Friday, April 15, 2011

Remember the films of 2010? Me neither.

The fact that it's taken me this long to get around to posting a list of my top ten favorite films of 2010 is the perfect indicator of what a lackluster year it was for movies. That's not to say it sucked entirely (indeed, there were a number of films that were quite good), but nothing last year really stood out and shouted and got me excited while I was watching it. Even now, looking at my list in preparation to write about it, my reaction is "Yeah, those were pretty good" as opposed to my usual "Man, I love these movies!"

To psyche myself up, I watched this 2010 movie recap montage, which actually makes last year seem better than it actually was (which, I suppose, says more about the editor of this piece than the movies themselves):

So, with that, I give you my TOP TEN FAVORITE FILMS OF 2010 (for what it's worth):

#10: Buried - 127 Hours got a lot of attention (and Oscar nominations) last year, but I think this film's better. I suppose the edge 127 Hours had over Buried (besides a bigger budget) was that it was based on a true story and I suppose most audience members were morbidly curious about what one would go through before hacking off their own arm to survive. Buried was more compelling and suspenseful, to me, though, for a number of reasons. For starters, it taps into a wide range of inherent fears (being buried alive, confined to a small space, alone in the dark, not knowing where you are, running out of oxygen, dying cell phone battery, etc). Second of all, it establishes "the rules" from the outset and doesn't deviate, yet manages to keep things tense and interesting throughout the whole experience. It's a classic "what-would-I-do-if-I-were-in-that-situation" kinda movie. 127 Hours was so inundated with dream sequences and hallucinations, I never really knew what was supposed to be real and what wasn't. In fact, the whole time, I was too aware that I was watching a movie (which, frankly, felt more like a music video). In Buried, on the other hand, having every bit of it take place within the coffin, I felt like I was in there as well. And, man, did I want out.

#9: Four Lions - Dark comedy is very hard to do well. And it's all the more difficult when your subject matter is especially touchy. Four Lions' subject matter is so touchy, that if I were to describe the plot to you, you probably wouldn't be interested in seeing it. Furthermore, you probably wouldn't even think it was a comedy. Not a funny one, anyway. Case in point, I didn't really wanna see it myself, but a friend invited me to go watch it at a time when I was bored and wanted to get out of the house. I'm glad I did, though, because it's easily one of the funniest films of 2010. How do you make a movie about Muslim extremists conspiring to become suicide bombers funny? Well, for starters, I guess you make it a British film. This movie has the flavor of Guy Ritchie's earlier work (particularly in the scenarios where guys trying to act tough merely come across as stupid) with some moments that are genuinely touching. I dunno, it's hard to describe, but you hafta trust me. I don't believe I've ever seen a film so brave and insightful that is also downright silly.

#8: Date Night - The reason this movie's so good is because Steve Carell and Tina Fey are so adept at comedy, the film could have just simply been about their night out together without anything going wrong and been equally entertaining. You know you're off to a good start when the groundwork for a comedy is laid so soundly. When all hell finally does break loose, this film makes all the right moves to keep it from drowning in its own ridiculousness. As Roger Ebert has remarked over and over (and again in his review of this film), comedy works best when the performers don't act like they're in a comedy. As things spiral out of control and become increasingly implausible, our heroes stay the course, taking it very seriously the whole time. Which, of course, makes it even funnier. A perfect example of how, when it's done the other way, it fails miserably is showcased in (another Steve Carell film from last year) Dinner For Schmucks. That was far and away the worst film I saw last year (and I saw Piranha 3-D).

#7: RED - While Four Lions and Date Night were both funnier than this film, RED was more fun. Action that was over-the-top but not annoyingly unbelievable, scenarios that were implausible but not insulting, dialogue that was silly but not stupid. Pure Hollywood escapism done right. And great fun to see such an eclectic group of reputable film veterans brought together and having a good time. True, most of them probably just did it for the paycheck, but I bet not a single one of them felt ashamed of themselves for doing it. And they shouldn't. I believe a film's merit should be based on how well it achieves the goal it sets for itself. And RED hit the bullseye.

#6: True Grit - It's not unusual for the Coen brothers to make my top ten list, but it is pretty rare for a remake. Nice to know that, in the case of a tie, the Coens win. Truth be told, I think I prefer the John Wayne version overall, but this is still a good, solid western and a worthy entry into the Coens' repertoire. That's probably due to the fact that they used Charles Portis' original novel as their source material rather than Henry Hathaway's 1969 film. I haven't read the book, but the story and dialogue between the two films is similar enough that probably neither film deviated much. Actually, pulling the strengths out of both versions would probably make the perfect movie. You could start by replacing Glen Campbell with Matt Damon.

#5: TRON: Legacy - You may wonder how this Jeff Bridges movie could outrank the previously mentioned Jeff Bridges movie on my list. The answer is simple: Nostalgia. Had I been born a decade earlier, I might have felt the same attachment to True Grit, but given I was 8 years old when the original TRON came out, that's where my heart lies. Most sequels released beyond 20 years of their predecessor are sadly pathetic. TRON: Legacy is a reverent tribute. In fact, it's similar to the original TRON in more ways than the filmmakers probably intended. For instance, it had a mediocre performance at the box office and the movie itself starts strong and then levels off a bit and slows down in the second half. Some people hated it and, frankly, I'd be reluctant to recommend it to just anyone (especially if they didn't see or didn't like the original), but I thought it was an exhilarating feast for the eyes. And it's my list, so piss off, nerd-haters.

#4: I Saw the Devil - I'd be more inclined to recommend TRON: Legacy to a multitude of people before I'd recommend this one. Not because it's a mediocre movie that I personally found endearing, in fact, quite the opposite: It's an amazing movie that I personally found unsettling. I think most well-adjusted people would agree. I haven't seen a lot of Korean films, but of the ones I have seen, I've come to realize that the Koreans are willing to explore dark areas that the rest of the world of cinema are reluctant to tread. In fact, I'm not even sure I have the stomach to describe the plot here given my mother reads my blog. Just to give you an idea, though, the movie begins with a pregnant woman being murdered - in a very, very horrible way - and the remainder of the film is her husband's wrathful vengeance upon the serial killer responsible. You've no doubt heard the expression "not for weak stomachs". Well, for this film, you're gonna need every strong organ you've got. If you can make it through, though, it is a powerful and haunting film that'll make you think much deeper than most films this violent can.

#3: Inception - Christopher Nolan is well on his way to becoming the next Steven Spielberg in that he's an expert in giving audiences exactly what they want without them even knowing they wanted it in the first place. I think what I liked most about Inception was what I liked about Buried. It simply said, "Here's the rules, now let's play the game." From the beginning, Inception was poised for trickery and plenty of opportunities to manipulate the audience and pull the rug out from under them. Yet, while remaining complicated, the filmmakers still played fair. Kind of like a chess match, you have to pay attention to a bunch of things at once, but there's no cheating going on. Refreshing to see something so original that wasn't a shock to the system. The downside is (and I think this is the reason Inception wasn't in my top two) I have the feeling the more I see Inception, the more holes I'll find in it. That certainly was the case with The Matrix. In any case, it's a smart, exciting and beautifully shot film. And that's more than I can say for most others.

#2: The Social Network - Once in a while, a movie comes out that contains nothing more than just a bunch of people sitting around and talking, yet it is absolutely riveting. The last movie like that that I can remember was The Insider. I remember that, upon hearing a movie was being made about the creation of facebook, I rolled my eyes. When I heard David Fincher was directing it, it struck me as a waste of talent (in fact, I even remarked on it in my top ten list for 2009). But, I had the same reaction to The Insider when it first came out, too. Aaron Sorkin's dialogue just goes to show that a good script means everything. This is the only movie from last year that I actually own.

#1: Toy Story 3 - It was only a matter of time before a PIXAR flick took the top spot on one of my "year's best" lists. While I was more impressed with Inception, and The Social Network is probably a better movie, Toy Story 3 takes the prize because it moved me on such a personal level. PIXAR's films are never lacking in brilliance and it was sheer brilliance on their part to set the sequel in real-time with Andy going to college and consequently outgrowing his toys. It opened up a whole area of exploration into growing up and self-actualization and the nature of sentimental objects. I was already in college when the original Toy Story came out, but I wasn't any less choked-up at the powerfully heartfelt ending of part 3. It must have been all the more emotionally overwhelming for somebody Andy's age to watch (having seen the previous Toy Stories at his age as well). I think what I liked most about the film, though, was that it was essentially a prison-break flick. Each new PIXAR film seems to be better than the last, but this one will probably remain the most bad-ass for that reason alone.

So, 2010... Ultimately, you were forgettable, but not without your strong points. Here's hoping 2011 is even better. Although, I have my doubts because it's already taken four months to get to a movie as good as Source Code.

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