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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“How to Train Your Dragon” wins the box office race; “Hot Tub Time Machine” is all wet compared to “Alice”

how_to_train_your_dragon_001

Yes, no gigantic surprises as the combination of family appeal, outstanding reviews, good word of mouth, the 3-D inflationary spiral, and a sufficient number of theaters in which to milk it, made for a solid opening for the weekend’s most high profile new release. To be specific, as per Box Office Mojo‘s handy dandy weekend chart, the 3-D animated “How to Train Your Dragon,” netted an estimate of $43.3 million for Dreamworks/Paramount and enjoyed the highest per-screen average of any film released this week on more than one screen, and it was on 4,055 of them. It’s a result not far from what was expected earlier.

Some may find this a slightly below-par opening. True to form in the ever-spinning world of Hollywood PR, some executive for a rival studio complimented the film but told Nikki Finke it tracked badly — and some day I’m going to learn exactly what that means — because it “lacked comedy,” which confuses me deeply. I mean, the trailer made me laugh. I guess he means it lacked a poop-eating joke or something. Anyhow, Ms. Finke is quite correct that, given the good word of mouth and the coming school holidays it should enjoy “good multiples.”

Meanwhile, Anthony D’Alessandro, Anne Thompson’s resident box office guru, has this to add:

While some box office analysts are crying foul that this figure reps a paltry opening weekend, particularly for a 3D film saddled with an estimated $165-million budget, these claims overlook the fact that animation films are a different breed at the box office than run-of-the-mill features.  Toons have longer legs, making anywhere from 30-35% of their total domestic haul in their opening weekend, whereas the average bow reps 50%.

In other words, do not cry for the filmmakers or Dreamworks. They’re going to do fine.

And, though their film is out of the top spot, neither should you shed a tear for Disney or Tim Burton even if “Alice in Wonderland” is out of the #1 spot. They had a terrific three week run at the top spot and this week’s second place estimate of $17.3 million is not too shabby either.

John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Lizzy Caplan, and Clarke Duke suffer past shock in On the other hand, the melancholy clowns of “Hot Tub Time Machine” led by John Cusack, Rob Cordry, the always hilarious Craig Robinson, and Clarke Duke, could perhaps benefit from a bit of sympathy. The comedy from MGM, currently on the auctioneer’s block, earned an estimated $13.65 million.

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“The Bounty Hunter” to ride shotgun for “Alice”?

Karl Rove and Ken Starr in That seems to be the trend in Hollywood conventional wisdom this busy March weekend, at least as reflected by my only source for such matters right now, the thoughts of jolly Carl DiOrio and Greg Kilday of The Hollywood Reporter. It certainly seems fairly impossible to argue that “Alice in Wonderland” won’t continue to enjoy its ride at the top of the box office for another week, with the aid of all those extra-pricey 3-D tickets. If it makes less than $30 million or so, I’m thinking it would be a rude shock for Disney.

As for the #2 spot, the appeal of Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler seems to be working, as per the mysteries of “tracking,” for “The Bounty Hunter.” The film aroused some serious vitriol, however, from our own David Medsker, who has lost all patience with Ms. Aniston. It’s not doing much better with critics as a whole. Scott Tobias of the A.V. Club opines that:

Based on the onscreen evidence, not a single person in front of or behind the camera cared a whit about how The Bounty Hunter turned out…Some movies are passion projects; The Bounty Hunter is an inertia project.

That’s actually mild compared to the zinger Tobias ends his review with. As you might guess, it’s Rotten Tomatoes rating as of this writing is pretty bad, a very lowly 8%.

Jenifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, and the back of bald guy's head star in

Still, audience members may be lured by the film’s effective advertising. Its effective advertising promises a lively ride as a sort of two-fisted spin on “It Happened One Night,” though the PG-13 “Bounty Hunter” is apparently more of an attempt at a light-hearted actioner than the action-packed rom-com you’d expect from the marketing.

DiOrio and Kilday are guesstimating $20-23 million for Sony. Sounds doable to me, though the second weekend might have a huge drop if the film is as much of a creative misfire as it sounds.

Next up is Fox’s PG-rated “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” based on a popular series of young adult “novels in cartoon.” (My pet peeve: why can’t we just call them comics?) I have to say that I hope the movie is much better than the trailer, which I found completely unfunny — just a collection of pale sub-“Wonder Years” jokes. The reviews seem to promise something at least a little better, with “Kid” dividing critics somewhat, though no one seems all that excited in either direction.

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