Thursday, February 17, 2011

Movies 2010

First, the usual disclaimers;

I am a HUGE fan of movies, but only somewhat of a fan of films. Movies have stuff exploding, thunderous scores, bare breasts, and all around mayhem for it's own sake. Films have the sad clown of life and often look like they were shot in a broom closet.

Both movies and films can affect you deeply, but only the first has the spectacle that I fell in love with (the opening shot of Star Wars) when I was 7 years old.

Also, I don't get out much these days; the only reason I can come up with 10 movies on this list is because of Netflix and the occasional screener I pick up from work.

Here my top ten favorite movies of 2010.

10. Alice in Wonderland.

Screw the haters- jaded film critics and film snobs alike who just don't get Burton's work. Movie lovers do, though not necessarily on a conscious level. I've said it before, but it bears repeating - Tim Burton's art taps into the primal core of humanity; he uses imagery and pantomime to reveal soul stirring portraits of the human psyche. Dialogue isn't a primary or even secondary component of his work; so in the eyes of "intellectuals" his films are often seen as simplistic or heartless. I'll concede the latter to a point, because his characters are often simple archetypes, there is typically an absence of deep emotional resonance on the surface of the stories; but these movies stick in your brain long after the lights have come up, and I often find myself pondering the deeper matters that lie within, days or weeks later.

Such is the case with the visual feast that is Alice In Wonderland. In every way it is an old fashioned morality / fairy tale, but it is also a girl power epic. Neither a remake nor a re-imagining, this is much more of a continuation of where we left off, truly a sequel to the Disney animated feature. There is a reason this movie pulled in a billion (that is, with a "B") dollars solely on it's theatrical run, it is a modern classic.

9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

My favorite book in the series is my third favorite film out of 7 so far. Only Azkaban and Phoenix have done it better, and this one could still exceed them both if the second half (which comes out this summer) matches the first in quality.

School is over and the kids are gone - all that remains are three terrified young adults in the throes of everlasting evil. I was on the edge of my seat from the first frame to the last in this very strong offering from writer Kloves and director Gates. All three leads very much know what they are doing by now, and as usual the supporting cast is an endless string of greatest hits from the British acting all-star team.

If you don't know of or care for Harry Potter, this one is a miss - but if you are at all intrigued by J.K. Rowling's world, this is a must see.

8. Tron: Legacy

Okay, okay, this is a fairly mediocre film - but it is a very good movie, made EXCELLENT if you were 12 when the first one came out.

I remember enjoying the original, but I was never a huge fan. Still, when it came out, it was a bit of an event. And this new one gave me that feeling and more. All of the sudden, I felt like a kid again, in the face of overwhelming visuals, a powerful score and a surprisingly tight story that only meandered occasionally. Unlike the first movie, which is, to be kind, sloppy and slow. This one kicked ass in more than a few sequences, and I can't wait to see it again.

7. Despicable Me

2010, even more than 2008 (which was an amazing year for animated movies) is THE year of animation, as you will see as you read on down this list.

Despicable Me is an absolute delight, gorgeously animated with a good use of 3D gags that enhance the experience rather than distract from it - it also, more importantly, has a huge heart to go along with all the bells and whistles of great gags and genuinely funny slapstick and dialogue.

As the daddy of a little girl, I couldn't help but be moved at the bond forged between the lead "villian" and the three orphans. Everything works, everything clicks - like the best Pixar movies, every piece fits; and you are left satisfied with a spring in your step as you exit.

6. Tangled

Just when you think Disney Feature Animation had completely lost it's touch, there was a glimmer of hope with last years enjoyable "Princess and the Frog" and then - this year, the first home run in a long, long while.

"Tangled" is majestic, and another girl power winner. The songs (yes, Disney finally did a great musical again) are better than good (unlike PATF, where the music was passable) and the movie is truly stirring. Best of all here, the comedy is actually pretty darn funny. Disney had long been passed by Pixar and even Dreamworks in this department, and it's great to see a return to Lion King form.

Sumptuously animated and magnificently directed, "Tangled", is one for the ages that I look forward to watching endlessly with my little girl.

5. Kick Ass

And this is one I won't be sharing with my kid, at least not until she's well into her teens.

Kick Ass, does just that. It is surprising, shockingly violent, and perhaps the most original action flick in a decade.

Every action sequence is shot differently, and each vignette has something new to offer. Best of all, beneath it's harsh language and even harsher gore is a righteous, even sanctimonious morality play; brought to bear in the form of a little girl who wields her wrath like an angel of death sent from the heavens to smite evil. Can you guess why I love this movie?

4. Toy Story 3

Another grand slam from Pixar. I'm a huge, huge, HUGE fan of the first to Toy Story movies, and this one might be the best of them all.

I actually wrote a full review here but if you don't feel like reading all that, suffice it to say - this one has all the pathos and uplift that you'd expect from Pixar. They are still batting 1000.

3. Inception

Just saw this the other night, and my brain is still reeling. Chris Nolan is one of the premiere film makers of the last decade, and along with Cameron and Spielberg, will probably end up making the Mount Rushmore of great movie makers of the early 21st century.

It has heart, it has mind blowing effects and great performances. But best of all, it really takes us someplace new, which is so rare these days (as movie geeks know that all the best stories were told by 1986 or so).

This is one I must see again, and fast! Plus, I can't wait for the behind the scenes docs and commentary, as the story is so dense and there is so much that I know I missed.

2. True Grit

I'm not a fan of remakes, especially when the originals are classics. Happy to say though, thanks to the Cohen brothers and a little girl named Hallie, this version of True Grit blows the one with John Wayne away.

This is a genuinely old fashioned film, but it feels fresh and overwhelming in it's scope and emotional resonance.

Hallie Stienfeld is a 13 year old tour de force who carries the film, appearing in every scene and almost every frame, save for the gorgeous second unit work.

Like in all of the very best westerns, in True Grit, I really felt transported to another time and place. And this was a place that was full of fascinating people and imagery.

Plus, as with all the movies that I fall in love with, there was so much going on here on a deeper level. Like "Kick Ass", True Grit is a morality play of the highest order - a tale of righteous revenge and redemption. To me, it approaches the very pinnacle of powerful movie making.

1. How to Train Your Dragon

This one was a total surprise to me. Not a surprise that I loved it, Dreamworks proved two years ago that they can make great animated films when they produced "Kung Fu Panda" - but a surprise that it would end up at the top of my list. Better than "True Grit"? Better than "Toy Story 3"? Really?

Well, maybe not better. But of all the movies I loved in 2010, this one, the simple tale of a boy and a girl and a dragon - is the one that I've found stirs my soul the most.

You really have to see it, to get it - but I think I can sum it up by saying it combines the best of both worlds perfectly; the movie with it's bombast and spectacle, and the film with it's heart and passion.

Dreamworks has finally out-Pixar'd Pixar. "Dragon" soars this year like no other.

Honorable Mentions -

Other movies that I really liked;

Machete - All the gore and violence of Kick-Ass, but instead of a fresh take, this is another Grindhouse send-up. Still love it.

The Social Network - Liked it very, very much. The critics had my expectations way too high though, I wanted more in the subtext and "bigger message" departments. Still, I have to see this again.

Black Swan - Often great, sometimes transcendent. Very derivative. I've seen this story many times before, and better in much older European movies. Still, I was never bored.

The King's Speech - Very moving and the perfect Oscar bait. A little too perfect.

Megamind - What can I say, in many other years this would make my top ten, but animation is just simply too strong these days. Very fun and touching.

My big disappointment:

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - how can a movie with incredible visuals and a cute, spunky girl heroine (one of my favorite things in the entire movie world) be dull? This one pulls it off.

Ones I really want to see:

The Town
The Kids are Alright
127 Hours

All in all, a pretty good year for the movies. I don't know how animation can get any stronger at this point - here's hoping that Cars 2 is better than the trailer.

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