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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Movies in 2011: An Overview (Part 2)

I promised there would be more and this time I take a look at some of the bigger films that came out this year.

 Animation and kids films

Sadly, 2011 wasn't a great year for animation. There weren't more than a couple of truly bad animated films this year (the befuddling Gnomeo and Juliet, the rather rubbish Mars Needs Moms, local dud Jock of the Bushveld) but what's really worrying is how few truly good ones there were. When the best that even the dependable geniuses at Pixar have on offer is Cars 2, you know you're in trouble. Honestly, come mid-2012, will anyone still remember the likes of Animals United or Hoodwinked Too? The best animated film of the year is probably a toss up between Aardman's Arthur Christmas or - yeah, it's probably Arthur Christmas, a funny and likeable film that probably won't go down in history as a classic of the genre. Honestly, what's its competition? The creepy motion-capture of Tintin? The who-the-hell-is-this-for wonkiness of Rango? Sammy's Adventures? Nope, if anything, the bets animated films of the year probably went straight to DVD here, be it the more adult but quite enchanting Chico and Rita, any one of the number of the anime titles that I never saw or one of DC Comics' flawed but enjoyable direct-to-DVD offerings.

In terms of non-animated kids films, I'm tempted to recommend the final Harry Potter film or Super 8 (more about these in a bit) but they're clearly for older audiences. Real Steel probably works a bit better but that's still more of a family film. And, no, I'm not even going to touch The Smurfs or the latest Chipmunks film - I don't care how successful they were. My pick for the best, pure kids film of the year is Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. Considering the title, I never expected much but it quickly won me - and my inner 10 year old - over with its good-natured silliness and surprisingly funny juvenile jokes.  


Superheroes, Wizards, Vampires and Robots: The Franchises

These are the films that are constantly dragged out as proof that Hollywood is creatively bankrupt but, however much I would never entirely dispute that claim (have you seen David Fincher's totally redundant remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - remake nothing, it's basically an English-language dub), not every franchise film is Transformers 3. Yes, the latest Michael Bay abomination is obviously horrible (though less horrible than its predecessor) and, sure enough, we really didn't need a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film (again though, better than the last one), but there were plenty of good to great franchise films released this year as well.

As far as mega-popular literary adaptations go, this year saw the battle between Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 - the final and second to last films in their respective series. Not that it was much of a battle. While splitting the final Potter book in two paid off handsomely as it allowed the series to go out with a double-punch of terrific character moments and cataclysmic action scenes, doing the same with Twilight simply resulted in an overlong and boring penultimate installment. Though, seeing as how the Potter films are superior in every way imaginable to the boring Buffy knock-off that is the Twilight series, none of this is exactly surprising.

Once you get past stupid pirate movies and even stupider robot movies (not including the awesome Real Steel, of course), the other notable franchise films this year were all superhero films. The year started with the instantly forgettable Green Hornet (hands up, how many of you remember that that came out this year?) before delivering the crushing disappointment that was Green Lantern - a film that, when you get right down to it, I've kind of been waiting for since I was 10 years old or so. That it was horribly misjudged, rather than simply horrible actually made it all the worse, somehow.

Fortunately, Marvel Comics salvaged the year with no less than three very good superhero films. The buildup to next year's Avengers reached its apex with Thor and Captain America and, even if neither was perfect, they both had a winning combination of solid character work, fun action scenes and plenty of humour. And, considering that they have to go up against the likes of Samuel L Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo and, most crucially, Robert Downey Jr in The Avengers, it's just as well that Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans proved to be such wonderful picks for the title roles of Thor and Captain America respectively.

Best of all though, was X-Men: First Class, a film that resuscitated the X-Men franchise after it was mortally wounded by the dreary X-Men: Origins - Wolverine and the just plain bad X-Men 3. Prequels are usually not the safest of bets but in the mighty capable hands of Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Kick Ass) this look back at the rise and fall of the friendship between Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) was very possibly the best X film to date.

Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction

If the fantasy and horror genres let the side down in 2011, a brace of really good science fiction films more than made up for it. Putting aside the fantasy films that were already discussed as parts of larger franchises - especially Harry Potter - 2011 had virtually no fantasy films, decent or otherwise. I suppose we can count the gormless fantasy comedy Your Highness, which is notable only for Natalie Portman in that thong or the excruciating Seasons of the Witch but I think most of us would rather pretend they didn't exist. And don't even get me started on Zac Snyder's idiotic Sucker Punch. There's also, I suppose, Drive Angry 3D, but it's more of an action film and there's probably something wrong if we allow its incredibly trashy pleasures to define fantasy in 2011.

Though it's hardly like horror films did much better. We had yet another Saw film and another Paranormal Activity but I somehow managed to miss both - not that I assume I'm missing much. Other than that, we had middling fare like The Rite and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark - enjoyable but less scary than The Smurfs - and truly dire crap like South Africa's very own Night Drive (shudder). The best the genre had to offer this year were far closer to being black comedies than actual horror films but there's no way I could deny the fun to be had with Final Destination 5 and the Fright Night remake.

Sci-fi cinema though, is a whole other story. Yes, there were some massive misfires - be it the dreary and boring alien invasion flick, Battle: Los Angeles, the Twilight-lite rubbish of I Am Number Four or the excruciatingly banal Priest - but these are instantly overshadowed by all the great science fiction films that came out throughout the year. Best of all, pretty much every last one of them had genuine intelligence and, almost without fail, some actual emotional resonance. Take a look at this list...

We had nostalgic Spielbergian light scifi in the form of genuine charmers, Real Steel and Super 8. We had Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which brilliantly invented an old science fiction franchise with more heart, excitement and intelligence than anyone could ever have hoped. How about some films that somehow succeed in the previously seemingly impossible task of mixing science fiction with genuine drama? For that you need only look to Another Earth and the sublime Never Let Me Go. 2010's Inception even had a spiritual followup in Source Code - Duncan Jones' impressive followup to his terrific debut Moon. Even the lighter side of science fiction had a great year because even if Limitless and In Time didn't quite live up to their premises, the terrific The Adjustment Bureau gets my pick for the most underrated film of the year. Mixing a very Philip K Dickian paranoid scifi-thriller with a shamelessly sentimental romance can't be an easy task but George Nolfi made it look easy by choosing a particular mood - in this case light romance - and sticking with it. Plus, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt were easily the year's best on-screen couple.

Action, Crime and Thrillers.

It was very much a mixed bag of a year for action films and thrillers, though most of 2011's entries fall squarely in the category of being instantly forgettable. The Roommate? The Eagle? Inside Out? Does anyone remember these films? Even the mighty Jason Statham offered up nothing but middling duds like The Mechanic and Killer Elite. Aside for the truly wretched and previously mentioned atrocities Gun and Sucker Punch, there were very few - if any - truly horrid action films but only a tiny handful of them are even remotely memorable.

Sometimes, of course, they're memorable for a reason. Contagion had a big-name director and an A-list cast but that didn't stop it from being unforgivably dull. Some other notable, if far from excellent entries, also include the nasty but pointless Straw Dogs remake and The Devil's Double, which has one of the year's best performances but very little intelligence or dramatic heft. Even Brighton Rock never lived up to its potential - even with its brilliant performances and being set during the mod/ rocker wars of the early 1960s.

There were some definite bright spots, though. The MAD David Hyde-Pierce psycho-thriller The Perfect Host was a gloriously demented twisty thriller that was the "good" alternative to the equally demented "bad" Drive Angry 3D. We also had Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which was possibly the best MI flick yet - especially if you're looking for a high-octane, silly actioner. The two best and genuinely impressive action/ thriller films of the year though, were Hanna and Drive. They were very different films but both of them brought an art-house aesthetic to the action genre and both featured killer lead and supporting performances. They're both definitely also an acquired taste but that doesn't stop them from being the leaders of the action genre this year.    

In Summation: 30 Films to See from 2011 (in no particular order) 
  1. The Concert
  2. Easy A
  3. Made in Dagenham
  4. Black Swan
  5. The King's Speech
  6. 127 Hours
  7. True Grit
  8. Never Let Me Go
  9. Thor
  10. Hanna
  11. The Adjustment Bureau
  12. Bridesmaids
  13. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2
  14. Super 8
  15. Captain America
  16. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  17. X-Men: First Class
  18. Source Code
  19. 50/50
  20. Drive
  21. Midnight In Paris
  22. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
  23. Arthur Christmas
  24. Real Steel
  25. The Help
  26. The Perfect Host
  27. Win Win
  28. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules
  29. Beautiful Boy
  30. Barney's Version

That should do it for this year. I apologize if I left out any films that you might consider to be one of the more notable of the year but that simply means any one of these three things: 1) There was an insane amount of films released this year so I might simply have overlooked them... I actually think I even overlooked one or two of that "Top 30" during my actual write up 2) I simply don't agree... you know what they say about opinions, right? 3) It's The Tree of Life. Sorry, I don't get it.


  1. Is there any way you can link all those 30 to your reviews and / or put your star ratings for them alongside??

  2. How 'bout now you crazy Dutch bastard!

    Well, all right, that actually sounds like a decent idea. I'll get to it soon(ish).

  3. ...and by "now", I did of course mean "NO".