Monday, January 2, 2012

DAMN Good Movies -- My Top 10 Movies of 2011

Another year is officially in the history books, so I thought I'd pass along a few random thoughts about my personal favorite films of 2011.  For those not familiar with my typical disclaimer, this list only contains films I actually managed to see in theaters or on home video, so if you don't see your favorite here, that's probably why.

1.  The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo -- Yes, this David Fincher adaptation of the first book in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy was just made only two years ago in a Swedish adaptation.  The thing is, though, if David Fincher is willing to direct an English-language version, you step out of the way and just let him at it.  With this version, Fincher brings all the darkness and atmosphere that made his previous films Se7en and Zodiac so effective.  He makes full cinematic use of the snowy foreign landscape, while Rooney Mara probably has a Best Actress Oscar in her future this year for her performance as the damaged Lisbeth Salander.  And I guarantee that after seeing this film, you'll never listen to Enya's "Orinoco Flow" the same way again...

2.  Super 8 -- This came very close to being my favorite film of the year, but as others have noted elsewhere, J.J. Abrams' tribute to classic Steven Spielberg movies stumbles a bit in the last 20 or so minutes.  Most of the movie, however, evokes everything great about '80s kid adventure films like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and The Goonies.  Elle Fanning does a terrific job as Alice Dainard, the cute girl from school willing to be a part of homemade zombie movie.  Bonus points for showing the kids' zombie movie during the closing credits.

3.  Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol -- Brad Bird's live-action directorial debut hits one out of the park.  The fourth film in the Mission: Impossible series is arguably its best, with non-stop, exhausting action sequences and some seriously insane camera shots.  Like many people, I expected Tom Cruise to transition the franchise over to new IMF member Jeremy Renner, but Cruise doesn't seem ready to let go just yet.  Simon Pegg gets quite a bit more to do this time as a official field agent, keeping things light and fun even with all the espionage babble.  A fifth film seems inevitable now, so hopefully the IMF team upgrades their conveniently faulty tech next time.

4.  Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows -- After enjoying the first Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes romp, I was a bit nervous about the sequel based on the jokey, explosive-heavy trailers.  However, I was pleasantly surprised and relieved to find a more serious film and a wonderfully menacing Professor James Moriarty in Fringe's Jared Harris, son of the late Richard Harris.  Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law still have the solid bromance chemistry as Holmes and Watson and Stephen Fry has a fun cameo as Sherlock's older brother Mycroft.  The current BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch remains the better depiction of Holmes these days, but there's still plenty of room for this entertaining take on traditional-period Holmes as well.

5.  X-Men: First Class -- The best of a very strong summer of Marvel Comics superhero movies.  Stardust and Kick-Ass director Matthew Vaughn finally got a chance to play with the big toys and definitely makes the most of it.  Even with an entirely new cast of X-Men and a prequel "how the X-Men formed" setting, Vaughn breathed new life into the franchise with a swinging '60s/classic James Bond feel.  It also didn't hurt that James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were very strong as the young Professor X and Magneto, each making the roles their own and just as memorable as Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen.

6.  Captain America: The First Avenger -- I can't begin to describe how glad I was that this film turned out as well as it did.  Director Joe Johnston managed to recall everything he did that made his previous period superhero film The Rocketeer so much fun and blended it nicely with the setup for the upcoming Avengers team film.  Chris Evans made you completely forget he was the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies, while proving that even "just a kid from Brooklyn" could become one of the greatest screen superheroes ever.

7.  Thor -- The first superhero film of the summer launched things in a big way with some elaborate sets and costumes right out of Flash Gordon mixed in with some very Jack Kirbyesque special effects.  Chris Hemsworth officially became a star with this movie, while Natalie Portman stopped being her usual wooden self long enough to help sell the long, long-distance romance between Thor and Jane Foster.  Kudos to director Kenneth Branaugh for not one, not two, but three fun cameos by legendary Thor comics creators.

8.  Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two -- It's over.  Finally.  This eight-film series started off sweet and innocent, then began showing incredible potential around the middle years, but ultimately staggered awkwardly to its overblown conclusion.  Regardless, the achievement of making all these movies with most of the same cast is positively incredible in this day and age and if nothing else, the series has launched the next generation of British actors who will entertain us for decades to come.

9.  J. Edgar -- This film probably won't make too many Top 10 for 2011 lists, but I thought it was an interesting look at a figure rapidly fading into historical obscurity.  The creation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its effect on America is handled nicely by director Clint Eastwood, but comes as deliberate Oscar bait at times.  I can see Leonardo DiCaprio landing another Best Actor nomination, though.

10.  The Muppets -- Even though this movie structures its entire premise around nostalgia, sometimes beating you over the head with it, you still can't help but smile as you watch it.  Everything old-school Muppet Show fans loved is here, while Jason Segel and Amy Adams seem to be enjoying the hell out of themselves in every scene they're in.  Sure, the film is corny, intentionally so at times, but because it's the Muppets, it works and works beautifully.

All in all, a pretty solid year for movies.  Bring on 2012!


  1. Great list, hon! Though the Muppets? [shudders] Don't get me wrong I love me some Jason Segel! (Forgetting Sarah Marshall!) - but Muppets scare me - like marionettes, talking chimps, and clowns, but hey...that's me.

    And I gotta say about my beloved Harry Potter franchise (you can read my blog post homage) Did you read the books? Because Harry himself got super angsty as any teen might who is being pursued by a evil wizard! I think those movies were epic & touched the heart of every true HP fan! READ the books, they rock!
    Cheers dear!
    The Daring Librarian

  2. Thanks, Gwyneth! Glad you approve of my list. Sorry that Muppets scare you, but as far as clowns go, maybe you need to hang around a better class of clown?

    Oh, I read all the Harry Potter books as they were released after seeing the first film. Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed them, I tend to approach them from a writer's perspective and have the opinion that J.K. Rowling became so popular it affected the quality of her later books. Books 5 to 7 read like her editor was far too afraid to tell her to cut at least 150 pages out of each book and tighten them up.