Harry Potter, Pirate Johnny Depp, the dudes from the Hangover, those vampire kids — sequels, franchise reboots and adaptations of comic books of varying levels of popularity filled the screens this year. Some were great (X-Men: First Class), some were disappointing (Cars 2), some got the job done even if they didn’t set the world ablaze with their awesomeness (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2).
Of course, in many cases it was the fresh ideas that really brought something new to 2011 (i.e. Hollywood’s discovery that women — who can drive now and also make their own money! — will actually pay money to see smart funny women on the big screen). Here are my picks for the best, worst and most entertaining movies of 2011.
Best animated film: Arthur Christmas. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this Aardman movie about Santa Claus and the quest to bring a gift to a forgotten child but I did thanks to the smart mix of holiday caper and British humor.
Worst animated film: Gnomeo & Juliet. I applaud the idea of making cartoons based on Shakespeare films but even my then-10-year-old stepson thought this movie was, as he put it, kinda stupid. Runner Up: Rango. Just because Johnny Depp is in something doesn’t automatically make it good (see also: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides).
Most disappointing animated film: Cars 2/The Adventures of Tintin. In both cases, excellent filmmakers (Pixar, and Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, respectively) turned in forgettable movies.
Best use of 3-D: A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas / The Cave of Forgotten Dreams. And I’m going to bet that that’s the only time you see these two movies sharing a category. The latest Harold & Kumar movie used 3-D but also poked fun at the gratuitous use of 3-D that seemed to be everywhere this year. The Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary about some of the oldest known cave paintings in Europe, used it to bring the ancient human past to life.
Worst use of 3-D: Glee — The 3D Concert Movie. Though the movie actually did manage to remind me of what was once (once) so much fun about Glee, the 3-D was completely unnecessary.
Best romantic comedy: Crazy, Stupid, Love. It might be stretching the definition a bit to call this multi-generational story of the joys and pains of love, centered around the break-up of Steve Carell’s marriage to Julianne Moore, a typical “rom-com.” But it did feature romance (including a very cute relationship between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling) and comedy (Gosling trying to teach Carell how to man up) as well as some nice family drama.
Worst romantic comedy: All of the rest of them. But specifically: No Strings Attached, I Don’t Know How She Does It and Something Borrowed.
Best romance: Jane Eyre. Not a comedy but jam-packed full of old-fashioned gothic romance, this year’s adaptation of Jane Eyre featured a plucky new Jane in Mia Wasikowska and a dreamy Rochester in Michael Fassbender.
Best movie about The Times We Live in: Margin Call. This movie about the early days of the financial meltdown makes you want to cut up your credit cards and only pay cash for everything. Likewise ... Runner-up: Contagion, which makes you too afraid to leave the theater considering how many door handles you’d have to touch.
Worst movie about The Times We Live in: The Ides of March. Ryan Gosling and George Clooney underwhelm in this dull movie about the seamy side of politics.
Best raunchy comedy: Bridesmaids. Girls can tell dirty sex jokes! And engage in gross-out bathroom humor! No, really! This movie (which isn’t a romantic comedy, as the central story is really about friendship) was smart and fun and sweet and proved that people will indeed see movies with women.
Worst raunchy comedy: The Hangover II. I can see you laughing and I understand intellectually that a joke has been told but I just don’t get it.
Best superhero movie: X-Men: First Class. It’s a superhero and a reboot of a franchise but this X-Men was a delight, with an excellent portrayal of the Professor X/Magneto relationship thanks to James McAvoy and avenging hottie Michael Fassbender. Runner up: Captain America: The First Avenger. Captured the spirit of adventure and the tone of an old-school comic book.
Worst superhero movie: Green Lantern / Thor. In both cases, all I really remember about these movies was how much I was annoyed with them.
Best total cheeseball movie: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1. Horrible acting? Ridiculous make-up? Goof-tastic story? Yes, yes and yes! But so fun! Runner-up: Fast Five. Cars go fast zoom zoom!
Worst total cheeseball movie: Abduction / Conan the Barbarian. In both cases, proof that well-toned abs cannot make up for a lack of good acting, story, script, etc.
Best performance in a mediocre movie: Viola Davis in The Help. My feeling about the movie The Help — its story, its cutesiness, its handling of race — is solidly in “meh” territory. But Davis (along with Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard) turned in one heck of a great performance. Further evidence that this woman needs her own show already.
Mediocre performance in a solid movie: Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. The movie really starred all of its cool special effects; Cruise, who is a fairly unmagnetic, uninspiring action hero, was not terribly necessary.
Best super-pretty movie about life and sadness: Melancholia. A planet but also deep depression threatens to crush the world. Stick it out through the slow build of the early section about Kirstin Dunst’s wedding to Alexander Skarsgard and the movie will grow on you.
Worst super-pretty movie about life and sadness: The Tree of Life. It’s about childhood in the 1950s but also the strains on a marriage and death and the dinosaurs and the end of life on earth and Sean Penn and also, nothing.
Best horror film: Insidious / Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. Both of these movies offer laughs as well as scares. The former is a great haunting movie. The latter is a smart take on the “college kids go camping in the woods” setup.
Really good horror film: The Thing / Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. The latter offers another creepy tale of a young girl’s encounter with malicious fairy tale creatures from Guillermo del Toro. The former plays with the fear of the unknown in the barren wasteland of the South Pole.
Pretty good franchise horror film: Paranormal Activity 3. Miraculously, this third film stays true to the story of the first two films and adds a fun new element. Runners-up: Final Destination 5/ Scream 4. Both of these do their franchises proud and reminded me of what was best about the respective series.
Worst horror film: Red State. Answering the question “will Kevin Smith make a good horror movie? with a resounding “no.”
Best ’80s revival film: Super 8. JJ Abrams presents Steven Spielberg with this thank-you card of a movie about a boy, his buddies and an alien.
Worst ’80s revival film: Footloose. I suspect even a cloying Glee special episode based on Footloose would have been a fresher update than this movie.
The “Paaahk the Caaah in Haaahvaahd Yaaahd” award for worst accent: Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar. As if this movie didn’t have enough problems, the approximation of the Hoover accent kept you from ever once losing yourself in the story.
Note: As always there are a few of this year’s films I haven’t been able to see yet. That list includes War Horse, The Iron Lady, The Artist, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.