Monday, September 5, 2011

No Monkey Business: Danny's TOP 10 MOVIES OF SUMMER 2011

It's hard to believe, but - wow - it's already September. It's been a long, hot, hard summer here in LA. Craziness with work, a new apartment, and a lot of late-quarterlife crisis moments that kept me from writing here on the ol' blog as much as I might have liked. But now, as the ... oh, who am I kidding, here in LA, September is pretty much indistinguishable from August, weather-wise. But, at the least, we have the movies to let us know when the seasons are a-changin'. As blockbusters give way to Oscar-bait, as Michael Bay makes room for Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher ... that's when we here in La-La Land truly know that Summer is on its way out and the Fall is here.

So, how was Summer 2011 at the movies? It's funny, because right up until late July / early August, things were looking prett bleak. Sure, there'd been some decent blockbuster films. THOR was a lot of fun and X-MEN FIRST CLASS was surprisingly enjoyable. SUPER 8 was an interesting divergence from the typical blockbuster, and BRIDESMAIDS was another one that, I think, really benefitted from high quality vs. low expectations. But ... where was this year's Inception? This year's District 9? That one mega-blockbuster that rose above the pack, that was both a great blockbuster and a great *movie*, period. Well, we finally got that film, in my opinion, with RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Who would have thought that Apes would end up being *the* blockbuster of the summer, the one big summer movie that was both pulse-pounding *and* thought-provoking. Apes was perhaps the savior of the summer, although it had some competition in sheer fun-factor from CAPTAIN AMERICA. Captain America ditched the attitude and edginess of your typical modern-day superhero film, and just delivered a good, old-fashioned, two-fisted adventure the likes of which you just don't see anymore. I absolutely loved Cap - it's one of my favorite superhero movies to date. And, there was an early-summer animated adventure that was similarly smile-inducing - KUNG-FU PANDA 2. With a fun story and eye-melting animation, this was a worthy sequel that improved on the original and was a total roller-coaster ride. And by the way, I thought most critics were way too harsh on CARS 2. It wasn't in the top tier of Pixar movies, but was a fun and gorgeously-animated film nonetheless.

Also, as often happens in recent years, a little-movie-that-could came out of nowhere and showed-up many of the bigger-budgeted action movies ... and this year, that movie was ATTACK THE BLOCK. Believe it, fanboys - this film is an awesome action/horror/comedy that is funny, imaginative, and just plain badass. I had the privelage to see the film at the San Diego Comic-Con with director Joe Cornish and producer Edgar Wright in attendance - certainly, one of my favorite movie-going experiences of the Summer. Attack the Block stood out in particular in a summer when there were all these big, high-concept movies about aliens and robots and such that just fell flat. Cowboys & Aliens, Transformers 3, Battle Los Angeles (back in April) ... it was awesome to see a movie that brought wit and imagination back to the sci-fi/action genre.

As for the biggest movie of the summer, box-office-wise ... well, I've talked many times here about how I feel about the Harry Potter movies. Truth be told, I really enjoyed The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 ... but at the same time, I couldn't help but think that - like many of the other entries in the series - it was merely *very good* when it should and could have been *great.*

This Summer, there was a huge glut of R-rated comedies, each trying to be the next Hangover (unless we're talking about The Hangover 2, which tried to be funny, but failed). I saw a pretty good chunk of these comedies - Bad Teacher, Horrible Bosses, The Change-Up - most were decent but not great. Of course, the big surprise hit comedy of the summer was BRIDESMAIDS, and the movie deserved its success. It was a funny, smart movie and yes, it's notable for transferring the typical Judd Apatow style of sweet-meets-vulgar comedy to a script with female leads. This movie and Bad Teacher sparked a lot of pop-cultural conversation this summer, and overall, I thought it was cool that we finally got some movies with strong female leads that were *not* sappy romantic comedies. That also includes COLOMBIANA, which I thought was cool if for no other reason than to see Zoe Saldana emerge as a legit female action star who can carry a movie by her lonesome. But back to comedies for a moment, to me the real sleeper comedy (and future cult classic) of the summer was 30 MINUTES OR LESS. Reviews of the film were very mixed, but I am here to tell you that this movie was absolutely hilarious and brilliantly-written. It's dark, vulgar, and just plain wrong in parts - but if you're down with pitch black comedy then you've got to check this one out.

Finally, the Summer season is one where we always focus on the blockbusters and high-profile comedies, but oftentimes a couple of legit Oscar contenders slip into the mix as well. Two years ago, The Hurt Locker snuck in and won over critics during the crowded summer months. This year, the big Oscar-bait movie that everyone was talking about was Terrance Malick's TREE OF LIFE. I saw and enjoyed the film, and I truly admired its ambition. At the same time, it didn't 100% work for me for a variety of reasons. I did really enjoy Woody Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS - it was one of Allen's best films in quite a while. Still, I am very weary of putting it up there as Oscar-quality. The two prestige films that I DO think belong in that category, however, are BEGINNERS and A BETTER LIFE. Beginners is a thoughtful, contemplative, amazingly-acted movie with some knockout performances. Highly recommended. But, my favorite overall movie of the summer, the one that just floored me, was A BETTER LIFE. A lot of you likely have not seen this one yet, as it unfortunately came out in very limited release, and didn't seem to get enough of a push to really expand. But, I would urge everyone to give this one a watch when it's out on DVD, etc. This story about the plight of an illegal immigrant and his fight to preserve his family is incredibly powerful and, overall, a stunner. I am really hoping that the movie gets a second round of support later this year and gets some Oscar love - it really is that good.

All that said, I still think there are only a handful of summer movies that are going to end up on my year-end Best Of 2o11 list. I'm hoping that some Fall and Winter movies really come out and surprise me, because so far this year has really only yielded a couple of movies that I'd truly call great.

So, here are my TOP 10 MOVIES OF SUMMER 2011:

1. A Better Life

2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

3. Captain America

4. Attack the Block

5. 30 Minutes Or Less

6. Kung Fu Panda 2

7. Beginners

8. Super 8

9. Bridesmaids

10. Midnight in Paris

Runners Up: Thor, X-Men: First Class, Cars 2, Colombiana, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2, The Tree Of Life

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