In a February article that appeared in GQ ominously titled “The Day the Movies Died,” eminent film-writer Mark Harris dubbed 2011 the year of sequels, prequels, reboots, adaptations and endless permutations of the above. Not that any of these are inherently problematic, but when studios repeatedly churn them out instead of coming up with something new to show us, well, it’s frustrating to say the least. Despite Mr. Harris’ dismal movie forecast, 2011 had its share of standouts, with even a few more still to come.
Best Chick Flick: “Bridesmaids”
“SNL” spotlight-stealer Kristen Wiig takes on her first starring role in what many have dubbed the female equivalent to “The Hangover.” Centered on a struggling pastry chef whose best friend’s wedding instigates a tense rivalry with a fellow bridesmaid, the movie isn’t afraid to show women being just as bawdy as men. It’s refreshing, hilarious, awkward and oftentimes all three at the same time.
Best Coming-of-Age: “Pariah”
Writer/director Dee Rees’ poignant debut feature focuses on a Brooklyn teen not only struggling to come into her own as a young woman, but also trying to come out to her fractured family. Aided by a strong cast dominated by newcomers, this is powerful, intimate storytelling at its best.
Best Fantasy: “Midnight In Paris”
In Woody Allen’s time-traveling story, a struggling American writer discovers a portal back to 1920s Paris, where he finds inspiration in the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso. Equal parts romantic comedy and historical drama, even the kitsch factor can’t stop its undeniable charm. Plus, you can give yourself and your liberal education a pat on the back for recognizing all the members of the Parisian glitterati and catching the film’s pop-culture references.
Best Psychological Thriller: “Take Shelter”
Set amidst the rural cornfields of Ohio, “Take Shelter” follows a working-class family man as he experiences a series of increasingly graphic nightmares revolving around a violent storm. Shaken by these visions, his erratic behavior soon begins to take a toll on his wife and young daughter. With the suspense rising as you can no longer be certain of whether he is glimpsing the future or merely losing his mind, this is the thought-provoking answer to all the overblown apocalypse and disaster duds of recent years.
Best Romantic Comedy: “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”
Writer Dan Fogelman sets a new standard for the genre by showing the ups and downs of relationships while deftly avoiding the pitfalls of being overly trite and campy. Featuring an outstanding ensemble cast that includes Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore and Emma Stone, it pokes fun at love while reminding us that it’s attainable at all ages.
Best Sci-Fi That Isn’t a Sci-Fi: “Another Earth”
Upon being released from prison for her involvement in a fatal car crash, a young woman attempts to make amends with the man whose family she killed. Things get even more complicated when a contest opens to win a trip to Earth Two, the planet that first became visible on the night of the accident, and both characters begin to question if their parallel lives still result in tragedy. Made on a shoestring budget by Georgetown University grads Mike Cahill and Brit Marling, “Another Earth” stays grounded by its haunting portrayal of how the choices we make stay with us forever.
Best Sequel: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2”
The decade-long saga based on J.K. Rowling’s beloved book series finally comes to its thrilling conclusion. Except for some questionable prosthetic makeup at the end, this diehard fan of the series found the adaptation to be a surprisingly adequate tribute.
Best Superhero: “Captain America: The First Avenger”
Although there were many comic book adaptations to choose from this year, only one had the winning combination of containing a plethora of loud explosions and being emotionally affective. In other hands, the noble Steve Rogers (the man beneath the superhero getup) could have easily become sappy, but Chris Evans balances the character’s earnestness, courage and sensitivity remarkably well.
Not Your Average Foreign Flick: “Attack the Block”
From the producers of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” comes a new side-splitting saga centered on a gang of South London youths who must protect their working-class housing development (aka “the block”) from an alien invasion. The dialect may be a bit of a shock for those used to hearing proper Colin Firth-like accents in British movies, but by the end you’ll be wishing you could say, “Believe, broth-a,” with the same swag as these street kids.
Best Overall: “The Descendants”
Alexander Payne makes a triumphant return to the screen with this alternately hilarious and tear-jerking story of a distant father (George Clooney) trying to hold his family together in the wake of a tragedy. Clooney has never been better, and the film’s gorgeous Hawaiian scenery will provide a nice respite from whatever cold climate you might be going home to this break.
Worst Sequel: The Hangover Part II”
As the title suggests, “The Hangover Part II” is merely “The Hangover” redux, albeit less funny and with more male genitalia. The physical setting may be different, but when the novelty of the franchise is the novelty itself, using the same storyline doesn’t quite cut it. Fingers crossed that there isn’t a “Part III” in the works.
Worst Adaptation: “Atlas Shrugged”
A thousand-page book about trains that features two-dimensional characters, which are all stand-ins for an overarching ideological agenda, is one thing. A low-budget movie adaptation whose script consists of passages cut and pasted together from said book is quite another and, for most people, far worse. If “Atlas Shrugged” succeeded at anything, it’s to prove that one can, in fact, be too loyal to the book.
But is the best still to come?
On Dec. 16, controversial director Roman Polanski returns with “Carnage,” an adaptation of the play centered on two sets of parents whose children fought earlier that day in the park. At just under 80 minutes, it unfolds in real-time and stars Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly.
Dec. 21 sees three big-budget heavy hitters: David Fincher’s self-proclaimed “feel-bad movie of the year” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” Steven Spielberg’s 3D performance-capture epic “The Adventures of Tintin” and Brad Bird’s “Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol.”
On Christmas Day, Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s 9/11 novel “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” hits screens, followed several days later by Spielberg’s other epic–the World War I drama “War Horse.”
Finally, on Dec. 30 watch Meryl Streep takes on the role of the legendary Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”