SCOTTELFSTROM.COM

Movies I Watched for the First Time in 2011

I began last year tracking the movies and books I read or watched for the year, with the goal of looking back and writing about them. I lost track of the books early on, but somehow managed to remember the movies. I only noted the ones I had not seen before; repeat viewings didn’t count. Here are my thoughts, in the order of viewing.

  1. The Expendables

    My first movie of the year. I wasn’t expecting much. I had followed the production, and knew that Stallone was going for the feel of an 80s-inspired, testosterone-filled actionfest. That’s pretty much what I got, and so I was happy. I would not have been angry for having paid to see this in a movie theater. As a bonus, we get to see Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Schwarzenegger on screen together for the first time. It was brief, but it pressed some fanboy buttons anyway. The sequel (out Summer 2012) promises more substantial roles for them.

  2. Inferno: The Making of The Expendables

    Immediately after watching The Expendables, I watched this documentary. Whatever you want to say about the final product, you can’t argue that Stallone doesn’t give it his best effort. The fight scenes were brutal, and he ended up having neck and shoulder surgery after the production wrapped.

  3. Inception

    For once, the hype was not overblown; this really was an excellent movie. I haven’t taken the time to go back and watch it a second time, but I know there are more layers that I didn’t get the first time around. Even though it technically came out in 2010, this is my favorite movie of 2011.

  4. Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)

    I watched the original several years ago, starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, and didn’t see any reason why it should be remade. But I was curious, and like Denzel’s intensity, so I gave it a shot. I wasn’t impressed. I think I might have dozed off. I don’t really remember. John Travlota maybe needs another comeback.

  5. The Town

    Maybe my second-favorite-movie-of-2011-that-really-came-out-the-year-before. I’ve missed seeing Ben Affleck’s big shiny Armageddon teeth, and this movie delivered. It was also his second go-round in feature directing, and I came away impressed. Jeremy Renner is also fun to watch, and pretty much every actor in this film delivered. Except John Hamm. He was kind of boring, playing the stock “FBI guy”.

  6. Gnomeo and Juliet

    I guess this was the first movie of the year I saw in the theater. In 3D. At the Studio Movie Grill. From the front row, because it’s really hard to get kids anywhere on time. I enjoyed the movie well enough. It was competently made, and they were very clever about how they told the traditional story with garden gnomes and all that entails. The songs/music were all Elton John, and I think he was a producer. It’s a very British production, for sure. I hate the front row, and I hate the Studio Movie Grill.

  7. The American

    I read the book this movie was based upon ( A Very Private Gentleman, by Martin Booth), and didn’t see how they could really make it about an American. But George Clooney wanted to be in it, I guess, so he had to be American. Unforunately, he was also boring. I fell asleep about 2/3 of the way through this one, and woke up right after the most climactic part. I think. I might have dozed off again, so I’m not sure. Good book, apparently boring movie.

  8. Battle: Los Angeles

    Went out with the guys to see this perfectly cromulent “Oh noes the aliens are invading our city!” movie, which might have worked just as well if plopped into the middle of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. The focus was on the soldiers and their small part of the fight, and how they learn to deal with the horrors of war against an enemy that seems overpowering and they don’t understand. I was not unhappy to have spent my money to see it in the theater.

  9. The Social Network

    OK. I lied. This is my second-favorite-movie-of-2011-that-really-came-out-the-year-before. Might even be the favorite. I jumped into this one having listened to the Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross soundtrack over and over and over for half a year, and the rest of the movie lived up to it. Thankfully. Tightly-written (of course), well-directed (of course), and solid performances from all the actors. The soundtrack kept me feeling tense and wound up almost 100% of the running time. Highly recommended.

  10. Fat Head

    An interesting counterpoint to Super Size Me, in which the filmmaker sets out to show that he can lose weight eating only fast food, and that most of the blame for the obesity academic in the United States should most likely rest on the individual and a lack of self-control.

  11. Tangled

    We caught this one at the dollar movie theater, and I came away impressed. One of the best-designed animated films I’ve seen in awhile, and I was impressed by the acting and story, too. I’m not humming along to any of the songs in my head or anything, but at least I enjoyed myself.

  12. Live and Let Die

    Finally, I watched this one all the way through. For years and years, I have tried to watch this movie, and always fell asleep before it was over. I finally finished the entire thing, and almost wish I had fallen asleep again. Definitely my least favorite Bond film. I could go into all of the many reasons why, but that would take up a whole post on its own. Good song, though. And it has the 7-Up guy in it, so it’s not all bad.

  13. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

    I watched the original Wall Street again right before watching this one, and they are a matched set. Both show how deep the money hole goes, and the lengths that people will go to in order to get more of it, chewing up other peoples’ lives in the process. Only one of them stars a warlock, though.

  14. Thor

    Of all the Marvel Studios movies coming out, I was most worried about this one. How would they deal with the apparently magical nature of a god walking amongst men, in a universe that had largely already been defined as one based on science and technology? The answer to that question, apparently, was to treat the “magic” as a form of technology. Duh. Before I went to see this one at the theater, I took a friend out to eat at Raising Cane’s for some chicken fingers. They were delicious.

  15. Buried

    I’ve been a huge fan of Ryan Reynolds since Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place1, and I’m always looking for the next gimmicky indy movie that everyone raves about, so why not? It was OK. It’s got to be hard to perform a whole movie lying on your back. I know I wouldn’t want to be buried alive in a box. Nope. That seems like it would suck. My wife would never watch this movie in a million years.

  16. Salt

    Mostly a run-of-the-mill action film, but it had a familiar rhythm that I couldn’t place. Then I looked at the credits again afterward and realized it was written by Kurt Wimmer, writer and director of Equilibrium. He has a certain way of structuring things. This film was originally written with Tom Cruise in mind to star, but it didn’t feature enough running so he backed out.

  17. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

    This was the original Swedish version. My wife and I had recently finished listening to all three audiobooks, so we watch the films on Netflix. They were easy to follow, because we knew the story pretty well and didn’t have to read the subtitles too closely. I enjoyed the first film a lot, and it plays out as a well-made mystery/thriller. The computer-hacking bits weren’t insulting, because they didn’t try to be too explicit about it (just like the books).

  18. The Girl Who Played with Fire

    I recall that the book didn’t have Lisbeth in it much at all. I suppose the movie was the same, but I can’t remember. In any case, it was a good adaptation that continues the story and delves into Lisbeth’s past.

  19. Diary of a Wimpy Kid

    My seven-year-old son has been enthralled by this series of books, and while I have not read them all the way through myself, this movie seems to have captured the tone quite well. Reminds me of the old Beverly Cleary books and such from my youth, and the kids loved it so there you go.

  20. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

    I think quite a bit was cut out of the story from the book, because it was a lot of boring research and history and Lisbeth sitting around in a hospital bed. But whatever they cut out didn’t hurt the story, and we enjoyed this one just as much.

  21. X-Men Origins: Wolverine

    Execrable.

  22. Hot Tub Time Machine

    You know, I see what they were trying to do here. They were trying to re-create the magic of the 80s movies that gave us such memorable gems as Better Off Dead2, One Crazy Summer and their brethren. They even threw in a “I want my two dollars!” joke. But despite their intent and a competent cast, they didn’t quite get there. I laughed, but not nearly enough. Perhaps the best thing about this movie, maybe, is that I am now aware of Rob Cordry.

  23. Public Enemies

    I wanted this to be better. I expected it to be better. In the end, I just felt it was slow and kind of sleepy. Johnny Depp did a pretty decent job of capturing John Dillinger’s purported charisma, but the movie didn’t surround him with much of interest. Boring.

  24. Crazy Heart

    I’m convinced that Jeff Bridges will only select roles now based on whether or not he can keep his beard. That said, Crazy Heart is an excellent film. He deserved the Oscar he got for this performance, although I’m not sure who he was up against and I probably didn’t see those performances anyway. The Dude deserved his little gold statue, regardless.

  25. Restrepo

    This was a documentary about a firebase/outpost in Afghanistan, named after a soldier that died in action there. It’s one of the plethora of day-in-the-life-of-our-troops numbers that have been produced in the past ten years, and like most of them it is equal parts uplifting and heart-wrenching. Some normal people are doing extraordinary things for reasons that don’t matter to them beyond getting back home alive, and I am thankful.

  26. Knight and Day

    I enjoyed this one a little bit more than I was expecting. It played as kind of a parody of Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible films, but nowhere near the genius level of True Lies. Mostly forgettable, but it must have met Tom Cruise’s running requirements.

  27. Road to Perdition

    Tom Hanks. Oh, how I miss the “funny” Tom Hanks. But the “serious” Tom Hanks is still pretty darn good, so I’ll let it slide. This movie was much better than Public Enemies, and it resonated with me and the themes of fatherhood and loyalty. I’m pretty sure after I finished watching this one I went and checked on my son, sleeping in his room.

  28. Super 8

    This was J.J. Abrams’s love letter to Steven Spielberg’s movies in the 70s/80s. What stands out the most to me is that the cast of children spoke and acted like children. That may seem like a minor point, but in my opinion it’s pretty critical to hanging a whole movie around a group of kids. Abrams pulled it off, and I disappeared into this one as I sat in the theater. I went into it expecting magic, and that’s what I got. The kids in this movie meshed together about as well as The Goonies, a high-water mark in movie-kid dynamics.

  29. Cars 2

    I took the kids to see this one in 3D, and boy was it in 3D. Otherwise, looking back on it with the cold eyes of an adult, it wasn’t that great of a film. Definitely the bottom on the scale of Pixar movies. Considering many, many other movies don’t even match up to Pixar’s worst, of course, it was still pretty fun. But it didn’t quite reach the same level as the first Cars, itself the previous low point in Pixar’s library. Oh, well.

  30. Captain America: The First Avenger

    Nailed it. As far as I’m concerned, the line of Marvel Studios-produced movies is batting very near a thousand. This one continues the trend, and did a great job riding the line of adhering to the original comic stories and updating the character for a modern film audience. I’m glad they stuck to the WWII origins of the character, and tied it so well into the rest of the universe/mythos that they have constructed for The Avengers.

  31. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

    I never got around to watching any of the Harry Potter films after Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in the theater. After that one, I realized they were going to have to cut out more and more of the story to make it fit into a two-hour movie. As I finally got around to watching this one, I realized I was correct. So much was cut out of Order of the Phoenix that I found myself wondering not only what was missing, but what was going on, period. Easily the worst of all the Harry Potter films. At least now I can say I watched it.

  32. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

    I don’t recall this one being as bad as The Order of the Phoenix, but seeing as how I don’t remember much else about it it must not have left a strong impression.

  33. Bridesmaids

    This was billed and hyped as “The Hangover, but with women”, and it really wasn’t. It was funny and had dirty jokes and, yes, it starred women, but it never reached the same level of excess that The Hangover championed. But I enjoyed it, and Kristin Wiig is wonderful. She should continue making many good movies that aren’t Bridesmaids sequels.

  34. Pearl Jam Twenty

    I came across this documentary directed by Cameron Crowe while at my parents’ house for Thanskgiving, and had to watch it immediately. (Thank you, Netflix.) A recap of their twenty-year career, this movie was a trip down memory lane for me. Pearl Jam’s Ten was my first CD purchase when I got my first CD player (along with Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion I &II), and their music has always resonated with me. The fact that they have managed to stay together through all these years, and weathered their fame without completely burning out, is interesting and impressive.

  35. The Mechanic (2011)

    I’ve never seen the original Charles Bronson version (thanks for nothing, Netflix), but this “updated” Jason Statham version was adequate. A solid B-movie. Stuff blew up and all that. Backstabbing and betrayal. All the standard “assassin with a heart of gold” stuff, I guess.

  36. The Muppets

    As best I can recall, the last time all four of my family members (mom, dad, brother, me) were in the theater to see a movie together, it featured lightsabers, a trap, and ewoks. And then we all went to see The Muppets, and this time I had my new family along, too. You want to talk about magic? This is a Muppet movie, not that abomination called Muppets from Space. It had everything it needed, including catchy songs, an overstuffed car and the blind acceptance that muppets are people, too.

  37. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

    I went to see this in IMAX with the expectation that it would have attached the special “prologue” to the new Batman movie. It didn’t have that, but it did have Tom Cruise running a lot. It was also filled with easy-to-follow action, brutal movie-star fights and humor. Easily as good as the first and third Mission: Impossible films. None of the cast was superfluous, and Brad Bird has proven himself as a first-rate movie director, not just in animation. In the run-up to watching this one, I re-watched the first three, and was mostly happy for the experience. The first one was better than I remembered, and the third was just as outstanding as I recalled. The second one, though, was crap. I hope I didn’t like it when it was released, because then I would feel ashamed.

  38. Colombiana

    Another B-movie-level assassin-action movie in the vein of The Mechanic, this one was written and produced by Luc Besson, creator of Léon: The Professional.3 While he never got around to making that The Fifth Element sequel, Mr. Besson has kept up a steady stream of these lower-budget, foreign-to-us-produced action movies. Overall the quality never rose above the straight-to-video level.

  39. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

    The last movie I saw in 2011 was the Robert-Downey-Junior-starring Sherlock Holmes sequel. My wife and I went to see it with a couple of friends, and it did not disappoint. I think we both agreed that the first one was better, but by no means was this one horrible. Downey was entertaining as always, and his take on Sherlock is refreshingly manic. Bonus: in discussing his performance, I got my wife to acknowledge that she might possibly sit through Iron Man one of these days. Maybe.

So, that’s My Year in Movies, 2011 Edition. 39 new movies watched, give or take. Let’s see what 2012 brings.

  1. Until this very moment, I didn’t realize Nathan Fillion was in this show. Now I have to watch them all. Except they’re not on Netflix. Bummer.

  2. The cover art for this movie on IMDB is probably the worst possible choice.

  3. In fact, I read somewhere online that the core story of Colombiana was at one time intended to be a possible sequel to Léon featuring Natalie Portman’s character.