Nate’s Incredibly Late 2010 Massive Movie Wrap-Up: The Best, Worst, And Then There’s Maude
This is the latest I have ever foisted one of my yearly wrap-ups on the highlights and doldrums of a year at the movies. I suppose I could throw out excuses like getting the Picture Show Pundits’ own movie awards underway, some personal issues that have dominated my time, as well as other creative ventures, but hey, if I learned anything from a panoply of nursery rhymes, it’s not the fast that finish but those who are slow and steady. And it’s not the size of the boat but the motion of the ocean. I may be mixing messages.
I started a new tradition two years ago of reviewing my yearly top tens and revising them based upon late additions and further reflection. My 2009 list remains unchanged. Those ten were the best films of that year; I am certain of that much. And now thanks to the wonders of Netflix’s instant streaming capabilities, I’m able to catch more movies than I know what to do with, making my yearly calculations even more well-informed and, well, calculating. But all the time in the world can’t get me interested enough to watch The Young Victoria. Sorry, Emily Blunt. Now let’s get on with the fashionably late, and then some, show.
PART ONE: BEST AND WORST MOVIES
BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR
10) Waiting for ‘Superman’
Waiting for ‘Superman’ is supremely engrossing, stirring, moving, devastating, illuminating, occasionally frustrating, but easily one of the best films of 2010. Most of the ills of the United States can be traced back to the epicenter of educational failure. The state of America’s education is in crisis. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel such powerful pangs of emotion by the film’s devastating conclusion. Guggenheim frames the overall demise of public education by telling the small story of five hopeful students who must look to the simple luck of the draw to get a quality education in their neighborhood; the bigger issue now has a face to empathize with. And you will. Just like Guggenheim’s Oscar-winning Inconvenient Truth, this is meant to sound the alarm of an impending disaster. If the educational system keeps failing students en masse, you can expect there will be far-flung generational ramifications. How can the richest country in the world fall behind so far in education? Guggenheim is passionate about a problem with no clear-cut solution. Nobody knows what makes a good teacher. There is no secret formula. And just as each child is a unique and different, so are the educational situations nationwide. Every school is going to have a different solution than another. Guggenheim has a handful of ideas on how to patch up our schools (take away the excessive power of unions, make it easier to fire poor teachers, better access to alternative schools), but the ugly truth is that there is no magic solution. Simplistic at times and perhaps a little too evasive, Waiting for ‘Superman’ is nonetheless a powerful document that challenges a nation to do better.
9) Shutter Island
This was a pulpy B-movie put together with A-movie artistry. In a year that had some artistically polished genre movies, Shutter Island was Martin Scorsese’s return to genre filmmaking and he brought with him an entire team of experts and professionals. The movie is playful and intriguing, engaging the mind enough for a crime thriller that appears to be a straight-forward mystery but then shows flashes of being about something more, something darker. And when you’re dealing with a movie with Holocaust flashbacks, dead kids, Nazi doctors, mental asylums, well you know you’re not going to be reaching subtlety even with a stick. But the way Scorsese orchestrates all these foreboding elements, tying together various plotlines, and working at different levels to satisfy the informed and uninformed, right before delivering a dynamite twist that calls for further investigation and rewatching, well it’s nothing short of masterful. Shutter Island may not be anything more than a souped-up B-movie, but with this level of artistry, it’s also one of the most entertaining films of the year.
8) The Fighter
The Fighter is a meaty family drama, stirring tale of redemption, and a showcase of superior acting. In an awards season where it feels like many films are missing some secret ingredient, The Fighter has it all together. It’s an underdog story of a different flavor that manages to be authentic, entertaining, charitable, and engrossing even while staying within the boundaries of a predictable framework. We all know that Mickey will triumph in the ring; otherwise his tale would never have caught the notice of Hollywood producers. This is a fresh take on old material. The focus is on the fractured family dynamic and the many characters, not on a simplistic rising through the rankings of sport. It’s because of the tremendous acting and character work that the first half of the film easily outshines the second. Once the family is sidelined, and Mickey’s boxing career takes off, The Fighter turns into a more conventional genre picture, though still engaging. The movie ends on a satisfying note of uplift that feels fully earned without a twinge of naiveté. This Oscar season, expect audiences and voters alike to find something to cheer about in this return to the ring.
7) The King’s Speech
The King’s Speech is really the heartwarming story of the unlikely friendship between a king and a quirky Australian commoner. Their warm, humane friendship allows for several scenes of great humor and great drama. Watching the irreverent Lionel bounce off the proper and isolated Bertie supplies plenty of comedy. It’s essentially an odd couple comedy mixed with a true-life historical drama. You won’t see a better-acted movie all year, thanks to Firth and Rush. More than following a checklist of gimmicks, Firth inhabits his character from the inside out. He feels like a living, breathing, somewhat broken person instead of a collection of ailments. Firth doesn’t overdo his stutter and treats the character, and the ailment, with a deep sense of compassion. The King’s Speech is pretty much everything you’d wish for in a movie groomed for awards consideration. This is prime Oscar bait. You may tear up at points, you’ll probably smile in many places, and your spirit will definitely rise. Plus it features some of the finest acting you’ll witness all year. And yet it’s that conscious need to please, to uplift, that can occasionally distract you from the many charms that The King’s Speech offers. The fact that the story is predictable is not a detriment, but the fact that the film doesn’t push harder, dig deeper, or expect more from its audience is a missed opportunity. The material is so rich, but a terrifically acted, smartly written film isn’t a bad consolation. Especially when that film happens to be one of the most rousing and rewarding theatrical experiences of the year.
Spending 90 minutes trapped in a cramped space with a sweaty Ryan Reynolds? Doesn’t sound like a bad start for large swaths of the population. For those left curious, yes, it really does take place entirely within a coffin. The entire 95 minutes are spent inside the small space. There is nary a flashback or even a visual insert to be had. You are trapped in that box just like Paul. The film is effectively claustrophobic. Director Rodrigo Cortes gets terrific mileage out of his ultra confined space. The creative combination of angles, lighting, and nimble camerawork ensure that audiences do not grow tired of seeing the same 6 x 3” of set. You can practically taste the sweat and dank air on screen. The script by Chris Sparling is agile and resourceful and keeps finding news ways to keep your eyes glued to the screen. The movie is consumed by that nerve-wracking sense of urgency. If you have any minute fear of tiny spaces or being trapped and helpless, then Buried will get under your skin big time. Add the general race-against-time nature of the script and the flick hums with nervous tension. This film is taut like a drum. It’s ridiculously tense. You may start to feel your feet moving, as if you’re trying to push away the space and dig your way out. It’s hard to believe but a movie that takes place entirely inside a box is one of the most inventive, visually appealing, and enjoyable films of the year.
5) Inside Job
Inside Job ends on a somber note of resignation. As we’re informed, not one body has been brought to justice over the worldwide financial collapse or the crimes and outright fraud that got us there. In the wake of the doom and gloom, banks gobbled each other up and now Too Big to Fail has gotten even bigger. In a world where companies book potential earnings as current earnings, bet against their own stocks, and employ a phalanx of high-priced lawyers and lobbyists to resist any minute reform, whom is the American public supposed to trust? Who isn’t on the payroll? Ferguson’s lacerating documentary is the best starting point for novices to history, but even Inside Job is far from definitive. This is because the complete scope of the 2008 crises cannot be contained to a two-hour movie, even with the talents of Ferguson. As the movie comes to a close, and the audience is generally feeling numb to all this high-stakes larceny, it looks like things are depressingly settling back to the way they were. President Obama has appointed several people involved in the financial collapse to cabinet and regulatory positions. I’m sorry Mr. President, but that doesn’t count as change by the most generous definitions. The coterie of Wall Street elites feel that they are indispensable, that what they do is just too complicated for the rest of us plebeians to fathom. I don’t know about other folks, but I’m tired of the top 0.1 percent holding the rest of the nation hostage and expecting everybody else to foot the bill for their gambling losses. The narration ends with a righteous fury, declaring that some things are worth fighting no matter how hard. Inside Job is required viewing for every man, woman, child, and dog in this country. The future of the world depends upon people seeing movies like this. An informed public is the best defense against Wall Street firms and bought-and-paid-for politicians getting away with murder — again.
Inception can be many things to many people, as is the nature of dreams. I found the movie to be a master class mousetrap. Watching Nolan and his origami-like script fold and bend and connect is a true pleasure. It’s the first movie in years that I walked out and thought, “How did they do that?” It renewed my sense of mystery and wonder with the movies. he movie is jam-packed with ideas like Nolan’s other works, so much that it’s hard to fully process everything the film offers in one sitting. The pieces do fit together and the movie follows its own internal logic, so if you didn’t skip out on any bathroom breaks, you should be able to follow along reasonably. On first viewing, Inception is bristling with intelligence and narrative complexity, and it rarely stops to pander to an audience. It expects you to keep up for the rewards that will follow, and they are indeed rewarding. Thrilling, stimulating on different levels, and supremely engrossing, Inception is just about everything you could wish for in a summer blockbuster, except when it can also feel mechanical, distant, and free of emotion and character development save DiCaprio (perhaps this is further evidence that it was all a dream…). Regardless, Inception is easily the brainiest movie of the year, and usually those don’t get packaged as big-budget Hollywood spectacle. Nolan may not be the second-coming of God, as those frothing at the mouth on Internet message boards proclaim, but I can think of no other director working today who better harnesses Big Ideas on such a big stage.
3) Black Swan
Probing the stress of the body and fraying endurance of the mind, Black Swan richly explores the sacrifices we make for art and ambition. Black Swan is a grade-A mind freak of the first order, a tonal fusion of sight and sound that echoes earlier masterworks of the eerie psychological horror like Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining. This is a movie that gets under your skin; I literally had a nightmare the night after watching it, though I don’t want to give people the wrong impression. Black Swan is not a horror film by the traditional standard we’re accustomed to today. The entire film has a downright Kubrickian vibe, from its devoted tracking shots, to the overdose on classical music underscoring the dramatic tension, and the unraveling of the human mind toward eventual psychosis The world of ballet is highlighted as a hotbed for scandal and intrigue and female sensual desire. Not bad for all that hoofing around in frilly tights. Black Swan is anchored by Portman’s captivating descent into madness, a performance that will surely be awarded in the ensuing months to come. Aronofsky has fashioned a riveting psychological thriller with enough artfully crafted chills and spooks to make for one visceral experience at the art house. Beyond bringing the tingles of spine and bumps of goose, Black Swan digs into the psychological underpinnings of competition, devotion to art, and personal glory. There’s much more going on here than ballet. It’s a grade-A mind-freak but under Aronofsky’s skilled direction and Portman’s transfixing acting, Black Swan is also a grade-A piece of art and one of the most stunning works of cinema this year.
2) Toy Story 3
I was completely unprepared for how emotionally involving Toy Story 3 would be. Sure, Pixar has managed to break and melt your heart through ten previous movies, but I suppose I foolishly felt that I was beyond caring for toys. But even in the opening minutes, a tremendous make-believe fantasy, I felt punches of emotion as each character was reintroduced. It felt like I was reconnecting with old friends and it was such a pleasant reunion. It’s okay, guys, to cry over toys. A lot has changed in the 15 years since Pixar revolutionized the world of animation and family films with their first feature, Toy Story. Kids at the time are now teenagers; some embarking on college this summer themselves much like Andy. They too have to put away former childish things and move forward. Toy Story 3 is magic confluence of heart, wit, visual whimsy, cleverness, and drama. Not quite as sharp as the first two installments, or as artful as Pixar’s high-water mark, WALL-E, the third Toy Story is still a mighty entertaining piece of work. Toy Story 3 isn’t the strongest of the trilogy in terms of character or plot (in some respects, the plot is a reworking of The Brave Little Toaster), but you better believe that it delivers emotional resonance in spades. Major credit goes to screenwriter Michael Arndt who won an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine. The last 30 minutes of this movie is harrowing and then deeply satisfying and moving, finding a fitting sendoff for characters that we’ve come to love. It’s all about moving forward, saying goodbye, and reflecting about times shared. I wouldn’t be surprised if Toy Story 3 inspires kids, and adults alike, to go home and play with their old toys, giving them renewed life and purpose.
And the best film of 2010 is…..
Dismissively branded as “the Facebook movie,” the whip smart and hypnotic, yet poorly titled, The Social Network is much more than a rote TV-movie on the start of a popular website (coming out next year: Twitter: The Musical in 140 Characters). Yes, the film chronicles the people responsible for the Internet’s most ubiquitous time waster and their very varying accounts of who was responsible and who was unscrupulous. But the backdrop could be just as much any start-up business. Truth be told, the “Facebook movie” bares a striking resemblance to Citizen Kane. It is the story of one man who may be a genius in some regards but can’t help but push everybody he cares about away. It’s about powerful men who don’t know what to do with power. Watching The Social Network feels like you’re downloading an entire semester’s worth of information directly to your brain. Adapted by uber wordsmith Aaron Sorkin, this is a story that gallops at full speed and leaves you spinning. The dialogue flies by so blazingly quick that it’s easy to get left behind. The script as a whole is meticulous with detail, characters, and dates. It almost feels like the content of a miniseries has been squeezed into a brisk two-hour time frame. The characters are just as layered as the plot. Many will find Zuckerberg to be unlikable from the get-go, but I never could bring myself to actively dislike or loathe the man. He’s really more of a figure of Greek tragedy. Zuckerberg is a blissful conundrum of a character, a walking contradiction. It’s rare to find a studio film that is as polished across the bard as this film. The writing is sharp, the direction is sleek, the acting is top-notch, the film rollicks with intrigue and suspense and juicy drama, and the film can’t help but be relevant in our modern society. You do not have to know a lick about coding and websites and whatever to get absorbed in this high-stakes drama. It may not be the generation defining experience some critics are wetting themselves over in hype, but The Social Network is easily the best films of 2010. Perhaps the Academy will give it the ultimate “friend request” come this winter. In the meantime, log off and get yourself into a theater to see this great American movie.
Honorable mention: Four Lions, The Other Guys, The Ghost Writer, Exit through the Gift Shop.
Previous Best Pictures of the Year:
2009: The Hurt Locker
2006: United 93
2004: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2003: Lost in Translation
2002: (tie) City of God, Spirited Away
2001: Moulin Rouge!
2000: Requiem for a Dream
1999: American Beauty
WORST MOVIES OF THE YEAR
10) Valentine’s Day
Imagine every romantic comedy cliché and sappy platitude about love stirred together into one giant gelatinous conglomeration of hollow sentiment. That’s Valentine’s Day. Regardless of your thoughts on the holiday, this movie, which aims to celebrate our national day of love, might have the opposite effect. This movie makes He’s Just Not That Into You look like When Harry Met Sally. It’s a fairly large ensemble with plenty of mega-watt stars, but it’s too bad that nobody knows what to do. Jessica Alba’s character literally runs her course an hour into the film and yet she still makes meaningless appearances. This overstuffed Hallmark card has ridiculously safe, candy-coated storylines sanded so that there is no hint of edge or wit (Anne Hathaway is the most ludicrous PG-13 phone sex operator you will ever find). The resolutions of most of these storylines will be predictable to anybody who has ever read a greeting card. Jamie Foxx is supposed to be a bitter TV reporter popping up everywhere reporting about the ills of V-Day. Think he’ll have a change of heart by the film’s end? The cast does offer their small pleasures (there are SIX Oscar nominees/winners in this movie!), except for the kid who has a crush on his teacher (Jennifer Garner). He was insufferably annoying. So was his movie.
9) Remember Me
This movie will not work; in fact it refuses to work from a conceptual standpoint. The story seems retrofitted to lead directly to the ending. Screenwriter Will Fetters seems to have followed the M. Night Shyamalan approach to screenwriting and come up with a twist ending and worked backwards. Remember Me is so anxious to be poetic. It’s not. It’s pedantic and faux intellectual. It wants to be a moving romance. It’s not. It’s two pretty but bland characters that just seem to play around furniture and eventually do it. They’re as interesting as bland pretty people usually are in these things. It wants to be a significant drama that manages to say something big. It’s not. It’s a slapdash effort revolving entirely around the eventual reveal of a “gotcha” ending that does nothing to justify all the strained spinning. At best, the ending is in poor taste and a cheap trick to gin up sympathy and give the impression of substance. At worst, it’s ugly exploitation that reduces a national tragedy into a last-ditch effort to cover the empathetic deficiencies of a lackluster drama. Flogging national suffering to make an audience feel for your bland characters after an empty 100 minutes? That’s offensive. Remember Me isn’t worth any outrage. It’s a pretty but mostly empty venture designed around a twist. It is anything but worth remembering, even in disgust.
Far far worse than I was expecting, this is what happens when you expand a 30-second Saturday Night Live sketch to a full-blown movie. MacGruber, a one-joke parody of MacGyver, becomes a one-joke movie. It’s about an inept special agent who has to save the world from a criminal madman (Val Kilmer, why?). The flimsy plot would be acceptable if the movie had any sort of comedic momentum, but the jokes are sloppy and uninspired, often confusing naughtiness with humor. Just because something is brash or raunchy or shocking doesn’t necessarily mean it’s funny. Will Forte, as the title agent, tries too hard with material that doesn’t work hard enough. Villains with naughty sounding names? Sight gags a plenty? This movie makes the Austin Powers franchise look cutting edge. There isn’t enough focus for this to work as parody. MacGruber feels like what a bunch of 12-year-old boys would throw together if left unattended for a weekend with their parent’s credit card. The sketch was never meant to last over a minute by design, so you can expect what 87 more dreary minutes would produce.
7) Saw VII
Saw 7 is billed as the Final Chapter but it doesn’t feel like a satisfying conclusion, more like an overdue mercy killing. It’s no secret that the Saw franchise has been flailing and sputtering for quite some time, with the bizarre exception of Saw 6 (my friend Eric proudly deems it the “Godfather II of the Saw franchise”). It was because of Saw 6, a fascinating return-to-form by tackling the topical issue of health care reform, that got my hopes slightly renewed for the franchise’s finale. The Saw franchise has always been built around the craft death traps and a last-second twist ending accompanied by a barrage of scenes given new context. This formula has been repeated with each installment, so I expected nothing more and “nothing more” is what I received. Saw 7 thinks its audience demands to know its convoluted back-story, which gives way to all sorts of behind-the-scenes flashbacks that are always retroactively changing and channeling the timeline of events and participants. I think it’s all frightfully boring. I don’t care who screwed what bolt into what. I’m not watching Saw for realism (hence why the police NEVER think about tracking what vacant warehouses are sucking down gads of electricity). But at this point, with the thrill of the death traps long beaten into a bloody submissive pulp, I don’t even know what I would watch this series for. The appeal seems to have died along with its boogeyman, Jigsaw, four films back. The subtitle “The Final Chapter” seems like a promise destined to be broken. In the annuls of horror, any successful franchise will live on forever with cheap made-for-DVD sequels. Saw 7 just feels like the first made-for-DVD sequel, except it got a theatrical release s one final gasp at cash. Just wait twenty years and the whole thing will be rebooted as some sort of prestige picture that speaks to man’s inhumanity to man circa 2030.
6) Furry Vengeance
The title alone alerts you that this will not be a pleasant journey. It’s 92 abusive minutes of watching a doughy Brendan Fraser act like he is being tortured by a conspiracy of woodland wildlife. Fraser is a land developer who wants to raze a forest to make way for houses, and nature doesn’t take too kindly. Raccoons, squirrels, birds, bears, and even wild turkeys all take their turn tormenting Fraser. The slapstick is at Looney Tune levels of manic absurdity. Even worse is the ham-fisted environmental message that still manages to be cloying, preachy, and completely naive. This lame eco message may actually encourage people to chop down trees out of sheer spite. After an hour of animals trying to kill him, suddenly Fraser realizes that the forest is their home too. For their furry families. Everyone has the same facial expression of barely concealed embarrassment. Even Fraser deserves better than this family film purgatory he seems to be stuck in while he waits for a phone call confirming another dumb Mummy movie. Furry Vengeance has the rank odor of failure from every frame, and yet the movie hits a new low when the end credits come around. Just when you think you’ve been given your freedom back, the cast breaks out into an end credit rap with snippets of movie parodies from “Furry TV.” It makes no sense except to add one last moment to hold your head in shame.
5) Jonah Hex
Clocking in at barely 73 fraught minutes, Jonah Hex is a bizarre Western sci-fi hybrid that never really stops to fully explain the rules of this universe. Josh Brolin, who does what he can with the disfigured badass, plays the Hex of title. Hex has a facial deformity along his mouth, which means it’s hard to understand whatever the man is saying as he slurs and mumbles the majority of his tough guy talk. It’s not smart to have your main character unintelligible. Watching Jonah Hex gives you the impression that nobody, cast and crew, knew what was happening. One minute Hex rides a horse with a, I kid you not, double gattling gun, and the next he’s fighting against a crazy John Malkovich who wants to build Eli Whitney’s doomsday machine. Did I also mention that Hex can bring people back to life for short periods of time via his magic touch? The look of the film is overly aggressive, with a rock guitar jackhammer score and plenty of souped-up special effects shots that try and ignite some flailing sense of excitement. It’s hard to get excited about a movie that feels so soulless. Jonah Hex feels like some studio shill thought they could buy a comic property and fill it with sure-fire elements that would please a teenage male base. Megan Fox (Transformers) in a bodice can only distract from the gaping void of a cohesive screenplay for so long. Then you stop and remember how much this movie sucks.
4) Vampires Suck
In the realm of crappy cinema, Vampires Suck definitely lives up to its lofty title. Yet it’s not the outright creative abomination and entertainment vacuum that was Epic Movie (worst film of 2007), Meet the Spartans, and Disaster Movie (worst films of 2008). Does that qualify the film as good? Not even close. Relying less on Friedberg and Seltzer’s M.O. of disposable pop-culture references posing as “jokes,” Vampires Sucks manages to suck less by the sheer genius act of laziness. The film doesn’t attempt as many jokes therefore offering fewer opportunities for jokes to die horrible, excruciating deaths. The ratio of comedic failure is still the same depressing level of ineptitude, but less jokes equates to less mind-numbing torture disguised as comedy. It also makes the movie more pointless and an even bigger waste of time than previous Friedberg/Seltzer efforts. It’s the kind of accident that doesn’t even allow for rubbernecking. I’m finding it hard to as incensed as other Friedberg/Seltzer movies have made me. These guys bring out something virulent from me. Maybe it’s my love of movies and comedy and my distaste for hacks being rewarded for repeated hackwork. Maybe I’m trying to take a final stand against the cultural shift that confuses situation-free pop-culture references as jokes. Whatever the case, the guys are at the top of my cinematic shit list. So you can trust me when I say that Vampires Sucks is easily terrible, poorly conceived, poorly filmed, and with limited aims that it still misses by a mile, but it’s not the abysmal, faith-destroying experiences that the last three Friedberg/Seltzer offerings were. It is simply just bad. Really, really bad. And yet with Friedberg and Seltzer, that is an improvement. It’s all about perspective, people.
3) The Last Airbender
At one point christened with the moniker of “the next Spielberg,” the writer/director has been slipping and sliding down into the pits of his self-deluded grandeur and stubbornness. After Lady in the Water and The Happening, who in their right minds would give this guy $150 million to direct a special effects-driven summer action movie AND let him adapt the show too? Even if you somehow managed to convince yourself that Shyamalan sitting in the director’s chair was a feasible solution, why on Earth would you let this man near the screenplay? I must repeat: did people see Lady in the Water and The Happening (this is a rhetorical question, because nobody wants to remember seeing hem)? The Airbender series is a very well regarded television show that has appealed to audiences of all ages, including those old enough to buy their own beer, thank you very much. What purpose does it serve to ditch the show’s creators and longtime show runners in place of giving the responsibilities for coming up with plot, characterization, and God help us, dialogue, to the man that last gave the world The Happening? The Happening, people! What did you think was going to happen? Even with the lowest of expectations, The Last Airbender will still confound with its dead-on-arrival acting, zero character development, and overly serious spiritual mumbo jumbo. Who at the studio read Shyamaln’s adaptation and thought it was ready to move forward? I can’t explain most of M. Night Shyamalan’s thinking when it comes to the finished product. once again defies his critics and lives on to make yet another artistic disaster. If three straight duds couldn’t detract somebody from throwing $150 million and artistic license his way, then I don’t know if this man and his ego will ever be humbled or tamed.
2) The Bounty Hunter
For the longest time I did not think this movie was going to beat for sheer unadulterated awfulness. First off, The Bounty Hunter is one of the more unpleasant, tone-deaf comedies I’ve seen in years. It assumes if two people, with obviously zero chemistry, will bicker long enough in shrill voices, eventually comedy will emerge. This is the comedic equivalent of the faulty scientific theory of Spontaneous Generation. The comedy just isn’t coming. I never laughed once during the entire painful 115 minutes. I failed to crack even a smile. I sat dumbfounded, looking back and forth between the screen and my wife’s reaction, to gauge if I was truly missing something, mainly the “comedy” part. These people are unlikable and not once do you ever believe that they are capable of even expressing a realistic human emotion. These are people that shouldn’t even exist in a crummy romantic comedy. These are the background players in a crummy romantic comedy, given starring roles and proving with every exhalation why they should have remained Angry Dinner Couple #2. The Bounty Hunter is a colossal miscalculation on the part of everyone involved. It is neither funny nor romantic in any sense, it’s weirdly cruel and very casual about it, and the entire movie exists in some contrived, sketchy realm of reality that only exists in the furthest reaches of the rom-com universe. I find it funny (much funnier than anything in this movie) that Butler and Aniston were rumored to be dating after filming this movie. They have no screen chemistry whatsoever, though they can argue in annoying tones effectively. As the film neared its merciful end, I thought about calling somebody to round up those responsible for such an egregious waste of time and money. It’s not just that The Bounty Hunter is a bad movie; it’s a woefully clumsy and excruciating movie even considering the depths of romantic comedies. And if anybody sat through The Ugly Truth, Over Her Dead Body, or anything with Freddie Prinze Jr. in it, then you know exactly how alarming that statement is.
And the worst film of 2010 is…….
I have seen hundreds of movies go bad. I’ve seen plenty try and cram a ham-fisted saccharine, entirely phony message about family values or whatever hackneyed lesson needs to be delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Rarely have I seen a movie that tries to cram in EVERY banal family message possible into one exasperated running time. There was one point where I counted three clichéd platitudes in a row. Rarely have I seen a movie fail at comedy so badly, even the generous definition of comedy in family films, a subgenre that haunts all those who crossover into it. Rarely have I seen one single family film try to do so much and succeed so breathtakingly little. The Spy Next Door is that movie. Jackie Chan stars as a retired Chinese super spy who the American government wants to keep contracting. He’s also dating his neighbor (Amber Valetta) who has three rambunctious kids that fall into easy slots (surly teenager smarting from parent’s divorce, dweeby tech kid trying to learn to stand up to bullies, precocious little tyke who makes a mess). Chan agrees to watch over them for a weekend to convince those kids they should give him a shot, or else it’s splitsville between he and the mom. It’s the Vin Diesel Pacifier movie but done with even less finesse, if possible. The comedy is nonexistent, which is saying something for being as broad as it is, the physical action shows how badly Chan is aging, and the plot is painfully predictable. This is just a sad, uncomfortable viewing experience; it reeks of desperation and despondency. No one looks to be enjoying themselves for a single second. That’s probably because The Spy Next Door is a vacuum of fun; it’s lazy, incompetent, but worst of all, devoid of any effort to be something other than a mind-numbing, head-scratching waste of 90 minutes.
Dishonorable mention: Grown Ups, Cats and Dogs 2: Revenge of Kitty Galore, Dinner for Schmucks, Cop Out.
Previous Worst Pictures of the Year:
2009: After Last Season
2008: Meet the Spartans/Disaster Movie
2007: Epic Movie
2006: Grandma’s Boy
2005: Alone in the Dark
2004: The Forgotten
2001: Freddy Got Fingered
2000: Battlefield Earth
1999: The Mod Squad
PART TWO: VARIOUS AWARDS AND ACCOLADES
Best titles of the year: Hot Tub Time Machine, Waking Sleeping Beauty, Dogtooth, Rabbit Hole
Worst titles of the year: Extraordinary Measures, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Knight and Day, Cats and Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,
Titles that could be confused with porn: Harry Brown, Winter’s Bone, South of the Border, Get Low, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, Morning Glory.
Proof that You Can’t Catch Lightning in a Bottle Twice: Paranormal Activity 2
Thanks for Hiring Mickey Rourke. Hey, Where’s Mickey Rourke in the Movie?: Iron Man 2
The Best 10 Minutes of 2010: The opening night performance of Swan Lake in Black Swan. It was a sumptuous combination of dance, music, imagery, and ballerinas going bonkers. I felt a rush of artistic synergy as everything came together in one spellbinding finish. I rewatched this sequence probably 20 times thanks to a screener copy.
Runner-up: spinning hallway fight sequence, Inception; the conclusion to Toy Story 3.
Best Film I Saw in 2010 (that wasn’t released in 2010): 2009 Best Foreign Language Film winner The Secret in their Eyes
Biggest Disappointment: Cop Out. As an avid Kevin Smith fan, it pains me to say this but Cop Out might be one of the least funny movies of the year. Sure it made me chuckle here and there, but mostly I sat staring slack-jawed, yawning, and wondering how this movie went so completely wrong. Smith is known without exception as a talent behind the typewriter, not the camera. He’s an ingeniously crass playwright in a filmmaker’s body. To hire Smith solely as director/visual storyteller is like hiring Picasso to mow your lawn – not the best use of his talents. To Smith’s credit, the film has a much stronger visual pulse than anything he’s ever committed to celluloid before, however, it still only looks like a marginal, mediocre Hollywood movie. Is that considered a success?
Best Time I Had in a Theater in 2010: This category carries a large asterisk because I did not see Piranha 3D in the theater, but had I done so I am dead certain that this gleefully campy exploitation ode to 1980s horror would have easily won this honor. However, I will stick by the rules I have laid out, therefore the best 2010 theatrical experience of mine belonged to the delightfully awful, Birdemic: Shock and Terror. This low-budget horror film didn’t ascend to the levels of joyful trash as The Room, but what could? Having a group of friends, a rowdy crowd, and some liquid courage running through my blood, this was the most fun I had in a theater.
Most Misleading Marketing: Catfish. Advertised as an indie thriller about a guy who gets into a relationship with a girl over the Internet. Then he and his friends embark on a road trip to ambush this “girl,” and we’re told that “the final forty minutes will take you on an emotional rollercoaster you won’t be able to shake for days,” from a JoBlo critic cited in the trailer. You’re expecting something deeply messed up, country cannibals, some sort of online scam luring fresh meat. Nope. It turns into a fairly routine drama about sad people in the information age. I was able to shake that off when I left the theater.
Runner-up: Eat, Pray, Love. I felt no love.
There’s a Reason These Guys Don’t Talk: Throughout The Expendables you quickly realize why these guys are men of action and not men of debate. Their speaking voices are terrible. Some are marble-mouthed mumblers, like Stallone and Rourke. Some are just hard to understand, like Lundgren. Some have pretty bad English, like Li. Some are weirdly whisper-quiet in their intensity, like Statham. And others are just plainly bad actors, like Austin and Couture. The characters they’re given to play are pretty thin, defined by a quirk or two but not much else. Statham’s character is away from his girl too often, that’s why she becomes an ex. The film is basically a contest of machismo. Everyone tries to out-do the competition in glaring and teeth grinding. Also, given the title, (semi-spoiler) is it a little much to think that Stallone’s entire wrecking crew can escape death, even the guy that gets shot inches above his heart? These are men you want to see doing things, preferably painful plural things, and speaking at a minimum.
Best Twist Ending: Shutter Island.
Was it a Twist Ending?: Inception.
Hey, Don’t Have Your Emotional Climax Involve the Death of a Character Not Seen in 8 Years: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One (and I found him annoying anyway).
Most Ridiculous Plot Element of 2010: Alice in Wonderland’s stupid dance payoff. How do I approach this gingerly? The climax that’s established is not Alice slaying the dragon, accepting her destiny, and (W)underland triumphing over the Red Queen’s tyranny. The climax is Depp break-dancing. You read that right, though the residents refer to his crazy legs movement as “futterwackin,” which sounds suspiciously naughty. It’s a moment so goofy, so tonally inappropriate that it shatters the entire notion of suspension of disbelief. It rips you out of the movie and all for a cheap laugh. It’s bizarre. I acknowledge that, given the fantasy framework, that the ending ought to stay in touch with the fantastical setting. But break-dancing? Would The Wizard of Oz have ended better if the Tin Man and the Scarecrow started break-dancing? At least the Tin Man could effectively perform the Robot. It’s a real-world artifact that has no place in the world of fantasy.
Thora Birch Award for Hottest Actress in 2010: Violante Placido in The American. This Italian actress/singer played a prostitute in the small sleepy villa that George Clooney laid low in. But the town wasn’t the only thing he was laying low inside. This beauty was enough to give Clooney an existential crisis of character in what was otherwise a very sleepy movie.
Runner’s-up: Anne Hathaway and her bounty of nudity in Love & Other Drugs; Olivia Wilde in TRON: Legacy; Gemma Arterton in Prince of Persia/Clash of the Titans/Tamara Drewe; and Helen Mirren firing automatic weapons in RED.
Nicholas Sparks, Destroyer of Worlds: Best-selling author Nicholas Sparks is probably a perfectly reasonable human being. I’m sure he’s great at parties and that people love him. He may even have a dynamite recipe for sugar cookies. But I don’t know what happened to Sparks to turn him into the romance genre’s angel of death. His novels have followed a familiar practice of big Third Act deaths that usually deny readers their cherished happy endings. Is the motive to push people to make the most of our preciously little time spent on Earth? Is Sparks just sadistic and has found the secret to eternal life — the tears of millions of housewives and teenager girls.
Worst Vampire Trend: They’ve become porcelain dolls! Here’s another revelation thanks to Eclipse: vampires are apparently made of porcelain. When a vampire is destroyed in the Twilight world, they literally can have limbs snapped off like it’s nothing. They look like dolls getting ripped apart. Occasionally someone will have their head beaten and the vampire cranium will just shatter into thick pieces, much like a porcelain doll. Weirdest of all, whenever a vampire gets hit they are accompanied by this rattling sound effect, like inside the vampires are filled with rolls of nickels and dimes. It’s bizarre and distracting. I don’t ever remember this happening to vampires in the previous two installments. Why not go the Buffy route and just have dead vampires turn into ash? It doesn’t have to be as violent and nauseating as vampires getting staked on HBO’s superior True Blood, but I expect more than vampires just breaking. These are the creatures of the night. They should not be fragile little porcelain dolls. I know the director and the producers went this route so that they could ramp up their bloodless action and get away with more onscreen.
People Get Stuck: Frozen = people trapped on a ski lift; 127 Hours = a guy trapped in a canyon; Devil = group of strangers trapped in an elevator; Buried = Ryan Reynolds trapped in a coffin. Is there some mass psychological issue with claustrophobia and helplessness that America needs to open up about?
What if You Committed Two Years t a Performance Art Character and Nobody Cared?: I’m Still Here. Joaquin Phoenix may not be the most stable of actors, but anyone could have successfully guessed that his public meltdown and entry into rap, complete with a scraggly mountain man beard, was a hoax. Phoenix and his brother-in-law Casey Affleck worked out a two-year piece of performance art, with Phoenix completely committing to his egotistical, self-destructive send-up of actors. Affleck directed the exploits, which is another clue that everything is a hoax. Do you think his brother-in-law, and a respected actor, would film Phoenix going overboard, snorting coke, lying with hookers, having an assistant literally defecate on his face, and then try and turn a buck? I’m Still Here is like a Saturday Night Live sketch, or an improv game, that stretches on forever.
Best Onscreen Death: “Aim for the Bushes” in The Other Guys. The film’s star cops, played by Samuel L. Jackson and The Rock, are after a couple of crooks. They leap off a rooftop to continue the chase, landing on the concrete below, dead, all while accompanied by action movie slow-mo. Even better is that the rest of the characters have no idea what these guys were thinking.
Runners-up: the inept suicide bombers in Four Lions; the finale of Black Swan; villains exploding into coins, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.
New Movies That Are Acceptable For Men To Cry At: Toy Story 3
Biggest Trend: 3-D. Perhaps you’ve heard about this? Ever since Avatar went on to become the highest-grossing film of all time, thanks in part to ticket surcharges for the 3-D premium, every studio wants an extra piece of the pie. Now every movie gets the 3-D treatment after the fact, so the viewing public can enjoy paying extra money to see half-assed distance placed between planes of depth, wearing pinch-nosed glasses, and have the overall picture dimmed. Hope you like paying extra money for headaches, folks.
Second Biggest Trend: Rewriting the Iraq War. Green Zone attempts to craft a satisfying close to the WMD hunt, and likewise the war itself. This is nothing more than revisionist wish fulfillment, wanting to insert a hero of conscious and ability during a time where we had a malaise of responsibility from those in the realms of higher command. And just to make sure they don’t make too many waves, Greengrass and screenwriter Brian Helgeland wrap their crusading character in the uniform of America’s finest, making it difficult to criticize his noble hunt, striping away politics. The trouble is that the Bush Administration rarely made apolitical decisions; everything was steeped in politics, even the truth about weapons of mass destruction. So Green Zone does the audience a disservice by trying to play nice, setting up a villainous fictional straw man, and forgoing naming the names of those that led this country astray. Because of placing the film’s point of view squarely with Damon, we never get to examine the bigger picture, the manipulations and machinations that led to war. We are stuck in a very limited focus of finding the WMDs. Weirdest of all, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one big metaphor for the U.S. invasion of Iraq (acting on false intelligence about some country aiding an enemy by manufacturing weapons). Prince of Persia is Hollywood’s second attempt to rewrite our past political blunders in the Gulf and come up with a dubious happy ending.
Runner’s-up: Wall St., Inside Job; A Rock, 127 Hours; Lotso the Bear, Toy Story 3.
Best Case for Comprehensive Sex Education: Splice. When you’re going to have sex with your pseudo-daughter/alien lab monster you’re raising as a father figure, wear a condom. I can’t believe I even need to say this.
Most Gratuitous Moment of 2010: Sex and the City 2’s ugly American patronizing. Obviously, there is something wrong with how women are treated in Muslim countries, from the demands to cover themselves in heavy garments so as not to tempt men, to the void of rights, to honor killings and stonings, and murdering women just because they went to school. This is a serious matter. The Arab world is behind the times and women deserve an equal footing and an equal say, and several contemporary movies have dealt with these issues in a thoughtful manner. Sex and the City 2, on the other hand, takes a patronizing approach that is culturally insensitive at best and downright racially insulting at worst. These ambassadors of modern feminist thinking basically show themselves to the Arab world as the quintessential ugly Americans; the ladies of Sex and the City are exactly what radicals think about when they order women to cover up or else. These women are self-indulgent, materialistic, vapid, and riding high on Western self-righteousness. I am in no way apologizing for how large portions of the Muslim world treat women, but Carrie and company are quite possible the worst ambassadors to argue the case for feminine equality. And remember, they complain about their pity-party problems while on an all-expenses-paid vacation to a lifestyle of lavish luxury in the Middle East. They reduce the problem of Muslim women into simplistic, indignant quips. It’s more than a little insulting to have somebody wearing clownish outfits telling women in other countries how to dress. This foursome is brash and in-your-face with their strong sense of cultural superiority, practically baiting the locals into making a scene. At one point, Samantha is jailed and shocked that the authorities might be upset that she was caught having sex on their beach. Don’t these women understand culture clash? In the end the women are chased out of town and you almost (I repeat — almost) feel for the other side.
PART THREE: 2010 MOVIES GRADES
I have reviews and mini-reviews for almost all of the graded movies, and I invite readers to check them out at PictureShowPundits.com for further details.A — Black Swan Buried Inception Inside Job The Social Network Toy Story 3 A- — The Fighter Four Lions The King’s Speech The Secret in their Eyes Shutter Island Waiting for ‘Superman’ B+ — Birdemic: Shock and Terror Dogtooth Exit through the Gift Shop Frozen The Ghost Writer How to Train Your Dragon Kick-Ass Let Me In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo The Other Guys A Prophet True Grit Winter’s Bone B — 127 Hours Art of the Steal Best Worst Movie Casino Jack and the United States of Money City Island Client 9 Countdown to Zero Easy A Get Him to the Greek Get Low Green Zone Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One The Human Centipede Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work The Karate Kid Knight and Day Machete Megamind Never Let Me Go RED Salt Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Splice The Tillman Story The Town Unstoppable B- — The A-Team Catfish Daybreakers Edge of Darkness Freakonomics The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest The Girl Who Played with Fire Going the Distance Love & Other Drugs Iron Man 2 Hot Tub Time Machine Micmacs The Next Three Days Repo Men Robin Hood Shrek 4 Waking Sleeping Beauty C+ — After.Life Alice in Wonderland Attack on Darfur Babies The Book of Eli Date Night Due Date Eclipse Legion Monsters Paranormal Activity 2 Predators C — Clash of the Titans The Crazies Dear John Death at a Funeral Eat Pray Love The Final Storm From Paris with Love Into the Void I’m Still Here The Killer Inside Me The Last Song Leap Year Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief Prince of Persia: Sands of Time The Runaways Stoic She’s Out of My League Survival of the Dead TRON: Legacy The Wolfman C- — Cop Out Devil Dinner for Schmucks Killers Nightmare on Elm Street Rampage Resident Evil: Afterlife Sex and the City 2 When in Rome Valhalla Rising D+ — Cats and Dogs 2: Revenge of Kitty Galore Grown Ups Remember Me Valentine’s Day D — The Bounty Hunter Furry Vengeance The Last Airbender Jonah Hex MacGruber Saw VII Vampires Suck D- — The Spy Next Door F —