Movies 2010: Rise of the Anti-Blockbuster
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It’s hard to believe that yet another year has come and gone. But here we are again; it’s New Year’s Day—a time to bid farewell to another year and look ahead to the days to come. And as film critics continue to compile their lists of nominees for this year’s big awards, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the year’s cinematic highs and lows.

It may not have been a landmark year for movies—but, unlike previous years, 2010 still managed to produce a handful of truly noteworthy films. Sure, there were loads of underperforming releases this year (think Iron Man 2 and Sex and the City 2)—and the movies that we expected to take box offices by storm tended to simply fizzle out. Meanwhile, there were plenty of bland dramas and boring comedies and other movies that I’d rather forget (if I haven’t already). But there were also a bunch of Little Movies That Could—and a surprising number of releases that left me wide-eyed and speechless and eager to go back for more.

For me, the following 10 films were the best of 2010:

Black Swan: Darren Aronofsky’s gripping psycho-drama came swooping down at the last minute to become my favorite movie of 2010. Dark and twisted and often just plain horrifying, with an absorbing story and a brilliant cast, it’s the kind of movie that will stick with you long after the closing credits roll.

Inception: Every once in a while, a movie manages to be smart, suspenseful, and positively breathtaking, all at the same time. Usually, that movie is directed by Christopher Nolan. This dream within a dream within a dream is so twisted and so captivating that you’ll want to go back and watch it again and again and again.

The King’s Speech: Unless you happen to be a loyal Colin Firth fan (like I am), you may not have paid too much attention to the buzz surrounding The King’s Speech. After all, a film about a prince with a speech impediment sounds an awful lot like pointless period drama Oscar bait. But add The Damned United director Tom Hooper and an absolutely brilliant cast to the mix, and you’ve got an award-worthy drama that’s surprisingly fun to watch, too.

Toy Story 3: It isn’t often that the third film in a franchise is just as enjoyable as the first—but Toy Story 3 proves once again that there’s no challenge too great for the geniuses at Pixar. This adorable family adventure is full of action and laughs—and it’s able to make grown men cry like little girls. It’s the perfect conclusion to a beloved series.

The Social Network: David Fincher’s ultra-hip Facebook exposé may be an unlikely follow-up to his epic 2008 drama, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but, really, The Social Network has it all: drama, intrigue, booze, computer geeks, and a brilliant script. It’s a positively engrossing film that will give you a whole new perspective on your daily status updates.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The geeky fangirl in me absolutely adored director Edgar Wright’s wickedly original action-comedy, thanks to its perfect blend of video game action, comic book comedy, and indie music. Admittedly, this bizarre little adventure isn’t for everyone—and, for that reason, it was barely a blip on this year’s box office—but it’s one clever comic adaptation.

Exit Through the Gift Shop: While everyone was debating whether Joaquin Phoenix’s I’m Still Here was a documentary or a hoax, the same question was being asked of Exit Through the Gift Shop—a wildly entertaining look at the world of street art. But it doesn’t really matter whether it’s real or just artist/director Banksy’s latest work of art. The film’s art and its eccentric main character make it one entertaining little film.

True Grit: I’ve never been a big fan of Westerns—but the Coen Brothers quickly won me over with True Grit. It’s all Western—complete with shoot-outs and gorgeous landscapes—but it’s infused with more than just a hint of the Coens’ own brand of wit. It’s the perfect pick for Sunday afternoon viewing.

Micmacs: There’s little in this world that I love more than a delightfully quirky comedy—and, for that reason, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs made me very, very happy. Not only is it wildly entertaining, but if you tell your friends how much you love this kooky French caper, you’ll impress them by sounding worldly and cosmopolitan.

Kick-Ass: I just couldn’t resist closing out my list with this clever comic book adventure. With its deep and surprisingly layered story, its high-octane action, and its pitch-perfect cast, it was worthy of a Summer Blockbuster Season release. Instead, this April release brought a little bit of sunshine and laughter to an otherwise pretty dreary spring.

Film Festival Honorable Mention:

The award for my favorite festival film of the year goes to Dear Lemon Lima, a quirky coming-of-age outsider comedy about a bunch of high school losers who band together to compete in their school’s annual Snowstorm Survivor competition. I caught this whimsical and endearing little movie at this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival in March, and it managed to stay with me all year.

The Losers:

No, I’m not talking about Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s comic adaptation (though—let’s be honest here—The Losers wasn’t exactly a big winner, either). I’m talking about the real losers: the movies that made me seriously consider buying myself a hip flask and stocking my trusty messenger bag with an emergency supply of vodka.

Though there were plenty of evenings over the past year that I wish I could have gotten back, here are the worst of the worst:

The Back-up Plan: There are days when my job is really cool—the day of the Inception screening, for instance. That day was awesome. The day The Back-up Plan screened, on the other hand…not so much. Jennifer Lopez’s artificial insemination movie (one of three this year) is idiotic enough to drive any self-respecting critic straight to the bottle. No, no, no…not the baby bottle. The vodka bottle.

The Last Airbender: Let’s be honest here; most of us gave up on M. Night Shyamalan years ago. The Sixth Sense director has been on a steady downward spiral since becoming a one-hit wonder more than a decade ago, with each movie more self-important and less coherent than the last. Now, after this joyless 3D mess, I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who’s considered circulating a petition to have M. Night permanently banned from filmmaking.

When in Rome: In December, film critics and other avid moviegoers rush to finish up their best-of-the-year lists—but the worst-of-the-year lists already start filling up in January. And, in 2010 (as in most years), one of the year’s worst releases was also one of the year’s first. This spastic rom-com about magical fountains and clumsy enchanted suitors seemed to have some potential for breaking out of the usual January mold—but even its lovable stars couldn’t save it.

Tooth Fairy: Since I’m a huge hockey fan, I found this ridiculously clichéd family comedy more than just bad. It was embarrassing. Offensive, even. Not even Dwayne Johnson and his big, cheesy grin could make this painful mess of corny puns and spastic storytelling even remotely entertaining. Director Michael Lembeck owes hockey fans everywhere a huge apology for this one.

Jonah Hex: Typically, the summer is just one big parade of thrilling big-budget blockbusters. In 2010, however, it was a big parade of big-budget releases ranging from so-so to simply dreadful. Jonah Hex was the latter. From the bizarre sci-fi weapons to Josh Brolin’s Wild West bounty hunter who talks to dead people, it’s one painfully ridiculous mess.

Life as We Know It: Fatal car accidents are not funny—nor are they romantic. So I have no idea why anyone thought that it was a good idea to use such a tragedy to set up this Katherine Heigl / Josh Duhamel romantic comedy. Sometimes, it’s super-serious. Sometimes, it’s totally off-the-wall. And, the rest of the time, it’s just one ridiculous rom-com cliché after another.

Grown Ups: A while back, Adam Sandler apparently decided to get his old Saturday Night Live buddies together for a little vacation—and he saw it as the perfect opportunity to make a rambling, sophomoric comedy about a bunch of old friends reuniting at their basketball coach’s funeral. Clearly, Sandler and Company had a whole lot of fun making the movie. Unfortunately, this lame comedy wasn’t nearly as much fun for audiences.

Remember Me: After years of thrilling teenage girls (and their screaming moms) as Edward in the Twilight movies, Rob Pattinson decided to show off his acting chops by starring as a moody young rebel in a brooding romance. The result is just more of Pattinson’s usual tiresome melodrama—only without the hot teen werewolves.

The Last Song: Speaking of young stars trying to break away from their usual roles… In the Nicholas Sparks weeper, The Last Song, Miley Cyrus leaves Hannah Montana behind to play a troubled teen who falls in love with a rich, handsome, smart, caring (need I go on?) young man while she’s forced to spend the summer at her dad’s beach house. In trying to make a Nicholas Sparks movie for teenagers, though, it ends up with a muddled story and some seriously awkward performances that are enough to bring any moviegoer to tears.

Splice: The mere mention of this disturbingly dull drama has the power to strike me with a killer migraine. Though it promised to be a chilling sci-fi thriller, it was an unsettling mess of biology, philosophy, ethics…and a hot chick with bird legs and a poisonous tail. Add to that the fact that the screening was plagued with power outages, and you’ve got one night that I really would like to have gotten back.

Out with the Old…

So there you have it: the best and the worst that movies had to offer in 2010. As we begin another year, I’m already looking forward to another year of covering summer blockbusters, award contenders, and those pleasant little surprises that pop up along the way. For now, though, it’s time to refill my trusty notebook and stock up on pens—because it’s January again; time to start working on next year’s bottom ten list.

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