Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The 10 Best Films of 2011 for Me

December 31, 2011

According to my record, I had written 87 movie reviews this year.  From these reviews I have gleaned the cream of the crop among the films of 2011 that I have seen and written about.  (For this list, I will not include the 22 which had been released in 2010, but were only shown in local theaters in 2011. These were mostly the critically-acclaimed films released in December 2010, most of whom already earned their Oscars.)  

Now let us count down my 10 best films of 2011:

10.  SUPER 8 (full review)

"Super 8" brings us back to the summer of 1979. We follow a gang of kids who are finishing their home-made zombie film for a short film competition. 

This is not really a perfect film. The ending (which in fact I found cheesy, overly sentimental but ultimately meaningless) could really have been done better. However, it is a perfectly Spielbergian film. We see him in the precocious children who play the lead characters. We see him in the passionate hobby of the kids. We see him in the alien monster. So many elements of 80's Spielberg can be seen in "Super 8", now for a new generation of kids to identify with.

9.  SOURCE CODE (full review)

Capt. Colter Stevens (Jake Gylenhaal) wakes up in a Chicago train, not knowing anyone around him, even the pretty girl (Michelle Monaghan) in front of him who seems to know him. After a few minutes, we are all shocked when this train blows up into flames! From there, we the audience gets a smart, thrilling, dramatic and romantic ride all the way to the end.

The science fiction aspect about gaining access to an 8-minute memory imprint after someone's death is unbelievable, but Director Duncan Jones make it actually sound plausible. Jake Gylenhaal does it again in creating a character you will definitely root for to complete his unprecedented mission.

8.  AMIGO (full review)

"Amigo," by veteran director John Sayles, attempts to show all sides of a multi- dimensional conflict that was the Philippine-American War.  The film brings us back to the turn of the previous century, 1900, when Spain just ceded the Philippines to the USA. A group of young American soldiers under former architect Lt. Compton (Garrett Dillahunt) take control of a remote village called San Isidro. Trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy in his hostaged neighborhood was the captain del barrio Rafael Dacanay (Joel Torre). 

Joel Torre properly captures Rafael's essence and plays him with fervor and passion. Of course, with all the rather hammy acting of the unknown foreign actors behind them, the talent of Torre and the rest of the veteran Filipino cast (notably Rio Locsin as Rafael's religious wife) shone right through. This is a very good and thoughtful film about a war that had not been tackled before in Hollywood before. To his credit, American John Sayles directed this movie as if he was a true Filipino. He was successful in telling us his story from the Filipino point of view.

7.  THOR (full review)

Marvel does it again with another A-quality screen interpretation of the comic book hero The Mighty Thor. The heart-stopping action, the dark family drama and the well-placed humor were all perfectly realized on screen by Shakespearian director Kenneth Branagh.

Chris Hemsworth is perfectly cast as the cocky Nordic thunder god. Not only does he physically look the part, the way he acted out his character's arc is well-done and worthy of audience empathy. It was not forced nor corny.  The story is solid. Those of us who did not know Thor now know him and care what happens to him.  The fight scenes were very exciting. The special effects were very good for the most part. This was excellent and the first real big action blockbuster of this summer.

6.  RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (full review)

This is a movie that will give us the explanation how a race of super-intelligent apes had over-run the Earth and replaced humans as the dominant species which was the scenario in the 1968 classic film "The Planet of the Apes".  The very interesting and intelligent story line covers the origin of the super-IQ and super-abilities of the apes, as well as sows the seeds of the virus that will eventually eradicate the human race.

Watching the whole film also makes us admire the talent of one Andy Serkis even more as he was able to convey the emotion of the central ape Caesar with nary a word for majority of the film. His eyes, that stare, his body language, say it all. Caesar's final moment with Will was amazing and can send chills down anyone's spine, a real screen moment. If there is justice, Andy Serkis should at least be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar even though we do not really see his real face and body on screen.


The Phantom was played by Ramin Karimloo, while his ingenue Christine Daae was played by Sierra Boggess. Ms. Boggess was beautiful as Christine, channeling both innocence and sensuousness. Her soprano was flawless even in the most challenging and punishing notes in "Think of Me," "Phantom of the Opera," and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again." As the Phantom, Mr. Karimloo has got that X-factor that makes the role dangerous yet riveting and sympathetic. His voice can navigate the highs and lows that makes Mr. Lloyd Webber a musical sadist. It can be strong, yet tender and also menacing. His "Music of the Night" and "Point of No Return" were fantastic!

After the three main characters made their curtain call bows, the show was not yet over. Sir Andrew himself took center stage and thanked the audience and his crew, present and past. An impromptu concert featuring the original Christine, Sarah Brightman, and four Phantoms (including Colm Wilkinson and Anthony Warlow) makes this an essential viewing for all Phantom fans.


Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team (Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner) were accused of blowing up the Kremlin, and were thus left high and dry by the US government. As they move on their own to prove their innocence, at the same time they had to avert a nuclear catastrophe that would bring about another world war. This plot took the audience from Budapest to Moscow to Dubai and to Mumbai as Hunt and his team follow the trail of mad nuclear terrorist Kurt Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). 

Director Brad Bird ("The Incredibles") was able to achieve his animated-style vision into startlingly-convincing live action. This is Bird's first live action feature, and he shows them how to do it! This MI will surely more than satisfy any action movie fan, as it did me. This time, the teamwork required to achieve their mission was clearly showcased front and center, up to the very end. That renewed my faith in the franchise and now I look forward to their next adventure.

3.  X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (full review)

This film is a very mature treatment of the close friendship that developed between the brainy privileged Charles Xavier and the troubled angry Erik Lensherr, and how they forged the beginning of the mutant organization on Earth. 

This type of movie, being a prequel, is the type where the beginning and middle are more interesting than the end, which we already know what happens beforehand. I loved how they tied everything up very neatly in the details about each character we all know very well. Director Matthew Vaughn navigates the main story and its subplots into one coherent, entertaining and exciting whole. Awesome special effects complete this overall excellent package. A must watch, most certainly!

2.  THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (full review)

The story follows intrepid young reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) when a model ship he bought for a pound from a street seller was being relentlessly pursued by a mysterious man named Sakharine (Daniel Craig). Along the way, Tintin crosses paths with the alcoholic Captain Haddock (the versatile Andy Serkis) who was apparently the heir of a huge fortune of gold lost at sea, the very fortune also being sought by Sakharine. This race for the treasure leads Tintin and the Captain in an unexpected adventure of the highest order that spans land, sea and air! 

This was simply one of the most visually stunning movies I have EVER seen. The colorful and entertaining title sequence itself already draws you in. The motion capture animation is stepped up 100% from past incarnations as "Polar Express" and "Christmas Carol." This movie is beautiful and exciting at the same time, with just the right hint of nostalgia. The artwork is flawless. The colors were vibrant. The action sequences were exhilarating. The realism of this animated film (Spielberg's first as director) was astounding. Definitely a must-watch for the big screen! 10 stars!


The action here was relentless, as it goes from one highlight scene to another. From the exciting incursion of the trio into Gringott's Bank to get into the Lestrange Vault and their exhilarating escape, the unexpectedly (for non-readers) revelatory and emotional Pensieve memory of Prof. Snape, the very intense and destructive Battle at Hogwarts, the explosively watery destruction of the Hufflepuff's cup, the fiery aftermath of finding Ravenclaw's diadem, all the way up to the final showdown between Harry and Voldemort. These scenes were all very memorably shot, with incredible visual and sound effects. 

This is the best movie of the year for me. Congratulations to David Yates and the excellent cast for perfectly recreating J.K. Rowling's incredibly intricate final book (some small details changed notwithstanding). This fantastic finale film is indeed a bittersweet victory for the creators and for the fans alike.

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