There's still no Your Highness on this list. Again, we'll get to Your Highness, but not just yet.
Presented in no particular order, say hello to your next few weekends and evenings' entertainment.
Attack the Block - This movie was so close to making the "best of the year", and I still debate with myself about whether I should put it up there or keep it here. The only difference between Attack the Block and the very best of 2011 is that it embraces the pulpy fun of early John Carpenter, which is a really good thing. I have no doubt in my mind you're going to have a great time watching Attack the Block, so maybe I'm hesitating because I feel like I've mentioned it so many times in the last six months that it doesn't need anymore heightened expectations. Joe Cornish does well enough on his own that he doesn't need Cap'n Howdy and Major Tom to toot his horn for him... wow, that sounded worse than I mean to it to.
hesitate to see it again. You'll leave with a big smile on your face, satisfied that the Muppets can still be in fine movies.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes - It takes a really good movie to overcome wafer thin characters, but this film belongs to Andy Serkis' Caesar, and the apes are fantastic. You're not even going to notice the fact that the cgi apes are more believable than the human cast.
Horrible Bosses - The movie I laughed at the second hardest this year is everything The Change-Up is not: it's certainly not "PC" or even generally in good taste, but the gross out is at a minimum. Better still, the cheap jokes sit this one out for better character-related humor, and the three leads (Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, and Jason Bateman) are more than matched by the title characters (Colin Farrell, Jennifer Aniston, and the "where have you been all this time" Kevin Spacey). Throw in Jamie Foxx as a more interesting than advertised criminal, and you're going to laugh hard.
The Innkeepers - From Ti West, the director of The House of the Devil, comes another slow burn horror film where tension continues mounting and the sense of dread is palpable. Instead of replicating the horror of the early 1980s, West's "haunted hotel" follow-up is set squarely in the present, and he's just as adept at creeping you out with slow tracking shots, suggested noises, and believable characters you relate to. Sara Paxton's Claire is a young woman without much of a clue what she want to do or be, who becomes way too interested in Luke (Pat Healy)'s hobby: ghost hunting. She's fixated on finding the spirit of Madeline O'Malley, a bride who killed herself in the hotel in the 1890s.
On the last weekend that the Yankee Padler hotel is open, Luke and Claire trade off shifts, watching over the last remaining hotel tenants - former actress / new age guru Leanne Rease-Jones (Kelly McGillis) and a mysterious Old Man (George Riddle) - while they hunt for evidence of O'Malley's presence. West doles out the scares slowly but surely, and only towards the very end do things go the way most horror films go. In fact, if there's any fault to be found in The Innkeepers, it's that what comes before and after the climax of the film are undermined ever so slightly by what we know HAS to happen, even if the subtle clues of why it happens don't always add up. Without spoiling too much, I can say that the film is an example of the kind of movie 1408 could have been, one that eschews cheap histrionics and trickery and deliberately ratchets up the "willies" factor.
Fans of The House of the Devil are going to find a lot to love about The Inkeepers, but if you like your horror fast and relentless, this may seem a little slow for your tastes. For me? Let's just say I had to watch something else after I finished it, because I wasn't going to bed.
Fast Five - Let's put it this way: I had never seen one of the Fast and the Furious films and really had no intention to until I started hearing the genuinely positive reviews for this film. It didn't hurt that Dwayne Johnson was joining the cast as the guy determined to make Vin Diesel's life a living hell, but I watched Fast & Furious (which ends the way that Fast Five begins) in order to come in with some sense of context on a franchise I'd never once considered before. And I'll be damned if it wasn't entertaining, amusing, with good action, strong car chases, decent characters, and a better "action movie" plot than I was expecting. It's more "Ocean's Eleven" than racing movie, which didn't hurt things. At the beginning of 2011 I don't think you'd have ever heard me saying this, but I'm on board for Fast Six and beyond if they keep this level of quality up.
Bridesmaids - The movie I laughed at the hardest this year. Not since The Sweetest Thing has a film so unmistakably designed as a "chick flick" has a movie been willing to mix the scatalogical with the slapstick and quirk of character. Anchored by Kristen Wiig and bolstered by a strong supporting cast, it doesn't surprise me that the clever, lewd Bridesmaids made its way onto so many critics' lists for 2011. It's a comedy that doesn't pull punches, and not just with the jokes - the way that Annie (Wiig) and Nathan (Chris O'Dowd) come in and out of each other's lives is at times painful. And funny. The important part is that you're going to laugh, so much so that you can convince your guy friends that a movie that ends with Wilson Phillips performing live at a wedding is "cool" for them to watch too.
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop - This is a candid, warts and all portrait of the comedian as an insecure middle-aged-man. Conan O'Brien brought director Rodman Fletcher along for his "Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on TV" tour after the fallout of leaving The Tonight Show, and the results are side-splitting, revealing, and at times uncomfortable. O'Brien's rage is bottled up but he often lashes out in passive-aggressive but cruel ways towards his assistant, his writers, friends, and most of all, himself. It's refreshingly candid and also quite funny, just laced with a bitter sense of regret and self doubt from the man in the title.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two - I can't imagine how this film could have been made in a way that would satisfy every Potter fanatic, but from the opening shots of Alan Rickman's Severus Snape to the final flash forward, it did the finale of the series justice. If I had to point out just one moment that stuck with me (again), it's Helena Bonham Carter playing Emma Watson pretending to be Helena Bonham Carter's sadistic Bellatrix Lestrange. Did the "battle of Hogwarts" deliver in the ways I hoped it would? Maybe not totally, but the tone of the film is pitch perfect and I look forward to watching parts one and two as one uninterrupted film.
Super - Of all the movies on this list, I sense Super will divide friends the most. I'll tell you from the get-go that James Gunn's take on the "normal guy becomes vigilante to horrible results" isn't for everyone. Then again, this is a movie from the writer / director of Slither. If you've seen Slither, then you aren't even finishing this review - you're on your way to getting Super. Forget the indie / hipster friendly posters, because Super is the Troma version of Kick-Ass, in all the offensive, violent, and just bizarre ways you'd expect that mashing of styles to be. It's funnier than Kick-Ass, more subversive than Kick-Ass, more wantonly cruel, and stranger than it has any right to be. I was aghast almost as often as I was amused, and if you think that's up your alley, then give Super a shot. If nothing else, you'll never see Ellen Page the same way again.
Come back tomorrow for the final list - the best of the best that I saw for 2011. It's a strong list, if I may say so myself.