney shines in Alexander Payne’s serio-comedy about family ties, love, loss, and regret—set in beautiful Hawaii.  One of the two best ensemble casts I’ve seen this year.

5. Margin Call – The other best ensemble movie – an intelligent, tense look at the beginnings of the (most recent) Wall Street collapse in terms that the financially illiterate (such as myself) can understand.  Kevin Spacey’s exec tries to do the right thing by his failing firm in the face of overwhelming pressure from head man Jeremy Irons, with Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Zachary Quinto and Demi Moore offer sterling support.

6. Moneyball – Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman all hit home runs in this compelling drama about statistics—I mean, baseball—and going against the grain.

7. Hugo – I really enjoyed Marin Scorsese’s fable, which is as much about the joys of cinema, as it is about magic, dreams, family, loss—and rediscovery.  It’s funny, exciting, compassionate—and visually and cinematically alive. Plus, it’s got terrific performances from among others,Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, JudeLaw, and Asa Butterfield as Hugo.

8. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – There’s a mole at the Circus and…wait a second, you’re not familiar with the spy genre jargon—well, neither am I—plus, I guessed the identity of the spy planted deep in British Intelligence. (one might refer to it as guilt by casting—or why is James Coburn doing a “Murder She Wrote?”) Still, I got caught up in the retro-feel of the film—with its preponderance of browns and grays, it wouldn’t be out of place among the spy dramas of the late 60’s-and the various small betrayals that permeate the proceedings.  It also has a compelling performance from Gary Oldman that really holds the film together—it also doesn’t hurt to have John Hurt and Colin Firth.

9. The Artist –You haven’t seen it yet, have you?  What are you waiting for?  This is an enormously entertaining film with an ebullient beginning, a joyous conclusion …and a little bit of a dark center. Oh yeah, it doesn’t have dialogue, but there is sound, delightful music, gorgeous black and white cinematography and two extremely likable leads—and a dog you’ll want to adopt.

10. The Others – There are several, such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, War Horse (with its haunting images and undeniable emotional power), The Help (great performances, a little overlong), and Drive (especially Albert Brooks’ lethal turn) that I greatly enjoyed—and are well worth catching.

Some “Least Favorites”

1. The Change-Up – It starts with some not-so-cute “baby pooh” humor—then it’s all rapidly downhill-and there is nothing—I repeat nothing- that Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann and Olivia Wilde can do about it.

2. Hall Pass and Arthur – These were so abysmal—I don’t want to waste the spacing to list them separately.  Suffice it to say, that these two films, along with The Change-up, demonstrate why bad comedy is the worst form of entertainment around.

3. Dream House – Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, and Rachel Weisz in a dreary wintry ghost story.  I presume they were well-paid. At least the snow was convincing.

Some “Overrated” Movies

1. Tree of Life – Terence Malick’s long, long musing on life, death, family, and disappointment had some good moments, namely from Brad Pitt— albeit spread out over hours and hours (at least it felt that way of lovingly photographed tedium.

2. Bridesmaids – Women of the world rejoice—you now officially behave as rudely and crudely as guys in those male-oriented R-rated comedies that are too numerous to mention.  The movie is watchable, but aside from a few chuckles, it’s not particularly funny. The problem here is that most of the female characters are thinly drawn, one-dimensional-and certainly not anyone I’d like to spend more time with (naturally there are plans for a sequel). The exception is Kristin Wiig, who finally gives a breakout performance (well, she co-wrote the movie) as a bridesmaid in the midst of a severe financial, emotional tailspin.  Such is the great Wiig’s skill that she manages to keep her character sympathetic despite all her insensitive, cruel behavior.