Let the prissy critics have those indie movies no one’s heard. After all, at the end of the year no one’s able to see them unless they live in New York or L.A. Let’s discuss the movies we all saw, or at least had the chance to see. These are the best films of 2011, by genre, that received a wide release in the U.S. of A.
Let’s be honest – this will undoubtedly become runner-up to M:I Ghost Protocol. However, since Tom Cruise’s latest run as Ethan Hunt has yet to hit theaters and I have to honor some stupid thing called “journalistic integrity,” I can’t yet name it the best movie of the year. Action movie. I meant action movie. I mean, who could honestly believe the fourth installment in the Mission Impossible franchise was the best movie of the year? Hahaha! Haha. Ha.
So anyway…the (temporary) honor of Best Action Movie goes to Hanna, director Joe Wright and actress Saoirse Ronan’s far superior follow-up to their first collaboration, Atonement. Though certainly one of the most unlikely (and unappreciated) wide releases of the year, Hanna is nevertheless an extremely engrossing, high-octane jolt of calculated action bravado.
Yes, it’s about a 16-year-old assassin who’s assigned to kill a government intelligence officer…by her dad…after being raised in the wilderness…for her entire life. Yet Hanna offers many widely appealing action staples: a very cool man vs. a small army fight scene, plenty of chase sequences, and a this-time-it’s-personal third act twist. Don’t be afraid, people. Embrace the oddity. At least, after you see M:I 4.
Runner-up: M:I Ghost Protocol (journalistic integrity only goes so far)
OK, so I was half-right about this movie. Back in August, I said the teaser trailer for Puss in Boots was the best trailer for what was probably the worst movie of the last months in 2011. It’s still the best trailer, but it was far from the worst movie. In fact, the movie I said was probably the best movie with the worst trailer, War Horse, may end up being inferior to the suave feline with a knack for trouble.
If the Academy Awards nominated actors for their body of work in a year rather than a singular performance, I would not only be pulling for Antonio Banderas – I would expect him to get his first career nomination. Though his work separately in Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In and Puss isn’t quite substantial enough for the Academy’s high standards, the two polar opposite turns together show Banderas’ surprising versatility. Between the two, though, it’s his frisky kitty that sticks. The soft growl, the purred pickup lines, and the outrageous exclamations all add up to a uniquely comical performance. It’s Banderas who holds Puss in Boots together during the dull flashbacks and less compelling supporting characters. I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong.
A woefully mismanaged marketing campaign kept 50/50 from being this year’s Little Miss Sunshine or Juno. Instead of focusing on the distinctive true story of a young man diagnosed with a rare kind of spinal cancer and the loyal if offbeat friend who helps him cope, distributor Summit Entertainment released trailers making the movie look like Judd Apatow’s latest frat fest with the cancer plot a darkly personal plot point to place sex jokes around. I know it’s got to be difficult marketing a movie about cancer, but this was far from the best way to go.
Nevertheless, the movie itself couldn’t be in better shape. Joseph Gordon-Levitt goes through the seven levels of grief with a command unbefitting to his young age. Seth Rogen, as his friend, is his usual frat-boy like self, but this time we get to see more of the brotherly love and less of the fraternity hijinks. Finally, Anna Kendrick continues her ascension in my heart, er, I mean, my list of young, talented actors. She pulls off some difficult scenes that ask her to be both professional and inexperienced, uncomfortable and comforting. The trio works beautifully together to bring home a darkly and warmly funny script worthy of all the awards it gets, and, just as importantly, your hard-earned money.
My full review for this masterpiece from director Gavin O’Connor is forthcoming, but for now, let me just say this – it is a downright crime Warrior failed to earn $150 million, 15 Oscar nominations, and worldwide acclaim as the best American sports film since Rocky. And just like the Sylvester Stallone classic, it’s not really a sports movie. It’s a drama. It’s a great drama. It’s the best drama of the year. I say that with The Tree of Life, what I also see as a masterpiece, currently sitting in my #2 slot.
I don’t watch a lot of horror movies, so forgive me if the critically-acclaimed Paranormal Activity 3 is actually a better film. I couldn’t gather the courage to see that in a dark theater late at night before returning to my undoubtedly haunted apartment. What little bravery I had was sucked from me when I sat down on a Saturday afternoon to watch Insidious, an absolutely terrifying film made for even less money than the aforementioned blockbuster. Never have I felt less safe in my own home than during the last 20 minutes and the two weeks that followed.
Runner-up: Contagion (more on this later)
Yes, I’ve mentioned my love and slight bias for the reeeeemake (usually, a term I pack with as much disdain as possible) before, but damn it – it just fits here, right? So what if I had to, kind of, make up an unpopular genre to give Footloose a bit more attention? It deserves it, after all.
Craig Brewer’s loving tribute to the Kevin Bacon-starring original was the pleasant surprise of late summer thanks to Ren MacCormack’s new Bahston accent, Kenny Wormald’s excellent interpretation of a role previously perfected by a beloved American actor, and some impressive dance numbers paired with catchy new tunes. There are so many small moments of joy to be obtained along the way, as well, I won’t ruin them for you. Just see it – maybe then I won’t have to write another recommendation.
Runner-up: None (come on – there aren’t any good dance movies anymore)
Perhaps the biggest shock is that Crazy, Stupid, Love isn’t winning the romantic comedy category. I mean, it’s a tender, loving, and, at times, outrageously funny film. It can’t be a romantic comedy, though, because that genre has a stigma around it. They have to be clichéd, riddled with sex jokes, and ridiculously predictable.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is none of those things. It’s genuine in every beautifully orchestrated scene. It’s funny in its small moments and its bigger ones – especially one featuring the whole cast together (if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about). It sweeps you off your feet like no other movie this year. Hence, best romance – not romantic comedy.
Runner-up: The Adjustment Bureau
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.