At the beginning of 2011, I made a list of what I thought would be the best movies of the year. (My formula for success: equal parts good character development and explosions.) Now that 2011 is in the books, here is an analysis of how my predictions went:
1. Captain America: The First Avenger
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 79%). It wasn't perfect, but my top choice didn't disappoint. It was full of heart, especially in the opening act, and was two hours of pure fun.
2. Cowboys & Aliens
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 44%). Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, plus John Favreau as director and a kick-ass concept - what could go wrong? Well, it could be boring for starters. What should have been on my list: Attack the Block (Tomatometer 90%). This British film didn't get much press in the U.S., but it was a well-done, smart take on the alien invasion story.
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 77%). I had serious doubts about this one when it was first announced, but the more I heard about it the more excited I got. And the movie topped my expectations.
4. Green Lantern
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 27%). With a great concept supported by a big budget, this movie should have been a big hit, but the script and directing were just awful. What should have been on my list: Limitless (Rotten Tomatoes score 69%). If Green Lantern wanted to chart new ground, it needed to look no further than this sleeper, which put a fresh spin on the question of "what would happen if an ordinary guy gained a super power?"
5. X-Men: First Class
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 87%). This one made up for the past two weak X-Men movies and returned the franchise to relevance.
6. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 59%). On paper this one sounded even better than the first movie, which was an interesting and pretty good take on the classic detective. I haven't seen this one yet, but all reports point to it being only so-so. Still, it has Robert Downey, Jr., so even if it was downright horrible I would watch it just because of my man-crush.
7. Super 8
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 82%). It was a little formulaic at times, and the ending wasn't as good as the rest of the film, but J.J. Abram's homage to Steven Spielberg was well done and thoroughly entertaining.
8. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer: 35%). Director Micahel Bay said that he had learned from the disastrous second Transformers movie and that this one would be better. (When will I learn to stop believing Michael Bay?) Actually, it was, but only marginally. What makes it nearly OK are the incredible special effects, which probably top anything in the series so far. Unfortunately, the story is just as infuriatingly bogged down as the second installment - and in fact is nearly the same story. It would have been a much better movie had they stuck to a simpler plot and allowed more time for character growth. But, again, Michael Bay.
9. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 33%). I absolutely loved the first PotC movie, but thought the next two were muddled messes. I was encouraged, then, when I heard the franchise was changing direction (no more Orlando Bloom or Keira Knightly), and even more encouraged when I heard there would be zombies or vampires or something. But no, it was still a mess. What should have been on my list: The Adventures of Tintin (Tomatometer 74%). Virtually unknown in America, Tintin is the star of a popular series of children's adventure books in the rest of the world. And his first animated adventure, directed by Steven Spielberg, has been getting great word of mouth.
10. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 83%). I've always loved the original PotA movie, even though I always felt it wasn't very feasible by science fiction standards. When Tim Burton remade it a few years ago, I lost all hope. But this prequel, with mo-cap phenom Andy Serkis in the lead roll as Caesar the chimpanzee, turned out to be very well done - and even provides some rationale behind the story of the original classic.
11. Conan the Barbarian
Result: EPIC FAIL (Rotten Tomatoes score 23%). The 1982 version of Conan the Barbarian starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is a stone-cold classic. I really love Conan and was hoping this digital-age re-make would add something, but it just fell flat. What should have been on my list: 13 Assassins (Tomatometer 95%). This Japanese-British film about samurai assassins made many critics' top-ten lists and featured some dazzling fight sequences.
12. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 93%). After three mostly mediocre M:I movies, I didn't think this one would be an improvement. But the live-action debut of acclaimed animation director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) gave me a glimmer of hope. And from what I have heard, Bird used his cartoon thrill-ride sensibilities to churn out a non-stop, balls-to-the-wall blockbuster.
So there you have it: six winners, four losers and two in-between. (58%)
Which just goes to show: you never can tell what's going to be good until you actually see it. Still, that won't stop me from speculating about the movies of 2012 in my next post...
I have to give a special shout-out to Martin Scorsese's Hugo (Tomatometer 89%). I had not heard of this film before it came out, but it got tremendous reviews and ended up on my must-see list. It isn't the splodiest movie; it doesn't have giant robots knocking down buildings, just one small clockwork man - oh, and a great story. This is a film about the magic of movie making, so if you're a film buff like me, you'll want to check it out.
Also, Battle: Los Angeles (Tomatometer 35%) was a lot better than the reviews would have you believe. The story may have been cliche in places, but it did a good job of showing what it would be like to be a soldier during an alien invasion. In fact, this was really a war movie: the aliens are barely seen, and I think it scored so low because it failed to meet some people's expectations of what an alien invasion movie should be.