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?

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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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Weekend box office: “The Social Network” kicks off Oscar season with a low-key victory; “Let Me In” in isolation

The Social NetworkNot that a brainy drama about the founding of a popular web site really should do ultra-massive business, but there were those expecting huge numbers for “The Social Network” and, as reported here on Thursday, the film was expected to make at least $25 million. However, as we peruse the Box Office Mojo chart, we see that it did a respectable but far from immense $23 million and, as everyone is noting, it’s success seems to be concentrated in urban areas. Not a surprise. Still, for those fascinated by the Jessie Eisenberg vs. Michael Cera Jewish dweeb v. Goyish geek showdown, this is a big win for Team Jessie, I suppose. Mazeltov.  Overall, it seems likely that the collaboration between between the powerhouse team of director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin’s place as the film-to-beat, awards-wise, is set and that should mean some very strong legs.

The week’s #2 film was probably a pleasant surprise for Zack Snyder and Warners. “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” did well in matinees, probably benefiting from little competition for the always crucial family dollar. The film dropped only 32.6% from its lackluster opening for an estimate of $10.8 million and change. Oliver Stone’s third-place “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” suffered a more usual drop of just under 47% for a neither-bullish-nor-bearish estimated week 2 take of $10.1 million for Rupert Murdoch’s Fox.

Easy A,” a cheaply made and therefore very profitable mini-hit comedy, and the outright bomb, “You Again,” earned estimates of $7 million and a skosh above $5.5 at fouth and fifth place, respectively. Then, we get to this week’s two horror releases.

“Case 39” — a horror flick aimed at adults which has generated no excitement anywhere, with anyone, is thought to have made about $5.35 million. Still, that makes them a whole $50,000 ahead of this week’s real box office unfortunate.

People will be picking apart the really not good $5.3 million estimated performance for Overture of the solidly made, beautifully acted horror/coming-of-age remake “Let Me In” for weeks. I personally think that both Anne Thompson and her box-office guy Anthony D’Allesandro are partially on the right track. The idea that it fell in the cracks between the art-house and horror world has some real validity. As I’ve often noted, horror fans these days seem to demand hard-edged scares often amounting to simulated trauma, and “Let Me In” pretty obviously isn’t going to that place. Real art house patrons might turn up their noses, preferring the “real” film, “Let the Right One In,” from Sweden and non-horror fans might avoid it simply because it’s horror. Some may even assume it’s in some way like “Twilight.”

There’s also the issue of R-rating which D’Allesandro termed a “stake through the heart.” Indeed, both films will likely become favorites of young people who see them on home video and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I usually dislike parents taking young kids to “hard R”-rated films, but despite a couple of scenes of strong blood, some ingeniously implied ultra-violence, and some morally complex ideas that would probably benefit from a bit of parent-child discussion, I certainly wouldn’t think less of parents allowing mature tweens to see either film. I’m sure many will on DVD and Blu-Ray.

The other good news for Matt Reeves, however, is that his film only cost $20 million. It’s also possible there will be some award nominations here and there. It’s just a shame that, given their ages, neither Chloe Moretz or Kodi Smit-McPhee are likely to be nominated in the Best Actor or Actress Oscar category, and there’s really no justification at all to say that either of them are in “supporting” roles. It’s completely their movie.

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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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