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2011 in Review: My 10 Favorite Films, 3 – 1

3.  Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (December 21)

This film barely made this list. For the longest time, it was actually on the Notable Films I Managed to Avoid list thanks to its late December release date. In the middle of writing these 2011 in Review articles, however, I managed to run out into theatres and catch an early morning showing a couple weeks ago while it was still on a properly large-sized screen. I’m glad I did, too!

Directed by animation veteran Brad Bird in his live action directorial debut, the film has the same sort of breakneck pacing and wonderfully choreographed action that was found in Bird’s The Incredibles, only applied to live action actors. That’s not a knock at animation, of course, but when you see some of the stunts going on here, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that Ghost Protocol was the first film in a very long time to actually make my heart jump at what was going on in the film. Sure, there’s often some digital trickery going on, but what does it matter when you’re so engrossed in the action and the effects are relatively seamless? You know how the trailers showed Ethan Hunt on the side of the building? The ramped up hype for that scene in the trailer doesn’t even compare to what happens in the actual film. There’s an intense, slow build up and a release that had me putting my hand up to my mouth and silently saying to myself, “Oh wow!” (’cause I’d never talk in a theatre).

The film’s plot? I’m not entirely certain I remember it, but rest assured it involved some sort of McGuffin to keep the stunts and character interactions flowing. It’ll likely come about again upon subsequent viewings, but really, this is all just a wonderful excuse for assembling some actors together and having some fun spy stuff go on. There are, however, some nice character developments, however, and nothing in the film ever feels pointless or superfluous, and the four very different leads actually gel together as a cast really well.

Speaking of which, there’s a nice mix of old (Tom Cruise and Simon Pegg) and new (Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner) in the cast. Cruise is still in good form as Ethan Hunt, and though physically he’s beginning to show some age, he’s still very much game for the action and avoids overacting as Ethan — but if you’re going to go through a midlife crisis and you’re the star of one of the biggest action film series’ ever, however, this is definitely the way to do it. Simon Pegg is also notably promoted to a featured player after his all too brief sidekick role in Ghost Protocol producer J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible 3. The levity he brings to the film is fun and his character capable enough as a field operative that you never feel as though he’s Jar Jar-ing up the place.

Paula Patton is of course the only lady operative, as there always is, and though it is a cliche to say that she manages to not be cliche, it’s a true one. There’s a clear motivation behind her character that is clearly both professional and personal, and she never comes off as a Mary Sue type by somehow always knowing what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, which is a compliment to the character development. Jeremy Renner, heir apparent to the lead role in future films, is also a welcome addition to the cast and is very nicely woven into Ethan Hunt’s history, making his presence a logical and interesting addition. Though it’ll be odd to have him as the new lead in the upcoming fourth Bourne film and possibly taking on the same duties in future M:I films, not to mention his work in The Avengers and whatever else he manages to fit into his schedule, he seems as though he would be able to carry on with it quite well.

The fourth M:I film isn’t the best action film ever, and may even be surpassed in my mind by its predecessor, but as far as being my favorite action film of 2011, it’s so good at being what it is that it’s actually managed to make it my #3 film of 2011 that I managed to actually see.

2 and/or 1.  Super 8 (June 10) and Hugo (November 23)

I had a hard time deciding which of these films to place first, and which to place second. The Oscar nominees were recently announced, and while Hugo leads the charge with 11 nominations (including Best Picture and Best Director), for some reason, Super 8 managed to be snubbed in every category — not even earning any of the so-called “lesser” technical Oscars, such as special effects (the amazing train crash) or sound editing (again, the amazing train crash)! What a travesty, I say.

Well, I must join the choir of fanboys of every snubbed movie past and future and let out the emphatic shout, “Screw the Academy!”

As for me, I have a very personal reason for choosing both of these films for the top spot of my favorites of 2011: Aside from being just genuinely fantastic films in their own right, they are also both very much about the love of film and have expressed my own love for film better than I’ve ever really have been able to put into words.

I started this blog in September 2011, which wasn’t too long ago at the time of this writing, after having spent a better part of 2010 onward contemplating doing so. I pretty much majored in writing and got very good at it in college. More than once I had been asked by professors if they could hang on to a copy of my work for future reference of exemplary work. In my last semester, I had interned for two publications, one very local (the newsletter for people in the same Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies, in which I had a concentration in writing) and one very abroad (The Celebrity Cafe, where I was among the many who provided general entertainment news and features), all on top of my studies and very limited personal life. I had dedicated a large portion of my college life to writing, and a large portion of my writing was influenced by my love of entertainment and, most of all, film. I even managed to convince my newsletter mentor to allow me to do a Top 10 Most Influential Blockbusters piece in the otherwise non-film-oriented publication.

I say all this not to brag, but to illustrate how passionate I was about the subject in the past and how quickly I had pretty much given up on ever pursuing it as a career. I’d be lying if I said that I have gotten much more enthusiastic about the prospects at the present, but the fact of the matter is that I still love film, and I still love writing about it, and these two films that bookend my blog’s creation both illustrate their filmmakers’ love for film in a similar manner through their own craft in ways that I can only imagine ever achieving the level of.

Super 8 was created as a catalyst for J.J. Abrams’ love for the Steven Spielberg films that influenced his creative process as a teenage amateur film maker, a TV producer. and a rising filmmaker poured into a single body of work From the moment when the film first starts and you see the classic Spielberg Amblin Entertainment logo, with Elliott and E.T. silhouetted against the moon, and then Abrams’ own Bad Robot Productions logo, with the cute little guy scurrying through a dark field, you realize that it only made sense for Abrams to make this film. From the quiet and sombre opening scene in the factory to the amazing moment when the locket escapes from the kid’s hand towards the assembling ship and he learns to let go, the film is filled with incredible, meaningful scenes that reflect Abrams’ love for film and its ability to project life, its problems, and all of its amazement elegantly and, most of all, entertainingly in a suburban sci-fi tale.

Hugo, similarly, illustrates these same reflections on life from another breed of filmmaker’s perspective. Martin Scorsese’s passion for the medium is very well documented, and his reverence for film is easily matched by that felt by audiences and critics alike have towards his own body of work. The attraction Scorsese had toward Brian Selznick’s 2007 novel/picture book is understandable, then, when you consider just how metaphorical it is for his own early life. The story is of a lonely young boy who seeks to find out the secret behind the clockwork robot his late father had discovered, which leads him into an even grander adventure throughout a picturesque Paris train station where he encounters none other than the legendary director Georges Méliès, the man behind numerous influential films that had brought legends and fantasies to life on the big screen when crowds were still pleased enough with the novelty of seeing every day events caught on camera. (If you ever want a good evidence of how “reality” TV is a step backward and then some, then just consider that little fact.)

Hugo may not be wholly Scorsese’s work, and with Spielberg producing Super 8 alongside his self-proclaimed protege, neither is Super 8 wholly Abrams’, but great artists are constantly riffing off each other, influencing one another, and making alterations to the formulas. What matters most is what they put of themselves into their work, and these two films are certainly a product of their directors connecting with the material, the film language, and the tools, materials, cast members, and crew that they had on hand. Sure, Hollywood as a whole can, more often than not, be stuck up its own rear end about its own importance, and, yeah, compared to some of the more serious professions of the world, members of Hollywood are often rewarded with comparatively larger salaries than they are really worth, but film is still an artform with a lot of historical and cultural significance, and it influences not only bank accounts, but also history, peoples’ legacies, and even people’s destinies.

Had Scorsese not been a sickly little boy who found solace in film or Abrams not been born into a family of producers, who knows how many countless other creative types may not have gone on to follow their own passions? And as for myself, who knows if I would have ever created this blog? Sure, it’s not a source of revenue now, but I’ve still got time. I used to feel bad that I had chosen such a “useless” degree as English (I even still stress the fact that I “majored” in “writing” and only chose the communication portion of my dual concentration major in order to get out of a second year of learning the Korean language), but when I learn the fact that Scorsese himself majored in English, I admit: I do start to feel a bit more hopeful about this whole writing thing, after all!

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  1. January 31, 2012 at 10:31 am

    I’ve been with you all the way until Super 8. That movie just made me home sick for the movies it was paying ‘homage’ too.

    I still haven’t seen Hugo, and your review might be the one that pushes me to go see it finally!

    • CJ Stewart
      February 1, 2012 at 9:25 pm

      Hugo is a fantastic film! They just announced it would release on home video on February 28, but if you can still find a theatrical screening, I’d recommend it, even in 3D.

      I also, of course, think that Super 8 is fantastic, even if it was in emulation of the classics. I tried not to make these two entries reviews and tried to focus on the personal meaning behind them for me, but the performances from all the kids are stellar, and — do I have to say it again? — the moment when the kid slowly lets go of the locket is just… so awesome! If not to your liking, however, they’ve announced that E.T. and Jaws is finally getting an HD release this year, so there’s that to look forward to!

  1. February 28, 2012 at 10:48 pm
  2. January 3, 2013 at 11:59 pm
  3. February 16, 2013 at 2:32 am

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