Movies: A Year in Review (2011)

February 26, 2012

When 2011 began, it was highly discussed as the “year of sequels,” since it was reported to contain 27 sequels, the most in any calendar year. Of these sequels, there were movies we all looked forward to (The Muppets, Sherlock Holmes), movies that we didn’t want but expected there to be a sequel (The Hangover Part 2, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn) and those movie franchises that just won’t go away no matter what (Scream 4, Fast Five, Final Destination 5). But what started as a year of continuing stories shifted gears as the months were ripped from the calendar. Eventually at the year’s end, 2011 will be known for a year of nostalgia.

There have been a number of films that explored the theme of nostalgia this year, the first being Rango. For those who have seen the film, you can sense how the creators of the animated feature plucked the styles from classic films such as Blazing Saddles, The Shakiest Gun in the West, Star Wars, and Apocalypse Now. It was a unique way to pay tribute to such classics with a quirky and unorthodox animated film. This is why Rango is one of my favorite films of the year and to no surprise, is nominated for Best Animated Feature.

Continuing with the theme of nostalgia, no other film hits it right on the head as much as Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Warning, there are spoilers ahead. While the film dealt with the beauty of Paris and sort of plays out like a travel brochure to the world-famous city, Woody Allen shoves a hefty dose of nostalgia in the film as Owen Wilson finds himself unhappy in his current life and wishing he was living in the 1920’s. To his surprise, at the strike of midnight his dream comes true and he finds himself drinking with Ernest Hemingway and sharing a discussion with Pablo Picasso and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He falls in love with Adriana, but soon realizes he prefers the time period to the present when Adriana confesses she prefers the 1890’s. It’s a wonderful and clever tale with the fantasy of living in a different time period to escape the present.

Another film that was heavy on nostalgic style was Nicholas Refn’s Drive, starring Ryan Gosling. Everything about this film screams “nostalgia” from the pink font of the title to the synth-heavy soundtrack. It’s also a tribute to car films such as Bullitt (1968). Other noted inspirations from Drive include The Day of the Locust, To Live and Die in L.A., Point Blank, and The Driver. Once you’ve seen Drive, you might mistaken it for a film from the 70’s.

There was a film I was anticipating since the announcement that it was being released: The Muppets. But what could they possibly have a movie about? It’s been 12 long years since the last Muppets film, but Jason Segel wisely exploited that and used it in the very self-aware, nostalgic film. While the film was full of typical Muppets fun, the one who really enjoyed it were the adults who remembered The Muppets Show. The film had dozens of clips from the show and even dealt with the story-line that the Muppets had to have a reunion to save their Muppet Theater. Let me just say one thing, there is nothing like hearing “Rainbow Connection.” It brings a tear to my eye every-time.

Martin Scorsese announced his first film to be filmed in 3-D, Hugo, and you can count on the legendary filmmaker to deliver a knock-out punch. Hugo wasn’t just an entertaining, PG-rated film about a boy in search for the right parts to fix an automaton so he could receive a message from his diseased father. It was also about the history of movies and the preservation of film. It was certainly a treat to see some of the earliest art-forms of film-making explored during the second half of Hugo. For those who aren’t familiar with this, the way Hugo dives into the process of films from the past is marvelous. There is certainly a magic that surrounds the entire film, and brilliant how Scorsese uses a new technology of 3-D to pay homage to the creation of imaginative film-making.

Finally, the last film I want to point out with an nostalgic influence is The Artist. This film with French actors and director, is a silent, black and white film that feels like it was shot from the 1930’s. It’s quite a bold move to release a film like this, with story-telling techniques that have become obsolete for so long. It’s also a wonder how it’s so damn good. The movie deals with the “out with the old, in with the new” mentality, in contrary to what is being portrayed by releasing a b&w, silent film in 2011. But that’s the beauty in it all.

Another aspect about 2011 that stood out at the end of the year was the continuation of the rise of women in the movie industry. Two films epitomized how women have turned the corner and can compete with the male-dominated world: Bridesmaids and The Help. Both films feature great female ensemble casts, both have been critically acclaimed and have grossed impressive amounts of money. Bridesmaids shows how women can be as sleazy and funny as any group of men in a raunchy comedy. Comparisons to The Hangover were inevitable because of the insane success of both films, but in my opinion Bridesmaids was the stronger film.

As for The Help, this movie really surprised me in a good way. Boasting a very talented cast of Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, and Jessica Chastain, The Help went on to win the SAG award for Best Ensemble. Without a doubt this was one of the most powerful films of the year, and can you believe there were barely any men involved. Who would’ve thought?

When 2011 was winding down, I was slightly disappointed at the fact that the year didn’t have that one movie that really “wowed” me. Last year, movies like Inception and The Social Network were two films that I will remember for the rest of my life. 2009 provided the best war movie (The Hurt Locker) in probably the past few decades, along with the biggest movie of all-time, Avatar. So what did 2011 have to offer? While I loved films like The Descendants and Drive, I’m unsure if they have the staying-power to really put 2011 on the charts of a fantastic year of film.

Well my question was answered when I finally made my way to watch A Separation. This foreign film is nominated for Best Foreign Language film, representing Iran, and blows every American film out of the water in 2011. Layered with conflict, realistic characters, and an unfamiliar setting, A Separation was a masterpiece that I could watch every single week for the next few years. Writer/director Asghar Farhadi has created one of the best family dramas that I have every watched. Blessed with such talented actors, especially Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi, the film jumped off the screen and made you question every problem that you have encountered in your own life. When that is accomplished, it just proves that these pieces of art are more than just a movie.

For a detailed analysis of the films broken down by each month, keep reading:

Now let’s turn the calendar back to January of 2011. Like every January, Oscar-worthy films clutter the theaters as acclaimed movies receive a wider release just in time for The Academy Awards. But there’s nothing like the releases of mindless films to counter the realistic, artsy, patience-testing films. In 2011, these films included The Green Hornet, The Dilemma, No Strings Attached, The Mechanic, and The Rite. And now you understand why I don’t look forward to films, typically until March.

February wasn’t much better. The disappointing part about the releases in February was the lack of a solid Valentine’s Day-style romantic comedy. I’m not saying I’m a fan of those chick-flick/rom-coms, but it helps when the romantic-comedy is at least watchable. This year we had Just Go With It starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. I’m happy to report that I have yet to watch that film, but I’m sure there were a few people who enjoyed it. Other than that, February held notable releases of The Roommate, I Am Number Four, and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. It’s safe to say that I will never watch any of those films.

March is when movies start to pick up, and 2011 was no different. The first weekend of March showcased, in my opinion, the best animated feature of the year – Rango. It also had The Adjustment Bureau, the better-than-average sci-fi thriller starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. Other notable releases in March include Limitless, Paul, and Sucker Punch.

April combined some highly entertaining films with some complete failures, making it a very uneven month for movies. Starting strong, we had the underrated horror film, Insidious, and the very good sci-fi thriller, Source Code. But then there were some stinkers, like the unfunny Your Highness, the unimpressive Water for Elephants, and the unnecessary sequels of Scream 4 and Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil. The big story of April was the incredible Fast Five, which opened to $86 million domestically and finished with a worldwide gross of about $626 million. Impressive indeed.

May unofficially begins the summer blockbuster movie season. Thor opened things up with a mediocre showing and then more sequels flooded the movie screens with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Hangover Part II, and Kung Fu Panda 2. But there was one bright spot through May and that was the phenomenon that was Bridesmaids. There was a lot of question marks surrounding this film, but the R-rated, raunchy comedy with an all-female cast stepped up to the plate and hit a home run.

June banged out a blockbuster film week-after-week with X-Men: First Class, Super 8, Green Lantern, Bad Teacher, Cars 2, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. As you can see and probably experienced, most of these films were all flash and no essence (except the surprisingly good X-Men prequel). In addition to that, Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life hit the theaters in America and left the majority of of viewers scratching their heads. This was the most abstract film I’ve seen since 2001: A Space Odyssey.

With July, there was more of the same nonsense, the month had the most anticipated film of the year: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Finally, after eight movies, the Harry Potter franchise concluded in epic fashion. Clearly, the buzz around Harry Potter overpowered the rest of the films in May, such as Horrible Bosses, Zookeeper, Captain America, Friends with Benefits, and Crazy, Stupid, Love.

In August, we had two very good films and a handful of awful ones. Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Help both went on to receive critical acclaim and make a lot of money. But the rest of the month’s films failed to do so: Final Destination 5, The Change-Up, 30 Minutes or Less, Fright Night, Colombiana, The Debt, and Our Idiot Brother.

September is usually the month that preludes to awards season, which means more movies of higher quality are released. Warrior started the ball rolling with a very engaging and emotional sports film with two brothers who find themselves in a championship MMA match. The following weekend released Drive, a throw-back film, thick on style and violence starring Ryan Gosling. The end of September had the release of Moneyball, the baseball movie that had to do with a lot more than just baseball.

While September was very strong, October took a step back with the quality of films released. The opening weekend had The Ides of March and Real Steel, both solid films for completely different audiences. The rest of the month were mainly of the horror genre such as The Thing and Paranormal Activity 3. Oh, and once again Johnny Depp starred in a bad film (The Rum Diary).

In November, awards season was in full throttle. The releases of J. Edgar, The Descendants, Hugo, and The Artist were all in the same month, and there’s no coincidence that these films will collect a fair share of Oscar nominations. Also in November, there were the releases of Jack and Jill (in contention for the worst film of the year), Happy Feet Two, Immortals, and Tower Heist.

And finally we have December. Like the other months, this had some gems and some awful films. The good: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Young Adult, Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The bad: New Year’s Eve, The Sitter, Alvin and the Chipmunks Chipwrecked, The Darkest Hour.

Overall, despite plenty of naysayers, 2011 was a very good year in movies. And even though the year was cluttered with nostalgic films, that didn’t mean films didn’t make any progress. If anything, 2011 kept pressing on that there are new and exciting things to come in the movie industry, but at the same time you cannot forget the history of how we got to where we are now.


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