Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mid-year report card: My favorite 10 movies - so far - of 2011

After a slower-than-usual start to this movie year, things have definitely picked up this summer for one heavy on good comedies, just the way I like it.

So, without any hesitation, let's just get right to it: Here, in reverse order, are my 10 favorite movies - so far - of 2011.

10. "Cedar Rapids"
Miguel Arteta's insurance salesmen comedy is lighter than air and manages to wrap up just before its laughs run out, and the very best of them all come from John C. Reilly, who just takes over the screen with an irresistible ball of bluster.

9. "Soul Surfer"
Yes, a Christian movie, but even without those overtones, the story of Bethany Hamilton, the professional surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack, would still be an inspiring tale. Here it's very well told, and AnnaSophia Robb just shines as Bethany.

8. "Water for Elephants"
The definition of by-the-book filmmaking, but since the source is a book I love, the movie just worked for me. And besides, I think the only time I actually heard people cheer in a movie theater this year was when Rosie the elephant finally ... I won't spoil it for you, but just trust me that this grand romance set at the circus is a fun ride.

7. "Super 8"
The science fiction in J.J. Abrams' movie is much weaker than its overall view of life through the eyes of a group of 13-year-olds who love making movies, which is infectiously entertaining. And keep an eye on Elle Fanning, who steals the movie with a performance way wiser then her years should allow.

6. "Rio"
Though I enjoyed "Cars 2" a heck of a lot more than the original flick from Pixar, it definitely won't be the best animated movie of 2011. That title, so far, goes to this flick from the "Ice Age" crew, which brings the streets of Rio de Janeiro to vibrant animated life (especially in bright 2D) and just delivers a thoroughly fun story.

5. "Hanna"
Joe Wright's Euro-thriller came out so early in the year that it's easily forgotten, which is a real shame, because its nearly as smart as it is exciting, and Saoirse Ronan is just icy perfection as the titular assassin raised to carry out her father's revenge plot.

4. "Bridesmaids"
In summer, the ultimate season for the raunchy R-rated comedies, none has delivered more laughs than this romp led by Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, and for that they've been rewarded with huge box office numbers (more than $146 million domestic so far, hopefully more than enough to greenlight more genuinely funny movies led by women.)

3. "Tree of Life"
No movie this year has been more ambitious or packed with more maddening contradictions than Terence Malick's "Tree of Life," which manages to paint an often painfully intimate portrait of family life in Texas of the 1950s while at the same time asking questions about the very nature of human existence. Malick's most personal film, and in my opinion, his best, too.

2. "Midnight in Paris"
Woody Allen's best movie since "Hannah and Her Sisters" is also his most popular one since then, too, even making an almost month-long run in Macon that unfortunately ends Thursday. As much a valentine to the City of Lights as it is just the funniest movie I've seen this year, and in this solid year for comedies, that's a real accomplishment.

1. "Win Win"
Thomas McCarthy's movie can sort of be described as "The Blind Side" set in the none-too-glamorous world of high school wrestling, but what it really is the story of a not terribly heroic man trying to do the best he can in trying circumstances. And Paul Giamatti's performance as that man gives the movie much of its soul, and makes it an all-around winner in my book.

Honorable mention: "The Way Back", "Of Gods and Men", "Jane Eyre", "Thor", "X-Men: First Class", "Bad Teacher", "Cars 2"

And there you have it. Please feel free to add any you think I may have snubbed, and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.


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