The Destinies Film Review Team assembles live to discuss the best and worst genre films of 2011. Featuring the picks of Howard Margolin, Steve Lowenthal, Christopher DeFilippis, Audrey D., Brian Krey, Gregg Epstein, and Phil Merkel.
And if just listening to the show isn’t enough for you, check out some of our individual lists below.
(NOTE: All films are rated according to the Destinies $0-$8 rating scale)
Brian Krey’s 2011 Film Picks
5) Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($5)
I will admit that the Michael Bay films have been a source of embarrassment for me as one of the founders of modern-day Transfandom. But as the great Simon Furman would say, “let’s get down to Earth-literally!” I sat down in the theater, laughed my ass off and enjoyed this movie from beginning to end. But most importantly…it cashed my paycheck.
4) The People Vs. George Lucas ($5.50)
This documentary, which initially started out as a boring forum for Gen-Xers to whine about the Star Wars prequels, became about halfway through a fascinating dissertation on the nature of fan entitlement, a subject that is particularly interesting within the context of this program. I highly recommend it to everyone here in the studio as well as all the listeners at home.
3) Thor ($6.50)
Kenneth Branaugh made me care about a Marvel series I haven’t read in 20 years by making the film adaptation the compelling family drama Stan and Jack had always intended it to be. And kudos to Ken for putting my two favorite actresses, Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings, in this as opposed to the blank-eyed lingerie dolls that sci-fi fans like to see in this type of thing.
2) Source Code ($7)
Once again Duncan Jones proves that the Star-Child hasn’t fallen to earth too far from the Starman with another thoughtful, intelligent film that put me in mind of a classic Outer Limits episode–original series, of course.
1) Captain American: The First Avenger ($8)
When I said last year that this was the film I was looking forward to the most this year, little did I know that not only would it be a gorgeous, heartfelt film, but that I would be spending a good part of this year working on the film as a researcher, helping to make sure that it didn’t stray too far from the beautiful dream that those two poor Jewish kids from New York, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (rest in peace) had all those years ago. What this means to me is incalculable, as Captain America was the first comic book I ever read, the first I bought every month–and yes, maybe it’s true that comic book fans should grow up and throw away their nostalgia, but I know one thing: like Steve Rogers, I came from nothing. And whatever I am, whatever I’ve become or whatever I WILL become, a lot of it is because of that comic book I found in a stationery store at seven years old. So thank you Joe Johnston, for making a film I can be proud to say I was a part of. That didn’t SHAME the people who believe in this character. And I’m gonna give it eight dollars, because hey, I got paid for it.
Worst) The Green Hornet ($.50)
The work of Michel Gondry, from his music videos to his feature films, has been a great source of joy for myself and my loved ones for almost 20 years, and that’s why I was unbelievably disappointed that he turned out this piece of soulless, amateur hackwork based on a radio series that no one in their right mind cares about–and I say that as an old-time radio enthusiast. Howard tells me that I previously rated this film four dollars and fifty cents, but now I would more likely rate it a dollar. Or fifty cents.
Christopher DeFilippis’ 2011 Film Picks
5) Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil ($5.95)
An original and hilarious movie that turns the clichés of the psychotic-hillbilly-cabin-in-the-woods horror genre into gory comedy. Scores extra points for showcasing two under-used genre talents: Tyler Labine from Reaper and Alan Tudyk of Firefly. While fixing up their dream fishing cabin deep in the woods, Tucker and Dale are mistaken as a couple of murderous hicks by a group of dumb teens who unwittingly put themselves into deadly situations when trying to escape or outsmart the title duo.
4) X-Men: First Class ($6)
2011’s best comic/film adaptation, the origin story of Professor X, Magneto and Mystique, capturing the retro vibe of the 60s, while putting a believable meta-spin on the Cuban Missile Crisis. Featured an interesting and entertaining cast of supporting mutants, but most noteworthy for performances by Michael Fassbender as Magneto and Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. Loses points for yet again rehashing the tired central conflict of all X-Men films: should mutants live with or rule over humanity?
3) Limitless ($7)
Another 2011 film remarkable for its originality, this intelligent thriller features Bradley Cooper as a failed writer who takes pills that amp up his intelligence, getting him in over his head with a Russian mafia thug and a ruthless financial mogul played wonderfully by Robert DeNero. Limitless also stands out for its kinetic cinematography that turned New York City into the film’s third lead character.
2) The Adjustment Bureau ($7.50)
Another film that starred NYC, along with Matt Damon as a rising politician who stumbles beyond the veil of everyday reality to discover a team of fedora-wearing men who tweak events to make history unfold as they think it should. Another highly original film, a slipstream urban fantasy that hopscotches across the city. It’s especially noteworthy for the chemistry between Damon and co-star Emily Blunt. You really believe that Damon’s character would defy this quasi-godlike agency to be with her.
1) Rise of the Planet of the Apes ($7.95)
The surprise of the year. Who could’ve guessed that a re-imagined Planet of the Apes prequel depicting the rise of Caesar, the super-intelligent ape that leads the primate revolution, would be filled with such genuine character and emotion? A fantastic performance by Andy Sirkus enables you to identify completely with the nonhuman Caesar, and a smart script takes the ludicrously campy idea of an ape takeover of the world and makes it completely plausible.
Thor & Cowboys and Aliens ($4.75)
These films come up as my worst not because they’re especially bad, but both were spectacularly mediocre, especially considering the caliber of talent arrayed on screen for each one. Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins and Idris Elba are completely wasted in Thor, as are Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and Clancy Brown in Cowboys and Aliens. So that makes both films equally culpable.
Howard Margolin’s 2011 Film Picks
5) Captain America: The First Avenger ($7.04)
As I said when we reviewed it in July, this was the year’s best super-hero movie. Chris Evans was a good choice to play Steve Rogers, who demonstrated the qualities of honor, dedication, humility, and leadership that the character has always had. The movie had incredible battle sequences, and accurately depicted the fighting style of the Star-Spangled Avenger. An outstanding supporting cast, including Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving, and Dominic Cooper filled the movie with great scenes. Plus, Alan Silvestri’s score for the film was my favorite of the year, mostly due to the “Captain America” musical signature he created. To quote myself from July, it had the right blend of action, humor, characterization, and respect for the original comics to satisfy me and, I think, most super-hero fans.
4) Source Code ($7.25)
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Captain Colter Stevens, who wakes up in the body of a man on a train which explodes eight minutes later. He then wakes up in the wreckage of his own helicopter, talking to a woman named Goodwin, who tells him he has to go back until he finds the information on how the train was destroyed and who did it. He learns that he is in a quantum simulation, and although he is told that he can’t affect reality, he finds that he might be able to create a new one. This movie contained elements of Quantum Leap crossed with Groundhog Day, and made Colter Stevens a likeable character, who attempts to use his repeating eight minutes to not only solve the case to which he is assigned, but also to learn about what happened to him, and to fall in love. The director clearly realized the similarities to Quantum Leap, as Colter appears in someone else’s body, and, in the best stunt-casting of the year, had Scott Bakula voice Stevens’ father.
3) Limitless ($7.65)
I love stories about intelligent people doing intelligent things. In this movie, Eddie Morra, played by Bradley Cooper, is a non-producing writer who takes a pill that unlocks his mind’s full potential, allowing him to access all his memories, and to keenly observe and process everything he sees, permitting him to think many steps ahead of everyone else. Naturally, this causes him to become rich and famous, and the envy of others, including powerful businessman Carl Van Loon, played by Robert DeNiro. But the pill also has some dark side effects, and Eddie only has a limited supply. It’s how he deals with these drawbacks, in addition to his competitors–making full use of his new-found talents–that impressed me the most. I felt that the writers knew how to handle this premise, and they did so admirably.
2) Hugo ($7.75)
Based on the illustrated novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, this story of an orphaned boy who lives in the walls and clocks of the Paris train station in the 1930s is beautifully filmed, with lavish sets and excellent use of 3D. But, most important, the characters show multiple levels as the story develops, so that even Sascha Baron Cohen’s Station Inspector, who initially comes across as comic relief, has honorable and romantic sides to his personality. Chloe Grace Moretz turns in a flawless British accent (although why everyone speaks with an English accent in Paris is strange), Asa Butterfield is charming as Hugo, the young boy whose obsession in repairing an automaton found by his late father, leads him to learning about the legendary turn-of-the-century filmmaker Georges Melies, played by Ben Kingsley, in another fine performance. Congratulations to director Martin Scorcese, Production Designer Dante Ferretti and composer Howard Shore for a truly breathtaking film.
1) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($7.88)
The blockbuster series wrapped with this epic conclusion, featuring all the familiar characters returning for the final battle with Lord Voldemort. Harry literally goes to the edge of death and back to prove why he is the only one who can defeat the noseless wizard, and the intensity ramps up with the destruction of Hogwarts, the death of several familiar characters, and great moments for many of the cast, including redemption scenes for Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy, heroic action by Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovejoy breaking out of her flake mode, leadership on the part of Ron Weasley, humor for Hermione, and long-smoldering romances coming to flame. Plus, an epilogue that brings everything full circle, and shows us the cast 19 years on. I was always impressed with the quality of the films in this series, and it definitely went out on a high note.
Worst) Apollo 18 ($1.73)
Another of the so-called “found footage” films that have proliferated since The Blair Witch Project, now we see footage that explains the fate of the final, secret mission to the moon, and why we never went back. But, the whole premise makes no sense, as the non-transmitting hand-held cameras are supposedly blown up in space, or left on the moon, so how could the footage have ever been “found?” Unengaging performances from the astronauts, and yet another evil government conspiracy makes this tiresome mess something I wish I hadn’t paid more than $1.73 to see.
Honorable Mention) Goes to Super 8 (on the strength of the kids’ performances), The Adjustment Bureau, Thor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Real Steel, the first movie adapted from a Richard Matheson story that I’ve liked in many years. The Best Visual Effects of the year were seen in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
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