Monday, December 19, 2011

Best Movies of 2010

As promised a few days ago, I've finally gotten around to listing my top movies of 2010. Of course, this is based only the movies I've had the pleasure of watching. So if you don't see your favorite here, either I didn't see it or didn't like it quite as much. By the way, my feelings on some movies has changed a bit since first watching them. Some for the better, some worse. This means that the list below doesn't strictly follow numerical order based on the scores I intitally gave them. Oh well. Anyhoo, enough of my yapping. Here are my top 20 movies of 2010:

Exit is intriguing, funny and cautiously triumphant. It’s also visually captivating watching thes guys take a guerilla style approach to getting their work seen.

This is a parable that’s divisive, much like religion itself. The naysayers will quickly point out the ridiculousness of all Eli accomplishes given a certain fact about him which I won’t spoil. Supporters will note that it’s a metaphor, not meant to be taken literally. Count me among the supporters.

Brazenly, but wisely, Easy A juxtaposes itself with the Hawthorne classic, “The Scarlet Letter”. It even takes the time to note the similarities and differences for us. It goes so far as to defend not only the novel, but the original film version while throwing barbs at the much more recent cinematic attempt starring Demi Moore. I find it funny and very smart. It doesn’t cause uncontrollable laughter, but extracts the grins and soft chuckles that come from being able to relate to what we’re seeing.

This takes two genres and mashes them together to create a triumphant inspirational film. The plot outline follows the template of a sports movie with our Duke in the underdog role and the therapist, his charismatic coach. However, what plays out amidst the machinations of the plot is pure bromance. When we get to the end, we’ve become vested in these men, their friendship and their quest.

Like the verse our heroine aspires to write, this film is lyrical and prefers to show rather than tell. The answers are all right there in front of us. However, they aren’t spoon fed to us. We often have no clue what decisions she reaches until she carries them out. Poetry challenges us and we’re better for it.

This is about the decade we’ve just lived through. It’s about how technology in general, and Facebook in particular, alters our world in increasingly rapid ways. It’s about how prepared or unprepared we are for those instantaneous changes. It is also about relationships disintegrating. We’re intrigued to see if anything can be salvaged. However, the winds of sudden success has wreaked havoc on these people. Essentially, we’re watching a divorce procedure. At stake, the custody of their 500 million “kids” worldwide.
In Let Me In, the characters are not in some totally foreign dimension where everything is glossy and nice where vampires can go out in the daytime and wean themselves from human blood. Instead, the vampire is dropped into our reality. True, it is rare that a remake can stand up to the original, particularly when the remake is American and the original is not. This one does.

A healthy dose of graphic and over the top violence keeps our inner-sadists sated. This includes beheadings, impalings and even a crucifixion. There’s also enough nudity to live up to the exploitation flicks to which Machete owes its existence. It basks in the light of outrageous, testosterone driven fun. The key here is that although nothing that actually happens is to be taken seriously, the movie’s message is.

For Scorcese, it’s a departure from the norm. This is no gritty urban crime drama, but his storytelling is as effective as ever. This is a top notch psychological thriller. It diminishes its own predictability with a heavy dose of ambiguity. It also plays with our heads by using lots of smoke and mirrors, but in a good way. This isn’t your uncle pulling a penny out of your ear, it’s a really slick sleight of hand that would make David Blaine proud.

The eye-patch, unruly beard, weathered skin and gruffier-than-usual voice all help our leading man get lost in his character. He is not Jeff Bridges, he’s Rooster Cogburn. Aside from who’s playing the lead, a few of the other changes are pure 21st century. The Coens have effectively trimmed the fat, giving us leaner and still fulfilling meat. This remake not only stands up next to its inspiration, I believe it surpasses it.

This movie is not for the squeamish. It may be one of the more brutally violent films you’ll ever see. Still, despite the seemingly gallons of blood spilled and dozens of blows to various heads with heavy blunt objects (pipe, fire extinguisher, etc), this is no simple gore-fest. It blends the genres horror, thriller and action to create an unflinching and slyly complex revenge flick.

Does art imitate life? Or, is it the other way around? That’s the question hovering just above the surface of Black Swan. Below it, the question is: what happens to us when we push ourselves beyond our breaking point? There are no easy answers to either and along the way you might come up with more questions. Because of this, our journey is always fascinating despite it also being occasionally confusing. The true beauty of this film is that even though we get a definitive ending in the physical sense, we still have to deal with those questions.

Every now and then you watch a movie that just shouldn’t work, but absolutely does. Scott Pilgrim vs the World is one of those movies. Here’s the thing: I get the sense this is a love it or hate it type of deal. People like me will sing its praises. Others will roll their eyes at all the madness, complain about how unrealistic it is, proclaim it moronic, and me a moron for liking it. It boils down to this: if you can’t understand the brilliance behind the “pee meter”, you’ll never get this movie.

Director Danny Boyle keeps us engaged by letting us into Aron’s mind. He doesn’t merely point the camera at a man stuck to a rock. He explores the man. To make this work, star James Franco is willingly explored. For my money, this is easily his best performance. To be honest, I haven’t liked him in anything I’ve seen him in. Here, he plays his role wonderfully. It’s easy for an actor to be over the top when they’re often the only person on the screen. However, taking a cue from Tom Hanks in Cast Away, his emotions fluctuate perfectly throughout. The movie as a whole does the same. We ride the roller coaster anxiously as it ascends, afraid as it drops and excitedly through the loops.

Even though this is a remarkable film, it’s not for everyone. As mentioned, it is not a date movie despite the fact we’re focused on a relationship. That means it’s certainly no rom-com. It’s not an over-the-top melodrama, either. It might be a tear-jerker. Whether you cry or not, it’s not a feel-good movie. What it does is give us food for thought, something to discuss. This isn’t about characters in a movie. This is about people we know, perhaps even about the people we are.

For starters, it’s a more modern remake of “True Grit” than what the Coens gave us. It is also a terrific blend of colloquialisms and menacing statements that build all sorts of tension. The film is shot in a perfectly bleak manner reminiscent of The Road. This has a similar feel of hopelessness. That feeling also comes through the music. Mostly sang by Marideth Sisco, who appears in one scene, the sad songs about the futility of the singer’s efforts mirrors Ree in a manner we can’t deny. We hear it. We feel it. This is an excellent movie experience that is as much about the language we hear and the music we feel as it is about what we see.

We watch this drama unfold in a fashion that feels excruciatingly real. This is where the power of The Fighter lies. We’re either a part of, or have known families exactly like this. If we’re a part of such a family, our empathy for Micky is boundless. If we’ve only known families like this, he has our sympathy. We wish we could save him. We root hard for Charlene (Adams) because she is obviously trying to do just that. We cheer her every action during her run-ins with Alice and the sisters. Carrying out such a display of not always humane humanity requires great acting. This movie has it in spades. Every rolling of the eyes, raising of the voice, expressing of concerns, swilling of a shot and puffing of a cigarette rings true. More than becoming familiar with these people, we really know them. The Fighter also utilizes many of the same conventions as other sports films. Somehow though, it makes them feel much more true.

This isn’t just an action-comedy. It’s a brilliant spoof of all things superhero. It’s simultaneously reverential and irreverent. It lovingly skewers the genres of literature, television and cinema that birthed it, holding their feet to the fire even as it gives them a hug. Comic book fans will notice the subtleties that make it special. For instance, notice the unspoken joke of our hero wearing glasses in his regular life but not when dressed as his alter-ego. What makes it great is that even if you miss those little touches you can still have a great time watching it. This is because the best spoofs use the genre they’re spoofing for inspiration, making fun of that genre’s absurdities while also working within its confines and stand alone as narratives. You needn’t have seen any specific movie to get most of the jokes. You only have to be familiar with a certain type of movie. This is why Young Frankenstein works for people who’ve never actually seen the original Frankenstein or Scream for people who aren’t necessarily fans of slasher movies. Kick-Ass is one of the best spoofs.

This is a great way to either extend or end the series. Unlike so many other sequels, it doesn’t feel like a money-grab, whether it is or not. It feels like the logical next chapter of a great book. With three outstanding entries, it firmly places itself among the best cinematic trilogies of all time. I would be hard pressed to keep it out of the top handful. Even better than that, there could logically be a TS4. Why yes, I’d be pumped for that, too.

This is far from a simple movie. Like many fantasy or science-fiction films, it asks us to accept something seemingly preposterous as a sort of reality. The difference between Inception and the majority of others is simple. For the two hours or so we’re watching those others, it’s mutually understood that the reality on screen is wholly separate from our own. We know that no amount of exposure to gamma rays is going to transform us into The Hulk. Here, we’re given cause to wonder about our own dreams and the odd events that occur during the portions we can remember. And what about those parts we can’t remember? Amazingly, even with all the jumping in and out of dreams and playing with reality, Inception is not nearly as convoluted or complicated as it could’ve been. Like I said, though, nor is it simple. With incredible special fx, astute storytelling, enough action infused into the proceedings and another great performance by DiCaprio, it strikes a perfect balance between entertaining us and challenging us.

Honorable Mention: Biutiful, The Ghost Writer, How to Train Your Dragon, The Kids Are All Right, Megamind, Mother, The Town.

So there you have it. What are your top flicks from '10?

1 comment:

  1. Great list. Exit Through the Gift Shop and The Black Swan just narrowly missed my list but I'm on a slight disagreement with you over Blue Valentine, I found it to be one of the years worst movies and I agree it's not for everyone. I was a little disappointed by The Book of Eli.