So, with Labor Day Weekend, the summer of 2011 comes to an end. Personally, this was a pretty terrific summer movie-wise. There were very few outright stinkers, and the ones that were I managed to avoid, mostly. I thought it would be fun to post this best of summer 2011 list and break down what worked and what didn't.
2011 was inundated with big budget films and small quiet fare; superheroes everywhere and raunchy comedies. What I've done here is break it down into some categories - feel free to disagree with my methodology and my opinions, as I'm sure many will.
Best Hero Of The Summer
Caesar, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
This one seems a no-brainer to me. There weren't very many characters as compelling as Caesar this summer - heck, this year. From his simple beginnings as a baby chimpanzee to a genuine leader of apes, Caesar's arc may have been fairly predictable, but the emotionality of Andy Serkis' performance, along with WETA's motion-capture technology, brought the audience squarely on their side and actively rooting for humanity's downfall. There are few movie moments this summer as powerful as Caesar's "No!" as he takes his destiny into his own hands.
Best Villain Of The Summer
I enjoyed THOR, but I probably would have come out on the negative end of that critical spectrum if not for Tom Hiddleston's performance as Loki. The ad campaign kept talking about a Shakespearean level to the family relationships in THOR, but only Hiddleston actually made me believe it. His arc was the most believable, and by the climax of the film, you understood Loki's position. More than just a scorned son of Odin, Loki under Hiddleston's acting almost became justified in his rage against Thor. I know who the ladies may have been rooting for in that final battle, but as for myself, I was hoping Loki would show that gloryhound what real power was, and our sympathy with Loki is testament to a terrific performance.
Best Animated Film
KUNG FU PANDA 2
Is it just me, or does this year seem light on animated films? No matter. I thought KFP2 was just as good as the original, and I don't think many people expected the original when it came out to be as good as it was. I loved the characters, especially Gary oldman's villainous peacock, and Po's search for his heritage was emotional and well done. If Dreamworks keeps it up, making genuine martial arts movies with fluffy animals as characters, this series could wind up being something truly special. I'm there if they're able to keep it up.
Best Superhero Film
X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
I know Harry will differ with me on this one - he's unabashedly in love with CAPTAIN AMERICA - but for my money this was one of the most interesting superhero films yet made. First it's a prequel, which almost never works, and yet not only does this one work, it overshadows all the previous films. I wouldn't mind if they just dropped the original film continuity and built from this one. Second, Michael Fassbender's Magneto is one of those performances that commands your attention, and I would happily have seen INGLOURIOUS MAGNETO for two hours. But the movie is filled to the brim with great performances - James MacAvoy, Kevin Bacon's evil Sebastian Shaw, Jennifer Lawrence's conflicted Mystique - and although the ending is a bit too pat (I think they put Xavier in the chair a bit too quickly), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS succeeds in building a believable world set amidst the backdrop of the tumultuous Cold War 1960s. I loved CAPTAIN AMERICA, but this is the film I think about more when I look back on this summer.
Best Use Of 3D
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON
Yeah, that's right, I enjoyed TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON. It ain't great, to be sure, but unlike the previous film it's not all chaos and shaky-cam. Shooting in 3D actually made Michael Bay restrain himself in regards to his action setpieces and the result may be the most coherently shot, visually compelling film he's done yet (and I know that's not saying a lot). But the use of 3D really works here - it's immersive, always interesting visually, and best of all, it's BRIGHT. Suffer through FRIGHT NIGHT, also shot in 3D, and see how bad use of the technology ruins what is actually a pretty good film. I think T:DOTM may end up selling more 3D televisions than any of the other films in 3D this summer, and although the film is flawed and pretty stupid at times, it remains enjoyable to watch.
This summer saw comedy get crude and raunchy, no doubt due to the success of 2009's THE HANGOVER, which had a sequel released this summer. But none of them had the heart and soul of BRIDESMAIDS, Paul Feig's brilliant comedy. The script, by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, went past the "chick flick" model and found something universal for all audiences to enjoy. All the characters were likable, even when they were behaving badly. BRIDESMAIDS is filled with real people, even if they were exaggerated a little bit for comic effect. BRIDESMAIDS treats the audience like thinking human beings even when characters are taking dumps in the middle of the street. Finally, BRIDESMAIDS' secret weapon, Melissa McCarthy, a woman who believes in herself so much that she actively makes great things happen even when others would take one look at her and dismiss her. BRIDESMAIDS remains one of the best films of the year, and it's one I think people will revisit many times on video.
ATTACK THE BLOCK
You know this was coming. If you've read my blathering over this film all spring and summer, you know this was coming. Hell, I even called it the best film so far this year, and I stand by that (although there's some movies coming this fall, whoo boy). I love how Spike Lee saw this film, flipped out over it, and cast John Boyega as the lead in his HBO boxing drama. I love how Joe Cornish just nails it with his first directorial effort. The ad campaign for this film pretty much doesn't do it justice - in fact, I'm certain all the hype, of which I'm guilty of contributing to, killed this movie in a lot of ways. Looking back, I wouldn't change anything I said, I just think if I were Screen Gems I would have released this a lot sooner and much wider (although maybe in arthouse theaters first) but that's all Monday morning quarterbacking. I know many of you resent the coverage this film got, and all I can say about that is that I love the movie so much I couldn't stop talking about it. But don't punish the movie for that - when you do get a chance to see it, just ignore all the hype and enjoy ATTACK THE BLOCK for what it is - a very effective, fun, thought-provoking, and thrilling movie.
But wait, I'm not done:
Best Film Experience
TREE OF LIFE
Many of you will consider this a cheat, but I couldn't let this end without talking about this prayer of a film that seems more than just a film to me. Terrence Malick's masterpiece isn't just a movie - it's a serious meditation on life, death, creation, and everything in between, and what may come off as pretentious to many was very transformative to me. One wouldn't think that a simple story about a family in rural Texas would touch on all those universal topics but Malick has done something amazing - he brings the cosmic and the intimate together and they not only co-exist in the same film but complement each other. The Sean Penn bookends, for many, don't work (even for Sean Penn himself, apparently) but I like how the film becomes a look back through his eyes, and how he makes peace with the loss he feels on the beach at the end. It doesn't make much sense logistically, but emotionally, it rings true. TREE OF LIFE is about many things, and will be different for everyone who sees it. And some people will put it away and never look back, and that's understandable, as TREE OF LIFE definitely isn't for everybody. It is, in fact, not for most people. But Malick never made a film for the masses - in TREE OF LIFE he's made the closest thing to a prayer on film, and even to an atheist like me, I felt moved, and even spiritual through its grace.
And that's it! What rang your chime this summer filmwise? Hopefully this fall will give us some amazing pieces fo film - September already seems very promising, with CONTAGION and DRIVE. As always, thanks for reading.