Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Best Films of 2010

As we wind down the hours in 2010 I thought it would be an appropriate time to dole out my annual list of the 10 Best Movies. As a reminder, last year I had District 9, Inglorious Basterds and Star Trek in my Top 3. The first two were nominated for Best Picture but the Oscar went to The Hurt Locker which didn't even make my list. This year I have a few snubs that people may question, but more on that later. Keep in mind that this is by-far the year in which I've seen the most movies in the theater. By my count, I have posted 27 individual theater reviews this year (that means I saw a movie on the big screen on average once every 2 weeks!). Therefore I feel that this list may be my most complete list to-date.

Here we go, in reverse order as always:

#10 Kick Ass - There's a strong drop from #9 to #10 on this list but Kick Ass squeaks in there over The Town and Catfish for the last slot. This movie was very enjoyable to watch once it got going. Chloe Grace-Moretz plays the scene stealing Hit Girl and her performance alone makes this worth a rental.

#9 How to Train Your Dragon - I saw this early in the year with Josh and Alex and really enjoyed the 3D digital animation. You could get an actual sense of flight during some of the aerial dragon scenes. The story was solid and the voice acting was up to par. This gets a slight nudge over Toy Story 3 for my favorite animated movie of the year.

NOTE: In contrast to last year's crop of films, I think 2010 brought us more quality movies in general. The remaining 8 movies on my list all received at least 4.5 out of 5 JRs.

#8 - The King's Speech - I just saw this a few days ago and was extremely impressed by Colin Firth's performance as the speech-affected King of England during war times. He effortlessly portrayed a reluctant king with an annoying affliction. Geoffrey Rush was just as good in the supporting role of the speech therapist. One of the better movies about English royalty that I've ever seen.

#7 - 127 Hours - Danny Boyle's follow-up to his Academy Award winning directorial turn will most likely get another Oscar nomination. The story of hiker Aron Ralston who gets trapped in a crevasse while adventuring on his own is a perfectly raw and real glimpse into the human will to live. James Franco bursts into the A-actor category and gives the performance of his career. It's hard to imagine that he'll be able to top this and unfortunately he'll probably lose Oscar to Colin Firth.

#6 - Get Him to the Greek - Easily the funniest movie of 2010 for me. The comic chemistry of Jonah Hill and Russell Brand fuels the film and allows for some hilarious situations thanks to a great overall script. I actually enjoyed this more than Forgetting Sarah Marshall in which Brand's iconic Aldus Snow character gets his origin story. The real force of the movie though (and the reason this lands so high on my list) is P Diddy who made me LOL numerous times in the theater. I don't think we'll ever see Sean Combs entertain us as much as he does in this movie.

#5 - Tron Legacy - Critics have been harping on this movie due to the bland story and shoddy acting but I enjoyed it immensely. This is pure audio-visual stimulai as its finest. A movie that CAN ONLY BE TRULY APPRECIATED on the big screen in 3D. Again, I am warning anyone who has not seen this yet to go see it at the theater while you can. Waiting for a rental will not do this justice at all. This is this year's Avatar for sure (interestingly enough, Avatar is #5 from 2009).

#4 - True Grit - A really really good Western from some really creative directors (Cohen Brothers). This remake of the John Wayne classic stands alone thanks to excellent acting contributions from Jeff Bridges (on a serious roll right now) and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. Quick rapid-fire dialogue mixed in with some wry humor is the perfect recipe for one of the more engaging movies of the year.

#3 - Shutter Island - This movie was supposed to be released in 2009 but was pushed at the last minute to February 2010. Unfortunately the move has totally killed any Oscar buzz for this film. Marty Scorsese crafts a creepy suspenseful look at life in a New England mental hospital. Leo DiCaprio is very strong in the lead role and Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley provide excellent support. The twist ending is well composed and packs a serious emotional punch.

#2 - The Fighter - David O. Russell is back with a vengeance after a series of duds. This is easily his best directorial effort of his career (yes, better than Three Kings) and stands out from other boxing movies due to the deep character building and intense family drama. Christian Bale is unreal as Dicky, the former boxer / brother of Mark Wahlberg's lead character. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams fill the shows of two powerful female roles that help add depth to the story. Go see this movie right now for the acting and script and stay for the quality boxing footage. I debated on whether to put this at #1 but after some thought it just misses the cut. Which leaves...

#1 - Inception - This takes the top slot primarily because it is a movie unlike anything we've seen before. The twisty multi-layered story created from the brilliant mind of Christopher Nolan is a joy to experience (even through multiple viewings now that I have it on Bluray). DiCaprio is the soul of the movie but the ensemble cast (Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, J. G. Levitt, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard, etc...) works so well together that we as the audience can get lost in the concept of shared dreaming itself. The last half of the movie, which begins with a dream on a cross-continent airplane ride, is one long thrill ride. If there's any cinematic achievement that should be rewarded this year it's the unique and groundbreaking work that Nolan and company put forth in Inception. We can only hope Batman 3 is nearly as good as this.

Missing from this list are a few films that movie critics seem to all be fawning over right now. I will address each "snub" briefly.

The Social Network - It may be tough for me to appreciate this movie objectively as I work in the IT industry, but I still don't get what all the fuss is about with this film. The story was solid and the acting was pretty good overall (great in the case of Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg), but I wasn't blown away at all. Entertainment Weekly called it "the most talked about movie of the year" which is totally a sham. I didn't really discuss this film with anyone and Inception completely deserves that praise instead. It will win Best Picture at the Oscars unfortunately. Maybe I need to give it another viewing on a rental to fully appreciate it.

Black Swan - An overrated artsy-fartsy mess of a movie. I just don't get Aronofsky anymore, but I hope Portman gets her dues from the Academy as she was really good in this.

Toy Story 3 - My movie experience on this one was interrupted by Becca and Alex not wanting to have anything to do with seeing it on the big screen. I waited for a rental to finish it up. It was a good Pixar offering but I wasn't overly impressed. I think the Toy Story arc has run its course (although Josh, Alex and I are looking forward to Cars 2 next year).

Movie Review: The King's Speech

Usually I don't go out of my way to see movies about British monarch history. There's nothing more boring to me than historical re-enactments of King George number-whatever that droll on and on about simpler times and regal accolades. With The King's Speech receiving such high acclaim this Winter, I felt I had to put my bias aside and give this royal film a shot. Thankfully this movie plays unlike most historical British epics and has a great underlying humor brought forth by the wonderful lead actors, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.

Speech tells the story of King George VI who begins his reign during the advent of global radio broadcasts which require His Majesty to give frequent addresses to his public. We find out early on in the film that Berdie (K G VI's nickname) has a speech problem that causes him to stutter often. In order to fix this issue he and his wife (played by a solid Helena Bonham Carter who for once isn't scary in a movie) seek out the help of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Rush). The movie is primarily about the tensions between Firth and Rush that grows into a long-lasting friendship. The back and forth between the two powers the whole movie and brings some light-hearted moments into a very serious time leading up to WWII.

The script from David Seidler is well written and we get engaging dialogue throughout that mixes drama with some really good laughs. Rush and Firth play off each other perfectly and I'd actually argue that Rush gives a more engaging and likable performance. Firth, however, pulls off the speech impediment very well and is extremely believable throughout. You can tell that he put a lot of work into researching the role. Director Tom Hooper shoots the speech scenes brilliantly so that you feel the tension that the King feels as he tries to avoid stammering through his words.

The performances by Firth and Rush will certainly earn Oscar nods. I feel Rush is a bit screwed to be going up against Christian Bale's masterpiece in The Fighter. Firth is probably a shoe-in for Best Actor and he cements himself as the best British actor working today. Speech is another 4.5 out of 5 movie that continues a very strong showing by Hollywood this holiday season. I feel that I am now way ahead of the game in seeing the Best Picture noms. My bet is that come January I will have seen 8 or 9 of the 10 Best Picture nominees for the awards in March.