Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday Talkback: Most pleasant surprise of the film year

As we wind down the year, we'll be hit with an endless parade of "Best and Worst of 2011."  In the interests of standing out from the flock, how about we discuss which films were our most pleasant surprises this year?  Were there any films that really surprised you by surpassing your expectations?

My pick would probably be Bridesmaids.  As the advance press began for this one, I was expecting to loathe it.  Not only had constant reuse of her weakest characters on SNL gone a long way towards wearing out Kristin Wiig's welcome with me, but it had an amazingly unfunny trailer.  The "grassroots" support for the film didn't take long to prime me for a backlash either.  I get there were noble intentions behind it, but the "See Bridesmaids to support female talent" was a really, deeply obnoxious campaign.  How about "See Bridesmaids because it's funny?"  Or "See Bridesmaids because it's original?"

The fact that the main creatives had vaginas meant squat to me as a viewer.  The way that campaign was framed, it was as if the quality of the product was secondary to the gender of its makers.  It's also the kind of thinking that promotes support for sub-par work.  Anyone who went to something like What's Your Number? only out of a misguided obligation to feminism deserved to lose $15 and two hours of their life.

So with all of this in mind, I went to see Bridesmaids with the lingering expectation that I'd walk out unsatisfied, but with enough material to fill a column or two on this blog.  Much to my surprise, I enjoyed most of it.  I didn't love every minute of it - the bridal shop scene had me saying a silent prayer that this would be the film's only foray into gross-out humor.  There are also a few scenes that fell victim to "improv-itis," where you're painfully aware that the actors are riffing and driving the scene in circles so that they can cram in as many punchlines to the same set-up as possible.  (I should probably call it "The Vince Vaughn Rule.")

Still, I though Kristin Wiig reminded me of what I liked about her when she first joined SNL and in smaller parts in movies like Knocked Up.  The supporting cast was strong, but most of all, the script understood its characters.  It's so rare to see a character-driven script done right - particularly in a movie that's so broad in its humor, and filled with actors who seem primed to steal a scene at the slightest opportunity.

I'm glad Bridesmaids did so well, but most of all, I'm glad that it was riding on a generally strong script and strong characters.

So what was your pleasant surprise?


  1. Firstly - and while it's true that there's no point loving a movie because of the demographics of the creators - I think it's unfair to knock the campaign for Bridesmaids. It might have been different here in the UK, but the reason I, my girlfriend and some friends who wouldn't normally be found outside a Transformers movie, all were excited about Bridesmaid was because it was funny. That's it. A funny Hollywood film in a year when Hangover 2 and Horrible Bosses had disappointed was a very happy surprise indeed. The shouting about the female writers and cast seemed to me well wishing from people (understandably) glad to see the change, but I didn't think it ever became obnoxious.

    But Bridesmaids wouldn't the be best surprise - that would have to go to Man On A Ledge. Shoot me down for it, but I haven't enjoyed a mindless action/thriller/comedy/mess that much in years. No really, shoot me down...

  2. Attack The Block. Could have been ridiculous - a white middle-class mockery of inner London gang culture, with aliens to boot - but turned out to be authentic, funny, action-packed and often deeply moving. An under-appreciated gem.

  3. Dale and Tucker vs. Evil. Big Alan Tudyk fan so I knew I would watch it anyway but it is one of the funniest movies I've seen in a while. Only down side, they showed almost every death scene in the trailer.

  4. I was actually disappointed with Bridesmaids. Didn't care for the story and didn't think it was that funny. And much of that disappointment was because of that pro-feminist campaign. I wanted to like it and have it miraculously open the door for more female-centered comedies. But it just didn't click for me.

    The most pleasant surprise for me was X Men First Class. I was very skeptical that we needed another X Men movie so soon after The Last Stand. But I think they largely nailed it. McAvoy and Fassbender were captivating. I'm eager to see the next one.

  5. Easily has to be "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" for me. Seriously who knew this movie was going to be any good ? A prequel to a Movie franchise that was burned to the ground by Tim Burton and Marky Mark (ugh that terrible "surprise ending" still makes no damn sense).

    Close to the movie premier even the star (James "I can do everything" Franco) began to step away from it by claiming the project was simply a cash grab.

    Checked it out after a few positive reviews began to leak and was totally blown away by the story of Ceaser as played by Andy Serkis. Seriously there were truly emotional themes at play: being an outcast and figuring out your place in the world. Good stuff and it even worked as a true prequel by showing how the Apes would take over the planet.

    It's movie like this that still give you hope about the film industry.