Opinion: The top ten movies of 2011
2011 has come and gone. Before we all get excited about 2012, now is a good time to take one last look at the best the past year had to offer. In movies, anyway.
A few words before the countdown
Firstly, this is a list of the top ten movies of 2011; not the top ten furry movies of 2011. It was a pretty good year for furry movies, however; no less than five movies featuring anthropomorphic animals appear, plus another prominently featuring animals. I am biased toward those, after all.
Secondly, these are the top ten as picked by me. The movies I am listing are almost exclusively ”genre;” there is only one movie of the traditional Oscar Best Picture type, and only one “limited release” movie. This is partly because I do not have ready access to those types of movies, and partly because my tastes are always going to be more “pop” than “sophisticated.”
Before the countdown proper, I present a few preliminary picks in a variety of categories. Keep in mind, all choices are movies I have seen.
Best Non-Furry Movie: Attack the Block (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 runner-up)
Best Re-Release: The Lion King 3D
Best Puppet Movie: The Muppets (The Beaver runner-up)
Best Sequel, Prequel, Spin-Off, Remake or Other Franchise Movie: Kung Fu Panda 2 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 runner-up)
Best Adaptation: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (X-Men: First Class runner-up)
Best Completely Original Movie: Rango (Attack the Block runner-up)
Best Special Effects: Paul (Attack the Block, runner-up)
Worst Movie: Apollo 18 (Happy Feet Two runner-up)
Most Disappointing Movie: Cowboys & Aliens (The Adventures of Tintin runner-up)
Most Pleasantly Surprising Movie: Winnie the Pooh (Puss in Boots runner-up)
Movie I Liked No One Else Did: The Big Year (Scream 4 runner-up)
Franchise That Needs To Die: Cars (Pirates of the Caribbean runner-up)
Franchise I Can’t Wait For The Next Installment Of: Kung Fu Panda (Final Destination runner-up)
Best Director: Gore Verbinski, Rango (Steven Spielberg, War Horse runner-up)
Best Debut Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Kung Fu Panda 2 (Joe Cornish, Attack the Block runner-up)
Best Hero: Moses, Attack the Block (Po, Kung Fu Panda 2 runner-up)
Best Villain: Lord Shen, Kung Fu Panda 2 (the aliens, Attack the Block runner-up)
Best Furry Movie: Rango (Kung Fu Panda 2 runner-up)
Guilty Pleasure: Final Destination 5 (Scream 4 runner-up)
Cutest Vixen: Angelique, Rango
Best Score: Rango (Kung Fu Panda 2, runner-up)
Best Song: “Star Spangled Man,” Captain America: The First Avenger (“Man or Muppet,” The Muppets)
10 Best Moments:
Now, on to the main event.
10. Super 8
I can empathize with the guys at the Academy who decided that ten movies were a bit much, but decided not to go back to five. Five movies is too few to show the best of a year, but by the time you get to number eight, you feel you have gotten your favorites taken care of. The final two are good movies, but with reservations.
Super 8 is one of those movies; I really enjoyed it, but I wanted it to be more. I wanted director J.J. Abrams, whose Star Trek I really loved, to step it up. For me, this movie was a victim of my own high expectations for it; it did not live up to them, but I liked it enough to give it the tenth spot.
9. Puss in Boots
Like Super 8, this was another movie that honestly squeaked into my top ten. However, it was the obvious choice to go over Super 8, because it exceeded any expectations I had for it by a wide margin. Seriously, I went to this movie simply so I could review it for this site. I would never have guessed it would make my top ten list this time last year.
Puss in Boots is a much better movie than the last paragraph makes it out to be. I pointed out in my review the hilariously choreographed dancing; this is the art of animation at its most classic. This movie is a silly symphony, a looney tune. It may not be high art, but it sure is a lot of fun, and that’s just as good a reason to go to the movies as anything else.
8. The Muppets
This movie is all about nostalgia, and it knows it. If there is any theme running through my top ten list, it’s movies that make me feel like a kid again. No movie on this list did that better than The Muppets.
It is a simple, sweet movie; it is a puppet movie, and it never tries to be anything else. With brand new technology coming out every day, these characters still have more vitality in them an army of motion capture automatons. This movie is not a special effects extravaganza. It’s better.
7. Winnie the Pooh
I was so cool with my cynical sneer, poo-pooing poor Pooh Bear’s Rotten Tomatoes score. Boy, I wish I could take that one back, because this movie is amazing. It was one of the most visually inventive animated movies in a year full of visually inventive animated movies, and it did it with traditional, hand-drawn animation. The movie also manages to be genuinely funny in a gentle way, and even gives Winnie a genuine hero moment that is perfectly in character with the movie’s innocent tone.
I decided to skip this movie at the theaters because, you know, it’s Winnie the Pooh. Big mistake. Next time, I’ll man up, and watch the kid’s movie.
6. War Horse
I am a pretty sentimental guy, and this movie is the new Titanic. Guys are allowed to cry at it. If you end up not crying at the end of this movie, well, you're probably one of those guys too cool to go see Winnie the Pooh.
Yes, it’s all about manipulating emotions; an early scene involves horse Joey being taught to come to his master’s imitation of an owl. You know that will come up again, you know you’re going to tear up, and there is nothing you can do about it. This movie does exactly what it sets out to do.
One reason I was so disappointed in Super 8 was that it was beaten in pretty much every conceivable area by a movie with a very similar plot that was also not trying nearly as hard. Definitely the geekiest movie on the list, Paul is also the funniest.
By being both the geekiest and funniest movie on the list, it would seem to be the shallowest, but the earthy humor and geek in jokes are just icing on the cake for a movie that deconstructs the archetype of the messianic alien in truly satiric ways. Also, three tits. Awesome!
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2
It’s been a couple of years since the last Harry Potter novel came and went, so this last movie had the advantage over those earlier in the series. I was so busy worrying how good those were as adaptations, I sometimes forgot to watch them as what they were. Movies.
This is the best of the bunch. It jettisons the book’s 'shocking' revelations about Dumbledore to focus on Snape’s smaller, more personal backstory, and the movie is better for it. It brings the saga to a satisfying, epic close with a very human element.
3. Kung Fu Panda 2
Animated sequels are not known for their quality. In Kung Fu Panda 2, we have the rare sequel that surpasses the original. The original Kung Fu Panda was no slouch, either. This movie is some kind of miracle.
Hands down the prettiest movie of the year; the scenes involving the panda village are stunning. Luckily, the story matches the beauty of the animation. It even manages to be funny. A strong second act in a franchise that may one day become the animated equivalent of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
2. Attack the Block
The second movie featuring a group of kids facing dangerous aliens on my list, this has the twist that these kids are introduced to us as hooded, dangerous thugs mugging an off duty nurse. When the first alien arrives, they simply kick it to death and go on about their night.
Neither horror movies nor movies about street gangs are generally thought of as “heartwarming,” but here comes the biggest twist of all; this movie really is. Instead of bringing about the worst in people, sometimes horror brings out the best. Some movies forget this. Luckily, this one remembers.
You have to feel for established animation houses right now; they just got shown up by a bunch of first-timers. If Attack the Block is a horror movie that goes in a surprisingly heartwarming direction, Rango is its opposite; an animated funny animal movie that is surprisingly dark.
Sure, things turn out alright in the end, but after nine slots of mostly sentimental movies, Rango is largely free of it. Even the character designs are just plain ugly. This movie challenges you to like it; it does not hold your hand. Of all the movies I have seen this year, Rango is the one I believe people will remember the longest.