It's time once again for my incredibly dorky, incredibly pointless list of personal favorite movies for the year. Two things of note before we begin:
I can obviously only rate the movies I saw. If I’d seen every movie I wanted to, the list might look a little different. Also, I didn’t see nearly as many movies this year in general compared to recent years, so that gave me far fewer things to pick from for this list.
Also, I'm not necessarily ranking this based on what is supposedly the most finely crafted, amazing movie (though I think a few of them are). These are simply the movies I had the most fun watching, out of what I saw.
1. The Muppets (November 23, 2011)
Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but it was darn near close. And maybe I’m biased since I’m a lifelong Muppet fan, but who cares? Jason Segel and crew successfully breathed new life into these beloved characters, bringing them closer to their original, Henson-era antics than they’ve been in a while. Full of humor and with heart to spare, no movie in 2011 put a bigger smile on my face.
2. Bridesmaids (May 13, 2011)
Easily one of the best comedies I’ve seen in some time (yes, I know The Muppets, which I ranked above this one, is technically a comedy, too, but I’m referring here to movies that fit exclusively into the comedy genre). Kristin Wiig does a phenomenal job leading a phenomenal cast in one of the most entertaining movies of the year.
3. Hugo (November 23, 2011)
I was surprised by how much I liked this movie--I hadn’t even intended to see it until the positive reviews and word-of-mouth piqued my curiosity. Scorsese has crafted a film that engages both dramatically and visually (even the 3D was beautiful and well-used, and I’m no fan of that gimmick). I especially enjoyed how we were given, through fictional narrative, a sort of history lesson about one of the original pioneers of movies.
4. Young Adult (December 16, 2011)
A great story with a great cast under great direction. Really enjoyed this simple, darkly funny downer of a tale.
5. War Horse (December 25, 2011)
I know nothing of the novel or the stage play, but I thought the movie was very well executed. It’s pure Spielberg-ian melodrama right from the beginning, but I found I didn’t mind letting myself be taken in by it. The cinematography and intense action sequences add a lot to the experience.
6. Paul (March 18, 2011)
An irreverent and funny, nerd-friendly sci-fi movie. Kristin Wiig’s supporting character manages to steal the show, which is saying something given she’s paired with the excellent duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. And you know what? Even Seth Rogen playing basically Seth-Rogen-as-a-raunchy-alien wasn’t so bad!
7. X-Men: First Class (June 3, 2011)
After an abysmal third installment to the original trilogy and a painfully lackluster Wolverine spin-off, it was great (and a little surprising) to actually enjoy myself during an X-Men move again.
8. Source Code (April 1, 2011)
Not as uniquely engaging as Duncan Jones’ debut effort, Moon, but still an entertaining sci-fi thriller.
9. Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22, 2011)
Along with X-Men: First Class, I really enjoyed the retro-40’s romp more than most recent superhero movies. It definitely left me feeling cautiously optimistic about next year’s Avengers project.
10. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (December 21, 2011)
Yeah, I know, Tom Cruise is in it, and it can be bit hard to separate him from the characters he plays in movies. But I’m a huge fan of director Brad Bird’s work in the field of animation (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, The Iron Giant, etc.) and I wanted to see his live-action debut. Story-wise, it’s just your typical big-budget action movie, but the action itself is extremely well-shot and exciting. Looks like Bird has made a successful transition!
While I’m a bigger fan of the books than the movies, I thought Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was a nicely done conclusion to the film series. Winnie the Pooh, while definitely aimed at a younger audience, was charming and beautifully animated. Kung Fu Panda 2 and Rango were also fun animated fare. I also enjoyed Sherlock Holmes 2 and Thor as light, adventurous fun.
Disappointments and Let-Downs:
I really wanted to love Cowboys and Aliens, but it just sort of fell flat. Not terrible, just a bit of wasted potential. Super 8 was another movie that, while certainly well done, somehow failed to move me. And, finally, we have Cars 2. While I admittedly never expected to like it in the first place—and in that regard was not technically “disappointed”—it was indeed disappointing to see the always-stellar Pixar release something as profoundly lackluster (and profoundly un-requested) as this sequel. The animation was typically gorgeous, at least. Here’s hoping next summer's Brave is a return to form!