Wednesday, May 12, 2010

2010 So Far

As of today I've only seen fifteen 2010 films so far, but I have enjoyed every one of them to some extent. Here is a sentence or two on each film, starting with the film I enjoyed the least and ending with my favorite of the year thus far. That said, I do reserve the right to change my mind before the end of the year!

Hot Tub Time Machine
While mildly enjoyable and funny, I was pretty surprised to see the largely positive critical reception this movie received. It is exactly what it looks like: a raunchy 'R' rated comedy with an 1980's theme. The characters are razor thin and the plot doesn't go anywhere meaningful or rewarding in any way. The best part of the film is a running gag involving a character who has one arm in the present day and two arms in the 1980's. Watching Rob Corddry's character anticipate the severing of the limb is quite funny. It was good for a night out with the guys, but that's about as far as I'd try to sell Hot Tub Time Machine.

I was really looking forward to this latest effort from Noah Baumbach as I am a huge fan of his 2005 film The Squid and the Whale. Greenberg features some incredible, honest performances from Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig, but not much else. The story centers on a lonely, bitter, 40-year-old man who comes to LA to house-sit for his brother and "just do nothing for a while" after having a nervous breakdown. This could have been a more interesting character study if there had been any redeeming qualities in this character to latch onto. As there were not, this film keeps the audience at a distance and removes any chance of us connecting with the movie, just as Roger Greenberg can't connect with people.

This is what it is. A nature doc featuring the ocean and the life within. Extraordinary footage of the most famous monsters of the deep and some you've never seen. I prefer Earth because I seem to remember there being more of a narrative through-line, however, both films are great for what they are.

The Book of Eli
This latest movie from Denzel Washington is an interesting take on the post-apocalyptic genre featuring more of a western theme. Denzel is the main reason to see this, as he elevates whatever movie he's in, and the action scenes. The story isn't bad either, and while the twist is a bit far fetched, it's still pretty cool and I'm really glad that it went where it did as opposed to the alternative. Sorry for the vagueness, but it's worth not spoiling.

The Edge of Darkness
The return of the Mel. I love Mel Gibson, so I was cautiously hoping this film would be good. While this is based on a complex political thriller mini-series from Great Britain, the film seems to get bogged down a little in the plot details, probably because it doesn't have the time to treat the story with the care and detail of the series. Where this movie works is when Mel stops being a careful detective and starts being a pissed off dad taking revenge for his daughter's murder. He is true to form and I look forward to his next project, whether acting or directing.

Iron Man 2
This film barely missed my top ten most anticipated films of 2010 list, mostly because I didn't think it could live up to the fantastic romp that was Iron Man. Well, it didn't live up to it, but it was a lot of fun. Robert Downey, Jr. is hilarious and Sam Rockwell is awkward and simply terrific as Tony Stark's arms dealing competitor. While it could have been better, the lack of Batman's self-seriousness serves this franchise well.

Sita Sings the Blues
I found this film thanks to Rotten Tomatoes, as it's one of two 2010 films currently at 100% (with at least 20 reviews). This film is a strange breed of animated musical featuring songs recorded in the 1920s by Annette Hanshaw. The animation is simplistic and charming and the story switches between a modern day couple and a classic Indian tale of Ramayana, along with some hilarious narrators. It's available on Netflix Watch Instantly, so no excuse not to check this one out.

How to Train Your Dragon
This has been referred to by many as the film that does 3D flying sequences better than Avatar. I loved it for the amazing score (which I listen to constantly) and the great story about a boy and his dragon. There are several emotional moments that get me every time. Truly one of the better animated films made in the past few years.

Fish Tank
This is a gritty slice-of-life film about a teen-age girl living in a rough neighborhood in England. The performances from the lead actress, Katie Jarvis, and the great Michael Fassbender are incredibly substantive, mournful, and believable. There are certainly moments towards the end that delve into some unfortunate stereotypical story elements, but overall this film is fantastic and well worth seeing. I was able to catch it on IFC In Theaters On Demand.

Un Prophete
Essentially A Prophet is a prison film in which we follow a young man through his 6 year prison sentence. Early on he is chosen by the Corsican mafia for a job, involving the murder of a fellow prisoner. The scenes leading up to this assassination and the murder itself are some of the most gut-wrenching, tense moments in any film I've seen in a while. The overall film is long and expansive with a lot going on; I'd really like to see it again. Having drawn comparisons to The Godfather, my expectations might have been unattainably high; however, this film was certainly worthy of the Oscar nomination last year for Best Foreign Film.

The Ghost Writer
Roman Polanski's latest film is a case of art imitating life, as it centers around a man who is living on foreign soil to avoid inevitable arrest upon return to his home country. In the film, the man is a former Prime Minister of Great Britain, played brilliantly by Pierce Brosnan, who is wanted for war crimes. Ewen McGregor plays the ghost writer hired to help write his memoirs. The murder mystery and political thriller that ensues is tight, efficient, and masterfully told.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Based on a popular series of Swedish novels, this film delivers a very graphic cold-case murder mystery with two very different protagonists that compliment each other, but in completely non-traditional fashion. The man is a journalist hired to investigate the disappearance of a young woman 40 years prior, while he awaits his prison sentence after being found guilty of libel against a very powerful businessman. The girl with the tattoo in question is an expert hacker with a troubled past to say the least. She also has some pretty sever problems in the present, which lead to some cringe inducing scenes of sexual violence. I found the mystery of it all to be quite enthralling, but most compelling was the character of the girl, which I simply can't wait to see in the final two films. Of course this films are already schedule for an American remake... As much as I love David Fincher, this trend of unnecessary American remakes of recently released foreign films has me extremely disheartened and perturbed at Hollywood.

Shutter Island
From the master Martin Scorsese comes this film noir horror film set on an island based insane asylum. With an incredible performance from Leo DiCaprio, this film will likely keep you guessing until the end, but even if you guess the ending correctly, the experience is still rewarding. It's a joy to watch Scorsese at play with these creepy set pieces and genre conventions, all while exploring heavy themes of guilt and atonement. While some of the sequences seem to meander, there are a few scenes that are so stark and harrowing I found it hard to breathe for their duration. It's not the best work we've seen from living legend, but it certainly is a notable achievement.

This film was pure, crazy, fun. Was it tonally all over the place? Yes. Did it turn into the movie it was initially parodying? Absolutely. Did that affect my enjoyment of the film at all? Nope. Not one, little, bit. As one of my most anticipated films of the year, my expectations were high, but director Matthew Vaughn was up to the challenge. There were so many crazy moments in this film, including some insane acting from Nic Cage and the most violent, vulgar 11 year-old girl you've ever seen on film. The over-the-top moments are balanced to some extent by great character writing and some heavy scenes with some emotional heft. The critical response has been very mixed and seems that this is a true "love it or hate it" movie. Now you know where I stand.

The Square
I am a firm believer in the theory that the circumstances under which you see a film greatly influences your perception and overall enjoyment of the film. I saw this little Australian flick, from Nash and Joel Edgerton, under the best of circumstances. My wife and I finally got a chance to visit the Alamo Drafthouse (S. Lamar) in Austin, TX. Everything about this theater is awesome, from the food to the leg room to the pre-trailers entertainment. Once the film started we were treated with a short film from the same director, Nash Edgerton, titled Spider. This 9 minute film has one of the most insane pay-off moments I've ever seen, and it totally set the tone for the feature film, The Square. The basic premise is that a man is having an affair with a woman who finds an opportunity for them to run away and be together. Once she convinces the man to do it, everything starts to go wrong. This film has been compared to the early work of the Coen brothers, which is high praise, yet deserved praise. This movie does not give you a chance to breathe, and just when you think it couldn't possibly get any worse... you guessed it. Brilliant acting, directing, and film making all around.

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