My Picks for 2010

At the end of every year, I usually find it not too hard to pick out my favorites, but this year I found it especially hard to narrow down. There have been many memorable movies (both in a good and bad way), many great ones, many truly awful ones, and a surprisingly many fantastically memorabe ones. Those that stood out stood out beautifully, each in their own unique way, and even the worst directors of all-time released a not-too-awful spoof called “Vampires Suck.” Things are kinda lookin up. That being said there were some epic disappointments too, and light of that statement let’s talk about “Toy Story 3,” the only Pixar offering this year, and yet this year was the first year in four years that I have not had a Pixar in my top ten. I was not epically disappointed by TS3, yet it did not strike the same chord with me as TS2 did, and half the plot felt rehashed, but it’s not going to go on my Disappointments list because it wasn’t disappointing enough, and the farewell it gave to the series was heartbreaking and beautiful. So I’m sad I can’t in good conscience put it on my Top 10, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. So forgive the delay, and enjoy my favorites and not-so-favorites of 2010. 🙂

The Moments

3. Evil Grandma, Legion

This movie reeked of so much missed potential, and this scene is one reason why – the nice old lady suddenly turning rabid and climbing upside down on the walls spine-tingling and creepy and perfectly suited what that movie should have been like the whole time. Instead, we get talking. And talking. And talking. And talking. You really only need to youtube this scene, actually.

2. Arthur’s Fight, Inception

One of the biggest blockbusters of 2010 also boasted one of the most ingenous fights in movie history, reminiscent of mind-bending scenes still iconic today set in The Matrix. Christopher Nolan is notoriously bad at shooting action scenes, yet in this movie the twisting hallway somehow works for him and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Spider-Man like blows against the subconscious of Cillian Murphy are brutal and intense, while the music adds a fuel to the scene’s fire, visceral and grand all at once.

1. Toothless Writing, How to Train Your Dragon

The sweetest, most charming moment in any film this year came not from Pixar, but this little Dreamworks gem. I hesitate to spoil the moment for you, but suffice it to say that when Toothless (the dragon) grabs the stick and begins to spell out apparent gibberish, my breath was stolen, and the film’s score entrances you as Hiccup dances among Toothless’s twisted scriblings.

The Disappointments

3. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

For the longest time, Hollywood has not understood the potential video games have to make great movies, and that’s why there hasn’t been a decent video game movie yet. PoP managed to be decent, but it fell so far short of its potential with a great director wasted and a huge budget down the toilet. It was enjoyable, sure, but it basically just felt like another Mummy sequel. And why did they cast a white dude in the role??

2. Avatar: The Last Airbender

After the happening, I didn’t think I could lose any more faith in M. Night Shyamalan. Boy, did he prove me wrong with this movie. Shyamalan actually wrote Stuart Little back in the day, so he knows how to do family movies, and though the Nickelodeon show can be intense, it’s basically family appropriate. The dialogue is witty and enjoyable and perfectly balanced between lighthearted and serious. Shyamalan extracts all the joy of the series and turns the movie into a somber, dark affair full of blazing special effects and barely any character development for anyone. Box office for this movie was so disastrous there won’t be a sequel, and we’ll all sit and wait for the next Shyamalan disaster.

1. Iron Man 2

Here’s what was great about the first Iron Man: Tony Stark, great, sleek action, and a streamlined story. Not the huge boss battle at the end, not the ridiculous terrorist storyline at the beginning. IR2 makes the mistake that seemingly every superhero sequel except X2 and Spider-Man 2 are doomed to make: overstuff the story with a glut of characters and a bunch o’ action. It’s too bad the plot is too full because the dialogue is wonderful, and RDJ and Gwyneth Paltrow save the movie from being a total waste of time. It’s worth it to rent if you’ve seen the first Iron Man and just want to know where the story goes, though.

The Underdogs

3. Shutter Island

Why is it an underdog? If you’ll recall it was supposed to come out for awards season late in 2009, but after they premiered the trailer they changed the date and released a new trailer a month or two later. Usually when that happens it’s not a good sign, but the film manages to correct whatever flaws they apparently had, because it is a beautiful and dark meditation on the nature of disturbed minds with terrific performances, a gripping story, and a gorgeous setting.

2. The Karate Kid

Of course they were eventually going to remake this movie, and of course Mr. Miyagi would be played by Jackie Chan, but then of course they’d have to do it in China and call it The Kung Fu Kid, except they did the first part but not the second. Never mind all that BSing about the title. This is a great example of how to do a remake right, by changing the story just enough and modernizing it just a tad to make younger kids interested in it, and putting two great performers in the lead roles. Jaden Smith is intense and cocky but can be humble and endearing, while Chan takes Miyagi in a bit of a darker direction for the character that still works. If you have fond memories of the original this is definitely one to check out.

1. Tangled

This movie was so good it almost made my top ten, and it came from Disney, but not Pixar. It’s a great homage and throwback to the grand old Disney aventures of the early 90’s, like Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, with correspondingly memorable music and characters, like the classic rogue Flynn Rider, or the young innocent princess Rapunzel, or the evil “step-mom,” or the sidekick animal, Max the Horse or Pascal the chameleon. The animation is fresh and vibrant while still somehow feeling like it came out 15 years ago. This is the movie The Princess and the Frog should have been.

The Worst

3. Paranormal Activity 2

The very title mocks its own existence. The whole point and charm and appeal of the first one was that it came out of nowhere and almost had that “could-it-be-real” quality that chills us to the bone. I’m speaking metaphorically because I did not enjoy the first one, and the idea of a sequel was abhorrent. (Didn’t we do this already with Blair Witch 2?) Though it was hard to do, the filmmakers of PA2 should be proud of themselves for being worse than the original. The first one was scary because you didn’t know exactly what the thing was, but here you do, so the whole movie is just waiting for loud sound effects and cheap special effects and a predictable ending that lead, quite literally, nowhere. And now there’s a sequel planned. Hooray. Looks like this is the new cash cow.

2. Jonah Hex

Another graphic novel adapation paid no respect or attention, yesssss! Josh Brolin goes as gritty as can be and is always fun to watch, but the rest of the movie is patently ridiculous, with awful dialogue, terribly edited action scenes, inexplicable moments where a character will pull a gun out of nowhere and never pull it out again, or throw away a perfectly good gun because he’s run out of bullets. How this terrible script attracted such A-listers as John Malkovich, Josh Brolin, and Megan Fox is beyond me, but hey, everybody’s gotta have one epically bad movie on their resume, right?

1. Skyline

As terrible as Jonah Hex was, nothing this year could compare with the brain-dead alien attack snooze-laugh fest that is Skyline. A rip-off of countless movies, most notably Indepenence Day, the movie doesn’t even have a real ending, instead ending exactly where it should have begun. None of the people in this movie seem to have any idea what they’re doing, and often the plot will set itself up for some event that never ends up coming because it forgot about it. Characters mutter lines like, “This is happening, now.” with the gravest of import, as if life itself depended on him saying those words that way.  It’s almost a so-bad-it’s-good movie; you’ll definitely get some guffaws out of it.

The Honorable Mentions

3. Splice

Though the film stumbled and fumbled before the end, on the whole it has a very Cronenbergian feel to it, of science gone mad with twisted and terrifying results. The script can be surprisingly charming at times, bringing you into its spell to pull out the rug from under you when you least except it to take the script in strange, weird, and disturbing directions. Adrien Brody and Julianne Moore make a great nerdy couple, scientists on the brink of discovery who make human mistakes, and though the script sometimes feels incomplete they make it work and their little creation is a marvel. I won’t give anything else away; this is a movie you need to see for yourself.

2. True Grit

The Coen Brothers are on a serious roll now, and the only reasons this didn’t make my top ten was because there was so much else great that came out this year. Jeff Bridges gives a brutal performance and Matt Damon and Haillee Steinfelt kind of tag along in his wake, but on the whole the cast is marvelous, especially Josh Brolin as the cowardly villain. Though the tale is long and epic, it always feels down-to-earth and the dialog has a comfortable meander to it that can be quite witty at times and heartbreaking at others.

1. Daybreakers

One of the best vampire movies of recent years, one any red-blooded male should check out if they want to get the nasty taste of Twilight out of their mouths. Filmed by virtually no-name directors The Spierig Brothers, it carries a quiet menace to it, truly giving you the feel that this is world ruled by darkness and evil and that runs red with the blood of the innocent. About a world where vampires are the majority and humans are the hunted minority, the movie can be a bit heavy-handed with its message, but it’s always entertaining, features some great explosions and blood, and you’ve gotta check out Willem Dafoe as an ex-vampire hunter.

The Best

10. The King’s Speech

A subject that’s done all too often in movies, the historical drama can fumble in the wrong hands and soar to new heights in the right ones – and the latter is precisely what Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth do in this one, taking the based-on-a-true-story of the king and his speech therapist and transforming it into a kind of buddy comedy that manages to be inspirational and sad, thoughtful and provoking, and hilarious all at once.  Helena Bonhman Carter finally takes off the crazy wigs and pounds of eye shadow to deliver a quiet yet excellent performance in the almost-background as the king’s wife.

9. Black Swan

This movie is worth watching for almost the score alone, and the opening scene is a breathtaking display of artistry and beauty courted by madness and darkness. Natalie Portman gives a twisted performance about the decline and eventual disappearance of the sanity of a young ballerina asked to play both the white and black swan in Swan Lake. As she throws herself completely into her art, the riveting camera work, excellent cast, creepy cinematography and haunting story chill us and thrill us, blurring the line between the art and the artist. Black Swan is a film about what it means to truly lose yourself, and whether it ever can be done, if we should, and if we want.

8. How to Train Your Dragon

The best animated movie of the year, once again, did not come from Pixar. (sigh) How to Train Your Dragon takes the children’s books it was based on and creates a full immersive story that feels exactly like a picture book come to life. The animation is lush and gorgeous, the characters are larger-than-life yet relatable, the dragons are fantastic and awe-inspiring, and the story at the heart of it all about a boy and his dragon is heart-wrenchingly engrossing. There’s such a delicacy and precision to every element of the story here, and it’ll still be around in another ten or twenty years, enchanting viewers throughout the ages. It’s an instant classic. Dreamworks is unstoppable now.

7. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

I had no doubt I was going to enjoy this movie, as I loved both of this director’s previous efforts, Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. But the sheer energy, creativity, and fluid kick-assery on display here floored even me. It’s got a lot of similarities in terms of quick-cut camera style to his previous efforts, but there’s enough of a difference to distinguish it as being a video game parody and not a cop or zombie one. Michael Cera plays the role he always plays, but that’s okay, he’s good at it, and the perfect choice to play the vulnerable and naive Scott Pilgrim. The movie is one great big oozing homage to video games and what makes them so much fun, with, not surprisingly, a bit of a thoughtful meditation of what defines relationships and what we make of them that somehow manages to sneak in there. Don’t tell the nerds, though.

6. 127 Hours

The premise sounds torturous – a man trapped in between a rock and a wall for 127 hours straight? It’s not that surprising to me that Danny Boyle was able to make this riveting, intense, and impossible to look away from. James Franco helps with his generous and vulnerable performance, but what really gets the job done here is the fantastic editing skills Boyle uses – extreme close-ups, zoom-outs, music, video camera, flashbacks, dissecting a frame – Boyle combines them like a true artist and pulls us down into the crevasses with Franco where we don’t want to come out until we know he’s gonna be okay. It’s an inspirational movie that can be difficult to watch, but rewarding and quite entertaining at times too.

5. The Other Guys

Once again a cop parody shows up on my best of list. And in its own way, this movie is almost as good as Hot Fuzz. With A-listers all the way from Michael Keaton to Sam Jackson to The Rock, with of course Will Ferrell and Marky Mark in the leads, the movie manages to be a solid homage/satire of buddy cop movies that’s hilarious from beginning to end, with the two leads sharing perfect comedic chemistry. It’s not as thorough a parody as Hot Fuzz, but it is solid and repeatedly re-watchable. And clever clever clever.

4. Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass is enjoyable on two levels: the visceral superficial one, or the subversive layered one – that of deconstructing the suphero phenomenon in order to deem it impossible for the real world – unless you go a little bit crazy, and step off the plane of this reality so to speak. The film is a sheer delight to watch – endlessly clever and inventive and brutally shocking at times too.

3. The Book of Eli

This January released floored all of my expectations. Though it’s set in the typical post-apocalyptic world we so often see these days (remember when movies were about saving the world?), there’s a kind of poetry in the the way the story of Eli unfolds across the barren wasteland, carrying in his arms the Truth that must be kept safe. Excellent action, great pacing, and Denzel Washington pulls way back and digs deep to play this character, while Gary Oldman devours the scene as the power-hungry Carnegie.

2. Inception

This movie could be Christopher Nolan’s crowning achievement. Though some may throw up their hands at the baffling potential metaphysical twists and turns the plot can take, it’s a beautiful and grand dive into the world of dreams. Each member of the cast delivers perfect performances, the soundtrack is insistent and ever-present, and the movie is endlessly rewatchable due to the already-iconic fight scenes and thoroughly enjoyable plot. With this and his indie hit last year 500 Days of Summer, too, Joseph Gordon Levitt has been cemented as a star, and for good or bad, this movie has made the career of several actors, and will remain a sci-fi classic for years to come.

1. The Social Network

This movie is like an endlessly inventive machine that whirrs and clicks with the machinery of the mind, riveting and intense despite, on the surface, merely being about the guy who happened to invent Facebook. David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorking construct a complex interplay of social dynamics, class, right and wrong, friendship, betrayal, seduction, and power into a seamlessly flowing story, heightened by the brooding, almost-tortured performance of Jesse Eisenberg; Andrew Garfield’s sympathetic desperate friend; and Justin Timberlake’s sizzling portrayal of Sean Parker, the founder of Napster. All of the other performances are great, with a special shout out to Armie Hammer, who played the twins. Specifically, both faces and one of the bodies, with digital manipulation enabling them to place his face onto a body double. And all of the performances emerge as human, each of them caught up in their own perception of right and wrong, of class, of money, of friendship. A powerful movie that almost hums with its terrific performances, razor-sharp script, and beautiful style.

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