Tuesday Talkback: Most pleasant surprise of the film year

As we wind down the year, we'll be hit with an endless parade of "Best and Worst of 2011."  In the interests of standing out from the flock, how about we discuss which films were our most pleasant surprises this year?  Were there any films that really surprised you by surpassing your expectations?

My pick would probably be Bridesmaids.  As the advance press began for this one, I was expecting to loathe it.  Not only had constant reuse of her weakest characters on SNL gone a long way towards wearing out Kristin Wiig's welcome with me, but it had an amazingly unfunny trailer.  The "grassroots" support for the film didn't take long to prime me for a backlash either.  I get there were noble intentions behind it, but the "See Bridesmaids to support female talent" was a really, deeply obnoxious campaign.  How about "See Bridesmaids because it's funny?"  Or "See Bridesmaids because it's original?"

The fact that the main creatives had vaginas meant squat to me as a viewer.  The way that campaign was framed, it was as if the quality of the product was secondary to the gender of its makers.  It's also the kind of thinking that promotes support for sub-par work.  Anyone who went to something like What's Your Number? only out of a misguided obligation to feminism deserved to lose $15 and two hours of their life.

So with all of this in mind, I went to see Bridesmaids with the lingering expectation that I'd walk out unsatisfied, but with enough material to fill a column or two on this blog.  Much to my surprise, I enjoyed most of it.  I didn't love every minute of it - the bridal shop scene had me saying a silent prayer that this would be the film's only foray into gross-out humor.  There are also a few scenes that fell victim to "improv-itis," where you're painfully aware that the actors are riffing and driving the scene in circles so that they can cram in as many punchlines to the same set-up as possible.  (I should probably call it "The Vince Vaughn Rule.")

Still, I though Kristin Wiig reminded me of what I liked about her when she first joined SNL and in smaller parts in movies like Knocked Up.  The supporting cast was strong, but most of all, the script understood its characters.  It's so rare to see a character-driven script done right - particularly in a movie that's so broad in its humor, and filled with actors who seem primed to steal a scene at the slightest opportunity.

I'm glad Bridesmaids did so well, but most of all, I'm glad that it was riding on a generally strong script and strong characters.

So what was your pleasant surprise?