Captain America : The First Avenger - Ten years ago, if you were to ask me how I felt about a Captain America movie, I probably would have blown off the question. Even as a fan of comic book, I was generally dismissive of the character. I have never been a patriotic sort and devoting myself to a character that was decked out in red, white and blue just was not my thing. If you had told me that ten years later Captain America would be one of my all time favorite characters, I probably would have laughed at you. There are two components that make the screen Captain America great; actor Chris Evans and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.
Chris Evans brings a surprising amount of humanity to a character that, in the wrong hands, very well could not work. He plays the character with his heart on his shirtsleeve and holds nothing back. Markus and McFeely really understand his character and are the writers behind all 3 Cap movies, as well as the last two Avengers films. They were tasked with bringing this character to life and, man, they just get him. The first half of the movie is committed to getting to know Steve Rogers-the man and it is time well spent. You fall in love with his character because he embodies the virtue of goodness. In fact, it is his character journey that works best within this film. Whenever the film strays away from him, the movie becomes a bit more problematic.
Joe Johnston directs this film and he was a good choice. He really captured the period piece setting and makes the film an almost sister film to his 1991 film The Rocketeer. He uses some stylish pulpy film techniques that really sell the atmosphere of the era. Not everyone goes for this vibe and this film is in fact hit or miss with some people, but I find this to be one of the best Marvel origin films and better than the much loved sequel. The Agent Carter character is a big reason as to why that is. She is my favorite side character in all of the MCU, and Hayley Atwell is captivating as her. Also putting in some fine work are Stanely Tucci, Dominic Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones and Sebastian Stan. If you are comfortable with action taking the back seat to a solid character study of a man who is just looking to do some good in a world that is looking hopeless, than this is a great film to choose.
Crazy Stupid Love - From a script by Dan Fogelman, Crazy Stupid Love examines relationships from the perspectives of adolescence, dating in your mid-20's and rebounding from a failed marriage. The film is often witty, but plays itself rather seriously and delivers a spectacular third act twist. The film works as well as it does in part because the performers are so damn charming and likable. Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne More, Analeigh Tipton and Emma Stone are all fantastic and the film uses them all wonderfully. I also appreciated how the film subverts certain expectations and delivers on others. It is ever engaging.
Horrible Bosses - This darkly funny movie works because everyone in it is so damn committed to making the best comedy possible and as a result we have one of the funniest movies of the decade. Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis are all in top form. Their respective bosses Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell are spectacular as well and largely play the film straight to the broad comedy of the three mains. Jamie Foxx steals the film in a small role that has me laughing just thinking about it. The plot surrounds these three men who are looking to get rid of their bosses who are making their lives hell and end up getting caught up in a violent murder investigation. Enjoy this film that pulls no punches and will have you rolling with laughter.
Miss Representation - An incredible documentary that explores the roles women play in the media and how the visual medium often is limiting to how women are represented. This film showcases a strong voice from women in the field who have strived to attain power and how the structure that governs media attention actively works to thwart women in a positions of power. While not groundbreaking in subject matter, it is incredibly well constructed and offers some fantastic insight into how media is structured and is used as the framework for societal expectations of women and girls. The interviews within are very powerful. This is a film that should not be overlooked.
Red State - Kevin Smith broke out of his comfort zone to deliver this thriller that works actively to thwart audience expectation and defy genre. The film starts off feeling like standard Kevin Smith fare as a group of young folk frankly joke about sex and pop culture. The trio look to hook up with some woman they met online and that is when things take a dark turn. The following twenty minutes are straight up terrifying as the men are kidnapped and presented before church of parishioners who worship a sadistic priest named Abin Cooper, played by Michael Parks in what I consider to be the strongest performance of the 2010's. His ten minute sermon of hate is haunting and possibly the most gripping piece of acting I have seen. The film switches from horror to action as the FBI led with a strong performance by John Goodman step in to rescue the captives. Smith offers strong command in tension building as the film races towards the finish. He worked hard to create a strong visual presentation (something he constantly criticizes his own films for lacking) and the work paid off. This is easily his best looking film to date and he shows emergent prowess as a strong horror director if he should ever decide to pursue it. The action in the end is gripping and chaotic, but the film never loses narrative focus. As stated before, Michael Parks is stunning in the film and John Goodman is great. Also noteworthy are Kerry Bishe and Kyle Gallner who all offer good screne presence. It is also worthy of note that Ben Affleck, after seeing this film, cast several of its actors (including Parks, Goodman and Bishe) in his Best Picture winning Argo. My one complaint is that the final five minutes seem a bit forced and underwhelming. Kevin Smith has gone on record saying that his scripted ending was unfilmable due to budgetary constraints. It is damn unfortunate because the scripted ending (which he released online in animated form) would have made for a much better conclusion. That said, I do love the closing narration by Goodman.
The Rise of the Planet of the Apes - The Planet of the Apes prequels are the rarest of prequels in that they are almost inarguably better than the classic original film. Structurally this is the weakest of the three films and yet I find this one to be the most emotionally satisfying film of the bunch. This perfectly details how our world slowly became theirs and the writers place a strong amount of sympathy and emphasis on the ape perspective (something that will get fleshed out with extraordinary precision in the later films). Andy Serkis gives the strongest performance of his career in these films and his arch as Caesar is damn powerful. The moment that an ape first speaks still gives me goosebumps. I remember being in the theatre and the whole audience collectively gasped. On paper that is a moment that could have been laughable but Serkis and director Rupert Wyatt sell it. Also giving an incredible performance is John Lithgow as a man who is suffering from Alzheimer's. James Fraco, Frida Pinto and Tom Felton round out the cast nicely. This film surprised me with how good it was at the time, and now that the trilogy is complete is captivating to go back to. One of the best modern movie trilogies.
Thor - Marvel was able to deliver on the hard-sell that is Thor. There are three reasons why this film works, the first being Kenneth Branagh. Branagh brings a sense of gravitas that the material needs and he treats the material with reverence. It is clear that he is a fan of both the mythology of the Norse as well as Marvel comics interpretation of that and he presents the film unabashedly on the big screen with the scope and verisimilitude needed to make the film work. He also utilized his Shakespearean background to deliver what is in essence a Shakespeare movie with Superheroes. He also developed some great and unique visuals with Asgard so as to not make it a simple Lord of the Rings knock off. I mean, the rainbow bridge is something that probably shouldn't look good and yet it is one of the most striking images that comes to mind when thinking about this world. The second thing that sells the film is Chris Hemsworth. He is Thor. It is genuinely not hard to believe he is a god and he embodies the role with charm and fully lands every beat of humor. He is one of the finest actors of our age when it comes to comedic timing and I am shocked it took so long for people to recognize this. But the single greatest gift this film lives by is Tom Hiddleston's performance as Loki. He finds the dramatic truth at Loki's core and is able to elevate this villain to be a pathos swathed icon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The surrounding cast are all solid with Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings (whom is rather polarizing in the film, though I loved her), Stellan Skarsgaard, Idris Alba, and Anthony Hopkins being standouts. This film doesn't often get the love it deserves and I am not really sure why. I think that this is simply a good movie and a fine comicbook adaptation to boot. For a more in depth analysis, check out my long form thoughts on the film.
X-Men : First Class - Matthew Vaugh directed this character driven reboot of the X-Men franchise. This is what the X-Men films should have been from the get go. As is, this film is a strong origin story about the bond made between Professor X and Magneto. Both characters are wonderfully performed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively. Acting as the pivot that the emotional heft of the film carries is Mystique played fantastically by Jennifer Lawrence. I love that this film really digs into these three characters and utilizes the 60's setting in fun and inventive ways. For my money, this is the best X-Men film and the best place to start when opting to watch this wholly uneven franchise.
Best Picture : The Artist - Silence is golden as they say and this silent film took home Oscar gold in a production that is a love letter to classic cinema. The film works of the story structure of Sunset Boulevard and presents a silent film about the death of the silent era. Director Michael Hazanavicius perfectly captures the essence of the silent film and finds clever ways to modernize silent film methods to play into contemporary audiences. The cast is strong with Jean Dujardin, John Goodman and James Cromwell delivering strong performances, but it is Berenice Bejo that steals the show. She commands the screen with strength and a screen presence that perfectly encapsulates the silent era movie stars. This would be a good introduction to silent film if you have never seen one and is an exceptional film is you are a fan of the medium.
Biggest Box Office : Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - The most emotionally gratifying installment of the Harry Potter saga wonderfully brings the franchise to a powerful conclusion. What really excels with the two-part finale is the level of maturity the films attain. You can almost view the Harry Potter saga as acting school for the young stars. Watch the first film and you see a bunch of children that are very green and how the grow in their ability to perform with each installment. Well, if Harry Potters 1-6 are acting class, this was the final exam and each of the young actors delivers the best work. The previous film really highlighted Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. This film is Daniel Radcliffe's. He has grown from the weakest of the three to be the strongest performer between them. The pensive scene and subsequent walk through the Forbidden Forrest offers up extraordinary texture in his performance and the scenes are largely wordless. He conveys so much without dialogue. What he is feeling is palpable. Radcliffe deserved a nomination in my mind for this film. The final battle is far grander than anything we have seen in universe before and does not disappoint. I also love how each character is given a moment to shine. Maggie Smith, Julie Walters, Matthew Lewis and many more all have scene stealing moments. Warwick Davis gives a sly and subtle performance as Griphook that always captures my attention. He is a far more gifted actor than he is allowed to be and what this film tells me is that he needs more allowance to be able to stretch his acting chops. Ralph Fiennes is fantastic as Voldemort, but it is Alan Rickman's brilliant portrayal of Snape that shares ownership of the film with Radcliffe. This film ended a ten year run with these characters and it really is hard to say goodbye to them by the film's conclusion. I promise, you will cry. This film does not fear audience feelings, but embraces them. This was my favorite film of 2011 and makes for the best series finale since Return of the King.