Now that the Summer movie season is over I thought I’d share my favorite films of this highly lucrative movie season. I know “best-of” lists are subjective and purely opinion. But I also think they serve the important purpose of documenting particular time periods. I also feel it is a way to highlight some films that don’t necessarily get the attention of some higher profile projects. And of course it also honors achievement. Here are the films I feel stood out in the summer of 2011. If I left out any films (and I’m sure I have) , please leave a comment down below and let me know.
10. Attack the Block
I have to admit… 15 minutes into Attack The Block my cynical “grumpy old man” side began to come out. These are the heroes of this film? Unlikable smart ass, punk kids. The special effects are ridiculous… this isn’t believable! Then half way through I started to really appreciate the theme of the film. Actions have consequences. Good and bad consequences depending on the action. Using an alien invasion and some fun action and comedy is a clever way to drive home that message. Although, I’d like to say it’s a theme that the youth of today should appreciate, based on the actions of our entire society, it’s a message that could apply to everyone. Besides the theme, I also enjoyed the film’s entertaining, unique blend of the science fiction and inner-city crime film genres.
9. Bad Teacher
Walking in the footsteps of a famous father must be difficult. Especially when that father wrote the screenplays to Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. But Jake Kasdan has begun to establish his own unique voice with two enjoyable films, the underrated Zero Effect and his latest film Bad Teacher. Taking a cue from Bad Santa, Bad Teacher is exactly what the title describes. Cameron Diaz plays the worst, self serving, inappropriate teacher imaginable. The results are hilarious in the typical mindless hard R summer comedy way. What’s great about the film is that Kasdan thankfully resists the urge to make the main character transform into something unrealistically redeemable at the end. Which are what most Judd Apatow’s films are guilty of . Yeah Cameron Diaz’s character learns a lesson…but it’s still a self serving lesson.
Summer of 2011 will be remembered as Marvel Studios coming out party. With not just one…but two critical and commercial successes in one summer. What’s really exciting is that these Marvel studios movies, all just serve as back story for the highly anticipated tent pole event of 2012, The Avengers. But first things first, Captain America. After all the years of awful, low budget, unfaithful adaptations of Captain America, Marvel Studios finally produced the definitive film representation of the character. Never mind the obstacles of the unabashed patriotism, or the seemingly ridiculous costume, Marvel found and trusted the heart of the character and rewarded audiences with a fun, enjoyable action period piece.
If Captain America and his character’s patriotism, and period setting seemed to be difficult to adapt for a cynical modern day audience, then translating the story of the Norse God of Thunder, Thor would seem impossible. Among the challenges that director Kenneth Branagh faced was incorporating two different universes. He also had to balance comic book, as well as nordic mythology with elements of science fiction. He did this all within the modern Marvel universe…while also introducing a character to audiences, not as familiar as other signature Marvel heroes. Not to mention the challenging special effects and fan boy demands of the piece. Easy right? But Branagh not only succeeds with doing all that, but against a comic book action film background, he also tells a surprisingly touching, romantic tale, which also happens to have shades of Shakespearean drama thrown in. Thor is the ideal and yet unique summer action film, and the best comic book film of 2011.
It ended …and an entertaining ending it was. After all the years, books and films Harry Potter’s complete story finally ended this summer. Universally enjoyed by critics and audiences alike the film was a fitting and faithful end to one of the most successful franchises in film history. But can something this successful really be over? Something tells me no. We’ll just have to wait and see if I’m right.
5. The Guard
In a summer filled with raunchy inappropriate comedies, The Guard stands out for being inappropriately funny… yet not raunchy. Throw in some mystery, crime thriller elements and witty, provocative character banter and the film rises from the typical buddy comedy and into a fascinating character study/ independent crime drama. What really makes the film outstanding, however, is the enjoyable complex performance of Brendan Gleeson. On the surface the character played by Gleeson appears to be a simple, small town, small minded cop. But in reality he may be the smartest, street saavy, liberal person in the room… or is he?
Surprise, surprise. I don’t think ANYONE predicted the success of this film. But the formula is pretty simple. It has a great story. The film actually stands on it’s own merits for the first two drama filled acts. Then in the third act the film starts to cleverly set-up the science fiction classic Planet of the Apes. Despite it’s title, the audience almost doesn’t see it coming. We’re so wrapped up in the events of this movie… we forget it’s a prequel to a famous film. Of course any discussion of the film without mentioning the brilliant motion capture performance of Andy Serkis would be blasphemous. Talk of an Oscar nomination for Serkis’s performance isn’t just idle chit chat, it’s something that should seriously be considered… and will be.
Arguably, the most polarizing movie in recent film history, The Tree of Life has many moments to admire and also many moments that can leave one scratching and shaking their heads in confusion and frustration. As many have noted, the film needs to be pondered and digested before being fully appreciated, which understandably, can feel pretentious to most audiences. Even then the film is open to varying interpretations depending on the viewer. Sort of like other non-story telling art forms. Right? Despite how one feels about the film, one has to admit that at a purely artistic, cinematic level the film is impressive in its ambition and scope. It also features Terrence Malick’s trademark poetic, and awe-inspiring visuals that will stay with the viewer long after the film. Not to mention the movie stands out for being thought provoking and a fascinating conversation starter, in an otherwise typical mindless action filled movie summer.
Technically a 2010 film, Submarine finally saw its mainstream release this summer. Thank god for that. Literally…thank god. Easily one of the best films of the year so far, Submarine marks the theatrical directorial debut of one of the most interesting must see voices in film today, Richard Ayoade. Obviously, comparisons to Wes Anderson are inevitable, but Richard Ayoade is more than that. Where Anderson is quirky and irreverent, Ayoade is honest and awkward. Hilarious, touching, refreshing and dramatically entertaining Submarine is sure to land near the top of many best film lists for 2011.
And the best film of the summer of 2011 was….
The Best Woody Allen film ever? It’s definitely debatable. Midnight in Paris is the work of a master storyteller at the top of his game. Not surprisingly, the film is also Allen’s most successful film ever at the box office. All the signature Woody Allen elements are in place, but the film also feels fresh and unique in it’s own heartfelt way. Perhaps it’s the Paris locale, or a main protagonist that doesn’t evoke Woody Allen’s typical pessimistic, hypochondriac , characteristics. Whatever the case, the film is destined to be a modern day classic. The fact that it was released and managed to find success during a mostly special effects driven, 3D action fueled summer makes this charming, comedic independent film a marketing miracle. A miracle because the success has been generated mostly through just positive word of mouth. It’s a miracle in other ways too. The movie skillfully blends comedy, romance, thought provoking ideas about art and history, with a charming touch of nostalgia. Midnight in Paris is likely not just the best movie of the Summer, but will more than likely be the best movie of the year!
Best of Lists for Summer Films of 2011:
Which favorite summer film did I leave off the list? Let me know in the comments section! Let’s discuss!