Matt D.'s Favorite Movies of 2010, part 1

Happy New Year, Critical Masses readers!

When I’m not watching movies for my column, 50 Movies for 50 States, or perusing Netflix Instant Watcher for possible inclusions for my other, less-frequently updated series, Instant Gratification, I do my best to keep up with what’s new in cinema. But it’s easy to fall behind, which is where I found myself last month, having to watch two or three movies a day in an attempt to see all of what the critics deemed last year’s best films.

So I watched the underrated, the overrated, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and when it was all said and done, I’ve put together a list of my top 10 favorite movies of 2010.

(Bear in mind that a number of movies didn’t make the cut since I wasn’t able to see them in time to include them in my list. Mostly, these were movies that were released into the theaters late in December or weren’t available to watch through other means <cough> Bittorrent. They include: 127 Hours, Blue Valentine, The King’s Speech, Let Me In, and I Love You Phillip Morris and probably many, many others.)

Without further ado, la liste!

10. Burning Bright – Starting off our countdown (read this aloud in your best radio voice for maximum effect) is an indie horror movie/thriller that might have completely passed beneath my radar if it weren’t for the fine folks over at the horror blog www.bloody-disgusting.com.

Here’s a plot summary, courtesy of the ever-helpful Internet Movie Database: “A thriller centered on a young woman and her autistic little brother who are trapped in a house with a ravenous tiger during a hurricane.”

Wait … did you say a tiger?

Actually, I said a “ravenous” tiger.

I’m pretty certain you or any person hearing the plot of Burning Bright for the first time probably has some type of strong reaction, whether it be “Seriously?” or “Oh … my … god. I have to see this.” My reaction was the second, as someone who totally loves an outlandish premise — after all, one of my favorite movies happens to be a musical about a french lady and a cross-dresser who get trapped in the Sixth Dimension which happens to be ruled by Herve Villechaize.

I certainly didn’t expect Burning Bright to make my Best of 2010 list.

Then I watched it … and it was really, really good.

It probably helped that both my wife Anna and I have  reoccurring nightmares about being trapped in a confined space with dangerous, wild animals — for me, it’s usually alligators — but I found Burning Bright to be an extremely tense, effective thriller. I found myself cringing … a lot. One thing that helped is that the characters in the film — and there are really only two main characters in the movie aside from the tiger — behaved fairly intelligently. There weren’t any real moments where I wanted to yell at the television because a victim being pursued forgot to close a door behind them or behaved otherwise foolishly. That’s more than I can say for Adam Green’s Frozen, in which the characters were complete fucking morons whose deaths and torture you anticipated, almost reveled in. I was also pretty impressed with the tiger special effects, which I assume were done with CGI. Effects once only available to big studio pictures can now be used by any aspiring filmmaker with a desktop computer and a copy of Adobe Premiere or Final Cut, which is great for indie directors like Burning Bright‘s Carlos Brooks. In a few years, I’m sure Brooks will have gone the way of many indie horror directors, directing big budget remakes of forgotten horror movie franchises. (Have they remade Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers yet?) Luckily, he’ll always have Burning Bright on his resume — the best combination of tigers and disabilities since that Dead Milkmen song.

9. Kick-AssBurning Bright was a case of going into a movie with low expectations and being pleasantly surprised. With Kick-Ass, I went in with pretty high expectations based on the trailers and fanboy hype and, fortunately, I was not disappointed.

Kick-Ass is just a really outstanding superhero movie. It was the best superhero movie of 2010 — sorry Jon Favreau! — as well as the best teen movie of 2010, despite an R-rating designed to keep teenagers from seeing it (that’s what DVD is for). Is it so wrong that I dig the fact that there was so much unwarranted controversy surrounding Kick-Ass?

There’s a lot of really great breakthrough performances worth mentioning, particularly from Kick-Ass‘s  young cast. Anyone who watches Kick-Ass not named Roger Ebert will walk away from the film in love with Chloe Moretz, who plays Hit Girl. The 13-year-old actress, who is absolutely adorable as she slaughters a room full of bad guys to the tune of the Banana Splits theme, attracted the most attention from the movie both good and bad and — despite the film being called “Kick-Ass” — was the real star of the show. Without a doubt, the criminal-dispatching tween was one of the most memorable movie characters this year, a mini version of The Bride from Kill Bill, only more purple and less yellow and black. Playing her father is the always-entertaining Nicholas Cage doing what can only be described as a purposely-bad Adam West impression.

Playing the titular hero is 20-year-old Aaron Johnson, who manages to garner plenty of empathy despite getting what’s coming to him. In case you didn’t know the plot of Kick-Ass, it revolves around Johnson’s character, a teenager named Dave, who decides to take on a superhero persona while lacking any superhero skills. The results are exactly what you would expect if a 90-pound weakling attempted to confront groups of hardened criminals. Dave gets hurt … quite badly … and repeatedly.

Did I mention that McLovin is in this? I don’t know if you’ll find that a good or bad thing, but I love Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

Kick-Ass is quite dark. I haven’t read the comics, which I was told are much darker in tone, but director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) can’t be accused of pulling any punches. Kick-Ass is a violent, one-finger saluting, balls-out hell-of-a-good time and the best postmodern superhero tale since Watchmen. Now bring on Kick-Ass 2!

8. Rabbit Hole – You know John Cameron Mitchell? You might remember him as the star and director of 2001’s Hedwig and The Angry Inch, a rock opera about a transsexual rock star and his … ahem … “angry inch.” Five years later, Mitchell directed Shortbus, a story about a group of New Yorkers — both gay and straight — who explore their sexuality at a downtown club called Shortbus. Besides being a really fantastic film, Shortbus gained a certain bit of notoriety for featuring lots and lots of unsimulated sex scenes — albeit sex scenes that contribute directly to the plot — but “real” sex nonetheless, a rarity outside of hardcore pornography. Needless to say, Shortbus did not get a very wide release and Mitchell disappeared for another five years.

Rabbit Hole is Mitchell’s latest film and the most shocking thing about it is really how mainstream it is, coming from a director who has — up until now — almost exclusively worked outside of conventional cinema. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mitchell’s an amazing talent and it’s about time that the conventional film fan realize this — those film fans who watch lots of movies but might be turned off by the fringe weirdness of Hedwig or the in-your-face sexuality of Shortbus. As for longtime Mitchell fans, they’ll be astonished by how easily Mitchell adapts to a story that even the most straight-laced person can relate to.

Based on a Broadway play, Rabbit Hole is a hyper-realistic drama about a young New England couple whose life is totally thrown out of whack when their 4-year-old son is hit by a car and killed. Mitchell has said that he was attracted to the script because, as a teen, he had lost a 10-year-old brother to a heart problem and understood how the death of a child can define a family. According to IMDb, Sam Raimi was originally slated to direct the film. I’m glad the film went to Mitchell, as Rabbit Hole would probably have had little effect on Raimi’s already-established career. As for Mitchell, I can only guess that Rabbit Hole will open up a whole lot of new opportunities … long over-due opportunities.

Rabbit Hole might sound tedious and depressing and I’ve probably done a lousy job of selling it, but I assure you the movie is neither tedious nor depressing. Unlike films with similar themes — I’m thinking in particular of 1980’s Oscar-winning Ordinary PeopleRabbit Hole manages to find moments of clarity and even humor. It helps to that talented actors like Aaron Eckhardt and Nicole Kidman, who play the couple, at the center of the movie. Both actors completely throw themselves into their roles. Kidman, in particular, puts on an amazing, sincere, Oscar-worthy performance.

There’s a feeling of hope the movie leaves you with, which is the trait that Rabbit Hole has most in common with Mitchell’s past work.

Here’s hoping it won’t be another five years before we get another movie from him.

7. Catfish – If your Top 10 Best of 2010 film list includes one movie in which the Web site Facebook is part of its plot, make it … Catfish. What? You thought I was going to say something else. Well, I saw the other one … the one from the director of Panic Room and Zodiac and the forthcoming, totally uncalled for remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Maybe that other movie will show up later in this list — and maybe it won’t.

Catfish, about a New York City photographer who strikes up a friendship with a little girl from the Midwest and her family, is one of those documentaries that proves if you just sit back and let the cameras roll, you never know what’s going to happen. That’s essentially what directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost did when they saw Ariel’s 24-year-old brother Nev forge an unconventional relationship with Abby, who lives in rural Michigan and is an amazingly good artist — almost too good you might say. The friendship begins when Abby paints one of Nev’s photographs taken from the New York Times and sends it to him. Nev soon gets to know Abby’s mom, brother, and sister. As for Abby’s older sister Megan, Megan and Nev soon form a long-distance relationship. But things are not what they seem.

The movie, a hit at last year’s Sundance Film Festival that was picked up by Paramount but given very little marketing before being dumped in theaters last September, touches on issues like privacy, trust, identity and reality in a time in history where a good portion of people are living their lives within the perceived anonymity of cyberspace – where cyber-friends feel cyber-love for each other and form cyber-relationships, unaware of just how fragile these bonds are when confronted with “reality” in its traditional sense.

A lot of the reviews of Catfish have made a big deal out of the twists which begin fairly early on in the movie. I’m not going to reveal these spoilers, but they’re not crucial to enjoying the movie. Anyone who has spent an above-average length of time on the internet can probably see these plot developments coming a mile away. Regardless, Catfish is a fascinating film. It’ll make you squirm, but I guarantee that once you start watching you won’t be able to look away.

6. True Grit

Is there really anything I can say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? Should I try? It’s the Coen Brothers highest grossing movie to date. Is it their most mainstream movie? Yes. I think that’s a fair call.

True Grit surprised me. Between the loads and loads of hype behind it and the fact that I’m not that big of a Western fan, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did — even if I’ve pretty much loved everything the Coen brothers have done. Everything. Even The Ladykillers, which was also a remake — but probably a more warranted remake, since I don’t know a whole lot of fans of the original Ladykillers under the age of 50 … who aren’t British. True Grit, on the other hand, is a classic. Or so I’ve been told. I’ve actually never seen the original. That doesn’t really matter, since the Coens have stated in interviews that True Grit is a new adaption of 1968 novel and not the 1969 film.

Aside from the Coens’ typically superb script, True Grit boasts a truly incredible cast including Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, and Matt Damon. Those are the names on the poster seen above, which — if you notice — features four individuals. Receiving less publicity than the three “name” actors is Hailee Steinfeld, a relatively new face whose previous screen appearances — according to Wikipedia — include “small parts in teen movies” and a K-Mart commercial. Steinfeld plays 14-year-old Mattie Ross and — fuck Rooster Cogburn — it’s Ross, and her quest to avenge the death of her father, that is the real driving force behind the movie. It’s Steinfeld’s performance that elevates True Grit to something truly great. Steinfeld’s delivery of Ross’s antiquated but eloquent speech is a sight to behold. Something tells me her days of shilling for K-Mart are long gone.

I probably would have ranked this higher on the list, but I hold the Coens to a pretty high standard. While True Grit is a great film, it’s probably more along the lines of a Big Lebowski or O Brother, Where Are Thou? than a Fargo or No Country For Old Men. Essentially, it’s a popcorn movie — although one of the best popcorn movies all year. Not the best … but I’ve already said too much. Point is, in the end, I didn’t feel like True Grit had a whole lot to say. It was just fun, enjoyable entertainment. I liked it. I liked it a lot. Bravo.

That being said, I’m sure True Grit will win every award at this year’s Oscars … just because.

—–

“Those were some really great movies, Matt!”

Why, thank you! But wait until you see what I have in store for you in Part 2!

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5 responses to “Matt D.'s Favorite Movies of 2010, part 1

  1. Nice list so far! The only one of these I’ve seen is Kick-Ass and I really liked it. It felt kind of odd how much I enjoyed her rampages… I recall her landing on the shoulders of a guy and stabbing him in the top of the head in particular… but I guess that’s why we get along.

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  2. I loved Kick-Ass! Have you read Ebert’s review? I love Ebert … I think he’s a real smart guy … but I think he’s really losing touch. Kick-Ass was so much better than Iron Man 2, as far as superhero movies go, although I liked Iron Man 2 a lot … probably much more than some of the other people I talked to. I remember you doing a review of Iron Man 2 — did you like it? I don’t remember.

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  3. Burning Bright sounds very interesting, for sure. I added it to my queue so I don’t forget about it. Nice title.

    I think I did read Ebert’s review.. lemme check. Yup, I did. He represents the exact opposite of my feelings. And… I don’t think the point that making a movie R-rated increases it’s attractiveness to people under 17… he mentions “6 year-olds” is defensible. A 6 year-old has no means to watch this movie unless they are both completely unsupervised and rather bright for their age when it comes to technology (and then perhaps capable of comprehending it?). Anyway, it’s rated R. That’s all that’s necessary. In such a context, I don’t think it’s wrong to attempt to balance glorification of violence and condemnation of it.

    Whew.. anyway. I think I just posted on FB about Iron Man 2. Yea, I liked it more than most, as well, but it’s definitely flawed.

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