It was a pretty good year for movies, less so for films.
If you've missed my treatise on movies vs. films, you can educate yourself by reading the first few paragraphs here.
Also keep in mind, when I was in my 20's I pretty much saw every movie that came out every year. Now in my 40's I see hardly any by comparison.
I'm going to do it a little different this year, because none of the movies that made my top ten are best picture nominees, but the ones I did see I liked. I'll start with them first.
Here are the Oscar nominees for best picture that I've seen this year and my thoughts on each:
An interesting and truly nostalgic look at the movies with a melodramatic story about the passage of time and the passing on of a legend. I liked it very much. I do not think it deserves to win best picture, which naturally makes it a lock.
It was shot amazingly - the cinematography and style of shooting are authentic 1930's, and also to some extent the 1920's. As a movie nut, I could appreciate what the director and DOP were trying to do - and they largely succeeded.
Speaking of movie nuts -
I had very low expectations for this, from my movie business friends, (a writer, a film mixer, and several editors) who said it was slow (the writer said it was "ponderous") but because I didn't think it would be good - I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.
The story of the boy and the girl works very well, as does the station cop and his love interest arc. Less so, the Ben Kingsley character, who is based on real life film pioneer Georges Melies.
Unlike the Artist, which connects emotionally by showing and not telling us old school movie magic, Scorcese fails to convey to those of us who aren't film nuts, what was so special about this guy and his art. The flashback scenes at his studio are simply flat and magic-less.
Still, overall, the movie does work; though the glacial pacing does rub my modern movie watching sensibilities the wrong way at times, the little boy and girl are so good in their roles that there is enough resonance and hope to keep me engaged.
This movie has great moments and great acting, but loses it's footing a bit in the last act when it veers away from actual baseball footage and shows actors playing the game.
But don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed Moneyball and want very much to see it again. It felt more than any other sports movie, that we were truly "inside baseball" - especially fantastic and an all time highlight for me was the first scene with Billy and all the scouts. They nailed the essence of the sport, and the conflict between new and old, with those great character actors and Brad Pitt. Simply awesome.
I don't get the hate for this movie among film geeks. I enjoyed it very much - as it was (as is The Artist and Hugo) very much an old fashioned movie.
This was not Private Ryan or Schindler's list, a realistic depiction of the horrors of war - rather it was a David Lean style movie - touching on themes of loss and redemption. The music was at times overbearing, and yes, Spielberg tried a little too hard to get me to cry - but hey, I'm older now and so I cry pretty easy. It had some great stand out scenes that I know I'll want to revisit.
And that's it. I still want to see "The Help", "Tree of Life" and the Tom Hanks 9/11 crying thing, but I doubt very much that any of these films can knock one of these movies out of my top 10 for 2011.
10. The Adventures of Tintin
Fraught with story problems, this movie is nonetheless a very faithful adaptation of the Tintin graphic novels. As a HUGE Tintin fan (I grew up with all the books) I loved this movie. Objectively, I can't tell you if it is really any good - it seemed like it was, but mostly I just felt like a giddy 12 year old again watching Captain Haddock come to life before my eyes. My 7 year old was mostly bored, but she loved Snowy.
Not only hilarious, but a pretty deep movie. While the gross out scenarios and over the top zaniness are not especially realistic, the emotions and fears of the lead girl certainly are. Kristin Wiig is amazing, and manages to let us see her heart and mind stripped bare. And by sharing her fears and insecurities, we can get a lot of insight into our own.
8. Captain America: The First Avenger
Oh hells yes. Director Joe Johnston meekly proclaimed half way through production that this Captain was not some jingoist flag waver - a statement that immediately turned me off and made me sad.
Thankfully, because the story stayed true to the character - Johnston has (in spite of his liberal weenie-ness) in fact delivered us an unapologetically patriotic Captain and a kick ass movie along with it.
Great action set pieces, offset with humor that works throughout. Outstanding turn by the female lead (though a bit silly to see her in combat at the end) who brings real emotional weight to her love of Steve Rogers and the uniform he wears.
Best dialogue exchange:
Red Skull: I see a future without flags.
Captain America: Not my future
Now that's what I'm talking about!
7. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Bay returns to form with more big ass 'splosions and stuff.
Pure movie awesomeness. Love the third act which blows the walls off and sets a new bar for the action set piece. Great moments throughout, a story we can follow, and Michael Bay finally realizes that by keeping the Deceptacons grey/silver and the Autobots brightly colored, we can much better follow who is blowing up who.
Amazing art from Gore Verbinski and his team.
This animated film rises above most of it's kind - by being not only gorgeously realized, but emotionally resonant. We feel and care for Rango from the beginning, and we are intrigued by the characters he meets along the way. Even though the final act is the weakest, it's still strong enough for a very satisfying movie experience.
My 7 year old loves it. Any younger (or less mature than she is) is too young. Save this one till they can handle big and scary action set pieces - including 2 relentless pursuits by a hawk, a massive chase / shoot-out with covered wagons and bats and a very scary ginormous rattle snake that says several times that he's going to send Rango to hell.
5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Now this is some cool shit.
Very awesome CGI / motion-capture work bring the apes to life in a way that was certainly impossible only a couple of years ago.
James Franco is the perfect choice for a role that we can appreciate with both sympathy for his good intentions and scorn for his naivete'.
The action is simply breathtaking, and better yet, the heartache we feel for the apes and the sadness at our own failings as a species - mingle perfectly to create a fantastic moviegoing experience that does indeed recapture some of that magic from the first Apes movie.
I can't wait to see where they go from here.
4. Soul Surfer
Being a person who has a deep faith, this was a breath of fresh air.
Beautifully shot and realized, this is the true story of surfer Bethany Hamilton. A girl from Hawaii who was on the path to being a professional surfer when her arm was ripped off her body by an enormous shark.
This girl also happens to be a practicing Christian, and the movie actually DOESN'T downplay this fact.
By telling her entire story, of which her faith is a HUGE part, Soul Surfer makes the ordeal that Bethany faces and triumphs over, a very powerful and satisfying journey.
There were a few choices I wasn't crazy about - I thought there was too much voice over; the scenes that worked best were when AnnaSophia Robb (the lead) simply did her thing and lived the character - then we really got the full emotional and spiritual thrust of who this girl was.
I was taken out of the movie every time her voice would narrate precisely what she was up against. Hey film makers, I'm not stupid! It's very obvious that when Bethany goes to help the tsunami victims in Thailand, and teaches a little kid to surf - that she's following God's plan. I don't need to hear her literally say it!
Still, overall the movie is super strong - especially the end when we see the real Bethany. Can't wait to find some time to watch the documentary on her life.
3. The Muppets
Not perfect, but mostly it recaptures the magic.
Again, as with Tintin, I'm a huge fan - so objectively I can't tell you if this movie works. But if you love the Muppet show and the Muppet movie, then this is an absolute must see. Great songs and even better, a great connection to our old friends.
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 2
Simply outstanding. As with Tolkien, Rowling is at her strongest when paying off the story. Much as Return of the King is my favorite Lord of the Rings episode, this final chapter has to be my favorite of the Harry Potter world.
For the third time I must say, I'm a HUGE fan. So who knows if this movie is actually any good, and you might as well ignore the following nerd speak.
The brilliant - the battle of Hogwarts. Snapes death and the pensieve. The epilogue.
The great - the dragon escape. Hermione as Bellatrix.
The good - Ableforth. The kiss. Fred's death.
The fair - Rowena Ravenclaw.
The clumsy - Bellatrix's demise. Way underdone and awkward.
1. Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol
Picking number one is always tough, but this year it was pretty clear cut. M:IGP was simply my most satisfying movie going experience of the year. Great fucking film.
It had all the best elements of the past 3 movies, a complicated but coherent story, great gags, and a highly motivated protagonist.
Best of all, it pulls of what many movies on this list couldn't - a completely solid final act and brilliant payoff.
Fantastic animated fare that soars above most because we are genuinely invested in the lead bird's journey. Yes, this damn movie makes me cry in the end. Also, it surprisingly does touch on how awful the poverty in Brazil is, while still being an obvious love letter to the country.
X-Men First Class
Much better than the problematic "Last Stand". Some truly awesome moments; hopefully the next installment will up the game and bring us characters we can truly bond with. I'm a little hesitant to dive in on this series since we got so burned on the last one.
Puss in Boots
Yes, I'm a sucker for good animation and a good story. Fun and frothy, but also plenty of heart.
I want to see this again - very dense mythological story stuff that flew over my head a bit. I never read the comic so I'm unfamiliar with the mythology, and this kind of cooled me off a bit from going ga-ga. Now if I had been a HUGE fan, I'll betcha I would've loved it. There's plenty of humor and heart in this equation, well worth a rental if you're like me and only a super hero fan and not a Thor fan.
Very strong first half, this was shaping up to be a perfect movie, but the denouement' was a bit of a let down.
Cate Blanchett's character is, in the end, simply evil. I thought a much stronger choice would have been to make her very complicated, and somewhat justified in her actions. Instead, she's just a sicko. Meh. And the clumsy scene at the end with the deer, simply lame.
I did love the bad guy and his henchmen - very nasty and bad. Yep, that family basically gets wiped out if you think about it. Chills.
Really enjoyed this solid and nostalgic monster movie. Wish it had taken me higher emotionally, but still very solid. Suffered a bit from my high expectations, I had a couple of friends who are over the moon about this. Yes, I get it, the movie reminds us of our childhood - that's cool. Problem is, the story needs to be stronger.
And finally, here are a few where I was disappointed, but still found a few redeeming things.
Okay, Zach Snyder is a hack. He's proved it to me after an uneven Watchmen and now this mess. 300 looks more and more like a brilliant accident.
The main problem with this emotionless fluff, is the bleakness for no reason, and the utter lack of character in the characters. Flat and lifeless, despite the gorgeous framing and FX. Still, I want to watch it again.
Pirates of the Caribbean 4
After Verbinski's brilliant first Pirate movie, and the two worthy follow ups - this is a pretty big let down.
How can you have Ian McShane playing Blackbeard and make it boring? Rob Marshall found a way.
The mermaids are awesome - but it takes an hour to get to them. Meanwhile, Jack Sparrow is rudderless without an Elizabeth Swan to motivate him. Penelope Cruz's character is a pale substitute.
I enjoyed the missionary story line and appreciated the fate of the fountain of youth. I also loved the location shooting - if there's one thing that this movie has going for it, it absolutely feels like it's set in the same universe as the Verbinski tales.
Overall, at the end of the day, it's a purchase - but suffers in comparison to the first three.
Kung Fu Panda 2
This one is actually a lot of fun and good story telling, but because the first one was so brilliant it inevitably suffers in comparison.
Saw it in the theaters with my 7 year old who liked but didn't love it (a little intense for her) and bought the blu-ray; but haven't watched it again yet.
The inevitable fall from grace for Pixar is actually a pretty darn good movie on it's own - but when you hold it up to it's pedigree, well, this simply doesn't cut it.
I like that it's a completely different direction from the first one, and a send up of James Bond - very cool. But Mater simply cannot carry a movie, though the payoff for his character when it finally does come, is actually pretty good.
Pretty good. Pixar. Mmmmmm.... no.
So there it is, overall I had a good time at the movies this year,but I'm sad to say that I didn't catch any "films" that were truly great. Last year I had "True Grit", but this year, pretty much zip. Ah well. Looking forward to 2012 at the movies!