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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Weekend box office: greed is still pretty good

Things turned out at this weekend’s box office more or less as predicted on Thursday. “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” came in on top at an estimated $19 million for Fox, according to the Box Office Mojo chart, about a million or two shy of the figures being bandied about, but close enough for an adult skewing film expected to have decent legs. Nikki Finke thinks it may have missed it’s moment in terms of being a topical must-see and also avoiding some bad press provided by the mouthy Oliver Stone. Maybe. She also points out that Fox hasn’t exactly been on a hot streak this summer. Still, this is actually a career high, raw cash wise, for Stone and not too bad a showing for the longest break between an original and a sequel since Martin Scorsese and Paul Newman dared to follow-up the genuine classic, “The Hustler,” with his underrated non-classic, “The Color of Money,” a quarter century after the fact.

Following not so far behind, really, is Warners’ “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” which earned an estimated $16.3 million. Anthony D’Allesandro is calling the film a “bomb” along the lines of the recent “Cats and Dogs” sequel. That may be accurate compared to what family films like this usually make and in light an as yet unspecified large budget but it’s still within a couple of million of this weekend’s $50-70 million live-action hit.

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While the books might have had an audience, something just seemed generally awry and the film lacked a clear premise for non-fans other than “owls fighting.” Whether or not Zack Snyder, whose early hits are receding in the memory of Hollywood, no doubt, gets to remain in the high end movie big leagues may now be largely dependent on what happens when his strange and zany looking action fantasy, “Sucker Punch,” comes out on 3/25/11.

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Weekend box office never sleeps, does it?

It’s certainly not resting this very busy weekend when the return of Mr. “Greed is Good” himself and a bunch of 3-D fantasy owls will battle for the #1 spot, with any number of other interesting things happening on the sidelines.

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The smart money seems to be pretty positive that “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” will earn in the neighborhood of $20 million and so may end up winning the weekend. At least that’s what I’m reading via jolly Carl DiOrio and the more circumspect Ben Fritz.

The audience for the latest from Oliver Stone skews fairly older, not only because it’s a topical thriller from the bombastic but literate Stone, but because it’s a sequel to a hit movie that is — shockingly for some of us — old enough that 24 year-old co-star Shia LaBeouf was barely a toddler when it first came out. That may help with the film’s longevity since older audiences tend to take their time seeing a new movie. Also, a bit of extra publicity from Gekko-man Michael Douglas‘s well-publicized upbeat battle with cancer might add to awareness over the long term. The reviews, which also have a somewhat stronger effect on older viewers, are only meh-to-okay with somewhat better response from more blue-state-centric “top critics.”

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Weekend box office preview: “Resident Evil: Afterlife” moves in

We’re in a bit of a post-summer season lull here until the more adult oriented award season films kick in, and so this week sees only one new major release. The fourth entry in the series of video game-based science-fiction-horror-action films starring Milla Jovovich,  Screen Gems’ “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” is the first 3D entry in the increasingly successful and 100% critic proof series and marks the return of geek whipping boy Paul W.S. Anderson to the helm. This one isn’t being screened for critics, not that it matters either way.

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My go-to prognosticators Ben Fritz of the Los Angeles Times and Jolly Carl DiOrio of THR, both expect the film to easily top the weekend with about $25 million or so, bolstered by those high 3D ticket prices. Fritz also reminds us that the post-Labor Day weekend is traditionally the weakest movie going weekend of the year. If you hate crowds, here’s your chance.

Of course, that leaves a lot of room for jockeying between last weekend’s somewhat successful new releases, the #1 “The American” and the #2 “Machete.” Both films are quite modestly budgeted at $20 million according to Box Office Mojo’s chart, so they’ll both be profitable. Both also have issues with legs — “Machete” because it’s in a heavy-duty genre film and they are noted for huge second-weekend drop-offs and “The American” because it got truly terrible ratings from the people who answered the Cinemascore survey. Jolly Carl believes the way the film, which opened two days early last week, performed indicates that the word of mouth on the film isn’t nearly as bad as that D- would indicate. If the film proves as leggy as most adult-oriented film tend to be, that will a pretty serious black-eye for the polling firm.

Otherwise, there is a major reissue this week of “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” to give Twi-hards one last chance to route for their favorite monster boy-toys. Also there’s going to be a series of what amounts to sneak previews of the upcoming horny teenager mockumentary, ‘The Virginity Hit.” And, finally, the much discussed Joaquin Phoenix documentary that might not be a documentary, “I’m Still Here,” will be opening in about 19 theaters.  More about that a couple of posts down.

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Weekend box office: Demons take robbers (maybe, kind of) in a photo-finish (updated — results reversed)

To be perfectly honest, this whole business of the box office horse race is a bit silly. Box office is not a zero-sum game and is probably a bit more like horseshoes than hand grenades. The success of one film doesn’t necessarily take that much away from the success of another. In this weekend’s case, people who felt like seeing an attempt at a stylish robbers-‘n-cops thriller were edged out very slightly by people who wanted to see another scary mockumentary. This weekend, the results are close enough that the “actuals” may be different enough from the estimates to reverse the #1 and #2 positions.

TakersTo be specific, the horror tale, “The Last Exorcism,” earned an estimated $21.3 million for Lionsgate, while the crime thriller “Takers” netted an estimate of $21 million. Aside from being extremely close, it’s worthy of a huge asterisk. As per Box Office Mojo, “Exorcism” was in 668 more theaters while Screengems/Sony’s “Takers” had the week’s highest per-screen average ($9,519). The heist picture had a budget of $20 million, extremely modest by contemporary studio standards, which means that it’s very much on its way to profitability. However, like prior horror mock-docs, “Exorcism” is by far the profitability king this weekend with an announced budget of $1.8 million. That’s enormously tiny in Hollywood terms and makes this a big win for producer Eli Roth, first-time feature director Daniel Stamm, and the screenwriting team of Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, whose unpromising looking upcoming ‘net-driven horny-teenager flick, “The Virginity Hit” got a certain amount of bloggy attention a while back.

On the bad news side for “The Last Exorcism,” Nikki Finke has noted that the film received a “D” from Cinemascore. She decreed, in typically blunt Finkian fashion, “they hated it.” Well, that seems a fair enough assessment, except that it might not be that simple. The ending has been generating a certain amount of complaints even from critics, who have been mostly supportive of the film. Clearly horror fans and others who plunked down $10+ more, however, may be feeling cheated and we have reports of audible responses from audience.

A friend and I have been having for decades having to do with mostly good movies with bad endings versus mostly bad movies with good endings and which are “better.” Perhaps like the critics who were kind to “The Last Exorcism,” I believe the journey is more important than the destination but, of course, it’s the destination you often remember most easily. I wonder if any of those D-graders had second thoughts on the way home as their immediate anger lessened and they remembered the “good parts” on the way home.

[UPDATE: Yes, that difference was small enough to be reversed. According to Nikki Finke and Box Office Mojo, the “actuals” have reversed the order of the this week’s top 2l.  “Takers” took $20,512,304 and is now #1, while now #2 “The Last Exorcism” received $20,366,613. That’s a difference of just over $145,691.]

In other news, the week’s #3 film was ‘The Expendables” with $9.5 million estimated in its third week. That expanded 3D only reissue of “Avatar” I spent time discussing on Thursday night turned out not to be monkey wrench to anyone else’s success. It only managed to get into 12th place, earning a decent but definitely non-blockbuster $4 million in about a third as many theaters as a typical wide-release.

Finally, the indie/limited release beat is percolating along nicely with good news for the first half of a fact-based French 2-part gangster thriller “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” starring the memorable Vincent Cassel. Meanwhile, my mild obsession with the success of “Get Low,” which continues to thrive, is mellowed by the knowledge that it’s not likely to match the years #1 indie so far, “The Kids All Right.” As usual, the details are available as handled very nicely by Peter Knegt over at Indiewire.

Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in

  

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