Monday, May 16, 2011

Best Movies of 2010

Better late than never, right? Normally I try to get this thing out by the Oscars, but this year has been crazy, and even when I've had free time, I've been too tired from work to write. So I apologize to the three of you who regularly read this blog.

It seems that every year people want to complain that "this was such a weak year for movies." As with every other time I hear this, I disagree. Maybe it's because I stay away from the moronic schlock that most critics are forced to slog through each year, but I've seen over 70 films this year and thoroughly enjoyed a majority of them.

There wasn't one or two stand out films in 2010 as there was in 2009 (Inglourious Basterds) or 2007 (No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood), but there were several films that made a lasting impression on me that I am sure I will number among my favorites of the decade in nine years. This year reminded me more of 2008, when there were several films that moved and enthralled me, almost equally (In Bruge, Let the Right One In, The Wrestler, Tell No One). As in 2008, I find it particularly hard to find an order for these films, but will try to present them in a way that reflects the impact each of these films had on me in the movie theater, whether bringing me to tears, leaving a huge smile on my face, or leaving me contemplating the film for days or even weeks later. These films encapsulate what it is I love about going to the movies, and what keeps we coming back week after week. These are the best films of 2010:

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order)








The Top Ten

This film certainly doesn't need my help to promulgate its greatness. Declared by many as film that defines the current zeitgeist, it was even garnished with comparisons to Orson Welles' masterpiece. While these claims are gross overstatements, I will acknowledge that it is a brilliantly written film, which is only enhanced by the pin-point precise direction of David Fincher. Jesse Eisenberg delivers Aaron Sorkin's lightning quick, witty dialog with a mix of charm and cool, making his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg quite a compelling anti-hero.

The young Aussie filmmaker David Michod wrote and directed this sprawling crime film that follows the demise of a family of bank robbers, mostly through the eyes of Josh, a newcomer to the group after his mother died. The dynamic between his uncles and his grandmother, the matriarch of this criminal family played very creepily by Jackie Weaver, is strange and even hints at incestuous. Guy Pearce also co-stars as a police detective who recognizes the innocence in Josh and tries to guide him to safety. Josh's journey is both treacherous and surprising, and as he struggles to survive in the midst of this war between his uncles and the violent crimes police squad, Animal Kingdom offers some of the most thrilling cinema of the year.

(8) 127 HOURS
Danny Boyle's thriller based on the true story of Aron Ralston's desperate fight for survival is a visual treat, as one would expect. What's amazing about 127 Hours is how he was able to fill this film about a guy with his arm stuck under a rock with such energy and lust for life that it made me want to be a better person. There's a scene when Aron, played charismatically and joyfully by James Franco, cries out "I need help!" For me it was such a poignant moment, a beautiful culmination to Danny's tribute to companionship and human connection.

Part of my love for this film comes from seeing it at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX. The atmosphere and the food were great, and watching a film like this with a theater full of cinema lovers is something I highly recommend. The film is a exercise in suspense and tension, with Coen-esque themes of people getting what's coming to them. This film doesn't leave me pondering any grand themes, but it was an adrenalin rush, pure excitement fused dread and style. The Edgerton brothers are a film making duo to watch out for.

I don't need to sell anyone on Pixar or the Toy Story franchise. It's probably the strongest trilogy since the original Star Wars trilogy, as far as quality throughout all three films. Toy Story 3 might be my favorite of the bunch. It's one of the best prison break movies you'll ever see, plus the humor is there as usual. More than that though, there were moments of pure emotion towards the end that were completely genuine, and thoroughly earned. It also proves that Pixar sequels being good was no fluke with Toy Story 2, and actually has me excited for Cars 2 and Monsters Inc. 2. If for some reason you haven't seen it, it's on Netflix Watch Instantly, so you officially have no more excuses, not that your other excuses were any good.

I wrote a lot about this film earlier this year, comparing it to Inception because of the shared themes of remorse and mental angst. Needless to say, I loved this film, because it stayed with me for so long after seeing it. I've heard it's actually much better the second time around with the full realization of Leo's character in mind, and I can't wait to catch up with it again on blu-ray. Unfortunately, its February release hurt it during the awards season, because this film deserved so much more acclaim than it received.

There is absolutely nothing more I can say about this film than has already been said by countless critics and bloggers. It earned over $100 million, won every award at the BAFTAs and most of the major Oscars. Because of its popularity, I've heard quite a bit of negativity towards it recently. Everyone acknowledges it is a good movie, but many have claimed that it shouldn't have won the Oscar, or that it was nowhere near as good as the The Social Network. While I preferred Black Swan to the other best picture nominees, of the front-runners, the Academy got it right with The King's Speech. When comparing the two films, the writing was just as good in the King's Speech, the acting was better, and overall the experience was more exhilarating. The King's Speech is probably the best feel-good movie of the past decade or more, and is worthy of all of the praise it received.

As I mentioned last year, Bong Joon-ho is among my favorite directors now, having delivered yet another excellent genre-defying film with great characters and an unpredictable plot. His tone is unique and affecting in a way that is rare among American film makers. I've been enjoying quite a bit of South Korean cinema over the last few years, and Bong Joon-ho is at the forefront. If you are unfamiliar with his films, I recommend seeing all four of them, but Memories of Murder in particular is an outstanding film. Mother is my second favorite of his films, and is available to watch on Netflix Watch Instantly.

I also wrote briefly about this film last year. It won the 2009 Oscar for best foreign language film, but sadly most people have still not seen it. The Secret in Their Eyes is a phenomenal film that deals with themes of love, revenge and justice in such a compelling manner as I have never seen before. If you are averse to subtitles, all I can say is you are missing out on so many great films. Watch a few really good foreign films, like this one, or Mother. You will get used to it, and you will thank me later.

Darren Aronofsky is one of the 3 or 4 most exciting directors working today. Black Swan, his follow-up to The Wrestler, features another artist who sacrifices their body for their art. This time, a ballerina named Nina, played "perfectly" by the wunderkind Natalie Portman. A prestigious ballet company is preparing to open the new season with a stripped down, visceral production of Swan Lake, whose plot the film cleverly mirrors throughout. Nina fully embodies the White Swan; pure, innocent, and childlike. Although technically second to none, the director, played by Vincent Cassel, pressures Nina to let herself go so that she can embody the sensual Black Swan. When Nina is awarded the role of Swan Queen, she begins a dark journey where she must face her oppressive mother, sexual repression, as well as her feelings of jealousy and inadequacy, as she strives for perfection. Clint Mansell's score is brilliantly interwoven with the music from Tchaikovsky to create a beautiful and haunting tapestry. The music not only compliments, but is completely integral to the film and its impact in the audience. Although the themes and methods in play are anything but subtle or original, the movie's balance of psychological horror and B-movie camp, mixed with Aronofsky's precise direction and vision, creates a singular and memorable theater going experience unlike any other this year.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Sunset Limited

I just finished part two of our Samuel L. Jackson double feature, beginning with MOTHER AND CHILD, and ending with the premiere of THE SUNSET LIMITED on HBO. The first film was very good, and certainly worth your time, but the second film deserves a slightly longer mention. Based on a play by Cormac McCarthy, THE SUNSET LIMITED ponders the existence of God, the state of humanity, and other weighty topics, as discussed between Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones. Cormac's dialogue doesn't just crackle, it detonates as it's delivered by these infinitely talented and experienced actors, each delivering tour de force performances. Jones plays a tired old professor, who attempts to commit suicide, and Jackson an ex-con who intercepts him at the last second. However, we see nothing of this event, only them talking about it in Jackson's dingy New York City apartment, right after the incident. Jackson, a jail-house convert, diligently shares his Christian faith with Jones, but Jones, who is much to intelligent for his own good, argues vehemently for his own pessimistic world view. The film itself doesn't seem to take sides, letting each man win and lose an argument or two. I certainly felt the pain and desperate persistence in Jackson as he battled for this man's life and soul, but at the same time I empathized with Jones' negative views on the nature of man and his dismal outlook on the future. Much like THE ROAD and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, this film left me thinking after the credits rolled, and to me, that's a sign of a good film, or at least a well written one. If you have HBO, you should definitely check it out. Might be a while before I see a better film in 2011.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

2011 Oscars

It's that time of year again, when I'm desperately trying to watch as many great films from a newly depleted year so I can have a respectable top 10 list. Even though I haven't had the opportunity to write many reviews this year, I have seen a ton of 2010 films (approximately 70, most of them good), and I look forward to writing about the best ones in more detail. As usual, my deadline is the Oscar ceremony, so I will have it done by then. I have yet to been able to place my favorite 2010 films in any kind of meaningful order. It's harder for me this year than its ever been for some reason, as there are 6 or 7 films I love almost equally.

Enough griping! Here's my take on the Oscar nominations, who I think will win, and who actually deserves to win. I will not comment on many of the "lesser" categories (Makeup, Visual Effects, Etc.), or a category for which I've seen less than half of the films (Documentary Feature, Short Film, etc.). Oh, and it might be helpful to have the list of nominations open in a different tab.

Music (Original Score)
I own three of the five soundtracks nominated, and will probably own all of them by Oscar night. While I loved the music in each of these films (How To Train Your Dragon, Inception, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, and The Social Network), John Powell's score for How to Train Your Dragon is a clear favorite for me. I sincerely think it's the best film score of its kind (that excludes Clint Mansell) in years. I listen to it all the time, and it never ceases to give me chills. This is my most pleasant surprise of the all of the Oscar nominations, and I'll be cheering for it hard come February 27th.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Of the nominees, I think the actress who should and will win is Hailey Steinfeld, although she certainly belongs in the leading actress category. She is in almost every scene of True Grit and carries the film, holding her own among some of the best actors working today. The ladies from The Fighter are both thoroughly entertaining in their roles, but Amy Adams' performance to me was much more believable in its subtly. I'm glad to see Jackie Weaver nominated for one of my favorite films of the year, Animal Kingdom, and while I did enjoy Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech, neither of these ladies stands a chance at the Oscar in my estimation.

Actor in a Supporting Role
This is a two race, but Christian Bale is ahead by a couple lengths. He completely steals the show in The Fighter. If you haven't seen this film yet, it's worth the $10 just for his performance alone. The second horse is Geoffrey Rush for his sensational turn in The King's Speech as King George VI's speech therapist. There will be plenty more mentioned of this film, as it leads the nominations with 12, and rightly so, as it is indeed one of the best films of the year. As for the rest, John Hawks (Winter's Bone), Jeremy Renner (The Town), and Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right) all deserve the nomination as much as anyone else this year, although I did love Nicholas Cage in Kick-Ass!

Actress in a Leading Role
I will start by saying I have not had the pleasure (misery?) of seeing Rabbit Hole or Blue Valentine, so I cannot comment on the performances of Nicole Kidman or Michelle Williams. My favorite performance of the group came from Natalie Portman, who I also think will win for her magnificent performance as a tormented ballerina in Black Swan. Jennifer Lawrence was pretty great in her break-out performance in Winter's Bone, a film that is tragically under-seen. Unfortunately the wrong actress was nominated from The Kids Are All Right. I found Julianne Moore's performance to be more multi-layered and believable than Annette Bening's one note, "tough guy" act. One performance I was not expecting to get nominated, but was hoping for, is Kim Hye-ja, the title character from Bong Joon-Ho's Mother. She is phenomenal, and carries the film like no other actress this year.

Actor in a Leading Role
Again, I'll lead with the caveat that I have not seen Javier Bardem's performance in Biutiful (nor have I seen any of the other Foreign Language Film nominations). Colin Firth is the front-runner here, and my favorite performance of the bunch. His role as "King George the Stammerer" in The King's Speech is such a treat to behold. James Franco is captivating in 127 Hours, but doesn't stand a chance here. The only men capable of pulling the upset on Oscar night are Jeff Bridges and Jesse Eisenberg for their roles in True Grit and The Social Network, respectively.

Writing (Adapted and Original)
It's getting late, so I'll keep it brief on this one. Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network is a lock for adapted, while I think David Seidler's The King's Speech should and will win original.

Animated Feature Film
Duh, it goes to the Pixar movie.

Let me start by addressing those who are tweeting things like, "Christopher Nolan could have done a decent job directing The King's Speech, but no one could have directed Inception but him!" This is truly an idiotic statement. It might be true that Nolan deserves a Directing nomination simply for making his script half-way intelligible on the screen, but to say that he could have directed The King's Speech... I'll just say that The King's Speech has more heart than all of Nolan's films put together. Was he snubbed? I'd say no, considering all of the directors that were nominated ended up with better films. In Nolan's defense, he deserved a nomination as much as James Cameron did last year for Avatar. As for the front runner in this category, I think it has to be Fincher, and I'd be happy with him, Aronofsky, or the Coens.

Best Picture
For your convenience, the nominated films are listed below:
Black Swan *
The Fighter *
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech *
127 Hours
The Social Network *
Toy Story 3
True Grit *
Winter's Bone
* These films would have been the nominees had there only been five (as there should be).
All of these films are pretty great, and 7 of them will likely be in my top 10. If there are any films I would have loved to see here, it's Animal Kingdom and Mother (rent them both!!), however, their absences are understandable considering how under-seen those films are. As for the front-runners, the The Social Network is in first, with The King's Speech in second and True Grit in third. Either of these films could win and it wouldn't surprise me, plus I'd be equally happy. If it was my vote, I'd probably give it to The King's Speech. It moved me in the best possible way, the way I hope to be moved each time I go to the theater. It's the feel good film of the year, with tremendous performances, and a great script and score.

Overall, I was very happy with the nominations, and look forward to the show as I do every year. I plan on having another great Oscar watching party, so if you read this, and that kind of thing interests you, you are welcome to join us!