As many of you know, I am a big movie fan. While I don’t see nearly as many movies now as I used to, I still like to keep track of those that I do see, at do an end-of-the-year summary.
Note that this represents the movies I actually saw in 2010, not necessarily movies that were released in 2010. Also, I do not include movies that I re-watched, as you will not for instance see Avatar or the original Tron, even though I did watch both of those. Movies marked with a V are those I saw on video (or DVD or Blu-Ray or Netflix streaming … basically any movie I did not see in a movie theater). Each movie has between 1 and 5 stars, representing my opinion of the film.
I’ve listed the films here in my personal order from best to worst. Some will undoubtedly disagree with my rankings; try to not take offense. Movies are, in the end, art, and each person has their views on what is good and what is not.
The Social Network ***** – It’s hard to imagine how one could go wrong with a David Fincher movie written by Aaron Sorkin, and this one definitely doesn’t go wrong. They take would could easily be a fairly dry subject – a geek inventing a new website – and make an exciting, at times touching, at times funny movie. Stellar performances and a great soundtrack round out the mix. My favorite bit? The fact that, during an early scene, they actually got the technology right.
Toy Story 3 ***** – Pixar creates yet another instant classic. Andy is surely the first animated character to grow up, and this beautiful tale of the loss of childhood shows Pixar at its best. The final sequence of the film is as touching and tear-inducing at the opening few minutes of last year’s Up. I for one am glad that Pixar’s 2011 release, Cars 2, is much less likely to make me cry.
Inception ***** – Is Christopher Nolan the best director currently working in Hollywood? Following up the best Batman film to date with this mind-bending tale of people who steal information from people’s dreams, he certainly makes his case for that distinction. Featuring another great performance from Ellen Page and Leonardo DeCaprio’s best performance in years, along with amazing special effects, this is an all-around great film.
How To Train Your Dragon ***** (v) – I missed Dragon during its theatrical release, and I’m sorry I did. The kids got it as a Christmas gift, and I finally got to see it just before the year ended. A truly unique story, some great voice acting, and simply gorgeous animation make this one not to miss.
Up In The Air **** ½ – This was, of course, technically 2009′s movie, but I didn’t have a chance to see it until after the New Year. In George Clooney’s best performance to date, he plays a traveling salesman who’s goal in life is to reach 10 million miles on American Airlines. Threatened with his company changing their business model, he essentially needs to convince a young upstart that the personal touch is worth it. What I liked best about the film was the ending. I won’t give anything specific away here, but I will say that I was pleased that they didn’t go for a standard Hollywood ending. Instead, the story ends for these characters just at it would if they were real.
The Town **** – What could easily have been a Boston-themed Heat is turned into a much, much better movie, thanks to excellent directing by Ben Affleck and stellar performances from Affleck and Jeremy Renner as down-and-out robbers and Jon Hamm and, uh, that guy from Lost (Titus Welliver) as the agents tracking them down.
Iron Man 2 **** – We all know how difficult it is to make a good sequel from a good film, but here they’ve managed to pull it off, mostly by keeping the light tone from the original and again letting Robert Downey Jr. have fun. The addition of Mickey Rourke as the villain helps as well, and the set-ups for the Avengers – an increased role for Samuel L Jackson and the introduction of Scarlett Johansson’s character – nicely makes this film a part of an expanding, and hopefully exciting universe.
The Messenger **** (v) – Easily one of the more depressing films I saw this year. Woody Harrelson delivers a fantastic performance as a soldier trying to keep his life together while having to inform families that their loved ones have been killed. Ben Foster, playing the man Harrelson must train, and Samantha Morton as a grieving, if conflicted widow, round out the cast.
Megamind **** – 2010 must surely go down as the best year in animation. An interesting twist on the superhero genre, Megamind follows the title character, an arch-villain who is really, at the end of the day, quite a nice guy who is forced into saving his town when a new villain arrives. My only real objection to the movie was that the new villain was a little too close to the bad guy from Pixar’s The Incredibles, but the fast pace, great writing and excellent animation more than make up for that one failing.
Invictus **** – Morgan Freeman delivers the year’s best impression as Nelson Mandela in this based-on-truth tale of South Africa hosting the rugby World Cup and its team’s against-the-odds attempt to win the tournament. Matt Damon is, as usual, excellent as the team’s captain. I suspect I would have enjoyed this movie a bit more if I understood rugby even a little, but it is nonetheless a wonderful movie.
Tangled **** – If you’d told me at the beginning of the year that a Disney princess movie would just miss my top ten for the year, I’d have said you were crazy, but here the Mouse shows that it can in fact still make movies for girls that at least rival Pixar’s movies for boys. This retelling of the Repunzel story is beautifully animated and well acted by Mandy Moore and Chuck’s Zachary Levi, but the non-Pixar folks at the studio seem to have finally remembered that what made earlier princess films such as Beauty and Beast and Aladin so good was that they were targeted not just at the 6-year-old girls, but at their parents as well.
Young Victoria **** (v) – Queen Victoria, as the longest-reigning monarch in English history (at least to date), has of course been the subject of many movies, but most, such as Mrs. Brown, have focused on her later years. With Young Victoria, we get a look at her as a princess and a young queen, struggling with the political turmoil of the day and her budding romance with the man who would be the love of her life. An unfortunately rushed and weak ending spoils what might have otherwise been of the year’s best.
A-Team *** 1/2 – Given Hollywood’s recent trend of taking TV shows I really liked as a kid and turning them into truly awful movies, I was somewhat hesitant about the A-Team, particularly considering that it was one of my favorite shows growing up. Thankfully, this one mostly succeeds. I think the biggest problem in so many remakes is that they take the title and the character names and leave nothing else, either taking fun action shows like Miami Vice and turning them into dark, dreary Michael Mann films or taking fun action shows like Dukes of Hazard and turning them into slapstick comedies. Here, they took a fun action show and turned it into a fun action movie, retaining not just the names, but also the characters themselves. Is the movie ridiculous? Of course, but so was the show, and that is in the end its real success.
An Education *** 1/2 (v) – The first movie I saw in 2010, An Education is at times touching and at times equally creepy as it chronicles a young woman’s relationship with a much, much older man. Great performances, including an Oscar-nominated turn by relative newcoming Carey Mulligan, are what really make this a film worth seeing.
(500) Days of Summer *** 1/2 (v) – One of the big disappointments of last year. I obviously did not hate the movie, but I did not love it nearly as much as I had hoped based on the reviews and raves from so many others. Ultimately, I had a hard time liking any of the overly narcissistic characters, and could not understand what Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character found appealing about Zooey Deschanel’s when she spends so much time in the film treating him so badly. That said, the performances were all good, and story moved along nicely, saving what could easily have been an otherwise horrible movie.
The Man From Earth *** 1/2 (v) – Plays can, and often have been, turned into very good movies, but it only works when the director is willing to recognize that he is working in a different medium and is willing to take advantage of that. Having a group of people sit around and talk in a single setting works well on stage, but on film? Much less so. Thus is the weakness of The Man from Earth. Thankfully, the movie is saved by the story, about a man who claims to be a 14,000-year-old cro-magnon who is trying to convince a group of his co-workers – all intellectuals from the college at which he works – that he is not in fact insane. There are a few points that are a bit hard to swallow, but overall it’s a very interesting story. Unfortunately, I think that this could have easily been one of the year’s best had it not come across as a filmed stage play.
Tron:Legacy *** – Doing a sequel to a cult classic, 28 years later, can be tricky, particularly if that classic is a movie that, due to the fact it deals with long-out-of-date technology, needed updating by itself. Tron:Legacy mostly succeeds. Not nearly as geeky as the original, and of course with much better effects, this installment follows the exploits of the son of the original’s main character, thrown into the cyberworld in search of his long-lost father. The film’s primary weakness is that it features another performance by Jeff Bridges in which he plays Jeff Bridges, but overall I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. It is, unfortunately, another movie that is not enhanced even slightly by 3D, but as I’m becoming more and more convinced that nothing is actually made better by the technology, I did not really hold that against it.
The Crazies *** – This was perhaps the most surprising movie of the year. What looks like just another zombie flick turns out to be, well, another zombie flick, but great acting by Timothy Olyphant and a slightly unique take of the story make it highly entertaining. Unfortunately, and over-the-top, totally inexplicable ending spoil the fun.
Predators *** – I have to admit from the start here that I’ve always been a fan of the Predator franchise, and with the exception of the truly-awful second film, have enjoyed all the rest. Here the producers take a bit of a different approach: instead of the Predators coming to Earth to hunt us, they instead take a group of humans and drop them onto a planet that is really nothing more than a giant game preserve, and which point they begin to hunt us. Early in the movie, there is a scene where the humans walk through the forest in a big line, and at that point I made a list of the order in which these people would get killed. While I correctly guessed which ones would survive (you can do that by simply looking a the cast list), I was actually wrong about the overall order, and the big twist towards the end really did catch me by surprise. While not one of the great films of the year, Predators is highly nonetheless quite entertaining.
Green Zone *** – A by-the-numbers action flick, this movie casts Matt Damon in his most non-Jason Bourne Jason Bourne role. (In fact, when I first saw the preview I thought it was a Bourne film.) Green Zone attempts to construct a suspense film around the search for WMDs in Iraq, and partly succeeds, even if it does at times get bogged down in its own weight.
Ghost Writer *** – Roman Polanski delivers a dark thriller about an author, played by Ewan McGregor, hired to write the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister, played by Pierce Brosnan, who has some dark secrets. The movie moves along nicely, and Polanski unveils the story at a good pace, but in what seems to have been the trend of the year, ultimately closes the movie with an ending so weak it spoils the rest of the film.
True Grit (1969) *** (v) – In preparation of seeing the remake, I decided to check out the original True Grit, a film that it turns out many of my friends were surprised I had never seen. In the end, I felt it was an OK film, entirely watchable although not deserving of its “classic” status. John Wayne was clearly given the Oscar as a life-time achievement award, and surely not for his ho-hum performance, but Kim Darby is really very good as Mattie Ross and Glen Campbell does a decent job as La Boeuf. Ultimately, the film is simply very dated.
Clash of the Titans (2009) *** (v) – Another remake of a childhood favorite, and another film that I’m glad I did not bother to see in 3D. This updated version of the camp classic features, of course, much better effects, although the jerky Ray Harryhousen monsters are part of what gave the first version its charm. Certainly Sam Worthington is ten times the actor that Harry Hamlin is, which is the movie’s saving grace. Zeus, the role hammed up by Lawrence Olivier in the original (it was in fact his last role) is here hammed up by Liam Neeson. The biggest disappointment was the final sequence, the battle against the Kraken. I think ultimately that I just thought the Godzilla-like monster in the original was a lot cooler than the … well … whatever the Kraken was supposed to be in this version.
Knight and Day *** – A by-the-numbers Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz action film that is precisely the movie you expect. There are some nice funny parts, and good action sequences, but the movie is otherwise entirely forgettable.
The Blind Side *** (v) – The Academy’s decision to expand the Best Picture nominees to 10 was, rightly I think, criticized when it was pointed out that there would inevitably be less-than-deserving films getting nominated, and none proves that point than The Blind Side. You’ve seen this story – rich white person generously saves a poor black kid – and you know, from looking at the poster alone, exactly what is going to happen. The performances were, for the most part, very good, although none really stood out, including the Oscar-winning one turned in by Sandra Bullock.
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time *** – Video games have been notoriously difficult to make into good movies, the Prince of Persia is no exception. What is good in the movie is the fast-paced action and great effects; what is bad is the overly complex and ultimately ridiculous story. Still, some great fight scenes and one massive battle make the movie entertaining overall.
Morning Glory *** – Harrison Ford cashes another paycheck, mostly phoning in his performance as a down-and-out newsman who is forced to anchor a silly morning show. What makes the movie good, however, is the performance by Rachel McAdams as a yound producer determined to save the show.
I Love You, Beth Cooper *** – Another film that you have seen before: nerdy boy likes gorgeous girl, adventures ensue, all live happily ever after. Here, the nerd (Paul Rust) decides to proclaim his love for the hottest, most popular girl in school (Hayden Panettiere), during his valedictorian speech. She then decides to show up at his graduation party, and they proceed to spend the night being pursued by her military-school jock ex-boyfriend. No surprises here, but Panettiere and Rust give performances good enough to pull it off.
Salt *** – Another by-the-numbers action flick, this one an Angelina Jolie vehicle. Here, she plays a spy who may or may not be a double-agent. The movie delivers absolutely no surprises, and anyone paying attention can likely guess the ending within the first 30 minutes. Still, the movie does deliver some great action sequences, such as the one early on when Jolie escapes her pursuers by jumping from one moving semi-truck to the next.
Grownups *** (v) – A buddy comedy uniting Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, and Rob Schneider, and then throwing in Salma Hayek, should have been great. Unfortunately, a completely uncreative setup and a series of predictable jokes waste the cast. Still, the movie is fun enough, particularly if you do as I did and see it on an airplane.
Unstoppable *** – As it turns out, there is not much you can do with a story about an out-of-control train. Here, a train which, or course, is loaded with toxic chemicals rolls out of a railyard under its own power and steams down the track, threatening the poor citizens of a town with an inconvenient sharp turn. Meanwhile, two engineers – a soon-to-retire veteran played by Denzel Washington and an up-and-coming young buck played by Chris Pine – become the only two who can stop it. You have to check your brain at the door – there are so many points at which the train could have been easily stopped, and the climatic sequence is so implausible as to be laughable – but the back-and-forth between Washington and Pine is at least watchable.
The Princess and the Frog *** – Everything that Disney did right in Tangled they do wrong here, their first hand-drawn animated princess film in years. The animation is great, and is what saves an otherwise so-so movie. The real problems are the instantly-forgettable songs and the story, which basically comes down to showing how a strong-willed, intelligent young woman cannot hope to succeed in life unless she finds a man with whom to fall in love and marry. Every argument that the princess movies are horribly sexist is proven right with this film.
The Next Three Days *** – Basically, The Next Three Days is what the The Fugitive would have been if Dr. Kimble was a woman who was still in prison, had a husband on the outside determined to break her out, and was being pursued by a cop totally lacking in Tommy Lee Jones’ charisma. At times hard to follow, at times utterly ridiculous, the movie at least moves at a quick pace and the climatic sequence will keep you guessing until the end.
Life As We Know It *** – I must admit that I saw this movie entirely by accident: I had it confused with a different movie, and by the time I realized that I was seeing the latest Katherine Heigl film I figured I might as well stay, as the alternative would have been to waste the money on the ticket. As it turned out, the film isn’t entirely bad, and even Heigl couldn’t manage to completely ruin things. The story is of a couple (Heigl and Josh Duhamel) who generally hate each other but are thrown together by a tragic happenstance: their mutual friends are killed and, in an act bordering on child abuse, name the two as guardians of their baby. Of course, the two turn out to be decent guardians and in the end fall in love (if that’s really a spoiler, then you’ve apparently never seen a romantic comedy before). The movie does provide a few genuinely funny moments, particularly if you are yourself the parent of a young child (I loved the scene where Heigl and Duhamel get high and watch The Wiggles), but in end is yet another in a long, long string of otherwise forgettable rom-coms.
The Informant! ** 1/2 – An attempt at almost slap-stick hilarity that falls short, The Informant features Matt Damon as a whistleblower and a whole lot of other actors phoning in entirely forgettable performances around him. There is little that actually ends up being funny in the movie.
Inglourious Basterds ** 1/2 (v) – This is one of the movies on the list that I know a lot of folks will disagree with me about, but I just could not find a lot to like about this film. The titular characters are hardly even in it, and the attempt to make the French resistance into something akin to slapstick is at times almost offensive, and hardly ever actually funny. There are, however, a few scenes which save the movie overall: the early sequence in which the Nazi “Jew hunter” played by Christoph Waltz – who delivers by far the best performance in the movie – interviews a farmer who he knows is hiding some Jews under the floorboards, and an equally tense scene in a bar where a group of British agents attempt to interact with German officers. Unfortunately, as brilliant as those two scenes were, the movie overall simply falls flat.
Jonah Hex ** 1/2 – Perhaps the only genre that is turning out to be more difficult to translate to film than video games is comic books. Here, a post-Civil War anti-hero, Jonah Hex, shoots his way through the Old West in some story about preventing some bad guy from developing some sort of super weapon. Or something like that. As implausible as it is badly acted, the movie is at least in the end not boring. That is, however, it’s only saving grace.
Piranha 3D **1/2 – I have to give this one some credit: it is exactly the movie it advertised itself as: a bunch of killer piranhas attack a lake, which is conveniently the scene of a massive spring break celebration, thus providing the context to fill almost every frame of the movie with beautiful, mostly naked women. You know from the beginning that what follows is 88 minutes of said naked woman being mangled by deadly fish. There is a slight attempt at a story as the local sheriff tries to maintain order and stop the fish while saving her family, but really one doesn’t buy a ticket to this movie for the story. One last note: this movie came closer to any other this year in using 3D to its full effect, and even still it would be exactly as enjoyable in 2D.
The Expendables **1/2 – The Expendables was one of the movies of 2010 I was looking forward to the most, and as such it provided one of the year’s biggest disappointments. Uniting Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts – with cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger thrown in for good measure – should have provided wall-to-wall shoot-em-up action. Instead, Stallone, who also directed, decides to spend too much of the movie having the characters sit around and talk. It is ultimately a movie about a bunch of old men, way past their prime, reliving their glory days.
The American **1/2 – The web site runpee.com allows you to know the points in movies when it is safe to go to the bathroom without missing anything important. It also, conveniently, lets you know whether or not a bonus scene follows the credits. The site rarely editorializes, instead simply saying that just after a particular scene, another scene follows that does not really move the story along and so you have 4 minutes to go and get back. In the case of The American, though, it says, “Nothing happens after the credits. Nothing much happens before the credits, either.” And that sums up this slow film about an assassin living in a small town in Italy who is not sure if he is on a job or the target of one.
Resident Evil: Afterlife ** – I have been a fan of the Resident Evil franchise, but this latest installment is by far the weakest. If you have read up to this point you will know that 2010 is the year that completely turned me off 3D; most movies simply do not benefit in any meaningful way from it, but in the case of Afterlife you have a film that I believe was actually weakened by it. I could not quite place a finger on it, but there was something about the way the effects looked in 3D that made them less realistic. One of the things that have made the other films in the series enjoyable was the quality of the effects, so seeing them diminished took an already weak installment and made it worse.
Did You Hear About the Morgans? ** – I wish I hadn’t. This weak attempt at comedy is really nothing more than stringing together every city-life-versus-rural-life cliche in the book. An utterly forgettable movie.
The Book of Eli ** – This one looked promising – Denzel Washington making his way through some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland, searching for, uh, something. It looked like it would be helped by co-stars Mila Kunis and Gary Oldman. The only problem? The story turned out to be ridiculous, the “big surprise” made the whole thing highly improbable, and a weak ending sealed the deal. Definitely one to skip for all but the most die-hard Denzel fans.
A Serious Man ** (v) – Seriously, what the hell happened to the Coen Brothers? With “A Serious Man”, one of the most dreadfully boring films of last year, they proved two things: first, that they are really playing on their past successes to get people into theaters, regardless of the dreck they put out, and second, that absolutely any Coen Brothers film will get nominated for Best Picture. (I do need to mention that True Grit shows that they do in fact still know how to make fantastic movies, but I didn’t see it until after the new year, so it will be included on my list next year.)
Alice in Wonderland ** – Tim Burton and Johnny Depp making a movie of Lewis Carroll’s psychedelic bad drug trip had the hallmarks of greatness, but it ultimately fell short. This was the first post-Avatar major 3D film, but unfortunately it did nothing to prove that 3D is worthwhile. Bad overacting by Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and relative newbie Mia Wasikowska did not help.
Lakeview Terrace ** (v) – A ridiculous set-up – a black LA cop (Samuel L Jackson) has issues with his interracial neighbors, for no good reason – leads to a ridiculous farce of a thriller. A pointless subplot about an approaching wildfire does nothing but distract from the film, although unfortunately it is not quite enough of a distraction to make the movie worth watching.
Exit through the Gift Shop ** – I know lots of people – including the couple I saw this with – loved this documentary about street artists, but for me it fell flat. It had an interesting premise – a man assigned to shoot a documentary ends up having his subject turn the camera on him – but there was just something missing overall.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World ** – Most of my geek friends are going to cry foul that this movie is so low on the list. I know for many, this was an easy top 10 film. My problem was in fact the very thing that so many others loved about it: I felt like I was watching someone play a video game. The issue is that that can be fun … for about 10 minutes. 2 hours worth? No thanks. In the end, I just really dislike films that constantly remind me that I’m watching a film, which this one does every chance it gets.I actually did a full review of this one.
Girlfriend Experience ** (v) – Steven Soderbergh’s attempt at looking at a high-class prostitute is, in the end, nothing more than a boring art film starring a porn star (Sasha Grey). I know that Ms. Grey wants to be a serious actress, and her recent turn in Entourage shows that she might be a decent enough performer to do so, but not so this movie. My biggest problem? This subject – the high-class hooker who is really just a normal girl who has found a way to make good money – has already been done, and done much, much better, in Showtime’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl.
Robin Hood * 1/2 – I know – instead of making another Robin Hood movie, let’s make an origin story instead. Except, rather than have any real action, we’ll mostly have our characters mull about, talk about how bad things are, and plan to take action. This movie was quite obviously nothing more than a set-up for a planned franchise. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t get made.
Skyline *1/2 – I pretty much said all that needs to be said about Skyline in my full review.
The Final Destination * (v) – Honestly, you can’t expect much from a franchise that had a neat idea the first time and then has just been trying to come up with creative and increasingly gory ways to kill people ever since, so in that regard, this entry into the franchise (which, it has already been announced, will not in fact be the final one) doesn’t really disappoint. It was another exercise in proving the year’s theme: 3D isn’t worth it – but in the end the movie is too ridiculous to even sit through when you come in with low expectations.
The Lovely Bones * – As I sat through this movie, I kept having the same thought: who in the hell directed this thing? I fully expected to be a name I had never seen, and then expected to go home and read how it was some son of someone famous who had been given a budget and some big-name actors (Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci) and then fell on his face when he discovered that this whole directing thing was harder than it looked. So then imagine my surprise when the credits rolled (at long last) and I saw it was in fact directed by none other than Peter Jackson. WTF? There’s a lot of imagery in this film about a murdered girl stuck in purgatory until her killer is caught, but Jackson wanted to make sure you didn’t miss a single thing, and so spends the entire movie absolutely beating his audience over the head with it. These are two hours of your life you’ll never get back.