Thursday, January 06, 2011

Movies I Saw in 2010 (my top 10 list)

During 2010 I saw 41 movies in general release. I also saw some films at the Seattle International Film Festival that either didn’t get distribution or went straight to video. The two notable films in this category would be “A Little Help” starring Jenna Fisher and written and directed by Michael J. Weithorn, the creator of the TV show ‘The King of Queens’ and Robo-Geisha. The first film is really good and would probably be in my top ten if it had been in general release. The second film is pure camp and worth picking up on DVD if you see it. There are many films from this year that I haven’t seen and will probably see in 2011 that would probably make my list. Movies like Winter’s Bone and The Illusionist are high on my list to see but since I haven’t seen them yet, I can’t include them (or others) here. The list is divided into three sections: the top 10; in the order that I liked them, the middle 27; in alphabetical order, and the bottom four: with the last film being the one I liked the least.

1. Inception
2. True Grit
3. Kick-Ass
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
5. The Fighter
6. Get Low
7. The Extra Man
8. Black Swan
9. Toy Story 3
10. Tron: Legacy

My number one film of the year, Inception, still comes back to haunt my thoughts. I can see myself watching that over and over to see the nuances of how Chris Nolan is messing with my head. I liked the acting in this movie and without good solid performances the story and the puzzle would not have been able to be the big star of the movie. Other movies in my top ten are more character driven but still I think only about half the movies on my list will be serious contenders for any Academy Awards. That can go off into another discussion of ‘What is an Oscar worthy performance?’ and did Michael Cera give us that in ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World?’

I liked ‘The Fighter’ better than I thought I would. I’ve compared the film to ‘Secretariat’ as a similar sports-quest film but that ‘The Fighter’ is good. In ‘The Fighter’ Micky Ward must choose between the family that means him well but can’t get him to the next level and his talent and desire to be the best at boxing. There was a similar conflict in ‘Secretariat’ with Penny Chenery fighting against the expectations of a woman in the early seventies to realize the potential of her horse. Ward’s struggle is at the center of ‘The Fighter’ while Chenery’s is barely in the film. Secretariat is so focused on the horse that the real story of the woman that made it possible is sidelined and marginalized. John Tweedy, Chenery’s youngest son, admits as much while commenting on Roger Ebert’s blog about the film ( ). To my mind, those struggles would have made a better film set against the backdrop of one of the greatest horses of the early seventies.

The inclusion of Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim and Tron in my top ten are purely because I liked them and I have a soft spot for SF genre films. But I would argue that each of these films also has deeper stories and issues being presented than might be evident from the flash and movement these films also provide.

‘Kick-Ass’ has an interesting discussion about the nature of violence in our mediated society. The contrast between the realism of the violence Kick-Ass suffers and the hyperbolic comic-book violence dealt out by Hit Girl comments directly on how we perceive violence and how it is presented in the media. A darker character driven piece looking at the damage that Hit-Girl’s upbringing would have on her as she had to deal with society would have been nice but not in keeping with the comedy vs. tragedy focus of the story.

Scott Pilgrim deals with the baggage we all bring into relationships, whether we acknowledge it or not. As Scott deals with Ramona Flowers baggage, through the seven evil exes, he discovers and is faced with his own baggage and how that keeps him from moving forward in a meaningful way.

And Tron is another thinking person’s comic flick; like Ang Le’s Hulk which I liked but much of the comic world did not. The relationship between Flynn’s son and the two versions of Flynn battling it out in a stylized cyberspace and the actions and inactions of each character creates a yin and yang that drives the story to its conclusion. It’s not the best movie of the year but I found it a thoughtful mix of genre action and compelling storytelling.

After the 27 movies in the middle there are four movies that stand out as bad.

Two are bad as otherwise functional movies that go sideways at the end in ways that just aren’t justified by what has come before. These are ‘Takers’ and ‘The Last Exorcism.’ Both movies were PG-13 but The Last Exorcism also suffered from trying too hard to go near subjects that would normally get an R rating but pulling back in what was a very artificial way to keep the lower (and presumably more profitable PG-13). Since Takers was primarily an action thriller, the film gave lots of movement with some less than realistic violence to keep its PG-13.

Both movies failed for me but not as much as 'Jonah Hex' or 'Paranormal Activity 2.' Jonah Hex was primarily disappointing because it wasted my time with a stupid story when the source material was rich enough to provide something much better. Done correctly the source material for Jonah Hex could provide a story as rich as True Grit. The film makers chose to do the exact opposite and we were left with a steaming pile of wasted time. Speaking of wasted time, no movie wasted my time in a more boring and eventually unsatisfying way than Paranormal Activity 2. The buildup was so long and the payoff was so weak and the story was saddled with the constraints of the “found footage” genre made popular with the original Blair Witch Project that what was seen on the screen could not even be made fun of. That’s right; Paranormal Activity 2 is a movie so bad you can’t even make fun of it.

As a coda to the year’s movies, I just saw 'Somewhere'; the new Sophia Coppola film with Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning. I’m not sure what I think about it yet (probably needs another viewing). I think I know what Coppola was doing with the film but I’m still not sure if it worked for me. I did like Elle Fanning in the movie and am interested to see what choices she makes as she goes through teen and adult roles.

Here’s my list of 27 movies that aren’t in the top ten or bottom 4

Alice in Wonderland
Clash of the Titans
Despicable Me
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
Hot Tub Time Machine
How to Train Your Dragon
Iron Man 2
Knight and Day
Let Me In
Letters to Father Jacob
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Rabbit Hole
She’s Out of My League
Shrek Forever After
The Kids Are All Right
The Last Airbender
The Other Guys
The Runaways
The Social Network
The Spy Next Door
Vampires Suck

And here are the Bottom four; the dregs of what I saw in 2010

4. Takers
3. The Last Exorcism
2. Jonah Hex
1. Paranormal Activity 2