The 2011 summer season is coming to an end. A summer that will no doubt be known for its sequels, comic book films and rated-R raunchy comedies. But with those films leading the way in terms of box office gross we still had a lot of great films make a mark in the independent field. Films like Midnight in Paris, which is still playing strong in tons of theaters even though it’s been out since May. Attack the Block also took moviegoers by storm with its impressive screenings across the country and successful limited release.
I like when a summer can be full of variety. Sure, there were a ton of stinkers, some expected (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Green Lantern) and some unexpected (Horrible Bosses, Super 8). But for all of those bad films we were given some really good ones, ones that we weren’t expecting to be that good, like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and X-Men: First Class.
I think the summer of 2011 can also be known as the summer to prove that long running series can still make quality films. Films like Fast Five, X-Men and Apes all go to show that if the material is in the right hands, no matter how many sequels/prequels/reboots it has, it can still be good. If you would have told me last year that Fast Five was going to be the best Fast/Furious film I probably would have laughed at you. But it turned out to be very good and it managed to be a huge hit with the audiences. Fast Five was the first big blockbuster of the year and it held that title until Transformers and Harry Potter came in.
I wasn’t sure how I wanted to structure this article because there were so many good hits that came out this summer and I wanted to make sure a decent number of them get some praise. I was originally just going to write up a few paragraphs and be on my way, but I thought I could try and infuse some sort of award ceremony with the usual summer wrap-ups that most sites do. So I’ve decided to award the films I talk about. I’ll have the usual awards, like best film, surprise hit, biggest stinker and so on, but I’ll also toss in some random awards for some really good films.
My format is kind of random, but it should be easy to follow. I’ll simply be naming the movie, chatting about it and giving it an award title. Some might get honorable mentions and some won’t. So forgive me in advance for the lack of organization.
Terrence Malick‘s latest film receives this award without any doubt. The Tree of Life was unlike anything I have ever seen before. It was breathtaking, stunning and beautiful. The way he tells such a basic story with complexity and deep emotion is beyond that of any other filmmaker. He uses impressive visuals and great actors to achieve such a work of art. Some called it pretentious, but I call it a masterpiece. It’s a work of art and I really hope he gets some attention at the Oscars. It easily earns itself some nominations like best cinematography, direction, actress and even musical score. It’s an event that needs to be experienced on the big screen, so if you haven’t then please check it out before it’s too late!
My full review can be read here.
There is always that one film that you’re looking forward to, but you know it’s not going to be great. It has the chance of being better than its previous effort, but you’re not hoping for much, just something sort of fun. Transformers: Dark of the Moon was that movie. Director Michael Bay promised the fans that Revenge of the Fallen was a fluke and a result of the writers’ strike. He promised that Dark of the Moon would be better and it some ways it was. The characters in the Transformers films really do get cheesier as they go and Bay has problems with balancing action and character moments, but I thought Dark of the Moon served its purpose. It was disappointing in the fact that despite it being the third in the series it still hasn’t learned from its mistakes. The first film was flawed, but good and the second one was just a train wreck. You learn to set expectations at a certain level for these sorts of films, but they still kind of barely make it. The action in the film is great and the 3D is very innovative, but the story is still fucked up beyond belief and it’s getting beyond the point of dismissal. Bay had a pass on the silly stuff with the first film and he paid the price with the second film. By the third outing you either get your shit together or stop. He didn’t learn from his mistakes, but that doesn’t come as much of a surprise, which is why it earns the award for being an expected disappointment.
Read my full review for the film here.
With the expected disappointment comes the unexpected disappointment. Horrible Bosses takes that crown for sure. The movie had a lot going for it. It had an impressive cast list like Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey. It also was coming out at the perfect time to take advantage of the R rated raunchy comedy craze and yet it still sucked. It was boring, unfunny and most importantly a waste of good talent. The premise sounded interesting and should have worked, but the way it pieced everything together felt sloppy. There was a point in the film where you stopped feeling bad for the workers getting screwed over by their bosses and that is where they lost me. Instead of wanting to see them kill their bosses I just wanted the main characters to stop bitching and moaning the whole film and get a job at McDonalds or something.
You can read Anthony’s review here.
Honorable mention: Super 8
Now I’m not awarding this one based solely on money intake, but more on an accumulation of things. Box office intake compared to budget is one of the criteria, but so is audience reaction and studio reaction, which is why Green Lantern gets this special award. Even though a sequel is in the works this film was not nearly as successful as Warner Brothers had hoped. They were hoping to start a new series with the film, which is probably why the sunk in about $200 million into the budget. The film barely opened and dropped fast from the top ten. As of writing this the domestic total is $114 million and worldwide is $171 million, a far cry from the reported $200 million dollar budget plus advertising. Green Lantern didn’t click with the masses let alone critics. It didn’t get many positive reviews and it didn’t do superhero numbers. Green Lantern is a flop in every way that counts.
Read my review here.
This award goes to a film that not many were expecting to be good. A film that really didn’t look like it had a reason to be coming out, especially after a few rotten previous films in the series. X-Men: First Class takes the surprise hit award home with honors. Director Matthew Vaughn impressed us all with his take on the X-Men and I, along with tons of others was impressed by the film. He managed to engage lots of people who weren’t fans of the series (myself included) while pleasing the comic lovers! He understood how to properly tell the stories of the mutants while balancing it with a healthy dose of action. I can’t forget to credit the always amazing Michael Fassbender for playing Magneto and James McAvoy for playing Professor X. Both men had some really strong chemistry, which helped the film work in ways that one would have never expected. The film wasn’t a huge hit at the box office, it actually made less than the previous films, but it was a hit with most critics and most of the general film audience. I have yet to meet someone that didn’t love the film.
Read Anthony’s review here.
I always find it very tricky to name one film as the best comedy because comedy really varies person by person and even day by day. Some days I can be in the mood for darker humor and sometimes I enjoy a good lighthearted comedy. It all depends on the mood your in and the type of comedy you like, which is why I find it really hard to name the best comedy of the summer. For me it came down to two films. Bad Teacher and 30 Minutes or Less. Both films got tons of laughs out of me. I had a great time at both and went back for seconds. Well, I saw Bad Teacher twice and I plan on seeing 30 Minutes or Less again sometime within the week. I’m all for R-rated comedy, especially ones that lean a little on the dark side and luckily for me this summer was full of them. Bad Teacher worked so well because of Cameron Diaz fully embracing the horrible teacher. Her character was such a money grubbing whore, which made it all the better! The jokes were consistent throughout and always good, with the weakest performance being Justin Timberlake.
On the flip side, 30 Minutes or Less wasn’t as dark, but just as fun. The situation in which the whole film is based around is grounds for classic comedy material and thankfully director Ruben Fleischer delivered a brisk and hilarious movie, thanks to its stars and the pacing. It never felt dull or slow, which can be a killer for comedies these days. Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari nailed the leading roles and had great chemistry while Nick Swardson and Danny McBride played the two bad guys that were still likable thanks to their childlike sense of humor.
The best achievement awards goes to a film that manages to achieve the most, yeah I know that sounds obvious. But what I mean by achieving the most is that it manages to pass all of its set goals while achieving a greater good. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is that film and it’s because of all it manages to achieve. First off, it’s a prequel/reboot to a series that most people thought didn’t need another film, especially in the world of reboots and sequels getting spun out on a constant level. Most people thought Fox was just trying to cash crab with this latest installment and the trailers did look like it was setting itself out to be an action heavy blockbuster, but little did we know that director Rupert Wyatt had his sights on more. Wyatt wanted to tell an important story, the rise of apes, using digital technology blended with a real human actor. The focus wasn’t on the chaos the apes caused or the big wig scientists that wanted to invent new shit, but more on the nature of an ape, who is in a society in which he is treated as less than equal. The whole film is about Caesar, an ape that simply wants to be free and treated as he should be. With the use of WETA digital effects and actor Andy Serkis, Wyatt was able to present to us one of the strongest performances of the year, without the actual actor ever being on screen. Serkis shows us Caesars pain and hardships without words, but with simple gestures and body language. Rise of the Planet of the Apes managed to be that late series installment that we didn’t necessarily want, but ended up loving. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a great achievement in film due to its excellent performances and special effects. A perfect blend!
Read my review here.
Not as bad as it looks
Sometimes a film will have such a stupid premise or offbeat trailer that it instantly gathers negative hype and get shunned before leaving the gates. The Change-Up was that film. Most people weren’t really looking forward to it and I’ll have to admit that it looked really stupid. The whole body-switching thing has been done to death and not even Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds could save that, but they did and I was highly impressed. The Change-Up is a gross out comedy that relies heavily on toilet humor and nasty, raunchy jokes. It stoops lower than films like The Hangover Part II, Bad Teacher and Horrible Bosses in terms of jokes. It’s sick and filthy and exactly what I needed to help close up the summer. It works so damn well because of the two leads that go against type in their performances. Bateman is known for playing the overworked family man who never catches a break and Reynolds is known for being the ladies’ man with not a care in the world. Swap the two around, add in some shit jokes and you got yourself a solid summer comedy. I enjoyed the hell out of it, laughing most of the running time. I didn’t expect to like it at all, but something about seeing Jason Bateman (with Ryan Reynolds inside of him) handling kids made me laugh. It’s disgusting and tasteless at times, but that’s what makes it so damn good! If you’re a fan of this style of humor than don’t let a weak trailer steer you in the other direction.
Read my review here.
Best Popcorn Flick
The best popcorn flick award is one of my favorites. It goes to any film that manages to get the most fun out of you, something that can be light, full of action or just an all-around good time at the theaters. Something that Cowboys & Aliens was not and something that Transformers: Dark of the Moon wasn’t due to its horribly slow middle act, but one film managed to race its way to screens and take this award with ease, very early in the game might I add. Fast Five was without a doubt the best film in terms of popcorn! I saw it 3 times in a matter of 2 weeks and each time brought more enjoyment. If you love watching cars race around the screen for an hour and a half, you’ll love it. If you like watching action by way of gunfire or hand to hand combat, you’ll love it. If you like to watch big, bulky men act tough and in front of attractive and often times under-dressed ladies, you’ll love it. It’s everything you’d hope and dream for in a sequel to an otherwise shitty series. Director Justin Lin finally got it right with Fast Five and I think it’s mainly because he shifted gears from the more car focused films of the past to a more action/heist oriented film with cars added in. I think we also owe Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson thanks for adding some flavor to the flat series. I’m sure there is now tons of mileage left on the series thanks to the new direction and addition of The Rock!
Best Comic Book Film
Everybody is getting ready for The Avengers next year as well as the reboot of Spider-Man and the final chapter in the Christopher Nolan Batman series, The Dark Knight Rises, so 2011’s summer can take some pride in being comic book filled. What made it different from past summers was the fact that most of the films consisted of characters that weren’t as mainstream and as popular as Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and those types of cats, but more of the characters the real geeks would get all excited for like Green Lantern, Thor, Captain America and yes even Priest. Okay, maybe no one gave a damn about Priest, but it was indeed a comic. With a crop of new comic book films comes a wave of disappointment and surprise. Of course not every film was going to turn out good, just look at Green Lantern and Priest, but at least they got a few right like Thor and Captain America. But of the two, only one really “wowed” me and that was Thor, the Marvel god that never really fit into the world of Iron Man, Hulk or Punisher. Thor always looked a little too silly for me and I honestly wasn’t looking forward to it at all, but then I saw the film and was impressed by how they managed to successfully insert the wild fantasy character of Thor into the more serious world of comic book films. They spent a hefty amount of time guiding us through Thor’s world, Asgard, while also spending time on Earth building up for the climax and the eventual Avengers film. The film was flawed in this balance, not spending enough time with Natalie Portman‘s character on Earth, but it still helped us get familiar with Thor. I really liked the tone of the film and how the jokes just sort of fell in place. How could you not laugh at a huge man wearing all that fancy armor while walking around in a rural American town? The world of Asgard was captured beautifully in Thor and the action was tense thanks to the skilled director, Kenneth Branagh and the bold performance by Chris Hemsworth.
Read my review here.
There was only one film that stood out amongst the rest of the films released this summer that was worthy of best film. One film that after watching it instantly I knew it would become the king. A film that’s full of action, sci-fi, comedy and drama. It has everything you’d want in a film. Attack the Block. Joe Cornish crafts an original alien invasion movie that feels unique and fresh in a year full of adapted material. Unlike Super 8, Cornish manages to pay tribute to past classic films while crafting his own monster. He never crosses that line of homage into dick sucking territory like so many films before it have. Instead, he focuses on his own story, with some strong kid performances and really neat and simplistic alien creature designs. Cornish and friends prove that you don’t need a huge budget or A-list talent to make a good and strong film. That’s not to say that the talent involved isn’t worthy of making the A-list or as good as some big names. The main star, John Boyega is a force to be reckoned with as Moses, the leader of the block. His talent and charisma alone are one of the main factors in my decision for naming this the best film of the summer. Boyega is a future star and I won’t be surprised if we start seeing him popping up all over the independent scene after this one. But really though, the reason this film works so damn well is because of everyone involved in the project. From the actors, producers, writers, director to the music and creature design. Everything is completely perfect. The pacing is never dull, always moving, the camerawork is smooth and stylish, the music is both creepy and retro, the alien designs are simple, scary and mysterious and the writing is funny and clever. Attack the Block is an iconic movie that will be considered a cult classic in no time. Why it’s not playing on more screens than Transformers or Harry Potter is beyond me, because the film is better than both combined.
Read my review here.
With that being said, there is one more film I want to mention. I was originally going to award it the best independent film, but I thought that might sound odd since Attack the Block is independent and that won best film. But I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t mention another great film this summer, probably my second favorite, Midnight in Paris. Finally Woody Allen makes a film that financially does well! I know that he doesn’t care about the money, but it’s just refreshing knowing that people still enjoy good films like this. It puts some faith back in my heart knowing that not everyone loves the garbage Hollywood puts out and that people will see an enjoyable film like this if they had the option. The film opened all the way back in May and was sitting in the top 10 for most of the summer. It’s Allen’s highest grossing film and in my honest opinion, his best film. I was immediately captured by this film from the opening scene in Paris, where this is no dialogue or story movement, just simply Paris in all of its beauty. That opening scene really set the tone for the whole film and I honestly felt like I escaped life for a brief period of time while watching it. It’s a worry free film that you can really dive into and have a blast with. Owen Wilson plays the lead and he plays it damn well in one of his better performances. One of the best things about the film is finding out the real story, so I won’t ruin it for you and I urge you not to read into it too much as it’s a treat to discover and a joy to be had in a room full of movie fans with the lights dimmed!
Read my review here.
There you have it, my summer wrap-up for film. I was surprised by how good the summer actually ended up being, especially compared to last year. I’d say the strongest thing about the summer of 2011 was the independent circuit, with R-rated raunchy comedies to follow. The sequel/reboot/prequel crop didn’t turn out as bad as we expected, in fact most of them were surprisingly good. We still had a few crappy films, but that’s unavoidable in this day and age. I’m really curious to see how the fall can compete with the summer. I have a handful of films that I do want to check out, but there’s not anything that really has me interested. I’m sure we’ll get hit with a ton of great Oscar contenders, but will anything come close to great films like Attack the Block, Midnight in Paris or The Tree of Life? I honestly don’t know!
There is one movie that I had the pleasure of viewing that comes out in September and that was 50/50. If that is an early indication of the quality of films this fall then the fall is looking very positive, because that was one fantastic film! You can read Anthony’s review for 50/50 here.
Check back for our fall preview, which will be starting in September!
Feel free to leave a comment below. What were your favorites of the summer? Anything really disappoint you? Are there still a lot of films you need to still catch or will you be waiting for home video?