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The best movies of 2011

Apes, black birds and dinosaurs rise to the top

Photo: Merie Walla, License: N/A

Merie Walla

Greg Mottola’s Paul at least gets the alien right in his pastiche of wide-eyed childhood action-adventure. Told through the prism of the biggest bong rip you’ve ever taken, Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) is actually the inspiration behind all of those Spielberg alien movies, and the Man himself even has a vocal cameo. But it’s too much. It’s all nostalgic joke, no nostalgic heart. The story seems to be a vehicle with which to deliver the pop-culture jokes that Mottola, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg and Rogen have been building up over the last 20 years, while setting them in alien-friendly pop-culture locations like Comic-Con, Area 51 and Devil’s Tower. But they don’t actually do anything new with their nostalgic loves, the way Spielberg, Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan did when they spun their memories of cliffhanger shorts and comic books into Raiders of the Lost Ark. The latter’s characters and story bear out all of its inspirations, but with a new cinematic vocabulary. They built something new.

Of course, even Spielberg isn’t immune to criticism when it comes to touching nostalgic favorites. He himself faced the ire of fans in the specter of the “Tintinologists” when his Tintin was released in Europe. According to The Independent, some critics compared it to “witnessing a rape” or said that it was an “airless pastiche” of their beloved Hergé comics. Having felt burned by some of the films that trod on my childhood, I’m sympathetic. But nostalgia is a personal passion. In Midnight in Paris, we learn that pining for lost eras is a fool’s errand – everything and every period seems better than the one people are stuck in … until you get a toothache and realize that Novocain hasn’t yet been invented. This year, many filmmakers could’ve used that piece of wisdom.

Status whoa

The year in film reflected a world in turmoil

by William Goss

It would be easy to correlate the films of any given year with a sweeping generality about characters coping with change, but change is already inherent to drama in any form. What’s often telling about a given period of cinema is how that change manifested itself, whether as a spark for forward progress, cause for survival or – as I saw film in 2011 – the recognition and assessment of tumultuous times, driven less by a sense of “what if?” and more by “what now?”

There was a common refrain for bucking the established norms, whether it was the application of statistics to sports in Moneyball, the arrival of film sound in The Artist, the efforts to disrupt real-life cycles of violence in The Interrupters or the somewhat less credible interspecies power struggle of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. How would the world grapple with having more humans around? Another Earth wondered as much (though with a questionable amount of follow-through). How might society instead manage with people dying off in droves? Contagion offered a chilly hypothesis.

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