Within weeks, it was clear that Summer 2010 was not exactly going to be a banner season at the box office. That's not to say there weren't certain films that were highly-anticipated, but overall, the really exciting movies seemed few and far between, and they were outweighed by a glut of pointless-seeming remakes, sequels, and bottom-of-the-barrel mediocrity. It was especially hard not to be disappointed in this summer's crop of movies in comparison to last summer's amazing output. Summer 2009 was jampacked with great movies - in a span of months we had The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, District 9, Moon, Up, Star Trek, Drag Me to Hell, and more. Three Best Picture Oscar nominees, and one eventual winner.
Were there movies of that caliber this summer? Sure, a couple. But the sheer amount of crap was staggering. I mean, there was a Marmaduke movie. Marmaduke!
There was The Karate Kid, The A-Team, Predators - 80's remakes that were okay, sure, but unnecessary and just felt like Hollywood throwing darts at a wall of nostalgia and seeing if anything stuck. Step Up 3D, Vampires Suck, Grown Ups. Prince of Persia - an overhyped mess, along with The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Jonah Hex, which should have been awesome given the source material but was, by all accounts, a disaster. The Last Airbender - need I say more? The thing is, a lot of these were big-budget tentpole movies. The kind of movies that are meant to truly wow us. Very few films lived up to the hype this summer. Even Iron Man 2, probably the most anticipated blockbuster as the summer began, was very good but not great. When even a sure thing like that doesn't quite deliver on expectations, you know you're in trouble. Hell, every guy with an ounce of testosterone in his body was looking forward to The Expendables, but I haven't heard a single person who really loved the movie, which was not, as it turns out, the ultimate action film it was hyped up to be.
The one movie that kicked ass both critically and commercially this summer? Inception. Christopher Nolan delivered, plain and simple. It's an instant-classic film that is going to be talked about and analyzed for a long time, and it's right up there with Memento and The Dark Knight in the Nolan cannon. The other film that just about everyone can agree on: Toy Story 3. The film was another Pixar blockbuster, and it was a fun, exciting, and surprisingly emotional movie that was as good if not better for adults as it was for kids.
Meanwhile, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World *should* have been right up there with Inception as one of the summer's biggest commercial hits. I see why the movie was a hard sell initially, but still, it's one of those great films that has a little something for everyone: action, humor, romance, and heart - plus amazing visuals and style to spare. Scott Pilgrim has been one of the most hotly debated films of the summer - those who like it really like it - me included, while others were quick to dismiss it for whatever reason.
Let me take a second though and make an important point about movies - and this is in response to all the snarky commentators on sites like Deadline Hollywood that think they have all the answers. I can't stand it when people talk about box office gross and *quality* as if they are one and the same. Plenty of terrible movies make money, and plenty of great movies underperform. But what I can't stand is people who say "oh, the movie bombed, clearly it's awful - what were they thinking in greenlighting this film?" But some people are so jaded that they can't seem to separate the movie-going experience from all of the other stuff surrounding the movie industry. I'm sick of seeing reviews and commentaries that talk about a star's likability (based more on their real-life persona than the quality of their work in a film), a movie's box office potential, the politics behind the making of the movie, etc. If you want to specifically analyze how a film was marketed, then fine. But keep that separate from any discussion of a movie's quality - it's irrelevant.
This summer, I felt like the level of discussion around movies often sank to new lows. Scott Pilgrim was a great example. A lot of fans were passionate about the movie, and in response, there was a backlash to the positivity that was often painful to read or listen to. I guess some people saw the film as yet another example of Hollywood misguidedly catering to fanboy sensibilities, supposedly to the exclusion of more mainstream, traditional fare. All of those haters need to get over themselves. It's not some big, new revelation that all movies aren't for everyone. I totally get that something like Scott Pilgrim isn't everyone's cup of tea, just as I get that Eat, Pray, Love probably isn't for me. But to me, it's frustrating to see culture wars play out when discussing movies. And one other pet peeve - I'm sick of people having an opinion on a movie because they arbitrarily like or disklike one of its stars. If you think someone is a bad actor or a great actor, then fine. But I feel like Scott Pilgrim (sorry to keep using it, but it's a fascinating example) discussions often included people saying "I can't stand Michael Cera," "Michael Cera is not a star," etc. Um, what? Okay, let's look at Michael Cera. He was hilarious and beloved on Arrested Development. He went on to be in a series of funny and/or quality movies from there: Superbad, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, Juno, and Youth In Revolt. Has he played sort-of-similar characters? Sure. But his career is also only a few years old, so give him a break. Then there's all this talk - a lot of it, again, on sites like Deadline - about who is and isn't a star. Look - NOBODY is a "star" anymore. Any actor can be in a huge grossing movie or in a bomb. People say Michael Cera isn't a star - he's appeared in some huge-grossing movies, so on what basis do you say that? People say Jennifer Aniston isn't a star - true, she's been in a lot of duds, but if just about any other actress was in those same crappy movies, you'd get the same crappy result. If Will Smith were to star in a quirky indie arthouse movie, would it make 100 million dollars? No. Look at George Clooney's career - he's a huge tabloid persona, an A-list celeb - but many of his movies have been relatively modest performers at the box office - and that's because he stars in a lot of smaller, quirkier movies (like the recent film The American). My point is that it's ridiculous to slam a movie like Scott Pilgrim by pointing out that Michael Cera isn't a star. If everything was exactly the same, but the movie starred Jesse Eisenberg, would it have done any better or worse? Zach Effron (who starred in the bomb Charlie St. Cloud)? Who? What I'm getting at is that there is the world of tabloid gossip and celebrity and there is the world of movies and entertainment. The correlation between the two is increasingly minimal.
But to apply my point to more of this summer's movies, let me talk about some of the great indie flicks that were released. The Kids Are All Right was one such movie. I don't know what kind of "stars" Annette Benning or Julianne Moore are, but I do know that both of them turn in amazing, Oscar-worthy peformances in the film. While not quite on the same level, you had Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly, and Marissa Tomei all in fine form in indie-comedy Cyrus. Michael Fassbender kicking ass as a member of the Roman army's Ninth Legion in Centurion. And yes, the legendary Michael Caine showing he's still one tough bastard in the revenge thriller Harry Brown. Speaking of tough bastards, how about Danny Trejo as Machete? While a couple of movies like The Expendables and Pirahna 3D tried to recreate old-school B-movie thrills, Machete was the one summer movie that felt like B-movie grindhouse nirvana.
Finally, I'll end my Summer summary on this note: MacGruber was crazy funny. I know there were higher profile comedies like The Other Guys and Get Him to the Greek, but man, I don't think any other movie this summer made me laugh harder than MacGruber. If that makes me insane, then so be it.
And yeah, I'm sure I missed some good ones. I still really want to see Australian crime flick Animal Kingdom, for example.
In any case, I'm looking forward to all of the great-looking films coming our way this fall and winter. And by the way, there are at least a few films from earlier this year that I think should be in the discussion in December when we start talking best-of-the-year. How To Train Your Dragon, for one. The Runaways, for another.
And so, without further ado ...
DANNY'S TOP 10 MOVIES OF SUMMER 2010:
- Christopher Nolan's mind-bending thriller was a heist movie, an action film, and a metaphysical mind-$%&% all rolled into one. Great performances, riveting direction, and a plot that had us all talking, debating, and comparing notes. Inception was the savior of Summer 2010 - the one blockbuster action film that lived up to all the hype and then some.
2. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
- Scott Pilgrim was the most fun I had at the movies this summer. Like some crazed, videogame-inspired fever dream, Scott Pilgrim is a retro rock n' roll adventure that's like nothing you've ever seen before. Edgar Wright is totally on top of his game, delivering a new cult classic that surpasses the likes of Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz for sheer wit, humor, and heart.
3. TOY STORY 3
- Pixar does it again, eclipsing the first two Toy Story movies in every way, with a third film that is surprisingly dark and moving. Thinking back on this one, what really impresses me is how the movie works as both an intimate story about growing up and moving on, and as a huge adventure film with set piece sequences to rival Indiana Jones. Truly a remarkable achievement.
4. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
- This one really surprised me - I expected a run-of-the-mill family drama but got something surprisingly sweet, sharp, and raw. The movie presents a unique sort of family that is nonetheless all too relatable, and it features a cast that is top-to-bottom amazing.
- As much as I enjoyed Grindhouse a few years back, Machete may just be the ultimate postmodern grindhouse flick. Badass, ultra-violent, and oftentimes hilarious, Machete is an ultra-enjoyable homage to old-school exploitation. And was there any better line of deadpan dialogue this summer than "Machete don't text" ...?
- Centurion didn't get a wide release, which is too bad, because it has the same sort of badass, bone-crunching style that made similarly stylized historical epics like Gladiator and 300 pop. Filled with iconic characters and memorable performances, Centurion is a pulpy parable set in ancient Rome that deserves to find an appreciative audience.
- In a summer filled with quite a few rather generic comedies, Cyrus stood out for taking mainstream comedy stars and placing them in a decidedly indie-style film. Cyrus was a movie that went to very weird, very dark places, and was all the funnier for it.
8. IRON MAN 2
- Even if it didn't quite have the polish of the first film, Iron Man 2 succeeded in being bigger and crazier than the original, and was yet another worthy epic from Marvel Studios. Not many other big studio blockbusters had that must-see feel to them this summer, but Iron Man 2 truly felt like a cinematic event. Not only did it have a great cast and kickass action, but it helped set the stage for the expansion of the Marvel movie universe, and effectively hinted at even bigger and better things to come.
- I know, I know - the comedies in vogue these days are the Judd Apatow-style films that mix vulgarity, wit, and heart and make us feel like we're hanging with the cool kids. But sometimes, you can't beat a good, old-fashioned silly satire, and MacGruber was squarely in that camp - a gag-filled spoof that reminded me of movies I loved as a kid like The Naked Gun and Hot Shots. MacGruber is a pretty damn hilarious parody of 80's action movies, and I laughed my ass off while watching it.
10. HARRY BROWN
- Harry Brown had its flaws as a movie, but man, did it ever have some kickass moments. A British take on the Gran Turino-style genre of "old man who kicks ass one last time", Harry Brown features a very memorable turn from Michael Caine. If you ever had a moment while watching The Dark Knight where you thought "hmm, I bet Alfred kicked some major league ass in his day," well, Harry Brown is proof that yes, yes he did.
- Unfairly pummelled by the press, Robin Hood wasn't incredible, but it was solid - with some impressive action scenes and Ridley Scott's usual directorial prowess. While the movie took a while to shift into high gear, by the end I was actually sort of jonesing for a sequel.
- Salt was just a fun, old-fashioned action movie. Not too flashy ... but with a lot of old-school stunt work and crazy-yet-fun twists, this was a solid popcorn movie and a great vehicle for Angelina Jolie.
And that's it for my Summer 2010 wrap-up. What are your thoughts? Any movies that I left out? Any of my top picks you disagree with? Let's hear it.