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The Movies of 2011

Even though I didn't see every movie I wanted to see last year (not even close), I did manage to watch ten of 2011's big releases. Like 2008, 2011 saw several comic book adaptations make their way to the silver screen, and the popularity of these films doesn't seem to be on the wane, as next year will see things like The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, and, of course, The Dark Knight Rises. Though I'd only call one or two of the following "serious" films, the bar has certainly been raised in recent years when it comes to even our most mindless entertainment. From the few movies I saw and despite a few high-profile missteps, it certainly looks as though 2011 was a pretty good year for the state of the art.



Captain America: The First Avenger
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
Release Date: Jul 22
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $65.1
To-date: $176.7

Captain America had the potential to be a troublesome adaptation, especially in this day and age when so many people no longer see the difference between patriotism and jingoism. Still, Marvel Studios stuck to its guns and did exactly what they should have, setting the film in World War II and not bothering to turn down the volume on the flag-waving ra-ra-ra that defines its character. While the first half of the film is clever, exciting, and full of some pretty impressive visual effects (the transformation of Chris Evans being the highlight), the story eventually devolves into a cartoonish orgy of explosions, incredibly fake-looking digital sets, and mind-numbingly cliché plot beats. While not a total miss, Captain America: The First Avenger is probably the weakest of Marvel's recent adaptations.





Contagion
CONTAGION
Release Date: Sep 9
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $22.4
To-date: $75.7

Steven Soderberg is the only modern master of using a stellar ensemble cast to twist multiple storylines into a cohesive, tense drama. Contagion continues this trend by creating a terrifyingly realistic scenario where a perplexing virus breaks out across the world. Especially notable is Jude Law's horrifically evil character who rides Big Pharma conspiracy thinking into making millions of dollars selling snake oil to the sick masses, many of whom die because they trust him. On one hand, the directing and editing are playful, demonstrating an expertly subtle mastery of chronological manipulation and the interweaving of plots, but on the other hand, everything about the film is so serious, sterile, and joyless that it never succeeds in being entertaining. It's a good film for people who want to be terrified of the next plague, but you shouldn't expect it to be Outbreak.





The Green Hornet
THE GREEN HORNET
Release Date: Jan 14
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $33.5
To-date: $98.8

While Seth Rogen and Jay Chou are fun as Britt Reid and Kato, The Green Hornet winds up being an incredibly sloppy piece of filmmaking that manages to waste a treasure trove of potential. It can't seem to decide on a consistent tone, which would have helped immensely, and the pacing is excruciatingly uneven. The fight scenes, in particular, feel wildly out-of-place, containing bad and unnecessary Matrix-esque effects between awkwardly delivered gags and one-liners. If it were a straight-up, surreal satire of comic book films--which is what one would expect from the collaboration of Michel Gondry and Seth Rogen--it could be a much better film. However, as it is, it feels like an unfinished mess with only a handful of salvageable scenes.





Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2
Release Date: Jul 15
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $169.2
To-date: $381.0

The Harry Potter saga comes to an epic and intense conclusion in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. From the first action sequences involving the dragon in the goblin bank to the lengthy and exciting climax at Hogwarts (which at times is shot more like a war movie than a children's story), everything keeps you on the edge of your seat, even if you know exactly what's going to happen next. Just like the first part, this film is very faithful to the source material, making only a handful of changes that seem logical and deserved. It is an emotional roller-coaster from start to finish, not shying away from the inevitable death and destruction that comes from such a long build-up and such high stakes. It may be too violent for younger audiences, but it's still a fantastical ride that hides its timeless messages behind magic and mystery. But why am I bothering to tell you this? If you had any interest in seeing this, you've seen it already.





Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL
Release Date: Dec 16
Domestic Box Office (in millions)
Opening weekend: $12.8 (limited)
To-date: $141.2

The fourth installment in the Mission: Impossible series finds the IMF completely shut down following an incident that implicates it in an act of war against Russia. Ethan Hunt and his team must work outside of the law and without any help in order to prevent the real terrorists behind the incident from launching a nuclear missile at America. While this sounds like a taut action thriller more in-line with 24, it actually takes itself less seriously than any of the previous films in the series. The film is loaded with gags and jokes--most notably from Simon Pegg, who's character from Mission: Impossible III has been upgraded to a strong supporting role--which lightens up the action and keeps it from being as white-knuckled as its predecessors. It ultimately feels like one of the goofier James Bond flicks--certainly not Moonraker, but somewhere around Goldfinger or The World is Not Enough. Having said that, many of the action scenes are clever and unique (I love the stuff in the Kremlin), and technical difficulties keep this latest mission from ever going according to plan, which is a welcome change of pace. At one point, the machine they use to create fake faces breaks down, forcing the team to do without their favorite plot device. Also, there are some good performances from the likes of Jeremy Renner and Anil Kapoor, though the main villains are pretty forgettable and Josh Halloway's glorified cameo feels campy and jarring. As popcorn entertainment, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol succeeds, but I'd have liked it to take itself just a little bit more seriously. In other words, it's better than Mission: Impossible II, but not as good as the others.





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-e. magill 1/3/2012










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