Monday, January 16, 2012

FILM: The Best Films of 2011

Here are my favorite movies of the year and why you should add them to your queue:

Best Action Film: Transformers: Dark of the Moon
When Michael Bay isn't being a douchebag, he's filming awesome action scenes that'll make your jaw drop, from a blender-like Decepticon devouring an entire building to a special forces team gliding through the sky to a rendezvous point. The world nearly ending has never looked so cool.

Best Action Film on a Small Budget: Attack the Block
You know how aliens tend to be green, slimy, reptilian and/or bug-like? You know how they have all this technology and they want to take over the world? You know how the world has to unite its armed forces in order to protect this planet from extinction? Ok, none of that happens in this movie—but NOT because they couldn't afford to add it in. This alien flick isn't about an alien invasion. It's about survival. There are these kids in these ghetto projects who basically raise themselves, and while they may have fun running amok and breaking the law, they're not exactly overjoyed to be subjected to this lifestyle. They've learned the lesson of "survival of the fittest" before most adults had to. And for one character, the gang leader, this invasion is more about proving to himself that he can survive the humans too. He fights for his life every day. The only difference is that that night he didn't just have to fend off a gun-happy pot dealer, but a blind gorilla-bear hybrid with glow-in-the-dark fangs. Yeah, you just read that right.

The Best Animated Film: The Adventures of Tintin
You know what makes an awesome animated film? It's ability to make you feel like you're not watching a cartoon. That's what made films like Toy Story, The Incredibles, and Up so impressive. A combination of their stellar graphics and heartwarming tales helped them tell real stories in surreal settings. Steven Spielberg brought that same endeavor to a beloved European animated character named Tintin. Sure, Tintin has a rather unrealistic pirate ship battle, crane fight, and a fearless and resourceful dog, but it all looks real—from the hair flipped on his noggin to the dust that floats through the air.

Best Biography: The Iron Lady
It was sort of a monologue where Margaret Thatcher took inventory of her life, weighing what was to be regretted and what was to be cherished as she said goodbye to her husband, who stood by her side loyally throughout the years despite her crippling neglect. Meryl Streep did an amazing job, disappearing into the iconic politician, not just in makeup but mannerism, posture, and emotion. It's an important film for both women and politicians to see, because of how it mirrors our current spiraling economy and the rebellions that have erupted because of it, and because they should witness bravery in the face of doubt. When the world draws the line at what it believes you are capable of, it is up to you to redraw it.

Best Chick Flick: Hanna
I've decided to redefine the term Chick Flick. It's no longer a derogatory slur towards "mind-numbing rom-coms that only women can endure." Now it means "movie that stars an empowered female." And by that definition, this movie qualifies. Saoirse Ronan plays a lethal teenager who trained her whole life to hunt down the woman who murdered her mother. Much like the silent assassins on-the-run in the Bourne saga and Salt, she mostly speaks with her eyes, is far more deadly than her appearance would suggest, and desperately craves affection. But her harrowing story of survival was even more poignant than there's were. She's just a kid. And she never really had the chance to be one. I'd sign on for a Hanna saga, if only to continue watching the seamless juxtaposition of her timid integration into society and her inability to assuage her homicidal instincts.

Best Comedy: Bridesmaids
Hands down, this was the funniest movie of the year. While Adam Sandler was making an ass out of himself in drag, and those Hangover dudes were running one good joke into the ground, Kristen Wiig and her band of merry maids were taking the world behind the scenes to see what it's really like to be a woman. In it, a bankrupt boyfriendless baker with low-self-esteem must witness her best friend enter the next stage in her life and possibly leave her behind. It took ladies off the pristine pedestal that Hollywood puts them on and showed a less attractive and less PG side to them that's far more realistic than ever before. Granted, not all chicks take unexpected dumps in the middle of the street, but it can happen, and it's only fair that they get to.

Best Comic Book Adaptation: X-Men: First Class
I know that hardcore fans found a lot of inconsistencies when they compared it to the first three films, but they can't deny that it was one of the better written, cast, and designed X-Men of them all. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were inspired casting choices, as was (surprisingly) Kevin Bacon, who dug up a soulless villain we didn't realize he could pull off. They told parallel legends of how a villain and a hero were born, and encapsulated the brotherhood between Magneto and Professor X that the other films merely hinted at, illustrating their inner struggles—one for compassion and the other for control. It did what the other films desperately intended. It humanized them.

Best Dark Comedy: Horrible Bosses
While it's true that most dark comedies don't have this much physical comedy, I'm going to make an exception because when three guys get together to murder their bosses and there's coke and thugs involved, it gets pretty dark. This film was essentially a revenge fantasy come to life. Every cubicle-filled office should install a two-way mirror, screen this film, add alcohol, and stir. The only way it can get darker than a cokehead racist misogynist, sexually aggressive blackmailing rapist, and an insensitive job-stealing idea poacher being your boss is if you turned out the lights.
Best Dramedy: 50/50
Seth Rogen and Will Reiser's intention was to tell a cancer story from a young male's perspective that wasn't chocked full of melodrama and Lifetime channel tropes. It was a lofty goal. Anytime a film focuses on dying there are bound to be clich├ęs employed, because they're essential to every terminally ill storyline. But these guys managed to retain the seriousness of the situation without increasing Kleenex sales. It bluntly addressed the injustice of such a life-altering diagnosis at a young age. It embraced the wave of emotions that overcome a cancer patient (denial, sadness, hopelessness, rage, etc.), but always kept a sense of humor about it.  The comedic chemistry between Joseph Gordon Levitt and Anna Kendrick helped in lightening the mood, so that the audience could understand that this was the story of how a man stopped living passively once the option of living started to fade.

Best End to a Saga: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
There is no other film saga that has been as consistently enjoyable and unforgettable for as long as this saga had to be. My generation grew up with Harry Potter—literally. He gave us a magical world, a magical childhood, and magical love stories. Whether or not this last installment was as amazing as it felt won't be clear for a few years. We're too close to it. We had to say goodbye to a lot of good friends and we're not ready to judge. We're too busy screaming victoriously at Mrs. Weasley's revenge on Bellatrix Lestrange. We're too busy respecting Mrs. Malfoy for defying the Dark Lord in order to save her son. We're too busy cheering on Neville Longbottom for living up to his pre-written destiny (and looking hot while doing it). We're too busy breathing a sigh of relief that Ron and Hermione finally shut up long enough to seal their fates with a kiss. And most of all, we're too busy wondering what life will be like for the next generation, and what evil will darken their days. It's not over. Not yet.

Best Family Drama: Warrior
This isn't a movie about boxing or the burgeoning popularity of MMA fighting. It's about forgiveness and the toll it takes on the soul. Two estranged brothers go head-to-head in the ring for $5 million. Both are fighting for the survival of their own families. But as they fight each beefy meathead with pumped up bravado, there's a bigger fight rumbling inside them. Tommy hates his father for being an abusive drunk and leaving him to care for his dying mother. He hates his big brother Brendan for choosing his dad over them. And he hates himself for being the sole survivor in a friendly-fire incident and not being able to save his best friend. Meanwhile, Brendan hates their father for always favoring Tommy and never having an equal interest in training him. He hates Tommy for never appreciating that attention, for depriving him of his right to say goodbye to his mother, for abandoning him with a drunk, and then for asking him to be his trainer again as if nothing ever happened. And he hates himself for not being able to support his family. With every fight, it appears these men are wading through the hatred, the envy, and the self-loathing towards each other, against the current, so they can finally have it out. They need to forgive each other before they can forgive themselves, because, in the end, the family they're fighting for is each other. Both actors, Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, did an amazing job of capturing that tumultuous relationship between two brothers, who were as dependent of each other as they were of their father's approval. A modern day Cain and Abel.

Best Kid's Movie: Super 8
This was J.J. Abram's first original script. I know what you're thinking, Um, wasn't that an E.T. remake? No, no it wasn't. It definitely was inspired by it though, since Abrams worships Steven Spielberg. But this alien makes E.T. look like a chump. He was E.T. if E.T. were giant, pissed off after decades of imprisonment, capable of telepathically communicating, and the owner of a spaceship that dissolved into thousands of cubes as a defense mechanism. There was nothing warm and fuzzy about him—except maybe his insides. The kids were also a bit grittier, interested in zombie films and train crashes, realistic enough to curse, mischievous enough to steal a car and drive without a license, and tough enough to stand up to an alien even after they watched it massacre a bus full of soldiers. It was equal parts coming of age story, where a young boy had to come to terms with what happened to his late mother, and sci-fi action story, where these band of misfits helped save their town.

Best Love Story: Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Relax! I'm not going to gush over how hot Ryan Gosling is. His level of hotness and "photoshopped" abs are not factors in my decision—I swear. This movie rocked because it managed to tell not one but three love stories and interlocked them seamlessly. It did what ensemble romances like New Year's Eve only wished they could do: telling different love stories for every age and stage in a relationship, from puppy love to young love to marriage, without seeming rushed and overproduced. And it didn't just stay in the safe zone of the glamorous side of love. It showed its deterioration, its misdirection, its miscommunication, and its banality. Steve Carrell smartly balanced his goofball humor with moments of devastation and self-loathing. And Jonah Bobo, the kid who played his son, did the same, mastering a shattered expression after every soul-crushing rejection put the kibosh on his dorky desperation. The best part of all though was the way it took its time with each relationship to justify the inevitable professions of love. It wasn't love at first sight or a romance shown over the span of a wordless montage. They showed you the chemistry, the common interests, and the humor. You fell in love with their kind of love.

Best Philosophical Plot: The Adjustment Bureau
This film posed an intriguing question: Would you forfeit your destiny for true love? Many romantic films aspire to present obstacles for their lovebirds and many fail, introducing trite tropes such as stealing your frenemy's fiancee (Something Borrowed), falling in love with a commitment-phobe (No Strings Attached), or basically anything in New Year's Eve. But this film really raised the stakes to an epic romance level, while also maintaining a suspenseful sci-fi mystery.

Best Reboot: Fast Five
Car porn isn't that difficult to produce. Nice cars + hot actors + super fast driving = [insert driving-themed play-on-words title] And considering that this is the 5th installment in the Fast and the Furious franchise, they should pop out as easily as a Duggar baby. By now, they should feel mass produced and overly formulaic, like the American Pie straight-to-DVD film series, yet somehow Vin Diesel and director Justin Lin have managed to keep it fresh. In this film, Dom unites characters from all four previous films and changes the formula—or rather, realigns it. In the first film, when we meet Dom and his original crew, Agent O'Connor infiltrates his ring of fast-driving thieves. But ever since he joined and caused the dissemination of the team, there's only really been fast-driving, shit-talking, and friend-saving. The films have never really been known for their heists—until now. The job they pull in this film has so many twists and turns, it was at an Italian Job-level of awesomeness. And the addition of The Rock to, for once, play a formidable opponent to the similarly beefy Diesel was genius. I finally left the theater wanting to see where they'd race off to next.

Best Rom-Com: Friends with Benefits
Romantic Comedies are for girls. They're constructed to please women. They're a fantastical portrayal of love, life, and especially men. Ninety percent of what happens in a rom-com doesn't happen in real life—or at least not to this generation. This film was like a time capsule of what it's like to be in your late 20s/early 30s in the 00s, trying to succeed professionally, while balancing a demanding family life and a hopeless love life. It reflects this generation's desire for instant gratification, insta-relationships, sexual promiscuity, and grand gestures meant for the world to see. And it did all that with a funny cast equipped with great chemistry.

Best Sequel: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
This is not my favorite spy saga. I'm more of a Bond kind of girl. But I have to say, Tom Cruise outdid himself. Oh your action hero runs from fire? HA! Tom Cruise runs from a sandstorm! Top that! At every turn there was an impressive feat to behold, whether it was watching him scale the tallest building in the world with minimal rope and wonky gripping technology, or nearly miss a a ricocheting vehicle hurdling towards him out of a cloud of sand. And he wasn't alone. Jeremy Renner delivered a modernized version of Ethan Hunt's signature hover move. Josh Holloway fearlessly leapt off a building and returned fire mid-air. Paula Patton kicked some major French girl ass. And even Simon Pegg got in a few licks, as well as barbs. The perspective shots were incredible as well. My favorite was from the inside of a car crash. It was an all-around awesome film. Worth a second and third look. You've just got to see him do it all again.

Best Visuals: Immortals
This film was compared heavily to 300, but I'd argue that its visuals were better designed. I don't know if it's because of improvements over time or if it was the cinematographer's choice to increase the vibrancy and glint of gold and black—even the bare skin of the warriors glowed. The Gods were designed like unbreakable figurines. Everything about it was gorgeous: the hordes of battalions, the virgins flight, the Titan battle. All of it—a moving mural.


Best War Movie: Battle Los Angeles
While I realize that this film was marketed as a gritty alien invasion flick, it's actually equal parts war movie. It had the brotherhood, the sacrifice, the civilian rescue missions, and the death-defying feats of bravery. But what really made it fit into the war genre was the final scene where the soldiers choose to redeploy instead of rest. You always hear stories of how there are soldiers in the armed forces who are on their 5th or 6th tour, and most reluctantly, but this film shined a spotlight on the type of soldier that the government wished existed: the unstoppable machine.

Full Disclosure: I have yet to see Shame, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Hugo, or My Week with Marilyn.

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