Monday, January 10, 2011

Top 11 Films of 2010

(Because sometimes 10 just isn't enough)

It's that time of year again...where we take stock of all the films we saw for the year and weigh in on which ones were a waste of time and which ones were time well spent. And not like this needs repeating but I will do it anyway, this is a list comprised of films "I" felt were the best of what this past year had to offer us. While there were more than a few films I liked overall that didn't make the cut (Let Me In, Tron: Legacy, Harry Potter, and The Town to name a few),  I overall thought this was a pretty lack luster year despite the few really great films we got. The summer season was one of the worst summers at the movies in recent memory and most of the "award" type movies we got aren't that interesting either (quality not withstanding).

But I was still able to whip up a list of my top 11 films of the year and I am here to share those with you. Some will be surprises, some you probably haven't heard of, some will be expected, and all are completely different from one another. It was a year filled with some really standout female and male performances alike. Leonardo DiCaprio had what I would call a tremendous year and good fortune as did the young Chloe Moretz and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. What really surprised me when looking at my list is the large variety of genres we got from political intrigue, super heroes, teenage romances, and a number of true stories that were actually worth telling. The hardest part of making this list this year was most certainly the top 3 films I came up with. All of them deserve to be numero uno but unfortunately as a famous immortal once said, there can be only one. I can assure you that they all have my certified stamp of approval and in my opinion were the cream of the crop for the year 2010.

And here are last years top picks along with this years worst film:

Easy A

Emma Stone got her shot and nailed it.

Those very very few that may have read my initial review of this film may have gotten the sense that I forgave a lot of issues I had with it because it featured one of my favorite actresses working today, Ms. Emma Stone. Well, I have seen it a few more times since I wrote that piece and my view on the film has changed slightly. While I do still strongly think its many successes rest on the shoulders of its main star I also have come to the conclusion that it is a dam fine little teen comedy in its own right. I had mentioned that the writing and direction were top notch but that I had some issues with the overly snappy dialogue. I can't say it bothered me as much after a couple extra viewings and I'll be damned if Emma Stone isn't the most adorable thing out there while spouting those witty and clever sayings of hers.

The main reason this even made this list though isn't entirely because of my love for Emma...not entirely. I put it on here because it was such a breath of fresh air from all the action/crime/dramas we got this year. There were no other films I saw that dealt with teenagers in a real world environment and even if there were I highly doubt they would have been better that what we got here. Furthermore, if anyone is in the market for just a flat out funny fell good movie this will fit that bill perfectly. And best of all it is genuinely funny. From the clever dialogue and situations that Olive finds herself in to some of the straight up wacky characters such as her very understanding parents. Standout scenes for me would have to be Olive's weekend spent at home, her first fake sex scene, and Olive's final song and dance number in front of the entire school. This is just a fun little film that I think will brighten any one's day that watches it.

Easy A [Blu-ray]

Easy A trailer:

The Fighter

Christian Bale could be taking home a little golden trophy this year...and it's not boxing related.

This one was a late edition to this list mainly because I just barely got a chance to see it. While I was hesitant to put it on here without letting it sink in a little bit more I still think it was one of the stronger dramas we got this year. The true story of Mickey Ward and how he defied the odds that were stacked against him to become one of the very few real life Rocky-like success stories is one of hell of an inspiring tale. The acting was solid across the board with stand outs such as Christian Bale and Melissa Leo becoming two of the most well rounded and complete characters I saw in any film this year as Mickey's brother and mother. Mark Wahlberg turned in a competent and believable performance as Mickey while Amy Adams gave me one of my favorite female characters of the year.

The film is about boxing though and for the most part it succeeds at that as well. The fights themselves were well shot and even though they never offered anything beyond the typical thrills associated with the sport it was the connection you got with all the characters that ultimately helped the film transcend the sport film genre. Favorite moments from the film would have to be every time Mickey and his mother would go and pick up Dicky from the local crack house, Charlene's showdown with Mickey's mother and nine sisters on the porch, and the moment Dicky realizes what exactly that documentary was all about. It's an inspiring story of how a man rose out from the ashes of his family's tainted history and became a true contender.

The Fighter trailer:

Fair Game

Valerie Plame is a true patriot that our government pretty much shit on.

I never got around to writing a full review on this one (my actual job can be pretty unforgiving) but if you want to get a general consensus on my feelings just give a listen to episode 14 from the show where I talk about it. Otherwise I guess I can give some quick impressions on why I liked this film so much. I have been a huge fan of Doug Liman ever since Swingers came out and even own the worst film he has ever made. So it was with great pleasure that I discovered he had come back with a winner in Fair Game. The film shows us the true accounts of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson whom was outed by our very own government in the midst of a smear campaign against her husband Joe Wilson that had just called the White House out on why our President had just declared war with Iraq.

I have to admit, I got really caught up in everything this woman and her family were put through. And it wasn't just what she was put through but everyone else that was effected elsewhere by what happened to her. She was in the middle of some covert operations where peoples lives were at stake and the moment her cover was blown she was taken out of action immediately resulting in innocent lives being loss. I can't lie, this film is kind of frustrating to watch but I think that speaks volumes to its success at conveying what it must had been like for her to go through all this. Anyone holding off on it because of all the political stuff associated with it, don't let that deter you. For sure the first half of the film is a little bit politics heavy but once she is outed it becomes one of the most involving and riveting dramas I saw all year. Both Naomi Watts and Sean Penn do their usual superb jobs here as the leads and Doug Liman proves that he is indeed a brilliant film maker.

Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government
Valerie Plame's novel "Fair Game".

Fair Game trailer:

Kick Ass

The new dynamic duo.

I love the hell out of this film. While it is no secret that most of that love is for Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) and all her badassery there is plenty more here to love beyond that. Nicholas Cage finally popped back up my radar with this film, his Big Daddy was both a brutal vigilante and a loving father. I also found his personal story of revenge to be the best story thread in the whole film. It was kind of sad how he turned his little daughter into a killing machine instead of just letting her be a little girl. But let's be honest here, if he hadn't turned her into the perfect assassin then we wouldn't have all those gleeful moments with her eviscerating every baddy that got in her way. Kick Ass and Red Mist were decent enough characters as well and both have sort of grown on me over time but the fact that this film didn't make it into the top 5 shows how little I really cared about them in the end.

Without a doubt my favorite scene and the one that actually did get to me emotionally was...spoilers here...Hit Girl's rescue attempt after both her father and Kick Ass had been taken hostage. I still don't know why it effected me so much, maybe it was the imagery mixed with the amazing music from Sunshine, but as she tried as hard as she could to kill everyone between her and her father as he was being burnt alive I actually got choked up. The culmination of that scene and the moment Hit Girl became more than just a badass for me is when she turned to the camera and spouted "Shows over motherf**ker!" and blam!...shoots it. At that moment I was like, "Alright, she is gonna kick some serious ass now", and she didn't disappoint. 

Kick-Ass (Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)

Kick Ass (Hit Girl) trailer:


Hold on Ryan, you will be recognized as a legit actor soon enough.

OK, I like the premise of this film a lot, but there are only two reasons this is on the list and they are both essential parts. First off is the execution of the film, you are in that box buried underground for the entire length of the film. Not once do we ever get to see sunlight, moonlight, or anything else beyond a cellphone glow and the flicker of a lighter. There are no moments of seeing loved ones on the outside struggling to find the missing person, there are no flashbacks as to how he got to where he is. If ever there were a film where you feel trapped right along side your protagonist then this is it. I am not a claustrophobic person at all, but man did I start to get uneasy as the film played on and whenever he would attempt to readjust himself it just made it that more visceral and real.

Second is because of the amazing performance by Ryan Reynolds. I have liked the guy ever since Van Wilder and could see that he was one of the few comedic actors out there that could pull off a believable dramatic performance like this. He has had some light dramatic roles through his career thus far but I didn't know he was capable of something this intense. All he has to work with is a cellphone and a few other props scattered about that small wood box interior. There are a few moments here when you just feel awful for the guy beyond his current predicament and it becomes so difficult to watch at some points that you want to just get up and leave. This is probably my second favorite male performance this year and while he definitely gives it his all he probably won't get recognized by any of the award shows this season which is just a dam shame. This is a fantastic film that never lets up the tension and will leave you out of breath by the time it is all over. And did I mention the whole thing takes place in a friggin box?

Buried (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

Buried trailer:

Shutter Island

I just love the whole look and atmosphere of this film.

I originally didn't like how this film ended and that at the time had unfortunately put a sour taste in my mouth for it. Now, I will not go into particulars about why the ending bothered me so much but suffice to say it wasn't what I had thought the film was about. I guess it is how masterful Martin Scorsese is at film making that he had me believing in this world 100%. The ending turned that world upside down on me and I couldn't handle it being something other than what I had made myself believe, which is strangely in tune with the films theme. However, after watching it a couple more times and knowing what to expect I absolutely love this film now. I had already been won over by the atmosphere that shrouds all the proceedings (the actual island/prison is creepy as hell) and the acting was superb across the board but once I accepted the reality of what the film was/is it all came together perfectly for me.

The imagery and cinematography was by far my favorite element of the film. The dream sequences that Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) has over the course of the film are probably some the best depictions of how a dream works I have ever seen (even better than another film further up this list actually). But it is that ending that really gets you and when you rewatch the film a second or third time, which you should most definitely do, you see layers that were there all along. I found it amazing that nothing is hidden from the viewer, there are no cheap tricks or red herrings to lead us off course or down a false road of thought. The only reason that had happened to me was because I WANTED to believe the world that was being presented to me and when I realized I had mislead myself, well...that is probably why I love it more each time I watch it. And that ending....brilliant!

Shutter Island [Blu-ray]

Shutter Island trailer:

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

It got KO'ed at the box office but has found new life at home.

Michael I loathe thee. I had tired of your whiny voice and quiet nerd-like antics. I had written you off and was waiting patiently for Year One part 2 to finally end your career. Then you had to go ahead and star in Scott Pilgrim...dam you to hell sir. As much as it pains me to say it, I cannot imagine any other person in the title role other than Michael Cera. He was born to play this part and in my opinion lived up to that prophecy. Luckily for him he had a great supporting cast, a brilliant (and visionary?) director, and one hell of a crazy ass comic to work from. The look of the film is to be applauded as well, while it may be derived from the comic it is still a visual marvel with the different types of crazy effects going on for what seems like the entire film. The fights between the evil exes though is without a doubt the highlights of the film visually but there is much more depth here than its looks.

As I mentioned in the disclaimer above, this past summer was god awful for the cinemas. There were only two out of the however many dozens of films that were released that gave me what I needed (the other we will get to in a bit). Scott Pilgrim is simply put, a piece of cinematic art. There were no missteps here at all which is an achievement in itself because there is just so much crazy shit going on at all times. So many throwaway lines and gags that most wouldn't even notice (love that Zelda music). Director Edgar Wright has made the quintessential videogame/comic book movie. Regardless of whether it was as faithful to the original material as most fans demand (although I have it on good authority that he did right by the comic) this was and is the grand scale geek film of our time. If you love either comic books or videogames this is your film by far...and it is a touching romance to boot.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World trailer:

True Grit

Did I mention that Jeff Bridges was pretty awesome as well?

I didn't really mention it in my review but I never saw the entire original film before. I had seen some of it and I definitely remember the ending but I never had a real connection to it like I do for other John Wayne classics. As far as remakes go I am almost certain this is one that we really could have done without I think...but...that doesn't mean it is unwanted. Quite the contrary actually, I welcome with open arms anything the Coen brothers give us. Even on their worst day they give us a flawed but completely unique experience but thankfully this is far far from their worst day. True Grit is everything a film should be, engaging from beginning to end, superbly cast and acted, beautifully shot and scored. It is very hard for someone to levy a flaw at it but that doesn't mean it is flawless (read my review to hear my thoughts on the ending).

There is one flawless aspect to the film though that I challenge anyone out there to disagree with. And that is the powerful debut performance by Hailee Steinfeld. She stole this film out from under everyone involved which is a mighty feat indeed with such heavy hitters as Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon in tow. Out of all the fantastic female roles this year of which there were surprisingly quite a few of (although strangely my top 3 films of the year have a significant lake of the female variety) I am rooting for her to win whatever awards she is nominated for. It's not very often that I can recommend a film based solely on the performance of a single actor (I can't bring myself to recommend Black Swan no matter how good Natalie Portman was) but given the option I most definitely would in this case. The bonus of course is that the film is fantastic regardless and another feather in the Coen brothers cap.

True Grit trailer:

The Social Network

Mark Zuckerberg creates the social network to beat all others.

David Fincher is one of the most precise and calculating directors out there, if not the most. His attention to detail is renowned and he is the master of using special effects that you never see (he uses it a lot for post-production clean up work). He has gotten a lot of flak in the past for being kind of a show off with camera movements (see Panic Room) but I do believe he has become rather restrained over the years, either that or he hides it much better now. The Social Network feels like he is trying to show everyone that he doesn't need all those fancy tricks he has relied on in the past. Other than the pure look of the film it doesn't feel like a Fincher film per say which would normally be a bad thing but not here. I believe what he accomplished here was a perfect melding of his style with a contemporary drama about one of the most used and successful online services of all time.

I was right there with everyone else with a question mark above my head when the news hit that David Fincher was directing the Facebook movie. Who would have thought it could turn out this good? The credit though goes to everyone here, the acting was phenomenal, the writing and screenplay excellent (this should win for best adapted screenplay at the very least) and as I have already mentioned a lot by now the direction was first rate. I still find it crazy that this film is all dialogue driven and when I watched it for the first time it felt like it was over in a flash. It moves at such a breakneck pace that it almost feels too short. For pure writing and dialogue alone this was my favorite film of the year. The amount of information conveyed to us in that short amount of time is breathtaking and there was not another film that even approached the level of film making skill seen here all year. As a side note, probably my favorite trailer and tag line of the year as well.

The Social Network [Blu-ray]

The Social Network trailer:

127 Hours

Poor Aron Ralston is stuck between a rock & a hard place...sorry, I had to do it.

Out of every film listed here this was the only one that really hit me at an emotional level. The true story of Aron Ralston and how he had to pretty much mutilate himself to save his own life was the most inspiring and horrific film experience I had all year. James Franco turns in what I believe to be the best performance of anyone this year, male or female. I would even go so far as to say that even if you don't really care for the film (and if you don't you no longer exist to me) you would still be captivated by just the raw emotions James Franco was able to produce in himself and the audience as you witness his dilemma. Once that rock locks him into place the film becomes what I consider to be one of the best and well told personal dramas I have ever seen and trust me, that praise doesn't come lightly.

Another key element to this puzzle is of course director Danny Boyle. He has proven time and time again that he is a man that can consistently pull the rug out from under us when it comes to expectations. While I fully admit to have never seeing Slumdog Millionaire (it never caught my interest for some reason) I believe this to be his second best film and only trumped by the brilliant Sunshine. I love the choices he made here on how to tell the story. The flashback device is not really my cup of tea for delivering key story and/or character beats but I thought they were done to perfection here. The self-centered man we were introduced to in the opening minutes of the film is given so much more depth from those flashbacks which connects you with the guy in a way you aren't prepared for. And the use of  the camcorder to give Aron a way to inform us directly of certain plot points was fantastic.

I cannot end this without talking about the man this is all about, Aron Ralston. I am not sure what kind of person he is in real life but if he is even remotely like the character James Franco portrays then this guy is a hero of the highest stature. I know it sounds pretty silly calling someone a hero for saving their own life but when you see what he had to do to save his life you will understand why. When you see him with his wife sitting together at the end of the film (the real Aron mind you) you can't help but be filled with a sense of joy. This man survived a horrible ordeal and came out of it a better person who has chosen to live life to its fullest and this film is a testament to his will to live and the triumph of the human spirit.

127 Hours [Blu-ray]

127 Hours trailer:


Leonardo DiCaprio aims for perfection and hits his target square on.

This was not my favorite drama of the year. This was not my favorite action film of the year. This did not contain the most compelling characters of the year. It did however provide me with the most thrilling moments I had witnessed in the cinemas all year long. I still remember the few moments after the end credits started to roll and I was still sitting there slack jawed with only one word rattling around in my head...Wow! While the argument can certainly be made that there were more meaningful and thought provoking films this year, I don't think any one of them could touch this film with a ten foot pole when it comes to pure thrills per minute coupled with Christoper Nolan's masterful execution. I went into that theater not knowing what to expect and came out of it feeling invigorated. I honestly wanted to get right back in line and watch it again right then and there. There was no other film this year that effected me as much as Inception did.

I know in my original review I had mentioned that I could not really come up with any short comings or flaws at that time. I think most of that was because I was still in shock from the visual symphony I had just partook in. But after seeing the film a few more times since then I have come to the conclusion that there were indeed some issues I had with it after all. Now, I know when trying to explain why you love something so much that it isn't a natural thing to bring up the flaws of that something but I think it is best to clear the air here. So real quick, yes there are some issues with the pacing and it has a ton of exposition in that first half of film. Yes the dream sequences later in the film never fulfill the promises made by those first scenes with Ellen Page and they are fairly straight forward for better or worse. And finally yes, there are some plot holes and/or story elements that went nowhere. But I can look past all that because the film as a whole came together so perfectly that even as I watched it a second time none of those flaws were readily apparent. I was so caught up with everything I was seeing that none of that mattered and to me that is the mark of some fine film making.

The one thing that has stood out to me after all the times I have seen it is just how dam well structured this thing is. From the very beginning we are set up to question what is reality and what isn't. Then as soon as we think we have a grasp on what that reality is another shroud is removed to reveal yet another reality and by the end of the film we are still questioning what is real and what isn't. And even as I write it out like that it starts to become confusing just a little bit which is why I applaud Mr. Nolan even more. He has taken such a potentially confusing and confounding subject as how dreams function and used that as a simple backdrop to what essentially can be boiled down to a simple heist flick. I would normally say don't be fooled by such elaborate trappings but in this case go for it. Delve face first and lose yourself for two hours in this world where people can live in their dreams for decades and haven't aged a day when they wake up.

The music...oh god the music. Hans Zimmer has made some amazing soundtracks and while I am not sure this is my favorite it is without a doubt my favorite score of the year. Those loud imposing horns have become synonymous with this film and every single satire made to date uses them endlessly. While the opening segments are fairly tame the music and film kicks into high gear when we get into that main dream sequence. And although that music is amazing even on its own, the visuals that accompany it are just as spectacular if not more so. This is not an action film but it does contain some of the most incredible action scenes I had the pleasure of viewing since the first time I sat down and watched this little film called The Matrix some years back.

In the end, and yes...this is the end, I guess this won the top spot because it was and still is the one film I still talk about and think about the most. Whenever I find someone that hasn't experienced Inception yet I make it my mission to get them watching it as soon as possible. I can't say for certain if it will hold up over time but to be honest that doesn't really bother me too much at the moment. Because as of right now, this very day, I cannot say I had a better all around experience this year at the movies other than when I sat down and let Christopher Nolan immerse into his world of dreams, guns, and making the impossible possible.

Inception (Two-Disc Edition) [Blu-ray]

Inception trailer:


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