2011: The Year in Review Pt. II

If you haven’t already, take a whiff of 2011’s smellier side.

Now, the more fragrant.

The Surprises:

 

Honorable Mention: Fright Night (Craig Gillespie)

Here’s the perfect way to turn off an audience with a trailer:

Those final 30 seconds would have you believe this is the result of some underground experiment where the surgical joining of Breaking Dawn and some shitty Amanda Seyfried caper went horribly wrong.  Complete BS.  Much in the same way Drag Me to Hell delivers exactly what it promises, Fright Night puts 110% into its premise while never taking itself too seriously.  After all, let’s face it; “Jerry” really is the worst vampire name ever.

Colin Farrell is awesome in this and not in an ironic, scenery-chewing kind of way.  Fright Night is pure fun, and I’m usually of the belief that “fun” belongs in a movie review about as much as “zesty” belongs in those douchey Olive Garden commercials.  There’s only a handful of cheap scares, and unlike what the trailer suggests, Fright Night is really more action-thriller than horror anyway.

At the very least, you can never go wrong with Hugo’s cover of “99 Problems.”

3. Cedar Rapids (Miguel Arteta)

Miguel Arteta’s expose of Midwest America’s grubby underbelly would still be a success if you only paid attention to John C. Reilly.

Fortunately, Cedar Rapids is host to a slew of performances that elevate the solid if not groundbreaking material, including Ed Helms’ naive insurance salesman, Tim Lippe, and a refreshingly-not-psychotic Anne Heche.

It’s strange that Cedar Rapids went unproduced for so long, because its material is hardly foreign territory.  At the same time, the film deserves praise for not simply becoming a comedic vehicle for a recognizable face.  While Helms’ path to re-discovery is nothing audiences haven’t seen before, the strange mixture of weirdness and whole grain goodness is what provides the spice here.

2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is all about bucking trends.  Of course there’s the overt revolutionary themes, and James Franco’s Will Rodman sets the course of the franchise in motion by defying corporate orders.  Rise also doesn’t care about its more lucid self-references, and it certainly doesn’t care that its most important elements aren’t even human.  Not completely anyway.

Andy Serkis’ Caesar doubly flips the bird to both modern humanity as well as our apparently outdated understanding of acting conventions.  20th Century Fox has hinted at an awards campaign for Serkis, and while selling the apes as real characters is where Rise needed to and absolutely does work, there are too many factors that interfere with a winning Oscar bid here; the most obvious asks where the performance ends and the CGI begins.

Still, Wyatt accomplishes so much more in Rise than Burton’s 2001 failed reboot ever does, despite a (relatively) smaller budget and even smaller scope.  While the apes’ rebellion is fun to watch and features several ingenious action set pieces, it’s actually the quiet, reflective moments that resonate most.  A triumphant Caesar, gazing at the San Francisco skyline from the top of a Redwood, is the focus, not the larger and more devastating effects of human error.

1. Super 8 (J.J. Abrams)

J.J. Abrams loves lens flares more than you could ever learn to love anything in your life, yet he’d still find himself on the positive end of the annual cinematic report card if he released a film every year.  His secret is simple: Don’t give the audience the slightest hint as to what you’re working on.  In fact, I suspect Abrams’ involvement as producer on 2008’s Cloverfield amounted to little more than keeping the studio’s collective mouth shut about exactly what the fuck was attacking NYC.

Needless to say, the Cloverfield monster exceeded expectations.

It can’t be too surprising that Super 8 should find its way to the top of a list about anticipation, but Abrams avoids the Shyamalan trap of becoming a cinematic punchline by crafting a story that’s more than just a monster or a twist ending.  Like the “uncanny valley” of CGI, there’s a familiar line to straddle when it comes to nostalgia.  Super 8 gracefully taps into the idyllic Spielbergian realm of Abrams’ childhood without losing its footing in the sentimental stuff.

I won’t argue Super 8 is the best 2011 had to offer, but at the very least, the film deserves credit for what it represents.  It’s a testament to the magic of cinema and the allure of the summer blockbuster.  Abrams doesn’t give a damn about catering to an audience.  No, we won’t be posting production diaries or Twitter updates.  You’ll know nothing going into this and you’ll like it.

I didn’t, and I did.

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