This is a bit late but that doesn’t matter because I say that EVERY YEAR anyway. For those of you who’ve seen my previous lists, you would probably know it’s mostly made up ‘blockbusters’ type of movies.
For me it was a year filled with sequels/remakes that took me by surprise.
Another year, another countdown. Let’s go!
I’ve always enjoyed the Fast and the Furious franchise for what it was. By the time they reached the 4th movie (which, aside from the whole Walker/Diesel reunion thing, wasn’t that good for me) I thought that any further sequels would be pushing it and they’ll end up in the Freddy/Jason territory. But Fast Five blew me away and it set the bar high for any ‘Fivequel’ – not that it was high in the first place.
Hollywood these days are crazy about ‘reboot’ after the success of Batman Begins. Since then, they’ve rebooted James Bond, Star Trek and now Spiderman with Andrew Garfield replacing Tobey Maguire. But Fast Five wasn’t a complete reboot – they still have the same actors, still on the same continuity, still have fast cars. What they did was they shifted gear (Pun shamelessly intended!) and moved the focus away from street racing and towards the heist-action movie elements. Throw in just about everyone from the previous movies, raise the stakes (the characters are on the run), smack some insane set pieces and BAM! you have one of the best action movie in recent years.
Highlight: A good story needs a good villain – It’s a simple rule. The Fast and Furious movies never had any memorable villains (maybe except for the one in Tokyo Drift) and this one is no exception. Yup, they’re going against another drug lord. But there is another cool ‘antagonist’ and it’s played by the Rock! Like many others, I’ve always thought that Vin Diesel and the Rock are the new Stallone and Arnold so seeing these two actors finally squaring it off in the big screen was great. And Holy Crap! The Rock really turned into the Hulk for this movie didn’t he.
I didn’t know how they will market a ‘Captain America’ movie oversees. Sure he’s an important character especially when they’re building towards the Avengers movie but Captain America? Today? I expected a lot of people would get turned off by all the jingoistic American being slapped on their faces. But they wisely minimized it and instead focused on what mattered: Steve Rogers, the hero itself. Captain America have always seemed too goody-goody for me but I found myself liking Steve Rogers because of the very same reason: he’s a good kid and it’s refreshing to watch superhero who’s not having some dark issues that makes for compelling drama. Steve is a good kid from Brooklyn and I cheered him when he saves the day. And Chris Evans did a good job although I was a bit skeptical when he was first cast.
Highlight: Setting the whole movie in WWII and leaving the whole ‘Cap in modern times’ plot for the Avengers was a smart move. It was important to take your time in establishing what/who ‘Captain America’ is all about by spending time in the WWII setting. And speaking of the WWII setting, I love how they went for the ‘hyper real’ version of WWII ala Raiders of the Lost Ark with crazy occult Nazis, ‘advance’ technologies in WWII and a villain obsessed with wielding god-like powers. It’s also not a coincidence that the guy who directed this movie, Joe Johnston was the visual effects director for Raiders of the Lost Ark. And he also directed the underrated Rocketeer film that also dealt with retro advanced tech and Nazis.
I didn’t expect a lot when they first announced a new Planet of the Apes movie especially one that will take a prequel route. What more can they add?! We all know the gist of it: Mankind is evil and an intelligent Ape name Caesar will lead an uprising of the Apes. Actually, they already made a prequel (or sequel because the time travel element…long story) and it’s called ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’. James Franco and the other actors didn’t deliver anything special to their roles but…
Highlight: …they nailed the characterization of Caesar, the ape that were destined to lead the uprising. The whole movie hinged solely on the audience investing on Caesar’s character and they succeeded that brilliantly. Andy Serkis and WETA joined forces once again after their previous works with Gollum of Lord of the Rings and King Kong. Unfortunately, the art of performance capture didn’t get the recognition they deserve when Andy Serkis was again not nominated for any acting awards. And the apes looks good visually too so kudos to WETA.
Extra: I also liked the little nods to the original film such as the mention of a mission to Mars. We all know what happened to that flight and it gets us all really excited about the possible sequels.
Joseph Gordon Levitt (JGL) played a young man whose life suddenly turned up side down when he was diagnosed with Cancer and discovered his girlfriend was cheating on him. Supported by his best friend (Seth Rogen) and his therapist, JGL’s character begins to have a different outlook on life and overcome Cancer in this drama comedy. It was a short simple movie but I thought the cast made the most out of the things they were given. It also set the perfect balance between tragedy and humour.
Highlight: There are many sad scenes in the movies but the one that I definitely broke my heart was the scene before he goes for surgery. It was all fine on the way to the surgery with the characters trying to stay calm and downplay things. But at the last moment before going to the surgery room, there was a sudden outburst of emotions when it hit JGL’s character that this was it, this might be the last time he would meet his friends and family.
Extra: It’s inspired by the screenwriter’s own battle with Cancer who was supported by his best friend, Seth Rogen. So Rogen basically played himself in this movie.
I enjoyed Mission Impossible III and thought it was a good conclusion to Ethan Hunt’s journey as an agent of the IMF. I didn’t like it when they announced that they were going to make a fourth one and thought that it would just ruin the ending of the third movie. And I thought that Tom Cruise should be doing other more interesting projects rather than trying to regain back his blockbuster credibility after being dumped by Paramount and a few unsuccessful movies like ‘Knight and Day’.
Well, MI4 proved me wrong by taking what’s good from MI3 and amplified it. It had a better team dynamic – Simon Pegg deservedly got a bigger role and the characters played by Paula Patton & Jeremy Renner were easily more fleshed out than those played by Maggie Q & Rhys Meyers in MI3. If they are going to make a fifth one (which I’m sure they’ll probably will because this movie just breathe fresh air to the franchise and Tom Cruise), I want them to stick to the current team because I enjoyed their interactions. Which also made this one the most lighthearted movie in the series.
The actions were bigger – Tom Cruise running through the streets of China in MI3?? How about Tom Cruise running through a sandstorm in Dubai! Tom Cruise leaping off a skyscraper in Shanghai?? How about Tom Cruise leaping off the tallest building in the world!
Highlight: When Tom Cruise slowly stepped out of the window of the tallest building in the world, I got nervous. Why? 1) I saw it on the large IMAX screen 2) I knew that what I saw was what it actually was – Tom Cruise actually on the top of the tallest building in the world – No CGI shit. The Dubai scene was definitely the most talked about sequence leading to the release of the movie. Certainly lived up to the hype because of the way Brad Bird tried toy with us in that sequence. If slow lingering shots of Tom Cruise outside the skyscraper wasn’t enough, he just HAD to make Ethan’s sticky gloves malfunction halfway. If you’ve seen the trailers then you know that Tom Cruise will use a rope to walk on the side of the building. What you don’t expect was how sudden that scene was. One minute you’re with Pegg & Renner in another room and suddenly we cut to Tom Cruise leaping off the building as we swoop down in full IMAX screen resolution.
Extra: This was the first live action movie that Brad Bird directed. He previously did Iron Giant and The Incredibles.
X-Men and its sequel jump started the Superhero movie craze that dominated Hollywood in the last decade. Then the franchise went through a shitty period with the third movie and the horrible Wolverine spin-off. With the superhero genre going through a renaissance phase with The Dark Knight and the Marvel movies leading up to the Avengers, it’s a shame that one of the most popular superhero team wasn’t part of this phase. This movie was their attempt at saving the franchise but many were not convinced due to several reports of production problems, re-writes and of course the laughable promotional posters.
But the movie went against the odds and delivered. Director Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass) made the right decision to re-boot (there’s that word again) the franchise in the vein of Batman Begins and the latest Star Trek film. X-Men have always been overtly political and setting it in the middle of the Cold War felt fresh yet appropriate at the same time. It was also an opportunity to incorporate that old school James Bond feel to it too.
Highlight: Michael Fassbender & McAvoy. The casting of these two as Magneto and Xavier was seen as the lone bright spot among the widespread skepticism during production. The rest of the young cast were brilliant but these two were perfect as these iconic characters. In addition to his critically acclaimed performances in Shame and Dangerous Method, Michael Fassbender cemented his status as the next ‘it’ actor with this blockbuster.
I love Kung Fu Panda, sue me. It was the most fun movie for me back in 2008. It was a love letter to the martial arts genre done in cool animation with a timeless ‘Hero’s journey’ plotline filled with heart and humour. I was looking forward to the sequel although I expected it to be not be as good as the first movie (I’m always a bit skeptical with sequels/prequels/reboots am I?). When they mentioned how they are trying to go for those deep emotional storyline ala Pixar films, I thought for sure that they’ll miserably fail in trying too hard to put some emotional weight (the trailer didn’t help either). But they succeeded by focusing on Po’s relationship with his kind-hearted duck stepfather and shedding light into his tragic past.
Kung Fu Panda 2 took what I love about the original and expand on it. Bigger heart and bigger action.
Highlight: Bigger heart? My favourite scene from the original film was when the Shifu brought Po to the birthplace of Kung Fu to begin his training and you hear that soaring music. There’s a way more emotional scene in the sequel involving Po regaining his lost childhood and having an epiphany about his purpose (with the same soaring music as well). They said they’re going for a Pixar level of emotions right? That scene accomplished it.
Extra: Kung Fu Panda 2 came out at the same time as Hangover 2. I am not ashamed to admit that I was the only one in a room of people to be more excited about Kung Fu Panda 2 than Hangover 2. Even with the fact that rest of the people in that room were girls.
Super 8 relies heavily on the nostalgia factor for both the audience and the director. ‘Super 8’ is a coming of age movie about a group of young amateur filmmakers in the 70s whose small town is terrorized by a mysterious alien. Not only is Abrams trying to take us back to his childhood days but also to the type of movies that he grew up on specifically those directed/produced by his childhood hero: Steven Spielberg.
The story has it that the director J. J. Abrams impressed many when he entered a ‘Super 8’ film competition during his teen years (Super 8 is a type of camera). One of them was legendary director Steven Spielberg who then asked Abrams and his friend, Matt Reeves (who later directed Cloverfield) to repair the reels of Spielberg’s own early amateur movies.
The movie feels like old school Spielberg and it’s most definitely due to the mishmash of Spielberg influences found in the movie. It’s ET, Close Encounter of the Third Kind, Goonies and even Jurassic Park (that scene where the alien attacked the bus reminded me of the T-Rex scene) all put together. The alien is of course a plot device and the real heart of the story is about the broken families and the strong bond between the group of kids. Ordinary family dealing with extraordinary forces – that’s what made Spielberg movies like ‘ET’ and ‘Poltergeist’ timeless.
Highlight: The kids in the movie were making a zombie film. When Joe (the lead of the film) described to his friend Alice (Elle Fanning) on how to act like a zombie, she proceeded to act like one convincingly. For that brief moment I was like “woah that was a freaky zombie acting right there”. I thought Elle Fanning was the standout in the movie and I’m sure we’ll see more of this young talented actress in the future. The kids were well cast as well and it’s nice to see characters that actually look and act like real kids in a Hollywood movie.
“All the Rockys Rolled into One” said one reviewer and I couldn’t have said it better. This is a story of two estranged brothers who enters a Mixed Martial Arts competition for different reasons: A High School teacher needs the money for his wife & kid and a former Marines wants to give the money to the family of his fallen comrade. In the middle of this is a former abusive father who desperately want to reconcile with both sons. It’s all there: the family drama, the underdog story (two of them in this movie), hero having noble intentions for the fight and even the inclusion of an indestructible Russian antagonist. It’s all cliché but the great performances by the cast made up for it. Tom Hardy once again proves that he’s the next ‘in’ thing and Joel Edgerton is reaching that place as well (he’s gonna be in the upcoming ‘Navy-SEAL-hunting-Osama’ movie and he’s an up-and-coming screenwriter as well).
Highlight: Nick Nolte gave a heartbreaking performance as the sympathetic father who just wanted forgiveness from his two sons. I was happy when they recently announced that he got an Academy Award nomination for this role. At least ‘Warrior’ didn’t get totally shut out in the Oscars.
The most epic movie in 2011 for me was no doubt the concluding film of the Harry Potter series. Yes, it was big deal because Harry Potter was probably this generation’s definitive popular fantasy literature. After finding a way to kill the evil Voldermort, Harry Potter and his friends race against time vanquish the force of evil before it’s too late. All of this led to the climatic battle at Hogwarts where we were treated with cameos of all the minor characters we’ve come to know in the past six movies/books. Although I felt the last scene was a bit rushed (maybe something about the delivery of that line about ‘being the bravest man he ever met’…either that or I had high expectations on how it would be delivered in a more dramatic way) but you can’t help but feel a rush of emotions when you see our heroes for the last time.
Highlight: Alan Rickman have always been great as Snape. So great that JK Rowling actually told Alan about Snape’s secret backstory even before the later books were published. The revelation about Snape’s backstory and its relation to Harry’s fate was the ultimate twist in the story.