2010 was an awesome year for film geeks. I saw a lot of great movies and even the bad movies I saw this year had a special unique quality that elevated them from the previous year’s turkeys. From big studio epics to art house independents to a barrage of amazing big and low budget exploitation films, 2010 covered every base for me. Here’s my list of all the best and a few of the worst. Enjoy!
1. VALHALLA RISING
I can’t believe that my favorite movie of the year was an existential Viking film with almost no dialogue, about a one eyed, mute warrior who accompanies a child and a group of Christian soldiers on a journey to bring the word of God to the New World, but Nicolas Winding Refn’s badass cinematic masterpiece blew my fucking mind in a very BIG way. An art house Barbarian flick with a very Alejandro Jodorowsky vibe, this movie stirred something deep in my soul while immersing me in a world of violence, fear, survival and religious and spiritual awakening that left me floored. THIS is what true cinema is all about. Nicolas (BRONSON, THE PUSHER TRILOGY) Refn continues to prove that he is one of the most creative and interesting filmmakers working today.
2. TOY STORY 3
There is no way I could have expected to love TOY STORY 3 as much as I did. I’m a HUGE fan of 1 and 2, so I just assumed that 3 would be a good, serviceable sequel. What I got was not only my favorite entry in the series, but the most emotionally engaging movie of the whole damn year. TOY STORY 3 made me cry! Hard! Pixar’s ability to continuously create animated features that connect on such a purely human level is downright amazing to me. This is the third year in a row that a film of theirs has made my list and I hope and expect that this trend will continue…to infinity and beyond!
I love that Christopher Nolan released one of the smartest big budget films of the year smack dab in the middle of the mindless wasteland that was last summer’s movie season. Amid a junkyard of bad sequels, remakes and plain old crappy CGI saturated garbage, Nolan gives us something original, compelling, smartly written, well acted and thoughtfully directed. Thanks! It’s an ultra cool trip into a world of dreamscape espionage that fuses the spy movie aesthetic with cyberpunk science fiction in a tale that’s all about redemption and letting go of your inner baggage. Tom Hardy delivered a rock solid supporting performance and I can’t wait to see what he and Nolan have in store for us with the next BATMAN movie!
Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of a graphic novel I’ve never read before was released in the spring to some very mixed reactions. The marketing led audiences to expect a family friendly superhero movie, but instead what they got was a dark, mature, ultra-violent parody of the genre that pulled absolutely no punches whatsoever and featured a 10 year old girl chopping criminals into pieces with a razor sharp sword. I was delighted by this movie’s audacity, manic energy, humor and complete and total insanity. There were times when I couldn’t believe the filmmakers went where they went with it, but I’m so very happy that they did. I loved Nicholas Cage’s performance as the psychotic caped crusader, Big Daddy. His homage to Adam West’s Batman warmed my heart.
5. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
There was an advanced screening of this movie at last summer’s Comic-Con that I attended. It was held in a beautiful old theatre in San Diego that was packed with ecstatic geeks and the reaction from the audience was enormously positive. An enthusiastic standing ovation was given to Edgar Wright and the entire cast as they all came out for a post-screening concert with the band Metric, who performed most of the songs in the film. It was an incredibly cool event and I was convinced that this movie was going to be a HUGE hit. Several weeks later I saw it again at a theatre in L.A. on opening weekend and the reaction from the crowd was fairly weak. I don’t understand if it was the film’s unique narrative style that threw people off or what, but I think SCOTT PILGRIM is one of the most original I’ve seen all year long and proof that Edgar Wright is a genius. Yet another movie based on a graphic novel that takes the comic book formula and completely deconstructs it into something fresh and cool.
6. BLACK SWAN
This is a stylish psychosexual thriller for the ages and proof that Darren Aronofsky is one of the most visually compelling filmmakers of our generation. It’s the kind of film that Brian DePalma, Roman Polanski and David Cronenberg used to make. Natalie Portman delivers the best performance of the year (as well as her entire career) in a very twisted story of fear, envy, lust and insanity in the competitive world of professional ballet. The amazing cinematography is gorgeously gothic throughout this sleek, sexy and scary film.
7. RED, WHITE & BLUE
It was one of the most grueling movie watching experiences of my life, but when it was over I knew I had just seen a very powerful film. This is the only pick on my list that I did not see in a theatre because it barely got a release. I watched it on VOD one night alone and it chilled me down to my bones. It’s difficult to categorize this little indie, which is kind of like a SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE-style relationship movie that slowly burns into a brutally violent revenge story with one of the bleakest endings I’ve ever seen. It centers on three characters (a struggling musician, an Iraq war veteran and a promiscuous young woman) whose lives become tragically and violently intertwined in Austin, Texas. The performances are incredibly realistic and the movie is as gripping and uncompromising as anything I’ve ever seen before. Great cinema!
8. TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL
Eli Craig’s brilliant situation-horror-comedy was one of the laugh-out-loud funniest movies of the year for me. This was a huge hit at last year’s Sundance, but still has not found any kind of release theatrically and will eventually be dumped on home video sometime this year. That sucks because this is one movie that should definitely be seen with an audience. I caught a screening of it at The Cinefamily in L.A. about 6 months ago and it was massively well received. Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk share perfect comic chemistry together as two sweet, dimwitted country bumpkins who are continuously mistaken for a couple of backwoods psychopaths by a group of vacationing college kids. It’s like a cross between an episode of THREE’S COMPANY and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. The laughs continue to escalate throughout, along with one violent (and hilarious) set piece after another, creating a new genre that I like to call splat-stick. Rent it. Buy it. Love it.
9. THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD
Yes, this film is from 2008 and almost every nerd I know saw it at a festival or on DVD in 2009, but it didn’t receive a theatrical release in the U.S. until last year where I saw it at the Nuart theatre here in L.A. For me, this is the best (and oddest) western of 2010. Director Ji-woon Kim delivers a rollicking yarn about a group of outlaws searching for an ancient map that leads to buried treasure. The movie is filled with some of the most glorious old school action committed to celluloid since RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and the stunt choreography in this film is as epic as it gets. I loved the Sergio Leone meets George Miller style of editing and cinematography.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I enjoyed the shit out of this sick, demented little sci-fi monster movie about a scientist couple creating a new life form through gene splicing, so that they can become rich and famous. It’s the kind of fucked up bio-horror type film that David Cronenberg would be proud of (like THE FLY and THE BROOD). I love that the two main characters are completely unlikable, unethical yuppie scumbags and the methods they employ to accomplish their goals are as refreshingly fucked up as I could have hoped for. When the movie was over I said aloud, “Wow, they went there. They really went there.” This was one of the bravest and most underrated horror films released last year.
Other films I thought deserved mention are:
11. THE FIGHTER
David O. Russell has made one of the best boxing movies since ROCKY and just like that classic piece of sporting cinema, it’s all about the characters and the struggle for the title shot rather than the actual fight itself (although that’s pretty awesome too). All the acting here is great. Mark Wahlberg proves that he can deliver a solid performance when he’s got a great script in front of him and Amy Adams is sexy and sassy as all hell as his girlfriend, but this movie is all about Christian Bale. His role as the crack addicted older brother and trainer who’s trying to accomplish his own personal “comeback” is one of the single greatest performances of the year. Bale’s complete transformation into this beautifully nuanced character is a welcome relief from the usual hero roles we see him in and proves that he’s one of the most accomplished actors of his generation. Great film!
12. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
No film summed up the empty narcissism of this past decade better than David Fincher’s beautifully filmed dissection of Mark Zuckerberg and the THING known as facebook. Aaron Sorkin’s poison pen does a lovely job at giving us a main character that I completely loathed and occasionally sympathized with. It makes sense that one of the most addictive (and sometimes destructive) social experiments of our time was created by a lonely, vindictive nerd who just wanted to be accepted and make a few friends. Like.
13. GONE WITH THE POPE
Duke Mitchell’s long lost and finally completed 1970’s religious gangster epic is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen before. Mitchell plays an ex-con who decides to sail a yacht to Rome, so that he can kidnap the Pope in exchange for the ransom of “a dollar from every Catholic in the world.” Academy-award winning editor Bob Murawski discovered the film (originally shot in 1975) in Mitchell’s son’s garage and pieced it together over the last 15 years. This newly discovered gem is an instant grindhouse exploitation classic that’s currently touring the country, so check it out on 35mm in a city near you.
One of the scariest horror films I saw all year long was this true crime documentary about the connections between an old east coast urban legend and a real life boogeyman who may have been responsible for several missing children in Staten Island, New York. Then there’s the condemned mental institution in the middle of the woods that the accused once worked at as a caregiver to make things even creepier. A real life slasher film of sorts!
15. THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (THE FIRST SEQUENCE)
I’ve never felt more nervous expectation before watching a movie in my life. This notorious film from Tom Six about a mad doctor (played to perfection by Dieter Laser) who abducts three innocent victims and surgically connects them together ass-to-mouth was the most surprisingly entertaining horror film of the year. It’s much funnier than I was expecting it to be and it delightfully accomplishes it’s goal of freaking everyone out who watches it, while somehow making you (well me at least) root for the experiment and its creator to succeed. FEED HER!
16. BEST WORST MOVIE
This wonderful documentary about the cult surrounding what is considered to be one of the worst films ever made, TROLL 2, is so incredibly entertaining to watch simply because George Hardy (the star and subject of both films) is as charming and enthusiastic a man as any I’ve ever seen before. His journey from small town dentist to bad movie icon and horror nerd personality was a joy to watch. I hope we see him again soon in TROLL 2 PART 2 in 3-D!
17. NEVER LET ME GO
A very bleak, heartbreaking film about a trio of friends that attend a remote boarding school in the English countryside as children, only to be used as “donors” for the greater good of mankind when they are older. This was a very heartbreaking story that was beautifully acted and written.
18. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
Very entertaining doc about the guerilla street art scene that starts out as a mad Frenchman’s obsession in following around and filming guys like Space Invader, Shepard Fairey and the great and mysterious Bansky as they create their graffiti masterpieces around the world. But it’s when Bansky turns the camera around on the filmmaker himself that we gain some insight into his true intentions and the very nature of the hype obsessed art world and the lemmings that follow it. Obey.
19. [REC] 2
It picks up where the first one ended and escalates the tension and scares in a big way. A SWAT team must accompany a City Health Officer into “the” quarantined building to find the nature of the “disease”. What they find is an answer much more horrifying than a simple zombie-infestation. Faster paced, gorier and just as nerve jangling as [REC].
This was one highly effective thriller! I’ve never liked skiing and after seeing this, I’m staying the fuck away from all slopes, chalets and mountains from here on out. Adam Green keeps the tension at an extreme with this perfect winter terror flick and maintains his status as cinema’s top horror auteur. HATCHET 2 was a gore soaked delight, too!
21. SHUTTER ISLAND
Scorsese’s haunted house movie was some good, atmospheric fun. I knew the twist going in thanks to some spoiler laden trailers, but that didn’t stop me from grooving on this well made film that was like THE SHINING meets JACOB’S LADDER.
22. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
This was the most entertaining Dreamworks animated film yet. Great 3-D compliments a wonderful coming-of-age film about a Viking boy learning how to fly a dragon. Awesome.
23. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE
Totally hilarious! Four friends travel back to 1986 by way of a hot tub time machine and attempt to fix their broken lives, party, get laid and return to the present. Like BACK TO THE FUTURE on coke!
24. PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2
A very well done prequel/sequel to last year’s highly effective found footage haunted house movie. This one does a remarkable job of repeating the same level of creepy scares, while also tying the two films together nicely, and expanding upon the story and characters from the original, too. Amazing how effective a good sound design can be!
Based on the faux GRINDHOUSE trailer, this Mexploitation revenge tale was one stuffed burrito of a movie! I loved the insane violence, hot chicks, crazy action, and like a true exploitation movie from the cynical 70’s, it had a brilliant and timely political and social subtext. Danny Trejo stars in the role he was born to play, along with one of the oddest and coolest casts ever assembled. Lots of sex, violence and tacos for everyone, plus a naked Jessica Alba! Machete don’t text!
1. IRON MAN II
I had a feeling this franchise was built on wobbly legs when I saw the first one, which to me was primarily successful due to an inspired and mostly improvised performance by Robert Downey Jr. The sequel was a self-indulgent mess of a movie with a weak plot and almost no action. There were times when I actually felt like I was watching a bad sitcom and the Tony Stark character officially went from being a likable jerk to an obnoxious dickhead that I could care less about. This was a franchise killer.
2. PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME
I wish I had a knife with magic sand in it that could give me back the two hours of my life I wasted watching this wretched film, that featured a cast of white people with British accents playing Persians. WTF!?
3. SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD
Will someone please stop George Romero from making anymore zombie films?! I loved LAND OF THE DEAD, but I can’t take anymore of his inferior new “reboot” series. Especially now that THE WALKING DEAD on AMC is doing Romero better than Romero is, I really wish the man would just retire. There’s a nice social commentary present in this most recent one, but it’s just not original enough or scary enough to stand up against his previous films and features some horrendous acting and even worse CGI effects. When Romero starts using digital blood it’s time to aim for the head and shoot!
Mix THE TERMINATOR with a little DEMON KNIGHT and you got yourself this really boring film about God declaring war on all of mankind by sending all the angels in heaven to Earth to destroy us. It was DOGMA played like a graphic novel only with less action and excitement.
5. CLASH OF THE TITANS
Great special effects, but a terrible script and totally unnecessary 3-D made this a whole lot less awesome than I thought it should have been. Seriously, how do you fuck up a CLASH OF THE TITANS remake? They should have remade KRULL instead.
MOST UNFAIRLY PICKED ON BY THE NERD MASSES:
Ok, so it wasn’t a perfect sequel by any means. I personally think that the young CGI Jeff Bridges was a bad idea for the main villain and it SHOULD have been the Cillian Murphy character instead. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and found the visuals to be some of the best looking eye candy I’ve ever seen. It was a fun and totally unnecessary sequel to a movie I love and I’m happy that they made it. Also, that Daft Punk score was EPIC!
Well, that does it for me on 2010. I saw a lot of movies last year and you can bet I’ll continue to see a lot more this year, too. Nerd out!