I go to the movies a lot. Just about every week, in fact. Rather than just telling you the best and worst movies of the year, I thought it would be fun to rank every single movie I sat through in a movie theater in 2011. Here's the complete list.
Unlike professional film critics, I don't get to see every single movie that comes out every year, I just go to see the ones that I'm interested in and get decent reviews or that one of my friends drags me to or is playing at the Paris Theatre on a rainy night or has hot shirtless guys in it or is getting buzz in August when it is hot as hell and there is nothing on TV or, you know, whatever stupid reason it is I go to the movies all the damn time. Also, unlike professional critics, I paid my own money to see a vast majority of these movies. At $13 a pop, that is some mighty expensive research.
After wading through all my ticket stubs (how else do you think I kept track?) here are all the movies I saw this year ranked from best to worst. I can't wait to start collecting movies for next year.
11. Hugo: Everyone is doing 3D these days, but no one is doing it as well or with such verve as Martin Scorsese. Marketed as a kid's movie, this is really an old man's version of what he thinks a kid should see. It's basically a cinema history lesson in shiny wrapping paper, but the paper is really fucking awesome. Now, if only someone would come in and tell Scorsese when he's being self-indulgent and letting the narrative go slack.
12. The Muppets: I'm never a huge fan of nostalgia, but if you're going to do it, at least drag an old brand into the modern age with some meta humor, camp, catchy songs, and a joke about "fart shoes."
13. Rise of the Planet of the Apes: It's not a good idea to praise anything that James Franco has done, but this action movie was smart, interesting, and unlike anything you've ever seen. That you forget that the "apes" are almost entirely created with computers is part of what makes it amazing.
14. The Debt: This movie was marketed as a thriller in both the past and the present about a bunch of Israeli spies covering up an unspeakable lie. That is what you get, but what it also delivers is an action movie centered around Rachel (played by both the ever-present Jessica Chastain and Helen Mirren) and her quest to set the past right. You'll see their lie coming from a mile away, but the ending is still remarkable.
15. X-Men: First Class: As you can see from this list, I'm a huge fan of comic books and the movies they spawn, especially the X-Men. While this wasn't as good as the first two movies, and has plenty that will drive X-Men die-hards bonkers, it's a quick moving yarn that gives us what we want to see: mutants using their powers in pretty special effects scenarios. Oh, and Kevin Bacon as a villain! Amazing!
16. Double Hour: I'm still not sure what to make of this Italian thriller that is both a love story and a crime movie at the same time. The fact that it's like Russian nesting dolls made out of mobius strips is what makes it so fun.
17. Crazy Stupid Love: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling's abs, Marisa Tomei in a great character part, a former America's Next Top Model contestant, and a twist you will never see coming: what's not to love (well, maybe the cloying ending, but otherwise...).
18. Thor: The narrative is as thin as Natalie Portman's wrists (pre-baby, natch) but Kenneth Branaugh's take on the super-hero tale gave it a Shakespearean dynamic of fathers vs. sons played out in an extra-planetary otherworld an in down-home America. Bonus points for introducing us to walking god Chris Hemsworth.
19. Midnight in Paris: I'm not a huge Woody Allen fan but banking that this will be nominated for at least a few Oscars, I checked it out. It's good, but not as great as the rapturous reviews would have you think. As a treatise about the nostalgia trap, though, it's quite good. Now if Woody Allen would only stop making movies that belong in the '70s.
20. The Descendants: Sure to mop up at Oscar nomination time, here is a another movie I thought was overly lavished with praise. While this story about George Clooney and his cutesy family dealing with his wife's coma was heartfelt and funny at moments, I also felt it was sloppy (what happens to the voice over?) and a little overly simplistic. Also, Judy Greer continues to be wasted by Hollywood. Poor thing. Also, I didn't think Clooney was that great (there, I said it) and I didn't see how the storylines about his wife and losing his family land came together in a meaningful way. Damn, maybe this should be lower on the list.
21. Super 8: If you can't figure out what the big secret in Super 8 is before the final act, then you have never seen a movie. Still this pitch perfect walk into a nostalgia trap is the perfect summer movie for remember summer movies when summer movies were better than summer movies are now. If only it was more concerned with making summer movies for a new generation instead of rehashing all the old ones.
22. The Skin I Live In: There is as crafty or chilling as Pedro Almódovar, but this was a matter of style over substance. The plot hums along interestingly, but there is no point other than creating a burnished melodrama for its own sake.
23. Young Adult: Charlize Theron gives a magnificent performance of the most comically unlikeable person you ever met. This was missing the trademark Diablo Cody wit and repartee and would have been much more enjoyable with a few more jokes and a character that had even a glimmer of hope.
24. Blonde Crazy: This 1931 James Cagney flick was part of a "pre-code" retrospective at Film Forum. It proves that you don't need CGI or anything else fancy to make a successful comedy, just game actors, some good gags, and a story about grifters that's as good now as it was then. Some things are timeless.
25. Paul: Every sci-fi nerd in the world should see this funny gem of a film about a pair of British nerds who find a real alien and the adventure they go on. The plotting is a little ludicrous, but so is the subject matter. This is reverent and winning from start to finish, though nothing revolutionary.
26. Potiche: This campy woman's lib remake of a '70s flick feels a little dated, but Catherine Deneuve playing a kick-ass housewife who finds her voice and gets revenge on her philandering husband is well worth it.
27. A Dangerous Method: Want to find a way to make kinky sex boring? Try this Freud and Jung biopic that is the longest 90 minutes I ever spent in a theater. It's only saved by some great performances by Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender, and Keira Knightley.
28. Certified Copy: You'll never figure out what is fact and what is fiction in this fraught pas de deux between William Shimell as a writer and Juliette Binoche as a crazed fan (or is she)? Maybe a little too experimental for its own good, but ambitiously different.
29. Shame: Michale Fassbender's dick is huge. Also, sex is unsexy and Carey Mulligan can sing good. But for all the pathos of a sex addict trapped in a weird relationship with his sister, it still rings hollow.
30. We Need to Talk About Kevin: In my mind, Tilda Swinton can do no wrong, and that includes playing a chilly and conflicted mother in this strange psychological thriller that is more structurally and visually arresting than emotionally vibrant.
31. The Help: A pretty film with some great actresses acting their hearts out to great effect, but, man, what a slog. This could have used some tightening up all around and a pace brisker than the fanning-yourself-on-the-porch-drinking-sun-tea languish it got.
32. Green Lantern: Gorgeous to look at for five minutes and then preternaturally dull. Oh, I was talking about Ryan Reynold's abs.
33. Hanna: I get it, this is supposed to be an action movie for smart people, but it just wow me. Actually, I fell asleep. Cate Blanchette makes a good Big Bad Wolf, but she needs a hero worthy of her snarl.
34. Captain America: In a worse year for comic book movies, this might have been higher, but with a better historical action movie (X-Men: First Class) and one with more emotional depth (Thor) this just looked pat and mediocre. Though, still some great action sequences.
35. Sherlock Holmes: There's nothing wrong with good, stupid fun, even if it is 15 minutes too long (and the theater where I saw it didn't have any heat).
36. My Weekend With Marilyn: This is like a bad Vanity Fair profile come to life: bloated, self-indulgent, nostalgic, oblique, and more concerned with celebrity than emotional truth. Michelle Williams continues to be an acting marvel, however.
37. The Immortals: Eye candy so sweet that it will give your brain a cavity. At least it doesn't try to be more than it is, though.
38. The Eagle: Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell rolling around shirtless in the muck is always fun. This whole movie isn't horrible...for imperialistic, pro-war propaganda.
39. The Man Who Fell to Earth: There are some great ideas hidden in the undecipherable '70s classic, but, man, is this a pretty mess. I do want to own every outfit Bowie wore in the movie, though.
40. Carnage: What works on stage doesn't work on film so when Roman Polanski took Yazmina Reza's play without altering and just filmed it in a Brooklyn apartment, the result is a dreadfully airless flop. The only reason to see this is the amazing square light fixture on the mantle.
41. The Illusionist: The Triplets of Belleville was a delightful, dialog-free animated movie. This is by the same writer/director/animator, Sylvain Chomet, but this story of a man's love for a young girl is dour, confusing, and completely inexplicable. A shame such great imagery was wasted on this stinker of a story.
42. Somewhere: Yes, Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation was a great movie, but there was no reason to go remaking it about a man lost in Hollywood trying to connect with his daughter. What was original and inventive the first time around just seems forced, aimless, and trite when you do it again.
43. I Don't Know How She Does It: I don't know how Sarah Jessica Parker made a movie this awful or how anyone approved this script. I also don't know how Olivia Munn is the only character who gets any laughs. I mean, Olivia Munn!?
44. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame: This historical Chinese action movie was like trying to watch a bunch of dandelion seeds blowing in the wind: every time you tried to follow one thing, you were distracted by another and lead off in an entirely different direction. The visuals looked cheap and, if I remember the ending correctly (I sort of fell asleep) it has an anti-feminist bent. If this is the best China has to offer, in 50 years when they take over the world, cinema is doomed.
45. What's Your Number?: Chris Evans takes off his shirt. A lot. I've repressed the rest of this Anna Faris comedy.
46. Transformers: Dark of the Moon: I'm still pissed I paid money to see this. The plot was a complete afterthought and implausible even by stupid action movie standards. The 3D made your eyes hurt, and there was no articulation at all about the robots or how they moved or transformed. The whole thing was just a shiny blur. But the worst thing about the whole movie? When it was over, the audience actually clapped. Ugh.