“Water, fire, air and dirt. Fuckin’
ZACK CLOPTON’S 2010 MOVIE RETROSPECTIVE!!!
How do they work?!”
I’m sure we’d all like to forget that 2010 happened as soon as possible. The Earth let us know how much it all hated us by decimating helpless third world countries with earthquakes, obscuring Europe in volcanic ash, raining meteorites over the Midwest and burying the east coast in snow. In return, America got its revenge on Mother Earth by flooding the Mexican Gulf with oil. (Take that, Nature!) In Washington, a bunch of assholes kept the president from getting anything done and then proceeded to blame him for not accomplishing anything. WikiLeaks and Vuvuzela confused and then irritate nearly everyone. Dennis Hopper died. It was a terrible, terrible fucking year. What an awful way to start the decade.
But before we can close the book on this unfortunate chapter forever, I must talk about something else, something more important then anything of that: Movies.
About the only thing that didn’t suck deep-fried elephant dong about this year were the movies that came out. From a filmic prospective, 2010 was actually a pretty solid year. Auteur filmmakers made their presence more known to general public, with great filmmakers continuing to add to their great reputations or building it up further. Animation also flourished this year, with Pixar, Disney, and even Dreamworks producing some of their best work in years, not to mention the notable independents that came along. Horror films were surprisingly daring. It’s not like there was a shortage of remakes or sequels but I’m thinking over ten years of independent horror making great product might have actually started to influence the mainstream studio’s way of doing stuff. Time will tell if any of this has any lasting effect but, for the time being, 2010 showed a lot of fantastic improvements and developments.
I saw 89 films this year, shattering all of my previous records. I’m like a professional movie critic now, except I don’t get paid or receive any sort of recognition from the press. It’s such a big list, that I’m actually going to be splitting this list into two parts: THE GOOD and THE MEDIOCRE TO BAD. Thus I present you with THE GOOD LIST. Enjoy. Please. I’m lonely.
FOUR STAR FILMS:
Chris Nolan finally combines his two aspects with this, an epic that takes place within the human mind. The writing is so goddamn good, perfectly balances SIX different storylines. Great visuals, wonderful cast, fantastic ending. It’s really, really good.
2. Toy Story 3
Another Pixar movie that makes me weep like an infant. For what’s ostensibly a kid’s flick, this handles some heady themes: growing up, preserving innocence, cynicism vs. hope, abandonment, facing death, even class struggles. That’s one of the secrets to Pixar’s success. Their movies are simple enough for kids but thematically complex enough for grown-ups.
3. Winter’s Bone
What’s really remarkable about this film is its extraordinary sense of location and its phenomenal lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence as a remarkably strong young woman. An involving, complex film-noir perfect for these economically depressed times.
4. Never Let Me Go
The premise forces the characters to face the inevitable facts of life with an immediacy you and I can’t. The way the movie filters these facts through a heartfelt love story and great characters makes for a powerful, thoughtful, sometimes depressing, moving film.
5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
This movie is pretty easy to love, with its infectiously fun style, lovable cast of characters, and its genuinely sweet love story. While the whole thing is filled with wacky, video game inspired fight scenes and day-glo humor, it’s actually a really strong metaphor for the emotional baggage one brings into a new relationship.
6. Shutter Island
A powerful mood piece. The mystery is captivating but also somewhat routine. What Scorsese has fun with is the massively foreboding atmosphere. The surreal nightmares are especially chilling. Several one scene performances from awesome character actors just sell it more. The ending could’ve been better but Scorsese doesn’t disappoint with this dark-as-shadows noir.
7. True Grit
An old-fashion western adventure that is surprisingly funny, filled with quiet humor, fantastic character interaction, and exciting action. Jeff Bridges is great as Rooster Cogburn but it’s really Hailee Steinfeld that gives the most impressive performance in the film.
8. Black Swan
A psychological horror film filled with mirror imagery, identity disorders played out on a viscerally literal level, surreal body horror, icky eroticism, mommy issues galore, sacrificing sanity for art, and mind-fuckery of both the subtle and melodramatic variety. Portman’s fragile-as-glass character drawls you in while the perfect writing and directing holds the boiling-over madness together.
THREE AND A HALF STAR FILMS:
9. The Last Exorcism
A movie more about beliefs and skepticism then it is about demonic possession. The documentary style drew me into the reality of the film right from the beginning, which may be why this one had such a strong effect on me. Great performances, smart writing, and a wonderful shock ending makes this one of the few stand-out horror films of the year.
10. Piranha 3D
A campy, over-the-top throwback to exploitation cheese of the eighties. This might be the most entertaining horror film of the year, with fantastic gore and creature effects, copious amounts of female nudity, and, most surprisingly, a cast of characters you actually care about.
Disney continues to return to its classic style. This is a sweet love story, an exciting adventure film, an actually funny romantic comedy, a catchy musical, and a strong entry in the proud tradition of Disney fairy tales. The visuals are scrumptious and the characters are memorable.
12. Iron Man 2
At least six or seven major plotlines are running at once. The movie pauses for an hour to keep it all in order. And there’s only four action sequences. But Robert Downey Jr. and the rest of the cast are so good, it makes it all easy to watch. Despite its apparent flaws, the movie is really enjoyable thanks to a great cast, a brisk pace, a strong villain, and Scarlett Johansson in a catsuit.
13. Hot Tub Time Machine
A rauchy sex comedy about middle age regret? Yep, and it’s good, mainly because it takes time to develop its characters into interesting, layered, lovable fuck-ups. Depressing character comedy, sarcastic Cusack, day-glo eighties camp, surreal asides, and Crispin Glover screaming about rape? How could I not love this movie?
14. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
As far as murder mysteries go, this one is fairly competent, slightly overlong with a reveal that doesn’t surprise you, but a solid little thriller. But the fascinating character of Lisbeth, and the great performance from Noomi Rapace, elevates this film. If it had focused completely on her and dropped the boring journalist guy, it would’ve been really special.
The character aspects of the movie aren’t one hundred percent successful but, once the movie starts rolling with its premise, it’s very successful, exploiting every meaty, “oh shit!” moment for maximum intensity. Adam Green graduates to really good director with this great “things-go-wrong” thriller.
16. Let Me In
A respectful remake, that is darker in same ways and smartly snips out unnecessary subplots. It maintains the original’s emotional core and that is solely because of the fantastic performances from Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Weak CGI, some silly vampire effects, and an inferior version of the climatic pool scene are my only complaints.
17. The Square
With each turn of the screw, the character’s situation becomes more desperate, more chilling, and the audience is dragged along, forced to watch as everything goes horribly wrong. The great lead performance, subdued musical score, and stark direction just further sell this.
18. The Exploding Girl
I’m really starting to like these indie dramas were nothing happens. They’re low-key in a way that’s life-like, not gimmicky. The quiet will-they-or-won’t-they? romance keeps you watching, drawling you into the main character’s anxious mindset, leading to a nice, bittersweet ending.
19. The Social Network
Is this a modern day “Citizen Kane” or is it about how, despite the internet making connecting to people easier, we’re all still very alone? Whatever it is, it’s captivating to watch, with fantastic performances, an eerie score, and a clever script. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but you can’t undersell a good character study either.
20. Easy A
Emma Stone is effortlessly charming and adorable. Her winning performance, the great supporting cast, and the insanely clever script elevates this above every other high school movie from the last ten years. This is the first time I’ve ever been happy to see the lead girl run off with her beefy crush at the end instead of the put-upon nerd.
Does a surprisingly good job of extending its clever short film premise to feature length. The situation is milked for maximum suspense, helped along by a game Ryan Reynolds performance and some fancy direction. This is a grim thriller that keeps you guessing
Starts out as a slow-burn thriller that gradually transforms into full-out horror. The cast is great, the characters’ fascinating, and the story presents a legitimate interest in psychological fear. There are too many jump-scares in the first half and I prefer the original short story’s ironic ending to the downbeat one presented here.
23. How to Train Your Dragon
Dreamworks has slowly been getting away from their lame, broad comedies and instead focusing on adventure films. While the story is still formulaic, this is an exciting, visually impressive, fantasy. It could’ve work as a big live action summer blockbuster with a little retooling.
THREE STAR FILMS:
The performances are strong, the effects’ very good, and, up until the last twenty minutes, this is an intelligent, challenging, sci-fi flick filled with all sorts of interesting ideas. The movie really goes off the rails in the last act, becoming a standard monster movie and goes a little over the top.
Big Daddy and Hit Girl should have been the stars of this. They’re the most interesting characters. Otherwise, there are a few uneven spots and I question some of the director’s stylistic decisions, but the completely awesome final forty minutes really makes up for everything.
26. The Ghost Writer
The kind of conspiracy thriller that Polanski has always excelled at making. Yes, it spends more time spinning it’s wheels then it does anything else, but the twists, turns, and reveals make it worth it. The story isn’t anything new but it’s always captivating.
27. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?
Michael Shannon is crazy. He’s not Hollywood crazy, he’s real life crazy, completely committed to his incomprehensible, bizarre, illogical ideas and conclusions. Herzog shoots in a low-fi, naturalistic style, letting the insanity speak for itself, presenting the Lynchian wackiness in a subtle, composed manner.
28. Secret of the Kells
The gorgeous visuals, which play like Byzantine murals animated with the rich details of Walt Disney, the smoothness of anime, and the slapstick energy of Craig McCracken, enlivens this fable of Irish magic while the beautiful Celtic score adds a deep layer of spirituality.
Danny Trejo kicks so many asses and, as an action-exploitation film, it’s a great success. Rodreiguz packs the movie with too many subplots and certain performances aren’t very good. The rest of the cult cast has great fun and when the focus is on the cartoonish violence, I loved it.
30. Harry Brown
What “Gran Tarino” would’ve been like if it had any balls. Sure it follows the vigilante formula closely, but the movie is powered by Michael Caine’s extraordinary performance and its sense of raw energy. While the action is bloody and satisfying, it never looses sight of the tricky moral questions at hand. The riot scene near the end is unnecessary and the CGI blood too obvious.
Despite being bizarrely marketed as a thriller, this is actually a fascinating character study documentary. No matter how “real” it is, this film effectively explores loneliness, obsession, romantic longing, and the malleability of identify here in the internet age.
An indie-romantic-drama with an obvious illegal immigration subtext and a few giant CGI octopi thrown in doesn’t sound like a very good monster movie, but the performances are good and the leads have great chemistry together. The climatic scene is quiet and oddly touching, as is most of the movie.
33. Hatchet 2
Part two quadruples the amount of gore, adds more humor, creates a mythology around Victor Crowley, sprinkles a number of horror in-jokes throughout, provides a great supporting role for Tony Todd, and is generally a better made film. But what was with Danielle Harris’ accent?
34. The Killer Inside Me
Casey Affleck brings this whole thing together. Despite a mixed-up story and some uneven pacing, his performance as a boiling over sadistic psychopath keeps the audience invested. The muted cinematography is pretty good too.
35. Fish Tank
The British answer to “Precious,” except the melodrama is less ridiculously contrived. Katie Jarvis’ lead performance is the main reason to see this one, even if the story throws a few unexpected turns at us. This is ultimately a familiar story but it’s at least a strong retelling of that classic formula.
36. Book of Eli
I didn’t expect this movie to have as much action as it did, nor for the action to be this intense or violent. The story is pretty by-the-book (Har.) and it fizzles out at the end but the stylistic execution and an above average Denzel performance makes this a winner in my book. (And har.)
A dreamy, romantic fairy tale powered by lush photography, wistful music, and a fantastic group of performances, especially from Alison Berry. The story takes a turn near the end that I’m not sure I like, but overall this is a wonderful rumination on reality vs. fantasy, faith vs. doubt, and love vs. heartache.
38. The Loved Ones
Robin McLeavy is the clingy psycho bitch of the Facebook generation. Her performance is the main highlight of this twisted torture thriller. A number of scenes are quite intense, the gore is disturbing and envelope pushing, and the other performances are good as well. The completely useless subplot could have been cut and a human body takes more damage then is plausible.
39. The Losers
It’s not like this movie does anything new or special but, damn, if it isn’t fun. It’s cast is obviously having a total ball, Chris Evans in particular, and everyone has great chemistry with each other. It’s a shame it sets itself up for a sequel that will never come, instead of sticking with being a fun Sunday afternoon rental.
40. Winnebago Man
Interview documentaries are my favorites. They don’t attempt to sum up a whole life in nineties minutes nor do they beat you with a message. Instead, it’s just like meeting and befriending somebody. Jack Rebney, “The Angriest Man in the World,” is as much a character as that title implies. His rants and spiky attitude make for a fascinating, if lightweight, character study.
41. I Love You Philip Morris
Most of the joys of this one comes from Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor’s convincing chemistry as gay lovers and the amusing ways Carrey constantly undermines and ridicules the American prison system. The sincere mood shift in the last act is justified by the hilarious and completely unexpected twist it sets up.
42. The Expendables
For such a blatant homage to eighties action cheese, I’m really disappointed that the action slips so often into incoherent shaky-cam tactics. Beyond that, there are some pretty solid action set pieces, Sly and Statham are great together, and I do like that each one of the action stars get a sequence to themselves to show off how badass they are.
A small cast, closed up in a single location, slowly picked off by a vicious killer is a classic slasher set-up. The characters actually get some pretty decent development and have a nice repour. Gore is used in clever, nastily creative ways. There’s a sense of absurd fun running under the whole thing.
The director’s style gets a little out-of-hand at times, but the movie gets some surprising mileage out of its great cast, a handful of awesome cameos, and some pretty hilarious dialogue. If nothing else, this one provides the ribbing the vampire genre desperately needs right now.
45. Night of the Demons
Dare I say better then the original? It combines the anything-goes tone of the sequel with the original’s dynamite premise. It has an able-bodied cast (in more sense then one), some fantastic gore, some creative demonic carnage, cool fanboy homages (including a great Linnea Quigley cameo) and a rockin’ soundtrack. (Though it’s missing the Bauhaus.)
46. The Kids Are All Right
Strong performances all around power this indie-quirk-comedy-that-isn’t. It’s more of a light drama about the pros and cons of being married for a long time. The gay and sperm donor daddy aspects take a back seat to the two mothers’ relationship, which I guess is an okay thing. Julianne Moore sure is willing to get naked and Mia Wiaskowska continues to be a talent to watch.
47. Bad Biology
Strictly for demented cinema fans only. Frank Henenlotter has made his sickest, most perverted, sexually dysfunctional film yet. A strong female lead and the director’s typical sense of humor makes this feature length freak-show more entertaining then it would be otherwise. Will either squek you out or fascinate and amuse you, depending on how much of a sick fuck you are.
48. Youth in Revolt
Successfully captures how it feels to be a horny virginal teenager as well as how it feels to fall in love for the first time. The amounting absurdities that make up the plot produce a few laughs, but the story isn’t as clever as it wants to be. But a breezy pace, anything-goes tone, and solid performances make up for that.
49. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
There are some nice visuals and the chemistry between the three kids continues to be the heart of the series. But as someone mostly removed from the Harry Potter universe these days, a lot of this confused me. And, naturally, it’s just two-and-half hours of set-up.
This quirky thriller is mostly powered by Cillian Murphey’s nervous performance. The plot goes back and forth on itself and doesn’t wrap up in a satisfactory way. But I don’t regret spending ninety minutes on it. Yes, Ellen Page does play an “escort” but, no, she doesn’t get naked.
END OF PART ONE