Well, friends, 2010 is a thing of the past and the time has come to reflect on the year that was. For yours truly, it was a pretty great year in all aspects of life. I lived well, ate well, loved well, played well and traveled well (VEGAS, BABY!)... and, oh yeah, I saw a LOT of movies. It was a record-breaking year for me in that department, as I went to the movies a grand total of 141 times, shattering my old record of 120 set back in 2001. Ridiculous, yes, and I’m not quite sure how the hell I did it -- especially since, quality-wise, the first year of the ‘10s was a bit of a mixed bag. Seems like for every good movie, there was a bad one... and for every great movie, there was a REALLY bad one. Nevertheless, compiling my Top 10 list was a difficult task because the crème de la crème was quite good indeed. Let’s take a look, shall we?
10. BLUE VALENTINE -- I had to think long and hard about this one, as there were six or seven films I was considering for this spot. But in the end, I decided to go with this heartbreaking look at a relationship gone horribly awry. Whereas the movie ONCE is perhaps the quintessential example of the thunderbolt’s wonders, this movie may be the complete opposite -- it depicts the thunderbolt’s glorious strike (you can practically see the sparks when Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams put on their soon-to-be-legendary song-and-dance routine outside her apartment door), only to examine in excruciating detail how it can unravel over time in less-than-ideal circumstances. A raw, aching film featuring two phenomenal performances.
9. SHUTTER ISLAND -- Unquestionably the most underrated and misunderstood movie of the year. Many people were underwhelmed by the “twist,” to the point where I’ve actually seen this movie on several Bottom 10 lists. Utterly preposterous. What many don't seem to realize is that the so-called twist is not meant to be a twist at all! We're meant to know what’s going on from the very beginning. The film's true focus is the journey that Leonardo DiCaprio & Co. must take in order to figure things out for themselves. And what a journey it is -- this a fantastic character study, tremendously acted, beautifully shot and intricately constructed by Martin Scorcese, whose genius and mastery of his craft should never be questioned.
8. KICK-ASS -- In a disappointing year for superhero movies (sorry, IRON MAN 2), this insane tale stands alone and asks the question: How much ass does KICK-ASS kick when Kick-Ass kicks ass? The answer is... A WHOLE LOT OF ASS. Such an awesome movie -- all at once ridiculous, thrilling, intense, violent, hilarious, raunchy, bloody, completely outrageous and loaded with memorable characters, all of whom kick serious ass indeed. The most memorable, of course, is everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed 11-year-old vigilante, Hit Girl, whose ass-kicking exploits have already become the stuff of legend. The great thing about this movie is that it knows exactly what it wants to be and exactly the audience it wants to play for -- and the result is one of the most wildly entertaining movie experiences of the year. Did I mention it kicks ass?
7. THE SOCIAL NETWORK -- At first, the very concept of a movie about Facebook seemed ridiculous and way too premature... but now, it is clear that David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin have created not only one of the best movies of the year, but a movie that wholly represents the fast-paced, detached-from-reality mindset of the early 21st century. The plot unfurls like a whirlwind. Sorkin's script is so snappy & exciting, loaded with incredible dialogue and confrontations so blistering that it often feels like an action movie. Fincher’s visual style fits the story perfectly -- this film could easily have taken place in the same dark universe as SEVEN, FIGHT CLUB and ZODIAC (a frightening thought). Jesse Eisenberg gives a career-defining performance, Justin Timberlake steals the show, and Andrew Garfield proves his acting chops once again (see also NEVER LET ME GO and RED RIDING (1974) -- what a year the future Spider-Man had). Mark Zuckerberg’s origin story is as good as any superhero we’ve ever seen -- LIKE!
6. INCEPTION -- Christopher Nolan has officially established himself as one of the most visionary filmmakers working today, and this might be his greatest achievement yet. So incredibly dense and full of intricacies that it’s impossible to piece everything together with one viewing. Nolan is a master craftsman, wielding layers of the subconscious and crazy, at times nightmarish, visuals with unsettling ease. Great performances from Leo (another great year for him), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard and all the rest (including Pete Postlethwaite in one of his final roles -- playing a dying old man, no less). Whether you love or hate the ambiguous ending (I loved it), there can be no denying that this was one of the most unforgettable movie experiences of the year. Amazing, thundering score, too -- one time I fell asleep on the subway while listening to it and holy crap, it was surreal.
5. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE -- Here we have the entry that pretty much guarantees that I never get a real job writing about movies for a living. Friends, I shit you not when I say that this is the funniest movie of the year, hands down. I saw it twice in theatres and several times on Blu-Ray and it gets funnier every time. Not only is it absurdly ridiculous in the best possible way, hilariously raunchy and completely insane, but it’s also a brilliant, at times beat-for-beat, remake of BACK TO THE FUTURE (think about that as you watch -- it’s uncanny) and a picture-perfect homage to the ‘80s. It is loaded with nostalgia and tips of the cap to movies, TV, music and pop culture -- sometimes cheesy and over-the-top, but often subtle, in the background, or totally unexpected. Great comedic performances all around, anchored, of course, by John Cusack. He was the man in the ‘80s and is still the man to this day -- and in this movie he got to be the man in both decades at the same time. “Great white buffalo…”
4. SCOTT PILGRIM vs. THE WORLD -- Another triumph for Edgar Wright, this movie is a stylized geek’s paradise, loaded with old-school Nintendo sound effects, whip-snappy dialogue, crazy non-sequiturs (“Bread makes you fat?!”) and ringer t-shirts, and bursting with wildly inventive visuals, memorable characters and an infectious punk-pop vibe. It’s Michael Cera’s best performance ever -- very much his typical character, but more nuanced, aggressive and self-confident in spite of himself. Such a tough call to choose between super-cool Ramona Flowers and super-loyal Knives Chau (personally, I prefer the Blu-Ray alternate ending). The battle scenes with the League of Evil Exes are epic. The movie is pure, unbridled fun and a non-stop whirlwind of awesomeness. Like KICK-ASS, it knows what kind of movie it wants to be and wears its heart on its sleeve -- kudos to Edgar Wright for having his finger firmly on the pulse of geekdom. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am totally in lesbians with this movie!
3. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 -- To say that this penultimate installment of the Potter series is the best yet would be overly simplistic. In many ways, it is a miracle of a film: After ten years and six films, all the stars have aligned and they've figured out how to make a perfect Harry Potter film. All of the techniques & ideas that they’ve been tweaking and experimenting with have fallen into place. Tremendous acting, direction & writing. Truly epic in scope. Tonally perfect (that is to say, two and a half hours of unrelenting darkness, horror, misery and pain -- this is a harsh film in every sense). The perfect balance of near-slavish devotion to the book and thinking outside the box (love the Harry/Hermione dance scene). Easily the best musical score since John Williams left the series. Gorgeous cinematography. More brilliant casting decisions. Fixing continuity issues. The list goes on and the film is a triumph. And to think, it’s only half a film! Midnight on July 15th cannot get here soon enough!
2. TRUE GRIT -- Honestly, is there anything that the Coen Bros. can’t do? They seem to have entered their own golden age of filmmaking over the past few years, and this reimagining of the classic Western is one of their best concoctions yet. While there’s still room in the world for the John Wayne classic, the Coens tell a much grittier tale, remaining faithful to the original while making it with much their own. I actually just started reading the Charles Portis novel and it is clear that the Coens were born to tell this story -- the dialogue, situations and bizarre characters are right up their alley, and they do it justice in a way that the original film could not. Jeff Bridges may not be the Duke, but he IS the Dude -- and he now owns the role of Rooster Cogburn for all time and deserves his second straight Oscar nod. The supporting cast is just as stellar, including Matt Damon at his comedic best, Josh Brolin and the triumphant return of Barry Pepper -- but this movie really belongs to newcomer Hallie Steinfeld, who portrays Maddie Ross with a steel-hearted determination that is just astonishing and one of the great performances of the year. An amazing film, wildly entertaining, thought-provoking in the end -- it all adds up to another masterpiece to add to the Coens’ collection.
1. TOY STORY 3 -- Was there any doubt? Even if this film is taken on a purely surface level, scene by scene, moment by moment, it is the best movie of the year. But delve inside those scenes and moments and there are so many layers of brilliance. From the epic opening action sequence to the montage of Andy growing up (complete with the ominous, abbreviated ending to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”)... the look on Woody’s face when it is revealed that his old love, Bo Peep, is no longer with them... the introduction of Lotso, one of the most heinous and fully-realized movie villains of the year... incredible new characters like flamboyant Ken, the Fisher-Price phone that is like something out of an old time crime noir, the sad clown, and the turmoil of Big Baby... the thrilling escape from the daycare center (especially Mr. Potato Head’s surreal transformation into Mr. Tortilla Head)... Buzz’s hilarious Spanish mode and his heartstring-tugging chemistry with Jessie... the soul-crushing look of finality that comes over the toys as they resign themselves to inescapable death in the trash incinerator, followed by ecstatic relief as they are saved by “the Claaaaw”... the raw emotion as Andy passes down his beloved toys, one by one, to a new generation... I could go on all night, but just thinking about this movie makes me all verklempt. I cried both times I saw it in the theatre, and then when I watched it the other day on Blu-Ray, I lost my shit completely -- I’m talkin’ full-body heaving sobs. I’m a guy who puts tremendous emphasis on nostalgia, and no movie has ever touched me so deeply and on such a fundamental level. The TOY STORY trilogy, as a whole, is a work of staggering genius -- quite possibly second only to the original STAR WARS trilogy -- and this as perfect a third act as I’ve ever seen. Pixar has proven time and time again that they are geniuses, but now, they have proven that they may in fact be gods walking the Earth. Like the first TOY STORY in 1995 and TOY STORY 2 in 1999, TOY STORY 3 is the very best movie of 2010, and friends, it’s not even close. To infinity... and beyond!
Other Noteworthy Titles (in no particular order):
Never Let Me Go. TRON: Legacy. Tangled. Splice. Life During Wartime. The King’s Speech. Another Year. Machete. Let Me In. The American. Nowhere Boy. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Buried. Somewhere. Micmacs. Cyrus. The Ghost Writer. The Illusionist. The Square. Winter’s Bone. Rabbit Hole. Paranormal Activity 2. The Secret of Kells. It’s Kind of a Funny Story. The Fighter. Catfish. Greenberg. Get Low. A Film Unfinished. Waking Sleeping Beauty. How to Train Your Dragon. Megamind. Chloe. Flipped. Waiting for “Superman.” Easy A. 127 Hours. The Town. The Human Centipede: First Sequence.
And now... The Top 10 WORST Films of 2010:
10. SKYLINE -- Slight tip of the cap to this movie for some decent CGI on a small budget, but the story, characters, acting, dialogue, etc., are so bad that you can’t even enjoy it on a camp level. Easily the worst alien invasion flick in recent memory.
9. ROBIN HOOD -- Pains me to see a Ridley Scott movie on this list, but this film, which foolishly attempts to intertwine the classic tale with historical fact, is long, boring, uninteresting, miscast (don’t blame Russell & Cate) and an overall epic fail.
8. COP OUT -- The most embarrassingly unfunny “comedy” of the year. No idea what the heck Kevin Smith should be doing with his flailing career at this point, but this is most definitely not it.
7. THE RUNAWAYS -- As if the TWILIGHT films weren’t proof enough that Kristen Stewart is the worst actress alive, here’s another example. This biopic the revolutionary '70s girl band is so laughably bad, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it playing at midnight at the Village East before long.
6. FROM PARIS WITH LOVE -- Terrible plot, terrible acting (time to pack it in, Travolta), terrible dialogue, terrible twists, terrible gun fights and car chases... this movie is a perfect storm of crap. Special kudos Jonathan Rhys-Meyers for giving quite possibly the single worst performance of the year. Stunningly bad.
5. ALICE IN WONDERLAND -- An absolute disaster of a film. Lame visuals, terrible use of 3-D, plodding story, unnecessary LOTR-esque battle scenes... the list goes on. This is the final nail in the shared coffin of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, as far as I’m concerned. Time to break them up for good!
4. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET -- Jackie Earle Haley filling Robert Englund’s shoes was an inspired choice, but beyond that, this remake is nothing but a cheap, insulting rehash of one of my favorite horror institutions. A travesty on par with Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN debacles -- maybe even worse.
3. VALENTINE’S DAY -- An unfunny celebrity clusterfuck that isn't the slightest bit endearing, let alone romantic. My girlfriend and I actually saw this on Valentine's Day and we were forced to rethink the state of our relationship. Okay, just kidding about that... but seriously, everyone involved in this trash should be ashamed of themselves.
2. DEVIL -- As I revealed in a previous blog post, the big plot twist of this schlock is that M. Night Shyamalan is, in fact, the Devil himself. That can be the only explanation for how he can be allowed to keep coming up with movies that are this horrendously bad. Zero redeeming value here -- at least THE HAPPENING begat the SNL “Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals” sketch.
1. JONAH HEX -- Quite possibly the worst comic book movie of all time (yes, bad enough to rival BATMAN & ROBIN, which at least has camp value). It’s just a complete mess from top to bottom -- senseless plot, horrendous dialogue and bad acting across the board (sorry, Josh Brolin). It has absolutely nothing going for it and I can’t even imagine the comic being remotely good based on what little I know about it from this movie. And to top it all off, it looks like it may very well have signaled the final death knell for Megan Fox’s sexy-but-short-lived career (though I guess some might call that a good thing).
And now... Some Random Movie Thoughts!
Biggest Guilty Pleasure: Not sure if it can be considered a “guilty” pleasure since it’s in my Top 10 of the year, but I’m sure that HOT TUB TIME MACHINE will be part of my regular movie-watching rotation for a long, long time. I’ve been geeking out over TRON: LEGACY for months, had countless visual orgasms while watching the movie and even went out and bought the Wii game -- TRON rules! THE EXPENDABLES is a terrible film but holds a special place in my heart because I saw it at the Las Vegas premiere and had a moment of interaction with Dolph Lundgren on the red carpet. And then there’s SPLICE, the sci-fi camp classic of the year, a glorious, bat-shit insane conglomeration of FRANKENSTEIN, THE FLY, JURASSIC PARK and SPECIES that fills me with fucked-up glee every time I think about it -- which is often, since I have a plush Baby Dren doll sitting on my bookcase as we speak.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Like many people, I was skeptical of the concept of a Facebook movie at this point in time, but THE SOCIAL NETWORK proved us all wrong. Against all odds, LET ME IN turned out to be nearly as good as the original Swedish film, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (thanks again to Hit Girl herself, Chloe Moretz). BURIED proved that Ryan Reynolds trapped in a box for 90 minutes could make for a riveting cinematic experience. MACGRUBER was way funnier than it had any business being, considering it’s based on an SNL skit whose very punchline is the fact that it’s only 30 seconds long. Lastly, I begrudgingly must admit that THE KARATE KID remake, while still quite possibly the most unnecessary remake in the history of film, actually turned out okay!
Biggest Disappointment: This award goes to IRON MAN 2 which took the awesomeness of the first film -- one of the best superhero films ever -- and turned it into a gigantic clusterfuck that even Scarlett Johansson in a skintight bodysuit couldn’t fully redeem. You’d think that a comedy starring Steve Carell and Paul Rudd would be the epitome of hilarity, but DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS proved otherwise. THE OTHER GUYS was also a disappointment -- I’ve come to expect better things from Ferrell & McKay. GROWN UPS was an insult to Chris Farley’s memory. Unlike the last time Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe teamed up, I was NOT entertained by ROBIN HOOD. And ALICE IN WONDERLAND marked the last time I will ever be the slightest bit intrigued by a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration. And then there’s BLACK SWAN... more on that in a bit….
Most Underrated Movie: I’ve already talked about the great SHUTTER ISLAND -- haters can kiss my buttocks. NEVER LET ME GO just missed my Top 10, but tomorrow I could regret that decision -- fantastic, heartbreaking film and some of the best and most subtle sci-fi we’ve seen in years -- add it to your Netflix now. YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER isn’t quite as great as recent Woody Allen efforts such as VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA or MATCH POINT, but it’s a damn good film and I have been astonished to see it on people’s Bottom 10 lists. I remember when THE AMERICAN came out, there was Oscar buzz all over the place... what happened? It’s a great film -- feels like something out of the ‘70s -- and Clooney is at the top of his game. Sofia Coppola’s SOMEWHERE is way better than anyone is giving it credit for -- a perfect companion piece to LOST IN TRANSLATION. I can’t believe everyone has forgotten about Robert Duvall’s spectacular performance in GET LOW, one of the feel-good movies of the year. Rob Reiner's best in years, FLIPPED, came and went way too quickly. Haven’t really heard anyone say a word about NOWHERE BOY, a tremendous biopic of young John Lennon that should make a brilliant double-feature with BACKBEAT. And LIFE DURING WARTIME… well, I wouldn’t have expected Todd Solondz’s sequel to HAPPINESS to get much mainstream praise… but it also very nearly made it into my Top 10... maybe I’m just sick in the head.
Most Overrated Movie: So, yeah... BLACK SWAN. I honestly can’t remember the last time I disagreed with the general public this much about a movie. Eighty-eight percent fresh on RottenTomatoes.com… Oscar buzz across the board… it just doesn’t make any sense. THIS IS NOT A GOOD MOVIE! In fact, it’s a bad movie. It’s a LAUGHABLY bad movie. I love Darren Aronofsky’s previous work as much as the next guy, but comparing this movie to Hitchcock and Polanski? Come on. This was a misstep. Natalie Portman is not a good actress, and at times her acting is bad to a Star Warsian degree. Nothing about this movie is anywhere near as good as the world is making it out to be (Exception: Barbara Hershey, who portrays Natalie's mother as a mad combo of Mommie Dearest and Carrie's mom). Take away the sexy stuff and what’s left? Nothing. It’s just insane. The whole world has gone insane around me. I am fully prepared to turn into a seething ball of rage come Oscar Night.
Five Movies I Didn’t See and Do Not Regret Missing: Believe it or not, despite seeing 141 movies in 2010, I actually did show some restraint from time to time. I had no desire to see BURLESQUE. THE TOURIST makes me question Johnny Depp’s sanity. The very thought of LITTLE FOCKERS makes me throw up in my mouth a little. The only way GULLIVER’S TRAVELS could be worthwhile is if Jack Black uses the paycheck to get Tenacious D back on the road. And let us never mention YOGI BEAR again (unless of course it’s to talk about this fake alternate ending).
Animation Domination: Pretty outstanding year for animated films, starting, of course, with the best movie of the year, animated or otherwise, TOY STORY 3. Hail Pixar! Walt Disney Animation had a winner, too, with TANGLED, the best Disney Princess movie in many, many years. Meanwhile, Dreamworks may have finally figured their shit out, because HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and MEGAMIND were both pretty great -- easily the best stuff that studio has come up with so far. Some stiff competition from the arthouse scene, too, in the form of the French film THE ILLUSIONIST. I also saw last year’s surprise Oscar nominee, THE SECRET OF KELLS, and it was very good indeed. On the other end of the spectrum, DESPICABLE ME and SHREK FOREVER AFTER were both shite.
The Horror... the Horror: A bit of a mixed year for the horror genre, with such stinkers as Eli Roth’s THE LAST EXORCISM, the bullshit NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET remake, the fun-but-not-good SAW 3-D, and THE CRAZIES, which I barely remember. However, there were some bright spots: We’ve already talked about the mad genius of SPLICE, and LET ME IN was extremely effective. What the I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake lost in social commentary, it made up for with extra craziness and sheer brutality. FROZEN was a concept-horror film (dumbasses get stuck on ski lift for the weekend) that worked very well. And last, but not least, there’s THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE: FIRST SEQUENCE, which must be seen to be believed… and then you will wish that you could un-see it… but guess what… YOU CAN’T!
Score-apallooza: This was a remarkably fruitful year for movie scores, too, from Zimmer’s thundering INCEPTION to Desplat’s dark HARRY POTTER to Daft Punk’s relentless TRON: LEGACY to Trent Reznor’s SOCIAL NETWORK to Rachel Portman’s haunting NEVER LET ME GO. I’ve had at least one theme from all of these scores stuck in my head at one time or another… all good stuff.
Worst Oscar Bait: LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS didn’t know what the hell kind of movie it was supposed to be, so in the end the marketing campaign just focused on the Anne Hathaway nudity. Clint Eastwood’s HEREAFTER was aptly named because it felt exactly like a black, lifeless eternity of nothingness. And Annette Bening may actually have a shot at Oscar gold this year, because ain’t no way her nemesis Hilary Swank is getting nominated for the ridiculous pile of slop that is CONVICTION.
Two Belated “Fuck Yous” to the Bush Administration: GREEN ZONE (starring Matt Damon as a soldier who uncovers the truth about the search for WMDs) and FAIR GAME (starring Naomi Watts as a CIA agent who cover is blown after her NY Times reporter husband accuses the government of lying about those same WMDs) were both dramatized accounts of real political events, some of which actually happened and some of which were only purported to have happened -- but let’s face it, it’s probably all true -- the Bush administration was so fucked up!
Welcome to the Third Dimension: Thanks to AVATAR, the 3-D fad is in full swing, for better or worse. TRON: LEGACY was perhaps the most eye-popping use of the the technology I’ve seen -- what an incredible immersive experience that was. Believe it or not, as far as live-action movies are concerned, JACKASS 3-D was second-best -- hilarious stuff -- closely followed by PIRANHA 3-D, which narrowed the technology down to the very basics (that is to say, lots of blood & gore & bouncing boobs & butts). Meanwhile, CLASH OF THE TITANS, SAW 3-D, ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER were all examples of bad post-conversion and all-around misuse of technology. And then of course there were the animated films, which usually fare better in this format. This was especially true for TOY STORY 3 -- God, that climactic scene in the trash incinerator still gives me chills. TANGLED looked amazing, too -- the lantern festival was one of the year’s most jaw-dropping visuals. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and MEGAMIND also looked fantastic. On the other hand, not only were DESPICABLE ME and SHREK FOREVER AFTER shite, but the 3-D added absolutely nothing to the experience other than more dollars out of people’s pockets (but not mine, ‘cause I saw’em for free).
Revival Madness: Aside from all the new releases, I also saw more revivals and special screenings of old films than ever before. The pièce de résistance was probably METROPOLIS at the Film Forum, complete with 20 minutes of footage that they found in a cave somewhere, or something like that -- it was an extraordinary movie experience. I also saw BACK TO THE FUTURE at a special screening to promote its Blu-Ray release, and it was fun as hell. POLTERGEIST at midnight at the Sunshine was super-creepy -- it was the first time I’d ever seen those images that have scared me for the past 28 years on the big screen. THE NEVERENDING STORY projected onto a giant inflatable screen on the Hudson River pier was the best birthday present I could have asked for. I kept my legs crossed for a week after seeing a double-feature of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE -- the new remake followed by the ‘70s classic. And lastly, I saw one of my most beloved movies of all time, JURASSIC PARK, with a midnight Sunshine crowd full of geeks who were totally into it and it was right up my alley.
And that’s that. Thoughts? Questions? Criticisms? Concerns for my mental stability and overall well-being? What are YOUR picks for the best and worst movies of 2010? Gather ‘round, friends, and let us discuss....