Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 in Film

Because we are compelled by annual tradition (and, we assume, international law) to do so, we will compose our end-of-the-year list.  Rather than limit ourselves to a paltry ten, we are prepared to take a broader approach.  Of the countless films released theatrically or direct to dvd, we saw twenty-six of varying quality.  As such, we shall list them from worst to best.

Pay attention, because this next part is important.  We will consider now only those theatrical films first released in 2010 in the United States in at least limited capacity.  We'll come back to this later.

26. Robin Hood: This "beats" number 25 by a hair, and it's certainly a debatable point.  In fact, there's slightly more to like in Robin Hood than in Jonah Hex, even if it's all in the background.  Ultimately, though, we seem to get a big-budget adaptation of Robin Hood these days only once a generation, and this was without a doubt an utter waste of the opportunity.  Lacking any coherent vision, tone, or direction, it was empty, meaningless, and boring.

25. Jonah Hex: As we said above, this really was something of a tie.  Jonah Hex stakes its claim to number 25 on little more than a whim.  That the short Jonah Hex DC Showcase flick attached to Batman: Under the Red Hood was superior is a painful understatement.  The 12 minute animated piece was more moody, darker, more intelligent, better written, conveyed a more interesting story, and developed its characters with a thousand times more skill than the feature film.

24. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: We don't expect movies based on video games to succeed in crafting a thought-out plot and well-developed characters.  We do, however, expect them to try significantly harder than this.

23. Alice in Wonderland: Alice in Wonderland was one of those bad movies it was worth seeing for some of the 3-D effects on the big screen.  If you missed those there, however, there's no further point in sitting through the movie.

22. Kick-Ass: Are we being hard on Kick-Ass?  Perhaps.  This succeeded in turning an adorable eleven year old girl into the year's most bad-ass action star, as well as providing Nicholas Cage with the most interesting role he's ever had.  There were some fantastic scenes.  Pity most were released online before the movie came out.  And pity the rest of the movie oscillated between scenes of gratuitous violence and painfully awful dialogue.

21. The Book of Eli: If you want a relatively low-budget, thoughtful genre piece with a twist ending starring Denzel Washington, we strongly recommend you track down Fallen.  As for The Book of Eli, it isn't bad, per se, but it's neither thought out, original, nor is it all that interesting.  The ending isn't much of a payoff, either.

20. Planet Hulk: The first of the direct-to-DVD films on our list, Planet Hulk was good for what it was.  While it didn't raise any bars, it was solidly entertaining, and worth watching, presuming you're a fan of superhero movies.

19. Legends of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole: This movie drives us crazy.  It's easily one of the most breathtaking movies we saw this year.  If we were rating this on visual beauty alone, it would be in the top five.  Sadly, it was also one of the dumbest movies we saw this year, containing dialogue so awful, we wanted to claw out our ears.  Our best advice is to order the DVD from Netflix, mute your TV, then just play Dead Can Dance loudly on your stereo.  This way, you'll experience everything good about the movie with none of the bad.

18. MegaMind: Eh.  It wasn't bad, which is good, but it wasn't all that good.  Which is bad.  It's worth seeing, though, if you're a comic book geek.

17. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: This was a fine movie.  If it had been fifteen years prior, it would probably have been a good movie.  As it was, the CG held it back.

16. Batman/Superman: Apocalypse: Another direct-to-DVD release, Batman/Superman: Apocalypse managed to tell a solid story, improving on its source material.  Netflix exists for a reason, people: get on it.

15. How to Train Your Dragon: This was pretty good, all things considered.  More specifically, there wasn't much about How to Train Your Dragon that was at all bad.  It felt like someone made a list of everything that Dreamworks had been doing wrong over the last decade, then made sure not to do any of those things.  And, to their credit, it seems to have been a fairly comprehensive list.  But, while the movie never faltered, it never really soared, either.  It was good, really.  But we crave better.

14. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: Having spoken to a lot of people, we've come to the conclusion that if you read the books, you either love this movie or hate it.  If you did not read the books, you were probably disappointed with the movie.  We didn't read the books.  The movie felt good.  It looked good. it seemed to exude good.  But, overall, yeah.  Just didn't interest us all that much.

13. Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths: The main criticism of Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is that it didn't use the version of the League from the animated series, despite the fact the script was written for that team.  And, honestly, it's a grating issue, assuming you're a longtime fan (which we are).  However, it's still a great movie, particularly given that it was released direct-to-DVD.

12. Daybreakers: This could have been so much higher on our list.  Top 5, easily.  It had everything: great setup, interesting world, brilliant attention to detail, and even a solid twist.  And then, in the last five minutes, it all fell apart.  Oh, the movie's still good.  Very good, in fact.  And the ending isn't THAT bad.  But it definitely drags this movie down from being great.

11. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part 1: We almost feel less sound placing this on a list of movies than the direct-to-DVD films.  With each release, these feel less like movies and more like... well... something else.  The Harry Potter films are so episodic, they almost feel like a television series.  That said, it's a really good series.  We can't wait for the last episode.

10. Predators: We reviewed Predators very favorably when it came out, and we've since backed down a bit.  It's still a fantastic action movie, but it hasn't proven as memorable as we'd hoped.

9. Batman: Under the Red Hood: The final - and best - of this year's direct-to-DVD films, Under the Red Hood was brilliantly made.  The character work here was topnotch.  You'll note we're awfully high on the list to be discussing something that was never released into theaters: that's because this was better than most movies that were.

8. Tron: Legacy: Was this a good movie?  Of course not: the story was idiotic and the characters were two-dimensional.  But, like Avatar, it was a beautiful bad movie.  And unlike Avatar, Tron: Legacy was also fun to watch.

7. Inception: While we're not sure it was anywhere near as intelligent as many seem to think, the fascinating tone and intriguing world of Inception made it one of the best espionage movies we've seen in a long time.

6. Tangled: This is neck and neck with number 5, but then I am a comics geek at heart.  Still, Tangled is a fantastic Disney production that deserves a spot alongside last year's Princess and the Frog and the semi-live-action Enchanted as new takes on the Princess motif.

5. Iron Man 2: Plenty of people hate this movie.  We appreciate where they're coming from, and understand.  What's more, we don't begrudge them their opinion.  Everyone has a right to be wrong, after all.  The genius of Iron Man 2 is that it feels more like a handful of issues of Marvel Comics Presents than a graphic novel about any one character.  Maybe some of those issues are out of order: who cares?  This is a movie where Black Widow and Happy Hogan team-up to deactivate the computer program that's controlling War Machine.  This thing kicks ass.

4. True Grit: We've never seen the original, and, from what we've heard, we never need to.  The Coen Brothers' version is an intriguing and entertaining picture.  And in her own way, the fourteen year-old heroine comes off as just as badass as Hit Girl.  Honestly, which is more frightening: a young girl with a gun or one with a knowledge of the law?

3. Toy Story 3: Numbers two and three are a hair's breath apart.  Honestly, in a few months, we'll probably forget about number 2 and regret shoving this so far back.  But, for the time being, this is our assessment.  Toy Story 3 was a fantastic movie.  The last thirty minutes are terrifying, sad, and touching. You know, par for the course when it comes to Pixar.

2. Black Swan: Like we said above, we make no guarantee our feelings won't change.  Technically, Black Swan is probably a psychological drama or something like that.  But, as far as we're concerned, it was one of the best horror movies we've seen in years.  It plays with perspective and reality in a way that burrows into your head, until you're not really sure what's real and what isn't.  While we were at times ambivalent, the film builds and offers one of the best payoffs we've seen in years during the last act.  Personally, we might have preferred the ending a few minutes earlier, but that's just our taste.

1. The Secret of Kells: Yes, we're well aware that this movie was released internationally in 2009 and that it played a handful of film festivals and even a short run or two in select cities (qualifying it for last year's Oscars).  But it wasn't technically given a real release in this country until this year.  Even that was so short we never heard about it.  Fortunately, Netflix picked up the slack and has been streaming this, which is how we finally got to see it.  And, dear God, is it pretty.  We mean REALLY PRETTY.  As in, so pretty you will cry.  Not because anything sad or dramatic is happening, but just because your mind won't be able to stand the sheer beauty of what you're seeing and hearing.  That good.  Sure, we're stretching the definition of "new movie" to include this, but we have little choice.  Because, just once, we need to be able to say that the Secret of Kells is, without a doubt, the best new movie we saw this year.