Retrospect: Miscellaneous Awards of 2011
Movies deserve recognition for so much more than just being “good” or “bad”. Other times, movies that did not quite make it onto a Top 10 list had something worth noting anyway. I spent a while coming up with some more award categories, and then started narrowing down my three favorites in each category before choosing my favorite.
Best Performance: Rooney Mara–The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
If Rooney Mara does not get recognition at the Oscars for her performance, I will personally send her a letter. Mara’s performance as asocial researcher Lisbeth Salander is so perfect. Look down a bit. Even Ryan Gosling, one of my main man-crushes, is not as good as Rooney Mara here. Mara completely sells the cold, asocial personality of one of the best characters to grace the page in decades. She’s enthralling to watch, adding little touches to her character, shrinking away from a man’s touch or altering intensity of eye contact based on conversation dominance. The way she slowly grows closer to Blomkvist is nothing short of beautiful, and the final moments of the film advance their dynamic in remarkable, somewhat heartbreaking ways. As good as David Fincher’s direction and Steve Zallian’s scripting is, Rooney Mara’s performance is the main reason to see this movie.
Runners-Up: Ryan Gosling–Drive, Michael Fassbender–X-Men: First Class
Best Soundtrack: Cliff Martinez–Drive
As good as the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross-composed soundtrack for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is, it just barely falls behind the Cliff Martinez composition for Drive. Martinez uses retro electronica pieces bubbling just beneath the surface of Drive so that it is never intrusive, yet seamlessly integrated with the rest of the movie. The music is simultaneously intense and ethereal, adding a great sense of atmosphere to the proceedings. Best of all, Martinez went the extra mile and compiled a small handful of extra licensed songs to sprinkle throughout the rest of the movie at just the right moments, such as the attached “A Real Hero” by College.
Runners-Up: Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross–The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, John Williams–The Adventures of Tintin
Best Superhero Movie: X-Men: First Class
There were quite a few good superhero movies to come out this year, but none of them had anywhere near the excitement, style, or emotional weight as Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class. Styled as a reboot for the failing franchise, the movie reinvigorates the characters and gives the whole series a fresh burst of energy. It also shows us the origins of Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto. The friendship between the two men is what drives the movie and is anchored by the very strong performances from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. The movie also has a very cool, 60’s-era James Bond vibe in its elaborate sets and stylish direction. With a fresh start, the X-Men franchise has great places to go.
Runners-Up: Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger
Best Sequel: Fast Five
While I liked Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol a bit more than the fifth Fast and Furious flick, the latter was a significant and marked improvement over 2009’s lackluster Fast & Furious. It all but abandons the street racing angle from the previous four films and evolves into a straight heist movie. In doing this, it ejects most of the juvenile feel of the previous films and lets its true colors as a straight action flick show. Best of all, the movie is quite aware of how stupid and packed with testosterone it is. The centerpiece is a huge 1.CGI-free final chase where the team tows a vault through the streets of Rio, smashing through cars and a building as they do so. It’s shamelessly “manly” and completely ridiculous. I didn’t love the movie the first time I saw it, but the second time was a lot more enjoyable, and the movie stands out as the absolute best of the series.
Runners-Up: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Least Improved Sequel: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Yeah, I didn’t like this movie. There is very little about A Game of Shadows that elevates it above the original, or even makes it an entertaining ride save for the last half hour. The most egregious sin is to almost completely ruin the character of Professor James Moriarty, the “Napoleon of Crime”, who seems smart enough to match Holmes, but not nearly as menacing as Jared Harris is trying to make the character (through no fault of Harris). Finding out Moriarty’s master plan was probably one of the most disappointing things I’ve seen in a movie this year. A Game of Shadows delivers some unsavory plot elements as well as more of everything the first movie had, while fixing nothing and remaining significantly less entertaining than it could have been.
Runners-Up: The Hangover: Part II, Cars 2
Best Action Sequence: The Burj Khalifa–Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol
I’ve been singing the praises of this scene since I got out of the theater. There’s just so much going on here: it begins with Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) climbing up the side of the world’s tallest building using adhesive gloves that of course start to malfunction. The way in which he gets back down drew several audible gasps from the auditorium in my first viewing of the movie. During all of this is a tense exchange of information as the other members of Ethan’s crew pose as villains in order to get an upper hand on the nuclear launch code information. This all concludes in a massive chase on foot and then moving to vehicles. For about 45 minutes, it does not let up, and had me on the edge of my seat.
Runners-Up: Vault Heist–Fast Five, Moroccan Chase–The Adventures of Tintin
Most Pleasant Surprise: Insidious
Some early buzz dismissed James Wan’s newest ultra-low-budget horror movie. I too was mildly unsettled by the poster of a staring child, but I didn’t make any significant effort to catch it in theaters. Once I did see it on DVD, however, I found that some sly aesthetic tricks, a lack of actual violence and gore, and excellent use of sound effects combined for the most crap-your-pants-scary horror movie I’ve seen in years. James Wan will creatively insert things into the background, to where the quieter parts of the movie turn into an “I Spy” of who can scream and spot the bloody claw-print or ghostly face first. The soundtrack does its work as well; clever usage of Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” makes the skin crawl, while the rest of the soundtrack is essentially an army of screeching, wailing violins. While the movie does occasionally resort to jump scares and a finale that was a little to heavy on the special effects, the rest is a glorious slow burn of horror that kept me from sound sleep for quite a while.
Runners-Up: Super 8, Friends With Benefits
Biggest Disappointment: Unknown
Unknown was supposed to be awesome. It appeared to be an action flick in the vein of Taken with a healthy dose of paranoia and mystery. It certainly had enough mystery, with Liam Neeson’s character surviving a car accident and realizing that no one, including the women he knew as his wife, recognizing him and another man possessing his identity. There was even some decent action and a pretty cool car chase (though not as well-filmed as Taken). However, the plot twist, the explanation for everything, was one of the worst plot twists I have ever seen in a movie. It wasted the entire movie for me. It was that bad. I was so ready for a huge twist, but the payoff for my time was weak and lazy. Movies with so much mystery rely heavily on the plot twist to make everything worth it, but Unknown completely failed to deliver.
Runners-Up: Immortals, Green Lantern
Best Obscure Movie You Didn’t Watch: The Perfect Host
The Perfect Host was a lot of fun for me: a man commits a robbery and escapes to the suburbs, where he forces a homeowner to shelter him until the heat blows over. Unfortunately for him, the man he chooses to take hostage is a schizophrenic psychopath who hosts dinner parties for his imaginary guests. The movie transitions smoothly between a thriller and a black comedy, and the interplay between the two men, with the advantage consistently changing, is engaging to watch. While the plot takes a strange turn in the third act, it ends up working for the characters. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it is a unique and entertaining indie film.
Runners-Up: The Guard, Rubber
Best Worst Movie of 2011: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1
Let’s get one thing straight: the Twilight film franchise is, in my opinion, completely awful. Avid fans of the book openly disown the cinematic adaptations, and even fans of the movies themselves call this newest installment one of the worst films of the series. That said, this movie is hilarious. Overwrought and bizarre, Breaking Dawn Part 1 is the culmination of everything wrong with the saga. the Bella/Edward romance is, as always, kind of creepy (made more so here by a furniture-smashing sex scene), and Jacob is even more annoyingly enamored with Bella. Director Bill Condon tries to infuse his film with a colorful sheen, creating humorously excessive wedding and honeymoon scenes. These drew happy sighs from several members of the audience as I was checking my watch. After that, however, things quickly get very funny. Like New Moon, Breaking Dawn Part 1 makes some very strange plot decisions–telepathic wolves, a demon fetus, and, best of all, a creepy “imprinting” scene in which Jacob decides he’s in love with Bella’s child–that make the movie a bit of a dark joy to sit through. It’s a terrible, terrible movie (even some fans of the series reject it), but it had me in stitches with its aggressively serious lunacy. I was asked why I didn’t put this on my “Worst of 2011” list. The reason for this is that I needed to give it special recognition; not for quality filmmaking, but for gluing a derisive smirk on my face for a good two hours.