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The Best Films of 2011
By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Over the last few years there have been quite a few apocalyptic-themed films released. But I'd suggest that the only one of these films about the end of the world where the audience actively roots for mankind to lose is Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
In Apes, James Franco plays Will Rodman, a scientist working on a cure for the Alzheimer disease who develops a drug that has the unintended side-effect of increasing the intelligence of apes it's tested on. The first smart ape Caesar, played by/motion captured by Andy Serkis, begins to realize that apes should never be mistreated and decides to break-out this newly smart ape gang in a bid for freedom.
Essentially, Apes is one gigantic backstory to the original Planet of the Apes (1968) series of movies. While some of the film comes off a bit hokey, most of it does work. In fact, by the end of the film when the apes make their bid for freedom, the audience I saw the film with cheered the apes and booed the humans.
What I found most interesting about Apes was the explanation on how the apes came to dominate the world. The original explanation used in the Planet of the Apes films (an apes uprising followed by a global nuclear war) always seemed a bit goofy to me. But how Rise of the Planet of the Apes combines the creation of the smart apes with the end of humanity was a stroke of brilliance.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: As always with a David Fincher (Zodiac, The Social Network) film, the events of Dragon Tattoo play out in an intense manner with journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) hunting a serial killer in the persistently frozen north of Sweden. What I found most interesting about Dragon Tattoo is that the lead characters swap traditional gender roles a bit with female Salander as the one who kicks butt and Blomkvist the one who's butt needs saving.
Contagion: In my experience, most movies that deal with a global pandemic do so in a fantastical/science fiction like manner (see above). But in Contagion things are handled in a more realistically. Here, a new nasty virus spreads across the glob facilitated by our modern travel infrastructure. What makes Contagion so frightening isn't necessarily the virus, though it is scary. What makes it so frightening is how the virus causes fear and panic across the globe that turns neighbor against neighbor in a bid for survival.
Apollo 18: Some critics slammed Apollo 18 when it initially came out. One went so far as to say that the movie was “…an affront to reason and taste.” To me, Apollo 18 is a fun movie about a group of astronauts sent to the moon on a last, top-secret, mission to install devices there for an early warning system against the Soviet Union. Told in the “found-footage” style recently popularized by the Paranormal Activity movies, once on the moon the astronauts find that they are not entirely alone on the surface of this “dead” planet.
Source Code: Source Code is one of the better sci-fi movies in recent memory that doesn't seem too sci-fi on its surface. In this film, army helicopter pilot Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is sent back in time to the events just before a massive train bombing in Chicago that would eventually lead to an even larger attack on the city. Colter must uncover who on the train is the terrorist and where his bomb is hidden even if it means relieving the events of the attack over and over again.
Fright Night: Fright Night gets my vote for the most snappily-written movie of the summer. In Fright Night, Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin), a suburban Las Vegas high school student, discovers that his new creepy neighbor is in fact a real-life creepy vampire. And while Charlie might know there's a vampire living next door, there's not much he can do about it since who's going to believe a kid raving about vampires? Sharing much of the same core as the TV version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the movie was written by one of the writers/producers of Buffy, Fright Night is a fast, rip-roaring flick that once it starts is a sprint to the end.
Honorable mentions goes to X-Men: First Class, Attack the Block and Captain America: The First Avenger.