News Column

Best and Worst Movies of 2011

Jan. 3, 2012

Michael Smith

After seeing about 200 movies in 2011, I decided that there was no definitively great movie of 2011. I can't imagine people talking about any of these movies in 20 years as having been "all-time classics."

If last year's "The Social Network," "Winter's Bone," "Black Swan," "True Grit" or "Inception" had been released this year, any one of them would have topped the list for this year.

That said, I felt as though 2011 was a year in which many genre films -- in categories including comic-book and science-fiction -- were better than in the past. A couple were even pretty great.

The result is a 10-best list for 2011 that is, as always, something more like my 10 favorites for the year.

1. Warrior

When I was 13, I saw "Rocky" at the Southroads Cinema and declared it the best movie I'd ever seen. Words that I never imagined writing 35 years later: "Warrior," a movie centered around the sport of mixed martial arts, is one of the best pictures of the year, and it's one of the best sports dramas you will ever see.

If "Warrior" makes you think of the first "Rocky" movie, there are reasons for that. "Warrior" sets the audience up with quiet, intimately brutal moments among an estranged family in a great picture that last year's "The Fighter" could have been. Then it knocks you out with its moving, stand-up-and-cheer fight scenes.

Tom Hardy, as one of the battling brothers, shows why he's been picked to play the villain in next summer's "Dark Knight" picture and appear in many upcoming movies. If Nick Nolte, as the boys' broken-down father, isn't nominated for an Oscar, I'm not sure why they bother having awards ceremonies.

Maybe you heard about the movie, and you said, "mixed martial arts?" and you didn't go. I was once skeptical, too; then I watched "Warrior" and cheered.

2. Jane Eyre

This is another of the most overlooked movies of 2011 and another for which the public seemed to question its existence. "Really?" they seemed to ask. "Do we need another movie based on Charlotte Bronte's governess in Victorian England?"

We do when it makes the pulse quicken, the heart palpitate and the eyes moisten at watching this adaptation of Bronte's tale of ill-fated romance in England from 150 years ago. Her story feels more alive now than ever and works on three levels: love story, social commentary and Gothic thriller.

As Jane, Mia Wasikowska should be considered a best actress candidate. Meanwhile, as Mr. Rochester, Michael Fassbender is officially the Next Big Thing on the men's side of Hollywood. This is his great performance of 2011, which also includes another film on my list, as well as "Shame" and "A Dangerous Method," both of which are expected to open in Tulsa in January.

3. Beginners

A man (played by Ewan McGregor) learns that his 75-year-old father (Christopher Plummer) is dying of cancer. It comes at virtually the same time he first learns his father is gay. It may sound ripe for satire, but rather, "Beginners" is witty, sad, sexy and romantic.

When it comes to forming lasting relationships, both men are "beginners" in the game of life who show us that it's never too late to start living. This is a marvelously sad comedy to which I'd like to escort some people who have grown accustomed to the rhythm of today's assembly-line excuse for romantic comedies. They need to see what having your heart stirred is supposed to look like.

4. Moneyball

What makes this such a wonderfully entertaining movie on the subject of baseball economics and statistical analysis is its beautiful balance between wonky subjects and the romance of the game, told with a great sense of humor. "Moneyball" touches all of the bases.

What makes that happen is Brad Pitt's sublime, soulful performance as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane and writer Aaron Sorkin's deft contributions to this rich human story of old-fashioned American ingenuity transforming the American pastime. Director Bennett Miller ("Capote") scores with a classy picture for adult audiences with a brain.

5. Bridesmaids

This year's funniest movie, from star and writer Kristen Wiig, is an intelligent, foul-mouthed comedy created by women that became a smash. Wiig's heart always shines through the naughty parts, her physical comedy is brilliant and the voice of the modern woman rings true. For those who say women haven't been fighting for respect just so they could talk dirty, I say: Get over yourself and recognize funny when you see it, such as Melissa McCarthy's scene-stealing role.

6. Win Win

Paul Giamatti cemented his status as cinematic everyman in "Sideways," and in "Win Win," he's the perfect choice to portray our national sentiment of "Hey, I'm doing the best I can here, but can I catch a break or two?"

That malaise -- and his character's moral slip-up, that one moment when an honest lawyer doesn't listen to his better angels -- is portrayed in the most amusing way possible in this excellent human comedy. Writer-director Tom McCarthy ("The Station Agent," "The Visitor") realizes that we had better be able to laugh at ourselves, or we'll spend too much time crying.

7. X-Men: First Class

This movie is proof that movies based on comic books can mutate into serious works of art, as well as seriously entertaining, whiz-bang summer blockbusters. This movie is great, and it's great fun as it mixes an action-flick mindset with clever comedy and bold, brainy storytelling. The most novel concept: populating a comic-book movie with people who can act. Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence (as Magneto, Dr. Xavier and Mystique, respectively) bring the fantasy to life.

8. Source Code

I love science-fiction movies that revolve around outlandish ideas and make me suspend my disbelief and end up rooting for the impossible. I love "Source Code," with Jake Gyllenhaal playing a U.S. Army helicopter pilot who wakes up in the body of another man, with the chance to stop a bomb from blowing up. The tick-tick-ticking of this plot device is absolutely Hitchcockian, and the picture is smart, funny and more romantic than I could have imagined. Filmmaker Duncan Jones ("Moon") shows he knows how to build a mystery, parcel out clues and keep an audience guessing until the end.

9. 50/50

In what came to be known as "the cancer comedy," Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers the kind of performance that's so authentic and funny and touching -- but in a non-flashy way -- that it won't be nominated for any awards. But that performance, and the film, will be remembered for a long time by anyone who has had cancer, or anyone who has loved someone who had cancer, which is far too many people. This is a special movie, fatalistic and yet comically crowd-pleasing, that succeeds because it respects its audience as much as the gravity of the situation.

10. The Artist

Jean Dujardin was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best actor in a comedy or musical film for his portrayal of George Valentin in "The Artist."

It's silent, it's in black-and-white, and it's a total charmer that just might win an Academy Award or two. The story of a silent-movie star whose luster begins to dim as another young woman's star is on the rise as talkies take over Hollywood makes beautiful use of old-old-school stylings that are from such a faded age they seem new again. The two lead performances jump off the screen with no need for words when you're this inventive. No Tulsa opening date has been set for "The Artist."

10 more to see

Michael Smith lists 10 more movies you should check out if you haven't seen them.

11. Martha Marcy May Marlene: Elizabeth Olsen's star turn reminds of Jennifer Lawrence in "Winter's Bone" and creates her own career outside of being the twins' little sister.

12. The Descendants: George Clooney and Alexander Payne create a Hawaiian family drama that is honest and funny amid gorgeous scenery.

13. The Skin I Live In:"Vertigo" meets "Frankenstein" in Pedro Almodovar's stunning and disturbing drama, with a chilly Antonio Banderas as the doctor.

14. Fast Five: The fifth movie is the best of the "Fast and Furious" series, remade as a heist film with hot cars.

15. Crazy, Stupid, Love: This cool, funny comedy should ring true with every baby boomer, and it will skew even younger thanks to Ryan Gosling's abs.

16. The Help: There are some issues with the film's perspective, but there's no denying the devastatingly good performances of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as black maids in 1960s Mississippi.

17. Rise of the Planet of the Apes: The movie was a summer blast, and the apes were fabulous thanks to this year's most valuable effects designers, Peter Jackson's Weta Digital.

18. Hanna: A violent teen-girl assassin flick that's actually a funky tale of female empowerment. That's kind of cool.

19. Super 8: The best blast from the past in the spirit of 1980s adventure films built around young people that you could imagine, courtesy of J.J. Abrams and his producer and inspiration, Steven Spielberg.

20. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Purists can talk about the book, or the Swedish film original, but director David Fincher's picture is a thrill machine, too. /p>

The worst

1. Your Highness

A brainless, laughless abomination. The script for this raunchy medieval comedy/stoner comedy disaster must have puffed out of pot-smoke-filled rooms, with the thought that something hilarious would come from a big bong theory. This juvenile, potty-mouthed garbage is courtesy of comedic actor Danny McBride, who should never again be allowed to write outside of the current time period. To Natalie Portman and James Franco: Never work with this man again.

2. Jack and Jill

Why, Adam Sandler, do you hate us so much? Why punish us by playing twins and dressing as a woman? The man makes the same dumb movie over and over again for people who are willing to pay to see the same dumb movie over and over again. This is Sandler's gift.

3. Mars Needs Moms

This loud, ugly movie is a lousy excuse for 3-D children's entertainment. It should only be seen by kiddies who haven't reached speaking age and gain their joy by watching things bounce up and down. Anyone else watching the movie will be dumber for having seen it.

4. The Hangover Part II

The most offensive movie of 2011, and the worst sequel to a really good movie. It completely disrespects its audience by pathetically plagiarizing entire plot points from the first film. The difference? What was naughty in the first film is now vulgar, what was embarrassing is now stupid and what was original is now a bad joke.

5. The Art of Getting By

Freddie Highmore plays unfocused loafer "George" in "The Art of Getting By." You might think of him as a teen Woody Allen, but without the humor.

I fell asleep just typing in the title. There's just not much to this picture as far as content, style or originality. We've seen plenty of films before about high school slackers -- just none this dreadfully dull.

6. The Smurfs

As the 86 minutes of "The Smurfs" dragged by, I could feel myself losing brain cells. Torture and anguish were experienced as I watched these goody-blue-shoes cartoon characters from the 1980s in the first film of a planned trilogy. Noooooooooooo! In print, no one can hear you scream.

7. Zookeeper

Kevin James stars as Griffin in the comedy "Zookeeper." Sony Pictures Publicity

The day cannot arrive soon enough that talking-animal movies become extinct. The plot from beginning to end is so painfully obvious that it reminds more of a parody of this overdone genre, almost begging us to mock it.

8. Green Lantern

There's a serious question as to whether Ryan Reynolds, as the Green Lantern, was right to play the superhero. Courtesy

In the summer-movie sweepstakes of comic-book films, "Green Lantern" was the goofiest. The story was dumb, the special effects were anything but, and no matter how amiable Ryan Reynolds is, he can't make "Green Lantern" shine. Pair this stinker with "The Change-Up" and it begs the question: Did anyone have a worse 2011 at the movies than Reynolds?

9. Tower Heist

Unfunny and confusing is the result of mashing together Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy with hackneyed crime/heist flick plot points. What's never confusing is the picture's potty-mouthed obsession with the scrotum area. When a movie's comedy doesn't seem to be working, going below the belt for laughs seems to be the last resort of an untalented hack like director Brett Ratner.

10. Hop

So dumb it makes my head hurt. It doesn't take long, sitting amongst an army of children in a theater, to realize that if they're not laughing, it isn't very funny, either -- even for the Easter Bunny's target audience.



Source: (c) 2011 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)