Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best Films of 2010

Well, the year is pretty much over and it’s time to look back and reflect upon the over 200 movies I’ve seen released in 2010.  Below are my top 26 film picks of the year. 

Why 26?  I just couldn't leave out 'The King's Speech' since it will undoubtedly win a slew of Academy Awards this year, probably including Best Picture, Best Actor for Colin Firth, and Best Supporting Actor for Geoffrey Rush.  But for me, it was the 26th best film of the year.  (Out of over 200, mind you.)  But I must admit, Geoffrey Rush is quite good in it.

Also, please note that I am using the 'Oscar' rule to determine what qualifies as a 2010 release.  I am therefore excluding films that I saw at film festivals that have not yet had a theatrical release, as they will be considered 2011 films.  That excludes Make Believe, The Way, Beginners, Trust, and Super from my list.  But be sure to look for those great films in 2011.  However, 'Barney's Version' and 'Casino Jack' are included below because they were released in Los Angeles prior to year end, thus making them Oscar eligible.  A bit ridiculous, I know.

OK, without further ado, below are my Top 26 of 2010.  I look forward to your comments.

1)   The Social Network      (Available on DVD on 1/11)

2)   Kick Ass                       (Now available on DVD)

3)   Get Low                        (Available on DVD on 2/22)

4)   City Island                    (Now available on DVD)

5)   Please Give                  (Now available on DVD)

6)   Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:  Part 1         (In Theaters Now)

7)   It’s Kind of a Funny Story          (Available on DVD on 2/8)

8)   The Greatest                (Now available on DVD)

9)   127 Hours                     (In Theaters Now)

10)  Black Swan                  (In Theaters Now)

11)  Barney's Version        (Limited release in theaters now)

12)  Buried                          (Available on DVD on 1/18)

13)  Never Let Me Go       (Available on DVD on 2/1)

14)  Heartbreaker (L’Arnacoeur)           (Available on DVD on 1/11)

15)  Against the Current    (Now available on DVD)

16)  Inception                     (Now available on DVD)

17)  Blue Valentine            (Limited release in theaters now)

18)  Winter’s Bone            (Now available on DVD)

19)  The Fighter                 (In Theaters Now)

20)  Daybreakers              (Now available on DVD)

21)  Casino Jack                (Limited release in theaters now)

22)  Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work         (Now available on DVD)

23)  The Art of the Steal    (Now available on DVD)

24)  The Kids are All Right         (Now available on DVD)

25)  Toy Story 3                 (Now available on DVD)

26)  The King’s Speech      (In Theaters Now)

In Theaters Now

Looking to head to the theater this weekend, but don’t know what to see?  Here are my grades at a glance:
The Social Network  Grade: A+  
127 Hours                   Grade: A   (#5/38 of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
Black Swan                Grade: A   (#7/38 of my Toronto Film Fest blog)
The Fighter                Grade: A-
The King’s Speech    Grade: B+  (#11/38 of my Toronto Film Fest blog)
Little Fockers             Grade: B+

Rabbit Hole                Grade: B+
Love and Other Drugs          Grade: B+  
Welcome to the Rileys           Grade: B+  
Inside Job                   Grade: B   (#21/38 of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
I Love You Phillip Morris   Grade: B
The Tourist                Grade: B
Megamind                  Grade: B
True Grit                   Grade: B-
Made in Dagenham               Grade: B-
Burlesque                   Grade: B-
Due Date                    Grade: B- 
Morning Glory                      Grade: B-
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale       Grade: C+
Fair Game                  Grade: C-
Unstoppable               Grade: C-
How Do You Know  Grade: C-
All Good Things                    Grade: C-

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Made in Dagenham

Sally Hawkins stars as one of only 187 female employees working at the Ford factory in Dagenham, England in 1968.  By contrast Ford employed around 55,000 men at that time.  And even worse, the men made significantly more money than the women.  So under the suggestion of their union representative, wonderfully portrayed by Bob Hoskins, Hawkins decides to lead the charge to fight this sexual discrimination.

I can’t recall seeing this same subject matter in another movie, so it was interesting and refreshing from that perspective.  And Hoskins and Hawkins were both perfectly cast.  But the film gets kind of slow in parts.  The highs and lows of Hawkins’ crusade didn’t really hit me emotionally.  I was waiting for a moment where I felt like getting up to cheer, but it never arrived (for me, at least.)  So unfortunately I don’t think it’s a total success.  But it’s also not a failure.

Grade:  B-

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rabbit Hole

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play grieving parents mourning the loss of their four year old son, who was killed eight months prior.  At the start of the film, they are remarkably stable and are attending group therapy.  But as the movie unfolds, you see that they aren’t quite as well adjusted as they first seem.
As I’ve written before, there are a lot of films as of late about a similar theme.  And it’s interesting to see how each one is so remarkably different.  I imagine that is just a natural reflection on how different everyone’s personal grieving process is.  And I think how well you, the viewer, connect with a film like this depends on how closely you can relate to the characters and how they grieve.  I’m sure many parents won’t want to watch a film like this, forcing themselves to go there emotionally, as it probably represents their worst fears. But I find heavy material like this to be fulfilling.
For me this film worked, but not as well as ‘The Greatest’ which I reviewed recently.  Without giving anything away, there are certain things about Kidman’s behavior that just didn’t feel realistic to me.  Nevertheless the leads were good, the characters were unpredictable and not stereotypical, and the film pulled me in.  So, based on that, I think it’s worth seeing if you can handle the subject matter.
Grade:  B+

Monday, December 27, 2010

All Good Things

Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst star in this thriller based on a true story beginning in the early 70's and spanning three decades.  Gosling plays the son of a very successful real estate man in New York City, played by Frank Langella.  Dunst is a tenant in one of their buildings, and when Gosling comes to help fix the plumbing they fall in love.  But what begins as a love story spirals downward to much darker territory. Unfortunately there’s more to Gosling’s character than meets the eye.

 

Some films take a while to get going and then get better as they go along.  This one is exactly the opposite.  The first half had a lot of potential, but the second half was kind of an ambiguous mess.  I won’t say much more, since I don’t want to give away the twists.  But if I were you I’d probably skip this one.  Gosling is very good as always, but his other film ‘Blue Valentine’, coming out soon, is much, much better.


Grade:  C-

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

An archeological dig in Finland results in an unexpected treasure: the real Santa Claus.  Needless to say, multiple parties are very interested in this ‘rare export’ because of its extreme monetary value.  But the real Santa isn’t quite as jolly as we all think. 

 

I intended to see this film when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival but couldn’t fit it into my schedule.  But that worked out well, because what better time is there to watch a film about Santa Claus than on Christmas Day?  And this is really the only Christmas release this year, so I was fortunate I hadn't seen it yet.

 

The film is half in English and half in Finnish.  And let me be clear, this is no family film.  It begins as kind of an Indiana Jones-type action adventure, but devolves into something very dark and creepy.  And I didn’t mind that at all, but the second half was lacking and a bit confusing.  I had high hopes for this one because it’s a totally original plot, but unfortunately in the end it was disappointing.  I actually hope we get an American remake of this (which is something I rarely say about a foreign film), because I think in the right hands this story could be something great.


Grade:  C+

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Little Fockers

Ben Stiller returns as Gaylord ‘Greg’ Focker and Robert DeNiro returns as Jack Byrnes, the father-in-law from hell, in this third outing in the ‘Meet the Parents’ series.  In fact, everyone is back, including Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Blythe Danner, and Owen Wilson.  (Reportedly, Hoffman wasn’t in the first cut of the film because his paycheck demands were too high.  But after seeing the first cut, DeNiro and company decided he was worth the millions he demanded, and they added a few scenes in re-shoots at his full salary request.  Hoffman’s good, but he ain’t that good.)
In this second sequel, we also get Jessica Alba as a pharmaceutical sales rep who’s trying to get close with Stiller.  And there’s even a small role of Harvey Keitel as a contractor.  But the plot is really inconsequential.  This movie is all about the comedy.  And there’s plenty of it.  The humor is cheap, physical, uncomfortable, and gross-out.  But it’s also hilarious.  I probably laughed harder during this film than any other this year.  Even when I saw the jokes coming a mile away, the execution was so good I still howled.  And that’s impressive.
Early reviews of this film are atrocious.  But I’m going against the grain.  I agree, this isn’t an important film.  And there’s nothing new or unpredictable about it.  But it’s funny.  Really funny.
Grade:  B+ (and close to an A-)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

True Grit


It’s always interesting to see what the Coen Brothers choose as their next project.  Truthfully, not all of their films are successes, but even their misfires are worth seeing.  Unfortunately, I feel this one falls in the latter category.  Early reviews, however, seem to be overwhelmingly positive.  (I suspect many people made up their mind that they liked it even before they saw it.)
This time the Coen’s tackle a Western.  It’s based on the same book that the 1969 John Wayne film of the same name was based on.  This time Jeff Bridges takes on the character Wayne played.  So, 'The Dude' replaced 'The Duke'.

Newcomer 13 year old Hailee Steinfeld stars as a girl out to avenge the murder of her father.  She hires a drunken U.S. Marshal played by Jeff Bridges to hunt him down and bring him to justice.  And along the way, they cross paths with Texas Ranger Matt Damon, who’s also looking for the same man, to collect a bounty.
The film is slow.  And although Bridges and Damon are great actors, and do a fine job in their respective roles, there’s just not a lot of fun to be had watching them.  It’s hard to say what’s wrong with the film because really, there’s just nothing particularly right with it.
‘True Grit’ is lesser Coen to be sure.  It’s not even in the same ballpark as ‘Barton Fink’, ‘Fargo’, ‘The Big Lebowski’, ‘The Hudsucker Proxy’, or ‘Miller’s Crossing’.  Their films in the 2000’s just don’t compare to their films of the 90’s.  'Burn After Reading' is their best of the decade, and ‘No Country for Old Men’ was decent but certainly didn’t deserve to win the Oscar for Best Picture of 2007.  (‘There Will Be Blood’ was robbed that year.)  Nevertheless, I look forward to whatever they’ve got cooking next, because I know even if it’s not great, it’ll be more interesting than the majority of what else is out there.
Grade:  B-

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Now Available On DVD

Looking to head to the video store, but don’t know what to see?  (Does anyone still go to video stores?)  Well, here are my grades at a glance for some recent releases:
Kick Ass                                   Grade: A+

City Island                              Grade: A+
Please Give                             Grade: A+

The Greatest                          Grade: A

I Knew it Was You:  Rediscovering John Cazale      Grade: A

Against the Current              Grade: A-

The Secret in their Eyes        Grade: A-

Winter’s Bone                        Grade: A-

Inception                                Grade: A-

Toy Story 3                             Grade: A-

The Kids are All Right            Grade: A-

The Art of the Steal               Grade: A-
Centurion                                Grade: B+
I’m Still Here                           Grade: B+

The Disappearance of Alice Creed     Grade: B+

Going the Distance                Grade: B+

High Rollers                            Grade: B

Leaves of Grass                      Grade: B

Knight and Day                      Grade: B

Sorcerer’s Apprentice           Grade: B

How to Train Your Dragon   Grade: B

Disney's A Christmas Carol    Grade: C+

Eat Pray Love                         Grade: C

Splice                                      Grade: C-

Frozen                                     Grade: C-

The Killer Inside Me               Grade: D

The Extra Man                        Grade: D

The Expendables                    Grade: D

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World  Grade: F

Monday, December 20, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon

Animated films aren’t normally my bag.  But this one from DreamWorks about a town of Vikings plagued by dragons has gotten such amazing reviews I figured I should check it out on DVD.

Jay Baruchel voices a young boy who wants to become a dragon slayer just like his role models, voiced by Gerard Butler and late night talk show host Craig Ferguson.  (I guess Billy Connolly was busy??)  But after a meaningful encounter with a wounded dragon, Baruchel changes his feelings against harming these possibly misunderstood creatures.

I must say, I’m not quite sure why Baruchel is turning up in so many films these days.  (In 2010 he also starred in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ and ‘She’s Out of My League’)  He’s ok I guess, but as I’ve written before, he strikes me as a younger, poor man’s Christian Slater.

I’m also not quite sure why the older Vikings have Scottish accents, and the young ones sound like American teenagers.  But I can let that go.  (After all, I was always quite forgiving about Kevin Costner’s lack of a British accent when he played Robin Hood.  Sometimes you just have to suspend your disbelief, right?)

I do like the score by John Powell, which was MUCH better than the overplayed pop tune soundtrack in another recent DreamWorks film, ‘Megamind’.  But there aren’t any emotional scenes like you consistently get in a Pixar film.  And that always gives Pixar a leg up on DreamWorks for me.

This film has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the best rated films of the year.  And there’s even speculation it may receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.  I personally think that’s extreme.  It’s good for what it is, and probably good for parents with kids, but it's not one of the best films of the year.  Not by a long shot.

Grade:  B

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Disney's A Christmas Carol

Yet another version of the classic Christmas story we’re all familiar with came out in theaters last November but was only just now released on DVD and Blu-Ray.  It’s very uncommon for films to take that long to get a home video release, but the studio undoubtedly figured they’d get more sales by waiting until the following Christmas.  The film is animated and was released in theaters in 3D.  I’m not usually a fan of 3D, but I think it works best on a film like this one rather than something like ‘Clash of the Titans’ or even ‘Toy Story 3’.  (‘Toy Story 3’ doesn’t need it and 'Clash' needed a heck of a lot more.)
The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis who brought us another popular animated holiday film, ‘Polar Express’, as well as ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, ‘Cast Away’, ‘Forrest Gump’, and the ‘Back to the Future’ series.  It features the voices and likenesses of Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, and Bob Hoskins.  And it’s pretty amazing how closely the animated characters resemble them.
The music is key in a holiday film like this, and Zemeckis smartly relied on his frequent collaborator Alan Silvestri, who did the scores on all of the above mentioned films and around 100 others.  The score is one of the best things about this film.
But with all that said, when it comes to the story, it’s the same old, same old.  I found it pretty boring.  The 1984 George C. Scott version will always be the definitive one for me.  This one is really just eye candy.  And it seemed pretty creepy to me for kids, but it is a Disney film, so what do I know?  But it’s not terrible, and since there aren’t any Christmas movies coming out this year (what’s up with that?) you could do worse than give it a go.  But you could also do better. 
Grade:  C+

Friday, December 17, 2010

In Theaters Now

Looking to head to the theater this weekend, but don’t know what to see?  Here are my grades at a glance:
The Social Network           Grade: A+  
127 Hours                           Grade: A   (#5/38 of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
Black Swan                         Grade: A   (#7/38 of my Toronto Film Fest blog)
The Fighter                         Grade: A-
The King’s Speech              Grade: B+  (#11/38 of my Toronto Film Fest blog)
Love and Other Drugs       Grade: B+  
Welcome to the Rileys      Grade: B+  
Inside Job                            Grade: B   (#21/38 of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
I Love You Phillip Morris   Grade: B
The Tourist                         Grade: B
Megamind                          Grade: B
Burlesque                           Grade: B-
Due Date                            Grade: B- 
Morning Glory                   Grade: B-
Hereafter                            Grade: C   (#29/38 of my Toronto Film Festival blog)
Fair Game                           Grade: C-
Unstoppable                      Grade: C-
How Do You Know            Grade: C-

The Fighter

Mark Wahlberg stars as Mickey Ward, a boxer from the 1980’s with a lot of potential.  But his blue collar family who manages him is keeping him from reaching that potential.  His mom, played by Melissa Leo, is too controlling.  His ex-boxer junkie brother, played by a gaunt Christian Bale, is too unreliable.  And his seven sisters are, well, just annoying.  Fortunately, his dad, played by Jack McGee, and girlfriend, played by Amy Adams, act more as the voices of reason.

Wahlberg is the star of the film, but it’s Christian Bale, who steals it.  Will someone PLEASE give this guy an Academy Award?  Yes, yes I know he has anger issues.  We’ve all heard about his insane outburst on the set of Terminator Salvation.  (I actually heard a clip of it and it was pretty outrageous.)  But that anger fuels his consistently amazing performances.  No one commits to a role like Bale.  At this point his trademark extreme weight loss is almost old hat.  (See ‘The Machinist’ and ‘Rescue Dawn’.  I still cringe thinking about him in the former.)  He doesn’t even look like the same guy who plays Batman.  But even though he’s done it multiple times, we shouldn’t forget how extraordinarily difficult it must be to lose that much weight, and how committed he is to the parts he plays.  I fully expect he will win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor this year, unless ‘The King’s Speech’ sweeps the whole thing and Geoffrey Rush takes it home.

David O. Russell directed a very good film here.  This one is better than his ‘Three Kings’, also starring Wahlberg, which was a pretty decent movie.  And it's light years better than ‘I Heart Huckabees’.  But I think my favorite of all his films is ‘Flirting with Disaster’, which couldn’t be more different than ‘The Fighter’, but it’s a forgotten gem and one of Ben Stiller’s best.

Early on, I had this movie pegged as a B+, but it gets better as it goes along.  It’s no ‘Rocky’ or even ‘Cinderella Man’, but it’s an enjoyable, inspiring movie and strong ‘contender’ for an Oscar.

Grade:  A-