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.

the_social_network

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.

scott_pilgrim

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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“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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“Shutter Island,” “Cop Out,” and “The Crazies” mine money from mayhem for an R-rated weekend

Pretty much everything happened this weekend the way it was supposed to. As discussed here late Thursday (or very early Friday if you’re on the East Coast), Martin Scorsese‘s cop-psychological thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio, “Shutter Island,” was expected to come in at the #1 spot after having a drop of something in the 50% range. Meanwhile, the new Kevin Smith-directed Bruce Willis/Tracy Morgan buddy-cop comedy, “Cop Out,” and the quasi-zombie horror remake, “The Crazies,” were supposed to fight it out for the #2 spot and do reasonably well. That’s precisely what happened.

As per the filmic bean coutners of Box Office Mojo,  “Shutter Island” suffered only a lower-than-usual 45.9% drop. It therefore stayed on-top with a healthy estimated $22.2 million for Paramount, which won’t hurt the Scorsese/DiCaprio brand any.

Tracey Morgan and Bruce Willis I thought “Cop Out” was, at heart, a moderately lousy movie but also had to admit to almost kind of enjoying a lot of it. That was a rave compared to most critics. Still, as I suspected, the movie delivered the cop comedy goods just enough to keep audiences coming  and it netted Warners a perfectly acceptable estimated $18.5 million in the #2 spot for a modestly budgeted ($30 miillion) comedy.

“The Crazies,” which actually got its share of decent reviews, scored a solid estimate of $16.5 for the weekend for Overture. That’s actually a bit better than it sounds for the George A. Romero remake, because it was in nearly 500 fewer theaters than “Cop Out” and its per screen was average was nearly $700 higher than the comedy. Also, with stars Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell presumably asking less upfront than Morgan and Willis, it’s budget was $10 million cheaper.

The highest per screen average this week was, as usual, for a limited release film. Still, considering that it expanded this week from four to 43 theaters this weekend and managed a really good $20,233 per screen, Roman Polanski’s political thiller, “The Ghost Writer” did very well for itself.

As for poor little “Avatar” it made only a measly $14 million estimated this week in the #4 spot. But do not cry for the Na’vi, it’s still on top in the international box office sweepstakes. Nor should you shed tears for Hollywood overall. As Nikki Finke points out, revenue is up, even if attendance is just a tad down.

http://www.bullz-eye.com/mguide/reviews_2009/avatar.htm

  

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“Shutter Island” hits big against soft competition

Leonardo DiCarprio in The latest from Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio performed even better than the experts seemed to expect this weekend. The horror-flavored thriller Dennis Lehane adaptation, “Shutter Island,” earned a very healthy estimated $40 million, about $10-15 million more than predicted. This will surprise some because the film was delayed from its original release date last year, which is usually considered not a very good sign. However, as Nikki Finke points out, it turns out to have been a very smart move by Paramount. To me, it’s pretty clear that the general artistic verdict on the film indicates that it wasn’t really Oscar material in any case, but the studio apparently saw the combination of well-known names that the audience trusts with the crime and horror genres could deliver some very nice bucks — if it debuted on a weekend with little in the way of fresh competition.

Taking a look at our handy-dandy Box Office Mojo chart, the competition really wasn’t very strong. Last week’s big winner, the critically drubbed “Valentine’s Day,” took a near nose dive and dropped by 69.5% apparently on word that it wasn’t very good and that V-day was last weekend. Still, $17.16 isn’t terrible box office for a second weekend.

Last weekend’s silver medalist, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” dropped by a more standard 51% percent, but $15.3 million was low enough to put into the fourth place spot. That’s just below, guess what, “Avatar,” still holding nicely with $16.1 million in its tenth week. Meanwhile, the cool-looking but apparently very creatively troubled “The Wolfman” dropped a pretty bad 68.7% in its second weekend to earn an unspectacular $9.8 million and change.

By far the biggest film this week in terms of per-screen average this week belonged to a thriller that is topical in more ways than one. “The Ghost Writer” deals with a writer working on a memoir by a former British Prime Minister accused of war crimes connected to torture, and it’s directed by Roman Polanski. That was controversy/notoriety enough for a solid $44,775 on its four screens. It will be adding a few more theaters next week.

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<a href=”http://www.bullz-eye.com/mguide/reviews_2010/the_wolfman.htm” target=”_blank”><img class=”photo_right” src=”http://www.bullz-eye.com/mguide/review_images/2010/the_wolfman/the_wolfman_5.jpg” border=”0″ alt=”Benecio del Toro in ” width=”218″ height=”138″ /></a>
  

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Can Marty and Leo take the weekend without women?

That’s the question being posed by The Hollywood Reporter‘s jolly Carl DiOrio as he predicts that the latest from the team of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio will enjoy a $25-30 opening. The atmospheric Dennis Lehane adaptation, “Shutter Island” is apparently “tracking” best with older men — I’m definitely interested and by “older” I assume they mean “over 15” — and fairly well with younger men, but not so with female of the species.

Leo and friends in

DiOrio finds this surprising because of Leo’s tried and true girl appeal but it’s really not when you consider that the marketing suggests a sort of hard-boiled cop/horror combo with barely a female or any kind of love interest in site and what appears to be a lot of very male-style histrionics.  The trailer certainly emphasizes the male cast members with Michelle Williams and Patricia Clarkson making what amounts to cameo appearances.

As for the reviews, which for a movie like “Shutter Island” can really make a difference, they are okay but not too impressive when you consider that Scorsese is a long-time critical mega-favorite and easily one of the five or so most revered living directors still living. Our own Dave Medsker was notably disappointed in his mixed review and he’s certainly not alone, with only 61% of “top critics” digging “Shutter Island” according to Rotten Tomatoes. (He gets a somewhat better 67% with the critical hoi polloi.) Scorsese’s last attempt at a big time Hollywood thriller, the 1991 version of “Cape Fear,” is the only one of his film’s I’d personally dare call “bad” and I’m hoping I like this one at least a little better. On the other hand, that one made a relative mint for Marty Mr. Scorsese and his colleagues, so who cares if I like it or not?

What's-his-name and what's-her-name in As for this week’s possible #2 and #3, well, last week’s winner “Valentine’s Day” may be in there, but the question is will the critically dissed comedy have any legs now that it’s holiday is long past. Also, with a lack of competing family films, that “Percy Jackson” movie that I’m simply too lazy too type out a complete title for may do pretty well. And let’s not count out “Avatar” quite yet, either, if one of the other films takes a big dive.

Debuting in very limited release this week is what looks like a nifty little political thriller that’s getting solid reviews, “The Ghost Writer.” It stars Ewan MacGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, and my and Max Fisher’s one-true-love, Olivia Williams. The director is Roman Polanski, so there’ll be another test of the “no such thing as bad publicity” dictum, I suppose.

  

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