The year 2010 offered too many film experiences bathed in the grayish tint of 3-D glasses, as Hollywood exploited the eager masses who desperately sought to re-live the visual splendors of their beloved Avatar.
Many movies were retrofitted for 3-D after being filmed, inflating ticket prices and turning awful movies (Alice in Wonderland, The Last Airbender and, oh God, Clash of the Titans) into Top 20 box-office smashes.
The next time you see a 3-D movie that isn't fulfilling your artistic expectations (which will happen), take off your glasses; rub your eyes; and seek out a family. Laugh heartily at the father of four who is sitting there wearing the funny glasses and grinding his teeth as he realizes that he just dropped enough money to buy a pair of decent shoes on the cinematic dump that is something like Alvin and the Chipmunks 3D. (Yes, this is a film that's actually coming to a theater near you in 2011, along with more than 30 other 3-D titles.)
As for our cinema section, the winds of change blew through our offices, causing some noticeable shifts in our critic lineup and doing some significant damage to the kitchen area. We saw the departure of the honorable James DiGiovanna and the addition of the hallowed Colin Boyd. We also welcomed the incredibly brave Jacquie Allen, who at one point endured a string of cinema so noxious that we fear the physical and emotional ramifications. And then there was Bob Grimm, who just sort of stood by, all-glassy eyed and confused.
So here's how the year shook out according to our critics—with a heart-wrenching farewell from Sir James of DiGiovanna.
James, you can look forward to a year when you aren't vocationally required to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 3-D. You are blessed, my friend ... you are blessed.
I don't recall a movie year in which the best films were ever this unanimously clear. Most critics, like Colin and me, had lists of top picks that overlapped. (James is off in his own little super-intelligent world.)
Go ahead: Scan the Internet, and check out various 2010 best-movie lists. You'll see many movie names repeated (along with more than a few ads for male enhancement and free credit scores).
1. 127 Hours: Director Danny Boyle delivered his best film yet with this true story of a hiker (James Franco) and his five-day-plus date with a pesky boulder that would eventually take his arm, but not his indomitable spirit. (I just referenced an awesome Mr. Show sketch!) Franco deserves an Oscar; he gave one of the more unique performances in years. Yes, the arm-amputation business is messy and yucky, but Franco's mostly solo performance is full of everything from great humor to unfathomable desperation.
2. True Grit: As Mattie, the fiercely intelligent 14-year-old seeking revenge for her father's murder, Hailee Steinfeld is remarkable in this sinister and often funny Coen brothers remake. When you factor in Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and a supporting cast including Josh Brolin, Matt Damon and Barry Pepper, you have the year's best ensemble.
3. Inception: Christopher Nolan's masterwork gets my vote for the year's best visuals, best screenplay and best editing. It also includes one of the year's best performances, from Leonardo DiCaprio. Marion Cotillard is no slouch, either, playing Leo's dead wife and dream-haunter. This one truly stretched the boundaries of moviemaking in a miraculous way.
4. The Social Network: No movie better captured the current state of human interaction than David Fincher's nasty take on the creation of the mother of all social networks. Jesse Eisenberg excels as Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook (and Time's recently anointed Man of the Year).
5. Blue Valentine: After a prolonged but successful battle with the MPAA to overturn the dreaded NC-17 rating it initially received, this scathing look at a failing marriage, juxtaposed with the endearing beginning of the same relationship, is now playing at local theaters. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams tear hearts out in this incredibly honest film about a disintegrating union.
6. Toy Story 3: Once again, Pixar made me cry while watching an animated movie. Woody and Buzz Lightyear delivered again in heartwarming, rousing fashion. Big Baby actually scared the hell out of me.
7. Shutter Island: Yes, it's easy to guess what's going on in the latest thriller from director Martin Scorsese. Who cares? This is one of the year's best-looking, best-acted films, and while Inception is a little higher on my list, this featured the year's best Leonardo DiCaprio performance.
8. Louis C.K.: Hilarious: Louis C.K. is my pick as the all-time-greatest stand-up comedian. Better than Carlin, better than Cosby, better than Bill Hicks ... better than all of them. While this film of his latest concert material isn't a technical wonder, it's far and away the funniest movie of the year, simply based on what this man is willing to say in front of a crowded room. He's nuts. The film is out on DVD, and I highly recommend it. You'll laugh your ass off.
9. I Am Love: Tilda Swinton is unbelievable in one of the more challenging roles to come along in a long time.
10. Tangled: I love the look of this movie, a wonderful combination of computer animation and classic Disney sensibilities. It contains one of the all-time-great Disney characters in Maximus the Horse, and Mandy Moore's voice is the perfect match for the animated Rapunzel.
As the great Mark Twain once said, "Ten is never enough when discussing the year's best movies, so quit screwing around, and take this mother to 20!"
11. Black Swan: Natalie Portman finally gets a chance to fully deliver on the promise she showed all the way back in The Professional. She is hauntingly sad as Nina, the tormented ballerina who can't quite handle her opportunity to shine in the limelight.
12. Kick-Ass: While Louis C.K. gave us the year's funniest movie, this film's introduction of Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) is the funniest scene of the year. The art direction and cinematography in this movie are outstanding.
13. Winter's Bone: Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes are both fantastic in this bleak look at life in the Ozark Mountains. Hawkes has been doing fine work for years, but this is the movie that will make some people actually remember his name. On a sad note: Director Debra Granik is apparently working on a new Pippi Longstocking movie, and I HATE PIPPI LONGSTOCKING! That pig-tailed freak used to give me nightmares. SHE'S EVIL!!!
14. The King's Speech: Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are simply delightful as King George VI and his cocky speech therapist. If the Oscar goes to Rush over Christian Bale (The Fighter) for Best Supporting Actor, that'll be fine by me.
15. The Kids Are All Right: Another great ensemble film, with Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo and perhaps even Julianne Moore all deserving Oscar consideration.
16. I Love You Phillip Morris: Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor go all-out in this crazy-funny story based on real events. If you think Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger broke through barriers in gay-themed cinema with Brokeback Mountain, watch this movie.
17. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage: Even if you hate their music, this documentary about the Canadian rock gods is one of the best rock films ever made. Thanks to footage of the band in all phases of their career, and the endearing honesty of its members in their interviews, this is a music-lover's delight.
18. I'm Still Here: I've watched this a couple of times now, and I must applaud the effort that Joaquin Phoenix put into this insane piece of performance art.
19. The Other Guys: Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg make the year's best comic duo in the latest from frequent Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay. The scene in which Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson jump off of a building is golden.
20. Enter the Void: In a lot of ways, Gasper Noé's unconventional ghost story is as much of a technical marvel as Christopher Nolan's Inception. It's one of the most highly immoral and uncomfortable movies I've ever seen ... which I have to respect in a weird sort of way. This is a film during which you travel inside of a woman's vagina for a firsthand look at sex in progress ... and you take one in the face. Don't watch this one based solely on my recommendation. It requires pre- and post-movie counseling, and I don't want to be hit by a lawsuit from a Bible-thumper after it gives him a stroke.
There are a couple of things remarkable about this year's worst list. For starters, it features everybody from Robert De Niro to Julia Roberts, and from Jeff Bridges to Angelina Jolie. Some heavy-hitters took their big paychecks and did time in seriously bad cinema.
Also remarkable is that there were so many atomically bad movies that The Last Airbender and, shockingly, even The Twilight Saga: Eclipse got bumped off my list. This is a feat of miraculous proportions, because I really hate that tween-vampire shit.
1. Sex and the City 2: What are the most painful movie scenes I've had to watch during my 15 years of reviewing films? Well, anything with Pippi Longstocking qualifies, and pretty much the entire Al Pacino performance in 88 Minutes. As torturous as those were, I am going to have to crown the moment when Sarah Jessica Parker and her loser cast mates did karaoke in this bloody car crash as the new "suck" king.
2. TRON: Legacy: I know some of the special effects are spectacular, and the whole young Jeff Bridges trick impressed me. Still, it featured the year's worst lead actor in Garrett Hedlund, a guy as interesting as rum punch with no rum. His lifeless performance, and a plot even goofier than that of original film, killed this for me.
3. Little Fockers: Come on, Ben Stiller! Knock it off with these demeaning, useless forays into simplistic commercial swill for big money. You are embarrassing yourself and your fans. Hey, I'm not a fair-weather fan who abandons his film heroes after a stinky movie or two. But you've officially made a lot of bad movies, and this one, co-starring Robert De Niro (another fading hero), is your worst.
4. How Do You Know: Reese Witherspoon's befuddled performance is a big reason for this one's failure, but you have to put plenty of blame on woefully out-of-touch writer/director James L. Brooks (As Good as It Gets), who is rapidly losing his mojo.
5. Eat Pray Love: A lot of people have yelled at me for hating this one, because they loved the book so, so much. Listen, great books don't always make good movies. (Bonfire of the Vanities, anyone?) I can think of at least 187,328 things I'd rather be doing than watching Julia Roberts stuffing pizza into her face while whining about her hot boyfriends.
6. Robin Hood: Russell Crowe, perhaps realizing his career is officially faltering, got back together with his Gladiator director (Ridley Scott) and hairdresser for this historical drama that proves, once and for all, that Robin Hood was a boring dickhead.
7. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest: I loved Noomi Rapace in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and continued to like her and the Lisbeth Salander character through the inferior The Girl Who Played With Fire. By the time Lisbeth got to this last part of the trilogy, all hope was lost. It's almost more boring than TRON: Legacy. Not quite, but almost.
8. The Tourist: Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie sleepwalk through this romantic adventure flick, seemingly determined to prove that their rise to respected-performer status was some kind of fluke. Seriously, were we all drunk? According to this film, Depp and Jolie totally suck ass! Neither one of them know how to act! It's all a big ruse!
9. Grown Ups: Adam Sandler made the very good Funny People, a comedy with brains that failed to ignite the box office. So he went right back to director Dennis Dugan and got a bunch of his unfunny friends together, and they defecated this thing.
10. Clash of the Titans: While they were in production on this one, somebody got the bright idea to make it into a 3-D movie, because Avatar made so much money. So they altered the already-stupid movie and made it hard to look at as well.
The coming movie year looks kind of weird. There are a lot of remakes (Straw Dogs, Footloose, Conan the Barbarian, Fright Night), a lot of sequels (Transformers, Harry Potter, Twilight, Pirates of the Caribbean) and a lot of second-tier superheroes (Green Lantern, Thor, Captain America).
I am looking forward to David Gordon Green's Your Highness, starring James Franco and Danny McBride; the next Terrence Malick film (The Tree of Life); and this summer's old-school Winnie the Pooh animated movie.
However, the 2011 film I am most looking forward to would be The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 1, because its arrival will mean there is only one movie left in that miserable franchise.
There really was no bellwether movie moment in 2010.
Go back to 2008, and you could point to The Dark Knight, which, thanks largely to Heath Ledger's haunting performance, was the movie everyone talked about. In 2009, it was Avatar, obviously, but there were other films that also left a big impression, like The Hurt Locker, thanks in large measure to Kathryn Bigelow shattering the glass ceiling by being the first Oscar-winning female director. There was The Hangover. Even District 9 and Paranormal Activity would be in the discussion in terms of impact on their own genres.
But there were no sharp turns in the evolution of cinema last year. What was 2010's Avatar? Well ... that was still Avatar, since its unprecedented run extended deep into spring. The Hangover of 2010? Um ... Grown Ups? Holy shit, let's hope not.
But you get the point. So did a lot of other moviegoers, who, like they have only two other times in 20 years, spent less on movies last year than they did the year before. But even that number doesn't tell the whole story, because, thanks to hiked 3-D ticket prices, the average cost of going to the movies went up almost 50 cents. And there were more movies to see.
People just didn't.
That isn't to say there weren't great films; it's just that we wound up with fewer Hall of Fame candidates, and a Top 5 movie from 2010 may not have had that honor in other years.
1. The Secret in Their Eyes: This is technically a 2009 movie—and it was a 2010 Oscar winner—but it was not released stateside until April. The Argentinean whodunit is note-perfect; not even the love story feels out of place. A fantastic study not of a crime, but of those investigating it, and how the blowback affects them for decades, The Secret in Their Eyes is effortless and taut but under the radar, so it might take a couple of years of exposure before more people catch on. City of God, the impeccable Brazilian crime film from 2002, experienced the same thing.
It's always a gamble to anoint a foreign film as the year's best, because there's a better-than-even chance that the movie won't translate well to American tastes, and critics are notorious for celebrating something different simply because it's different. But The Secret in Their Eyes sings a familiar tune to Americans: There's a murder, a romance, an everyday hero and soccer.
Damn it. Well, three out of four ain't bad.
2. Kick-Ass: The key to Kick-Ass—why it works so much better than nearly every other comic-book/superhero movie ever made—is that it doesn't overstep its bounds. These movies tend to be, especially in the era of $200 million budgets, awfully excessive, and so there are too many villains, too many fight scenes for the sake of having fight scenes, and too many things to compromise what makes a hero so special.
The way director Matthew Vaughn presents his story has more than its share of balls and originality for a genre desperate for both. The hero grabs our sympathies; the bad-guy quotient isn't out of control; it's incredibly fun; it has great supporting characters and three magnificent action scenes; and Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) may be the best character of 2010.
3. Toy Story 3: Pixar's biggest film is not its best, although when it throws punches, they land quite effectively. It's hard to keep climbing after WALL-E and Up, especially with a franchise, but forgiving a more-or-less perfunctory opening 15 minutes, this movie's just about flawless. That goes double for the ending, which probably won't be topped for a long, long time.
4. The King's Speech: Every fall, there's a period piece from Britain that washes up on our shores. There's nothing we can do about it; it's written into the Potsdam Agreement. Little-known fact. And every year, this movie is the front-runner for some of Oscar's most hotly contested categories, like Best Costume Design. The awards categories will be different this time around, thanks to the blithely entertaining The King's Speech, the wonderful performances by Colin Firth and the great Geoffrey Rush, and the surprisingly riveting direction by Tom Hooper.
5. Black Swan: Under the direction of the still-ascendant Darren Aronofsky, Natalie Portman realizes all of her potential in what ought to be an easy Oscar vote. Despite its rather lo-fi look, Black Swan is impeccably crafted, with Aronofsky's pacing throughout setting up his crucial, breathless third act. Though this is squarely Portman's show, her supporting cast—Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassell, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder—all do fine work.
6. Inception: As effortless as The Secret in Their Eyes is, Inception is just the opposite. But Christopher Nolan's execution is so pristine that, as aloof as it all is, he proves he's operating on an entirely different level than most filmmakers. What other director would even dare to delve four levels deep, taking his characters and his audience into a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream? While Nolan's fingerprints are unmistakably everywhere, and it can get annoying to watch a director so overtly play puppeteer, he pulls it off. This was the most original new world we saw all year.
7: The Social Network: Great "of the moment" films happen rarely, usually because the movie misses its sell-by date by the time it's released. But like Saturday Night Fever and A Hard Day's Night, The Social Network arrived in theaters when its subject was at the height of its zeitgeist, perhaps giving it more relevance than any other 2010 film. Except, of course, that David Fincher didn't direct a movie about how to play Farmville. This depicts the ugly side of starting a revolution in a dorm room, as seen through the eyes of absolutely nobody you'd ever invite to become your friend on Facebook. A good young cast and Aaron Sorkin's sparkling script help, but The Social Network doesn't really have a powerful ending, and what it does offer feels a bit hurried.
8: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: The Stieg Larsson trilogy adaptations lost steam as they went, but there's a lot to admire in the raw first installment, particularly star Noomi Rapace. Of course, the bloom is somewhat off the rose now; the other two Swedish films don't hold up as well, and the American remakes are already in production. But Dragon Tattoo earns some novelty points. It's gritty and impactful in the way so many films try to be, but fail.
9: Shutter Island: Martin Scorsese's latest is unlike most of his previous films. It looks like a studio movie, and it moves like a great thriller from the noir era, yet underneath, there's still a screwed-up psychology that's been a trademark of Scorsese's work. Maybe Shutter Island doesn't add to his legacy, but this potboiler is as satisfying as most of the stuff he's done post-Goodfellas. Predictable? Yes. Soft-headed? Maybe, from time to time. But this twisted love song to thrillers of a bygone era is so well-done that the surface flaws are not only easy to overlook; they're also major reasons Shutter Island is as engrossing as it is.
10. Inside Job: The year's best documentary paints the 2008 financial fiasco as a coordinated corporate and government hijacking, and it's riveting stuff. Director Charles Ferguson didn't have to work very hard to find his villains, but the challenge comes from knowing how to compress 30 years of abject greed into one digestible narrative. It escapes Ferguson a little bit here and there, as he obsesses about points that aren't terribly relatable to most people looking for answers, but you can't say Inside Job is not an exhaustive look at the problem.
An exhaustive look at the problems of the five worst films of 2010, however, may indeed be too much to bear.
Going for a full 10 is, without question, too much to ask. The quintet at the bottom of last year's barrel were all backed by major studios, and the two worst flicks are simply inexcusable, because they had built-in audiences, a wealth of material to draw from, and plenty of money to spend—which may actually be part of the issue.
If you want to get sick, consider this: Black Swan, an almost surefire Oscar winner and a consensus Top 10 film of the year, was produced for $13 million. The wardrobe budget for Sex and the City 2 was an estimated $10 million, with more than $50,000 spent on one of Sarah Jessica Parker's ensembles.
What a perfect place to begin.
1. Sex and the City 2: There's irony in the fact that the 30-minute Sex and the City sitcom could so easily resolve difficult topics that might run a clumsy hour with less-talented writing. The second film in the franchise—which has nothing to offer in terms of depth or conflict—can't even wrap it up in 146 minutes. This appalling movie, without any hint of the barrier-breaking TV series (or the city) that inspired it, is not a motion picture so much as it is a catalog. No laughs, no fun, no characters. It's just a bunch of clothes hanging on four women in the desert who are desperately trying to remain the life of a party that has long since moved on.
2. The Last Airbender: From beginning to end, and in almost every way, The Last Airbender is a failure. A brain-dead movie devoid of new ideas, drowning in creaky dialogue and unquestionably miscast, M. Night Shyamalan's latest is torture. This is simply an embarrassing, confused, unenthusiastic film that never finds the right tone and wouldn't know it if it had. It's unimaginable that this story could be told any worse.
3. Vampires Suck: It should come as no surprise that a spoof predominately about the Twilight films isn't very good. Couple that with the fact that Vampires Suck is the latest masterpiece from the guys who made Disaster Movie, which might be the worst studio film in 20 years or more, and there's almost no escaping that this thing was destined for failure. How many more of these will dumb teenagers sit through?
4. Cop Out: You can tell that neither Bruce Willis nor director Kevin Smith is invested in Cop Out just by watching how lazy the film is. Tracy Morgan, who co-stars as Willis' over-the-top partner, has to work at a frenetic pace to keep Willis from rusting. If, polygraphs performed, it turns out that Willis and Smith actually were giving their all, then that makes Cop Out worse than it already is. Hard to imagine.
What an appropriate title.
5. The Spy Next Door: Because he's such a likable guy, it's hard to bombard Jackie Chan for all of his bad movies. But it's getting to the point where he needs an intervention. The only good thing about The Spy Next Door is that it was overshadowed by Chan's very effective dramatic work in the surprising remake of The Karate Kid.
Rounding out the worst of the year is not a film, but rather a trend. As we mentioned in the introduction, a special badge of shame goes to the entire film industry for so aggressively rallying behind 3-D. It isn't that audiences don't like 3-D. What we don't like is an overused gimmick. There were 25 movies that were glasses-optional in 2010, all charging more for the privilege.
How many needed 3-D? Outside of the animated movies, not many. Be leery of any live-action film that employs it, because unlike Avatar or My Bloody Valentine—seriously—most weren't originally meant to be in 3-D, and there's a vast difference between the real thing and these post-production conversions that are spewing out all over, like Gulliver's Travels and Clash of the Titans.
It's just a cash grab. Try not to fall for it.
This isn't a true best-of-the-year list, since I didn't see nearly enough films this year to honestly tell you which ones are best.
Like, I missed virtually every movie starring chipmunks or Fockers, and not once did I get to see Jake Gyllenhaal's nipples. But with my limited expertise, I'm happy to suggest a few good flicks that would be well worth streaming to your NeuralNetflix implants.
I'll remember 2010 as the year that mumblecore went mainstream. The tiny film movement of the '00s was about low-budgets, lots of close-ups and an Ingmar Bergman-like emphasis on human stories.
The genre got a little publicity in 2009 from such mini-hits as Baghead and Humpday, which caused Hollywood to take notice. This led Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh to write, and Baumbach to direct, the mumblecore-inspired Greenberg. They traded in mumblecore's tiny budgets and youthful casts for millions of dollars and middle-age mid-listers Ben Stiller and Rhys Ifans. However, they kept the basic mood of sadness, struggle and human-centeredness, and they also cast mumblecore mainstays Mark Duplass and Greta Gerwig. Though Stiller gets top billing, Gerwig steals the show as Stiller's age-inappropriate love interest. Gerwig is an amazing actress, and I can only assume that with Hollywood cinema finally having discovered her, by this time next year, she'll either be in rehab or, if things go really poorly, a romantic comedy with Jennifer Aniston. Also, shockingly, Ben Stiller isn't awful in this movie. He's not as good as he was in Permanent Midnight, but he's not as bad as he was in Everything Else Ben Stiller Was In.
But my favorite movie of the year is an earlier feature with Gerwig, Yeast, which got a festival release in 2008 but went semi-wide last year and is now available on the intertubes. It's a quintessential mumblecore movie, with a tiny cast, shot mostly in close-up, and featuring difficult relationships between three 20-something-year-old women. It's also hilarious, thanks to Gerwig. She plays Gen, the slacker college chum of uptight, controlling and prematurely grown-up Rachel. The two of them go on a camping trip that will remind you of the weekend when you finally realized that your best friend was an asshole. What's amazing about this film is that the lead character, played by director/writer Mary Bronstein, is unpleasant, unsympathetic and lacking in empathy, yet you can't help sympathizing with her. It's like watching Sarah Palin burst into tears: weird and uncomfortable, but somehow entertaining as hell.
The last of my mumblecore favorites of the year was Douchebag, co-written by Andrew Dickler, who helped edit Borat, which I won't hold against him, and directed by Drake Doremus. Dickler plays Sam Nussbaum, the titular douchebag. He's a devout vegan moralist, and he's about to get married. In what sounds like a pitch for an Adam Sandler/Kevin James movie, Sam's fiancée learns that he hasn't spoken to his brother in years, so she hunts down the brother and forces a reunion. The writing, directing and acting are smooth enough that this doesn't seem contrived, but instead is blaringly naturalistic and wildly hilarious. The best stuff comes as Dickler's character devolves into the meat-eating womanizer he's been hiding from his fiancée, all to continue the long-standing feud he's had with his brother. The ending is a little sentimental, but it doesn't feel unearned, and it manages to be moving without resorting to a mythical battle between boy wizards and teenage vampires.
The documentary Catfish is, like the mumblecore movement, a quintessentially American experience. Filmmakers Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, both in their 20s, decided to make a movie about Ariel's brother Nev. Nev's a photographer, and he's started an Internet friendship with Abby, an 8-year-old girl who's a painting prodigy. Soon, he befriends her mother, Angela, and begins to romance her older sister, Megan, all by means of Facebook and e-mails. As the film progresses, Nev prepares to meet Megan, who lives halfway across the country.
Except parts of Megan's story seem problematic: She's sent what she claims are MP3s of her singing her own compositions, but they turn out to be recordings of obscure folk musicians. Soon, Nev is growing suspicious of the entire affair. When the truth comes out, it's far weirder than what you'd expect, so much so that the filmmakers have been accused of faking the whole thing. I doubt they did, but if that is the case, they've still made a brilliant little film, so it's worth seeing either way.
Similarly American, but freely admitting its fictionality, is Winter's Bone, set in the Ozark Mountains. It's like an artistically thoughtful version of one of those Burt Reynolds moonshine movies from the '70s. A young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) with two children will be tossed out of her house unless she can find out what happened to her father, a meth dealer who hasn't been seen in weeks. As she pushes her way into the grimy, crime-ridden forests and farms of America's poorest counties, she finds out just how weird white people can be when you leave them on a mountain and take away all their VCRs and shopping malls. It's a movie that's complex and a bit grisly, and even if it doesn't quite live up to its potential, it's still worth seeing for the performances of Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes.
In lighter fare, there was The Secret of Kells (which technically was released in 2009, and was nominated for an Oscar last year, but was released locally in 2010). It was, by far, the best-looking animated film I've seen in a long, long time. I'd put it up there with Fantastic Planet in sheer artistry. And while 3-D stuff like Avatar and Pixar Tries to Make You Cry can be fun eye candy, those films work not because of a creative vision, but because of technical wizardry. Kells is hand-drawn, 2-D art that mimics the Celtic stylings of the medieval Book of Kells, and carries the aesthetic through crenelated castles, arched woods and abstract Vikings pillaging paper-cutout islands. It's like watching an illuminated manuscript come to life and kick Walt Disney's butt down the street and into a giant vat of cathedrals.
Finally, I'll note Swedish thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Released in Europe in 2009, it made a big enough splash in the United States in 2010 that it's being remade in proper Christian English. I love a good thriller, but they're very rare, because the pacing needed to make the genre work is hard to create. Instead, most films give up on the art of slowly revealing information and hope you'll be satisfied with pretty things exploding in slow-motion. Girl delivers the goods by means of real plot and surreal characters. Noomi Rapace plays autistic, polysexual computer-hacker Lisbeth Salander. She's having trouble with her court-appointed guardian, in that she wants more freedom and greater access to her finances, and he wants to rape and beat her. Then reporter Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) stumbles upon a massive conspiracy and needs Lisbeth's help, and things get really weird as Nazi sex criminals and Australian fugitives come together like lingonberries and meatballs.
Beyond that, there were a few more widely distributed films I semi-enjoyed, but I'm sure Bob and Colin can handle those, and all other film duties, as I'm leaving the Tucson Weekly to pursue other matters. After 10 years, I've said pretty much everything I have to say about films (I like them when they don't suck), and I'm too busy with my other work to properly devote myself to seeing every Yogi Bear remake that comes down the pike. Without a thorough knowledge of what Hollywood is puking up, I no longer feel qualified to make fun of Michael Bay's aborted attempts at being loved. Plus, I had to sit through Inception, which was basically two hours of the screenwriter going, "Dude, this could all be, like, a dream!" I don't want to watch the next Inception (which I think will be just a guy staring at his thumb and saying, "There could be, like, a whole universe in there!"), so I'm hanging up my critic's hat. Thank you, Tucson, for the 10 years of hate mail and occasional offers of oral sex.
The current plan is for me to write the Weekly's summer-movie preview. Until then, if you really miss me, I'll still be writing various tiny things that can be found around the Web. Tucson-based literary magazine Sporkpress.com has a bunch of my recent work hidden on their website, and I occasionally update my blog at spoonbot.com.
I don't like to admit it, but in my waking life, I'm a philosophy professor specializing in the epistemological status of understanding and the metaphysics of personal identity. (Really.) But please feel free to continue sending me your violent rants and deranged religious tracts, and I'll be happy to respond.
Best Actor: James Franco (127 Hours), Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Leonardo DiCaprio (Shutter Island), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
Best Actress: Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine), Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Tilda Swinton (I Am Love), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone)
Best Supporting Actor: Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech), John Hawkes (Winter's Bone), Matt Damon (True Grit), Christian Bale (The Fighter), Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right)
Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Amy Adams (The Fighter), Kristin Scott Thomas (Nowhere Boy), Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass and Let Me In), Naomi Watts (Mother and Child)
Worst Actor: Garrett Hedlund and Michael Sheen (TRON: Legacy)
Worst Actress: Julia Roberts (Eat Pray Love)
Best Actor in a Bad Movie: Paul Rudd (How Do You Know)
Best Actress in a Bad Movie: Madeline Carroll (Flipped)
Worst Actor in a Good Movie: Patrick Wilson (Morning Glory)
Worst Actress in a Good Movie: Kim Cattrall (The Ghost Writer)
Best Actor in a Coffin for the Entire Film: Ryan Reynolds (Buried). Runner up: Paul Rudd (the coffin being the movie How Do You Know)
Best Director: Danny Boyle (127 Hours)
Best Documentary: Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage
Best Cinematographer: Roger Deakins (True Grit)
Most Shameful Product Placement: Ducati motorcycles in TRON: Legacy
Most Shameful Jeff Bridges Placement: Acting like "The Dude" in TRON: Legacy
Best Original Song: "Sticks and Stones" by Jónsi (How to Train Your Dragon)
Best Score: Carter Burwell (True Grit), Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network)
Best Cameo ... Possibly Ever: Richard Dreyfuss in Piranha 3D
Underrated: Morning Glory, Frozen, Splice, Never Let Me Go
Overrated: Secretariat, Hereafter, Alice in Wonderland
Dumbest Movie Makeup Ever: Johnny Depp and that orange hair (Alice in Wonderland)
Best Dancing: Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)
Worst Dancing: Dustin Hoffman (Little Fockers)
Proof That Nicolas Cage Is Still Cool: Kick-Ass
Proof That Nicolas Cage Is a Whore: The Sorcerer's Apprentice