EDITORIAL: The Best of 2011 (so far)

With the calendar turning to July, we've reached the halfway point of the year, ladies and gentleman.  From where I stand, I haven't seen much to write home about for the first half of 2011.  Then again, I'm not a fancy-pants critic with access to every little obscure buried treasure foreign and independent film out there.  I can only see what I can get to.

There are a few shining winners, though, which deserved to be celebrated.  While I missed making a "Best of 2010" list in my blog's first year, I'd like to change that and start here with a first-half "Best of 2011" list from "Every Movie Has a Lesson."  In keeping with the blog's theme, each member of the list will be backed up by its best life lesson of the typical three from each review.  Since we're only halfway from the typical year-end "10 Best List" that every magazine and critic does, we'll keep everything to fives or threes.  Enjoy!

THE 5 BEST MOVIES OF 2011 (so far) 

1.  SOURCE CODE-- Without a doubt, Source Code is the most exciting, intelligent, and smartly-made movie I've seen so far this year.  Such a clever play on both the time-travel formula, as well as a dash of  Rashomon-style storytelling, it stands above the rest.  It's as close to a guaranteed movie recommendation as I can make this year so far.  I haven't met anyone (of the unfortunate few who saw it) who didn't want to see it again.  (FULL REVIEW)

ITS BEST LESSON:  THE DEBATE ON THE EXISTENCE OF FATE-- Wthout giving too much of Source Code away, a much-debated parallel to the technology present in the movie is whether or not fate exists.  Some characters believe it and others don't.  Can the Source Code change the fate of the train bombing or are those people destined to die no matter what happens and what can be changed?  This debate is much like the contrasting notions of how everyone either has a "plan" laid out for them in this world (by a higher power) or if free will and chance dictate their actions.  In any case, there is a big difference one's self-concept and motivations to make the choices they do based on whether or not they believe in fate.  Which side of the debate do you gravitate too?

2.  MIDNIGHT IN PARIS-- This year's best romantic comedy so far is so well made and so classic Woody Allen.  Lush in its setting and magical in its unexpected twists, it will make you remember that Owen Wilson can act, Woody Allen still has it, and Paris is the city of love.  You might be just as smitten as I was from the opening credits on.  (FULL REVIEW)

ITS BEST LESSON: THE ILLUSION THAT LIFE DIFFERENT FROM YOUR OWN IS BETTER-- Many people observe, from the outside looking in, how their lives might have been different if some key choices or elements were changed or different.  Some people talk about "the one that got away" with love or maybe a missed career opportunity.  They may even enviously think that the life they see in someone else should be theirs instead.  All of it can be an illusion.  Your life is yours because of the here and now, good or bad.  The choices you took and the places where you grew as a person define you more than the "woulda-coulda-shoulda's."

3.  SUPER 8-- Director and writer J.J. Abrams's 1970's-set homage to the greatness and wonder of Steven Spielberg (with he himself hanging around as a hands-on producer) is the best movie of the 2011 summer so far.  It has a perfect combination of teenage coming-of-age, sci-fi thriller, and tribute to grassroots moviemaking.  (FULL REVIEW)

ITS BEST LESSON: THE SPIRIT OF THE TEENAGE YOUTH-- Something that Spielberg has done so well throughout his career and Abrams follows here in Super 8, is looking at the world through the eyes of children.  The nearly sole point-of-view for the entire film is that of the teenagers.  Their thoughts, ambitions, emotions, fears, and reactions steer the movie.  So often unrealistic and misunderstood in many films, few movies nail the true teenage spirit by using actual teenagers instead of 20-something actors pretending to act young and only come across as wise beyond their years.  Super 8 would be significantly less effective and poignant if told from an adult perspective.

4.  THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU-- For a movie that is based on a Philip K. Dick story, normally pretty dark and complicated material, The Adjustment Bureau crafts an engaging mystery.  All the while, it surprisingly delivers a very good love story between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, who have the best chemistry of any on-screen couple this year.  This and the three films before it on this list have plots that cannot be revealed in reviews and can only be appreciated after the credits roll.  (FULL REVIEW)

ITS BEST LESSON:  THE SACRIFICES PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO MAKE FOR LOVE-- No matter who you are and what you stand for, whether it's the side that believes in a plan and fate or the one favoring free will and chance, you are willing to make big sacrifices for the ones you love.  You will fight.  You will run.  You will go against your normal beliefs. You will sacrifice friendships and careers.  You will even be willing to give your life to be with the one you love.  That decision or commitment to sacrifice is universal, regardless of the ever-present big debate and what side you believe. 

5.  SOUL SURFER-- Call me crazy, but I can't stop supporting and standing up for this movie.  Even if it's marketing to women (which it is), skews to a Christian demographic (which I'm not part of), or is full of expected sports movie cliches (which is certainly does), the true story of pro-surfer Bethany Hamilton overcoming a tragic shark attack that took her left arm is incredibly moving, inspiring, and well-told in movie form.  I just loved this movie, plain and simple.  (FULL REVIEW)

ITS BEST LESSON: WHAT DOES ONE REALLY COMPETE FOR?-- Before her accident, Bethany was the best at what she did.  Through her own will to set the bar high, she wouldn't accept anything less than that when she returned after her accident.  However, at first, when she couldn't compete the same at that high level, she was immensely disappointed.  Soon, humility replaced that disappointment.  She learned that it was more important and more fulfilling to be there to surf rather than to be there to win.  Her faith and her self-worth are affirmed by that too.


Larry CrowneLimitless, X-Men: First ClassBridesmaids, The Conspirator, Fast Five


Mel Gibson in The Beaver

Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris

Joel Courtney in Super 8

Anna Sophia Robb in Soul Surfer

Jake Gyllenhaal in Source Code

Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids

Brad Pitt in The Tree of Life

Kathy Bates in Midnight in Paris

Carrie Underwood in Soul Surfer