Best of 2011: Visual Effects
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (RUSSELL EARL, ET AL.)
... because hokey or sleek, quick or sustained, every effect is plausible and each one has genuine personality, like elements of a zippy score;
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (JOE LETTERI, ET AL.)
... because I admire the prodigious technical achievement, staged across a variety of settings, even if I felt a little colder than I expected;
The Tree of Life (DAN GLASS, BRADLEY J. FRIEDMAN, ET AL.)
... because all the mitoses and mitochondria, the cosmos and the corpuscles, feel staggeringly true, thematically vital, and gorgeously abstract.
Runners-Up: I didn't see a lot of the movies that make the strongest plays for this category, so I'm cutting my list off at three, which also feels like the right interval between my top picks and my also-rans. Still, my single favorite effect of the year, in hilarious timing as well as spooky execution, is the sudden evaporation of a key character in Fright Night, which continues to be a fun effect in its later reprisals. The work in X-Men: First Class was sometimes very impressive, but I admit it bugs me that the films in that franchise always seem stuck in awkward cadences: "Are you ready, we're going to show you an effect now! Here, it's happening! That was an effect!" Some of the CGI in Immortals feels oppressively heavy-handed, as it does in the very different world of a cinematic immortal in Hugo, but the peaks in both movies are aesthetically impressive, and probably very difficult at the technical level. The booms, chases, explosions, crashes, stunt coordination, and (I assume) the CGI enhancement of all of this in Fast Five are traditional enough to seem almost unremarkable, but there's no way this is just point-your-camera filmmaking, so to everyone who made such a ridiculous story so engaging, in ways that involved a matte or a mouse-pointer or a digital overlay, congrats for making me believe almost everything you did. As low-fi as they are, the creepy alterations of reality and the impending planet of Melancholia really got to me.
Films I Hated to Skip Before Posting: Attack the Block, Bellflower, Captain America: The First Avenger, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Paranormal Activity 3, Super 8, TrollHunter
Films I "Hated" to Skip Before Posting: Real Steel, Thor, Transformers: Dark of the Moon