As the year 2010 slowly and mercifully sputters to a close, I find it more and more difficult to look back on it in a positive light, at least from a cinematic perspective. While at first I felt this year ranked among the best in overall film quality (right after 2006 and 1999), a closer look at the cinematic landscape tells a fairly different story. One aspect worth pointing out is the precipitous fall in quality of the year’s ‘blockbusters’ even compared to the sorrowful 2009. The few good ones (Harry Potter 7 Part 1, Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Lovely Bones, Toy Story 3) were certainly outweighed by the many duds (The A-Team, Little Fockers, Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Last Airbender, Robin Hood – just to name a few) that populated the mainstream movie market. In 2010 more than any other year, high anticipation was met with tremendous disappointment. Case in point: Iron Man 2. Sure Iron Man 2 is a good film, but I can name few people who thought it lived up to the expectations set forth by the first one. Want confirmation the sequel was a disappointment: series helmer Jon Faverau has turned down the chance to direct Iron Man 3 due to Disney and Marvel Studios getting directly involved with the creative aspects of the final product. This reveals something troubling about mainstream cinema – creative control has been turned over to executive producers, not the directors, producers, writers, editors, etc. who should have final cut. It is a part of the constant pursuit of profit studios partake in which, while extraordinarily multi-pronged, is also totally useless. Among the lawsuits, internet bandwidth reductions, creative control, incessant micro-management, and most troubling of all – simultaneous launches of new releases in theaters and on DVD and PPV (this is killing cinema), studios have forgotten what truly makes people want to go to the movies – good stories accompanied by high production values. Still think studios know what they’re doing? Watch Clash of the Titans and then get back to me.
But in 2010, while blockbusters suffered, independent films prospered. From the fantasy behemoth Enter the Void to the laugh-fest Four Lions, indie filmmakers succeeded in offering audiences good films without tiring marketing campaigns and embarrassing 3D. The indie scene spanned many genres, but it was the documentary that for a second year in a row was the most consistent genre of them all. While no documentary made my Top 10 this year, three were extremely close, and many more are definitely worth seeing, namely: 9500 Liberty, Countdown to Zero, Inside Job, Restrepo, and many others. My Top 10 this year is populated by what most would consider non-mainstream films. But I strongly recommend that you the reader look out for them. One of the best movie-watching experiences a person could have is being pleasantly surprised by a film they’ve never even heard of. So next time you’re looking for something to add to your Netflix Queue, skip over the obvious (but bad choices) like Repo Men or Step Up 3D and add Fish Tank. You certainly have nothing to lose.
Most Overrated Film: Easy A
Most Underrated Film: Remember Me
Most Boring Good Movie: Carlos
Most Exciting Bad Movie: District 13: Ultimatum
Most Beautiful Movie: The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
Ugliest Movie: Jackass 3D
Best Horror: Let Me In
Best Comedy: Four Lions
Best Animation: How to Train Your Dragon
The Average Movie: Grown Ups
Why shouldn’t you see these films? They are a waste of time and celluloid, but most importantly they are a waste of your money. In today’s tough economic times, it’s important to not risk wasting precious dollars on films that don’t deserve them. Trust me, I know the feeling (films are rated out of ****).
Dis-Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): The Back-Up Plan, Chance Pe Dance, Dead Awake, Just Wright, and Legion
10. The Bounty Hunter (*) – The lines in this ‘romantic comedy’ (labeling it that is a LIE!) are so excruciatingly painful, facepalm came dangerously close to becoming another one of my already-numerous annoying habits. I also thought of a game where you count all the moments you wish Gerard Butler would yell out “This is SPARTA!!!” instead of the line he was given… I stopped playing after 10.
9. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (*) – I’ve seen some bad fantasy in my day, but I can’t remember the last time I saw one this lethargic. Here is an example: (spoilers, but come on) our hero’s mother gets killed (or so he thinks) and his reaction, the one time the film has a chance to show some real raw emotion, is a blank stare and some apathetic sound that I couldn’t really discern. You want a good emotional reaction? You should have seen me when the credits started rolling and I realized what I’d just seen. It was as if someone had stolen my money… Oh wait.
8. You Again (*) This movie again. I thought I was done with this movie after the first time I saw it. I can’t even remember why I did. Maybe I felt a pang of nostalgia when I saw Patrick Duffy in the credits. All I know is that when I came out I tried blocking the whole experience out of my mind. Duffy wasn’t even in it for more than 10 minutes I think. But yeah, see this if you want to listen to grown women who should know better pour their hearts out about how terrible their boyfriends are, and how dependent they are on their boyfriends, and how it will be the end of the world if their boyfriend broke-up with them. When did we go back to the ’60s?
7. Vampires Suck (*) – Too easy? Maybe. But I felt like a complete moron for seeing it. Partly because it lowered my IQ by at least 20 points during its duration, and also because I knew that the people behind this movie are the same two conniving unintelligent imbeciles who have made my bottom 10 for I don’t know how many years now with such classics like Date Movie and Meet the Spartans, and I still SAW it!! I’m an idiot.
6. Marmaduke (*) – The worst CGI of the year belongs to Marmaduke – a creepy pet movie masquerading as a family film to lure in the masses. It’s not that the CGI is of bad quality, but mostly of bad taste. Reportedly, in the comic series this film is based on, the dog – Marmaduke – never spoke. Of course a normal dog that God-forbid, only barks, is unacceptable for filmmakers aiming for the absolute lowest common denominator. It’s like they set out to make a bad movie. They exceeded that goal and made a terrible one.
5. Yogi Bear (*) – Like Marmaduke, only worse. To enjoy this film you have to be either high (I wasn’t), a masochist (I wasn’t until after I saw this movie), or a complete idiot (depends on who you ask). Or maybe you just enjoy listening to once-funny actors like Dan Aykroyd and Anna Faris commit career suicide. I actually think I fit into that last one.
4. The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (*) – Director/Writer Tom Six indicated this horror travesty is the first in a potential two-part series. This idea is more likely to be realized now that this atrocity has garnered an undeserving cult following, only because of it’s name – which is certainly the best part. Six claims that the film(s) is meant to lash out at certain pop culture staples like gore-horror and pornography. In fact, the only statement the film makes is against good cinema. In the third act of the film, when evil Dr. Heiter (an absolutely disgusting Dieter Laser) has created his art piece made of human bodies, he yells out “Feed her!” Six wants the words to take on a double meaning. If his script lived up to his vague ambitions, the film may have succeeded on at least one front, but as it is, The Human Centipede is nothing more than just another dumb horror film, with nothing but a cheap parlor trick setting it apart from all the others.
3. Sex and the City 2 (*) – If all the sexism, racism, and homophobia don’t turn you off this film, it’s highly probable that the immoral, ill-timed materialism certainly will. The problems the main characters in this inevitable, but needless sequel, run into range from not having enough different pairs of shoes, to not being able to go out to a certain club for one night, even though they go there every single day! It’s no surprise then, that the ending is the worst movie ending of the year, complete with this valuable life lesson – if your partner cheats on you, just buy them a big diamond ring and everything will be better.
2. Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (1/2) – If ever there was a movie made for walk-outs, this is it. I only speak from personal experience here, but about 50% of the people at my screening were gone by the 1-hour mark. Good for them too, because the last 20 minutes of this disgraceful film are tomato-throwing worthy. Seeing this film has even made me question why I had an affection for the original in the first place, making this one of those rare sequels that damages the reputations of any movies/filmmakers/actors associated with it.
1. Chain Letter (1/2) – The worst movie of the year. To describe it in any other way would be a waste of my time. I’ve wasted enough time on this lazy excuse for a horror film.
These are the 10 best films of the past year. 2010 may not have been as strong as I anticipated at the end of 2009, but the following list was still difficult to narrow down. I hope you enjoy reading it – I’ve tried to pare down my thoughts to just a few sentences – an improvement over previous years’ borderline long-form essays, in my view. As usual, the films are rated out of **** .
10. True Grit (***1/2) – Yes this film is a joke, but after two good-not-great films in a role, it was about time the Coen Bros. made a film actually worth all the praise it’s getting. But if one thinks a tongue-in-cheek remake of what is arguably the lodestar of the American Western genre is nothing less than a meta-example of the Coens’ proverbial wit, the joke is on them. The Coens haven’t been this brave in a long time, and True Grit is their most accessible, but still clever film in more than a decade.
9. How To Train Your Dragon (***1/2) – As I get older, I find that experiencing the joy of feeling like a kid is progressively becoming harder and harder. It’s films like How To Train Your Dragon that help me get that feeling back. The difference here is that the feeling stuck with me days after the end credits rolled, and even after I had seen other movies. Rarely does something animated affect adults as strongly as this film is capable of doing, and rarely do cinematic beauty and great storytelling come together so flawlessly.
8. The King’s Speech (***1/2) – An overwhelming, and frightfully dramatic film, The King’s Speech tells the story of King George the VI whose speech impediment prevented him from being able to fittingly fill the responsibility passed down to him. While at times hard to watch, the film’s cathartic and bittersweet finale is worthy of what precedes it. Sometimes the ending makes the movie, in this case, the movie makes the movie.
7. Shutter Island (***1/2) – Flawed to a fault, this film still represents Martin Scorsese’s best work since The Aviator. It pins you to your seat from first frame to last, but it also remain a highly potent art piece – its sudden splashes of color, shockingly depressing imagery, and psychological tricks making it a prime example of a film that works within multiple genres. Here’s hoping Scorsese continues to take risks with screenplays he picks in the future.
6. Aftershock (***1/2) – The saddest movie of the year, Aftershock is a fictional account of a family trying to survive a major Chinese earthquake (that actually happened) in 1976. While Chinese cinema has long been regarded as exoteric compared to industries in countries like Japan and India, films like this one make a fairly strong argument that Oscar should finally recognize the Chinese. Director Xiagang Feng’s film makes the four central character’s individual and collective plights so real that one begins to feel as though a part of the family the film centers on. Feng is not afraid to have the camera linger during moments of grief, accentuating the honest human reactions to natural disasters and death. But Feng also takes the high road and doesn’t wallow in the helplessness of humanity, instead showing its unwavering strength. Please search out this little-seen film.
5. 127 Hours (***1/2) – Through most of this film’s running time there is only one actor – James Franco, whose hand is trapped between a rock and a cave wall, in a narrow canyon. Based on a true story, the film is a great example of how a minimalist film can truly have an epic feel. We can thank Academy Award winning director Danny Boyle for that, as his decisions as to what is shown on screen and what isn’t border on brilliant. Boyle rightfully focuses on the mental journey this person went through, and that makes this a can’t miss drama, with enough thrill to make it hard to recommend to the faint of heart.
4. Black Swan (***1/2) – Darren Aronofsky’s newest shocker is about as much fun as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but if one stops questioning the film’s apparent pseudo-reality, and focuses on the characters, the film’s hard-earned value comes through. Aronofsky has never been a filmmaker intent on tricking his audience, and with Black Swan he has created another blessedly heavy-handed, overtly-melodramatic, scary, near-masterpiece. Some have called the horror elements (most of which are the scariest movie moments of the year) cheap and misused in a film about competitive ballet, but why anyone would be surprised that Aronofsky would include them, seriously needs to take a second hard look at his complete filmography, and realize that this is a natural step in this filmmaker’s soon-to-be-skyrocketing career.
3. The White Ribbon (***1/2) – German auteur Michael Haneke’s newest cynical film is not only worth seeing, it’s worth seeing twice. Presented in black and white (but probably filmed in color) this outraged portrait of early Fascism practiced by pre-teens living in a small German town is an uncompromising critique of how quickly Europe forgets its ugly past. Haneke has never been a fan of his home continent (cinematically-speaking), but the strength of this film is a fatal jab at a culture that he sees as becoming more and more accepting of the old pre-Nazi ways.
2. The Social Network (***1/2) – What is behind the social networking phenomenon Facebook.com? Good old fashioned American Greed, says director David Fincher who is poised for another string of Academy Award nominations with his latest dialogue-heavy, drama-laden piece of art. It’s that dialogue and these characters, that truly make this a film with an appeal as universal as that of the website at the center of its premise. I haven’t yet had the chance to meet anyone who has disliked this film, but with Fincher at the helm, the crowd-pleasing wasn’t a surprise.
1. The Secret in Their Eyes (****) – The very best film of the year hails from Argentina. Winner of the Best Foreign Language film, The Secret in Their Eyes is a crime drama worthy of Scorsese, and it even surpasses some of his efforts in quality, craftsmanship, and the crowd-pleasing ability so many of these crime films lack. Director Juan Jose Campanella does not bog down his film with needless plotting or many side characters, intelligently keeping the story centered on the people we care about. Hollywood should be taking notes – this is what cinema should be, and it was an easy decision for me to award this film four stars.