Director: Paul Feig
First off, let’s stop calling it the female Hangover. There’s an actual story here—unlike the free for all male take on similar material—and there’s a great deal of well earned heart as well. Though she had the guidance of fading superstar producer Judd Apatow, this is comedienne Kristin Wiig’s movie all the way. Her performance sets the tone and her character—a bitter 30-something single gal with definite guy issues—is wholly authentic and completely contemporary. Add in the brilliant support of her ensemble and the assured direction of Paul Feig and you’ve got one of the season’s few funny business bright spots.
4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Director: Rupert Wyatt
That groan you heard a few years back was Nerd Nation kvetching over the concept of another Apes movie. After all, Tim Burton’s bungling of the franchise nearly killed off the cinematic simian saga forever. Now, that cheer you hear is a studio (and sci-fi fanbase) reeling from an amazing, almost miraculous motion picture comeback. All kudos to director Rupert Wyatt for finding the humanity and horror in the standard story of Science playing God. Equally respect to actor Andy Serkis, who once again proved that motion capture technology can turn out an Oscar worthy performance. The best thing this update does? It actually makes us eager for a sequel.
3. The Tree of Life
Director: Terrence Malick
It’s perhaps unfair to include this film as part of a ‘Summer’ overview. After all, it’s been playing around the world for months and premiered long before anyone was thinking about suntan lotion and sparklers. Then there will be those who quarrel over its placement on this list (too low… TOO high!). Arguing the pragmatic aspects of the timing and distribution however doesn’t dissuade from the artistic achievement on display. Does the Creation material make a lot of sense? No. Does the inclusion of dinosaurs add to the innate drama of the ‘50s era family conflict. Ummm… In either case, this will remains one of 2011’s most talked about films, thus mandating a mention here.
2. X-Men: First Class
Director: Matthew Vaughn
It’s one of the most poignant moments of this movie year—their friendship tested, their powers bested—almost—Dr. Charles Xavier and his brother in arms, Holocaust survivor Erik Lensherr must decide where their loyalties actually lie. After years of taking on every challenge together, this is the moment where their bond either breaks or strengthens. As they argue emotion and purpose, the conclusion becomes clear. These one time allies are about to become enemies—perhaps the greatest enemies in all of superhero-dom. In Matthew Vaughn’s near masterpiece of comic book classicism, we are introduced to two incredibly characters played by actors more than up to the challenge. The results are epic.
1. Super 8
Director: J.J. Abrams
Yes, it’s a love letter to Steven Spielberg. The riffs and references are so obvious in fact that you half expect a cameo from the superstar filmmaker himself. But J. J. Abrams’ affectionate look back at childhood and the happiness/horrors that can be found there is more than just a nod to his popcorn master/mentor. It’s a reminder of a time (personal, professional) when anything was possible, when the entirety of one’s existence could be caught up in a local catastrophe, the glance of a cute girl, or a homemade zombie movie. As it builds towards its set-piece climax, we come to see our own youth in these complex kid characters. More importantly, we are once again filled with cinematic wonder, something that’s been sadly missing from movies in the last few years.