Ryan's 2011 Wrap-Up - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Ryan’s 2011 Wrap-Up

There is not enough time in the day.  Between work, family and that thing called sleep, it's hard to fit as many movies as I used to watch into my routine.  The last two years in particular I'd noticed the number of films I had watched drop to depressingly low levels and I wanted to change that trend for 2011.

Although I didn’t watch near as many films as I watched when I was in high school through college, I am happy to report that I watched over 140 films for the first time this year.  The movies I watched ranged from the 1920s to present and covered all genres and types of films.  So unlike the last few years where I struggled to find many films I had any type of reaction to, I have a list full of movies I really enjoyed in 2011.

Sports Movies That Were So Much More

Warrior was the best film I saw last year and might be my favorite film of the past few years.  The movie really knocked me on my ass on how much I enjoyed it and how quickly I feel in love with the film. After watching the film, I felt like giving a MMA fighter a hug and telling him it is alright, but thankfully I did not do that. In a similar fashion, Moneyball, which I reviewed here, was a movie that I liked more the longer I thought about it.

These two movies have more in common than just the sports genre, they also have wonderful directing, great writing and powerful performances.  If this was my perfect world, the Oscars would be a two-way race between Tom Hardy and Brad Pitt in the Best Actor race and Nick Nolte would be fighting off Jonah Hill for Best Supporting Actor.

I'm a big sports fan but even if you don’t know the difference between baseball and football, there is still a lot to enjoy in these films.  Warrior is about family, overcoming hardships and letting go.  Moneyball is about the little guys and the hubris of men who aren't on the bottom.  By dismissing both of them as "just" sports movies a person could miss out of the two best films of 2011.

Matt Damon Makes It All Better

Damon starred in two films that were on the edge of the razor blade of really working or failing miserably.  Thankfully for him (and me), both We Bought a Zoo and The Adjustment Bureau did not falter but delivered in spades.  If Matt Damon didn’t give his all in both of these films they would have come off as sappy or unfocused, especially We Bought a Zoo. 

A comment on the review for Zoo mentioned that if the script was the same but had different actors and director, the movie would have fallen apart and I agree 100%.  Cameron Crowe kept the film singing with his special talents, but Damon made you believe in this film.  You liked his Ben Mee character and you wanted to see him succeed.

Earlier in the year in Adjustment Bureau, thanks to the wonderful chemistry between Emily Blunt and Damon, you were rooting for the two to overcome all obstacles and fall happily in love.  Again, if Damon didn’t give his all in the role, you would not have believed in the story or cared about their love but he conveyed the passion, the helplessness and the anger so well that you wanted to see him get the girl. Damon is an actor who can inhibit a role so well that you couldn’t imagine anyone else playing that it.  He did that twice in 2011 and I couldn’t count the ways both of these films could easily have jumped the tracks without him.

Comedies With Real People

High concept comedies are easy to do: you put a big actor (Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler) in an outlandish idea (a gypsy turns him into an elephant, they find a genie bottle in the desert) and cut a trailer spelling out the movie and it is a license to print money.

But taking real life situations with true to life characters and making something funny and heartfelt is much harder to both make well and be profitable.  2011 managed to have numerous comedies that were well made, funny and popular. Win Win, Cedar Rapids, Bridesmaids (which I enjoyed more than Danny) and Crazy, Stupid, Love (ditto) all have real problems every day people deal with on a day to day basis.

Whether it is not having the money you need to live comfortably or seeing your dreams shatter without having anyway to stop it or dealing with divorce, these four movies made real life pain funny.  Afterwards, you might find yourself still too poor for that vacation or still picking yourself up after a horrible break-up but at least for around 2 hours you got to laugh at your problems and see that there hopefully is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Big Budget Films That Deliver

We discussed this in the podcast this last week, but I truly believe this was a year that the “event films” delivered on a more consistent basis then the Oscar baiting and art movies.  Sometimes you just want to be entertained, and entertained I was this year by some movies that delivered exactly what a person would hope for and want out of the films.

Captain America is a comic book movie where you like character a lot even before he becomes a Superhero.  Chris Evans turns a character that often comes off as a too earnest Boy Scout into a genuinely likable guy that you would want as your friend.  Director Joe Johnson gives the film a distinct look and feel and much like his earlier film The Rocketeer, he crafts a 40’s-set adventure film that is oh so much FUN.  I know if I was 12 years old right now, Captain America would have become "THE GREASTEST FILM EVER!!!"  Bravo to the whole team for making a superhero movie that followed the tropes of the genre but yet put a stamp on it that was all of its own.

Another film that took the “building up a super hero team” cliché and gave it a coat of new paint was X-Men: First ClassHere we have a reboot/sequel of a film series that was barely a decade old, the mutants in the film were far being A-list, and the movie was trapped in development hell until very late in the process.  This movie should have been a dog but thanks to a unique spin with it set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a director in top form with Matthew Vaughn and a wonderful central performance from Michael Fassbender, First Class might be the best X-Men movie yet.

I can’t imagine a better closing out of a franchise then what Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows-Part 2 managed to do.  It was action-packed, emotional, gave every character people came to love a moment to shine and gave a whole generation of people who fell in love with the series the right amount of closure.  This was one of the best-reviewed movies of the year for a reason.

Not often is the fifth movie in a franchise the best but somehow The Fast and the Furious keeps surprising.  I watched Fast Five with a huge smile on my face and loved every minute of the testosterone soaked mayhem.  I was very underwhelmed by Justin Lin’s first film in this series, Tokyo Drift, but since then he has kept making films in the franchise that were better than the one before.  I love him in this role now but I can’t imagine how he can top the fun of Fast Five. 

Another series that is steadily improving as it goes along is the Mission: Impossible series.  I really dug the third one but was blown away by the fourth film, Ghost Protocol.  This is one of the only films on this list that is still playing at a theater and I would recommend everyone to see it on the biggest screen they can find.  This movie is a hell of a ride.

A special mention also goes to Hanna, a film that I really loved but I need a second viewing to really link it sink in.

The Movie Without a Box

I'm categorizing all of my favorite films to fit into the trends of 2011, and, when I was planning this article, it was easy to lump all of them in certain ways except for one.

Drive was a visual feast of a movie and one of the surprises for me of 2011 but it didn’t fit in my article anywhere.  It wasn’t an action movie, it really wasn’t a drama, and so on, and then I realized that  the reason the movie is so good is because it is a wonderfully unique flick.  Andrew reviewed the film here, and, as you can tell, he is a big fan too.

One thing neither of us realized until you have a little distance is how different the film is than all other movies. The movie mixes European aesthetics, 70’s cop movie grittiness and the perfect collaboration between star and director into something distinctively original.  While so many films try its hardest to give you what you expect, I loved Drive because it constantly surprised me from scene to scene and was nothing like any other film I had seen.

When There is Good, There Has to be Bad

I was very thankful that this year I didn’t see that many bad films.  Now, I'm not saying there weren’t a lot of horrible films out there, I am just lucky to have not have watched them.  I was exposed to some bad films like The Hangover: Part II and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but luckily I only saw two films that made me angry by watching them.

The first of this dastardly duo is Cars 2 which was not just a hollow, loud, pointless mess of a film, but the first time Pixar made a bad film.  I don’t understand how a group that prides themselves on quality story telling could unleash this turkey onto the public.  I know that Lasseter has a soft spot for these films but I can’t believe he was blinded enough that he didn’t realize this was not a good movie.  I can handle noble failures where someone swung for the fences and missed, but Cars 2 was nothing more than a cash grab to sell new toys to little boys and help Disney make another billion dollars.  Pixar, you are better than this and I hope you redeem yourself again with your next picture.

As much as I hated Cars 2, the level of hatred I had for that film is not even close to how much I despised Sucker Punch. This is a film without story, pretty pictures that have no meaning or purpose, titillation that does nothing for anyone that doesn’t have a video game fetish and action films that do nothing but bore.  The movie disgusts me like few films do, it is ugly, horrible garbage and it astonishes me that someone with talent like Snyder could make it.  I don’t think he meant to subvert the genre or did anything in this film on purpose, I think he made a truly awful movie that lacked depth.

The only thing that entertained me in the film was hearing the thoughts of my following writers on the site.  Listen to this podcast and hear it for yourself, if you notice I am quiet often, it is because I was rendered speechless.   I am not one of those people who believe one view on a film is right or wrong.  Your interpretation of a film is your own opinion and there is not a right or wrong.  I wish I had the reaction of either Danny or Andrew with this film because then I wouldn’t have felt I wasted two hours of my life in the muck.

Posted by Ryan

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