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A Lawyer, a Lizard and a Bird: A Look at 2011, So Far

May 2, 2011

By John C.

It’s hard to believe that we are already at the summer movie season for 2011.  We’ve already seen a handful of good and even great films, coupled with a whole lot of average.  I’ve liked several films that others did not, and disliked some as much as everybody else.  We have witnessed one of the most interesting and diverse post-Oscar careers of an actor in the form of the great Natalie Portman, and it’s already shaping up to be another milestone year for animation.

It should also be noted that I’ve been seeing some good stuff at the Hot Docs Film Festival, more on that tomorrow.  Both good and bad, there’s been more than enough going on at the movies to keep us talking.  It’s worth taking a look back on some particular high and low points of the year so far, before the big summer blockbusters start rolling out.

Let’s start with the weaker stuff, shall we?  Despite some better films, it’s not been a good year for Warner Bros. with clunkers like Red Riding Hood and Sucker Punch falling ridiculously flat.  We’ve also gotten several comedies that deliver the laughs, but there’s yet to be a truly great one.  A good example of this is the Farrelly Brothers’ Hall Pass, which had enough dumb laughs to warrant a mild recommendation, but offered nothing new to the genre.

Then there have been movies like Prom, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules and Hop which weren’t entirely engaging for adults, but deserved a mild recommendation for their target audiences of kids.  Families once again proved a viable audience, with the charming and appealing animated film Gnomeo & Juliet becoming a breakout hit compared to its modest budget.  The Justin Bieber juggernaut also got even bigger this February with the 3D concert film/documentary, Never Say Never, and the result was a movie that was surprisingly easy to enjoy strictly on its own merits.

The recent career of actress Natalie Portman, who starred alongside Ashton Kutcher in the appealing and sexy romantic-comedy No Strings Attached, has made her one of the most interesting people to watch this year.  After winning a Best Actress Oscar for her brilliant work in Black Swan at the end of February, Portman also starred in the disappointing historical comedy Your Highness and will play a prominent role in the upcoming Thor.  Needless to say, she’s having one of the most diverse careers to directly follow an Oscar win.

Other films that I liked included the critically acclaimed Source Code, but the much debated sci-fi mind bender would have delivered a greater emotional impact had it ended a few scenes earlier.  Two other good films that didn’t take their great premises quite as far as they could have were The Adjustment Bureau and Limitless.  For completely different reasons, I recently enjoyed the refreshingly quiet and classy entertainment value of Water for Elephants.  We’ve also gotten two beautifully shot nature documentaries to provide a nice change of pace, including Born to be Wild in IMAX 3D and Disney•Nature’s African Cats.

The first weekend of March, Rango emerged as an edgy and smart animated film for older kids and adults, delivering numerous clever references to other films and a thoroughly involved voice performance from Johnny Depp.  Earlier in the year I also appreciated the intelligence of The Lincoln Lawyer, a smart legal thriller with strong leading work from Matthew McConaughey that managed to provide solid entertainment for adults.

I am certain there will be others to surpass it over the next few months, but Rio is quite simply the best movie I have seen so far in 2011.  With appealing characters, beautiful animation and a great soundtrack, it comfortably remains both a critical and commercial success as well as one of the most flat-out enjoyable movies in recent memory.  There’s still quite a bit of time left in 2011 and some promising films being released over the summer months, but for now we should remain grateful for the good and great ones we’ve already seen.

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