2 September 2011
Looking back at Summer 2011
Inevitably, there were a couple of massive disappointments, but elsewhere, the really terrible films could be counted amongst the usual suspects. At the very least, no lasting damage was inflicted upon my already very broken and cynical sense of hype. Hey, we even got a few films that I would count amongst my favourites of the year. So let's run through the hits, the shits, and everything in between.
Thor at the end of April, the season continued its strong opening with two unexpected films from British directors. Hanna proved Joe Wright to be a capable action director, boasting both surprisingly strong violence and a sound philosophical core, for a 12A feature. It might seem unusual than an arthouse action film would appear at the beginning of blockbuster season, but more unexpected was how comfortably Attack The Block sat in the same timeframe.
Joe Cornish's hugely ambitious British creature feature provided the kind of exhilarating spectacle that would seldom be matched in the ensuing months, and it's unusual that we still haven't heard what Dr. Cornballs' inevitable second turn in the director's chair might entail. However, there was nothing so unpredictable about May's big-budget tentpole sequels- Pirates of the Caribbean- On Stranger Tides and The Hangover Part II.
Neither of these sequels had much to say for themselves, with the former shaping up as Subplots In Search Of A Movie, and the latter retreading all of the same comedic beats that made the original enjoyable, but with dollops of mean-spirited racism and sexism to sour the whole affair. Still, there was no worse affront to the senses than the relatively minor romcom Something Borrowed, notable only for being the absolute worst film of the year so far.
BEST- Attack the Block
WORST- Something Borrowed
X-Men: First Class, which was hotly anticipated, by me at least, as an inventive reboot to the flagging franchise. It's halfway there, with stunning performances, particularly by Michael Fassbender, and a stylish aesthetic. But the plot was slightly undercooked, and it's indecisive about whether or not it's a prequel or a reboot, which made the ending quite frustrating. Still, at least it wasn't Green Lantern a colourful and yet lifeless comic book movie that remains one of the year's biggest disappointments.
Another low point was Mother's Day, and it annoys me to no end that it's not getting the bashing it deserves from horror fans, as much as it is from most other mainstream critics. But then that's not the only time I've been at odds with a consensus this summer. I still prefer Bad Teacher to Bridesmaids. Bad Teacher may be more about a character getting into situations than it is a story, but at least it was consistently funny, and it got in and out quickly. Although I'm very happy for what Bridesmaids' success will do for its female stars, a good chunk of the film's 125 minutes just bored me, and I'll be happier to watch those films that come from its success.
On the brighter side of things, I really enjoyed Kung Fu Panda 2, which had a sense of inner peace that allowed it to be funny, tragic and thrilling, all while developing the titular Po beyond repetitive callbacks. Into the middle of the glut of blockbusters however, came my favourite of this month- the documentary sleeper-hit Senna. I haven't ever expressed much interest in Formula 1, except when I was watching this supremely engaging film.
And at the very end of the month, as regular as clockwork, Michael Bay took his semi-annual shit into megaplexes, this time titled Transformers: Dark of the Moon. There are some genuinely groundbreaking and frankly astonishing action sequences in there, but as usual, there's no context for anything, except to say "Well, this is slightly less horrible than Revenge of the Fallen." It was, however, even longer, and nobody should be sorry to see Bay leave Optimus Prime and co. behind at the end of the summer season.
WORST- Mother's Day
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. The ending of the Harry Potter series was the film I was anticipating most, not just from the summer, but from 2011. The only measure by which I could say I was disappointed is that it's not my favourite of the whole series, but neither is Part 1. It's still a bittersweet ending to the saga, and the absolute opposite to the explosive pointlessness of Michael Bay's contribution in the previous month. It's an all-out action movie, that still has time for the emotional pay-offs to a decade of storytelling.
To swerve Potter, there were comparatively few big releases this month, especially after a crowded June. Other family offerings included Arrietty, a thoroughly lovely Studio Ghibli outing that was sadly obscured by the release of Pixar's first ever stinker, Cars 2. This was an outright unnecessary sequel, and a bizarre oversight for a studio that is essentially the high watermark of quality animated films. Still, Larry the Cable Guy's unfunny tow-truck couldn't out-crap a live-action Kevin James in Zookeeper, a talking animal movie in which the animals are the least part of the tedious plot.
More comedies were launched, to varying degrees of success. Horrible Bosses found a large, appreciative audience, despite the lost potential of its inherently dark comic setup. But Larry Crowne flopped, in a cutthroat movie schedule that even Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts doing Community-lite could not overcome. In the UK at least, Bridesmaids held strong at the box office for the whole month, which might suggest the unfortunate inevitability of a sequel being cobbled together.
The high point of the month for me was Captain America- The First Avenger. After my relative indifference to Iron Man 2 and Marvel Studios' plans for The Avengers, they really learned their lessons with the double-whammy of Thor and this film, which felt like it was made for me. It's more a wartime adventure than a superhero movie, and it's probably going to turn out to be my favourite film of 2011, full stop.
BEST- Captain America- The First Avenger
Super 8, hot off the praise it garnered upon its Stateside release. It's a lovingly nostalgic look at Steven Spielberg's filmmaking mentality, sometimes so focused on looking backwards that it rides right into the potential speedbumps. It's another alien movie, but annoyingly, as with the other Spielberg-produced release from August, Cowboys & Aliens, it has no real signature moments to distinguish it from the masses.
The biggest surprise of the summer had to be Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and its pioneering turn from a performance-capped Andy Serkis. I've calmed down a little since my initial review, but I stand by my verdict- it's a reboot on a par with Batman Begins and Casino Royale. It's not perfect, but it's serious when it's meant to be, and an intelligent and emotionally resonant summer blockbuster. I was similarly surprised by just how good The Inbetweeners Movie turned out, and the way it's reaping its reward at the UK box office.
When merely "not shit" would have done, all those involved with the hugely popular TV series pulled together and made one of the year's best and funniest comedies. But then I preferred Bad Teacher to Bridesmaids, so what do I know? Well, I do know that certain films popped out at the arse-end of the summer, like Final Destination 5, Spy Kids- All The Time In The World and Conan the Barbarian, are little more than staples of the dying days of summer. In 3D. You'll see films like these next August too, but I'd be surprised if either of those franchises continue.
BEST- Rise of the Planet of the Apes
WORST- Spy Kids- All The Time In The World
2011 has a few more sequels and remakes to dispense before the year is out, but as we hurtle towards awards season, it would be surprising to see any of these films gather the steam that Inception or Toy Story 3 did in 2010. But to borrow an adage, and use it correctly- "it doesn't have to be Oscar-worthy to be enjoyable." The good films of this year might not be good in the way that Academy voters would traditionally say, but at least this year, there have been more highlights than lowlights.
Just to conclude, here's my top 5 summer films at the end of the season, as compared to my predictions.
1. Captain America- The First Avenger
2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
3. Attack the Block
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next summer, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.