HST's Best of 2011: Movies

It was a great year for films, here are some highlights from the writers of HST.  [Sorry to blow you away with my expressive introduction, it’s just my talent shining through]

(Note from Zac: My lame self still hasn’t called 2011 quits when it comes to movies and will have my big annual write up come Oscar time in February.  See you then and enjoy some great thoughts from the rest of the staff below.)

Grant’s Funniest Scene of the Year (that was widely loved): Bridesmaids
Melissa McCarthy seducing the Air Marshal in Bridesmaids.  Her performance carried the film just as Zach Galifianakis’ performance carried the Hangover.  [I should confess, I might have just made that comparison in an effort to piss Zac off]

 

 

Grant’s Funniest Scene of the Year (that probably nobody else found funny): Paul
Simon Pegg pealing the “Alien on Board” sticker off the RV in Paul.  It is a throw away scene, but it takes advantage of Pegg’s talent for physical comedy.

Grant’s Greatest Scene of the Year: The Elevator Scene in Drive
Drive was a movie filled with great scenes.  The suspense generated in that first chase was better than any chase scene I’ve seen in a James Bond film.  But, I think my favorite scene was the elevator sequence.  The scene really sums up the entire film.  The change in lighting and music allowed the romantic ambitions of the characters to be explored only to setup a violent crash with reality.  Did he actually kiss her, or was it a manifestation of their desires in a pivotal moment?  The scene’s violence does unfortunately distract the viewer.  The scene could have been even better if 12 of the 24 head stomps had been removed.  But the gratuitous violence paid off when Mulligan and Gosling stare at each other horrified, realizing the star-crossed nature of their relationship.
As I said before there were many other scenes in this film to love. [More Spoilers] There was the murder of Perlman under the oscillating lighthouse, the pivotal Cranston and Brooks scene, and the films conclusion with Gosling’s solo “staring contest.”  It is amazing that I walked out of the theater not in love with this film, but as I recall these great scenes I realize that my appreciation of the film may have changed.  I’ll upgrade my rating of the film to 9 satin scorpion jackets out of 10.

Grant’s Best Surprise of the Year (Films): Cedar Rapids
First off, sorry Source Code, you were also a good surprise.  But, Cedar Rapids came out of nowhere with a great combination of heart and comedy.  Similar to the reason I loved 2009’s Star Trek, the strength of the film is in its ensemble cast.  Every actor seems to perfectly grasp his or her character.  These deep fleshed out characters bring the film to life.  There was nothing flashy about the film or the cinematography, but I became unexpectedly invested in the film.  From the previews, the film looked like it would be a series of cheap jokes about a small town guy amazed by the ‘big city’ of Cedar Rapids.  But the film does a great job of riding the line of respecting the characters while having fun at their expense.

Cedar Rapids is a very sweet and unique film, and Ed Helms as the lead actor and a major contributor to the screenplay deserves much of the credit.  Helms’s character presents a new angle on the tale of lost innocence.  His character grows as the flaws of human nature are slowly revealed to him.  But it just goes to show, sometimes you have to do drugs with a prostitute to find happiness.  As for other characters, it is not often that an audience cares for a woman who annually commits adultery just as a change of pace from her loving family.  Anne Heche somehow pulls it off in Cedar Rapids.  Her role is remarkably similar to that of Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air, but somehow minus the perception of villainy.  Lastly, I would be amiss to not mention the hilarious performance of John C. Reilly.  Who in their right mind does not want to spend a weekend with Deanzie?  Reilly’s ability to improvise seemed to rub off on the four main protagonists and it elevated the comedic dialogue of the film.  Deanzie’s outlandish lines will be hard to forget, but he still represents a vital character that stands against the self-righteous factions of the insurance convention.  “There’s a separation between religion and insurance.  It’s in the constitution.”
It was crazy to think that Ed Helms made Cedar Rapids around the same time he made Hangover 2Cedar Rapids did everything right that Hangover 2 got wrong.  I’ll give it 8.5 shots of Cream Sherry out of 10.

Alan’s Favorite Movie: 50/50
When I first saw that Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were making a movie about cancer, I hoped that they weren’t going to make it a typical Rogen affair; completely inappropriate. But once I saw the trailer, I knew that something “special” was going to come out of such a bleak theme. What came out this summer was a genuinely great comedy; it knew where it could be funny, and when it needed to show some heart. There are many moments throughout this movie I can pick out for both being laugh out loud funny, and almost tear-jerking. I wish the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences would take 50/50 into consideration (it is a true story after all, and they always love those), but it doesn’t need a little trophy to show how good the film was. This is a must buy once it comes to DVD.

Lauren’s Favorite Film (1 of 3) – Bridesmaids

Anyone who watches SNL these days often wonders what will happen when Kristen Wiig leaves.  As sad as that train of thought is, the one silver lining is that she will have more time to co-write and/or star in more projects like Bridesmaids.  Wherever you fall on the “is this funnier than The Hangover?” argument, I would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t find this film hilarious from start to finish.  I know personally I cannot even come up with one scene that is my favorite above the rest.  The car scene when Wiig is trying to get the cops attention?  The plane?  The shower where Wiig attempts to push over the chocolate fountain?  The poop scene?  That’s right, even someone who is over the type of comedy that resorts to poop/fart jokes found this one oddly refreshing.  Maybe that’s the wrong choice of word…  When it comes down to it, this cast of extremely hilarious women was able to create something that is easily my favorite comedy of the year, if not of all time.  I just hope I don’t go through this in the months to come as I fill the role of maid of honor for my best friend.  And no, I will not be handing out puppies!

Lauren’s Favorite Film (2 of 3) – Drive

Like Jessica Chastain, Ryan Gosling’s had a lot of attention-getting-roles this year, including Crazy, Stupid, Love. and The Ides of March.  However, Drive still manages to sit a little higher on the totem pole, even if his character has far less to say this time around.  Then again, words aren’t everything, as both he and Carey Mulligan give just as much depth to their scenes of silence as they do to any with a little more dialog.  This silence and calm creates a mystery around Gosling’s character (whose name is never revealed), but when the people around him are brought into harms way we see a whole new side to this man, and the storm after the calm is quite the sight to see.

Favorite Scene:  I agree with Grant with the elevator scene being my favorite, and it is also the perfect example of the dichotomy within the character as the switch is flipped.

Lauren’s Favorite Film (3 of 3): Super 8

This year presented the perfect film for me to fill the slot that so many have with their love of E.T.  You know, that classic movie with the terrifying alien.  Now that I am older I can stomach the creature features inspired by this Steven Spielberg alien film, with J.J. Abram’s Super 8 being the most applicable.  However, instead of being a story about the relationship between the boy and his otherworldly friend, Super 8 is about the town dealing with the aftermath of a train crash on the outskirts of town and the mysterious events happening shortly after.  More importantly, the creature’s presence acts as a catalyst for a father and son to find their way back to each other following the death of the wife/mother.

Favorite scene – The train crash.  Though Elle Fanning’s performance inspires awe many a time (including one scene in which she tries to stifle how affected she is by the home video of the boy’s mother), this first grand action sequence was strong enough to reverberate through your sternum as you sit in your seat in the theater.  Explosions, train cars being projected through the air, and kids running for their lives are all mixed into the scene as the grandiose nature of it all takes over.

Lauren’s Must HavesThere are plenty of great films out there from this past year, like Moneyball or The Ides of March, but something tells me that if I were to buy them when released they would sit on my shelf collecting dust, as Million Dollar Baby has done since I first saw it in theaters years ago.  Great films, but I am capable of waiting to watch them again, unlike those listed below.

50/50: Perfect example of a dramedy because of how truthful the story of someone who learns they have cancer is presented (as Alan noted, it is based on a true story).  It isn’t all doom and gloom as each person in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character’s life attempts to help him through this to the best of their ability.  The phenomenal cast doesn’t hurt either.

Attack the Block: With Cowboys & Aliens, Paul, and Super 8 being the bigger sci-fi features this year, Attack the Block could have easily slipped below your radar as a lower budget production.  Now is the time to rectify this mistake, especially if you consider yourself a fan of the genre.  The British slang may be a little hard to take at first, but it is not enough to make this hilarious script from coming to life by a group of unknown actors as they fight off hoard of rather aggressive, yet oddly cuddly looking, aliens.  Okay, so maybe they reminded me of those fuzzy black caterpillars, but I’m sure I would regret getting close enough to pet one of these bad boys.

Crazy, Stupid, Love.: Easily my favorite romantic comedy of the year, and I use that descriptor lightly because it is anything but cookie cutter (or strictly just for female viewers).  Mixing all different kinds of love in a way far more creative than Valentine’s Day, three stories of love lost, first love, and realizing what love is weave together through a great cast including Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who don’t get as much screen time as I would like because of how sweet their scenes are together, but Steve Carell’s character’s story (think Dan In Real Life) deserves the screen time he gets as he tries to find his way back to what he lost.

Fright Night: Buffy alum, Marti Noxon, provides the comedy/horror blend of a script for this fast paced story of a high school boy trying to save those he loves from the vampire that just moved in next door.  Finally, a hero that doesn’t take the majority of the film to understand what is going on around him!

Hanna:  Not to say that I have ever seen this girl do wrong, but as the title character of Hanna, Saoirse Ronan seriously carries a vast majority of this film without ever fumbling.  As a girl raised by her father to be a deadly weapon, Ronan blends innocence and danger into her performance, which is aided greatly by almost every other element.  The Chemical Brothers create the perfect soundtrack considering Hanna has never heard music before, and her only knowledge of it is a definition from her father, which describes it on its basic level as a combination of sounds.  In addition to this, each character and setting furthers this heightened world that Hanna has never experienced before, constantly reminding us that she is just a child forced into this.  Just don’t forget she is willing to stab you if need be.

Lauren’s Favorite Sequels: Surprisingly, this was not a year to fear the higher number sequels.  Granted, I haven’t watched the Hostel series since the first film, so I cannot speak for all.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2:  Let’s face it, if you’ve stuck it out to the end of this, then you don’t need me to explain this one to you.  I’ll just say that it was the perfect ending to the constantly growing series.

Kung Fu Panda 2: This sequel continues with the same Dragon Warrior we have come to know and love.  Po is still the overjoyed panda amazed at his inclusion with The Furious Five, though his skills have definitely been upped in these tag team action sequences that are phenomenally animated.  Bonus points for building a story around a minute detail that was never explained in the first film, but rather just accepted as is.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: Ethan Hunt is back to once again prove that it is pretty easy to believe in the impossible.  (Also a “must have”)

Scream 4: Ghostface returns to bring horror to a whole new generation of teens in Woodsboro. Like Fright Night, Scream 4 builds on the rules of the genre and uses them creatively to provide the story that spends just as much time dealing with the rules of the horror genre as they do poking fun at it.

 

Most Disappointing Sequel: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Easily one of my most anticipated films of the year, I was more than disappointed by the follow up to one of my favorite films of 2009.  He is still quite the detective, but this time around Sherlock resorts to even more bouts of action to keep the audience enthusiastic about a film that should have relied more so on the character built by Robert Downey Jr., his relationship with Jude Law’s Watson, and the way in which they sort out the world’s mysteries together.  And worst of all, a villain that was supposed to be Sherlock’s equal cannot compete in the end because of his rudimentary motives.

Lauren’s Worst Film of the Year: Red Riding Hood

Long story short: heck no.  I am the first to admit that I have a ridiculous amount of giggly love for Teen Wolf and The Vampire Diaries (I’m in my early 20s so its not too creepy yet), and I even liked the 3rd Twilight film, but I am smart enough to see when shows and films try a little too hard to milk the audience members like me.  Whether it was to simply trick the fans of this series into seeing another hormone driven, love triangle in the midst of a murderous creature with fangs film, or the team of writers, designers, actors, etc were just at a loss creatively with a lack of inspiration, this misses the mark in almost every way.  So not only was my night ruined, but my memory of a classic fairy tale will be forever tainted as well.

Lauren’s Biggest Disappointment: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The first Transformers film did for children’s toys what Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Peal did for amusement park rides, and that was make them even more awesome than they already were.  Not only that, but the artists that brought these behemoths of transforming parts to life were like gods behind their computers, choreographic robotic transformations within fight scenes.  It was awe inspiring to say the least, and Michael Bay was the perfect director to add his cinematic style to the overall production.  Then Transformers: Dark of the Moon came out, furthering the downward progression that started with the first sequel.  To put it simply, the characters and story play second fiddle to Bay’s ego in this one, which I will forever refer to as Transformers: A Tribute to Michael Bay.  The CGI continues to impress, don’t get me wrong, but even with the excitement that comes along with giant robots going to war within a city can only last so long when more than half of the film seems to be devoted to the action instead of attempting to create anything more than a brainless fight scene.

The End:  Well, that about does it for our favorite (and not so favorite) films of 2011. Be sure to come back tomorrow and see what we chose to be our favorite albums, singles, and what-not in the world of music. And don’t be afraid to tell us what you think!

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