2011: Looking Forward and Back
We’re a little past the halfway point for the year, and I thought it might be a good time to take a step back and evaluate what we have on our hands and what remains to be seen. At the outset, I was not particularly excited about 2011, especially after what I consider to be a very strong Fall 2010, and truth be told, I’m already anticipating 2012 much more so (The Master, The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, The Hobbit, Bond 23, just to name a few). Yet, after some scintillating trailers and some more Fall pictures making their way down the pipeline, I have much more faith now than I did in January. Having said that, very little has really grabbed me as of August–and while that’s not unusual given my penchant for award season fodder–it’s nevertheless disappointing. Let’s take a look at what we have so far.
Water for Elephants features some elegant cinematography and another stirring performance by Cristoph Waltz, but it gets bogged down in sentiment and becomes so busy trying to evoke a nostalgic atmosphere that it lets character investigation fall by the wayside. It’s a fine, safe film, but it will be a sad year indeed if this title ends up on lists of 2011′s best. Despite my steadfast love for the cast and crew, Your Highness was a one-joke disaster that wears out its welcome rather quickly. Thor was fun, as was X-Men: First Class (which gets extra points for showcasing Michael Fassbender), but neither floored me by any means; both essentially faded from memory as soon as I left the theater. Keep in mind, however, that the superhero genre has never been my thing. I missed The Beaver, Everything Must Go, Bridesmaids, and Midnight in Paris, but I’d like to check them out on DVD. I promptly and joyfully skipped Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Hangover Part II, Green Lantern, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The reason for this is likely obvious, and I’m confident my $10 for either one has been put to far better use. I didn’t see Super 8, and I’m not sure I will, as my measured anticipation has dimmed to something a little less than curiosity.
Horrible Bosses was 100 minutes of unadulterated fun, but it’s far from a comedic masterpiece. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 boasted some impressive set pieces and concluded the franchise on what I suppose was a satisfactory note. Yet, as an uninformed viewer, I felt that too many characters and subplots were left dangling or vaguely resolved, and the final third felt rushed. I haven’t seen Captain America or Friends with Benefits (I could take or leave both of them). Cowboys & Aliens looks cringe-worthy (a sentiment that critical reviews are certainly not dispelling), but Crazy, Stupid, Love looks to have some promise (and a terrific cast to boot). Despite early indifference, I have to say I’m very curious about Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Andy Serkis is amazing, and performance-capture looks to be making great strides. I’m not sure about 30 Minutes or Less, and The Change-Up looks terrible. One thing I am looking forward to: The Help, featuring a stunning cast, an uplifting story, and a big coming out party for an Ole Miss alum (a friend of mine from Oxford provided feedback for Tate Taylor’s early drafts).
At this point, the only film that I can’t get out of my head is Malick’s The Tree of Life. Even though I was not completely sold the first time around, I can’t wait to see it again, and I’m confident that it will settle on my shortlist for the year’s best, regardless of how glittering the upcoming prospects. Malick has created something special and sincere in an industry fueled by recycled formulas and an aversion to risk. Let’s look at what the rest of 2011 has to offer us.
I can’t say with any confidence which of these films will be good and which will not (even with trailers to go by), but here’s what my list looks like: Warrior (Sept 9), Drive (Sept 16), Moneyball (Sept 23), The Ides of March (Oct 7), The Rum Diary (Oct 28), Melancholia (Nov 4), Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Nov 18), and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Dec 21). There’s also Alexander Payne’s (responsible for Citizen Ruth, Sideways, and About Schmidt) The Descendants (Dec 16), starring George Clooney. And these Cannes titles have my attention: Take Shelter, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Martha Marcy May Marlene. There’s more, of course, and every year holds some surprises. I love Scorsese, but I’m having a hard time getting excited about Hugo (Dec 9), and I love David Gordon Green and Jonah Hill, but The Sitter (also Dec 9) looks sort of derivative and even lazy. Probably most exciting for me is Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, penned by Milk‘s Dustin Lance Black and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. I hope this one is great and cleans up at the Academy Awards (I don’t want to jinx anything or get ahead of myself, but at the age of 37, DiCaprio will already be overdue for a statue). I’m still sore about his snubs for Revolutionary Road and Shutter Island; if an Eastwood biopic about a controversial figure can’t bring him the gold, I don’t know what can. Oh…and Academy, please nominate Gary Oldman already.
So there you have it. It looks pretty promising, all things considered. Ryan Gosling is firing on all cylinders, and George Clooney has a big one-two punch in the form of a starring role and a directorial effort. Some of these titles will no doubt disappoint, but I’m sure others are waiting in the wing to sneak up and knock us out. 2012 will be amazing, for sure, but I have faith that the rest of this year will be more than one long purgatory.