Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2010 in Review, Part II (DubMC)

Yesterday I worked through 36 of the 56 movies I saw this year. What follows is the remaining 20, ranked lowest to highest for either their viewing pleasure, their cinematic accomplishment, their rewatchability… or whatever it is we use to determine such rankings. For goodness sake, rewatchability isn’t even a word.

Anyway, here we go…

20. Morning Glory

Surprise! Bet you didn't even know I saw this movie.  But I did.  And I enjoyed it. Sure it’s clichéd, sugarcoated and entirely predictable. But it’s all those things in the most comforting way, and damn funny to boot.

Earlier this year I had the unpleasant experience of watching The Ugly Truth. You know what? The script wasn’t bad. But the movie sucked. Katherine Heigl sucked. Gerard Butler… kind of sucked. And Robert Luketic’s direction was just awful. Everything about that movie stunk.

Morning Glory is kind of like that movie, except we’ve swapped out Heigl for Rachel McAdams, Gerard Butler for Harrison Ford, and handed the reigns over to veteran director Roger Michell and producer JJ Abrams. The result is a charming, affable little chick flick with a surprising sense of humor. For my money, this was the best, care free date movie of the year.

Now if only we could put McAdams in all of Heigl’s roles.

19. The Expendables

On the flip side of that coin, The Expendables offered the best, bluntest, single purpose action in theaters this year. Stallone and his crew did this old school, favoring stunts and camera rattling explosions over CGI. This 80s throwback came armed with texture, humor and nostalgia, making for a potent adrenaline fest. You could complain about the acting, or the character depth, or the buckets of steroids used in the production of this movie. But if you’re doing that, you’re in the wrong theater buddy.

18. Tangled

How’s that for balance? We’ve got something for the whole family on this list! Like The Expendables, Tangled is a throwback of sorts, a simple “princess in distress” story like so many others in the Mickey Mouse empire. But here similarity equals classicality. Tangled is classic Disney done right, with enjoyable characters, personified animals, a story you can get behind and funny musical numbers you your kids can sing along to. A solid entry to the family film lexicon… and not even the best animated flick of the year.

17. Salt

This movie surprised me. The trailers covered a lot of ground and the story seemed derivative. And maybe it was. But by switching up the Tom Cruise hero for an Angelina Jolie heroine, writer Kurt Wimmer and director Phillip Noyce found new territory to explore in the Spy Thriller subgenre. The story is outlandish and occasionally sloppy, but the pacing and action keep us from worrying too much about the “why” while anticipating the “how.” Confident and competent, Salt was one of the summer’s best.

16. The Runaways

Punky and atmospheric, The Runaways is a rock video behind the music indie flick. Written and directed by photographer/artist Floria Sigismondi, this bio-pic is 60% style, 10% story and 30% character piece, but that 30% is just enough for Twilighter Kristen Stewart and her buddy Dakota Fanning to sink their teeth into. Their rockers are strong and daring while occasionally heartbreaking. Meanwhile, Michael Shannon plays their manager/pimp, reaching into his fully stocked Quirky Nutjob Cabinet and pulling out another scene-stealing performance. And you know soundtrack rocks.

Earning just $2 million at the Box Office, not a lot of people saw this one. They missed out.

15. Despicable Me

It was a busy year for Steve Carrel, but his best work was voice work. Here he’s a super villain with a heart of coal who wants to steal the moon. For dastardly reasons, he enlists three sweet little orphan girls to help him. Betcha they warm up that heart of his, and yours too. Despicable Me isn’t as mean spirited as it could have been, but it’s funnier than it should have been, and ultimately endearing. It’s funnier than Toy Story 3, and maybe more enjoyable on the simplest of levels. But it lacks its competitors prestige.

14. Kick-Ass

Bold and occasionally brilliant, this comic-book adaptation lived up to its title, and delivered us Hit Girl, one of the most memorable characters of the year. Director Matthew Vaughn knows how to put on a show, and here he puts on a violently cool one, reworking our expectations of what super hero films can be, and what movies can get away with when their violence is cartoonish enough. Kick-Ass should live a long time through repeat viewings.

13. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I

Yes, this is a setup film, and opening act for the final showdown. But it’s also a film in and of its own. There’s a foreboding nature to Hallows, a moody and intimidating journey of innocence lost. Harry and his friends are on the run, and for the first time are very much on their own. The movie is about coping with that, learning how to deal with it, and how to grow from it. There’s a lot less neato magic, and a lot less colorful adventure, but the adventure IS still here…it’s just more of an internal one. Part I is a darkly rich and engrossing film in which the kids finally come of age.

12. Shutter Island

Nearly everyone saw Shutter Island, a twisty-turny heritage piece from Marty Scorsese and Leo DiCaprio. Too much was made of the final twist in Laeta Kalogridis’ script, and whether one could see it coming or not. I say – who cares? If you spend too much time worrying about the ending, you’re gonna miss the movie. Scorsese’s film is moody and inspired, and Leo’s better here than in that other mind-bender that got so much attention this year. Re-watch this one, and this time just enjoy the ride.

11. Toy Story 3

By now you’ve heard all the adjectives championing the cause of Pixar’s latest gem – colorful, touching, insightful, hilarious, heartbreaking, timeless, etc. At times the final Toy Story chapter is all those things. But at other times it’s just a movie that’s SUPPOSED to be all those things. Pixar doesn’t make bad movies. Not even Cars is a bad movie. So of course Toy Story 3 is good. Sometimes it’s great. Other times it’s just another Toy Story movie.

10. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Scott Pilgrim earns a lot of points for being unique, but it earns more for doing unique right. Fun and witty, Pilgrim’s a popcorn and soda flick with the quirky sensibility and timing you’d expect from an Edgar Wright film (Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz). This movie pops in ways very few can.

9. The King’s Speech

A classy little film about the pressures of royalty and its impact on British history, The King’s Speech has a lot of people talking, and mostly they're talking about Colin Firth. Indeed, his undertaking of a king with a dilapidating stutter and a crushing sense of self-loss is remarkable – it isn’t just the stuttering performance that will have you in awe, but the broken man behind it that Firth, writer David Seidler and director Tom Hooper bring to the surface. Hooper makes some interesting choices that I don’t necessarily get, or agree with. But his film moves with prestige, and feels coated in Oscar gold.

8. Let Me In

Amidst the uproar over too-soon or unnecessary Hollywood remakes of foreign films, people seemed to miss the fact that Let Me In is actually a damn good movie. And not just because it mimics Let the Right One In, but because it VARIES from it. Writer/Director Matt Reeves treats his source material with respect, but proceeds with authority, tweaking it here and there to build something that I actually enjoyed more than the original. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz are great as outsiders looking for a connection, and finding it in a dangerous place. Reeves keeps his film taut and tense, scary and, at times, endearingly romantic (talk about coming of age). Which is really weird, but also really awesome.

7. The Ghost Writer

Directed by Roman Polanski, Ewan McGregor’s hero finds himself in way over his head when he’s hired for a simple job that turns out to be not so simple, and incredibly conspiratorial. Sound familiar? A quiet thriller of mystery and loss, this is the closest Polanski has ever come to recreating Chinatown.

6. True Grit

Brother Joel & Ethan Coen sure know how to make a movie. By now they’ve been licensed to do as they please, and here it so pleases them to remake a famous John Wayne western with their friend Jeff Bridges as a gritty, over-the-hill marshal hired by a little girl to bring her daddy’s killer to justice. But really this isn’t Bridges’ movie, or Matt Damon’s (even though they’re both great). This movie belongs to Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, the 14-year-old girl with stoic maturity and blunt devotion. True Grit feeds off her peculiar charisma, and her connection with Bridges and Damon as her temporary father figures. There isn’t a lot of action here, or conventional western allure. But it looks pretty, flows nicely and refuses to hold back.

5. Black Swan

Darren Aronofsky’s mind-bender may be his finest work yet, a combination of the bizarrely fucked up he does so well, and the more accessible character work and plotting he’s found in working from other people’s scripts. A film about an obsessive ballerina losing herself (and her mind) to the challenging Black Swan role from the Swan Lake ballet, Aronofsky’s film is both challenging and rewarding, smartly shot and welded, superbly acted. Vincent Cassel is strong as the company director that pushes Nina, and Mila Kunis is alluring as the free spirit Nina will never be. But Natalie Portman’s all-in portrayal makes this a must see.

4. The Town

The action is crisp, the characters are contextual and well-played, the story is engaging and the direction is sharp – as a crime thriller, The Town is the complete package. Ben Affleck’s growth as both a director and an actor is on full display, and his film is one of the year’s most satisfying. Of all these movies, this one may elicit the most repeat viewings.

3. The Social Network

“Important” is the first word that comes to mind when writing of David Fincher’s film, a cinematic expose of perhaps the most defining social development of our ever evolving digitized world. Aaron Sorkin’s script is sharp and witty, and Jessie Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is surprisingly dexterous. I love the foreboding atmosphere Fincher creates, and I love how well-rounded his ensemble is, from Rooney Mara to Andrew Garfield to Armie Hammer (playing two role simultaneously) to Justin fricken Timberlake. This is sturdy movie making, honest and impactful.

2. Inception

The movie event of the year, helmed by one of our greatest directors as he continues to challenge and build upon our ideas of what cinema is, and what it can accomplish. As a film, Inception is possibly monumental. As a movie, it is undeniably entertaining. Everything about this movie is well-done. It’s like a movie magic machine, honed to near perfection. Which is why, despite all it’s awesomeness, I still prefer the more fallible humanity of...

1. The Fighter

David O. Russell’s film is a crowd pleaser, a close-to-home family drama about an underdog fighter and the relationships that got him to the top. To purport a boxing cliché, Russell’s film doesn’t pull its punches, and isn’t afraid to tug on your heart strings. But it never wallows, and possesses an erstwhile humor. Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale play the brothers at the center of it all, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo the women locked arm-and-arm with them. And they’re all great.

This movie is an unabashed heart-warmer, and there’s not a thing wrong with that. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Which brings me to my final point of 2010, or perhaps my lingering afterthought, as it were – I keep hearing what a bad year for movies it was. But how was this a bad year? Because it had bad movies? Every year we get bad movies. Trust me, I sit through tons of them. 2010 was no different. You could talk about ratios, I suppose, of bad to good… but why the hell are we talking about ratios? We’re supposed to be talking about movies.

How can a year in which we got any of these last 10 movies be a bad year?

A year in which we received such striking performances from Portman and Bale and Firth and Steinfeld.

A year in which we witnessed the full strength in imagination and creation of Nolan, Aronofsky or Wright.

A year in which we were blessed with the majestic cinematic craftmanship of Fincher, Polanski and the Coens.

A year in which we were warmed, in our hearts, our souls, by Toys, Fighters and theatrical escapism.

Lighten up, everybody. Appreciate. I haven’t even SEEN all the good movies yet, but I still know…

2010 was a good year for movies. You will never convince me otherwise.

1 comment:

The Bru said...

2010 was a very good year for movies. I've still yet to see most of these and I can't wait. Excellent post.


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