Friday, December 30, 2011

2011, Worst to Best

The Middle Room has never looked favorably on top 10 lists. Are we so shallow, so simplistic, that we must examine only the good? Is not a year defined by both ups and downs, positive and negative?

And so, it only serves to reason that, in order to truly lay a year to rest, we must examine it in all its facets. Therefore, we present to you now a list of every single new movie with a theatrical release we watched this year, arranged from our least to most favorite:

16. Green Lantern: There's a case to be made that this may not quite be the worst movie we sat through this year, but there's no question it was the most disappointing. From the start, it was clear the filmmakers were adapting the right material: this was a modern version of the character, complete with the Lantern Corps in all its glory. On paper, it was precisely the formula used by Marvel to churn out film after film of geeky fun. But this movie sucked. The direction felt like it was lifted from bad sitcoms: nothing had any force or drama. So, for screwing up what we'd hoped would be our favorite live-action movie of the year, we're placing this dead last.

15. The Green Hornet: We actually caught this on DVD, having more important things to do than go see it in the theater. It wasn't all bad: there were some cool action sequences and funny moments, but it really failed to sell the idea of the Green Hornet. This character was a precursor to Batman and has some cool aspects - he's one of the few superheroes who manipulates his identities to achieve indirect results, for example. This movie tried to play the whole concept for laughs, as though the movie was too cool to adapt the Hornet and instead mocked it. The results were mixed, at best.

14. Cars 2: We actually liked Cars 2 quite a bit, despite the fact it was a really, really bad movie. The fact it's so low on this list is more reflective of how strong the other thirteen movies we saw were - this was, in fact, a very good year for film. But it was a bad year for Pixar. Everything that has made Pixar films work is missing: the movie's saving grace is that there's a brutally violent spy flick buried between scenes of Larry the Cable Guy trying to drive the audience to suicide. But the spy scenes actually deliver something cool, provided you have the patience to watch the rest.

13. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: This was a solid action movie, though we disagree with nearly every critic on the planet, all of whom seem convinced it was the best in the series. Sure, there were some awesome sequences, but the plot failed to create tension or deliver a single interesting twist. This falls short of the third entry in the series, which was far more engrossing.

12. The Adventures of Tintin: A solid CG pulp adventure, Tintin was certainly enjoyable. Most years, it would have ranked much higher, but there were a lot of good films released in 2011. And, while it was definitely fun, it never felt like it was anything more. Neither the characters nor the story managed to draw us in and make the movie particularly memorable.

11. Thor: This misses the top 10 by a hair. It was a spectacular movie, and the visual portrayal of Asgard was kind of fantastic. But ultimately, it was a great comedy/love story, while only being a good superhero movie. Everything felt toned down and de-powered to keep it grounded. It was a great film, but this fact kept us from really getting caught in its world.

10. Winnie the Pooh: If you'd asked us a year ago to bet on our top movie of 2011, we'd have pointed to this. The fact it's so far down our list is more reflective of our expectations than the movie's shortcomings. But, frankly, there were shortcomings. The story-line was a mess, due to the writers' insistence on dissecting the original stories then reassembling the pieces. On top of that, the music just didn't win us over the way the songs in the original did. All that said, the animation was beautiful and the voice casting was just about perfect, so it's still a great little movie.

9. Rango: This was probably the most bizarre movie we saw this year, which is saying something given the list includes Arthur Christmas and Cowboys and Aliens. Rango is positively engrossing and fascinating on several levels. However, it might be a little too weird for its own good. The characters aren't actually likable and some of the film's twists come off as weird for the sake of weird. But make no mistake: it's one of the most innovative and ambitious movies we saw this year.

Note: numbers 8 though 4 are basically a tie. Depending on the time of day, we'd likely arrange these differently: all were extremely good movies.

8. Cowboys and Aliens: Yeah, we know we're the only ones who actually like this movie, but that's okay. The film is nothing like what we'd expected. We went in anticipating a dark, alien horror/adventure set in the old west. What we got was a zany buddy-adventure movie with aliens, lasers, and gunfighters. But that's cool: we really like those things, too.

7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2: Most people we've spoken to who have actually read the books rank this lower. Apparently, it's basically a by-the-numbers adaptation that adds very little. Having not read any of the novels, we found it an extremely exciting, emotionally engrossing conclusion to the films.

6. X-Men: First Class: This was shoved back two spots because we dislike how the movie handled most of its supporting cast. But every sequence with Charles and/or Magneto was phenomenal. The scenes with Erik tracking down and murdering Nazis were among the most satisfying ever filmed in a superhero movie. And then there's that cameo. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. Brilliant.

5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Who expected Rise of the Planet of the Apes to make this or any other best-of list? Certainly not Fox, who released it in August with a modest marketing campaign. But this thing took us all by surprise. The story focuses on Caesar, a super-intelligent ape who is actually written well and depicted effectively. The movie sells its premise with shocking competency, allowing this to blow away all expectations.

4. Captain America: The First Avenger: While we have issues with this film - especially with the fact that Captain America doesn't fight a single Nazi in the movie (unless you count Hydra agents, which you shouldn't) - there's no denying it was one of the most fun superhero films ever made.

The last five were a bit difficult to assign, and we're not sure about the order. But we feel fairly confident in the top three; both in the fact they belong at the top and in their respective order:

3. The Muppets: There's a reason this was one of the most popular movies of the year: it was damn good. The movie's decision to focus on three new characters, two humans and a new, generic Muppet, took courage. From the moment we heard that, we couldn't get our minds around why they would make the choice. But it turned out being an extremely inspired move. The movie has been accused by some of not focusing on the Muppets, but we don't believe this is fair. The brilliance in using new characters is that the movie is instead able to explore what the Muppets are and how they're viewed within their universe. It's a complex movie. And it's also a hell of a lot of fun.

2. Arthur Christmas: We knew very little about Arthur Christmas prior to its release. The trailers we'd seen were less than intriguing. Then came the reviews, which were overwhelmingly positive. Based on its score on Rotten Tomatoes, we decided to give the flick a shot. And it was amazing. The character work was very developed, the writing was strong, and the jokes were hilarious. If you miss this in the theaters, make sure you check it out on DVD next Christmas: it's fantastic.

1. Kung Fu Panda 2: What a weird year. Not only does Pixar not deserve the Oscar for Animated Picture, their offering doesn't even deserve a nomination. In our opinion, this one deserves the prize (though we won't be offended if Arthur Christmas, Rango, or even Winnie the Pooh steals it). Yeah, it was a fantastic year for animation, but a horrible one for Pixar. But Kung Fu Panda 2 took up the slack. This was everything we hoped the sequel would be and then some. This skipped the cheap jokes and childish antics that held back the first one, instead unleashing what we consider the single coolest movie of the year. It was smart, dramatic, funny, and - most importantly - absolutely kick ass. The fights in this thing were beautiful, the villain was scary, and the heroes were awesome.

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