Belatedly, The Best Movies of 2011

By Zach

Back in 2011, Anthony and I talked about doing a best-of list for the year’s movies. Upon learning that the last movie he saw in theaters was Independence Day, I volunteered to write it. So here goes.

Let me preface this by an admission: comedy is by far my favorite genre. I also like thrillers, dramas and the occasional Eastern European adult film, but in the movie store I’m going with Jonah Hill over Nic Cage 10 times out of 10. That said, 2011 wasn’t a great year for comedy. It was a year in which executives thought a movie starring Kevin James and an array of talking, farting zoo animals was worth roughly eighteen thousand hours of promotional time and of my life, and also in which I walked out of The Hangover 2 with a sneaking, no overt, feeling that I had just been swindled. But there were a few comedies of merit, and I’ll throw em in here with the others.

– The Descendants – Of the movies blatantly gunning for Oscars that I saw (and there weren’t many), this was probably my favorite. Quick tangent – I’m throwing Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in the “movies I saw” category even though I’ve only watched previews, but I think I get the idea: beloved actor dying in the biggest American tragedy of the past few decades + overly quirky, heartbroken son x soaring soundtrack = OSCAR! Anyway, I thought Clooney was reliably good, his oldest daughter fantastic, and the plot was nuanced enough to keep me interested. It’s not hard to make solid movies with conflicted characters, or at least it shouldn’t be, but whenever one comes along it’s always a pleasant surprise. Side note: were we supposed to believe that Clooney’s wife cheated on him with this guy??? Come on, the only reasonable guy for that role was Gosling.

Speaking of Gosling…Drive! Everyone loved it, and I did too. At first I wasn’t sure if he was actually “acting,” as everyone argued, or just being quiet and sultry and convincing us that dreaminess equals acting chops (this is why Pitt and Clooney are both overrated, even though I like both of them), but it was unarguably a good performance. As Anthony highlighted a few weeks back, the soundtrack was what made the movie. In the right context, synth-driven scores can help define a movie (Beverly Hills Cop, for example), and Drive‘s soundtrack was a perfect example.

50/50 and My Idiot Brother were two of the best comedies this year, though they were both less mainstream (the latter more than the former). 50/50 walked a fine line between drama and comedy and pulled it off, thanks primarily to one of Seth Rogen’s funnier roles and a great performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose work I hadn’t really seen (I think I saw 500 Days of Summer at some point but mighta slept through it). I just saw My Idiot Brother and loved it. Along with Jason Segel, Paul Rudd might be my favorite actor right now and he branched out impressively in this movie, playing, well, an idiot who can’t get any luck. It was heartwarming and funny, and that’s coming from a cynic.

This is getting long so I’ll wrap it up right now: Bridesmaids was both the funniest and best movie of the year. Kristen Wiig, who’s great in some of her SNL roles but often held back by the often absurdly stupid writing, is downright hilarious as a neurotic single woman whose best friend is getting married. Bridesmaids could very well be looked back upon as a turning point for women in comedy – they’ve been funny for a long time now, but mainly it’s been limited to TV and stand up. When they’ve been in comedies, real ones as opposed to those of the romantic sort, it’s been in side roles. Bridesmaids took an ensemble female cast and made the most entertaining movie of the year as well as one of the funnier films in recent memory.

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