by Luke Hickman
With the year halfway over, it's fair to say that, so far, 2011 has already been a pretty great year for movies!
The first few months of each year are usually filled with a palate varnishing film of garbage – the horrible Fall titles bumped by their studios to a time when nothing good is released – but 2011 featured some better-than-normal start of the year films. While there were definitely some stinkers – like 'Season of the Witch,' 'Country Strong,' 'The Dilemma,' 'The Roommate' and 'The Eagle' – there were also some unexpected winners - like 'Cedar Rapids' and 'The Way Back.' Just as surprising, the Summer has been with filled (mostly) exceptional cinematic gems and blockbusters.
As we take a look back on my Top 10 Movies of 2011 (so far), please put out some positive thoughts so the second half of the year will be just as good, if not better, than the first.
Considering the fact that 'The Adjustment Bureau' was bumped back from Fall 2010 to March 2011, nobody expected anything good to come of it. But when advance screenings started being held weekly four weeks prior to its release – all of which press were invited to – I suspected it was tracking better than Universal originally expected.
The smartest and most refreshing thing that 'The Adjustment Bureau' did was act opposite other movies that lie in the same odd mysterious genre – like 'The Box.' 'The Box' saved its reveal until the end of the film; 'The Adjustment Bureau' gives it to you right in the beginning. Films of this strange nature usually toy with the audience, showing them creatively weird things throughout, but never give you all the goods until the end. 'The Adjustment Bureau' introduces you to its characters, allows you to make a quick emotional connection with them, then gives you a good dose of strange followed by the early-on reveal.
With the odd scenario set up from the beginning, instead of actively trying to piece the puzzle together, the audience can go on a fun ride completely connected with the characters, not dragged along by mystery. 'The Adjustment Bureau' sets up a unique and fun story, then runs with it.
Fox Searchlight's indie comedies have often been a notch or two above the others. 'Super Troopers,' 'Garden State,' 'I Heart Huckabee's,' 'Thank You for Smoking,' 'Little Miss Sunshine,' '(500) Days of Summer,' 'Whip It' and 'Cyrus' are just a few of them. Earning another notch in the winning category for Fox Searchlight is 'Win Win.'
Paul Giamatti stars in this lightweight comedic drama as a husband and father who is giving his all while trying to provide for his family. Working primarily as a lawyer in his small town, he also coaches the high school's pathetic wrestling team. Even then, he's barely making ends meet, so he takes on an invalid client's grandson. When the teenage rebel ends up being the best wrestler in the state, he not only becomes necessary to the survival of the team, but to Giamatti's family as well.
'Win Win' has a simple-but-solid story, a fantastic script, lots of laughs, and a great big heart – easily one of the best features to come out of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) earned a lot of love with his 2009 feature-length Sundance debut 'Moon.' He brought a hard science fiction story to big screen – something that rarely happens when you remove the space westerns ('Star Wars,' 'Star Trek' and 'Firefly') – and did it perfectly successful. But lying within that not-widely-popular genre, 'Moon' only received a limited release from Sony Pictures Classics. With 'Source Code,' Jones made a studio-distributed science fiction film that can be easily digested by all audiences.
I don't dislike Jake Gyllenhaal; he's just never made anything that has wowed me – until now. In 'Source Code,' Gyllenhaal plays a military chopper pilot who has been chosen for a top secret experimental project were a soldier can be sent back to the recent past in the body of a now-dead person and relive his/her experiences prior to death. When the film opens, Gyllenhaal is sent back to a terrorist train bombing where he is to find the bomber so that the culprit can be stopped before he causes another attack in the present. He has eight minutes to achieve his mission before the bomb goes off. Each time the train explodes, he returns to the present just to be sent back for another eight-minute attempt.
Although 'Source Code' sounds just as highly repetitious and annoying as 'Vantage Point,' Jones pulls some tricks out of his sleeve to stop it from getting stagnant. Not once will you become bored during 'Source Code.'
Imagine Jason Bourne as a teenage girl. That's what you get with 'Hanna.'
A father (Eric Bana) and his daughter Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) have been hiding from the U.S. Government spooks just south of the arctic circle for years. Being hunted by an evil government official (Cate Blanchett), the father has taught his daughter everything she needs to know in order to survive – how to adapt, how to hunt, and how to kill. As she finishes her training in the opening of the film, they trigger a beacon that will alert the bad guys to their whereabouts. With Hanna being a highly dangerous tool, she begins a mission to take down those responsible for ruining their lives.
Director Joe Wright ('Atonement') made 'Hanna' into one of the most refreshing action flicks in a long time. Obviously made with an indie flare, none of the typical tricks of the genre are present. Wright proves that there's more to action films than guns, explosions, special effects, and scantily clad supermodels. Without a doubt, 'Hanna' is one of my most anticipated Blu-rays of the year. Here's hoping Focus Features gives it plenty of special features.
Easily the most entertaining documentary from Morgan Spurlock ('Super Size Me'), 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold' follows Spurlock as he tries to find sponsors to help fund his documentary about product placement. With his corporate-bashing credits, major companies are hesitant to advertise with him, but those who do understand the brilliant concept at hand, and open their doors for him and his crew and show the behind-the-scenes secrets of product placement within the television and motion picture industry. With the title of the film carrying its name, obviously, POM Wonderful becomes the major sponsor.
'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold' is such a crowd-pleaser that if you heard the audience's reaction throughout the film, you would have thought they were watching a side-splitting comedy. Not only does Spurlock talk to directors in the industry who have used product placement (Peter Berg) and those who have been shot down by advertisers (Quentin Tarantino), but because he is getting sponsors for the film you are watching, the film itself is filled with plenty of product placement of its own.
'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold' is not only one of the best documentaries of the year, it's one of the very best films of the year.
Anyone who reads The Bonus View knows that I love 'Bridesmaids' – and the box office reports show that I'm not alone. After nine short weeks, 'Bridesmaids' has grossed more than $150 million. Considering it was made for only $32.5 million, 'Bridesmaids' is one of the most successful films of 2011, never dropping more than 33 percent in weekly attendance. Not only has it gone on to become the highest grossing female comedy of all time, it has also out-grossed every other Judd Apatow ('Knocked Up') production.
So, why does everyone love 'Bridesmaids?' Because of it's hilarious, genuinely heartfelt script and brilliant female performances.
Writer, co-producer and star Kristen Wiig ('Paul') has been one of the only worthy cast members of Saturday Night Live over the recent years. All of her talent put into practice with 'Bridesmaids' makes her potential evident.
In 'Bridesmaids,' Wiig plays an “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” type of character. Now in her late 30s, her world begins to fall apart when her best friend (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged. She loses her job, is incapable of forming a relationship with her sex buddy (Jon Hamm) and is in a constant battle to hold her title as Maid of Honor against a fellow bridesmaid (Rose Byrne).
'Bridesmaids' would never have been as successful without its leading ladies. Wiig is just as hilarious as always. We got a taste of Byrne's awesome comedic sense with 'Get Him to the Greek,' which is only more solidified in 'Bridesmaids.' Rounding out the brilliant bridal party are Melissa McCarthy ('Gilmore Girls'), Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911!) and Ellie Kemper ('The Office '). These ladies successfully perform disgusting gags we are only used to seeing men do – which makes them far funnier than they have ever been.
Truth be told, I haven't been a huge fan of Woody Allen's recent films, but 'Midnight in Paris' returns him to his charming, witty, and whimsical form, easily becoming my favorite of his films.
'Midnight in Paris' stars Owen Wilson as a hack screenwriter on vacation in Paris with his fiancee (Rachel McAdams) and soon-to-be in-laws. When they bump into his fiancee's douche-bag pseudo intellectual college friend (Michael Sheen), she reverts to her bitchy, immature college attitude.
Not wanting anything do with her and her old best friend, he strolls the streets of Paris alone, taking in the lights and the romance. As the clock strikes midnight, something magical happens – something that I refuse to reveal because of its playful nature.
Forget the average studio rom-com – 'Midnight in Paris' is the film you should go to on date night. With both my wife and I loving it equally, I'm sure repeat viewings will fill many date nights in the future. It's smart, funny, romantic, unforgettable, and definitely entertaining.
Few films teach impacting life lessons - even less without words – but Terrence Malick's 'Tree of Life' is one of the strongest. With hardly any dialogue appearing in this 139-minute opus, you would expect 'Tree of Life' to drag, but the opposite happens. The intentional lack of dialogue leaves room for you to think, analyzing your own life and situation as you watch the central characters (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) make their own good and bad decisions.
Most will view 'Tree of Life' as a pretentious arthouse film (which it is) and miss the morals that lie at its core. The family-rich story might pass right over the heads of those without children. But if you walk into it with an open mind, looking to actually experience something – something more than just watching a movie – you will walk out with a different perspective on creation, life, and death.
Just like with 'Tree of Life,' it is extremely difficult to put into words how beautiful 'Beginners' is. It, too, covers life and death while adding in a rich amount of love. In the same way that 'Love Actually' exemplified the many angles of love, 'Beginners' covers them as well.
Ewan McGregor ('Trainspotting') plays the confused and somewhat lost 38-year-old central character. We walk through different periods of his life when love has been the most abundant or completely void. We see his childhood when his mother showered him with unforgettable acts of love. We learn about her deep, undying love of her husband (Christopher Plummer). We see him and his father grief-stricken when his mother passes. And we see how his father lived a loving life until his death.
Now that both his parents are gone, love is missing. No love is incoming, no love is it outgoing – not until he meets a unique girl (Mélanie Laurent) who pours out the combined love of his parents. It's then up to him to learn how to love on his own.
Filled with an aesthetically charged romance that resembles the happy memories in 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,' 'Beginners' will make you experience falling in love for the first time again. Who wouldn't want to have that feeling again?
Very few movies have the ability to raise expectations exceptionally high and beat them. Along with 'The Dark Knight' and 'Inception,' 'Super 8' is one of them. And, yes – I basically just compared the merits of J.J. Abrams to those of Christopher Nolan.
The teaser trailer for 'Super 8' had me hooked. When the 30-second spot aired during the superbowl, revealing its child cast and monster story, I became obsessed. More nostalgia from my childhood was crammed into that 30 seconds than any full-length movie I'd seen since then. I felt like I was magically whisked away to my childhood, so imagine how much more I was while watching the actual film.
'Super 8' pays homage to the classic '70s and '80s films of Steven Spielberg. Considering J.J. Abrams is known by some as the “New Spielberg,” the blend is fitting. Abrams successfully mixes iconic Spielberg moments with his fresh, creative styles of story-telling and film making.
Having grown up on the films that are paid homage in 'Super 8,' I fall into that demographic that can truly call 'Super 8' a nostalgia piece. It appears that the majority of those who dislike 'Super 8' do not fall into that demographic. They expected a modernized twist on a monster movie, when in reality what you get with 'Super 8' is a refreshing blast from the past. Again, here's hoping Paramount gives 'Super 8' a proper, special features-filled Blu-ray.
What use is a Top 10 list without a few dishonorable mentions? Here are 15 films of 2011 that, in this critics' opinion, should never have been made: 'Cars 2,' 'The Hangover Part II,' 'The Beaver,' 'Something Borrowed,' 'Hoodwinked Too!: Hood vs. Evil,' 'Rio,' 'Arthur,' 'Your Highness,' 'Hop,' 'Red Riding Hood,' 'Take Me Home Tonight,' 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' 'Gnomeo & Juliet,' 'Sanctum' and 'Big Momma's: Like Father, Like Son'