ADVERTISEMENT

At the movies, 'Super 8' soars to the top / By DANIELLE GRIMM - Next Correspondent

Another year has come and gone, and with it came movies of great depth, humor and sometimes both. 2011 was truly "the year of the franchise," seeing as both the "Harry Potter" and the "Twilight" series came to a close (well, "Twilight" came to half a close). Still, franchise films aside, audiences around the world saw works of cinematic magic in 2011. Here, I have assembled the 10 films I found to be the most well-written, powerfully acted and visually appealing of the year (No. 1 being the best film of the year).

1. "Super 8" (PG-13)

If you didn't realize the full extent of Steven Spielberg's genius after "E.T.," you will by the end of "Super 8." Although the trailers made the film out to be something akin to "Cloverfield," there is barely a comparison. While filming an amateur movie for a local filmmaking contest, a group of middle school boys (Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, etc.) and their female star Alice (Elle Fanning) witness a morbid train crash, caused by some sort of beast. The remainder of the film is spent following these new age "Goonies," as they search for answers to what exactly they saw the night the train crashed. The level of talent and maturity in these young actors/actresses is mind-boggling. Each character was incredibly unique and refined; each member of the group complemented the rest, making it appear as though the kids had known each other their entire lives. The fact that "Super 8" was centered on a bunch of 11-year-olds, rather than a group of teenagers, gave the film a sense of innocence rarely found in today's media. When all is said and done, "Super 8" was by far the most distinct story, visually appealing and powerfully acted film of 2011.

2. "Captain America" (PG-13)

This year proved to be a stellar one for Marvel film adaptations. "Captain America" tells the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a scrawny beanpole of a boy who wants nothing more than to answer the call of duty in WWII. Unfortunately, his unimpressive physique prevents him from doing so. With the help of our trusty mad scientist Stanley Tucci, Steve is transformed into a super soldier intent on defeating Adolf Hitler's weapons specialist, Johann Schmidt, more commonly referred to as "the Red Skull." The 1940s setting of the film was particularly alluring, the dialogue was marvelous and the principle actors/actresses had clearly spent significant time with the script; most, if not all of them, had all but evolved into their characters, making for a convincing story, which never hurt anyone. The visual effects were, likewise, outstanding; when was the last time you saw CGI being used to remove muscle/height from an actor?

3. "Rise of Planet of the Apes" (PG-13)

After seeing "127 Hours," I began to accept James Franco as more of an actor and less of Harry Osborn, Peter Parker's high school pal. Though he'd had a number of other successful roles between the two films, it was hard not to associate him with the "Spiderman" franchise. "Rise of Planet of the Apes" only reinforced the respect I now have for him. Franco portrays Will Rodman, a scientist searching for a cure to Alzheimer's disease. After an incident at the testing facility leaves a female ape dead, Will discovers her orphaned child, Caesar, and decides to take him home. Despite showing early signs of enhanced intelligence, Caesar causes problems within the community and is eventually forced into an animal shelter. This is where he rallies his fellow ape-friends and forms his deadly army, which eventually seizes control of the world (as seen in the 2001 "Planet of the Apes"). The apes are quite possibly the most realistic CGI I've ever seen. The lot of the film is fast-paced and suspense-ridden, from the incident in the laboratory to Caesar's first word.

4. "Hugo" (PG)

Being the most recent of the listed films, "Hugo" is a cinematic gem. The plot follows a young orphan, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who tends to the clocks in a Parisian train station. Between stealing food, working for a mysterious man in a toy store and hiding from the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), he is repairing an automaton his father discovered before he died. With the help of his friend Isabella (Chloe Moretz), Hugo uncovers a mystery that seems to connect the automaton with the man in the toy store, and sets out to solve it. The film is visually stunning with a vintage air about it, which looks surprisingly clean in 3-D. The plot is so dramatically different than any other film released this year; it's hard to distinguish it between a fantasy and a mystery. Not that it would have a problem fitting into both categories.

5. "The Adjustment Bureau" (PG-13)

I'm not sure anyone saw something of this magnitude coming from George Nolfi, the film's director who is generally known for screenplay writing/adaptation. Nevertheless, he clearly had some idea of what he was doing when he put on the director's hat. "The Adjustment Bureau" is a tale of star-crossed lovers, in every sense of the term. It tells the story of two soul mates, Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) and prima ballerina, Elise (Emily Blunt), who meet in a hotel bathroom after Norris loses the election for the New York Senate seat. However, this otherworldly connection between the two lovers wasn't exactly in the cards, which prompts the Adjustment Bureau to intervene. The bureau is an organization responsible for keeping each individual person on their set path in life. The members of the bureau aren't all-powerful masters of fate, though; they're perfectly ordinary human beings entrusted with the task of keeping fate on its course. Despite constant threats and intervention from the bureau, Norris is unwavering in his pursuits to be with Elise. Perhaps what set "The Adjustment Bureau" apart from other films this year was the authenticity of the romance between Damon and Blunt. Their chemistry is remarkable, and the dialogue is genuine. Make no mistake, "The Adjustment Bureau" is about as far from a Nicholas Sparks adaptation as you can get.

6. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" (PG-13)

Our beloved childhood friends, Harry, Ron and Hermione return for an explosive final installment of the Harry Potter series. The plot is centered around the war being waged between Lord Voldemort's forces and Harry's supporters. As unbelievable as it may seem, you don't have to be a devoted Potterhead to fully appreciate this film, though the more knowledge you have about the previous books, the more teary-eyed you'll get as the film progresses. As a devoted reader, I fully supported the artistic liberties director Chris Columbus had to take when adapting the script. Nearly everything from the book was there, and was visually striking to boot. Coupled with the powerful acting from just about the entire cast, the Harry Potter series was brought to an outstanding and rather emotional end.

7. "X-Men: First Class" (PG-13)

Although the "X-Men" franchise seems a bit perpetual, each installment in the series seems to outdo the previous one. "First Class" is different, though. I'd almost go as far to call it the best of the "X-Men" series. Considering it is the prequel to the other films, it answers many lingering questions fans of the series have had -- well, those fans who haven't read the comics -- predominantly the sweet-turned-sour relationship of Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender). Like the other "X-Men" installments, the film is filled with stylish visual effects and a "first class" cast.

8. "The Help" (PG-13)

Starring "Easy A's" quirky, ginger princess, "The Help" revolves around Skeeter (Emma Stone), an aspiring writer in Jackson, Miss. Once she realizes the racism that is present among her white social circle, she decides to write a book from the point of view of two black maids, Aibileen (Viola Davis) and Minny (Octavia Spencer). The book eventually turns into the accounts of almost a dozen black women, raising quite the commotion in Jackson. Though the story is a delightful blend of offbeat humor and legitimate racial concerns, what really struck me as above average was the acting, particularly from the three leads. I'll be shocked if we don't see an Oscar nomination for Viola Davis. Perhaps something even more incredible is seeing Emma Stone succeed as something other than a graceless, teenage misfit.

9. "Rango" (PG)

Johnny Depp threw viewers a curveball when he took on the role of a happy-go-lucky pet lizard. When Rango (Depp) falls out of his tank, he finds himself alone in the unforgiving desert. He wanders around for a bit until he stumbles upon the drought-ridden town of Dirt, where he is quickly promoted to sheriff. Though I tend to avoid most Western movies due to the generally "this town ain't big enough fer the two of us" plots, I found Rango to be a pleasant deviation from the norm; it's proof that directors really can't go wrong with talking animals. The script isn't limited to cheesy punch lines for children, either; there's plenty of adult humor thrown in there as well.

10. "Gnomeo and Juliet" (G)

Though it doesn't exactly mirror the Shakespearean masterpiece, "Gnomeo and Juliet" couldn't be more adorable. Though the concept of talking lawn ornaments may seem a bit outrageous, entertain the idea: It works. The cast is filled with huge Hollywood names: James McAvoy (Gnomeo), Emily Blunt (Juliet), Michael Caine (Juliet's father), Maggie Smith -- who you may know better as Professor McGonagall in "Harry Potter" (Gnomeo's mother), Ozzy Osborne (Fawn) and Sir Patrick Stewart (William Shakespeare), among other talents. Set to the music of Elton John, the film is charming, beautifully animated and just plain cute.

Danielle Grimm is a junior at Clarence High School.

***

An eclectic mix on the radio / BY ANNA HYZY - NeXt Correspondent

Many music fans are saying that little was worth noticing in the music world in 2011. But fans said farewell to favorite bands such as LCD Soundsystem, the White Stripes and REM this year, taking a bite out of rock. Each genre had its own trends and stand-out acts. From the thrilling to the disappointing, 2011 gave listeners a year to remember.

*Pop - A Woman's World

There's no question the pop music airwaves were ruled by women this year.

On top of it all was newcomer Adele. She shattered the charts this year with her sophomore album, "21." With a big voice, heart-wrenching lyrics and an outstanding live presence, the world fell in love with her from the first note. Adele was named woman of the year by both Billboard and Rolling Stone.

The usual queens of pop are still holding on tight though: Rihanna, Katy Perry and Beyonce all worked the charts this year as did Lady Gaga. In fact, Perry became the first female artist with six No. 1 singles off of the same album.

Gaga's 2011 album, "Born This Way," took a step further into the artist's twisted electro-dance world. Perhaps even more shocking from the Gaga of late have been her videos, which have surprised, shocked and sometimes even disgusted audiences worldwide.

That's not to say men had no place in pop this year. Bruno Mars continuously contributed to the charts, as did Justin Bieber, a favorite among teenage girls.

*Rap/Hip-Hop: Royalty Rules

Jay-Z and Kanye West's album title "Watch the Throne" seems to be a bit more than just a clever album title. The kings of rap came together this year for a monstrous tour and album. Receiving nothing but standing ovations and critical praise, the two are clearly presiding over the rap game at this time and show no signs of slowing down.

Newcomers Nicki Minaj and Drake did, however, make a dent this year. In fact, both had an incredibly successful year with hit after hit and nothing but applause from the critics and fans.

Tyler, The Creator stepped on the scene this year with racist, sexist, homophobic and more or less offensive in every way possible verses. There's something alluring about his work though, his incredibly deep voice spewing rhymes no one would ever think, all at an interesting rhythm.

Lil Wayne's "The Carter IV" was one of the bigger letdowns in music this year. The album was lacking and, while still successful, ended up taking a back seat to some of the year's stronger releases.

*Rock - the old and the new

Rock had three stand-out albums this year: "Wasting Light" by the Foo Fighters, "Sigh No More" by Mumford and Sons and "El Camino" by the Black Keys.

The Foo Fighters have long been a fixture on the American rock scene. With this new release and tour, fan spirit has only been revitalized. The Foo Fighters are still cranking out quality rock anthems after 16 years. The whole album was recorded in lead singer Dave Grohl's garage on analog tape, rejecting modern digital recording methods.

Mumford and Sons' "Sigh No More" may have been released in 2010, but this year the album was topping American rock charts with major hits such as "Little Lion Man" and "The Cave."

The Black Keys delivered, as always, a powerful rock album. "El Camino" was released later in the year -- Dec. 2 -- and thus has only had a short time to make a splash. But even with less than a month under its belt, fans are happy with the album, and critics are, too."

*Under the radar

One of indie music's bigger names, Radiohead, released a new album this year, "King of Limbs." Though Thom Yorke's endearingly slurred speech could never really leave fans upset, the album didn't leave all fans necessarily thrilled. The album lacked luster compared to previous Radiohead releases and felt repetitive to many listeners.

Supposed newcomer Bon Iver's album was a smash, leaving him nominated for best new artist at the Grammys this year, nevermind the fact that his first album was released four years ago.

Another new name, Foster the People, saw major success this year. After the release of its unbelievably catchy single, Pumped Up Kicks, Foster the People began topping charts. With an ever-growing fan base behind its first album, "Torches,' the band is definitely one to watch in years to come.

Jeff Mangum, lead singer and recluse of the long-missing band Neutral Milk Hotel, embarked on a sold-out solo tour this year after being off the grid for 10 years.

Other notable releases included "Let England Shake" by PJ Harvey, "Ceremonials" by Florence and the Machine and St. Vincent's "Strange Mercy."

Anna Hyzy is a junior at City Honors.

***

It's all about the boots / BY HANNAH ZAKRZEWSKI - NeXt Correspondent

This was a year like no other, and fashion in 2011 has reflected the world it comes from.

Accessories had a wide range. Scarves remained a fashionable choice. Knit scarves were worn to keep warm both inside and out, and scarves in other materials could be found in almost any color or print. For those who wear glasses, nerdy glasses suddenly became cool. Large frames in an assortment of colors were prevalent. Purses could be found in a wide range of styles, but messenger bags were most common.

Sweaters were a hot item in 2011, with many different styles becoming popular. Blazers became increasingly popular, and are now considered a wardrobe staple by many teens. Skinny jeans remained the popular jean choice, and jeggings suddenly became an actual word. Leggings were worn in a variety of ways throughout the year.

But the year seemed to be all about boots. From combat to riding to the ever-popular Uggs, boots could be found anywhere and everywhere. It seemed everyone has their own favorite style of boots. Even during the warmer months, booties were extremely popular. Moccasins also were a popular shoe choice in 2011. As the colder weather settled in, fur-lined varieties were everywhere. In summertime, ballet, flat-style moccasins were in demand.

As for those who inspired us, Kate Middleton, now known as Catherine, duchess of Cambridge, was on her way to becoming a fashion icon in 2011. In April, her Alexander McQueen wedding dress wowed viewers around the world. Ever since that day, millions have looked to her for fashion inspiration. During Kate's North American tour, fans almost obsessively followed her clothing choices.

Actress Hailee Steinfeld also became a fashion inspiration in 2011. Hailee was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in the 2010 movie "True Grit." Hailee caused a stir by dressing appropriately for her age while still looking excellent. Her Oscar dress was considered by many to be one of the best dresses at the ceremony.

Hannah Zakrzewski is a freshman at Nardin Academy.