Looking Back: Ethan Picks Five Pleasantly Surprising Hits from 2011
by Ethan Anderton
December 28, 2011
Yesterday, I counted down the biggest disappointments from this year in film, which included a set of blockbusters that just didn't live up to the hype generated leading up to the release, and failed to deliver a quality movie. But today, we're looking on the positive side of the year's biggest films in the form of five films that sort of caught audiences off guard by being surprising hits both at the box office and with most critics. I haven't included lower key favorites like Midnight in Paris, but films like Woody Allen's comedy are smaller, personal choices, and will show up on another list later this week. See the list below!
So without further adieu, here are the films that really surprised myself, audiences and critics in 2011 by really coming through as great pieces of entertainment and all around high quality movies:
#5. Real Steel - With the huge presence that Transformers has at the box office, there was a lot of naysaying about another film featuring fighting robots, especially from a director like Shawn Levy who has made a name for himself with films like The Pink Panther, Cheaper by the Dozen and Date Night. However, when the film hit theaters, many were surprised to see a story that didn't simply focus on metal-smashing robots, but a heartfelt story about an irresponsible, arrogant father (Hugh Jackman) and his estranged son (Dakota Goyo) as they bond while on the road for a Rocky-esque underdog sports story featuring a subtly charming robot called Atom. If you really want to know why this film was such a surprise success, you can read my full review right here.
#4. Bridesmaids - Normally wedding comedies fall flat with a slew of other romantic comedies targeted at women who love dragging their boyfriends and husbands to the next cheesy love story. But in this case, producer Judd Apatow and director Paul Feig assembled some of the finest comedic female talent around and delivered a raunchy hilarious romp that was still derivative, but contained so many great laughs that the story and characters came off fresh and fantastic. If anything, this film should be praised for helping skyrocket the career of Melissa McCarthy who has been around for awhile, but truly blossomed here.
#3. X-Men: First Class - After the absolute disaster of a conclusion that came with X-Men: The Last Stand, franchise and films fans alike weren't sure that director Matthew Vaughn could inject new life into the comic book series, especially with a prequel that didn't feature any of the original cast members and only two familiar X-Men. However, it sounds like walking away from The Last Stand and handing it to Brett Ratner was the best move for Vaughn as working with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor X and Magneto respectively has yielded one of the more classy and thematically vibrant comic book films of the past decade. Plus, when it comes to surprise cameos, this flick has one of the best, but we won't spoil it.
#2. The Muppets - The return of some of the most iconic characters to the big screen after a decade absence is a daunting prospect, especially with decades-old characters as beloved as Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and the rest of the Muppet gang. However, passionate Muppet fans Jason Segel, director James Bobin and writer Nicholas Stoller brought the right amount of love, respect and comedy to all of our fuzzy friends to deliver a nostalgic, touching and absolutely hilarious family film. My love for the Muppets from my childhood almost brought a tear to my eye, and several adults from the older generation have been just as touched by the tribute to the old gang with a flare for contemporary comedy that doesn't stray far from Jim Henson's original creations.
#1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes - The last time an ape revolution leapt to the big screen, it resulted in a disastrous presentation from Tim Burton, despite some of the best make-up and prosthetics seen on screen at the time. This time a new technological advancement would help make apes come to life as the beginning of the Planet of the Apes is chronicled in this prequel that worried fans and audiences ever since the original Rise of the Apes title was changed to the longer but traditional franchise title pattern we now know today. However, spectacular motion capture animation combined with an absolutely mind-blowing performance from Andy Serkis, the man behind the movement and performance for Gollum and the new King Kong, made this a spectacle to behold. If you need anymore convincing about the power of this performance and film, read my words on the potential for Serkis to get an Oscar nomination right here.
And that's a wrap. Plenty of people seemed to agree with my list of the biggest disappointments of the year, but I'm willing to bet there are those who will have a few words to say about these particular selections. As always, this is just my opinion as to what films really caught audiences off guard and rocked the worlds of both audiences and critics alike. What films do you think were the surprise hits of 2011?