As I look at my choices for the best movies of 2011, one thought comes to my mind: “Nobody’s perfect.”
With all due respect to Paranormal Activity 3 and Insidious, Bridesmaids may just have been the scariest movie of 2011. During the food poisoning scene, while the rest of the theatre roared with laughter, I was rendered paralyzed as I was terrified and profoundly disturbed. To lose control of one’s bodily functions in a situation full of social mores strikes me as one of the frightening possibilities of life in the 21st century. That scene served a microcosm of the whole movie, as the stress of being a maid of honor led Annie to lose control of everything in her life. As she sank to her lowest point, with no job, no money, no friends, no reason to leave the house – it was deeply scary to witness such a change over the course of only a few months. The life changes depicted in Bridesmaids are hardly unusual – everybody grows up, or at least gets older. The people in our life move on, life goes by, and it is all hard to handle if we do not have anybody to support us. That is why occasionally it is a good idea to get in somebody’s face and declare, “Hey! Guess what? You do have friends!”
Memorable Line: “You know what I find interesting about that, Annie? It’s interesting to me that you have, you have absolutely no friends. You know why it’s interesting? Here’s a friend, standing directly in front of you, trying to talk to you and you choose to talk about the fact that you don’t have any friends.”
I’m not the only who’s said it (Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers is among those who mentioned it before me): Moneyball is about baseball the same way that The Social Network is about Facebook: not really at all. It was about questioning the conventional wisdom – a pursuit that can be meaningful in any field. In fact, it is, simply put, how to gain knowledge. With its focus on statistics and its antiestablishment attitude, Moneyball could have been a preachy lecture. But thanks to its fully fleshed-out humanity – Billy Beane’s managing style was driven by his skepticism regarding the conventional wisdom after it did not help his playing career; amalgam character Peter Brand introduced statistical analysis to the baseball office because he loved the game, and wanted to make it better – Moneyball presented a lesson that was easy to take in, thanks to the personal connections it offered.
Memorable Line: “It’s a metaphor.” “I know it’s a metaphor.”
3. Crazy, Stupid, Love.
The confluence of almost every major character of Crazy, Stupid, Love. in that climactic scene may have been unlikely, but the improbable is often the most entertaining. And what, if not love, is one of the most improbable things of all? It would often be sensible to not give in to what love demands. Perhaps it strains credulity to accept that a middle schooler would be allowed to make a graduation speech about how love doesn’t exist, or that his dad would be allowed to interrupt him and give an alternative, just as dramatic, speech. But that scene did accurately represent the bigness of feelings regarding love and life, as displayed in Crazy, Stupid, Love. So much of C, S, L. strained credulity. But to live life lovingly, straining credulity is often a necessary strategy.
Memorable Line: “It’s easy to just look at a thirteen-year-old and say, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about. You are wrong.’ But I’m not so sure.”
4. The Muppets
The Muppets is a rare breed: a movie about itself that is successful at being so. Prior to the release of this film, the Muppets had lost much of the luster of popularity, just as they were down and out in the fictional world in which they are living, breathing creatures. There are plenty of real fans of the Muppets as devoted as Walter, and most people who are not huge fans are at least familiar with them. But in the 21st century, they have only been popular in legacy terms. Because it had been so long since the Muppets had even attempted something significant, it did not even seem like it was worth trying. But, sometimes you just have to ask your friends for help, and you may just be surprised at the response. Usually, I consider box office performance to be beside the point when determining a film’s quality, but The Muppets kind of needed to be a hit to prove its point, and that kind of worked out. Oh, and the songs are fun, Fozzie Bear’s puns are stupidly hilarious as always, Chris Cooper raps, and there are plenty of celebrity cameos (including the number one star in the world. You hear me? Bang! – The world).
Memorable Line: “And we’ll keep giving the world the third greatest gift: laughter!”
5. The Descendants
Our lives are not always what they seem. In fact, they are never exactly what we think they are. George Clooney has made a career out of playing himself. He has taken on an array of characters, but he has generally imbued them all with some degree of that unmistakable George Clooney persona that says, “I know what I’m doing.” As Matt King, he backs off, and offers his most vulnerable, and best, performance yet. Vulnerability is the shared quality for every character in The Descendants, as everyone has lost or stands to lose something important: a wife, a mother, faith in a spouse, mental faculties – even seemingly the entire state of Hawaii worries how the fate of the King family property will affect them. As Matt eventually realizes, he is not in control of everything, but he knows what he does have, and he knows that he better cherish it.
Memorable Line: “Elizabeth is dying. Wait… Fuck you! And she’s dying.”
6. Midnight in Paris
When a character from a realistic world enters a fantastical setting, it is best if his surprise is only temporary. Gil Prender does remain excited after the initial shock of experiencing 1920’s Paris wears off, but the time travel does also become a part of his routine. (The first scene with the Surrealists offers a strange sort of grounding for this situation.) But allowing the fantasy to become too much of a routine can be a problem. 1920’s Paris has been Gil’s to romanticize about and learn from, but that lesson is worthwhile only if he realizes that he has his own life that he can make just as romantic and meaningful. Also, Adrien de Van as Luis Buñuel does a great job listening.
Memorable Line: “A man in love with a woman from a different era. I see a photograph.” “I see a film.” “I see an insurmountable problem.” “I see rhinoceros.”
7. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
A B-movie particularly in the sense that it never wanders far from its primary geographic settings, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is plenty ambitious otherwise. In the previous Apes installments, the apes were already people – as far as souls, free will, what have you are concerned – just hairier. The apes in this edition have the sort of humanity that has been shown to us by the likes of Jane Goodall – we know that they are a lot like us, but we don’t know exactly what it is to live as an ape. We have never been able to fully articulate what that essential difference is. No matter what the difference, if human experimentation is risky, then no doubt ape experimentation is as well. The next round of evolution is going to catch many people off guard.
Memorable Line: “NO!”
8. Margin Call
The investment bank employees in Margin Call stayed up all night to figure out a solution to a catch-22, but it was essentially all for naught. Every other major financial company was going through basically the same situation. The financial crash of 2008 was already inevitable. Writer/director J.C. Chandor sets Margin Call to the tone of a thriller, and for those involved, the stakes are as high and as grueling as those in any action movie. These particular Wall Streeters do not always want to care about this situation as they do; their faces display the wear and tear of the weight of inevitability.
Memorable Line: “You will never sell anything to any of those people ever again.” “I understand.” “Do you?” “Do you?! This is it! I’m telling you, this is it!”
9. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
The plot (insofar as it makes sense or not) of an action movie does not always matter, but characterization does. Sure, the set piece at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was the buzziest moment, and it is the major reason why M:I 4 was as great as it was. But it must be noted that Tom Cruise always gives it his all as Ethan Hunt. He is a man driven by family and loyalty, unafraid to show his true humanity even when he is in disguise. Bet let’s talk about that Dubai scene. It did really look like Tom Cruise was actually acrobatically maneuvering about many miles up in the air. The camerawork, editing, and choreography were all stunning. My palms are clamming up just thinking about it.
Memorable Line: “Oh, that’s high!”
10. The “I Wanted to Include Each of These Films But Something was Holding Me Back But Together They Can All Make It” Spot: Hugo/Warrior/Win Win/Young Adult
The middle of Hugo was not particularly adventurous, but I did enjoy the fanta-historical account of Georges Méliès. Warrior’s inspirational sports tale has been told many times before, but the performances of Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte burned with a frustrated intensity that felt appropriate for the less glamorous realm of the sports world. Win Win felt inconsequential, but that was only because it did not care to be any showier. Its characters were respectable and generally trying to do the right thing in their own ways: a rousing, honest morality tale. Some of Young Adult’s most powerful scenes felt a little staged, but life does not always make sense when you’re drunk all the time: a subjective investigation of the mind of a seriously depressed individual.
Memorable Lines: Hugo – “I was forced to sell my movies to a company that melted them down into chemicals.”
Warrior – “All I’m saying is, I’m happy to keep your boy warm for you.”
Win Win – “Why did Daddy hit Kyle?” “I have no idea.”
Young Adult – “I would keep all of this to yourself. I would find a therapist.”
Honorable Mentions (A.K.A., I liked these movies, too!)
These aren’t necessarily numbers 14-22, but for whatever reasons, I did want to mention them.
Beginners, Drive, Fast Five, Final Destination 5, Hanna, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Tabloid, The Tree of Life, X-Men: First Class
But wait! There’s more! (I hope.)
I haven’t seen these movies yet. I hope they’re good:
Coriolanus, The Guard, Jane Eyre, The Interrupters, Pariah, Poetry, Project Nim, Rampart, A Separation, Senna, Take Shelter, 13 Assassins, The Trip, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, We Need to Talk About Kevin