My Cinematic Year in Review, 2011


I've kept a running list of every movie I've ever seen (or as near as I can recall) for years now, but 2011 was the first time I charted my monthly movie-viewing habits with the same approach I take to my nightly reading. There aren't too many firm conclusions to be drawn in terms of scheduled viewing or preferred genre, though it's interesting to note that my paid reviews drive most of my screenings. I rarely get to the theater for something I'm not reviewing, mostly because I can't stand the graceless and selfish attitudes in which most theater audiences seem to revel. In 2011, it was June by the time I went to a theater to see something for pure consumption, not review, purposes. Also, the only movies I saw in September were ones I was paid to see. All told, I saw 79 films in 2011. That only counts those films I hadn't seen before, too; repeat viewings of previous releases or cable favorites aren't included in the final tally. I've included links below to those films I've reviewed, and any other thoughts that have come up for those I haven't.

January The King’s Speech (2010): Sweet, small, and easy-going. Not the most magnificent movie ever made, but entertaining. Restrepo (2010): An absolutely riveting war documentary that captures the sisyphean nature of battle in all its horror. Casino Jack (2010): A decent turn from Kevin Spacey, but mostly forgettable. Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010): The documentary that inspired the feature film is a little better, but too overstuffed. The Extra Man (2010): Genuinely awful and off-putting. Unfunny and awkward at every turn. The Green Hornet (2011) La Moustache (2005): Nice existential thriller from France about a man who shaves his mustache and promptly begins to question his sanity when his wife tells him he never had one. Pleasingly ambiguous.

February Unknown (2011) Easy A (2010): Solid, smart comedy that wouldn't be half of what it is without Emma Stone in the title role. Cedar Rapids (2011) Waking Sleeping Beauty (2010): A great documentary about the modern Disney renaissance, which included their releases from 1989-1994 (basically The Little Mermaid to The Lion King). It makes you realize just how much heart the creatives there used to have, and why Pixar saved the company. Crazy Heart (2009): I missed this award contender from the end of 2009, and I was glad to finally catch up with it. Great music, great performances.

March The Adjustment Bureau (2011) Despicable Me (2010): Cute, if insubstantial. Steve Carell has some surprisingly moving scenes, though. Red Riding Hood (2011) Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times (2011): A fascinating look behind the scenes at the Times, albeit one that doesn't quite know how to handle the industry's self-immolation. New Jerusalem (2011): An actor's piece, through and through. Well-observed, but very slow. Turkey Bowl (2011) A Bag of Hammers (2011): I walked out. Too sloppy and cute by half. Wuss (2011): One of those festival entries you only see at festivals, for good reason. Can't even remember what happens. The Other F Word (and here) (2011) Sound of My Voice (2011): Amazing movie. Great story, wonderful cast. When it finally earns a theatrical release, I'll go see it again. Undefeated (2011) Buck (2011) How to Train Your Dragon (2010): DreamWorks isn't up to Pixar's level, but films like this (and Kung Fu Panda) are solid family movies. I Am Comic (2010): I checked this out because I'm a comedy nerd. It's average. There are more penetrating comic docs out there, but it's worth visiting if you're a completist or collector.

April Devil in a Blue Dress (1995): This movie's less than 20 years old, but it feels like it might as well be from another planet. It's a nuanced adult drama, but not preachy or self-serious. It's got adventure and mystery, but it's not a remake or ironic meta-narrative. It's just a solid movie. Well worth seeking out. Your Highness (2011) Tron: Legacy (2010): Worth not a single cent more than the 99 I paid to rent it from Redbox. Maybe less. Gun Fight (2011): Riveting if depressing documentary about gun control and modern crime. It might not move you from one side of the fence to the other, but it's still got some fascinating moments. Fast Five(2011)

May Everything Must Go (2011) Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949): Sometimes, my wife and I will stay in on a Friday night, order some food, and watch whatever old movie happens to be on TCM. One friday night in May, it was Take Me Out to the Ball Game, a 1949 musical starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra as baseball players who fall in love with Esther Williams, who just swims around. Ideal escapism. The Tree of Life(2011)

June Beginners (2011) Submarine (2011): A great, bittersweet coming-of-age story. Bridesmaids(2011): Like most comedies bearing the Apatow imprimatur, this one's about 20 minutes too long, and so many of the scenes go absolutely nowhere. Yet it's worth it just to see Melissa McCarthy throw herself into a manic role and come out the other side. She's practically in her own movie (a better one).

July The Night of the Hunter (1955): Stunning, gorgeous, haunting, and totally unforgettable. One of the two best non-2011 movies I saw during the year. The sad part is that it was so ahead of its time that audiences in 1955 didn't bite, and Charles Laughton never directed again. It was also screenwriter James Agee's last movie made while he was alive. Horrible Bosses (2011) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) Adam (2009): Tolerable in a direct-to-cable kind of way. Meek’s Cutoff (2011): Proof that you have to be Terrence Malick to get away with abandoning a traditional narrative. Night Moves (1975): Wonderful neo-noir from the 1970s, which means it's all about infidelity and depression and being stuck between two equally unpleasant outcomes. Amazing work from Gene Hackman, as always. Super 8 (2011): J.J. Abrams' film was written off as Spielberg Lite by a lot of people, but that's unfair both to Abrams and to Spielberg (who served as executive producer). It's really a solid story about the end of childhood, set against an admittedly splendiferous and Spielbergian backdrop about alien invaders. The film's biggest fault is actually that it doesn't acknowledge its own era's culture in the right ways. It's set in 1979, which means these movie-mad kids should be hip-deep in Star Wars talk (and that the nerdy movie buff who leads their film crew should be able to speak Close Encounters at the drop of a hat). By pretending those movies don't exist, Super 8 tries to live in their universe instead of exploring its own. Cowboys & Aliens (2011) X-Men: First Class (2011): I saw this at the $1.50 theater, which was a perfect price for the experience. Fun, and better than Ratner's X-Men, but still a little weak. I would, though, watch an entire miniseries about a young Magneto hunting former Nazis.

August The Change-Up (2011) Source Code (2011): Soft even by pop-sci-fi standards, Source Code is a fun movie for Saturday afternoons with low expectations. The mechanics of the time travel aren't internally consistent, but still, not a bad way to spend a couple hours. Animal Kingdom (2010): A gripping crime drama that doesn't pull any punches. People start dying almost immediately, and the ones you like the most are in the most danger. Fright Night (2011) Our Idiot Brother (2011) Good News (1947): This is the 1947 version of the 1927 stage musical that was also put on film in 1930. (The next time someone complains about Hollywood's modern obsession with remakes, send them to Google.) Peter Lawford and June Allyson flirt and sing. It's a pleasant Friday night. It Should Happen to You (1954): George Cukor's film is billed as a romantic comedy, but it's got a heart of sad loneliness. Judy Holliday stars as a deluded woman who uses her savings to rent a billboard in the heart of New York City and plaster her name on it in hopes of becoming famous. The film's a shrewd, heartbreaking look at love and human nature. Bonus: It's the first on-screen appearance of Jack Lemmon. Forbidden Planet (1956): Total classic. The animation's pretty good for 1956, too. Kiss Me Kate (1953): Like having a really bad fever dream.

September Contagion (2011) Drive (2011) Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

October Dream House (2011) The Ides of March (2011) S.W.A.T. (2003): I wanted a laundry-day action movie, and I got one. Of course, I got hung up for a while on the fact that the movie was based on the TV show of the same name, and that characters in the movie shared names with their TV show counterparts but also referenced the show, watched it, and could sing the theme song. Basically, an ontological mindfuck. Pretty explosions, though. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (2011): Spoiler alert: high-strung entertainers mostly look like dicks after they get fired. Conan O'Brien comes off like a mostly benevolent dictator in this doc about the comedy tour he mounted after he quit The Tonight Show. Catfish (2010): Fake or not? (Fake.) Great story, though. Anonymous (2011) The Black Room (1935): The story and twist aren't really strong enough to support even a 70-minute running time, but Boris Karloff does great work playing dueling twins.

November A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011) J. Edgar (2011) The Descendants (2011) Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (2011): Thoroughly moving and sweet, if a bit one-sided. The documentary focuses on puppeteer Kevin Clash, who plays Elmo on "Sesame Street," but it glosses over his other projects as well as some of the darker aspects of the way the show plays into modern consumer nightmares. (Never has "Tickle Me Elmo" been so casually dismissed.) A Dangerous Method (2011): Great performances from the cast, and bracing (if aloof) filmmaking from David Cronenberg. Margin Call (2011): A smart drama about the 2008 recession that feels a bit too much like it was made for cable. (Blame the small cast and few extras.) Similarly, some of the structure was a bit too new-viewer-friendly, as when the head of the firm asked to have his junior analyst explain the market like the old man was a child. I've got a feeling that a CEO in that position would probably have a pretty good grasp on liquidity. The Artist (2011): Sweet, moving, and thoroughly engrossing, not to mention one of the most likable love stories in a long time.

December Young Adult (2011) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (U.S.) (2011) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) Moneyball (2011): Not bad, not great. Brad Pitt does good work, but the rest of the film is flat. Tootsie (1982): As entertaining and funny as you'd expect an American classic to be. Great story, great performances, and a gap in my personal viewing history I'm very happy to have finally filled.

Random Data: Total: 79 Documentaries: 11 Movies released before 2011: 26 (about 33% of the total) Movies released before 2000: 10 Of the 10 highest grossers of 2011, number I saw: 2