Movies to See in 2011

On the heels of a less than stellar movie-going season in 2010, it appears as if Hollywood is gearing up to give us another mediocre batch of flicks.  From Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon to Bridesmaids, theaters have been filled with a glut of vacuous, idea-free diversions that are completely devoid of both substance and style.

Having said that, there have been some interesting smaller films released in the last few months and there appear to be a few more on the way.  So as a occasional screenwriter and as a lover of film, I offer these to you in the hopes that you might give them a chance.

The Adjustment Bureau  (Available on DVD / Blue Ray).  A highly stylized and very enjoyable look at the “free” choices we make and the powers that lie behind them.  It was nothing like what I expected; and far better than I would have imagined.

The Ides of March  (Currently in wide release).   Set during the frenetic last days of a heavily-contested presidential primary race, this is an intimate look at one man’s choice to become part of the machine or to reject it.  Quite possibly, the finest political thriller I have seen in recent memory.

Source Code  (Available on DVD / Blue Ray).   This is the second major film by Duncan Jones, and an excellent entry point into the work of a promising young director.  Entertaining, tense, and surprisingly filled with questions surrounding issues related to the quality of life and the right to die.

The Tree of Life  (Available of DVD / Blue Ray).  Without a doubt, this will be the most ambitious, poetic film on this list, due to one reason and one reason only:  Terrence Malick.  In two-and-a-half hours, Malick explores all of the major God-questions through a coming-of-age story interspersed with extensive, meditative shots of nature.  In all honesty, this will be a film unlike anything you have likely seen before.

The Descendants  (Nov. 16).  Already being touted as a front-runner for the Best Actor Oscar, George Clooney stars as a man whose life begins to fall apart after learning that his wife, who is in coma, is in the middle of an affair.  Of course, the true start may be Alexander Payne, director of such notable works as Sideways, About Schmidt, and Election.

Hugo  (Nov. 23).   Based upon the acclaimed chidlren’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, this is the latest film from the legendary Martin Scorsese.  Added bonus: several inspired casting choices including Chloe Grace Moretz, breakout star of Kickass and Let Me In.

The Muppets  (Nov. 23).  If you don’t understand why this is on the list … well, what more can I say?  I pity you.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy  (Dec. 9).  My wife and I have a mutual love of well-crafted spy movies.  This film, starring the incomparable Gary Oldman, is based upon the classic Cold War novel by the master story-teller, John le Carre.  While I suspect Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol will clear more money on opening weekend, true lovers of spy fiction will know where the wise money is to be spent.

We Need to Talk About Kevin  (Dec. 9).  Based upon a novel by the same name, this psychological thriller explores the divide between nature and nurture, as a mother (Tilda Swinton) struggles to come to grips with her son’s evil inclinations.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo  (Dec. 21).  David Fincher, the director of Se7en, The Game, Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network gets to play with the source material by Steig Larrson.  And if that doesn’t excite you as a film afficianado, I don’t know what will.  (Warning: This film wrestles with the notion that our society dismisses and then legitimizes violence against women.  Some content may be highly offensive and/or disturbing.)

Finally, I give you three more films that show some promise, but for one reason or another, haven’t fully caught my attention just yet.

Rampart  (Nov. 23).   The main draw here is Woody Harrelson, an underrated actor, in the role of a Vietnam veteran-turned-L.A. cop.  As for the main concern: it’s Woody Harrelson, a man not always known for judicious choices.

The Adventures of Tintin  (Dec. 21).  The pedigree is impeccable.  Based upon a popular comic book series, the film is produced by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame and directed by Steven Speilberg, the acknowledged master of the modern day blockbuster.  Still, I’m not there yet.

We Bought a Zoo  (Dec. 23).  This film intrigues me for one reason and one reason only: Cameron Crowe.  Back in the day, he wrote and directed such films as: Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, and Almost Famous.  But more recently, he’s given us the far more lackluster: Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown.  Will this be a return to form?

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20 Responses to Movies to See in 2011

  1. Christopher says:

    Hey Mr. Bryant! Great analysis, haven’t seen most of those. I Think 2011 was huge for both blockbusters an Indy films though. Look at Thor and Captain America, they have great plots and character development. Real Steel was an incredible movie on all accounts, I HIGHLY suggest you see it. Then there was Source Code and Courageous, two incredible smaller films. I also think, though, that 2010 was a great movie season. Did you see Prince of Persia? That movie alone dragged 2010 into the rubbings for best movie season ever.

    • Hey Chris. I haven’t seen “Real Steel,” although I have been surprised to see the really positive reviews that it has gotten. I’ll probably check it out at some point.

      “Source Code” is on the list. It was a great flick. Really enjoyed it. And I thought the questions raised regarding quality of life were really worth considering.

      As for “Prince of Persia,” it was less than I hoped it to be. But you see, I grew up with Indiana Jones, one of the greatest franchises of all-time. And everytime a flick comes out that looks like it might be in that same vein, I watch it. But it’s never as good as Indy. It’s just not.

      • Josh The Younger says:

        Thor and Real Steel were big surprises for me. While I got exactly what I expected with Captain America, both Thor and Steel far surpassed my initial reaction. Thor had great acting, a good message, and good action as well. When I went into the theaters to see Real Steel, I expected a lot of metallic fists punching a lot of metallic heads. While there was plenty of that, the acting was also good, the story (while a bit predictable) was well rendered, and the characters were well-developed. Definitely worth seeing.

        I liked Source Code, but not as much as Thor or Real Steel. The premise and story were great, but I felt like the actual movie lacked something I can’t put my finger on. Still a good movie, though.

        Haven’t seen Prince of Persia. Indiana Jones is indeed a great franchise. At least 1, 3, and 4. I didn’t like 2 very much. Sean Connery and Harrison Ford are amazing in Last Crusade.

  2. Doug says:

    MUPPETS! Yes, my friend, yes.

  3. Mary DeVries Yager says:

    I watched Tree of Life last night, and I hated it. I completely hated it. The points that they were trying to make could have been made in 5 minutes. I felt like it was a huge waste of my time. If I had wanted to want a nature documentary I could have watched National Geographic channel. I wanted a STORY and what I got was glimpses of a loving but abusive dad (I did like that dichotomy) but no depth of the story. I wanted a story – I did not want shot after shot after shot of Shawn Penn walking beneath buildings in Dallas, or in the badlands. I did not care about dinosaurs or the cosmos. I wanted a well told story. How did the son die, under what circumstances? Why didn’t mom take a frying pan a knock dad over the head? What was her back story? Develop the character, please! I would not suggest this movie to anyone.

    • Mary … Have you ever seen anything else by Terrence Malick? His movies tend to be very slow and very meditative. “Badlands,” “The Thin Red Line,” and “The New World” are all like this. In fact, if anything, he’s growing more contemplative as he goes. Have you seen any of these? And if so, what did you think?

      • Mary DeVries Yager says:

        Haven’t seen the movies that you mentioned. I must admit, the last few insanely busy years of my life have eliminated many opportunities for me to “enjoy” life.
        I want to revoke a few things I said, though, about Tree of Life. I decided that I did not hate it as much as I stated above, and here is why. After the movie was done, we called our 8 year old into bed with us (Nathan was at a sleepover) and we spent about 30 minutes telling Luke what we loved about him (His great sense of humor, etc) and then spent about 30 minutes telling him what things in our life took a back seat to him. (“We love you more than Vacations…we love you more than money…we love you more than chocolate…we love you more than Scott Bryant) This went on and on between me and Doug. The next day, Luke told us that this was his favorite night ever. SO…while I was not crazy about the amazingly SLOW pace of the movie and the total lack of character development…the movie MOVED me to action. So maybe I actually should say that I loved what the movie did to me. While it did NOT entertain me, it did MOVE me to action. ~Mary

  4. Josh … I would agree with your comments regarding Thor. It was much better than I anticipated, and they handled the mythology/science question very well for a superhero flick.

    I am vaguely troubled by your acceptance of Indy 4, however. My feelings regarding Indy 4 are similar to my feelings regarding a certain long-eared, offensive character that shall remain nameless. Indy 4 had the main character surviving a nuclear blast in a refrigerator. Let me say that again, lest you miss the ludicrous nature of the statement: the main character survived a nuclear blast in a refrigerator … Just gonna let that sit with you.

    • I have to agree with Mr. Bryant on that one, Indiana Jones 4 was a flop. The fridge scene was bad, but NOTHING compared to the ending.

      • Josh The Younger says:

        Did I just hear someone criticize Indiana Jones because a scene was unrealistic? After the airplane “crash” and moving railcar battle of Indie 2? After the moving truck/tank battle of Indie 3? I rest my case. 😉

  5. Bob Bryant says:

    I really enjoyed the adjustment bureau. It was one of the better flicks that we have rented and watched at home in recent time. I was very dissapointed in Captain America and chose not to see Thor on the basis of my response to the Cap. I think that I truly watch movies though more for straight entertainment than story or character development. Its television series that captures me for good writing and plot and characters.

    • I’m with you on “Captain America,” Bob. Interestingly enough, “Thor,” the film that should have been harder to capture, was actually much, much better. I’d rank “The Avengers” prequels as follows:

      1. Iron Man
      2. Thor
      3. Iron Man 2
      4. Hulk (w/ Ed Norton)
      5. Captain America
      6. Hulk (w/ Eric Bana)

      • I actually thought that Captain America was a great movie (aside from the whole action montage), maybe that’s just cause the movie made me love the skinny guy so much 😀

        Here’s my rankings:

        1. Iron Man
        2. Thor
        3. Captain America
        4. Iron Man 2
        5. Hulk (w/Ed Norton)
        324. Hulk (w/Eric Bana)

  6. Mary … Now you have me REALLY curious about the flick. From an entertainment perspective, you hated it, but from a life perspective, it moved you to action. How often does that happen?

  7. Josh … While I fully recognize the high degree of improbability related to battling cannibals in an underground mine car chase, for instance, I submit to you that the improbability served to magnify the greatness of the man himself. By contrast, the absolute impossibility of surviving a nuclear detonation inside a refrigerator only magnifies the shocking disdain that Mr. Lucas has developed for his core audience – a disdain best exemplified by a certain, long-eared rodent-like character stepping in alien poo as a form of “slapstick” comedy. 🙂

  8. Josh The Younger says:

    Old fridges have lead in them, lead protects from radiation… he didn’t break any bones because Lucas was magnifying his greatness… and you still haven’t addressed the inflatable-boat-ride-down-the-mountain problem. 😉

    Honestly, though, I would be happy if Jar-Jar never existed. I’d just be that much happier if all the ewoks had been slaughtered by the 501st.

  9. Josh The Younger says:

    By the way, I just saw Hugo over Thanksgiving week. It’s a very different and unique kind of movie. There was no flashy action, only a few CGI sequences, and a bunch of seemingly inconsequential events and characters. But all that didn’t really matter because the movie didn’t need them. It told a good story. It didn’t need all the trappings of modern movies. The phrase that came to mind after watching it was, “that wasn’t really a good movie, but it was a very good story”. I think the strangest thing about it was that there were several really good, famous actors in very small roles (Jude Law as Hugo’s father and Christopher Lee as the bookstore owner for example). If you’re wiling to sit patiently through the full two hours, it’s definitely worth seeing.

    • Did you ever read the kid’s book that it was based upon? Without a doubt, the most unique kid’s book I’ve ever seen? Instead of having the illustrations complement the written story, the illustrations actually serve to advance the story. So it alternates between short chunks of text and 20-30 page chunks of illustrations. It is a very, very cool book with a neat story, as you said.

  10. Josh The Younger says:

    No, I’ve never read it. That’s a really cool idea. I should check that out from the library.

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