It’s become a bit of a Den Of Geek tradition that, come the end of summer blockbuster season, we celebrate the highs (and mention the lows) of the months that have just gone by.
It’s the blockbusters we’re interested in here, and as it turned out, it’s been one of the best summer seasons in years. Without further ado, then, here are the winners and losers of summer 2011…
Best FilmX-MEN: FIRST CLASS
NomineesRISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APESTHORHARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2FAST FIVESUPER 8BRIDESMAIDS
In all the years we’ve been doing these awards, this is comfortably the toughest year to call an outright winner. Usually, we struggle to fill the list with suitable nominees, but here, we’ve got seven strong candidates. In any other year, we’d have had to put Captain America on there to make up the numbers.
But not here. Summer 2011 has given us more very good movies than any other in recent memory. The one thing it lacked? A truly great film. There was no Toy Story 3, no The Bourne Ultimatum, no The Dark Knight. There was no flat-out five star blockbuster to sit back and enjoy.
Chief amongst the plentiful four-star fare? Well, X-Men: First Class just about edges it.
We’d hear arguments for Super 8, Harry Potter, Thor and Apes topping the list as well, but there’s a confidence and momentum brimming in First Class that just about saw it through.
Granted, the last act is oddly light on the X-Men doing anything, but this was a real surprise of a movie: a rounded, quickly put together blockbuster, and a massively entertaining one. It also had the cameo of the year, which we’ve not listed on these awards, for fear of spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet.
Best ActorMICHAEL FASSBENDER (X-Men: First Class)
Nominees:JOEL COURTNEY (Super 8)CHRIS HEMSWORTH (Thor)CHRIS EVANS (Captain America)JAMES McAVOY (X-Men: First Class)SIMON BIRD (The Inbetweeners Movie)
The best bits of X-Men: First Class? Those moments when Eric and Charles, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, shared the screen.
It’s McAvoy who arguably has the toughest job to do here, given that he has to be positive in the face of real adversity. His path is the less showy one, certainly. But Michael Fassbender is extraordinarily good, and shows the real benefit of casting proper actors in major roles in blockbuster features. His brooding presence is utterly and appropriately magnetic.
A special shout-out for Joel Courtney, though, who’s the acting glue that holds Super 8 together for long periods. As good a leading performance as we’ve seen from such a young actor in a long time, he’s utterly believable in his role, and surely has a bright future ahead of him.
And for our American readers, who might not be sure what The Inbetweeners Movie is? A comedy whose opening weekend has just outgrossed that of Avatar in the UK. And no 3D glasses were required to make its money, either.
Best ActressKRISTEN WIIG (Bridesmaids)
Nominees:MILA KUNIS (Friends With Benefits)JULIA ROBERTS (Larry Crowne)JENNIFER LAWRENCE (X-Men: First Class)HAYLEY ATWELL (Captain America)
Some of the performances in this category would have been more prominent, had they been attached to better roles. Certainly, Hayley Atwell’s fine work in Captain America was hurt by the two-dimensional writing underpinning her character.
But step forward Kristen Wiig, in what surely is her long, long overdue breakthrough role.
Bridesmaids is a film that’s deserved its success this year, and Wiig – who co-wrote its script – takes a leading role that’s not always a very sympathetic one. She married up her undisputed skills in comedy with a dramatic edge, stepping back at times to let her co-stars milk the laughs. Full credit to her.
Best Supporting ActorALAN RICKMAN (Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2)
Nominees:TOMMY LEE JONES (Captain America)DWAYNE JOHNSON (Fast Five)CLANCY BROWN (Cowboys & Aliens)ANDY SERKIS (Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes)KEVIN SPACEY (Horrible Bosses)JASON SEGEL (Bad Teacher)
Of all the awards this year, this is the one that’s been won, surely, by the biggest distance. That’s accepting that Tommy Lee Jones was comfortably the best thing in Captain America (a film with a strong supporting cast).
But Alan Rickman in Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2? His work capped a big screen character arc that’s spanned a decade. Nobody else on that screen stood a chance, frankly. If there’s justice, an Oscar nomination will follow for him.
Best Supporting ActressELLE FANNING (Super 8)
Nominees:ROSE BYRNE (Bridesmaids)DAME MAGGIE SMITH (Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2)JORDANA BREWSTER (Fast Five)
Elle Fanning was arguably the acting highlight of Super 8’s strong company of young actors. As Alice, hers is the character who has one of the bigger journeys to make in the film, and writer-director JJ Abrams puts a lot of responsibility on her shoulders. We think it’s fair to say that she had most of us rooting for her in double quick time.
Bonus points, too, for Rose Byrne’s under-praised work in Bridesmaids. In the nastiest role in the film, she was clearly having a ball, and showed a real range, given that she also turned up (in fewer clothes) in X-Men: First Class, and made a mark there, too.
Best Special Effects/Action SequenceSUPER 8
Nominees:HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOONRISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES
Lots of moments in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon were unlike anything, effects-wise, that have been put on the big screen before (a big shout out for the metal space prawns). Likewise, the raging battle of Hogwarts that underpinned Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 was exquisitely created. And then there’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, where a digital ape ended up putting in the best performance in the movie.
But nothing beats the early train crash in Super 8.
What makes it work is that it feels so human. This isn’t people being chucked into the middle of a computer splurge. Instead, it’s a dramatic, brilliant big screen sequence, that really feels as though proper people are running around in the middle of it. It goes close on its characters often, to get across the magnitude of the crash around them. And we’ve seen no special effects-driven sequence on the big screen to match it all summer.
Best DirectorKENNETH BRANAGH (Thor)
Nominees:MATTHEW VAUGHN (X-Men: First Class)RUPERT WYATT (Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes)DAVID YATES (Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2)JUSTIN LIN (Fast Five)JJ ABRAMS (Super 8)
Again, so many possible choices here. Matthew Vaughn and Rupert Wyatt were the ones who ran this close, but Kenneth Branagh’s style proved to be a bang-on match for the demands of Marvel’s best film of the summer, Thor. Bringing a Shakespearian sensitivity to his trademark flowing camerawork, what Thor also proved is Branagh’s range behind the camera.
The action sequences in the film were very strong, and the comedy very, very well played. It’s a pity that Branagh has already ducked out of Thor 2, but if the success of the first movie has given Hollywood the confidence to offer him more interesting, bigger projects, then in his case, that’ll be no bad thing.
Worst FilmPIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES
NomineesGREEN LANTERNTHE HANGOVER PART IITRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOONCARS 2SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD IN 4DTHE SMURFSCOWBOYS & ALIENS
Where there’s so much goodness, there also has to be the rotten apples, and summer 2011 was not short of then.
The Hangover Part II, for instance, was about as lazy a sequel as you could get. Cars 2 failed to fix the problems with Cars 1, and in many ways made things worse. Transformers: Dark Of The Moon numbed backsides en masse across the globe, while Robert Rodriguez managed to forget just what it was that made the original Spy Kids trilogy so breezy and entertaining.
But Pirates 4? That was in a league of mediocrity all of its own.
It’s impossible to get across just how few lessons Pirates 4 learned from the last two films in the series. The highs of Curse Of The Black Pearl feels a long, long way away now.
The trumpeted change this time around was a new director, and new cast members. It turns out, it wasn’t the director or cast that was the big problem. It was the writing team, and if Pirates is to continue, as its $1bn+ gross guarantees it will, then the hiring of new screenwriters who can pen a three act story of interest is vital.
There are moments of promise in Pirates 4 – the mermaid attack sequence is excellent – but it’s all buried under boring bilge, and no small amount of it.
Disappointment Of The SeasonRYAN REYNOLDS
If all had gone to plan, this was supposed to be the summer that Ryan Reynolds finally ascended to the box office stature that his talents warranted. A strong leading man, he had two vehicles: Green Lantern and The Change-Up. And both underperformed at the box office, considerably.
Green Lantern in particular was one of the lowlights of the summer, buried under a collection of odd decisions that never really came together. Reynolds was one of the highlights, and Warner Bros is determined to press ahead with a Green Lantern franchise. But it’s got a lot of fixing to do before it can do that.
The Change-Up arrived at the end of a collection of R-rated comedies, whose box office dwindled throughout the summer. Basically, the R-rated films that arrived relatively early – The Hangover Part II, Bridesmaids and Bad Teacher – all did well, while the later films, such as The Change-Up and Friends With Benefits, didn’t.
It’s a pity. In both films, Reynolds wasn’t the problem, and by classing him as the disappointment of the season, it’s relating to the fact that he deserves better than he got. Here’s hoping future projects are kinder to him.
Surprise Of The SeasonBRIDESMAIDS
The hit that nobody saw coming, Bridesmaids gave a lot of people a success they really deserved. None more so in our book than director Paul Feig, the man who gave the world the wonderful Freaks & Geeks television series, that painfully few people have watched. His deft touch, balancing comedy and drama with skill, was an integral part of Bridesmaids’ success, and it’ll be interesting to see if he does press ahead with plans for a sequel.
As it stands, though, Bridesmaids is the film that most of Hollywood wishes it had made this year. Cheap to make, a big word-of-mouth hit, and with real sequel potential.
Bizarre Moment Of The SeasonTHE SPY KIDS 4 SCRATCH-AND-SNIFF CARD
Robert Rodriguez went down a road previously trodden by John Waters, and introduced smell-o-vision to his Spy Kids revival. A note to Hollywood: this is not a fad that you want to follow. Eight similar smelling stinks do not, repeat do not, enhance a movie…
Leave your thoughts in the comments…