Home > Lists, Year in Review > 2011 in Review: Notable Films I Managed to Avoid, For Better or For Worse, October – December 2011

2011 in Review: Notable Films I Managed to Avoid, For Better or For Worse, October – December 2011

<< Part 1 – January – April 2011

<< Part 2 – May – September 2011

Here it is — the final chapter of films I didn’t see in (or from) 2011. This time of year is usually considered the “Oscar season.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t some blockbuster hits still spilling out of the summer months, avoiding much bigger blockbuster hits in favor of taking on films more serious and, presumably, meant for a different audience.

After all, October is Halloween month, and so we usually get a spat of horror films which have a reputation, justified or not, for being generally awful but widely seen films. Since the Saw franchise presumably ended last year with Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, making 2011 the first year without a theatrical Saw release since 2003, perhaps many would consider it refreshing that we got two horror film prequels this year with The Thing and Paranormal Activity 3, with The Human Centipede 2 inexplicably filling in the gap for necessary sequels. Strangely enough, no remakes of horror films. Just a remake of Footloose, which, depending on your perspective, might be scary enough. Zing!

Personally, this was also the time of year where I didn’t really go see any films in theatres at all, having to save up to go see family for Christmas and, thus, get by without pay for work by the end of the year. And Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol nearly made this list, had I not gone and seen it at a 9AM showing this past Sunday, which, technically was seeing the film in 2012, but it’s still a 2011 film and I wanted to have it on my favorite list, as I was certain it would be on there. I spent most of this time engrossing myself with films rented and streamed, as evidenced by my focus on getting to know more established horror films I hadn’t seen before in October and my Christmas movie reviews in December (with a lone Thanksgiving film, for good measure) as well as getting more familiar with my own personal, neglected movie collection once again. (I forgot how good most of the films I own are!)

Closing out the year, we seemed to have gotten a lot of Oscar bait that wasn’t necessarily as promising as previous years. No Black Swans. No True Grits. Even the usually reliable Clint Eastwood, having directed Oscar gold for so many years, was having a tough time this year. Like a second coming of summer, the films of fall/winter 2011 were largely big name releases seemingly missed the summer window in production. Not all of them were bad, and some were even brilliant, but ultimately this felt like a season where there were very few worthy contenders for Oscar gold. Luckily, this might just mean that the types of films being released are just being spread across the year now instead of being concentrated all at once. Ticket sales are supposedly dropping, and the studios are possibly experimenting with timing, but only time will tell if the coming years prove whether this theory of mine that I admit I just came up with holds any water.

The Ides of March (October 1) – As we approach the 2012 elections, it was only inevitable that someone would want to profit off of the coming maelstrom that’s already been picking up momentum pretty much since Obama was elected in 2008. I’m not really one for politics, but I do hear that actor-director George Clooney’s film about a campaign intern (Ryan Gosling) and, I presume, his loyalties between two candidates is pretty good. One of the problems with this film is that, this being said, it never screamed “SEE THIS NOW!” at me, and the trailer doesn’t too much more than set up the fact that something intriguing is happening, but just what is pretty much left unclear. I hate when trailers give away too much, but the one I saw for this film somehow gave away too much of the plot (switching sides, unsure of which side he’s on, a story possibly bigger than this one event…) while somehow making it more confusing what this film actually is.

Real Steel (October 1) – It’s funny that Mattel, makers of Rock ‘Em Sock’Em Robots, didn’t see the marketing opportunity here to counter Hasbro’s Transformers and G.I. Joe films and buy out the script. Perhaps they were worried that the simplicity of the actual toy would be disappointing to kids after seeing the mechanical carnage on screen, while action figures are mobile enough to be placed into any fantasy situation. Real Steel, however, was gaining a bit of a mild buzz, if only for the fact that Hugh Jackman was starring in this story about a father and son’s bonding over building and submitting a robot into the robot boxing matches. It’s a hard sell, even for me, but the film has gained mild praise as a rather mediocre sci-fi film. Mediocre praise, however, doesn’t warrant a ticket sale on my part, however.

The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) (October 1) – If you saw any of my horror film reviews from October, it should be pretty obvious why I didn’t see this bizarre, fringe-mainstream horror film that has captured the world’s horrified attention. I’m not necessarily going to begrudge you if you see this. Plenty of my friends did when I said that I saw and enjoyed Paranormal Activity and its sequels, and those involve much worse things, from a certain perspective, but… why? I get the whole body horror aspect of it, but this is like the “2 girls, 1 cup” of horror films in my mind. Just… no.

The Big Year (October 14) – An almost ambitiously small project for such big actors like Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson and even director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me). Apparently a “big year” is a competition between birders to spot or hear the greatest number of distinct species within a single year in a single area. The film has all the makings of a cult hit along the lines of Christopher Guests’ mockumentaries, and probably would’ve gotten better reviews, too, as this one flopped financially and critically. For all I know, though,  the film’s genius will reveal itself over time, and I may find myself adding it to my queue.

Footloose (October 14) – I have never seen the original, though I probably should, but the concept behind it is so hokey: a boy rebels against prudish town elders who forbid dancing and rock ‘n’ roll. Kevin Bacon may have broken out in the first film, and, you know, good for him, but, as I’m sure most fans of the original film are also thinking, I don’t see the point in this remake that apparently stays so faithful to the original that you may be wishing it had actually gone the original route and made it a simple sequel. That at least gives you an excuse for Kevin Bacon to cameo in his original role, right? Or does that stick too close to Dirty Dancing and its sequel?

The Thing (October 14) – Ah! It’s taken on another form! Oh, wait, no, it’s not another 80s film remake. It’s just a prequel! Confusingly, The Thing (2011) is a prequel to The Thing (1982), which itself is a remake of The Thing from Another World (1951, often shortened to The Thing, just for kicks), which was adapted from a 1938 novella called… Who Goes There?… Believe it or not, a lot of fans of the original were looking forward to this film, which ends at the beginning of the first film, and, I admit, though I didn’t consider myself a John Carpenter fan after seeing Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing made me reconsider the director (Halloween as well). I did take a wait and see approach, and it paid off, as the 2011 incarnation of the film was not very enthusiastically received. Yet another 2011 rental.

Johnny English Reborn (October 21) – Nobody really needed a sequel to Johnny English, but here we have one spoofing gritty reboots of familiar franchises in what I assume is a knowing nod to the Daniel Craig-starring Bond films. The only difference is that Bond really needed rebooting. Johnny English? Not so much. My parents enjoyed it, and apparently lots of people did, and I do have to say, I had a lot of fun with the promotional LED black light pen I still have lying around. I had glowing impermanent tattoos all over my limbs after an hour or so of boredom with that thing and I took great pleasure in revealing them like a gleeful schoolboy. You totally couldn’t tell I had a Triforce on my palm like Link from The Legend of Zelda!

The Three Musketeers (October 21) – I’m pretty much going to write off every Paul W.S. Anderson film since the first Resident Evil film as love letters to his wife, Milla Jovovich. She’s a pretty girl, with plenty of charisma, and a knack for owning cheesy action heroine roles, making no apologies for her limited acting range, which I can respect to a point, but she really hasn’t starred in an objectively good movie since 1997’s The Fifth Element, which is still pretty much a cult classic at best. Anderson, on the other hand, hasn’t done much for the world of cinema aside from create some of the more tolerable video game-to-film adaptations in the first Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil. Why would I expect this admittedly neat-but-empty-looking fantasy/action adaptation of the oft trod story to be any different?

In Time (October 28) – An intriguing concept, where humans no longer age beyond 25 but any time beyond that must be bought, was marred by the presence of Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried. It’s nothing against the two as actors. Timberlake has proven to be a capable actor, and I haven’t seen much from Seyfried beyond Mean Girls, but the combination of the two as leads in the same film screams, “Hey, MTV crowd, watch this.” There’s probably a decent film underneath, though.

Puss in Boots (October 28) – After three sequels, you would think that this Shrek spin-off would be an awful direct-to-video feature or a bonus disc thrown in as a Walmart exclusive “deal,” but despite the film’s first trailer, with Puss strutting down the street, swooning women, and pointing fingers knowingly, the cat with Antonio Banderas’ voice actually managed to pull off the impossible and prove that sidekicks really can carry a film of their own. It helps that, unlike the possibly more obvious Donkey, Puss was already an established character with a lot of interesting potential to have his own great adventures. After the praise rolled in, my only mistake was waiting for someone to see it with, which didn’t happen.

The Rum Diary (October 28) – I would really like to invite Johnny Depp back into my good graces, but after showing up in literally everything Tim Burton has done in the past several years as well as showing up in everybody else’s stuff it seems, the man just seems to have been spread too thin. The Rum Diary, written by Hunter S. Thompson, whom Depp had portrayed years earlier in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, follows Depp as Thompson’s fictional surrogate, Paul Kemp, a journalist who flees to Puerto Rico to escape it all and goes gonzo, if you will, over rum and a particular woman. I can sum up my reaction to the previews of this movie with one word: Meh.

Tower Heist (November 4) – Comedies in theatre are a hard sell for me. Either they’re funny, or they’re not funny, and if they’re not funny, I’d hate to have wasted my money on them. At least with a rental, though money has been spent, it has at least been spent on several people and not just one, often at a much cheaper price, too. Tower Heist, unlike The Big Year, had all the makings of being a terrible film, if only because it was a screwball collaboration between Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, several other well known, waning actors, and, worst of all, director Brett Ratner, the arrogant man responsible for the awful waste that was the third X-Men film – and I will never forgive him for that. Reviews of the film were surprisingly warm, however, and a surprise hit was born. I may have to eat my words for this film, but I will always have The Last Stand to hold against Ratner.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (November 4) – Much like last year’s Jackass 3, this is likely about the most frivolous use of 3D technology ever used, and I very much so wanted to check it out because of that. I had yet to see Escape from Guantanamo, however, and, much like everything else in the last two months of 2011, I ended up losing track of time and energy to catch up.

Immortals (November 11) – There’s a very simple reason why I didn’t see this movie, and it’s because it looked like Clash of the Titans with an even uglier look, and Clash of the Titans was both horrible and ugly to look at. More than that, the film just looked like a dull display of visual flair and slow-mo, glowing action with very little plot or character building to base a whole film around. It’s cool if you’re into that kind of thing, but it’s not for me.

J. Edgar (November 11) – It seems like the doldrums of 2011’s movie slate were too much for even Clint Eastwood. I’ve never been able to see any of his films in theatres, but Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, and, to a much lesser extent, Gran Torino were all pretty great films in my eyes. After the lukewarm reception of Hereafter, however, J. Edgar has only exacerbated the dent put into the 81-year-old director’s resume by that film. I wouldn’t necessarily write him off, as Space Cowboys was pretty cruddy, too, and better films were still yet to come, but you can’t help but wonder if Eastwood is beginning to lose his touch. Hopefully he has more great films in him, though. I’d love to see the man live to be the world’s first 100-year-old man to win Best Director. Also, he was born to play an elderly Bruce Wayne in a live action Batman Beyond film. Fact.

Jack and Jill (November 11) – Adam Sandler really outdid himself this year by starring in not only two bad films, but also pulling double duty as both brother and sister in the latter half of the year. I like Sandler in films like the underrated Spanglish and the overrated Punch Drunk Love, but when he stars in his own machinations, such as this holiday monstrosity, something weird happens and his passion for goofy voices, ridiculous scenarios, and self-deprecating sarcasm almost seem like he has developed a thing for reputation flagellation. I don’t get it.

Melancholia (November 11) – Controversial, experimental director Lars von Trier’s film about the life dealings of normal people as the earth is placed in the way of a rogue planet about to collide with ours has a very interesting subject, but the director himself was reportedly disappointed in having gone so clean and mainstream for his latest film. Nonetheless, star Kirsten Dunst won Best Actress at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of one of two sisters caught up in the midst of it all, and the image of Dunst floating in a wedding dress among lily pads that most have probably seen suggests, at the very least, a visual experience that is likely to be so much more.

The Descendants (November 16) – In trying to read about this film for this review, I find out that my initial impressions of the film were pretty valid — single father dealing with his own kids and closing the gap between them while in pretty locations. I had to stop reading the summary, though, because I’m finding out more than I intended and more than the trailers were able to convey without spoiling too much. It looks like a decent enough heartwarmer, and so, because I may be the only guy to admit that he occasionally feels down and wants to watch heartwarmers, I may give this one a go at some point in the future. But it wasn’t a necessity in theatres.

Happy Feet Two (November 18) – Horrible reviews for a sequel to an animated musical I never saw. I’m not sure how I feel about the motion capture process being used for dancing and singing penguins, but I’m sure it works both better than I thought and creepier than I had imagined in the final product. I’m not particularly taken with either films’ aesthetics from the trailers I’ve seen, either, which is a big part of why one would go see an animated film. There’s just something very unappealing about the Happy Feet films, and I get a sense that it’s almost like we’ve entered some kind of valley just over the mountain from the uncanny valley, where I cannot accept relatively realistic-looking penguins moving like humans. Again, I’m probably exaggerating, but yet another set of bad reviews just cemented my abstinence. And I like penguins, too!

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (November 18) – I’m informed by my youngest step sister that it was necessary to split the final films in two because of all the plot in the final book. Essentially what I hear is that Twilight deserves the Harry Potter treatment, and while I’ve not read either series’ books, I can say that there was only one film series that I put all the movies into a queue to catch up on this past year, and it didn’t involve bizarre birth scenes and werewolves pairing up with the fast-growing resulting babies from the mother they previously had a thing for. That’s not romantic. That’s just creepy, even for monsters.

Arthur Christmas (November 23) – The trailers for this, quite frankly, looked bad. The first I saw was of a military-like North Pole with a doofus inadvertently exposing the workings of Santa’s operations to the world while a nervous elf tries to play it cool and make with the damage control, and the trailer did a horrible job of playing up the actual plotting of the film, though I really should have realized it was a teaser and, thus, unlikely to give things like this away. Unfortunately, subsequent previews did nothing to alleviate this for me, and it wasn’t until the good response came in about the film that I reconsidered. Reviews aren’t everything, don’t get me wrong, but they are a great way to, yes, save your money.

The Muppets (November 23) – I really, really, really wanted to see this one in theatres. Nobody around me was hyping it up much, though, and I didn’t want to go see it alone. Turns out my roommate was more than willing I found out this past weekend, but the film has already left the theatres nearby, so I’ll have to wait for the Blu-Ray release or, if I dare, the cheap seats (bleh). I like Jason Segal, and I have always enjoyed the Muppets to certain extents, having watched a great deal of The Muppet Show and Muppet Babies on Nickelodeon as a kid, and I still think “Rainbow Connection” is a great song, so this revival was much looked forward to by me, even if Frank Oz objected.

My Week with Marilyn (November 23) – The trailers for this portrait of Marilyn Monroe and an affair she has with an assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl with whom she connects and has an affair seem to take a heavy hand with the subject material. Michelle Williams looks fine and apparently is in the role of Marilyn, torn between her public identity and who she really is, but something about the trailers give me a sense that the film is a bit high on its Hollywood glam, which is amusing since the film is a British production. That being said, I’m sure it’s a fine film that will get a few Oscar nods. Then again, the Oscars are often more than a bit high on Hollywood glam as well.

Shame (December 2) – I had to do a double take when I saw that the film was directed by someone named Steve McQueen. I guess with a name like that, your marketing is already half done. Michael Fassbender, also co-star of this year’s X-Men: First Class, has gotten a great deal of attention for his role here as a sex-obsessed New Yorker. The film has also similarly gotten a lot of attention for the simple fact that the film has been slapped with a rare NC-17 rating for graphic sex scenes, no doubt limiting its already limited audience. I fully expect the film to pull a Midnight Cowboy, the only X-rated film to ever win Best Picture (before the name changed to NC-17 to avoid connections to the porn industry that adopted it), and at least be nominated for the same award.

New Year’s Eve (December 9) – Here’s a writing and casting example of taking a bunch of familiar stuff, throwing it at the wall, and hoping everything sticks. Garry Marshall, once a respected director, has basically begun thinking that high concept scripts with gigantic casts that always include Hector Elizondo are Hollywood gold… or at least just gold. He did it with Valentine’s Day and here he does it again with New Year’s Eve, a film with so many plot points it’s impossible to sum up just what is going on except to say there are romances, diseases, rebelling teens, etc. Perhaps Marshall is going for so much overload that people will basically have to say, “I can’t explain it. You’ll have to see it to understand,” regardless of whether they mean that as a good thing or not. If you’re looking for large, ensemble casts in a plot like this, I would suggest you go for the film that Marshall is aping and watch Love Actually, instead, which actually has a talented ensemble cast that brings said talent to their performances.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (December 9) – Around Thanksgiving, I began saving my money up for the Christmas buying season. By this point, I already bought most of my presents ($90 bucks for 7 people, thank you very much, Black Friday), but had to prepare to take about a week off from work for family time, which meant saving my money, even regarding theatre-going to see even he best films, and I’ve been hearing about this British Cold War espionage film with the name that makes you sound goofy when you say it. Like Shame and Moneyball before it, expect this Gary Oldman film to get a Best Picture nomination.

Young Adult (December 9) – Juno writer and director Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman pair up again to tell this story about a woman approaching middle age but hanging on to youth desperately. The film has gotten relative praise from critics and Charlize Theron in particular has been singled out as giving yet another engaging performance as the desperate womanchild. I enjoyed Juno a great deal, despite the, in retrospect, expected backlash, and this film looked to be a clever comedy, so I fully expect to enjoy it when it comes out on rental.

Huh. A Korean poster. Why not?

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (December 16) – Christmastime was not a time for joy or a time for cheer when these pests got their third film in as many years. The title alone is reason enough to ignore the movie, but I’m also left bewildered as to how someone thought this was not only a franchise to revive, but also how that someone was correct and was able to make three films out of his idea. Probably the same guy who brought back The Smurfs and Yogi Bear, whose only great contribution to society was this parody of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (December 16) – I wasn’t taken with  the first film like most others. It was a fine enough action/adventure film redo of Holmes, but I found it rather dull and tired in its pacing, too. That being said, I looked forward to this sequel, which promised more action, more style, and more fun, which is really all I ever asked from the first, if not a complex, intriguing plot. I fully expect to enjoy it too, once I get around to seeing it.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (December 21) – Could it be that Spielberg and Peter Jackson were able to make motion capture work!? This stylish adventure film had the potential to fall into the uncanny valley with its visuals, but the trailers have proven that they’ve stylized the character designs enough to mostly avoid this. The action looks thrilling, too. Being a film released so close to a Christmas, however, prevented me from seeing this as of yet, though there’s still time!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (December 21) – Much like Noomi Rapace before her, Rooney Mara has been getting some good buzz out of her performance in this remake of the Swedish film of the same name, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson. I’ve never read the books, nor have I seen the original film, though it sits in my Netflix queue, waiting to be watched. I have no doubt this remake is a decent enough thriller, having been directed by David Fincher, but I’d like to watch the first adaptation first. Notable for also having one of the most heart-pounding trailers, with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.”

We Bought a Zoo (December 23) – And I didn’t buy a ticket.

The Darkest Hour (December 25) – I became aware of this film’s existence after my sister asked me if it was supposed to be good while I was visiting for Christmas. I didn’t know since I had never seen it before, but when I saw the trailer, I reluctantly said that, yeah, I guess it looks like it could be at least decent. Luckily, my sister instead saw Mission: Impossible with her friends, because this invisible alien invasion film has been getting terrible responses.

War Horse (December 25) – I almost saw this over the weekend, but, full disclosure, I was out to see Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol since I fully expected it to be one of my favorites of 2011, even if I did see it in early 2012, and I decided that I should save my money while I still recover money from a week of vacation. That being said, Spielberg’s other December 2011 release looks to have lovely visuals, a touching story, and has also been getting good reviews, so I do want to see this some time soon.

The Iron Lady (December 30) – It wouldn’t be a year in Hollywood without an Oscar-grab by Meryl Streep, would it? Unlike most other Oscar-grabs, however, Streep is pretty much expected to be good in everything she does, usually elevating her films in a way that redeems them from certain dooms, much like with Julie & Julia, where she really should have been the sole focus. Like that film, The Iron Lady puts her in an iconic role and makes her look born to play the role, in this case Margaret Thatcher. And yet, like J. Edgar, this Hollywood veteran-backed biopic of a well known political figure has somewhat surprisingly stumbled critically. And, thus, closed a rather surprising and disappointing 2011 appropriately.

(List and release dates compiled via Wikipedia, “2011 in Film,” which, while not the most reliable source, was the easiest way to compile this list.)

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