It’s that time of year again; time to look back on the year passed and recognize the best of the best. It seems every year we complain the crop of movies isn’t up to par, but then the time to compile a list of the best of the year arrives and it’s increasingly difficult. This year gave me a particularly tough time thanks to my latest endeavor: film school.
Over the summer, I decided to take my passion for film one step further and enroll in Columbia University’s Film MFA program. It didn’t take long for the education to collide with my work. As I learned more about the filmmaking process, my perception in the theater started to change quite drastically. Misused techniques began to bother me, poor camerawork became as distracting as ever and too much exposition in the dialogue made my blood boil.
Last year I strove to keep my list as entertainment-based as possible. My top ten films of the year consisted mainly of selections that I’d watch over and over again without hesitation. Well, this year is different – slightly. While I’ve tried to keep my focus on films that simply made going to the theater a downright joy, what made this activity enjoyable for me changed a bit. With that being said, here are my top ten films of 2010, the purely fun, the poignant and simply well made.
It’s seemingly impossible to find a good horror remake thanks to an industry that enjoys drowning us in them, however, if there is one horror movie out there that deserved a little refurbishing, it was George A. Romero’s The Crazies. The 1973 film revolves around a fantastic scenario and two unique villains, but those elements are surrounded by poor performances and timely items that simply don’t resonate anymore. Well, not only did Breck Eisner snatch up a film worthy of a remake, but he did a damn good job, too. The new version takes all of the best parts of the original and spices them up with a talented cast, great effects and more relatable story elements. This is the first film of 2010 I saw multiple times in the theater and continues to make appearances in my DVD player. It’s clever, scary and just a damn good time. It’s a reboot that exceeds its source material.
Great Quote: “Don’t ask me why I can’t leave without my wife and I won’t ask you why you can.”
Street art is pretty cool, so this documentary should be too, right? Well, yes, but Exit Through the Gift Shop isn’t just a documentary about the illusive Banksy and others of the kind; not only does it provide an all-encompassing view of the industry during times of change, but does so through a character, an endlessly amusing character, Thierry Guetta. Just about every artist featured in this film mentions Thierry’s unique and rather eccentric methods and that’s what makes him the perfect person to walk us through this film. Thierry’s obsession with filming – in a way without a real purpose – leaves us with tons of footage of these street artists creeping through the night, displaying their work for the world to see. Just as it’s explained in the film, as great as this material is, Thierry had no way of piecing it together to turn it into a legitimate documentary with emotion, meaning and a proper flow. That’s where Banksy himself steps in and turns Thierry’s story into an engrossing piece about art. Whether everything in the film is factual or not, I don’t care; It’s so good I want to believe it.
Great Quote: “I don’t know how to play chess, but to me, life is like a game of chess.”
Never did I think I’d enjoy a documentary enough to have it infiltrate my top ten list, let alone two. As someone with zero interest in NASCAR racing, I wasn’t particularly thrilled about seeing Racing Dreams. I may not have come out with an intense desire to watch guys drive around a circle day and night, but I did gain an appreciation for the sport and particularly for the youngsters aspiring to get behind the wheel of a stockcar. In fact, if I were flipping through the channels and came across a race featuring Annabeth Barnes, Brandon Warren or Josh Hobson, I’m absolutely sure I’d keep watching. Director Marshall Curry really found three perfect subjects for his film. Not only are they all quite likeable and talented, but each is just a fascinating character and Curry does a stellar job illuminating everything that makes them who they are. These aren’t kids just looking to be the next big sports star; they’re real people with troubles, pressures, hopes and dreams and by the end of this film, you feel fully invested in their professional and personal pursuits.
Great Quote: “A kid gets to 12, 13-years-old is when you need to decide whether it’s going to be a hobby or they are going to try to make a career out of racing.”
Tangled was certainly vying for a spot on this list and came pretty close, but while both that and How to Train Your Dragon boast creative stories, likeable characters and extraordinary animation, How to Train Your Dragon achieved something that Tangled did not, giving me that warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Perhaps this is because I’m a dog owner and Hiccup and Toothless’ relationship seems to stem from the idea of a loyal dog being man’s best friend, but I can’t see how anyone, even the pet-less, can’t feel the love between these two. These characters are handled so beautifully from the simple yet telling introduction, through the growth of their bond in the film’s midsection, all the way up to an emotional grand finale all without very much dialogue. Not only are these quieter moments responsible for much of the film’s heart, but for the excitement, too, for the immense amount of character development makes the action sequences significantly more compelling.
Great Quote: “We’re Vikings. It’s an occupational hazard.”
Paranormal Activity is two for two. Last year, the first film snagged the fourth position and this year, the fifth. The odds were entirely against this one. When the first film hit theaters, the concept and its execution were completely novel, but not this time around. Finding a way to maintain a connection while still keeping things fresh was a nearly unattainable goal, but director Tod Williams and his writers did the impossible and Paranormal Activity 2 is just as entertaining and terrifying as the first. Not only did Williams keep the shooting style fresh, incorporating security camera footage for additional perspectives, but the writers linked the stories of the two films in an ingenious way. The quality of work in the casting department was high as well with a particularly impressive performance by Molly Ephraim. Paranormal Activity 2 is an all-around great production and, by far, the scariest one of the year.
Great Quote: “Where’s Micah?”
Everything about this film is quite impressive – the camerawork, the score, the performances, the story, the costumes, the set design – but there are a ton of productions that achieve the necessary degree of excellence to designate a production as a well-made film. Where The King’s Speech excels is in its poignancy, its ability to make you feel what the characters are feeling. With every close-up on Colin Firth desperately trying to overcome his stammer, your own throat closes the slightest bit. As compelling and at time gut-wrenching as the true story of King George VI and his speech impediment is, The King’s Speech has a beautifully light tone. While much of the film revolves around the King’s despair and debilitating embarrassment, there’s always a sense of hope and the mixture of emotions is quite moving.
Bertie: (Smoking a cigarette.) My physicians say it relaxes the throat.
Lionel: They’re idiots.
Bertie: They’ve all been knighted.
Lionel: Makes it official then.
This is the kind of movie that really makes you appreciate subtle comedy. I laughed more during The Kids Are All Right than during any tacky slapstick-packed film with the sole goal of nailing your funny bone. The best part is, the funny moments are only an added bonus here; this film has everything from honest performances to snappy dialogue to a great deal of passion and emotion and all the while, it maintains a very unaffected quality and that’s what makes everything so effective. This isn’t some goofy family drama vying for a laugh or even one aimed at making you cry, rather one that merely tells the story and let’s the cards fall as they may. The result is something wholly real, genuine and touching.
Great Quote: “It just seemed like a lot more fun than donating blood.”
Very few movies make me cry. Back in 1998, I had a rather difficult time handling Step Mom and then again in 2008, Marley & Me turned on the waterworks big time. But these weren’t good cries; in fact, I’ve absolutely refused to watch either film since. Toy Story 3, on the other hand, had me crying like a baby in the best way possible; by earning it. Even after two films, the Toy Story team never ceases to amaze with endless clever concepts and characters on top of a great deal of fun, emotion and stellar story telling. Yes, if you’re a long time fan of the franchise you’ve already got a pre-established connection to Woody and the gang, but even if you’re going into this one cold, there’s more than enough character development here to get you up to speed and extremely attached to the characters, so that by the time we hit the incinerator scene, maintaining dry eyes won’t be an option.
Great Quote: “I don’t think those were Lincoln Logs.”
If you think Black Swan will take up a mere 110 minutes of your day, think again. This film is particularly haunting, packed with imagery, concepts and characters that will undoubtedly be etched into your mind for days to come. What got me more than anything here is the intense dichotomy within the characters. Forget the fact that parts of Darren Aronofsky’s piece involve imaginary ominous elements, it’s the wholly real portions that are truly horrifying. One second you sympathize with one character and feel the need to watch out for the brash behavior of another, but moments later, that same testy character becomes a source of comfort while the other transitions into a loose cannon. The constant changing of temperaments creates an incredibly tense environment that won’t only keep you on the edge of the seat during the movie, but will haunt you long after the credits role.
Great Quote: “What happened to my sweet girl?”
In deciding which film to pick for the #1 position, I thought back to last year’s best, Inglourious Basterds. Forget simply looking forward to watching that film, I look forward to every scene individually. In fact, there isn’t one scene in that movie I don’t eagerly await and the same thing is true for this year’s top selection, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The movie had me at the 8-bit Universal logo and continued to impress all the way through. The script is genius, packed with clever dialogue and colorful characters, the camerawork is mesmerizing, never missing a beat in terms of action or quieter moments and, just like Basterds, there isn’t one part of this film that I don’t look forward to. You’d think six evil ex battles would get dull after a while, but no; they all have something fresh to offer. The cast is fantastic, the soundtrack wildly appropriate, the effects flawless and the story itself, endlessly entertaining. Scott Pilgrim is hands down the most fun I’ve had in the theater all year and hey, isn’t that what going to movies is all about?
Great Quote: “He punched the highlights out of her hair!”
Honorable Mentions: Easy A, Buried, The Fighter, The Disappearance of Alice Creed, Inception
The Worst of 2010
While narrowing down my top ten was extremely difficult, selecting the worst ten was quite the opposite. While there are quite a handful of films that are just plain old bad, there were five that absolutely made my blood boil.
5. My Soul to Take
What made this one especially frustrating to watch was the fact that it was the work of one of my favorite filmmakers, Wes Craven. Yes, everyone is allowed to have their missteps, but this is far more than just an idea-gone-wrong; this is a downright cinematic travesty. The 3D is terrible, performances laughable, dialogue absolutely ridiculous and the story itself completely nonsensical.
4. Grown Ups
Why assemble such a massive top-notch cast and throw all of that talent away? I haven’t got a clue, but perhaps Adam Sandler does, because that’s exactly what happened with Grown Ups. Even worse? This is a heap of unfunny garbage apparently made with the sole purpose of providing its stars with a paycheck and playtime.
Howl isn’t a movie; it’s a mad scientist’s evil experiment. Actually make that two mad scientists. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman may have a bunch of documentaries under their belts, but they have zero experience in the narrative department and it shows. Howl lacks a plot, forward motion, logic and really any reason for being.
2. The American
What ever happened to sitting back, relaxing and enjoying the show? Director Anton Corbijn should pay me because it was a heck of a lot of work keeping myself awake for 105 minutes of nothing. Apparently Corbijn forgot that filmmaking entailed anything, but some pretty visuals because The American lacks just about everything else giving it an entertainment value of zero.
1. In My Sleep
In My Sleep is the funniest film of the year. Unfortunately, it’s not supposed to be. I almost feel bad trashing this tiny production that only made it to two theaters, but I’d feel even worse not warning you; this movie that lacks even one redeeming quality. The idea of a guy killing people in his sleep could have been a rather cool concept, but instead, writer-director Allen Wolf turned it into the silliest and most pointless experience of the year.
By Perri Nemiroff