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The Player Affinity Movie Awards 2011

It’s time to put the lid on the film canister for 2011, so to kick things off with our Year in Review we have the Player Affinity Movie Awards, a few handfuls of honors celebrating the many bests of 2011.

Best Performance by an Actor (Drama) – Ryan Gosling, Drive

You'd think Drive was the silent movie getting all the awards buzz lately, given how little talking Ryan Gosling does as a steely driver caught up in a robbery gone wrong. Watch him for five minutes though, and you quickly figure out he wouldn't waste a breath when just clenching his fists tells you all you need to know. Gosling gives a performance of little details, every mute stare and methodic action the result of a zen-like reservation that only breaks when absolutely necessary. Like the enigmatic driver, Gosling knows that exploding would be the easy thing to do, and it makes his slowly slackening grip on control all the more fascinating. ~ Sam

Best Performance by an Actress (Drama) – (tie) Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Viola Davis, The Help

We Need to Talk About Kevin received a lot of praise when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and Tilda Swinton was touted as an early candidate for an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. She offered a great performance as the same character in a duel narrative: both a bad mother, struggling to raise a delinquent and a woman who ends up becoming a pariah in her own community. Swinton brought depth and sympathy to her character and she had an excellent, believable relationship with her co-star John C. Reilly in what is one of the most hard-hitting movies of 2011. ~ Kieran


Despite its phenomenal financial success and general approval from film critics, The Help, isn’t without its detractors. But few, if any, find fault in Viola Davis’ commanding lead performance, and it’s not difficult to see why. Davis provides the backbone of The Help with her restrained yet highly emotive powerhouse of a performance as the maid Aibileen Clark. Throughout the course of the film, we see a reserved and hurt woman healing her wounds and finding her voice to stand up for what’s right, and it’s because of Davis’ innate acting ability that the transformation is believable as opposed to being hokey and overly sentimental. ~ Julian

Best Performance by an Actor (Comedy) – Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 50/50

Audiences were treated to a number of unique and satisfying comedies this year, but 50/50 was the first praiseworthy example of powerful dramatic storytelling coexisting with Seth Rogen and dick jokes. As he showed in (500) Day of Summer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes for an incredibly sympathetic protagonist and it’s not merely because his character has cancer and a 50 percent chance of surviving it. The mix of depression, anger, emotional honesty and levity in Will Reiser’s script could have been too formidable of an acting challenge, yet JGL puts it all together. He’s a complete package, or maybe he should keep making movies with 5s and 0s in the title. ~ Steven

Best Performance by an Actress (Comedy) – Kristen Wiig, Bridesmaids

It's unfortunate the world has taken this long to really celebrate her, having proven the highlight of SNL for years now and consistently braking the land-speed record for scene stealing in her smaller film roles, but 2011 was the year we could all finally agree that Kristen Wiig is an incredibly funny and talented comedienne. She's equally comfortable doing an intimate moment of cute goofiness as when she's holding back diarrhea while drenched in flop sweat. More importantly, she's relatable, a rare thing in comedies regardless of gender. As much as we laugh at her often gross misfortune in Bridesmaids, we have to cringe a bit too, because we know she's just like the rest of us, just way funnier. ~ Sam




Best Performance in a Blockbuster – Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

In most cases, an award for a best performance in a blockbuster would either go to a scene-stealing supporting role or simply celebrate male machismo by highlighting a kick-ass leading performance. So I guess 2011 was not like most cases. We were nearly unanimous in nominating Andy Serkis for this award, if for nothing else but to recognize an incredible performance that will likely go completely overlooked in January and February. You could build up a case for why motion-capture acting isn’t acting, but why go through all the trouble? The story of Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes was enrapturing and moving and credit belongs as much to Serkis’ mastery of non-verbal technique as it does the script. ~ Steven



Breakthrough Performance – Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene

A masterfully acted character study, Martha Marcy May Marlene is about a woman who becomes unhinged from reality by way of her own frantic imagination and paranoia (spurred on by her past ties to a cult). Elizabeth Olsen gives us a mostly quiet individual whose underlying demons lie so shallowly under her skin, they break free at the smallest of triggers. If delivered with a different actress it could have been a near-disaster, but it remains one of the best thanks to one of the most stunning debuts of the decade by a young actress in Olsen. 



Best Year by an Actor/Actress – Michael Fassbender

Irish actor Michael Fassbender had a great 2011, earning praise for four different starring roles. Fassbender showed off his growing star power when he pretty much stole the show as Magneto in X-Men: First Class, showing a blockbuster can have complex characterization and moral ambiguity. He stayed loyal to the British film industry as well, starring as Mr. Rochester in Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Jane Eyre, considered one of the best adaptations of the classic novel. He also got to work with renowned director David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen in A Dangerous Method, a movie that divided critics, but won praise for its stars, Mortensen as Sigmund Freud and Fassbender as Carl Jung. The actor’s 2011 was capped off with Shame, a grim portrayal of a sex addict as he descends into his addiction. Fassbender has won a number of Best Acting Awards at the Venice Film Festival and British Independence Film Awards and has been nominated for a Golden Globe. He is also a front-runner for an Oscar nomination. Fassbender will star in Haywire and Prometheus in 2012. ~ Kieran

Worst Year by an Actor/Actress – (tie) Adam Sandler and Ryan Reynolds

Oh Adam Sandler, as if you weren’t the punch line (sometimes unfairly) of so many jokes, why did you feel the need to star in two utterly subpar films in the same year. Is it continued revenge on your detractors; a way to infinitely torture them while you swim in a pool of hundred dollar bills? Why — at this point in his astonishingly long-lived and successful career — Adam Sandler believes he needs meritless dreck like Just Go With it and Jack and Jill on his resume bewilders me. The contemplation of whether or not Sandler is an idiot savant intentionally alienating the masses for his own amusement entertains me more than most of his recent films have, that’s to be sure. ~ Simon

You can’t talk about horrible runs in 2011 without throwing Ryan Reynolds into the equation, which is sad because he’s a genuinely talented guy. However, it has to be embarrassing for CinemaCon to name you Male Star of the Year, only to have your big moment in Green Lantern ruined by unimpressive box-office returns and a well-deserved thrashing from the critics. Shortly thereafter, his body-swapping gross-out comedy The Change-Up with Jason Bateman had a similarly disastrous fate with audiences and critics. Only making matters worse is that the similarly crude laughers The Hangover Part II and Horrible Bosses achieved blockbuster status and then some. Better luck next time, Ryan. ~ Julian 

Best Director – Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Martin Scorsese's Hugo is a joyful love letter to youth, discovery, and the magic of movies. It's also a visual feast for the eyes like we haven't seen in years. Although a complete departure on so many levels for Scorsese, Hugo is just as good as some of his best works, both technically and thematically. Its performances are top-notch, and the director's vision is as clear as crystal. Those concerned that Scorsese has gone soft needn't worry. Sure, Hugo is family-friendly and has more heart than you'd expect from the guy who made Taxi Driver, but the great director doesn't sacrifice anything to accommodate the little ones. It's a monumentally satisfying experience (especially if you opt to see it in 3D), and easily one of the best films of the year. ~ John

Most Promising New Director – Rupert Wyatt, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

You could count those who expected anything out of this film on one hand. Besides the fact that it's a horribly titled prequel to a terrible remake of a corny cult classic, it was being directed by a guy with next-to-no experience. Of course, it ended up being one of the biggest successes and surprises of the year. It's an expertly choreographed action film with more heart than any other blockbuster this year, and it has us very eager to see what Wyatt decides to tackle next. ~ John


Best Writing/Screenplay – Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

If you've kept up with Woody Allen's output over the last decade, you know that he's been on a bit of a cold streak. Sure, Match Point was good and Vicky Cristina Barcelona won an Oscar for Penelope Cruz, but those who suffered through last year’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger would likely agree Allen's best years were behind him. Perhaps that's part of what made Midnight in Paris such a joyful surprise. But the bulk of the film's success must be attributed to its hilarious, surprising and very unusual screenplay. ~ John

Biggest Surprise Film – Rise of the Planet of the Apes

There was next-to no hope for a reboot on the "Planet of the Apes" franchise. With a director nobody had heard of, one of the worst (literal) titles of 2011 and less-then remarkable trailers (we call it ...THE CURE), our hopes were not brightened, despite motion-capture king Andy Serkis taking the lead Ape role of Caesar. With its release date pushed around several times, it finally settled into August, also known as Summer's Dumping Ground. All of these factors worked against the reboot's favor, until August hit and hit us hard.

In as lukewarm a summer as 2011 was, Rise of the Planet of the Apes turned out to be one of most entertaining films of the summer, spearheaded by a remarkable performance from Serkis. Feeling neither rushed nor overstuffed (though there can't be that many apes in captivity in California), "Apes" reignited audiences love for rebellious monkeys and shot the franchise back into high-gear with two sequels already in the works. Not bad for a project that was universally mocked not eight months prior. ~ Max


Best Use of Visual Effects — 
Rise of the Planet of the Apes 

We initially mocked Rise of the Planet of the Apes, because it was heavily publicized that Weta Digital, the company that provided the special effects for Lord of the Rings and Avatar, did the CGI effects. Yet it turned out to be no understatement, as their work brought the apes alive with a combo of expert motion capture with massive amounts of detail and excellent acting, showing why they are the best in the business. Added to that is the battle scene on the Golden Gate Bridge that used the special effects to bring an entertaining sequence to life. The special effects truly enhanced the movie, as opposed to simply providing eye candy. ~ Kieran

Best Action Sequence/Fight Scene: Burj Hotel in Dubai, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Tom Cruise has just 30 minutes or so to go up a dozen floors in the world's tallest building. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, there's no using the elevators. Instead, he's got a pair of really sticky gloves and an open window. Filmed in incredible IMAX, it's hard to watch this scene and not feel a little dizzy. It's a brilliant piece of suspenseful filmmaking, and though you know how it will end, it'll still have you right on the edge of your seat. Below is a behind-the-scenes featurette on 2011's best contribution to film's most iconic action scenes. ~ John


Funniest Scene — Dress Fitting, Bridesmaids

I knew this category would be all about Bridesmaids, but resisting the urge to laze and say “the whole movie” was harder than you can imagine. Although the flight to Las Vegas put up quite the fight, the dress fitting has to be the most memorable of all the scenes. 

At first glance, this movie moment is just another example of typically over-the-top toilet humor, but it actually presents quite an interesting contrast. The scene juxtaposes bombastic gross-out humor with subtle character-driven comedy, both instances stemming from the same unfortunate happening, both of which induce severe bellyaches for more reasons than one.

In the end, a high-end bridal dress store is demolished in unflattering fashion by ailing bridesmaids, and central figure Kristen Wiig loses to rival bridesmaid Rose Byrne in a hysterical and nuanced game of words. If you haven't seen this absolute gem of a comedy, it's worth watching if just for this scene alone. ~Julian


Best Movie Score or Soundtrack

There is just no denying the soundtrack to Drive is awesome in the exact sense of the word. Blending an original score from former Red Hot Chili Pepper Cliff Martinez with tracks from College, Kavinsky/Lovefoxx, Desire and Riz Ortolani, the music is an essential tool of director Nicolas Winding Refn; its value and strength only heightened as events play out. Not only does the music enhance the film's already heightened neo-noir style, but it also serves as a form of exposition for the unnamed, often-silent protagonist Driver (played by Ryan Gosling), who gives nearly nothing away in terms of emotion.

A key sequence occurs when Driver is tasked with taking his new neighbor Irene (Carry Mulligan) and her son home. Rather than build their relationship through lines of exposition, the scene fades into "A Real Hero" by College feat. Electric Youth — arguably the most likely track in the score that you will listen to repeatedly — while Driver leads them on a ride though one of L.A.'s storm drains that ends in a forested area. It is a calm and frankly beautiful scene compared to some of the more brutal ones to come and in it, the music serves several purposes relating to underlying themes, exposition and emotional resonance for both the characters as well as the audience. It's haunting, gorgeous, remarkably balanced and the most memorable soundtrack in recent memory. ~ Max


Best Trailer for a Movie in 2011The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 

A sensory barrage of quick-cut chronological shots of the film entombed in a thundering cover of Led Zeppelin’s "The Immigrant Song" by Trent Reznor and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the trailer showed little, but is utterly transfixing in its bold coolness. In addition to boasting the tagline “The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas,” Sony in no way went traditional in its campaign and in addition to the erotic red-band poster featuring a nude Rooney Mara, the whole boldness of the endeavor garnered interest on its own merits.

Below is but the first clip for “Dragon Tattoo” and though it had both extended and normal duration ”traditional” trailers, the audacious teaser is what stood out and metaphorically seized you by the tight and curlies. Voiceovers and a landslide of quick-cut slapstick may have their place, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo proves (thankfully) it is not the be-all to end-all of studio marketing. ~ Simon


Best Trailer for a Movie in 2012The Dark Knight Rises

Yes. Haters be damned. This could be it. Christopher Nolan took Hollywood and the world by storm when he launched the "Batman" film franchise into the stratosphere with Batman Begins then topped already high expectations when The Dark Knight elevated the genre to new heights of acceptance in the film world. With the passing of Heath Ledger taking his immortalized performance of The Joker with him and the announcement of Bane/Catwoman's presence in The Dark Knight Rises, even the die-hard loyalists gave out a slight shudder. How could "Dark Knight" be matched, let alone topped?

With the December release of the new trailer and prologue, our fears look to be unfounded, as we let out a collective sigh that where we're standing, it would seem Nolan's “Batman” swan song could very well nail it. Giving us more story without really giving us anything (dammit Nolan!), a noticeably menacing Anne Hathaway setting up what looks like the central conflict of the film, Bane proving he hates Gotham City football, chanting that freaks us out in a great way and Batman looking to get the crap kicked out of him, audiences are more than salivating to experience the film (in IMAX) next summer, making The Dark Knight Rises the film to see in 2012. ~ Max


Best Movie Poster/Series of PostersThe Dark Knight Rises 

The spark that reignited the fires of Bat-mania was this cataclysmic take on the now universal symbol for Gotham's caped crusader. You could blame it for echoing Inception a little too closely if it didn't also remind you that Christopher Nolan is arguably the greatest blockbuster director of the last ten years. Then came poster two though, and it became clear that we could be getting something new to the superhero genre: closure. The text accompanying Tom Hardy's menacing Bane as he looms over Batman's shattered mask makes it abundantly clear this is the end of the Nolan era, and that no one, not even the Dark Knight, is safe. 


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