39. The Help
Truly, who doesn't love a shit-eating, brazenly ahistorical melodrama? Me, I guess. On the basis of craft, coherence, and raw entertainment, I saw several (although not many) worse movies than The Help this year, but none managed to be so self-important and so brain-dead at the same time. The Help isn't so much Bad as it is Wrong: about race, class, culture, human character, and Emma Stone in 'serious' roles. Uck.
38. Captain America: The First Avenger
I thought this was supposed to be a classic antidote to overblown contemporary superhero movies. Turns out it was a classic antidote to staying awake past 11:30 on a Tuesday night. I did watch the final 15 minutes at breakfast the next morning, but only in the vain hope that Tommy Lee Jones would somehow work in the "outhouse, dog-house, hen-house" monologue from The Fugitive into his last scene.
37. Like Crazy
An adorable British sprite falls in love with a dog-eyed, vanilla-dough American chair-maker. Their cell phones grow progressively more advanced as they send each other text messages across the decade. Somehow Jennifer Lawrence (!!) wanders onto the set and agrees to sleep with the chair-maker, but he leaves her for the sprite anyway. End.
In the words of John Marvel, what would you do if you could harness the full capacity of the human brain? I know: I'd buy some pinstripe suits, head to Vegas, and proclaim myself King of Chotches.
One of my favorite aspects of this film is that in trying to make the pre-drug Bradley Cooper character the saddest, schlubbiest, most pathetic human creature in existence, they decided to make him a "novelist." ZING. I guess nobody in the script-writing team was familiar with the idea of a "graduate student."
Can we really be sure that Aaron Sorkin wasn't involved in this glib, trite "political film," whose cutting edge political dilemma is lifted directly from 1997? Sorry, Billy: I just don't see it. The best thing here is Ryan Gosling's sleek black man-coat, and even it, after all, is only the second coolest Gosling man-coat of 2011.
34. A Dangerous Method
Jaw of Knightley, beard of Viggo;
Fassbender's glare, and away we go;
Flagellation fantastic and talk psychiatric;
Sex, says Freud, is not such a plague;
Jung disagrees but in terms quite vague;
English-speaking Austrians have nothing to say;
Cronenberg films them for two hours anyway.
33. The Way Back
Six men, or eight men, or three men -- I forget -- stagger out of a Stalinist prison and across the wastes of central Asia. One of them is Colin Farrell, who brandishes a massive knife and an even more massive Russian accent. Watched it on the plane ride from Toronto to China, and I think we got halfway across the Pacific before these clowns made it out of the Gobi Desert.
Everything here is disappointing, except for Chris Hemsworth's impossible trapezius muscles and Idris Elba's appearance as Heimdall, Great Guardian of the Norse Warp-Machine Thingy. Actually, Idris is totally wasted here, but his casting as Heimdall -- described in Norse legends as "the whitest of the gods" -- touched off my favorite idiotic film controversy of 2011, as both white supremacists and Norse mythology pedants cried foul. Can we please have more Wire actors playing ancient deities in 2012? You gotta admit, Felicia Pearson would make a hell of an avenging Artemis.
The 2011 edition of the annual February Liam Neeson-wears-expensive-clothes-and-kills-things movie. I don't remember much about the plot except that in between fisticuffs Neeson keeps insisting that he is "Dr. Martin Harris," but ultimately, it turns out he is not.
If I had to be born again as a female, I'd want my childhood to be spent in the Arctic, learning awesome fighting skills from Eric Bana.
29. Horrible Bosses
None of the celebrity bosses (Spacey, Aniston, Farrell) are anything but painfully unfunny, but the spritzy humor between the three comic chumps (Bateman, Sudeikis, Day) is occasionally amusing. And following the theme of latter-day Wire sightings, we have Wendell Pierce cast against type as a jaded black cop, plus Chad Coleman, (Cutty! CUTTY!) who appears for about 3.5 seconds as a tough, "urban" bartender. Really! See below:
Like Will and Dave, I don't get all the fuss. It was a little funny and a lot sloppy -- a typically Apatovian muddle of syrupy rom-com, scatological formula, and the occasional dollop of genuine charisma. I would very much like to get drunk with Kristen Wiig on a plane ("Stove! That's not even a name!") but I can take or leave the rest of 'em.
27. The Conspirator
Editor's note: all Civil War-related films earn an automatic six rankings points, even -- especially -- if they feature Kevin Kline hamming it up as a Rumsfeldian Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.
26. X-Men: First Class
Have I really gone through thirteen flicks already and I'm still working through superhero films with unnecessary colons? I agree with Seth D. that a great opportunity is wasted here. The first thirty minutes are pretty sweet, but when Michael Fassbender trades in his swingin' Michael Fassbender clothes in for Magneto's cape-and-underwear, it's a letdown. And the ending, of course, is an epic cock-up.
25. Hall Pass
The "Hot Tub Time Machine" of 2011: a title and a concept that were funnier than the movie, but still: the movie was kinda funny. In fact, I submit that everything that Lame Owen Wilson's character does (from his fake "Harvard" t-shirt to his "keep on rockin' in the free world' parting line to his feeble club dancing) was hilarious. More laughs per square foot here than any other summer comedy I saw -- not exactly high praise, of course, but I scoff at the scoffers of this movie. I'll take Farrelly crudity over Apatow treacle any day of the week. In the immortal words of Jenna Fischer: "THE HALL PASS WAS FOR ME."
Vera Farmiga sheds her Source Code epaulets and dons a lot of droopy maternity dresses. She also prays a great deal, but is rarely answered. This is an earnestly crafted film about faith and family that hovers so close to its characters that we never really understand their world or their motivations in it.
23. The Adjustment Bureau
What the world would look like if it were run by Mad Men's Roger Sterling: brisk, vivid, chaotic, whimsical, and in the end totally unconvincing. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt do have real (and rare) chemistry here, but they belong in a better movie.
22. Straw Dogs
The original Peckinpah is one of my favorite films of all time. Did this one need to exist? Emphatically, no. Did I enjoy watching it? Emphatically, yes. (See Katherine, above, and James Marsden's t-shirt, below, on why I don't think the remake totally abandons the moral complexity of the original in favor of muscular, blue-state, beat-on-the-hick cheerleading).
Also: one awesome fact of 2011 is the emergence of Alexander Skarsgard (Meekus from Zoolander!!!--no, I don't watch True Blood!!!) as a bona fide film star. Earth to Brint, can't you hurry up and get your act into the movies?
Jolly old gay dad Christopher Plummer, dour singleton Ewan McGregor, quirky Melanie Laurent -- it's a great set-up. But let's face it, this movie has a premise, not a plot. It doesn't develop; it reiterates: Plummer is ever jolly and gay, until eventually he's jolly, gay, and dead; McGregor is ever dour and single, until eventually he's dour and coupled. Woohoo.
On the other hand, Plummer brims with the joy of being alive, and he does get one of the great one-liners of the year (and one which really would have improved the furniture scenes in Like Crazy): "The chair is not gay. Obviously."
Unfortunately I can't find a screenshot of Jonah Hill standing in his hotel room with a Yale shirt on, so the pictorial barrage of college tees ends here. But just in case you didn't hear clearly when he mentions he went to Yale, it's nice to have a visual cue, too.
As for the film, well, there's not nearly enough Miguel Tejada (played by Royce Clayton!!!). And it's probably not as cool as it would have been if Steven Soderbergh had finished the project and filmed documentary style, with David Justice as himself and a less obviously Sorkin-y narrative arc. It's still a worth an evening on the couch, though.
I find that exquisitely faithful adaptations of favorite novels are often good, but never great, and this is no exception. (I say that, of course, but I'm still totally looking forward to Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold's strangely Fassbender-less Wuthering Heights.)
An old person's idea of a young person's movie. Happy to farm this one out to Drew and Katherine: the Melies 20 minutes were splendid; the rest was sorta charming but pretty creaky.
It's interesting that this film subverts Hollywood stereotypes and sides with responsible bureaucrats over rogue bloggers with bad teeth -- but it's not that interesting. Competent and gripping, but inessential.
As Katherine says, it's a B-movie with a strangely silent Ryan Gosling and one too many deadly venetian blind stabbings. The L.A. River culvert driving scene is a fun nod to Repo Man, though. And the movie does, without a doubt, feature the costume piece of the year:
Not the best or most original iteration of Pooh, but impossible to resist anyway. Pooh himself, of course, is still worthy of what A.A. Milne once said about Wind in the Willows: you don't judge this book, it judges you. So watch this luminous preview, right now, and be judged:
Ned: [looking for his dog Willy Nelson] Hey man, have you seen Willy Nelson?
Billy: Oh, yeah, definitely.
Billy: [realizing what was actually asked] Oh you mean recently? I just meant, in general, I have seen him!
13. Cedar Rapids
If only John C. Reilly made as many stupid comedies as Nic Cage makes stupid action movies, the world would be a better place. Isiah "Sheeeeeeit" Whitlock Jr. is here too, and easily tops the list of 2011 appearances by Wire vets. Full disclosure: I did not see Amy Ryan in Win Win, Dominic West in Johnny English Reborn, Deidre Lovejoy (Rhonda) in Bad Teacher, Aiden Gillen (Carcetti) in Blitz, or Frankie Faison (Irving Burrell) in Mayor Cupcake. Wait a minute. Why the hell am I writing this blog, when I could be watching Commissioner Burrell THROW IT DOWN in a movie called Mayor Cupcake!
Between Drew and Miya's zealous enthusiasm, and Will's beleaguered indifference, is it possible that Tinker, Tailor is the most divisive movie of 2011? That would be a mystery even more impenetrable than this plot. In any case, I'll take the middle ground: a great sad saggy '70s vibe, and an admirable execution of Le Carre's jaded moral ambiguity, but will I really be talking about this film in 2020? Or 2012? Probably not.
11. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Katherine says everything in here except the apes isn't very good, and she's right. But the movie is, um, about a planet of, um, apes. And they're great! If the human characters come off as cardboard stock next to Andy Serkis's Caesar, that's not just because they're all so bad (though they are), but because he (and his CGI-aided friends) are so good. Caesar's gradual transformation into a simian Spartacus -- a chimpanzee Che -- a testing-lab Toussaint! (OK, I'll stop) -- is one of the most moving narrative arcs of the year.
Oh, and if you're keeping score, geneticist James Franco is at one point shown wearing a gratuitous "Berkeley" t-shirt. Though not in any screenshots I could find, dammit! Still, the Hollywood trend of developing character through college tees continues apace.