Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My 10 Favorite Movies of 2010 (So Far)

Or, even more unwieldy, My 10 Favorite Movies of 2010 That I Managed to Actually See Before the End of 2010.

Since cash is extremely limited, I don't ever get out to the cinema anymore (not once in 2010). It's the reason I always do my list of 25 favorite things in the films of any given year. But since I saw less new movies than ever, I decided to change that list to encompass all of pop culture (I'll get to that on, I think, Thursday). So today I'm just doing this list of the 10 best 2010 movies I saw in 2010.

10. Kick Ass
The brilliance of Matthew Vaughn's flick is that he takes a comic book story that was incredibly ridiculous and took it even further over the top. Because what's the point of not going full charge on something this silly? Yes, in the end it glorifies the adolescent power fantasies that comic books are really all about, but who cares? It was just so much damn fun. Acting-wise, I especially have to hand it to Chloe Moretz, whose energy makes Hit Girl a fun variation on the Harajuku and Lolita cliches, and Nicolas Cage, who does a (purposely) hilariously bad Adam West when he's in costume.

9. Toy Story 3
A story of loyalty and maturation caps off with maybe a little too much manipulative sentiment, but also a beautiful reminder that one can let go and keep memories alive, and that maybe they can both be the same thing. One day, I'll have to sit and watch the entire trilogy in one go.

8. Piranha 3D
Pretty much for the same reason I loved Kick Ass: it knows what it is, has fun with it, and revels in its excesses. It's a goofy, bloody horror flick with kids in peril and creative gore and silly scientific explanations and copious amounts of nudity from extremely beautiful women. After seeing horror film upon horror film that either apologizes for being what it is and overcompensates by trying too hard to be cerebral, or turns things into a clinical film about how bodies are eviscerated, it's so refreshing to see one embrace its origins so unapologetically.

7. Shutter Island
Martin Scorsese makes the biggest movie Val Lewton never did. Leonardo DiCaprio is great as a police detective running from his past while attempting to solve a disappearance in an isolated mental hospital, and it's engrossing to watch the layers peel back against some of the best art direction and production design I've seen in a movie this year. Here we have grand emotions and uncertainty, enveloped by deep shadows, with cinematographer Robert Richardson's signature overhead lights only making the shadows deeper. This movie is a joy to look at; the Gothic setting is practically a character in the film, becoming more and more forbidding and oppressive until the inevitable conclusion. My favorite Scorsese movie of the past 10 years.

6. The Ghost Writer
Another engrossing thriller, this one by Roman Polanski, and very much in a Hitchcockian vein. A smart, well-acted movie, the kind of thriller that depends on a last minute twist, and it's a good one (and the last shot is excellent). This is the first Polanski film made in a long time that really feels like Roman is firing on all cylinders.

5. Easy A
A smart high school comedy about rumor, perception, and popularity. Every few years we get a comedy about teenagers that's actually smart and feels like it's about characters instead of jokes about fashion; this one fits in among Clueless and Mean Girls, and Emma Stone is just as appealing and fresh here as Alicia Silverstone and Lindsay Lohan were in those movies (which, given what happened to their careers, might be bad news for Emma Stone...). It's a very easy movie to like--all of the actors make sure of that--but just because it's a likable comedy, the fact that it's also a very sharp and observant one shouldn't be overlooked.

4. Death at a Funeral
Another sharp comedy with a surprisingly good ensemble, even if the leads (Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence) are actors that I don't particularly like. I know this is a remake of a British movie (which I've still not seen), and therefore I'm not supposed to like or am supposed to acknowledge that this film's real strength is that it was so well-written the first time around, but I don't really care. To me, it's like another production of a play, and the cast and direction add a lot. My enjoyment was genuine, so what do I care?

3. The Social Network
A brilliant sociopath removes himself from the need to socially interact by streamlining friendship into a virtual experience. The human center of this movie is Andrew Garfield's hurt performance as Eduardo Saverin, a man whose softness and capacity for human feeling is his undoing in a business environment run by sleazy hustlers and men without feelings.

2. How to Train Your Dragon
The most impressive and most involving animated feature of 2010. I think I responded to it so much because it's a film about understanding. All of the aspects of the film--the need for acceptance, the tentative building of a friendship, communal progress, the danger of clinging to perceptions--are met not with unearned triumph, but with moments of understanding. That's special and, in animation, still fairly rare. It's not simplified into "she wants to be more than she is" or "he wants to find a place where he belongs," but built upon with genuine feeling (and still manages to have fun along the way). And I can't discount Toothless the Dragon, a Miyazaki-esque Chris Sanders creation of very believable fantasy.

1. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
The most purely cinematic and enjoyable movie I saw this year. The grand drama of young love, played out in the visual and aural language of video games, comic books and cartoons. In its way, it's something of a perfect statement about young people today and how they relate to life through bits and pieces of pop culture. But it's also just a really fun, flawless movie that picks you up and does not let you go until it reaches an end. Fantastic.


Kal said...

Your movie revies are some of the best things you post about (and that is high praise believe me because all your stuff wows me).

I totally agree with you that the higher the film concept and the goofier it looks on paper, the more you have to go 'full retard' on the screen. That pays off more times than you think and I can give many examples (Ghostbusters?). Give the audience something that shocks and amazes them - that they have never seen before (Hit Girl cutting through a crowd of killers and actually BEATING them - wow) and they will eat it up with a spoon. After that word of mouth praise alone will double your profits easy. It's just so simple but in over 100 years maybe one-tenth of movie makers get that.

I really am enjoying 'rediscovering' DiCaprio who once I hated (Titanic) but who has grown into an actor that may be the most brilliant of his generation. 'Blood Diamond' alone gives him a lifetime pass for other movie sins from me.

I loved the 'gothic noir' look of 'Shutter Island. That alone would be enough but you add performances and writing that are even BETTER and are not swallowed up by the look of the film and you have something great.

'Dragon' was on my top ten too. The sheer relief that they didn't give 'Toothless' the voice of someone like Chris Tucker and let his face and body do all the communication it needed was the best thing in a truly great animated feature. I actually taught one of the most valuable lessons in life that you can impart to a child while still thrilling the child inside every adult who saw it.

Great post. You make a guy 'have' to do a comment as big as this one. It would be the conversation we would be having if we were real life friends.

Thanks for never forcing me to finish your sentences in my head. I do that with so many thing already.

Anonymous said...

What does it say about my misprision of the opening of Toy Story 3 as:

"A story of loyalty and masturbation...."

MC said...

I love how a number of people (including myself and yourself) have said that Scott Pilgrim is basically a movie made specifically for them.

SamuraiFrog said...

Kal: Aw, thanks, man.

One of my favorite aspects of Toothless is how much he seems to be based on a cat. The stalk, the curiosity, the expectant sitting... basing his personality off of an actual animal made him seem so instantly real.

Phillip: Seems like an easy mistake. Woody rules the bedroom until he gets too old and floppy, and then a new, battery-operated Buzz takes over? Yeah, there's something going on there...

MC: Becca, too; it was the only movie we've watched in the last year that she just couldn't take her eyes off of.

I think the fact that it sort of underwhelmed at the box office makes it feel more like a secret, or a cult.

Johnny Yen said...

Wow-- the only one of those I saw was Toy Story 3, though I did want to see "Death At A Funeral."

Watching Toy Story 3 with my son, whose childhood has been entirely encompassed by the Toy Story movies was pretty emotional. He's getting ready to finish high school and go to college. I suspect I wasn't the only grown-up in the theater getting teary-eyed at the ending.

SamuraiFrog said...

I certainly was just watching it at home.