Sunday, January 16, 2011

Boxers, Piranha and Lesbians, Oh My! The Best Films of 2010

It took me until August to award a film with an “A” rating (that would be Piranha 3D and if you know me at all, you realize that makes perfect sense) so I worried slightly about whether 2010 was going to be a dud of a year. In fact the last couple months of 2010 gave us some great films. Plenty of great acting, writing and directing going on. Lots of truly rewarding and original stuff this year amongst all the remakes and reboots. Keep looking and you’ll find the good stuff. And here they are:

1) 127 Hours (dir. Danny Boyle)
Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” is basically an Oscar-worthy torture porn flick. It’s a highbrow “Saw” movie which finds an ordinary person, the real life adventurer Aron Ralston (an electric James Franco), in an extraordinary situation, where he faces a choice: die from starvation or cut off his own limb to stay alive. Sure Boyle fills his claustrophobic, yet tremendously entertaining film with beautiful and touching cutaways to better and brighter moments in Aron’s life, but he certainly spends the film’s finale right in there as Aron chops away at that arm. A sort of weird mix of “The Diving Bell & the Butterfly” and “Into the Wild,” this is audacious filmmaking and without question the most stunning and mesmerizing film of the year – assuming you have the stomach to take it. Highly recommended! Fun Fact: The camcorder used by James Franco in the film was the actual one Aron Ralston used when he was trapped in Blue John Canyon.

2) The Town (dir. Ben Affleck)
Ben Affleck is two for two with this tremendous follow up to “Gone Baby Gone.” This Boston-set (where else?) heist flick is more than just a cops and robbers movie. It carries emotional weight (the bank robber falls in love with the victim but she doesn’t know he’s the bank robber!) and plenty of cool gun and car chases. The chase with the gang dressed as nuns is one of the best action scenes of the year (see “Inception” for the other). For a fun time pair this awesome flick with “The Departed” for a Wicked Cool Bas-ton Movie Marathon. Fun Fact: The film's premiere was held at Fenway Park. The cast walked a red carpet along the first baseline.

3) Piranha 3D (dir. Alexandre Aja)
The best horror film of the year is also one of the year’s funniest. It was simply one of the most enjoyable times I had at the theater. The film from the guy who brought us High Tension and the The Hills Have Eyes remake throws everything at the viewer in glorious 3D which is not limited to Jerry O’Connell’s genitalia. The film features some of Hollywood’s greatest B-list actors including Elizabeth Shue, Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Lloyd, not to mention some of the wildest and bloodiest gore scenes ever committed to celluloid. I’m pretty sure most of the film’s production budget was for the fake blood and gore. This is the type of movie 3D was made for. This film certainly doesn’t bite, assuming you’re in on the joke. Fun Fact: Alexandre Aja planned to have Joe Dante (director of the original Piranha) and James Cameron (director of Piranha Part Two: The Spawning) play boat captains who give safety lessons to the teens. Dante wanted to do it but Cameron was too busy.

4) The Fighter (dir. David O. Russell)
Marky Mark does it again. Except this time he’s surrounded by of the interesting characters. The true life tale of “Irish” Mickey Ward famed shot at the welterweight championship is a boxing movie for people who don’t like boxing movies. The film thankfully follows around Mickey’s crazy family including his brother Dickie (a terrific Christian Bale) his mother (a wonderful Melissa Leo), his seven badly-coifed sisters, and his girlfriend (a superb Amy Adams). It’s rare for a “sports movie” to make you care about the characters this much and it has the balls to spend plenty of the film’s runtime without actually showing a boxing match. Fun Fact: In the film, Christian Bale plays Dickie Eklund, who is 7 years older than his half-brother Mickey Ward, played by Mark Wahlberg. In reality, Wahlberg is 3 years Bale's senior.

5) Black Swan (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
The year’s second best horror film has nothing to due with killer fish, but rather a ballerina’s tormented psyche as she turns into an evil black swan. Leave it to Darren Aronofksy to make a horror movie set in the world of New York ballet. He turned the story of addiction into a horror flick with “Requiem for a Dream” and here he also gives us chilling and disturbing images that will most likely stick with you for days. The film’s gritty style fits the tone. One would think a film about dancers would have a pretty and polished look, but Aronofksy forgoes that to show us the seedy underbelly of this world. He gets into our heroine’s head (and under her skin sometimes) so flawlessly we’re not sure if we’ll be the same after the film ends. Sort of an Oscar-worthy “David Cronenberg does Showgirls” riff, this is a thrilling movie that will certainly stay with you. Fun Fact: The film began as a screenplay called "The Understudy" and took place in the world of New York theater. Darren Aronofsky liked the script, but suggested it be changed to ballet.

6) The Kids Are All Right (dir. Lisa Cholodenko)
The hit dramedy from Sundance about a lesbian couple (played wonderfully by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) and their two teenage kids who decide to seek out their natural father unbeknownst to mom and mom. A fine ensemble cast all around with a great script with plenty of twists and turns. This film, like Up in the Air last year just sort of feels like the movie of the moment. It so represents life “now.” I think this should have been this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine” but alas there are some people who don’t want to watch a movie about lesbians that doesn’t involve the words “late night” or “Cinemax.” A real charmer and winner. Fun Fact: The film's title is based on the title of the song "The Kids Are Alright" by The Who.

7) Rabbit Hole (dir. John Cameron Mitchell)
No one wants to watch a movie about a couple grieving over the lost of their young son. Except for “Rabbit Hole” which is instantly watchable and instantly unforgettable. It features some standout performances especially sure-to-be-nominated Nicole Kidman and sure-to-be-left-out Aaron Eckhart as the couple who can’t seem to move on. Their young son was struck and killed by a teenage driver and each of them find comfort in different places: she by meeting with the boy who killed her son and he with a support group. This is an honest, unflinching portrait of a pretty traumatic subject matter and yet you can’t take your eyes off the screen. It offers humor and a pretty humanistic story of loss that is simply one of the year’s best. Fun Fact: Aaron Eckhart was personally hand-picked by Nicole Kidman to play her husband.

8) Inception (dir. Christopher Nolan)
The movie that not only captivated a summer audience but confused the hell out of it as well. This mind-bending sci-fi action thriller involves people entering other’s subconscious dreams in order to extract or - in the film’s major storyline - “plant” an idea in someone’s mind. A top-notch cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cottilard and plenty more where that came are perfect in a film from the wondrous mind of Christopher Nolan who gave us “The Dark Knight.” There are simply too many dazzling visuals in this movie to even describe, but the standout being the zero gravity fight sequence which had everyone’s jaws glued to the floor in theaters across the country. Truly original. Fun Fact: The use of the Édith Piaf song "Non, je ne regrette rien" is used as a plot device. Marion Cotillard played Piaf in La Vie en Rose. Christopher Nolan has stated that this is "pure coincidence". After Cotillard was cast Nolan intended to change the song to eliminate speculation on the subject, but composer Hans Zimmer persuaded him to keep it.

9) Easy A (dir. Will Gluck)
The year’s most lauded teen comedy is a well-written fable about a teenage girl who spreads a rumor about herself which gets wildly out of control. Critics understandably ate this movie up because movies about high school aren’t usually this smart or well-done. It sort of feels like a distant cousin of “Juno” or “Mean Girls.” And not only that, but it’s a sweet tribute to the John Hughes high school films of the 80s. Emma Stone is great in her charismatic Golden Globe-nominated role of Olive Prendergast (and Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are great as her hip parents) who sees parallels between her situation and the classic novel “The Scarlet Letter.” A funny flick with great performances and a witty script elevate this above the usual teen garbage. This one gets straight As indeed. Fun Fact: Olive's family members are all named after foods: her parents' names are Dill and Rosemary, both herbs; her younger brother's name is Chip, and the one at college is named Kale.

10) Conviction (dir. Tony Goldwyn)
A wonderful true life tale of Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) who spend countless years pursuing a law degree so that she could represent her incriminated brother Kenny who was falsely accused of murder. The problem is Kenny, as played wonderfully by Sam Rockwell, isn’t the most likable guy. But Betty and Kenny are brother and sister and this is a story about sibling love that truly touches your heart. The film could easily been schmaltzy Lifetime movie corniness – and maybe some of it is to a point – but there is no denying the powerful story we’re given to witness and the emotionally charged performances from a great cast–including a scene stealing Juliet Lewis–as well. Fun Fact: The movie does not reveal, even in the closing captions, that six months after being released from prison, Kenny tragically fell from a wall while taking a shortcut, suffered a brain injury and died.

Honorable Mentions:
Blue Valentine
Let Me In
Shutter Island
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Toy Story 3
Best Worst Movie
How to Train Your Dragon
Winter's Bone

Worst Films of the Year:
The Expendables
The Last Airbender
My Soul to Take
Robin Hood

Here's a fun tribute to 2010:

2010 Salute to Cinema from Ben Zuk on Vimeo.