December 31, 2010

The Year in Review: 2010

As usual, it has been difficult to access a lot of the movies of 2010 that were worth seeing. Most of the smaller movies seem to open only in New York and L.A., which is enough to leave you howling with despair if you happen to live in Jacksonville. I'm thankful for Five Points Theatre, which has managed to get some of the smaller movies our way. Sometimes I'm frustrated with their lack of imagination when they do retrospectives, but I'm thankful that because of them I was able to see Howl, which was a flaky little movie but featured some magnificent animation, and also Get Low, which was a wonderfully dark comedy that seems to have been lost in the shuffle of the awards season (like so many others). I'm also indebted to Netflix, which has a large number of 2010 movies available for online viewing, and that's how I was able to see the fascinating documentaries Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and Casino Jack and the United States of Money.

Rants & Raves of 2010:
Robin Hood, so underrated, was fine entertainment. Russell Crowe was an obvious choice to play Robin Hood, but that didn't change the fact that he was the best choice. The director, Ridley Scott, managed to make something new and exciting out of the old legend. Perhaps people have been blinded by 300 and Gladiator and other movies of that sort, and think Robin Hood has nothing those movies don't have, for as good as it was, Robin Hood struggled at the box office. 

This summer there were a lot of baddies, but I managed to have a good time at The A-Team, which was stupid but often hysterically funny. It was probably one of the lightest comic book movies of late, and it had enough spy-thriller content to make it truly fun, particularly thanks to actor Patrick Wilson's performance as one of the rogue CIA agents. Salt, which featured Angelina Jolie as a rogue CIA agent, was equally fun entertainment, from the director of The Saint, Phillip Noyce. Salt was a lean, fast-paced thriller that brought out Jolie's strengths as an actress: her toughness, her litheness, and her ability to intoxicate the screen. I also liked the oft-maligned Knight and Day. It was a lot more enjoyable than people were willing to give it credit for, possibly because it's currently chic to dislike Tom Cruise. However, He and Cameron Diaz managed to make a fairly unoriginal plot into an amusing adventure. 

The biggest disappointment of the year for me was You Again. There were such wonderful possibilities with a cast that included Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis (and Victor Garber as Curtis's husband, who's a fine actor), who were set up in the movie to be going at it like cats in a box. The movie was simply inept. It plateaued within the first thirty minutes, and I was holding my breath waiting for it to kick into full gear. It never did. There were scattered laughs, but my increased disappointment with the bad writing and the bad acting made them less and less funny. There were better and more frequent laughs in Aliens and Halloween H20 than in You Again. It was probably the lamest movie of the year (possibly tied with Jonah Hex).

Then there was Easy A, a breath of fresh air. Emma Stone was so effortlessly funny as Olive that you were willing to oblige the movie's excessive need to enshrine teenage drama and 80s movies into one big sacred offering. It was Stone's character who undercut the phoniness of the pharisaic teeny-boppers who declared her a modern-day Hester Prynne. A very fun movie, and my favorite comedy of the year (and probably the most fun I had all year. I was rocking with laughter throughout the movie).

I suppose I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the most overrated movie of 2010, Inception. For everyone who wants to devote a day of fasting and celebration to director Christopher Nolan, I urge you to think through Inception again. Inception is the worst kind of inflated, bombastic nonsense because it tries to elevate itself to something greater, as though this were Nolan's attempt at Citizen Kane. Trashy, clunky movies like The A-Team succeed because of their refusal to take themselves seriously, but trashy, clunky Inception is deadly serious. It's so serious that it's become heresy to suggest that perhaps Inception was a misfire and not a masterpiece. 

Also on the worst list is the latest Twilight installment, the flickering, fluttering Eclipse, which somehow dulled a lot of people into thinking they were having a good time. People continue to chastise me that, "Twilight is meant to entertain teenage girls, and for them it's good." I disagree, because I don't think teenage girls should live with the assumption that Twilight is all there is, or that it's the best of what's new out there either in movies or in literature. They can think through a movie or a book if they're guided by someone with an affection for either or both, and they can see the relative merits and shortcomings of a piece of movie-making, given the right frame of understanding.

Every year I am tempted to write some treatise on the demise of movies, but then I realize that someone has written about that subject just about every year for decades. I encourage curious readers to seek out Pauline Kael's essay, "Why Are Movies So Bad?", which examines the way money has corrupted movies. If you look up the ten most financially successful films of 2010, they're all big productions, mostly geared toward younger audiences. It makes you wish that there was more intelligent stuff being marketed to them (with the possible exception of the Harry Potter movies). However, there are always good movies to seek out if we'll simply take the time to do so, and I hope you found this article insightful and interesting. Here's to 2011 and the good movies--not the bad ones--it will bring.

My favorite movies of 2010: The Social Network, Robin Hood, The King's Speech, The Ghost Writer, The Fighter, Get Low, The Town, True Grit, and Easy A.

Standout performances (in no particular order)
1. Bill Murray in Get Low
2. Emma Stone in Easy A
3. Cate Blanchett in Robin Hood
4. Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech
5. Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech
6. Olivia Williams in The Ghost Writer
7. Melissa Leo in The Fighter
8. Jeremy Renner in The Town
9. Barbara Hershey in Black Swan
10. Naomi Watts in Fair Game
11. Jeff Bridges in True Grit
12. Matthew Broderick in Wonderful World



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