Friday, December 24, 2010

Best of 2010, Part 3: Non-Top 10 Movies

And now, with the films I didn't see and documentary features out of the way, it's time to start counting down the 2010 movies I've seen, starting with the godawful and eventually reaching the sublime. Here we go!

25. Vampires Suck
This isn't just the worst movie of 2010; it's the worst movie I've ever seen. It was friends' wishes, not morbid curiosity, that led me to see this rubbish at a drive-in over the summer, and its mercifully short running time was the least fun I've ever had at the movies, let alone at a so-called comedy. Already dated pop culture references, scatological jokes, physical humor, and everything else that one should expect from a Scary Movie offshoot was present, and in spades. Avoid at all costs.

24. Iron Man 2
I actually had somewhat high hopes for this movie. I thought its prequel was one of the best things Marvel has ever done for the big screen, and even though the trailer had a few warning signs that the second one wouldn't be as good, I went in with optimism. That optimism was shattered. The script is atrocious, making everything that comes out of Robert Downey, Jr.'s mouth a hackneyed catchphrase. The brilliant "Demon in a Bottle" storyline from the comic is reduced to a series of sight gags and bland witticisms, the film introduces way too many new characters and characterizes none of them, and serves essentially as a two-hour ad for the forthcoming Avengers movie. Wake me up when that comes out, because Iron Man 2 sucked.

23. Dinner for Schmucks
2010 was a wretched year for comedies. No movie is more telling of that fact than Dinner for Schmucks, a remake of the 1990s French film The Dinner Game that stars Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and Zach Galifianakis, but still manages to suck. It has a couple of funny parts, but coming off of the output those three dudes have had in the last decade, it should have been the funniest movie in years. It wasn't, and the (mercifully) brief Jeff Dunham appearance pushed it as low on the list as it is for me. Anything that gives that, erm, schmuck more money is going to catch some heat from me.

22. Diary of a Wimpy Kid
My middle school brother dragged me to this story of a middle school kid facing typical middle school problems. Bullying, gross lunches, finding a group to fit in with, and every other trope of the genre is present, and while it was executed fairly well, it really didn't need to be a movie in the first place. Nickelodeon shows like Ned's Declassified and As Told By Ginger have done more than enough exploration of what it's like to go to middle school. This doesn't suck, but it's not worth paying for when turning on the TV will more often than not turn up the exact same thing.

21. Red
My expectations for this movie were higher than they should have been. A great cast does not a great movie make, and Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Mary-Louise Parker and Bruce Willis seem to barely be trying here. I haven't read the comic that Red is based on, but it didn't inspire me to do so. While it's good for a few laughs – mostly based on the fact that old people are using automatic weapons – it's ultimately a popcorn flick that you'll forget about halfway back to your car in the parking lot.

20. Micmacs
I have to give Amélie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet a lot of credit for this movie even though I didn't particularly like it. It is, if nothing else, extremely ambitious. More characters, places, visual elements and ideas are introduced than in anything else I saw this year. Unfortunately, Jeunet doesn't flesh them out as much as he needs to, and his characters basically exist as humorous caricatures rather than actual, sympathetic people. I'd probably have this movie higher if it didn't borrow its entire visual identity from some of the worse Terry Gilliam films. A busy frame is not always an effective frame, and while Jeunet managed to organize his chaos in his 2001 masterpiece, that is not the case in Micmacs.

19. How to Train Your Dragon
Here comes controversy. It should be noted that I actually did enjoy most of the movies I saw this year, and that this low ranking doesn't mean I am soulless and didn't find anything to enjoy in the movie. But all that said, yes, I do think How to Train Your Dragon was probably the most overrated movie of 2010. I think people were blinded by the fact that Dreamworks managed to make a movie that wasn't all pop culture references and jokes for the adults that would fly over kids' heads (Shrek is still their only great movie). Yes, this is a visually stunning movie with a sympathetic, interesting lead, but the voice cast sucks and it's a bit of a one-trick pony. I can't even count the number of scenes in which we see Hiccup a) training Toothless or b) taming other dragons. They are many. I'll at least give the movie mad props for not pulling any punches with the ending. Much more bittersweet than one would expect from a kids' film not made by Pixar.

18. The Other Guys
While 19th place was underachievement for How to Train Your Dragon, 18th for The Other Guys is massive overachievement. I don't even like Will Ferrell all that much, but he and Mark Wahlberg had great comedic chemistry and gave us the best buddy cop flick in decades. A few of the gags get driven into the ground, but the punchlines just keep coming and the story is interesting enough to keep you watching. It's tough to analyze a Will Ferrell movie, so I'll just say that if you like Anchorman and Talladega Nights, you'll probably like The Other Guys. Ferrell is the man of a thousand movies but just one character. At least that character is funny.

17. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole
I love owls. I wouldn't have gone to this movie if I didn't. Aside from its heroes being owls, there's very little to differentiate this film from a million other animated fantasy flicks. Still, its execution is so perfect that it's hard to complain. Zack Snyder's directorial debut in animation may go down as his best movie, though, as he's forced to show a restraint that has been sorely lacking from all of his live-action pictures. Legend of the Guardians could have made a run at my top ten this year if it weren't for the fact that some dumbass decided that an Owl City song should be played during the climactic battle scene, thus basically ruining the moment and, in turn, a lot of the movie. 17th might be a little high for a movie that pissed me off more than any other this year, but the parts that didn't piss me off were all done so well that I can't fight it.

16. The Girl Who Played With Fire
I actually saw this, the second film in the Swedish Millennium Trilogy, before I saw its predecessor, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Without knowing how great that movie was, I enjoyed the hell out of this one. Noomi Rapace gives yet another stellar performance as renegade computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, and we get details of her back story that prove as emotionally resonant as anything in the darker, more moving first picture. Michael Nyqvist is a bit more on the sidelines here as investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, and his plotline isn't nearly as interesting as Lisbeth's, but as my introduction to the characters of the trilogy, The Girl Who Played With Fire was an engrossing, beautiful film.

15. The Secret in Their Eyes
The most recent Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film finally touched down in U.S. theaters earlier this year, and it landed with a bang. This Argentine crime investigation film by noted director Juan Jose Campanella struggles with some pacing issues, but more than resolves them with some gritty, graphic scenes and a twist ending for the ages. Even if it occasionally feels like an extra-long episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit – a series Campanella has directed several episodes of – The Secret in Their Eyes is a fine introduction to Argentine film and more than deserving of its Oscar.

14. The Social Network
I'm sure someone will want to crucify me for this one. 14th isn't bad, but it's a far cry from the Movie of the Year honors that have been bestowed upon it all over the Web and in newspapers across the globe. While I really liked The Social Network, I found its deliberate pace and so-called Rashomon-style narrative to be a solid step below their hype. There are great performances across the board, and I do recognize that in this social media-driven world, a movie about the interconnectedness of society with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as its principle character is about as timely as any movie could be. But I still found it less entertaining than thirteen other movies. Let the Hollywood kingmakers laud its importance; I'm here to have a good time.

13. Rare Exports
Some movies this year weren't historically important at all. In what will surely never go down as a holiday classic, the Norwegian film Rare Exports (sometimes subtitled with "A Christmas Tale") challenges the modern conception of Santa Claus and instead paints him as the child-killing maniac that the old mythologies apparently intended him to be. It has its frightening moments, but it's mostly delivered in a tongue-in-cheek manner, and while we never actually get to see Santa (that's actually an elf in the trailer), it's a raucous good time that finally explains its confusing title in the final five minutes in what, in a perfect world, would become one of the most revered sequences in the Christmas movie canon.

12. Machete
"Machete don't text." Maybe Robert Rodriguez was trying too hard to own 2010's most iconic line, but he may have succeeded by default in a year mostly devoid of punchy scripts. In any case, his Mexploitation B-movie tribute is just as fun and bloody as similar films like Kill Bill and The Devil's Rejects and may have been the most fun I had in the theaters this year. Danny Trejo is BAMF through and through, and while Rodriguez mostly fails in his attempts to juggle friendly, violent fun with serious political discourse, he still manages to turn in an incredibly enjoyable effort that is more grindhouse than Grindhouse was.

11. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
And standing just outside my top ten is Edgar Wright's adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel series, Scott Pilgrim. I didn't know where the hell this was going to end up when I watched it, because I didn't know how to compare a movie unlike any I'd ever seen before to other movies. No film has ever before tried so hard to look like it belonged in another medium – a strange mix of video games and comic books, in this case – and succeeded so brilliantly. When Scott defeats an enemy, they explode into a shower of coins. Sound effects appear as words on the screen. Nonsequitur visual gags appear at such an alarming clip that if you blinked you'd miss them, and yet the whole movie remains a cohesive package with a clear, pronounced vision. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World may stumble around in the dark a few times, but in such uncharted territory, even the effort is worth serious commendation.

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