Overall, I thought this was a pretty weak year for movie-going. There are a couple of films that will go down among my all-time favorites, but the quality dips significantly after the top 3 or 4. In fact, I really struggled to come up with a top 10, but here it is anyways.
10. The American
This was one of the most poorly marketed films of the year: the trailers and posters painted it as an action-packed spy thriller, but instead it's a moody, introspective piece about an assassin (George Clooney) who's pulled in for one last job. Clooney usually chews the scenery with his charm, but this is the opposite: he's quiet, grim, and determined. The pace is snail-like at times (I hope you like watching extended scenes of Clooney putting together guns!), but the cinenamatography is gorgeous. It loses points for having a very predictable plot, but the acting is strong, and hey, there's plenty of awesome female nudity as a bonus.
9. Iron Man 2
This was one of my most anticipated movies of the year, because I love the first one so much, but I couldn't help but feel a little letdown. There's still plenty to like: RDJ is insanely likeable as Tony Stark as always, the action scenes are exciting, Sam Rockwell is brilliant, and Scar-Jo wears a latex catsuit. Still, it feels like too much of a rehash of the first movie, and it's obvious the whole thing is basically a two-hour commercial for the Avengers movie. Bottom line: If you liked the first one, you'll probably still enjoy it.
8. Date Night
On paper, this looks like a rather insipid, formulaic comedy: married couple want more excitment in their lives, get caught up in some wacky hijinks, etc. However, Steve Carell and Tina Fey are two of the best comedic actors in Hollywood, and they really make it work. They have great chemistry, and their improv skills bring life to the script (seriously, check out the outtake/blooper reel; it's better than most of the movie). Add to that some great cameos by James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Mark Wahlberg, and you have a surprisingly strong, funny movie.
Every one knows that Pixar and Dreamworks animated movies have something to offer for all ages, but this is one of the first I've seen that doesn't seem like it would appeal to kids at all. The plot is simple: the villainous Megamind (Will Farrell) and superhero Metro Man (Brad Pitt) having been doing battle for years, but when Megamind finally gets what he wants and defeats Metro Man, he has a existential crisis and doesn't know what to do. Back to what I said earlier: there's not a whole lot of slapstick or bathroom humor that usually appeals to kids, but rather lots of subtle nods to comics and superheroes that would go right over their heads. That said, it is very funny, and is probably the best 3D movie I've seen yet, not to mention the stellar cast (which also includes Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, and David Cross).
6. Let Me In
Brad's probably going to crucify me for even liking this, but I don't care. I questioned the wisdom in remaking a foreign film that came out only a few years ago, but in this case it absolutely works. The Swedish film, Let The Right One In,
is the story of a young boy who befriends the new girl in the neighborhood, who is actually a 200 year-old vampire. Their friendship blossoms, but there might be something more sinister to it. It's a film that relies heavily on atmosphere and a subtle sense of dread. Luckily, nearly all of the elements that make it so great are left intact in the remake, which is set in Los Alamos, New Mexico in the 1980s. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Owen, while Chloe Moretz (who had one hell of a year) plays vampire Abby. The kids put in some great performances, and have good chemistry together. There were a few small things that are annoying, such as adding overly-dramatic music to scenes that were silent in the original, and the fact that Abby's attacks were enhanced with CGI to make her look faster. Overall, though, it's extremely faithful to Let The Right One In
, and is sure to go down as one of the best remakes ever.
5. How To Train Your Dragon
There was no shortage of great animated films this year, and for once Dreamworks is putting out films of a quality that rival Pixar. How To Train Your Dragon
might be the company's finest work yet. It follows a young viking named Hiccup who is pressured by his father to be a fearsome dragon slayer. When he finally manages to catch one, he feels sorry and, well, trains it. The themes explored are pretty standard (loyalty, bravery, friendship), but it has a lot of heart. The visuals are stunning, and the flying sequences are breathtaking. This is one I really wish I'd seen in 3D. I usually dislike anthropomorphic animals in these kinds of movies, but Toothless the dragon has a charming personality without seeming too human. The most fun part of the movie is the descriptions of the different kinds of dragons. While the voice acting is somewhat subpar and lesser known than similar movies, it's still a very entertaining and fun film that everyone can enjoy.
4. Toy Story 3
The way Pixar has constructed the Toy Story franchise is really nothing short of brilliant. The first one was released 15 years ago (!!), and so many children who saw it when it was first released have literally grow up with it as the subsequent sequels have come out. In the third installment, Woody and the gang are struggling with Andy's imminent move to college, and they wind up mistakenly being donated to a preschool. Most of the toys accept their new life, but Woody wants to follow his owner. As they decide what to do, they clash with the leader of the preschool toys, Lotso the Bear (Ned Beatty). As usual, there are plenty of great gags, mostly provided by newcomers Barbie and Ken (Michael Keaton, who does a magnificent job). The second half of the film is as emotional as perhaps any Pixar film as been, and the poignant moments really are wonderful. It's unclear whether there will be another Toy Story
, but if there isn't, this is a fantastic conclusion, and a great part of the Pixar legacy.
Christopher Nolan's latest opus was easily the most talked about, debated, and anticipated film of the year, and I think it absolutely lived up to the hype. Pretty much everyone knows the plot, so I won't waste time on that, suffice to say that it was an extremely well-executed, interesting, and (mostly) original story. The movie creates a world full of mind-bending visuals, thrilling action, and details that make a big difference in your perception of the story. The ending, of course, is what everyone has been talking about, and it's masterfully done. It's a "fuck you" to the audience, sure, but in a good way. In the end, though, it's almost pointless to debate it, because it's left so wide-open that there is no "right answer," and in that sense Nolan did a great job. My only complaint about the film, and the only thing that keeps it from being my #1, is that the acting is rather uninteresting. Leo DiCaprio has been better, Ellen Page's talents are wasted by burdening her all of the expository dialog, and the rest of the cast doesn't have to do a lot of acting at all. Joseph Gordon Levitt is an exception, but maybe I'm biased because he's one of my favorite actors right now. His gravity-defying hallway action sequence is the highlight of the film, and it's made even more impressive by the fact that almost no computer effects were used. If you were living under a rock this year and somehow skipped this movie, you're missing out. Even for a director with so many excellent films under his belt, this is a standout.
2. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
I don't think there are a lot of comedies that perfectly reflect my generation (Mean Girls
?), but this is one of them. It's the perfect ode to everyone who grew up with NES systems and comic books, and throws in some twenty-something angst to boot. Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is a bored, unemployed Canadian who plays bass in a crappy band and starts dating a high schooler, to the chagrin of his bandmates and friends. Soon he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the girl of his dreams, but there's a problem. In order to date her, he has to defeat her seven evil exes in battle. Directed by the brilliant Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead
, Hot Fuzz
), it's filled with colorful, arcade game-inspired action sequences. It's also the funniest movie of the year, mostly because of its brilliant supporting cast, which includes Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Brandon Routh, and Kieran Culkin (who is absolutely hilarious as Scott's gay roommate). The movie is filled with some of Wright's trademarks: call-backs, running gags, and quick edits/cuts used to comedic effect. I have a feeling that a large number of people will skip this because they don't like Michael Cera, but they do so at their own peril. Not only is Cera's awkwardness perfect for the role, but they'd be missing out on a hysterical, entertaining movie.
Ah, here we are at #1. Inception
may have been the best-directed and most dazzling movie of 2010, but nothing else this year was nearly as fun as Kick-Ass
. Not only is it my favorite movie of the year, but it's also my second favorite comic book film ever (after The Dark Knight
, naturally) and quite honestly one of my favorites of all time. It's supposed to be a story about a gawky teen who wants to be a superhero, but it's quickly stolen by a foul-mouthed, purple-haired demon who also happens to be 11 years old. More on her in a minute. It starts off kind of like a more vulgar, low budget Spiderman
: Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is bored, decides to be a superhero, buys a wet suit, and names himself Kick-Ass. He quickly gets in over his head and has the living shit beat out of him, but he's rescued by the much more competent father-daughter duo of Hit-Girl and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage). Hit-Girl (played masterfully by Chloe Moretz) is a bloodthirsty, pint-sized assassin who enters the movie by viciously slaughtering bad guys and calls them "cunts" while a punk version of "The Banana Splits Theme" blares. It's one of the best and funniest character introductions ever, and instantly sets the mood for the rest of the movie. Hit-Girl's action sequences are the absolute highlight of the movie, especially a thrilling scene involving strobe lights and night vision, which is one of the most exciting fight scenes I've ever seen. It's still a movie about Kick-Ass and his fight to simply stay alive, but Hit-Girl is the star. This movie could have easily been a disaster (the comic it's based on is pretty much crap), but director Matthew Vaughn pulls it off and makes it so that it's a much better made film than it perhaps deserves to be. He tweaks the storyline to give it some much needed heart and emotion, and manages to make the movie look fantastic with a low budget. The movie continually ramps up until the last 45 minutes, where it delves into maniacal, delightful insanity for the climax. Of course, there are great performances in the supporting cast, too: Mark Strong is hilarious as mob boss Frank DiMico, and Nicolas Cage is given full reign to be as batshit crazy as he wants as Big Daddy. This movie won't be for everyone: some will be offended by idea of a murderous pre-teen, and others will think it's simply too over-the-top. But for a select few (like me), it's a perfect blast of infectious fun and violence. Sadly, it bombed at the box office, but I can easily see this becoming a future cult classic.
Movies I haven't seen yet, but probably would have made making this list easier:
The Social Network, The Town, Despicable Me, Black Swan, True Grit
I'll do the TV part later, that took forever