Monday, December 13, 2010

2010: 8 Good Movies

2010 was not a good year for movies. I could probably only name one or two films released this year that I regretted missing (Winter's Bone, Let Me In... and that's it).* We had a weak summer for blockbusters--Iron Man 2 was flat, Robin Hood needlessly historicized and overblown (from what I understand), The Sorcerer's Apprentice tepid (also word of mouth). At the end of the summer, one critic had actually proclaimed 2010 the worst year ever for movies. I'm not informed enough to agree or disagree with him, except to say that I usually enjoy a wealth of movies each year and in 2010 I'm unable to put together a round list of 10 favorites.** So here are the eight fun/favorite movies, ranging in quality from "not a waste of your time or money" to "surprisingly good."

8) Unstoppable

This movie is hammily acted, visually overwrought and light on meaning. It's also a "white-knuckle thrill ride" that will have you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Despite its B-movie elements spun from real-life events, I really enjoyed it. A true popcorn movie. Although, unfortunately, this SNL parody is not inaccurate.

7) Tangled

Tangled manages to be a non-irritating, mostly exciting Disney princess movie about Rapunzel, her magical hair and leaving the confines of an over-protective childhood for the world of men. The love interest is given more characterization here, and feels less like an arbitrary stand-in for romantic wish fulfillment (i.e. Prince Charming). Plus, there is a surprisingly dark psychology at work in the film as the heroine must become self-aware of her reclusiveness and own up to her own life rather than being enslaved by the adult expectations of her childhood.

6) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 1

A road trip movie into dark woods, dark histories, and dark corners of the soul. Some have complained that it drags, but I was sufficiently invested in the characters to care deeply for the risks and sacrifices they make. I was riveted the whole time. I remembered enough of the book to know when danger was coming, but not always to whom and with what consequence. The movie does have murder, torture and mutilation (mostly off-screen), so I'd say definitely not for kids.

5) How to Train Your Dragon

Perhaps the most exciting and entertaining kids' movie since The Incredibles. It's a rousing and funny adventure involving vikings, dragons and self-actualization. What's not to love?

4) Inception

An exciting and brainy action movie that falls all the way down the rabbit hole. Recent interviews with director Chris Nolan and freeze-frame comparisons from the Blu-Ray now mitigate this take, but I was fairly sure after watching it that the film offered no objective frame of reference. But when the visuals and ideas are flying this fast, one can be forgiven for trying to get a grasp on its reality and just giving in to the fun.

3) Toy Story 3

A fantastic threequel. The film has energy, wit, visual creativity in spades and heart--all hallmarks of the Pixar brand. It's also surprisingly dark--think toys being forced to face the stark dread of existential annihilation. Ingmar Bergman with a rainbow palette, if that makes sense to anyone but me. And it's refreshingly poignant in a way that doesn't feel contrived within the Toy Story universe but also avoids asking you to care too much about possessed action figures.

2) The Social Network

Mike Radcliffe likes this. With enough rapid-fire dialogue to tire Bogart's tongue, a splash of chilled-heart cynicism and the color scheme of an autumnal sweater-wearing English Lit major whose favorite movies are Dead Poets Society and Rushmore, TSN is a dark American fable of careerist techno-prowess and Harvard campus social climbing. The "real" Mark Zuckerberg has derided it as tabloid journalism because it basically says he invented Facebook to get girls (and Jesse Eisenberg brilliantly portrays him as unlikeable dweeb). Everyone knows he's BSing because the site never would have made it off the ground if it weren't for its streamlining of digital connections between oppositely-sexed coeds. Just before the film's release he donated a zillion dollars to a failing New Jersey school system, a PR move that seems just as fake as the Facebook avatars composed of "Likes" and snapshots which his program facilitated and wrings billions of dollars of profit from.

1) Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

SPvtW captures the outsized feeling of personal romantic drama by scrawling the main character's inner world across the screen via the overblown visual signatures of video games and comic books. Michael Cera plays an even more restrained version of himself as Scott Pilgrim, a 22-yr old Canadian layabout and bassist who is caught between the too-young fangirl he's dating (a bubbly sprite of a teenager named "Knives Chau") and the mysterious and alluring girl of his dreams (a dyed-hair, alluring cool girl named "Ramona Flowers"). Pilgrim has to fight Flowers's emotional baggage one-by-one, Dragonball Z-style, in order to be with her and eventually has to own up to his own mistakes and fight as a matter of self-actualization and self-respect rather than trying to earn the respect of the women around him. I'll be the first to admit that romantic twenty-somethings weaned on Super Mario Bros./Duckhunt like myself are the target audience here and those not submerged in our rareified geek culture may not care. But for those of our digitally infused cerebra, SPvtW will have us selecting "Play Again" many times over.

*By contrast, in 2009 I loved Avatar, A Serious Man, District 9, Inglourious Basterds, Up and maybe some others I can't remember right now.

**Sadly, the Coen brothers' True Grit doesn't come out until the 22nd. I will be talking someone in Jacksonville into seeing it.

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