TOP TEN BEST MOVIES OF 2011
5.) The Muppets
Unabashed nostalgia played a huge role in 2011’s cinematic offerings, perhaps no more evident than in The Muppets — Disney’s attempt to introduce Kermit, Fozzy, Miss Piggy and the rest of the puppet menagerie back into the cultural vernacular. Long-time Muppet fanatic Jason Segel (you know, that big dopey guy from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and How I Met Your Mother) went to great lengths to see that Jim Henson’s beloved felt creations were treated with the respect (and the solid screenplay) they deserved. The result was something that I think summed up best in my review of the film:
Though Henson is long gone, his gentle – and genuine – spirit inhabits every frame of The Muppets, somehow watching over his creations and imbuing the film with magic that made Kermit and the gang feel like their old selves for the first time since his untimely death in 1990. The Muppets hits all the right emotional beats (just try not to get choked up when Kermit and the gang launch into “Rainbow Connection”). This film is not nostalgic for nostalgia’s sake; rather it’s a warm, funny, and heartfelt return to glory for a wonderful assortment of oddball characters that at one time nearly matched Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader’s places in the cultural zeitgeist.
4.) War Horse
The images Steven Spielberg captured in this film are stunning. STUNNING. Breathtaking Irish countrysides. Vast, “Magic hour” skies that bathe retinas in warm purples, reds, and ambers. Camera push ins on actors with full, wide eyes that are bluer than the deepest sapphire. And of course, the titular horse, who looks mighty and gorgeous and will leave even the most masculine soul in the theater on the verge of tears after watching the majestic beast endure the brutality of the world’s most terrible war. Is the film it overly schmaltzy? Does it play it too safe? Not for me. It’s unspeakably beautiful and still manages to be powerful without the tone or the gory violence of Saving Private Ryan.
3.) Captain America: The First Avenger
Chris Evans’ Sentinel of Liberty may be the most earnest and iconic portrayal of a superhero since Christopher Reeve made us all believe a man could fly in 1978. In a world populated by snarky, morally flawed “heroes” like Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Evans’ Captain America is the antithesis of these post-modern depictions — playing the role with courage, honor, and without a trace of irony. The film itself is also a throwback; a rousing, World War II-era thrill ride in the vein of Raiders of the Lost Ark with beautiful period design and cinematography by Rocketeer director Joe Johnston (the perfect choice to bring Cap to the screen).
Captain America had a little bit of something for everyone – A terrific “underdog proves his mettle” story; Band of Brothers-style wartime drama; supernatural/Sci-Fi elements; terrific supporting characters in Steve Rogers’ love interest Peggy Carter (the stunning Hayley Atwell), Sebastian Stan as Cap’s best friend Bucky, and Tommy Lee Jones as the gruff, wise-cracking Colonel Phillips; and a delightfully fiendish antagonist in Hugo Weaving’s Nazi supervillian The Red Skull, who looked like he was pulled directly off of the comic book page and transferred to the movie screen. If the action scenes had a bit more crackle to them, I wouldn’t hesitate to put Captain America: The First Avenger right up there in the top four or five superhero movies of all-time.
On the surface, Hugo is a whimsical tale of an orphaned boy hiding out in a Parisian train station trying to repair a mysterious automaton left behind by his dead father. But halfway through its running time, Hugo‘s true, glorious form emerges from its cocoon and is revealed to be Martin Scorcese’s beautiful love letter to moving pictures. I won’t ruin how it all unfolds -since you should experience it for yourself – but suffice it to say, it’s a mesmerizing, sweet, and dare I even say, educational journey.
It also happens to look absolutely GORGEOUS. Over the past several years, I’ve gone back and forth over digital 3D technology (loved it in Avatar and Tron Legacy, hated it in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and felt pretty “meh” about it in several other films), but when you put the technology in the hands of a master like Scorcese, it can be spellbinding. Marty gives Hugo a staggering sense of depth with the 3D process, but it’s never gimmicky and never overshadows the film’s narrative. An enchanting, must-see film.
1.) Super 8
Was there a more misunderstood film in 2011 than J.J. Abrams’ gorgeous love letter to late 70’s/early 80’s Spielbergian wonder? I certainly can’t recall one. Super 8 pissed people off a couple of different ways — overly cynical moviegoers dismissed it as empty, nostalgic schmaltz; while creature/horror fans misled by the studio’s enigmatic marketing campaign were disappointed when the intense alien monster action and mind-bending twists they were expecting never materialized. All of these people completely missed the point — though nostalgia and homage play a big role in its charm, the film is really about “letting go” of childhood innocence, and moving on from tragedy. It’s about a father who doesn’t know his son or how to love him, When you factor these elements in with Abrams’ train crash scene – one of the most spectacular sequences of chaos and destruction in cinemas this year – the joyful chemistry of the gang of kid actors, and Abram’s magical 1970’s visual design, you have 2011’s most enjoyable cinematic experience.