I have a very basic philosophy when it comes to movies: If it makes me laugh (for the right reasons) or cry (also for the right reasons) then it’s a good movie.
I guess it’s not that simple, but I’m not one of those people who can sit through some mind numbing Oscars contenders just because they’re supposed to be good. For example, I think Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the best actors of his generation – I’m still not going to sit through ‘J. Edgar,’ though. I have no interest in the movie and I know it wouldn’t entertain me.
I’m not denying there are probably a lot of movies out there I didn’t see this year because I knew they weren’t going to hold my interest. That doesn’t mean they're bad movies. It also doesn’t mean I’m so dense I can’t comprehend these “heavier” stories. I just know what I like.
So, with that in mind, I decided that putting together a top ten list of the best movies of the year really is a misnomer for me. I also haven’t seen every movie put out this year, so I really can’t say what is and isn’t the best movie of the year.
I can tell you what I did see and what entertained me, though, and that’s the route I decided to take.
A brief caveat before we get into the list, I have a strong feeling that ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ and ‘Young Adult’ would have made this list – thus bumping a few movies on it – but I honestly haven’t found the time to see them yet. I’ll keep you updated (I know you can barely stand the suspense) when I do.
So, here they are, the most entertaining movies I saw this year (followed by a short list of movies that made me want to smack somebody for making them):
10. Thor – There were a couple of super hero/comic book movies that came out this year – ‘X-Men: First Class’ and ‘Captain America’ would be the big two. It was ‘Thor,’ however, that managed to capture my imagination. I liked the initial setup of the movie and the cinematography was fantastic. Kenneth Brannagh has proven himself a capable director and the cast had some notable heavyweights with Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard (‘True Bloods’ Alexander Skarsgard’s father for the teenage masses). Chris Hemsworth is the real find here, though. The only other thing I remember seeing him in prior to this was the ‘Star Trek’ reboot. At the time, I remember thinking, wow, they found a guy who looks a lot like Chris Pine. Hemsworth proves his metal here, though, as ‘Thor’ – and I’m not just saying that because of the scene where he runs through the rain and his shirt is clinging to his very impressive body (that is a big selling point, though).
9. Fright Night – As a general rule, I’m not a big proponent of remakes. I think they cheapen the originals and very rarely add anything new and exciting. There are a handful of exceptions (‘Dawn of the Dead’ is probably the biggest), and now ‘Fright Night’ fits into that category (because, let's face it, the original was cornball heaven). Is it the best movie in the world? No. Is it perfect? No. There’s just something about the humor of the movie mixing with a manic Anton Yelchin and a really hot and buff Colin Farrell that gives the movie its oomph. I’m a big fan of funny horror movies that work – ‘Shaun of the Dead’ rules – but it’s a slippery slope that can turn a horror movie into a parody like ‘Scary Movie’ if you’re not careful. ‘Fright Night’ manages to straddle the line between humor and genuine scares – and I sincerely applaud the effort.
8. Horrible Bosses – This movie had so much talent involved it was ridiculous. I mean Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell and Kevin Spacey have all turned in some really great performances. It was Aniston that got the most attention for her part in this movie as a randy dentist that goes after Day’s more chaste character. For me, though, it was Farrell’s almost unrecognizable turn as the office tool (who doesn't recognize that character in their own life?) that made me laugh out loud. I’m not going to deny that I pretty much watch anything Farrell is in – but he really does steal the show in this movie for me. If only I could forget about his turn in the horrific ‘Alexander,’ all would be right in my movie going world.
7. Bridesmaids – This movie has gotten a lot of attention this year – and I think most of it is well-deserved. Too often female comedies are of the "petite and dainty" variety. That's definitely not the case in this movie. While it might not be realistic for everyone, it is realistic for a lot of women who are just as foulmouthed and fun as their male counterparts. That being said, I don’t think it’s the best movie of the year by any stretch of the imagination – no matter what TV Guide says. I do think both Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph have mad chemistry as friends who are at a crossroads in their life. I also think that Rose Byrne shows a side of herself I didn’t know she was capable of, even thought I loved her in 'Damages' and '28 Weeks Later'. As everyone and their brother has pointed out, though, it’s Melissa McCarthy’s movie and she steals every scene she’s in, including the absolutely hilarious "dress shop" scene (you know which one).
6. Red Reding Hood – The key to this movie was ambiance. Right from the opening scenes, the viewer is drawn into the richly developed world which is offset with splashes of color in an otherwise dark and dismal setting. The whole thing is breathtaking and magical. Amanda Seyfried continues to prove that she’s one of the most talented actresses in young Hollywood today as the central character. The movie isn’t perfect, the reveal at the end about who the big bad wolf is proves to a touch lame, but the chemistry between Seyfried and Shiloh Fernandez is practically sizzling and Gary Oldman’s turn as a crazy wolf hunter is a scenery chewing extravaganza. The success of this movie paved the way for ABC’s exciting and fantastical ‘Once Upon a Time’ and two upcoming versions of ‘Snow White.’ It seems fantasy is back in a big way these days.
5. Soul Surfer – I am not religious and I usually don’t engage emotionally with a movie that has a lot of religion in it. I think that’s why ‘Soul Surfer’ took me by surprise. From the moment the movie came on the screen I was hooked. AnnaSophia Robb was fantastic as the heroine in the real life story of Bethany Hamilton – a teenage surfer in Hawaii who thought she’d lost her dream of becoming a professional surfer when a shark bit her arm off. Instead, Hamilton became a professional surfer who says she overcame true adversity with the help of her faith. ‘Soul Surfer’ manages to embrace religion without trying to shove it down your throat and I don’t know anyone who could watch the final surfing scenes (all the trick surfing throughout the movie was done by the real life Hamilton, by the way) and not get a little giddy with Hamilton and Robb’s outstanding performances.
4. Super 8 – The magic of this movie is that, somehow, some way, the always reliable JJ Abrams managed to make a movie that made you feel like you were back in the 1970s. Some people might not think that’s a good thing, but as someone who fell in love with movies like ‘E.T.’ and ‘The Goonies’ back in the day, the nostalgia surrounding ‘Super 8’ is a wondrous thing to behold. Another great think about ‘Super 8’ is that they didn’t cast a superstar to lead the movie. Instead they left it in the capable hands of Elle Fanning (she’s getting as good as her sister) and Kyle Chandler who manage to anchor the entire film in a believable and emotional way. Ultimately, it doesn’t quite add up to ‘E.T.’ – but, then again, there is very little in the movie world today that could.
3. Fast Five – There isn’t one guy in this action series that I consider a top tier actor. In fact, in the case of Dwayne Johnson, I would often put him in the bottom tier of actors. That being said, ‘Fast Five’ was entertaining from start to finish. A lot of people complained about the franchise jumping from racing movies (which was essentially what the first four films in the series were about) and turning into a heist movie with some really cool driving sequences. I actually liked that aspect. I also think, with the addition of Johnson, Vin Diesel finally has someone who he doesn’t dwarf in fight scenes. When Diesel and Johnson fight in this movie, there really is doubt about who would win. The series’ other star, Paul Walker, is solid if unspectacular in the films. Let's face it, he's pretty but he's never going to win an Oscar. That being said, Walker remains one of my favorite stars who I have ever interviewed. Not only is he as good looking in person as he is on screen (which isn’t the case for most actors) but he’s also friendly and amiable and genuinely interested in what you as a person have to say to him. Oh, he's a big 'Star Wars' fan, too, and we bonded over that.
2. The Help – I just recently caught this little gem when it came out on video a few weeks ago and I was stunned that I didn’t realize how powerful and profound the movie could be when it was in theaters. I remember seeing the promos and thinking, "That looks mildly interesting." When it came time to go to the theater, though, I always managed to find something else I wanted to see more. It’s a fluke that I saw it at all – and I would have missed out on a great film had I not. The movie’s greatest strengths come in the unity between Emma Stone’s Skeeter and Viola Davis’ Abileen, but it’s true heart comes out in the surprise performance by Octavia Spencer as the “fly-off-the-handle” Minny. As someone who has never been able to understand racism because I was born after it was a big deal, the movie really made me sit back and reflect on the hate that some people could have for others simply because of the color of their skin. Accolades should also go to Bryce Dallas Howard who embraced one of the most hateful characters in the story and made her not only funny, but entertaining as well.
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – The entire movie series stands up beautifully and this final installment does the characters and the fans tremendous justice. While Part 1 dragged in places and was full of a lot of sometimes boring exposition, Part 2 is pretty much non-stop action. I do have a few quibbles with the final movie, I didn’t like the shortage of screen time for Hagrid, Fred, George and Lupin, for example, but I think that all the storylines and characters came to a satisfying conclusion that did manage to give me chills at times. The movie’s greatest strength, though, comes in the powerful performance by Alan Rickman in the sendoff for ultimate hero Severus Snape. Those scenes packed an emotional wallop that most fans desperately needed to let the series go. I will miss Harry and his friends, but I’ll always have the movies whenever I want to revisit and ultimately blow up Hogwarts.
And, while I don’t want to do an entire list of movies I hated this year (there actually were fewer than normal) there are a few standouts that deserve their public flogging, so here goes:
· Apollo 18 – I am so over “camera” movies. It was intriguing and cute when ‘The Blair Witch Project’ did it more than a decade ago. Now it’s just trite and annoying. The “horror” in this movie, which focuses on another government conspiracy – this time with the moon landing – is just ridiculous. At a certain point, I wanted to break off one of the astronaut’s arms and beat the other one to death with it just to get them to shut up.
· Shark Night 3D – I absolutely love animals eating people movies. ‘Jaws,’ ‘Lake Placid,’ ‘Deep Blue Sea,’ ‘Piranha’ – I’m a big fan of all of them. So, when I went to this movie this summer I expected it to be stupid but entertaining. Well, it was stupid but it wasn’t entertaining. You expect the acting in something like this to be bad, you don’t expect it to be cartoonish, though. Here’s hoping the upcoming Australian shark movie, ‘Bait’ doesn’t disappoint as well.
· Paranormal Activity 3 – No true horror fan thinks these movies are good. In fact, when you go into them and are laughing because the acting is so terrible and the plotline is so horrible then it’s a clear sign that a franchise is a joke. The first ‘Paranormal Activity’ was ludicrously bad. The second was a joke. The third? It was a travesty of monumental proportions. Here's hoping they've beat this dead horse about as much as they possibly can -- of course, I don't remotely believe that. I'm sure we have at least another two installments in our future.
· Abduction – Taylor Lautner can’t act. He has zero charisma. He’s like Keanu Reeves – except Reeves is smarter and more engaging. Enough said.
· Green Lantern – Somebody needs to lock Ryan Reynolds in a basement. He’s very attractive and, yes, he has a great body, but he can’t act for . . . well, you know. I think everyone can agree, if Reynolds feels the need to be on the big screen he should just stand there with his shirt off and not open his mouth. It will be of great benefit to society.
What do you think? What were the most entertaining movies of 2011?