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2010 Year End Movie Review: David Medsker

No year in recent memory got off to as slow a start as 2010 did. In the end, it turned out to be a pretty damn good year – especially once I compare this list of movies to my picks from 2008 – but there were some rough patches early on, where nearly every movie we were seeing wasn’t merely mediocre but downright bad. The difference between this year and other years was the event movies; no one expects them to be award-winners, but it makes such a difference when they’re at least good (“Iron Man,” for example). This year, with a couple of exceptions, they were not good (“Iron Man 2,” for example).

People like to put down movie critics for being cranky sourpusses, but the truth is most of us want to like the movies we see. “TRON: Legacy,” “Salt,” “Due Date“… I wanted those to be awesome. They weren’t.

Luckily for me, there were just over 10 movies that were awesome, which means I have enough for a list, yay! And here they are, along some movies that were most decidedly not awesome. Happy new year, everyone. Now let’s all close our eyes and pretend we don’t see the 3D. Maybe, that way, it will go away.

Best Movies of 2010

1. Black Swan
The beauty of Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller about a fragile ballet dancer is that there is rarely a point where you know whether you’ve swallowed the blue pill or the red pill. The mirror work alone demands repeat viewings, if you’re brave enough.

black swan

2. The Social Network
Where Jesse Eisenberg officially stops being ‘that guy who acts like Michael Cera’ and puts on a showstopping performance as the brilliant but socially inept Mark Zuckerberg. Rooney Mara, meanwhile, is on screen for about six minutes, but makes every second count. And she’s right about the Internet – everything’s written in ink.

social network 3

3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
The most wildly entertaining movie I saw all year. From the dialogue to the editing to the on-screen sound effects, I had a stupid grin plastered to my face from start to finish. Even better to see Chris Evans and Brandon Routh poke fun at their superhero images. And I want to swim in Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s eyes.

scott pilgrim 2

4. Inception
There is a backlash growing against Christopher Nolan. I do not understand why. His movies are well-plotted, well-acted, smart and gorgeous. What’s not to love? Yes, “Inception” was chatty, but pardon the pun, it dared to dream, and I love movies that go for it. And so did a lot of other people, as its $290 million box office take will attest.

inception

5. Toy Story 3
There isn’t a movie out this year that touches the last 10 minutes of “Toy Story 3″ in terms of emotional impact. Terrifying one minute, heartbreaking the next, and armed with a bittersweet yet pitch-perfect ending. I still can’t make it through the ending, or even the beginning, without crying.

toy story 3

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2010 Year End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

Every year has its share of good movies and bad movies, but in 2010, the good ones were especially good and the bad ones sucked more than they usually do. And then there were the ones that fell somewhere in between – films that a lot of us were looking forward to seeing that didn’t pan out quite like we’d hoped. But there was nothing more destructive to cinemas this year than the onslaught of 3D, with studios hell-bent on trying to convince moviegoers that it was the future of movies. Sorry to say, but it was a gimmick in the 50s, a gimmick in the 80s, and it’s a gimmick today, not to mention a giant scam. Nevertheless, the good far outweighed the bad, with new films from innovative directors like Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright and Danny Boyle, and what’s shaping up to be one of the most exciting Best Picture races in years. That’s not to say that all of my choices are necessarily award-worthy, but in a perfect world, they would be.

Best Movies of 2010

1. “The Social Network

It might sound a bit contrived to say that a movie can define an entire generation, but in the case of “The Social Network,” I honestly believe it. There have been plenty of films made about corporate empires built on ruined friendships, broken promises and massive egos, but never has one hit so close to home as the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the rise of Facebook. It’s not just a product of our time, but something that directly affects the everyday lives of people all around the world. Interesting stuff no matter how you spin it, but David Fincher takes what could have been a boring courtroom drama and turns it into a wildly entertaining character study filled with some of the zippiest and cleverest dialogue that Aaron Sorkin has ever written. There’s not a weak link in the cast – from major players like Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer, to Rooney Mara’s brief (but important) appearance as one of Zuckerberg’s pre-Facebook girlfriends – but it’s Jesse Eisenberg’s star-making performance as the socially inept whiz-kid that makes “The Social Network” the year’s most enthralling film.

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2. “Inception

It’s hard not to be envious of a filmmaker like Christopher Nolan, because the guy is only 40 years old, hasn’t made a single bad movie yet, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Though it might have seemed virtually impossible to outdo “The Dark Knight,” Nolan’s seventh feature is better in just about every way – from its incredibly complex and original mind trip of a story, to the stunning visual effects and outstanding ensemble cast. “Inception” is the kind of film that only gets better with each new viewing, and though everyone may have their own theory about the ending (you could ask just about anyone whether or not it fell and they would immediately know what you were talking about), the real delight is watching the journey that leads us there. There are so many memorable moments that it’s hard to keep track, but the last 40 minutes are particularly spellbinding as Nolan manages to juggle four different dream states without tripping once. Can we just give the man his Oscar already?

inception

3. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Edgar Wright wasn’t exactly a household name prior to directing “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” but that will hopefully all change with this wildly ambitious action-comedy that pretty much rewrites the rules on comic book movies. It’s been said that mimicry is the highest form of flattery, and if that’s the case, then Bryan Lee O’Malley must be blushing, because the film adaptation of his six-volume comic series is not only incredibly faithful to the story, but its quirky humor and breakneck pacing as well. The ensemble cast is terrific (from a pitch-perfect Michael Cera in the title role, to bubbly newcomer Ellen Wong), the fight sequences are playfully unique, and you’d need a Rolodex just to keep track of all the clever pop culture references that are crammed into the script. It’s like dying and going to geek heaven.

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4. “127 Hours

Aron Ralston’s incredible story of survival may not exactly sound like the feel-good movie of the year, but despite all the attention that was placed on the dreaded amputation scene, there’s a really positive message coursing throughout the film. It’s not necessarily something you’ll notice the first time you watch it, either. In fact, while I was engrossed by Ralston’s perseverance during my first viewing (his know-it-all selfishness may have gotten him into the mess, but it’s also what got him out of it), it wasn’t until I saw it a second time that I truly appreciated how much the film is bursting with life. There aren’t too many actors that could have played Ralston without coming off as smug, but James Franco brings an Everyman quality to the role that wins you over immediately. And if he’s the heart and soul of the movie, then Danny Boyle is the brain, interweaving memories/daydreams/hallucinations of Ralston’s family and lost love as he tries to free himself from the boulder. This could have been a really dull film, but under Boyle’s direction, it’s an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind experience.

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Today on Film Geek’s Corner: Edgar Wright salutes “Danger: Diabolik”

With the passing of the great producer Dino De Laurentiis earlier this week, it’s probably an apt time to run this installment of “Trailers from Hell.” For all his robust crassness, De Laurentiis usually aligned himself with the most distinctive directors around. Below, distinctive director Edgar Wright — most recently of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” — discusses a very silly film by another acclaimed distinctive geek auteur, Mario Bavo.

Personally, I find Bava’s films a little bit hard to watch straight through. On the level of narrative, they’re kind of a mess and I can’t live on visuals alone. On the other hand, what visuals. After the flip, I’ll present the regular trailer sans commentary, and also that Beastie Boys video Edgar Wright alluded to.

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Weekend box office: “The Expendables” kills with men; “Eat Pray Love” shines for women; the world defeats “Scott Pilgrim”

The ExpendablesI doubt he follows box office grosses, but like one of the books by right-leaning humorist/pundit P.J. O’Rourke, this weekend most certainly could have been entitled Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence, and a Bad Haircut. To be specific, Jason Statham is still two years shy of his 40th birthday, but he’s an infant compared to most of the cast of writer-director-star Sylvester Stallone‘s “The Expendables.”

The action flick, about mercenaries hired ostensibly to overthrow a repressive Latin American regime, relied on the very sound box office logic that if one or two super-macho action stars could lead to reasonably dependable ticket sales even when well past their physical peak, eight very grown-up action stars (counting two superstar cameos) was more or less a sure thing. More or less as predicted by everyone, the bloody R-rated actioner earned just over an estimated $35 million for Lions Gate. So says the mighty Box Office Mojo weekend chart.

Also, while Julia Roberts is substantially younger than Stallone, the early forties are not young in actress years. Her many female fans, and the fans of the popular memoir, “Eat Pray Love,” embraced that maturity to the tune of an estimated $23.7 million for Sony. The studio spent a perhaps excessive $60 million on the flick, though the film clearly needed a star like Roberts to open like this, so her reported $10 million salary was probably worth it for the studio.

Sony had a decent weekend overall, with last weekend’s #1 film, “The Other Guys” suffering an average drop of just under 50% and earning an estimated $18 million in third place. Warner’s very leggy “Inception” held firm with an estimated $11.37 million getting into fourth place in its fifth week.

Then we have “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” The Pilgrim reception is inducing nasty flashbacks of past would be “viral” successes with its estimated $10.525 million. The film may well do better over the long run as it’s already a huge cult success, if you think about it, and the international numbers could always be different. Being “big in Japan” has certainly saved a lot of bands, why not Mr. Pilgrim?

However, it cost a not-tiny $60 million (including various credits and rebates for the Toronto-based films, says Anthony D’Allesandro) and was pretty much the talk of the Internet film geek sites for most of the summer. It also reportedly has done very well with the people who’ve actually seen it, both anecdotally and, according to Anthony D’Allesandro, according to Cinemascore. It should have done a lot better.

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Behold the power of the Internet…to make fans bored with a movie before it comes out, while still leaving non-fans out in the cold.  More about this in a post to come later in the week, after the “actuals” come out. I will say I thought “Scott Pilgrim” would beat “Kick-Ass” as it theoretically should appeal to a wider audience, except that the superhero jet-black comedy actually made about $19 million on its below-expectations opening. As the man said, no one knows anything.

Meanwhile in limited release, the second highest per-screen average went to a decent opening for the intriguing Aussie crime thriller “Animal Kingdom” and “Get Low.” The folksy melodrama — which didn’t make me or anyone else in the audience I saw it with laugh much but some insist on calling a comedy drama — continues to get reasonably high at the box office despite my poor review and my delayed write-up of the press conference with charming stars/acting legends Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek, which I promise you’ll be seeing before much longer. I truly don’t see the appeal, but Oscar hopes are growing for this one. More on limited releases, as usual, at Indiewire.

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The end-of-week movie news dump vs. the world

It’s been somewhat surprising, even given my own innate skepticism about practically everything, that for the last week or so there’s been very little compelling movie news — really very little that I could bring myself to even mention here. To be honest, I kind of liked that way. Much less time consuming and more fun to just throw trailers and stuff at you guys. The last 24 hours or so, however, have been a very different story.

* I often wonder where George Lucas went wrong in a number of departments. Today he’s King Midas in reverse with actors — who else could actually make Samuel L. Jackson boring? — but he directed the very well acted “American Graffitti.” His first two “Star Wars” movies were imperfect but great, great fun — and he had the great good sense to bring in the best writers available, and a very strong director, for the second one. He insisted on doing the three prequels himself, however, and in my opinion and lots of other people’s, showed how borderline unwatchable a space opera could be.

What went wrong? I don’t know but one thing that did happen to Lucas was the departure of producer Gary Kurtz, he of the Abe Lincoln beard who I honestly haven’t thought about in decades.

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Weekend box office: In which we separate the men from the boys, and women from both

The Expendables

If we are to believe the prognosticators this weekend, testosterone will rule in a weekend which could turn out to be the most exciting movie three-way showdown since the climax of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The impression is that it really does threaten to send the genders, and possibly even the generations, on their separate ways at the nation’s multiplexes.

Of course, when I speak movies of aimed at us penile-Americans, I speak of the R-rated mega-macho ultraviolent action fest, “The Expendables.” The ensemble-action flick is directed, cowritten and co-starring Sylvester Stallone and features Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, and assorted other manly men who are masculine males in supporting roles and cameos.

Cinema prognosticators Ben Fritz and good old jolly Carl DiOrio seem to think this movie will easily take the top spot for Lionsgate to the tune of about $30-35 million with its appeal to males of all ages. Critics, for the most part, aren’t overly impressed, though a sizeable enough minority are treating the film as a campy, action-packed good time. For me, Stallone’s career peaked 35 years ago with his hilarious performance in “Death Race 2000″ — “Rocky” has never done much for me and “Rambo: First Blood 2″ did even less — but I still might be checking this one out at some point. I do have an affection for the ensemble action film genre. If you do as well, you might want to check out the salute to the sturdy sub-genre posted over at the Bullz-Eye blog.

Julia RobertsFor the more femininely chromosomed, this week’s big draw is supposed to be “Eat Pray Love” from director Ryan Murphy, best known as the creator of TV’s “Glee” and “Nip/Tuck,” and starring an actress you may remember named Julia Roberts. It’s an adaptation of a memoir about a divorced woman going on a worldwide physical and spiritual “journey of self-realization.”  I don’t know about you but when I hear “self-realization” and especially “journey of self-realization” I check out completely. I don’t think that’ s just because I’m male.

While I haven’t seen a single episode of Murphy’s shows, I gather he is associated with a certain degree of offbeat innovation and has clearly touched a nerve on two on the small screen. That doesn’t seem to have translated into much interest from film critics, however, who are mostly kind of unimpressed. Rated PG-13, “Eat Pray Love” does seem to be doing a bit better critically than his poorly received prior adaptation of a hit memoir, “Running with Scissors.” Jolly Carl expects to film to hit the #2 spot with an amount somewhere over $20 million.

And then comes what I hope may be this weekend’s wild card. The consensus seems to be that, despite a torrent of Internet publicity and huge geek buzz, Edgar Wright’s comic book adaptation, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” will be lucky to get much over $15 million which, for a movie costing about $65 million, isn’t great. Though reviews initially looked as they might be “middling,” they are actually shaping up as rather excellent for a film that risks alienating a certain percentage of its audience with its blatantly video-game derived comic book/manga aesthetic. The consensus being that, as with the highly entertaining “Kick-Ass” before it, geek awareness and mass audience acceptance just are not the same thing and it’s entirely likely this will come in the #4 spot behind last week’s #1 film, “The Other Guys.”

I’m sure there’s a good chance this will happen. However,  “Scott Pilgrim” seems to me to be a film that, at least over the long haul, has a potentially much wider audience than some other films because of it’s unusual combination of relationship-driven and action-comedy. The fact that, as a young skewing film, it’s PG-13 but also relatively racy in its advertisements might not hurt either. Not to be put in the position of defending a film I haven’t seen and pre-release online mini-backlash notwithstanding,  there is one thing I feel sure about. In a few years, the new movie from this weekend that people will still be talking about is “Pilgrim.”

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Actually, that’s perhaps not entirely true because there’s also a very interesting new film debuting in very limited release, and this one I did see a couple of months at the L.A. Film Festival. “Animal Kingdom” is an imperfect but highly assured debut from Australian first-time writer-director David Michôd. Though a bit overly dour and slack in the middle, to the point where it very nearly lost me, it’s one of the best crime films I’ve seen in a while with a real doozy of a last act. It’s opening on just small four screens but with a couple of brilliant bad-guy-and-gal performances, this is one I think you’ll be hearing about later on.

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“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” — the non-motion picture

Talking about “Scott Pilgrim” shortly before Comic-Con with someone I know whose work straddles the world of comic books and show biz and who I think has a very good understanding of both mediums, the person commented that the trailer for Edgar Wright’s highly anticipated film version really captured the comic book it’s based on in some rather specific ways.

I was slightly surprised. Wasn’t Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic book manga-style and aren’t actors like Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead blessed with normal sized heads and eyeballs? Isn’t the book in black and white and the movie in rather vivid color?

I was surprised but also being semi-facetiously silly and superficial, there’s obviously a lot more to visuals than color and the shape of people’s eyeballs and heads. Now, here to prove that point is this very nice reconstruction of the trailer using panels from O’Malley’s comics together with audio from the trailer.

H/t /Film.

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It’s your just barely pre-holiday weekend movie news dump

I was going to try and avoid doing this this week and meant to gripe about the Los Angeles Film Festival’s rather serious problems in terms of how they treat the human beings who attend, but there was simply too much interesting news stuff going on to ignore, even if some of it is outside of what I usually cover.  So, LAFF, you get another reprieve…

* I don’t do gossip and the content of an argument between a director/star and his ex-mistress certainly qualifies. On the other hand, when that star is Mel Gibson and he has the history he does and he says something as noxious as this, you just can’t ignore it. People say terrible stuff when they’re in the thrall of extreme anger, but Gibson keeps going back to the racist and misogynist well when he becomes unhinged. It’s not nothing.

Also, I hope he avoids anything that looks like preaching ever again. I’m no theologian, but as I understand it,  a devout fundamentalist anti-Vatican II Catholic who openly cheats on and leaves his wife is not exactly walking the walk, but it’s only anyone’s business because of the way he’s made religion part of his career and it’s hard not to think of him as complete hypocrite, on top of everything else. I truly don’t believe that people should decide not to see movies based on a particular actor’s behavior, not matter how bad, but this comment is so repulsive, and the man is so clearly out of control, that I’ll understand if people would just prefer not to look at him anymore.

On the other hand, for those in the talking and making fun of people business, it can be a good thing, and it’s already started, largely via Twitter. Jeff Schneider of the Wrap has compiled some of it.

* I usually also try to avoid stories that are vague and unconfirmed, but this one is a bit too interesting and potentially big to ignore. There’s also a various obvious Gibson connection to the biggest unconfirmed glorified rumor of the day. It’s that it’s just barely possible that two back-to-back “Mad Max” sequels are being directed down-under even as we speak by the Max man himself, George Miller. Certain aspects of the story, especially the putative titles, are hinky, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.  If it’s true, I’m guessing Miller is a bit relieved that Gibson isn’t involved this time. (Though can they really be sequels in the usual sense without him, or at least his character?)

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“Shrek Forever Ever” threepeats, “Get Him to the Greek” wins silver amid box office malaise

Shrek Forever AfterThe numbers are out early this morning via Box Office Mojo and the Numbers, so I’m going to rush out the weekend box office news whilst I have time. Basically, it’s been a fairly slow couple of weekends with disappointing performances for movies like “Shrek Forever After,”  and, to a greater extent, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and “Sex and the City 2” — though I think most any sensible person could have told the studios these movies, suffering from overused or tired or just kind of lame concepts, never had much mega-blockbuster potential. Let’s see how things go when “Inception,” “Toy Story 3,” and, maybe, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” come out.

Anyhow, the news wasn’t all bad. The final “Shrek” production continues to capitalize on the fact that it’s been better received than the prior film in the hyper-extended series. It’s showing reasonable legs, earning an estimated $25.3 million for Dreamworks/Paramount in its third week and dropping a lower-than-average 41.6%.

Some seem to think it’s a disappointment, but “Get Him to the Greek” sure looks like a moderate success to me. It broke out from a pack of four new releases, two of which were supposed to earn more money than it, and earned a couple million more than some of the gurus were predicting on Thursday, an estimated $17.4 million. I guess the fact that some critics mentioned “The Hangover” in their reviews kind of ginned up expectations, but sleeper successes like that have their own surprising logic and always come out of left field. Universal needs a lot more than this to really break it’s losing streak, but it’s not a horrid start.

Russell Brand and Jonah Hill in

Nikki Finke, for some reason, expected “Greek” to make more than the movie it’s spun off from, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” However, the fact of the matter is that that film had more of an almost classical screwball romantic comedy premise that appeals to a wider audience of both men and women when done well, with more traditionally appealing leads — Jason Segal’s  unpretty but brilliant nude scenes notwithstanding. Even if Russell Brand and Jonah Hill were in the earlier film in scene-stealing supporting roles, the Mutt and Jeff twosome is still not all that widely known and a fairly unusual pairing for a mass audience movie in our time. Moreover, the $40 million budget is modest these days, making the very home-video friendly, Judd Apatow-produced, “Greek” a very probable nice earner over the long haul.

Moving on, things get worse. “Killers,” starring my least favorite male actor in the universe and Kathryn Heigl, came in third with an estimate of $16.1 million. With a budget of $75 million, this is obviously the opposite of a  homerun for Lionsgate. Despite being a family film, the CGI-aided talking dog movie, “Marmaduke”, had at least a certain degree of failure pretty much written all over it, coming in at sixth place with an opening weekend estimate of $11.3 million for Fox. Not quite in the basement, but with a $50 million budget and no reason to expect any kind of legs, this one looks (I cannot resist) like a bit of a dog.

Kim Cattrall in As for last week’s aforementioned debuts, it wasn’t pretty. Both Disney’s “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and, more so, Fox’s widely reviled “Sex and the City 2″ showed no legs this week, dropping by worse than average 54% and 59% respectively, and coming in fourth and fifth with $13.9 and $12.65 million respectively.

Though Nikki Finke and others are trumpeting the tale of how it even got a theatrical release at all, the creepy science-fiction thriller “Splice” pretty much died with $7.45 million estimated for Warners, which is keeping the project at arms length. It apparently did badly on Cinemascore, which I guess reflects my hunch that the modern blood-and-gore-thirsty, trauma-loving, horror audience was the wrong group to pitch the movie too, especially given its potentially misleading R-rating (as much for sexuality and language as “sci-fi violence”).  It should have been sold as more of an adult science fiction thriller and probably started out with more of a limited release. Instead, they promised the audience a chili-bacon cheeseburger and gave them Fettuccine Alfredo. Well, it only cost $30 million, it has its fans, and there’s always DVD/Blu-Ray.

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Your reward for a slow movie news day — the new “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” trailer

I’ve never read the comic book but judging from the word on the street and this latest, dandy trailer, Edgar Wright’s colorful treatment of a black and white comic book series by Bryan Lee O’Malley sure looks like some thoroughly enjoyable nonsense. That’s something that the movies are supposed to be good at all but which remains an increasingly rare commodity. Enjoy.

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