MIG’S SHORT TAKES – Movies of 2010

According to Arthur C. Clarke, 2010 was SUPPOSED to be “The Year We Make Contact” with the alien super-beings responsible for creating the monoliths from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Well, we didn’t get QUITE that far, but 2010 did yield a nice crop of films, so it wasn’t a TOTAL loss.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been watching my movie collection in chronological order by release date, and 2010 was a pretty remarkable year. Below I’ve listed ten of my favorite movies, in CHRONOLOGICAL order.

PLEASE NOTE, they’re not necessarily my TOP ten films for the year. A couple of them are movies that I think have been unfairly overlooked as time has passed. (Like “The A-Team”, which I COULD have included below, but there wasn’t enough room.)

[Editor’s note: I have NOT included any discussion of animated films…it’s my goal to start a series of reviews dedicated solely to that rarefied art form at some point in the future, so animated films will be discussed separately…and believe me, films from 2010 – Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon, etc. – will be represented well.]

So, here are ten of my favorite films from 2010, in CHRONOLOGICAL order:

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1) SHUTTER ISLAND, 2/19/2010 – Director Martin Scorsese rarely ventures into the realm of pure thriller, “Cape Fear” being the sole exception up until 2010. But with “Shutter Island”, he proved that, when he so desires, he is entirely capable of making a supremely satisfying genre film that isn’t necessarily Oscar bait, but is still thoroughly entertaining and exceptionally well made. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a ‘50s-era Boston detective investigating the escape/disappearance of an inmate from a medical facility for the criminally insane, located on a remote, forbidding island off the New England coast. However, the plot almost plays second fiddle to the masterly way Scorsese presents the film. It’s downright Kubrickian, even using some of the same classical music used in “The Shining.” The effect is one of constant dread, a feeling of wrongness about the whole endeavor. A hurricane strikes. He suffers from migraines. He flashes back to his war service, where he witnessed the atrocities of the German concentration camps. He also flashes back to the accidental death of his wife. There is so much going on below the surface of this movie. The ending, when it arrives, had many crying “Foul!” or “Shyamalan!”, but I did not feel the same way. I felt the movie had been leading me in this direction the entire time, without my realizing it, and I took it in stride. “Shutter Island” is a minor masterpiece of suspense and atmosphere.

2) GREEN ZONE, 3/12/2010 – Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass took a break from making Bourne movies to make this snazzy political thriller that never feels less than 100% authentic, even though it’s obviously fiction. Damon plays an Army captain stationed in Iraq in 2003, where he heads up a squad in charge of searching for WMDs, Weapons of Mass Destruction, that are supposedly hidden throughout the country. However, his searches continue to come up empty, and he presumptuously starts to question the intelligence he’s receiving from his superior officers. If there are no WMDs, he asks reasonably, than why are we even here? His questions start to attract the wrong kind of attention, and when he receives hard intel from a source “on the ground” that contradicts the official line, his superiors do everything in their power to squash the story. “Green Zone” is by NO means a documentary, but its story does present theories that could answer a WHOLE lot of nagging questions about US involvement in Iraq at the turn of the century. In that way, it is more akin to vintage political thrillers like “Three Days of the Condor” or “The Parallax View.” I like that. It’s entertaining AND it makes you think.

3) THE GHOST WRITER, 3/19/2010 – Speaking of vintage political thrillers, leave it to Roman Polanski to create a REAL throwback, a solid mystery that involves politics, takes its time, doesn’t pander, requires a good deal of attention, and has a doozy of an ending, a double-whammy that, as I recall, had me gasping in shock when I saw it at a movie theater. Ewan McGregor plays a struggling author hired to ghost-write the memoirs of a retired British prime minister. No big deal, except he’s replacing another writer who wound up dead not too long before, and suddenly the former minister is in the news for alleged war crimes, and there’s an ingenious scene where a dead man provides directions to an important clue, and if you like well-crafted mystery/thrillers, it’s hard to top “The Ghost Writer.” (There is ONE drawback: there are some REALLY obvious moments where some of the saltier language was dubbed with less-offensive swear words, because the studios wanted to get it down to a PG-13 rating. Understandable from a financial point of view, but, BOY it is noticeable and sometimes unintentionally comical. Very weird.)

4) PREDATORS, 7/9/2010 – In a world where reboots and remakes are more commonplace than ever, “Predators”, for some reason, stands out in my mind. It is by no means BETTER than the original ‘80s Schwarzenegger classic, but it actually does quite a good job of expanding on the culture (if that’s the right word) of the alien creature first glimpsed in the original. In this sequel, a number of soldiers, assassins, and murderers find themselves marooned on an alien planet where they are being studied and hunted systematically by…SOMETHING. They are picked off one by one as the survivors desperately try to find a way to outwit and outlast their captors. The story is fairly by-the-numbers, but the filmmakers went out of their way to recreate the overall ambience of the original, down to the score, which quotes liberally from Alan Silvestri’s score for the original film. As such, I derive a lot of pleasure from watching and re-watching this sequel, because it recaptures that sense of the 16-year-old me watching “Predator” for the first time.

5) INCEPTION, 7/16/2010 – This, for me, stood as director Christopher Nolan’s greatest (non-comic-book) achievement, at least until “Interstellar” came along, but never mind. “Inception” is a pure delight to watch. I’m not going to bother trying to summarize the plot; that would take up several paragraphs alone. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. (If you HAVEN’T seen it, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, AN ENGRAVED INVITATION???) The highlights of “Inception”, aside from the gloriously twisty story, are the visuals. When Ellen Page’s character is inside a dream and she manipulates the streets of Paris so they literally fold in on themselves to create something M.C. Escher would have been proud of, I was agog. And how about the weightless fight scene inside the dream of a hotel? I’ve seen the documentary explaining in detail how that scene was achieved, and I’m STILL delighted and amazed when it arrives. One of the primary purposes of the film medium is to SHOW us things, and “Inception” gives us spectacular images that have rarely been equaled. A true popcorn-film masterpiece with big ideas.

6) SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, 8/13/2010 – This is one of the truly unique films of the last 20 or 30 years. I do not exaggerate. It takes a relatively normal story, turns it on its head, gives it A.D.D., and then filters it through Japanese manga and a Sony PlayStation. What emerges is a massively entertaining film experience utterly unlike anything I’ve ever seen, before or since. Imagine the story of a young man who falls instantly in love with a beautiful girl, but then discovers that, in order to date her, he must first defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends – sorry, seven evil EXES – in single combat, whether it’s hand-to-hand or band-to-band. (Oh, yeah, he’s in a garage-rock band.) Now imagine that every fight scene is arranged and edited so that it looks and feels like the live-action version of a videogame fight, complete with some dude shouting “COMBO!” in the background and vast amounts of gold coins falling to the ground after someone is defeated. On the surface, this sounds ridiculous, but director Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”, “Baby Driver”) handles everything with EXACTLY the right touch. This movie should not work. But it does.

7) THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 10/1/2010 – I won’t lie: I had zero interest in watching this movie when it came out. “A movie about Facebook? Why should I care? It’s just gonna be a long commercial about how great Facebook is. I’m not even ON Facebook.” (Or I wasn’t at the time.) Boy, was I wrong. David Fincher took a sensational script by Aaron Sorkin and added his trademark visual style to create one of the best purely dialogue-driven movies of all time. No flashy visual effects. No superheroes. No tear-jerking romance. Just immensely smart people speaking REALLY fast. What else can I say? (Check out the full review by Marc Sanders elsewhere on the mandmatthemovies website.)

8) TRON: LEGACY, 12/17/2010 – Yeah, okay, this one’s really just for me. The story in “Tron: Legacy” is paper-thin, and I’ll offer a shiny new penny to anyone who can explain the significance of the ending and what it is supposed to mean for the future of the world, but…my GOD, lookit those visuals, man! I saw this in 3-D, and it was the first 3-D movie experience that I was ready to compare to “Avatar.” After a brief prologue set in the real world, the son of Kevin Flynn (see 1982’s “Tron” for a full explanation of who he is) is zapped into a computer, just like his father. There he finds circuits and rogue programs inhabiting a spectacularly realized world in a perpetual night, lit by coldly sterile neon blues and reds. He is recruited/kidnapped to play in a series of deadly games, just like his father, until he escapes and…but really, the point of this movie is not the story. It’s those vast neon landscapes, and the new improved light cycles, and the updated Recognizers and Solar Sailer and SO much more. When I need a break, sometimes I’ll pop this baby in and give my brain a rest while my eyes devour the scenery.

9) TRUE GRIT, 12/22/2010 – With all apologies to the John Wayne fans out there, I was never a fan of the original “True Grit” from 1969. Regardless of the inimitable presence of The Duke in the film, it is just a little too dated for my taste. However, this new version from the Coen brothers is right up my alley. Sure, the characters all talk a little strange, using language and cadences lifted straight out of the source novel. To me, it was all very reminiscent of “Raising Arizona” and the archaic language used by THOSE characters. Anyway, in this new “True Grit”, a chase is the plot device, but the movie is really carried by Jeff Bridges’ magnificent performance as Rooster Cogburn, a shambling, shaggy bear of a man with a decent heart buried under a mean streak and a fondness of drink. The interplay between Rooster, the young girl, Mattie Ross, and the Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, is a joy to listen to. That’s the true engine of the film.

10) THE KING’S SPEECH, 12/24/2010 – My esteemed colleague, Marc Sanders, did not agree with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when they awarded Best Picture to this veddy, veddy British film over “The Social Network.” I have just recently watched them both, nearly back to back, and I must say that I think “The King’s Speech” is extremely deserving of the award. The plot is based on the true story of King George VI, who ascended to the English throne shortly before World War II began, but who had a spectacular stutter. And a king NEVER stutters. So he employs an Australian speech therapist who coaches him and encourages him all the way up to a key radio address informing Britain that war was imminent. Now, this is all very Karate Kid-esque when you think about it, but the thing about “The Karate Kid” is how satisfying it was on a gut level when Daniel-san used that crane kick, right? It’s a trope because it works. Same with “The King’s Speech.” Same trope, different circumstances, same uplifting results at the end. But, in addition to the satisfying trope, you also have an extremely gifted director providing some magnificently composed shots. Much like “Barry Lyndon”, there are individual scenes that could be lifted out of the film and framed. “The King’s Speech” is a work of art, both visually and linguistically, and I believe it deserves the accolades it received.

Well, that’s ten. (“Incendies” is also one of my VERY favorites of 2010, but I’ve already written a full review on that one…check the website.) Honorable mentions would go to “Black Swan”, “127 Hours”, “Salt”, “The Losers”, “Kick-Ass”, and, of course, “The A-Team.” (And also “Jackass 3”, but don’t tell anyone that’s a favorite of mine…I have my dignity.)

Thanks for reading! Keep a weather eye on the horizon…I’m in July of 2011 currently, so another “Quick-Takes” will arrive at some point after I finish that year.

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