Friday, December 31, 2010

BEST OF 2010

I have to catch up on some posts (being home for Xmas break can sometimes be more tasking than a work week) but before the year closes out, I wanted to get up my top 5 of 2010. Last year I did a top 10, with several ties, but this dismal year for cinema did not have more than 5 movies that I could stand behind unquestionably. Out of this massive, huge, money-driven disappointment of a year came these 5 movies that will not leave my personal pantheon of must-see films.
5. CATFISH- The movie that The Social Network led us to believe it would be, about the new reality of Facebook and online social interaction. There has been a lot of controversy as to whether this alleged documentary is actually real or not; I think that's moot. The filmmakers have crafted a compelling, relevent, and savagely human narrative that plays like I'd imagine it would in real life. There are no blindsides, no startling moments of truth, just slow, painful realizations and disillusionments; you feel the tensions, dilemmas, and disappointments of the three filmmakers more than in any 10 studio-driven dramas that came out this year. The scene where the lead bashfully reads e-mails with his former love interest while hiding under the covers was brilliant, staged or not, and hit truths that many films with similar intentions have failed to achieve. The last act tries to wrap things up a little too neatly, but overall, the film had enough of an impact to be the only doc that I truly loved this year.
4. True Grit- It's been said before, and I'll say it again; leave it to the Coen bros. to make an old John Wayne western from the '60s seem interesting and relevant. I was shocked to hear that this film was PG-13; even aside from a plethora of bloody murders and intense violence, the film has a gritty, somewhat merciless atmosphere that resembles films like Jarmusch's Dead Man more than the John Ford/John Wayne westerns. Roger Deakins once again outdoes himself (save for the climactic nighttime horse chase), lensing, simultaneously, a gorgeous, untethered landscape, and the savage, disgusting humans that attempt to rape it for sanctuary, resources, or revenge. The dialogue, drawled out by the three leads (including a thoroughly Oscar-worthy Jeff Bridges), is hilarious, depicting its 13-year old protagonist as a practical thinking word-wizard, while making buffoonish hicks out of movie stars Matt Damon and Bridges. As with Catfish, and an inumerable amount of films these days, the film wraps up too quickly, and the buildup proves more satisfying than the conclusion, but, as a whole, the film achieves more than any western in years; it is not quite as interesting and original as A Serious Man, but it ranks up there amongst the finest Coen Bros. work of the past decade.
3. Toy Story 3- How did Pixar manage to keep their Toy Story franchise fresh three entries in? They made it about US. The generation that grew up with this stuff. I was 7 when the first Toy Story came out, a perfect age to latch on to Pixar's perfect, yet-to-be topped premise of the toys that come to life when their owner leaves the room. Now in my early 20s, I completely connected with Andy's plight of reconciling his new life as a collegiate with the playing and imagination that nurtured him as a youngster. The idea of shipping my precious toys away to a retirement home for space-clearing purposes chilled me to the bone, and personifying these forgotten toys as they march on to their twilight years creates a harrowing, emotional narrative. The film is still, ostensibly, a family film, with plenty of humor, particularly from the depiction of the age-old Barbie/Ken romance (Ken's metrosexual leanings border hilariously on a more mature level of humor), albeit with a much darker, multi-layered edge. While How To Train Your Dragon, more of a kids film, was able to create unbelievabe, nearly-shockingly visceral flight and action sequences, the emotional content of Toy Story 3 makes it the true animated classic to come out of 2010.
2. The Social Network - It wasn't about Facebook. It was about the billionaire who invented it, and the fellows that got rich just by being tangentially involved. It was about a dying generation that saw the interests of the up and coming generation, and was able to capitalize on it. It was about the way our nation's "elite" talks these days, never missing a beat and trying their DAMNDEST to stay 2 steps ahead of everyone else in the conversation. It was about a culture that prioritizes status above accomplishment, and exclusivity over personal worth. It was about a young man who has the intelligence to get what he wants, but not the peace of mind to know what it is. It was about a friendship that became a partnership, thus dooming it. It was about big guys being rendered little guys, and little guys catapulting themselves into history. It was about a new business world discovering that the old generation could not play referee anymore. And it was about a country that was dying for a new way to talk online, and how it found it. But it was certainly not about Facebook.
1. Kick-Ass - For many moviegoers, this year brought a film that inspired not a shrug of familiarity, but rather a sigh of relief, knowing that the next decade of film was, actually, going to end up bringing some new stuff to the table. For some, it was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. For others, it was Inception. For me, it was the movie about a modern day New York teen who sees no worth in his life, and, thus, takes it upon himself to stop petty crime in the streets.

I did not review the film when it first released in April simply because I was thunderstruck by what I'd seen. The scene pictured above is, easily, the best, and most visceral action scene since, perhaps, The Matrix, and it is not the lone spellbinding set piece in the film. Matthew Vaughn shows a previously unseen sense of action geography, iconography, and jet-black humor that render the film a thoroughly distinctive, memorable thrill ride. But that's not what makes the movie my favorite of the year.

What makes this film such a wonderful experience is that it feels like it was made by someone who'd seen plenty of comic book movies before. Not just read the books, but seen how they were rendered by people like Richard Donner, Tim Burton, Sam Raimi, etc. and internalized the worlds they'd visualized on screen. And it feels like this guy just had to bring all that up to date, with all of the trimmings of a contemporary superhero tale. Although it is not a universal opinion (Roger Ebert hates this movie with a passion), I am of the belief that Mr. Vaughn achieved his goal. Kick-Ass does not become a superhero because he is inherently good, or posesses some unquenchable thirst for justice; he does so because he has nothing better to do. As he says in the intro, "Among my friends, I wasn't even the funny one." He is an unremarkable, unskilled member of today's media savvy environment, where everything feels done and old and tired and totally not worth it. But you do a youtube search of "superhero" and it comes up surprisingly lacking (well, of anything worthwhile at least, except maybe the Jane's Addiction song).

Turns out it's an ugly world out there. A world where good guys not only don't always win, but are typically predestined to lose. A world where the only true threat to a millionaire mobster is a psychotically vengeful ex-cop and his highly-trained daughter. And, of course, the young angsty teen who can take any pain that his goons can dish out. I love that every character in the film is damaged and deeply frightened, from the daddy issues of Red Mist to the indifference of the extras who videotape Kick-Ass's exploits for youtube, portraying a society that doesn't really have the back of its citizens; it takes the ones with nothing to lose to make any sort of difference. The film does not pepper its film with humor, but rather portrays everything in the sort of snide, mannered way that films and TV are made with these days, only to the extreme. This is a film that actually feels that anything could happen, at least, until the last 5 minutes or so. And, even so, it contains a a highly personal, emotional core unlike anything I have ever seen in any film, let alone in a comic book film.

And for every second you give me where Aaron Johnson is merely doing his job, and not completely killing it as the lead character, I'll give you a minute where Nicolas Cage looks like he's having the most fun he's had since Adaptation. The other kids, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, are astoundingly well-rounded, Mark Strong is a fresh, human villain, and Clarke Duke provides adept comic relief. Every supporting actor, many being Brits portraying New Yorkers, is in on the joke and registers strongly.

Everything is damn near perfect. Pitch-perfect tone, action, pacing, and casting. A film that I can imagine the next generation of film to be like. And the best damned action sequence of the past decade.

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