Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Danny's BEST OF 2010: The Year In Movies


- There was a point in time, around the early summer of 2010, where it was easy to look at the slate of movies in the theaters and just think: "are you kidding me?" During a summer that saw remakes of The A-Team and The Karate Kid, that saw endless sequels, that saw a movie based on, of all things, Marmaduke ... it was easy to think that maybe, just maybe, Hollywood had hit rock bottom. It's easy to become disillusioned. You flip through the trades and browse the entertainment blogs, and the sheer number of lame ideas that get greenlit can be pretty staggering. Seemingly every movie ever made is being remade. Every toy or game or cartoon that anyone has even ths slightest bit of nostalgic affection for is now groomed to be the next blockbuster franchise. When does it end? When do we stop turning old board games into movies? When do we stop remaking movies for no good reason? Are we really living in that cynical of an age, where ideas that are that bad - so bad that anyone with a shred of taste can see that they are bad - are put into production solely in the name of a quick buck? If so, then why not take this to its logical extremes? Slinky - the movie! Connect 4 - the movie! I smell franchise! While we're at it, let's remake E.T., remake The Princess Bride, remake Chinatown, and Pulp Fiction, and Memento! Let's remake Citizen Kane! So you had to ask yourself: would the first year of this new decade be the start of a new golden age of storytelling, a new era of great movies? Or would it simply be more of the same old crap? During parts of 2010, it was easy to look out into the cinematic wasteland, shrug your shoulders, and long for better days gone by.

That said, it's easy to be cynical. And sadly, too many people in Hollywood are so stubborn in their cynicism that they forget to love movies. When I scroll through the comments section on Deadline Hollywood, for example, it just seems like a neverending parade of vultures. The weekly box office reports are filled with venom being spewed by readers about this movie or that movie. It's easy to be brainwashed into thinking that everything sucks, that every movie is a failure, that the only true measure of success is the almighty dollar.

What may ultimately be more difficult, but certainly far more rewarding, is to remain above all else a fan of movies. Maybe you're a film geek - a fanboy or fangirl who lives for movies that thrill and amaze. Maybe you're an aspiring filmmaker who looks up to certain directors or writers or actors. Maybe you just love a good mystery story, or a great romance. I say this because, even amidst the clutter of crappy sequels and pointless remakes, 2010 had an abundance of great films that any true film fan could get excited about.

I loved THE SOCIAL NETWORK. It pretty much blew my mind. But how many times have I had to hear it dismissed as "that Facebook movie" ...? The film gained early awards buzz, so therefore the backlash started early, therefore, said the cool kids, it must suck. It was too talky, it didn't stick to the facts, Jesse Eisenberg was unlikable in the lead role. The movie was a critical favorite, but sometimes the backlash can be overpowering. And I don't get it. That's not how I think about movies. I think about the acting, the writing, the directing. I think about the story being told, and to what degree it affected me and made me think or feel, about the lasting impression it made. To me, The Social Network was the most profound, the most intense, the most thought-provoking filmgoing experience of the year. It left me floored. That's all that matters.

I've heard people say that INCEPTION was overrated, that it was too confusing, that it was too weird. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD didn't make as much money as was projected, so therefore it must have been a creative failure. TRON LEGACY's opening weekend was soft - clearly, further proof that the movie sucked and that it was a poorly-conceived idea in the first place. THE RUNAWAYS was a box-office bomb, so let's not even put it in the discussion of the year's best films.

I'm the first one to call a movie out for being overrated or ill-conceived, but enough with all the cynicism. Enough with the failure to distinguish between a movie's quality and its box-office numbers. I was so frustrated by this trend in late summer that I wrote an entire blog post about how misguided the conversation was with regards to Scott Pilgrim. Somehow, the movie became a symbol to some of everything that was wrong with Hollywood. Reviews of Scott Pilgrim became a forum for stodgy critics and commentators to vent about everything from Hollywood's misguided obsession with fanboy culture to unfounded hatred of star Michael Cera. While people like me were praising Scott Pilgrim as one of the year's best, calling it the best film yet from director Edgar Wright, haters came out of the woodwork to slam the movie. I think that's a big reason why there was such a vocal contingent of Scott Pilgrim supporters - because, somehow, the consensus seemed to arise that the movie was a dud, even though that consensus was reached less by legitimate criticism and more by the increasingly bitter stream of cynical entertainment pundits. And yet, where some only see a box-office bomb, I see a great-but-hard-to-market movie that has already become something of a cult-classic in its own time.

Still, I do want to emphasize that I'm not in favor of forming an opinion simply as a reaction to others. Sometimes, it can be tough ... when I see dozens of overenthusiastic Facebook status updates proclaiming the new Harry Potter movie to be some sort of ultimate cinematic epic, well, it's easy to simply want to rebel against that hive-mind mentality. In the case of the penultimate Potter movie, I went in open minded, but came away unconvinced - I had been entertained, but ultimately somewhat frustrated with the movie, and also frustrated that so many people seemed to simply project their own ideas of Harry Potter onto the film. They were watching the Harry Potter movie play out inside of their own heads as much as they were actually watching what was onscreen. This is the kind of fan culture that I myself am not a fan of - getting excited about a movie just because it's the thing to do. I don't get the concept of loving a movie or a franchise unconditionally. But while that is an unnecessary extreme, that doesn't mean that it's wrong to let yourself enjoy a movie for what it is. Case in point: I saw a number of early Tron Legacy reviews that expressed severe disappointment with the movie. But again, a lot of those reviews were colored by a set of preconceived notions that had little to do with the film itself. Movie-industry types resented the fact that Disney spent so much cash hyping up a movie that perhaps catered largely to fanboys. Meanwhile, jaded film snob types seemed to go in expecting some some sort of high-brow mindtrip, forgetting that Tron was always, at its core, Disney-style escapist entertainment. As for me, I went into the movie with my expectations slightly lowered, but walked out of the theater feeling totally pumped-up and excited by what I had just seen. I'm not sure why the movie fell flat for some people, but for me it was a visually-stunning, uber-fun adventure that, in my humble opinion, kicked a fair amount of ass. Plenty of people have tried to convince me otherwise, but sometimes, you've got to go with your gut - and my gut told me that, for me, the new Tron was one of the year's most enjoyable in-theater experiences.

What's more, sometimes seeing a film with little to no preconceived notions can make the experience that much more rewarding. I went into THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT not really knowing what I was in for. As it turns out, I loved the movie, and I was blown away by the quality of the performances in the film. One night, I happened to see a list of the year's best movies that ranked WINTER'S BONE at the very top. On a whim, I rented the movie from iTunes without knowing a thing about it - and I came away highly impressed with the movie's artistry and its stunning lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP was another one that was a really pleasant surprise. Banksy's is-it-real-or-not documentary takes a number of unexpected turns that made it a must-see movie of 2010. On paper, THE KING'S SPEECH seemed like it might be sort of stuffy and boring. In actuality, it was a hugely entertaining movie, featuring truly great performances from the likes of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. It's a movie that everyone should check out, because ultimately, I think it's a real crowd-pleaser. Similarly, I thought THE FIGHTER would be a somewhat conventional boxing movie - a straightforward underdog story in the tradition of Rocky. So I was surprised to discover that The Fighter was quirky, funny, and if anything, more of a character study - with a memorable, award-worthy performance from Christian Bale to boot. I don't know if anyone expected LET ME IN to be quite as badass as it was, given that it was a remake of a beloved cult-classic Swedish film. But somehow, Let Me In topped the original and was one of the year's best - a great template for how to do a respectful remake that stays true to the concepts and sensibilites that made the original work in the first place. It's too bad that the movie was so overlooked in theaters. FOUR LIONS was another movie that more people need to see. A biting satire of terrorism, this British comedy - which saw only very limited release here in The States - was one of the year's most unique and timely movies, not to mention one of its funniest comedies. And how about HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON ...? I went in expecting a pretty run-of-the-mill animated film from Dreamworks, but what I got was one of the best and most captivating animated movies in years. In fact, it was the best overall year for animated movies in a long time, with several different animation studios delivering exceptional movies in 2010.

There were some great surprises in 2010, but when I look at the year as a whole, I think that what made this a great year for movies overall was the fact that we got a number of memorable films from several of today's very best filmmakers - working at or near the top of their game. David Fincher blew me away with The Social Network, arguably his best film since Fight Club. Christopher Nolan brought pure cinematic ownage this summer with Inception, arguably his best film since Memento. Edgar Wright made his best and most inspired film ever in Scott Pilgrim, and The Coen Bros. added yet another quotable classic to their incredible filmography with TRUE GRIT. Danny Boyle once again showed why he's one of the most visually inventive directors working today with 127 HOURS. And man, Darren Aronofsky knocked it out of the park with BLACK SWAN, a return to the kind of surreal mind%$&# that put him on the map back in the day. Finally, Pixar did it again with the superlative TOY STORY 3. While I don't consider Pixar to be as infallible as some, I couldn't help but be won over by the sheer ambition and brilliance of their latest film. Even TANGLED, which I wasn't really anticipating, ended up being a nice blend of old-school Disney storytelling with new-school, cutting edge CG animation.

And so, even as there is reason to be cynical about the overall state of film, there is also plenty of evidence that great filmmaking is alive and well. You might not always find validation for this in the box office returns, but look, at the end of the day, great movies tend to find a way to make their money back. Even if they don't, well, there's nothing wrong with being a fan of something that not everyone gets or buys into. I mean, isn't that what being a fan is really all about? It's not about jumping on a bandwagon, it's about finding something that speaks to you as an individual. Sometimes, in an age where the internet forms this giant, all-encompassing peanut gallery, it can be hard to remember that. All I can say is - don't let the rampant cynicism that's out there keep you from enjoying the movies that speak to you. Seek out the good stuff. Champion it. And don't be afraid to like (or hate) something just because it isn't the popular thing to do. And that holds true whether your measuring stick for popularity is box-office returns, critical consensus, or just your own small circle of friends. As you'll see from my list below, there are plenty of movies that struck a chord with me that, at the same time, simply didn't work for others. Some movies on my list won't be up for any Oscars, but had that certain something that, for me, just pushed the right buttons. Other movies on the list aren't films that I was eagerly anticipating, per se, but they're movies that I'm glad I took a chance on, because they expanded my cinematic horizons. And yeah, some of the movies on my list just plain ruled it, and that's that.

So here we go ...



- In theory, I wouldn't have thought that a movie about the creation of Facebook would leave me with chills, feeling floored, breathless, and basically in awe of what I had just seen. But that's what happened with The Social Network. Because with this film, writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher crafted a story both personal and epic in scope. On one hand, it was a fascinating story about how the single biggest social media revolution of the last few years came to be. On the other hand, I found the movie to be a cosmic-level reflection of our times, and of my generation. We all want to make an impact, to change the world. But when this idealism mixes and clashes with corporate realities, with self-involved narcisissm, with the basic human desire to live a fulfilling life filled with meaningful connections and relationships - what happens then? Featuring a career-defining performance from Jesse Eisenberg, and a couple of incredible supporting turns - most notably from rising star Andrew Garfield, The Social Network takes the story of Facebook and turns it into a of-the-moment parable of epic proportions. Sorkin's dialogue has never been sharper, and Fincher's direction has never been more confident - he imbues even small moments with a near-apocalyptic intensity. The pulsating soundtrack, the atmospheric cinematography - it all adds up to a story that takes place at the intersection of Harvard Square and the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. Of all of the movies I saw in 2010, this was the one that, to me, made the biggest impact, the most lasting impression. I know that a lot of critics are calling The Social Network the movie of the year, and I know that all of those accolades can lead to a backlash. But to me, the praise is well-deserved. The Social Network was the year's best and most essential film.


- The great savior of the summer of 2010 was undoubtedly Inception. In a summer filled with lowest-common-denominator garbage, here was a movie that displayed mind-blowing ambition. Here was an action-packed, twist-filled blockbuster that was also an original story, a singular vision. Christopher Nolan has proven himelf to be a master of the movie-as-puzzle genre, and Inception was perhaps his most thought-provoking and conversation-starting mindbender to date. The movie was incredibly layered - literally, the narrative took us to multiple levels of the dream-world that intertwined like the ultimate logic puzzle, the ultimate game. And, more subtextually, Inception worked on multiple narrative levels. It was an action movie, with some of the most visually-intense action set pieces ever seen (the zero-gravity hotel fight, anyone?). It was a heist movie, with all the classic sort of characters and plotting you'd get in that particular genre. But Inception was also a movie whose story folded back in upon itself - a self-aware movie about movies, about reality vs. fiction, about the nature of ideas. Pretty grandiose stuff, and months after the movie's release, people are still debating - what did it all mean? Whose subconcious was "inception" really being performed upon? Did the coin stop spinning or did it drop? One thing's for certain - Inception is a movie that people will be talking about for a long time to come.


- Watching Black Swan is like experiencing a waking nightmare. You're never quite sure what's real, what's not. You are slowly going down the rabbit hole, never sure what horror waits around the corner. But Black Swan is a dark dream that stays with you, that haunts you, because somewhere amidst the murky blackness is that essential element of truth. All of us wonder - like Natalie Portman's character in the movie - are we capable of becoming the proverbial black swan, if called upon? What would we do to achieve success? And at what price? Black Swan is one of 2010's most striking films - Natalie Portman knocks it out of the park, and the rest of the cast is also exceptional. Meanwhile, Darren Aronofsky creates a visually-stunning, surreal film that sucks you in and doesn't let go. This movie will creep you out, it will disturb you, but the ride that it takes you on is a journey to the dark side that is a memorable one indeed.


- After becoming a fan-favorite with genre-bending comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, director Edgar Wright has created his best movie yet with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. To me, this was a revolutionary movie. Adapted from the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, the film translated the aesthetics, visuals, and storytelling shorthand of comics and videogames into live-action in a way that no other movie has before. The result was a movie that struck a chord on an almost instinctual level with anyone who's ever picked up a controller. The movie was a nostalgia-trip and a love-letter to geek culture, but it was also a great commentary on how pop-culture can shape our lives and how, in turn, we can transpose our own lives into the trappings of a movie, or comic book, or videogame. And that's why each of Scott Pilgrim's victories against Ramona Flower's Seven Evil Exes becomes an almost transcendant moment. We get a thrill from games because the rules, the dangers, and the rewards are so gloriously clear. Save the princess, defeat your enemies, achieve victory. Scott Pilgrim imagines a world where the conventions of games apply to our own personal challenges and conflicts. It's a hilarious, action-packed, visually-inventive movie - a rock n' roll romance that is full of epic win.


- Here, to me, was probably the single most underrated and unjustly overlooked movie of the year. This is a movie that deserves to find an audience though, because it's simply a kickass rock n' roll story that any fan of rock will thoroughly enjoy. The Runaways is the story of Joan Jett, Cherie Currie, and a group of punk-rock girls who, for a brief moment, took the world by storm. In an era before Courtney Love, Gwen Stefani, The Donnas, or Paramore, The Runaways broke the mold and paved the way for women to rock just as loud and hard as their male counterparts. The movie tells the tale of The Runaways' rise and fall with style and flair, and stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning really do a fantastic job as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie respectively. In addition, the great Michael Shannon steals the show as the band's demanding, slightly-insane manager - and it's a shame that he'll probably be completely overlooked come Oscar time. What I loved most about The Runaways though is that it out-and-out captures the rebellious spirit of rock n' roll - making great use of the music of The Runaways and Joan Jett to tell a story that's both cautionary and inspirational.


- This year, there are a lot of fantastical, over-the-top sort of movies on my Best Of list, but The Kids Are All Right was a smaller, slice-of-life movie that still managed to make as much of an impact on me as any of the year's big-budget blockbusters. The thing that sticks out to me first and foremost about the movie is the phenomenal acting - from the entire cast, but most notably from the two leads - Julianne Moore and Annette Bening. The two actresses together craft an onscreen relationship that feels real, that feels lived-in. And as conflicts arise and a wedge forms between them, the result isn't some contrived Hollywood melodrama, it's subtle, nuanced, and because of that, all the more affecting. The Kids Are All Right is about two women in a non-traditional relationship with a non-traditional family. And yet, the movie's themes are universal - regardless of your own background, I think people will come away from this one recognizing something of themselves in the movie's characters.


- Toy Story 3 took a lot of people by surprise with just how dark it was willing to go, how far it was willing to raise the stakes for its animated characters. But here's another thing about Pixar's latest - it was a pretty fantastic action / adventure movie. Animated, yes, but that didn't make the direction of the set pieces any less thrilling or well-choreographed and staged. If anything, Pixar used the lack of limits in animation to create a movie that was often a visual thrill ride. The movie had one of the best Big Bads of any blockbuster this year - Lotso the Bear - whose tragic origin was an inspired bit of classic villainy. By that same token, Toy Story would not be what it is without its great cast of characters, and this third film marked the end of their journey - but also a new beginning, of sorts. Pixar brilliantly ensured that the Toy Story movies grew up alongside their audience, and in doing so created a movie that was funny and action-packed, but also surprisingly poignant.


- Sometimes, a movie seems so predisposed to be Oscar bait that it's easy to just dismiss it as too stuffy, too dry, to truly be a great film. But The King's Speech is a surprisingly funny, human film that really won me over. It may be stating the obvious, but this is not simply a film about overcoming a speech impediment. Instead, the narrative works on multiple levels to really add up to something special. On one hand, yes, it's about a proud man trying to overcome a personal challenge out of a sense of pride and duty. On the other hand, it's about that same man - a royal - having to put his trust in a "commoner" - the eccentric therapist who might be the only man who can help him to overcome his condition. It's about the unlikely friendship that develops between a man who would be king, and a man who is middle class. Finally, the movie also functions as a fascinating historical account of pre-World War II Britain, portraying the way in which the royal family was evolving at the time and how, while their political power was waning, they were still looked at as important symbols of the country's strength and heritage. With so much depth to its story - and absolutely amazing performances from Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush - The King's Speech should be right up there on any list of the year's best.


- It's funny ... although I had a couple of issues with True Grit, it's a movie that I've only come to appreciate more as I've gotten the chance to discuss it with others. As I said in my review, True Grit, like so many Coen Bros. films, is so rich and layered that it's impossible to soak it all in with just one viewing. And as I've been discussing the film, people keep bringing up this scene or that scene that they loved, and all I can do is agree - "you're right, that *was* a pretty amazing scene." The fact is, sometimes Coens movies are less about telling a straightforward story, and more about just creating a certain kind of micro-universe inhabited by all manner of interesting characters. True Grit is perhaps a little more straightforward than some of the brother's previous films, but at the end of the day, there's that same sensation that they've created this quirky world for us to visit and revisit - a left-of-center version of the Old West, populated with washed-up gunslingers, scheming outlaws, and crazy witchdoctors. As Liz Lemon said: "I want to go to there."


- Comedian Patton Oswalt recently wrote an editorial for Wired magazine lamenting the death of the geek. He claimed that pop-cultural passion, once the sacred domain of nerds and geeks, has spread to everyone, where now everyone is a geek, in their own way. People are arguing on internet message boards as passionately about Real Housewives as they are Star Wars. Well, maybe so, but maybe Tron Legacy is one last great geek movie. It has its share of haters, from mainstream critics to jaded hipsters. But it also has that intangible quality of awesomeness that spoke to me. It had that spark of unbridled imagination. It had insane visuals, an incredible soundtrack from Daft Punk, iconic characters, intense action. It just had a sense of fun and adventure that was, to me, infectious. It's that same sensibility that made the classic geek movies of old into cult favorites. Some people just couldn't look past the flaws, never got what made those movies special. But for others, there was that spark of imagination that was irresistable. Tron Legacy had that, and for me, it was the most purely fun, geek-out-worthy movie of the year.


11.) LET ME IN

- Was there any more of a breakout star in 2010 than Chloe Moretz? In one year, the young actress played a sadistic kid-vigilante and an ancient vampire. Not bad. To that point, as good as the Swedish original, Let the Right One In, was, it didn't have the benefit of a tour de force performance from Ms. Moretz, or the similarly talented Kodi Smit-McPhee in the lead. I am a fan of the original film, but I have to admit that Let Me In eclipsed it, becoming one of the best horror movies I've seen in years.


- I remember that my brother and I went to see this movie sort of randomly, without much in the way of expectation. Sure, Kung-Fu Panda had shown us that Dreamworks Animation was capable of creating something special, but How To Train Yor Dragon took things to a whole other level. This was just an out-and-out great movie, with a cool mythology, fun characters, spectacular action and flying sequences, and some of the best use of 3D I've yet seen. The movie becomes increasingly epic as it progresses too. When it ended, my brother and I simply looked at each other, somewhat shocked by what we had just seen. We were both thinking the same thing though ... "now *that* was a movie."


- Winter's Bone is one of those breakout movies where, after seeing it, you immediately begin to anticipate what its stars and director will do next. Director Debra Granik creates such a vivid sense of place, of atmosphere, of character, in her haunting portrayal of life in the Ozark mountains - it really makes the movie come alive. At the same time, star Jennifer Lawrence comes out of nowhere to deliver a true knockout of a performance, as a determined teen on a mission to find her missing father. And John Hawkes, as her grizzled uncle? Well, he's just plain badass.


- At the end of the day, The Fighter is less about boxing and more about characters. And so the film is elevated immensely by some of the year's best performances. Mark Wahlberg is great in the lead role. Amy Adams is funny and likable and does a bang-up job overall. And Christian Bale? This is Bale doing what he does best - 100% inhabiting a character and delivering something that is less acting and more complete immersion. He helps make The Fighter into a funny, quirky underdog movie with heart and character to spare.

15.) 127 HOURS

- I don't know if Danny Boyle will top Slumdog Millionaire anytime soon, but 127 Hours is still a worthy follow-up. In its own way, it's like a mini master class in how to take a premise that might seem confining and restrictive, and make it as visually interesting and as emotionally gripping as possible. With James Franco anchoring the film with his everyman charm, Boyle zooms and pans his way around the actor, making the severity of his predicament all the more intensified. Still, Boyle never lets his various tricks overwhelm the reality of the character's situation - during the movie's biggest moments of pain and of joy, he simply lets the story tell itself.


- We saw a lot of movies this year that posed the question of what is real and what is not - and Exit Through the Gift Shop was one of the most fascinating examples of that trend. What starts out as a simple documentary about underground street artists takes a strange turn when the documentarian ends up becoming the subject of the movie, transforming himself into an avant garde artist known as Mr. Brainwash - a legend in his own mind, but to us, clearly sort of a joke. Was this guy for real? Was this all a hoax? Regardless, this is a fascinating look at the fine line between art and trash.


- I'm really glad I got the chance to check out Four Lions, and I hope that more and more people will see it as it becomes available on home video, etc. Because this a movie that you see, and you have to talk about. It's a risky, dangerous comedy - a scathing satire about would-be terrorists and what really motivates them to become "martyrs" in the name of Islam. But, this isn't a one-dimensional comedy - there's some really dark and affecting stuff behind the laughs. To me, Four Lions was so refreshing though because we just aren't getting a lot of movies like this. There's a lot of escapist fantasy, but not a lot of movies that deal head-on with weighty issues like terrorism in a real-world fashion. Sure, you say, but it's just a comedy. Well, sometimes, comedy is the best way to get to the heart of a given issue - and Four Lions is a great example.


- Is Ben Affleck the next great drama director? I wouldn't have thought so, but The Town went a long way towards proving that hey, it just might be so. The Town was quite simply an excellent crime flick. Not only was the movie set in Boston, but Affleck captured the hard-luck feel of the city with his story and characters. In addition, The Town had some unexpectedly turbo-charged action sequences that were among the year's best. Finally, this was a movie that featured yet another off-the-charts performance from Jeremy Renner, who I think is one of the absolute best actors working today. Renner's overall intensity helped elevate The Town from very good to great.


- Here was a movie that came and went somewhat underseen and underappreciated, and I'm not sure why. It reteamed the Bourne crew of Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon, and honestly I think this one tops any of their previous collaborations. Because Green Zone maintains Greengrass' trademark action and gritty intensity (and yes, his shaky-cam), but it also tells a riveting story that serves as a scathing critique of Bush-era foreign policy. Maybe that's why people were afraid to overpraise the movie, but personally, I found its message to be important and profound. Green Zone is a movie about how we went to war in Iraq under false pretenses. It's unapologetic about it. And it makes its point efficiently and powerfully. To me, that deserves a lot of praise.


- It's been great to see Disney animation make a comeback in the last couple of years. Having been overshadowed by Pixar for the last decade, Disney's in-house studio is once again showing that it still has what it takes to make the kind of timeless family films that had made it such a cherished and revered institution. Now, I was a fan of last year's The Princess and the Frog, so I was disappointed that Disney was already abandoning hand-drawn animation with Tangled. But Tangled really wowed me. Its animation was a brilliant mix of old and new - it looked stunning in 3D while retaining the expressiveness and style of old-school Disney flicks. The movie had a healthy dose of that classic Disney magic, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed it.


- Here's another one that I thought was underrated. Maybe it's the Pixar effect - critics these days want every animated film to have some deep subtext to it. While Pixar's efforts are always appreciated, sometimes I enjoy an animated film that's just an over-the-top roller-coaster ride, and that's what Megamind was. It had some awesome visuals, cool action sequences, and the story was a fanboy-friendly riff on all sorts of classic comic book characters and conventions. Also, some people may not realize that this was a comedy - and a really funny one at that. This was definitely a case where the big-name voice actors - people like Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, and David Cross - added a ton to the film.


- Kick-Ass the comic book was a fun experiment in subversive, over-the-top action, with a killer premise - what if an ordinary teenaged geek, here in the "real" world, decided to become a self-styled superhero? Kick-Ass the movie was the rare example of a movie that outdid its source material, bringing the comic book to life in a nitro-burst of bullets and bravado. I think the plot of Kick-Ass sort of falls apart in a few places, but the movie makes up for it thanks to the sheer awesomeness of Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl. The shock value of seeing a pint-sized, sweet-looking twelve year old girl - who has been trained from birth to be a deadly warrior - carve up criminals while spouting unprintable profanities? Kickass indeed.


- Speaking of kickass, how enjoyable was Machete? Okay, so maybe Robert Rodriguez and co. tried a little to hard to make Machete into the ultimate B-movie badass, but still, this had to be one of the year's most glorious grindhouse pleasures. Just watching Danny Trejo bust heads in a leading role was pretty great, and the movie's eclectic cast was a movie-lover's delight. Really though, Machete turned out to be one of the year's funniest comedies. I mean, was there any greater one-liner this year than "Machete don't text." ...? I think not.


- While I'm on the subject of B-movies, director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday) is quickly establishing himself as a modern-day John Carpenter, creating a string of gritty yet over-the-top genre films that only ever-so-slightly let the audience know that the director is aware of the level of craziness he's putting on screen. In some ways, Centurion plays it straight - it's a violent and grim story about members of the Roman Legion who have been stranded behind enemy lines. But Centurion is also delightfully happy to crank things up a notch. While other directors might have had the legionairres pursued by more mundane enemies, Marshall gives us Etain - a warpaint-wearing femme fatale who is unable to speak, but very much able to brutally hunt you down and cut your head off. Now that's what I'm talking about.


- Okay, so maybe this is my oddball pick of the list. But maybe not. Maybe The Wolfman was actually a pretty badass reboot of the classic Universal horror franchise, and maybe people were simply too cynical and too jaded to care. But I know that I am not alone in my admiration for this movie - because there are elements in it that promise a great new era of evil for the Universal Monsters. I think of The Wolfman's awesome asylum sequence - that to me was everything I want in a movie like this - it was creepy, funny, gothic, bizarre, and just plain fun. I think that The Wolfman was a victim of a bad release date and poor marketing. But for me, it made me want more - Dracula, Frankenstein, The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Just cast Sir Anthony Hopkins in all of them - the more he hams it up, the better. On that point, I still maintain that The Wolfman was classic cheesy-horror fun.


- Youth In Revolt

- Legend of the Guardians

- Iron Man 2

- Daybreakers

- Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

- Robin Hood

- Salt

- MacGruber

- Cyrus

- Harry Brown

- Splice

- Paranormal Activity 2

- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

- The Crazies

- Greenberg

- Hot Tub Time Machine

- It's Kind of a Funny Story



- Man, was I ever hyped up for The Expendables. In theory, it was the ultimate action movie - an old-school throwback that united some of the biggest names of the past and present for two solid hours of kicking ass and taking names. I had every reason to believe that this movie would be the real deal. Its star and director, the one and only Sly Stallone, was in the middle of a comeback and a hot streak. Rocky Balboa defied the odds and was a great capper to the storied series. Rambo was a similarly well-done exclamation point for its iconic franchise. Now, The Expendables seemed poised to complete the trifecta. At the San Diego Comic-Con this past summer, the hype reached fever-pitch levels. My friends and I attended The Expendables panel at the show, and Stallone's larger-than-life presence, coupled with footage that legitimately looked awesome, had me primed and ready for some old-school, hardcore action. But as it turned out, The Expendables was merely decent at best. The plot was nonexistent, the characters were weak, and even the action was choppy and largely unimpressive. Other than a brief moment of action-hero-nirvana, in which a game Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis cameoed with Stallone, the movie was just plain unremarkable, and even boring. Stallone seemed out of his element, Eric Roberts couldn't carry the role of uber-villain, and Mickey Rourke seemed to be in another movie altogether. It made me wonder if Stallone should have closed the book on Rocky and Rambo and then simply called it a day.


- How do you screw up what should have been an epic Arabian adventure filled with magic, mystery, and sword-fights? I don't know, but somehow, it happened. While most videogames don't seem like they'd translate into good movies, Prince of Persia was an exception. All of the ingredients were there for a swords-and-sandals equivalent of Pirates of the Carribean, and that's exactly the impression the trailers provided. This could have been the best movie based off of a videogame to date, and the start of a great new franchise. Instead, it was one of the year's biggest duds.


- Like Prince of Persia, CLASH had all the ingredients to be badass. And you know, there were little moments scattered throughout the film that hinted at the awesome action movie that could have been. But as a whole, Clash was uninspired and bland, with a bare-bones story, personality-deficient characters, and a total lack of flow to the plot. To add insult to injury, the movie gained notoriety for being perhaps the year's most blatant example of a quick 3D cash-in, charging theater-goers extra cash for a hastily-assembled post-film conversion job. Really, Clash just made me want to go home and play God of War, because when the best thing about a movie is someone yelling "release the kraken!", you know you're in trouble. Now, would I mind seeing more CLASH movies if there was a better script and creative vision involved? Not necessarily. But as a franchise-starter, Titans was fairly weaksauce.


- Steve Carell and Tina Fey, starring together in a bigscreen comedy? Seems like a match made in heaven. And yet, Date Night felt beneath both of the sitcom stars. At their best, The Office and 30 Rock are two of TV's most inspired comedies, and yet Date Night felt completely by-the-numbers. What made the movie extra frustrating was the fact that there were those little moments, where it was clear that the two stars were riffing and going off-script, that were genuinely very funny. But those moments only made you wish that Carell and Fey were starring in something a little more suited to their well-honed comedic sensibilities. Date Night, sadly, ended up being a fairly dim movie starring two of comedy's brightest stars.


- Here was an interesting case where a film's marketing campaign seemed to promise something that the movie never actually ended up delivering. Catfish was very mysterious, very intriguing. I had heard that it was a documentary about a Facebook romance gone wrong, but supposedly there was some big twist, some shocking reveal, that would make this a can't-miss thriller. Ads compared it to some sort of new-age hybrid of Hitchcock and reality TV. I was definitely curious to see what this movie was all about. Turns out, the movie is actually did a great job of building that initial suspense, creating an almost Blair Witch-like atmosphere of unsettling creepiness. But ultimately, the movie's narrative arc turned out to be disappointingly mundane - less the realm of Hitchcock and more the realm of some Dateline special. It was always going to be hard for the movie's twists to live up to the hype, but sadly, they didn't even come close.



- An abomination, plain and simple. Skyline is an excercise in pain, and sets a new standard for crappiness. I don't care if this movie made money - it was a failure, and should probably never be spoken of again.


- I actually felt embarassed for Jude Law and Forrest Whitaker while watching this. This movie was vile, wretched, almost so amusingly bad as to be unintentionally funny ... but not quite. Ugh.

3.) RED

- The fact that this film was actually nominated for Golden Globes makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Rarely have I seen so many big stars simply sleepwalk through a movie.


- Maybe I just missed the boat on this one, because I saw some people actually compare it favorably to the great District 9. I found Monsters to be dull, vapid, and uninspired. I never knew that a movie about giant monsters could be this boring.


- I am a fan of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, yet this movie casts them in roles that take advantage of exactly zero of what makes them stars. This movie also had the dumbest "twist" I saw in a movie since ... well, since Repo Men, to be honest.



- Look, I've already talked a ton about Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Machete - those two are so obvious in this category that I'd be wasting time talking about them any further. I mean, in many ways Scott Pilgrim is ALREADY a cult classic, playing at midnight showings at theaters across the world and creating a loyal fanbase of foaming-at-the-mouth fanboys. So let me take a moment to extoll the virtues of Daybreakers, one of the most insane sci-fi / horror movies I've ever seen. Sick of the touchy-feely vampires of Twilight? Well, check out Daybreakers - it's got vicious, murderous vampires who have created giant meat-processing factories where they harvest humans for nourishment. Yep, in the world of Daybreakers, the vampires, led by corporate tycoon Sam Neil, have won. Well, mostly. Willam Dafoe plays the bat$%&# insane, crossbow-wielding leader of a human resistance movement. And Ethan Hawke is the vampire with a conscience torn between the two. Yes, this movie is really that badass, and some of the twists the plot eventually takes left me both shocked and amazed. A perfect midnight movie.


- I showed Splice to a group of friends at my annual Halloween Horror Movie Marathon, and it went over swimmingly. I mean, in this movie, Adrian Brody clones an animal-human hybrid from the DNA of his wife, and he and his new freak-of-nature pet/daughter GET IT ON, in one of the freakiest sex scenes in movie history. Splice is actually a pretty cool, imaginative movie, but some of the places it goes are downright WRONG. And for that, I give it props.


- I never was all that into the MacGruber sketches on Saturday Night Live, but just trust me on this one - MacGruber the movie is, perhaps unexpectedly, hilarious. The movie takes advantage of the longer format to create an all-out parody of 80's action movies, and the results are awesome. And the casting is spot-on, from Powers Boothe as MacGruber's craggy colonel to Val Kilmer as the nefarious nemesis. Okay, so maybe MacGruber isn't for everyone, but to me - someone who grew up with a love for the absurdity of 80's action flicks - this was one of the funniest movies of 2010, and one I'll likely rewatch many a time.



1.) Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network

2.) Colin Firth - The King's Speech
3.) James Franco - 127 Hours
4.) Jeff Bridges - True Grit
5.) Michael Caine - Harry Brown


1.) Annette Bening - The Kids Are All Right

2.) Natalie Portman - Black Swan
3.) Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
4.) Julianne Moore - The Kids Are All Right
5.) Kristen Stewart - The Runaways


1.) Geoffrey Rush - The King's Speech

2.) Andrew Garfield - The Social Network
3.) Christian Bale - The Fighter
4.) Jeremy Renner - The Town
5.) Michael Shannon - The Runaways


1.) Chloe Moretz - Let Me In

2.) Amy Adams - The Fighter
3.) Barbara Hershey - Black Swan
4.) Marion Cotillard - Inception
5.) Mia Wasikowska - The Kids Are All Right


1.) David Fincher - The Social Network

2.) Daren Aronofsky - Black Swan
3.) Christopher Nolan - Inception
4.) Edgar Wright - Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
5.) Joel and Ethan Coen - True Grit


1.) The Social Network
2.) Inception
3.) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
4.) The Kids Are All Right
5.) Black Swan
6.) True Grit
7.) The King's Speech
8.) Toy Story 3
9.) Winter's Bone
10.) The Fighter

- And that about wraps it up. Pretty epic, huh? In any case, would love to hear your thoughts, comments, and critiques. Feel free to comment. And, since this is likely my final post of 2010 - HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone, and as always, thanks for reading.

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