Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 - The Highlights (EHeroFlareNeos)

With 2012 upon us, it's time to look forward to what we can enjoy in the new year. However, this is also the perfect time to look back at what releases made 2011 so great, as well as others that didn't quite hold up. Below is my list of the top movies, games and disappointments of the year (in no particular order), along with links to the reviews of each title on this blog for further reading.

Top Movies of 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger
Among Marvel Studio's run of contributions to comic book movies, Captain America is easily one of the best. With a great cast and a greater emphasis on the title hero's original time period, this film provides a great balance of action, comedy, and drama to stand as one which all Superhero movies should aspire to be. If other studios took notes from this, then the comic book movie would definitely blossom into a much more widespread and competent genre than it is now.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
If you're like me and have read the Harry Potter series of books since you were a child, then you were no doubt looking forward to seeing this movie for years. As an adaptation and continuation, it sticks very closely to the book and yet manages to make the final fight against the powerful Voldemort even more of a spectacle worthy of cinema. It served as a fitting conclusion to the franchise, save for perhaps the epilogue, and I'm very happy to be able to say my final goodbye to the boy who lived.

Kung Fu Panda 2
As one of the few movies from Dreamworks Animation that feels worthy of being called a movie, Kung Fu Panda 2 shows just what the studio is capable of creating without stuffing a film with dated pop cultural references. In addition it stands as a great modern martial arts flick, with plenty of over the top action and lore to keep the action fan in you satisfied, combined with a great blend of humor and character development to leave you wanting more.

The Artist
As a black & white silent film, The Artist sticks out among every other movie released in the past few decades. When viewing it as a movie in general, it is a masterpiece of cinema that lets the audience learn not only what life was like for stars during the transition from silent films to talkies in the earlier days of Hollywood, but also that sometimes a movie doesn't need to be filled to the brim with special effects and sound to be enjoyable. It is one of the few films I have ever cried at as much as I did during one especially emotional scene and also one of the few that gave me time to actually care about what happened to the characters onscreen. I would encourage anyone interested in this era of film making to watch this masterful throwback to a time where less was more.

Top Video Games of 2011

Batman: Arkham City
For a studio with only two other games under their belt, it is very clear how passionate Rocksteady is about Batman. With an absolutely powerful script penned by Paul Dini, fantastic performances by Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, improved combat, and plenty of incentive to explore the titular city, Batman: Arkham City is a game that literally no one with a gaming system should pass up. For me personally, it stands as a great contender for the best video game I have ever played, though it is safe to say I feel that way regarding Superhero games in general.

Dead Space 2
While Dead Space 2 may reside in a genre I would normally avoid, it managed to build up the right atmosphere and tension to get me sucked into the action onscreen. Having to retrain yourself to shoot the limbs instead of the head also brings out the player's more tactical side in a great effort to stay alive in space. If more games like this and Bulletstorm existed to help introduce more variety in this fashion, then there would probably be more worthy single player campaigns out there for the FPS genre today.

Portal 2
While the original Portal was a very short game, it also provided plenty of entertainment to make repeat trips into Aperture Science enjoyable every single time. For the sequel, Valve Software managed not only to retain what made the first one fun, they made the overall experience even better. From expert integration of Cross-console Co-op to wildly fun new game mechanics, there is hardly anything this game gets wrong.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
As action games continue to set the bar in video games, the Uncharted franchise will continue to vault over it. Drake's Deception not only defines what is possible to display on PS3, but also sets a new limit on how many setpiece moments you can put in a game without taking away from an outstanding plot and characters. While at least one mechanic hiccups despite improvements to combat, there is a lot to like about Uncharted 3 for PS3 owners, even if the series is just starting to feel a little formulaic at its core.

Top Disappointments of 2011

Cars 2
Right off the heels of Toy Story 3, Cars 2 is a perfect example of what happens when you make a sequel with the sole purpose of selling more merchandise. This movie is not only a drastic drop in quality from most of Pixar's earlier works, it takes a swan dive through every spy movie cliche imaginable and heads straight toward the number in the title. Hopefully their next project, Brave, will restore faith in Pixar enough to help audiences pretend this one never existed.

Green Lantern
While I hadn't been looking forward to this film as much as I did the ones coming out from Marvel Studios, I at least wanted to see if Warner Bros. could help satiate my interest in Superhero movies in between releases. Unfortunately, the overemphasis on loud visuals and constant exposition seemed to really make this the blackest night for its genre in 2011.

Assassin's Creed: Revelations
I wanted to like Assassin's Creed: Revelations after my buildup of playing every other game, really I did. But when you take the increased emphasis on Multiplayer, abysmally incorporated Den Defense, and zero incentive to take advantage of bomb crafting into account, it creates a game that, while more enjoyable than Brotherhood, almost looks like a mess when you look at the big picture. With 2012 comes a new protagonist to the Assassin's Creed franchise, and hopefully one whose story isn't nearly forgotten in the pursuit of attracting the multiplayer crowd.

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