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Best of 2011: Movies February 20, 2012

Posted by David Card in Media.
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Just in time to mess with your Oscar pool, I present my personal favorites of the year. Nota bene: this list has little to do with my own Oscar picks. Those I’m keeping secret to avoid jinxing my results in the annual Card family pool.

In 2011, I averaged approximately one new movie – in a theater – a week. I can enjoy just about any well-executed flick: I like big-budget summer blockbusters, well-crafted genre pictures, indies made for grown-ups, heartstring-tuggers, etc. I can read subtitles, though I’m not sure if I could through 3D glasses. That said, 2011 was not a good year.

According to the indispensable Box Office Mojo, the US box office for 2011 was down 4 percent vs. 2010, even though there more, expensive-ticket 3D releases. (That’s what boosted 2009 receipts 10 percent. That, and the fact one of ’em was Avatar.) Maybe the 3D boomlet is done. I’m not religiously opposed to the concept – I can barely imagine one of my 2011 faves not in 3D. But it’s an unnecessary burden for most.

Of the top 10 grossing pictures in 2011:

  • Nine out of 10 were remakes or sequels. Dear god.
  • Only one (Cars 2) was a cartoon. Unless you count Transformers.
  • Only one (Thor) was a superhero franchise. Bob Iger is gnawing his fingernails.
  • Two (Harry Potter 7B and Twilight 4A) were bestseller franchises that are now done or ending. Hollywood’s salvation depends on The Hunger Games, since Girl with the Dragon Tattoo didn’t cut it.

My two favorite movies of the year, 3.5 stars on Flixster’s 5-star scale, were:

  • Moneyball. Lots of smart reviewers like this movie, but they vary widely on what it’s actually about. That’s a sign of high art in pop culture. Witty script and great cast. Pitt is terrific in two very different roles this year. And if you were wondering about my interpretation, like all Sorkin, it’s about men at work.
  • Hugo. There’s real magic here. The 3D isn’t remotely realistic, but looks like a pop-up book: a deep series of flats, and that’s just right. For what is really a children’s movie, it’s too long, and so old-fashioned – er, timeless – that I wonder if modern kids will take to it.

To get to a Top Ten list, I have to go to 3-star movies:

  • Meek’s Cutoff. “Chaotic” women and “destructive” men face off against the Other. If you can handle the slow pace and cryptic characters, this is a thoughtful look at alienation, leadership, and faith.
  • Bellflower. This very twisted take on the indie romance has the courage of its own nutty, nihilist convictions. Beautifully shot, occasionally funny, ultimately disturbing.
  • The Descendants. Very human but disappointingly sentimental. Superb cast.
  • The Tree of Life. Malick sets out to justify the ways of God to men, but he has more to say about nostalgic boy/brother/Dad dynamics.
  • 13 Assassins. Slow-burn buildup to maximum carnage. Stately and stylish, with a handful of stars and a great villain.
  • Source Code. No dumber than Inception, and ten times the heart. Twice the fun at one fifth the budget.
  • Kill List. The Brits still know how to make those low-budget horror flicks where the occult leaks into the real world in a most disturbing fashion.

I’m going to cheat, and add a 2.5-star movie to my Top Ten, because it was more memorable than the rest of the ones I gave 3 stars. It will hold up to re-watching better:

  • Higher Ground. Vera Farmiga is very, very good, as usual, and gets solid performances out of her cast. The movie rambles and is uncomfortable in its tonal shifts, and the script is too stacked against the evangelicals for us to believe Farmiga’s character is risking much with her crisis of faith. Except the music, which is surprisingly affective.

The Artist’s gimmick just didn’t work for me, and I was hugely disappointed by Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo, the only part of which that was better than the Swedish version being the credits sequence. They shouldn’t have broken up Potter 7: the slow, sad build-up of part one would have made the payoff of part two that much better. Captain America was the best superhero movie, and although that’s not saying much this year, I’m still looking forward to The Avengers. And Batman, of course.


1. David Deal - February 21, 2012

For the record, I know of one modern kid (my 10-year-old daughter) who took to “Hugo.” I’m also looking forward to “The Avengers” nad loved Kevin Bacon in “Captain America.” What did you think of “X Men: First Class.”?

David Card - February 21, 2012

I liked the 60’s X-Men, even though, if I were nit-picking, some of the period details were a little off – should have been more Mad Men and less Austin Powers. The two leads were really well cast.

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