But before we get on with the countdown (read this aloud in your best radio voice for maximum effect), let me present a few miscellaneous awards:
Best 50 Movies for 50 States film: The nominees include The Conversation (California), Over The Edge (Colorado) and The Verdict (Massachusetts). The award goes to Over The Edge. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge fan of exploitation cinema and Over the Edge is one of those perfect exploitation films, quite possible the best teensploitation movie ever. It’s got a dynamic unknown cast of young actors and actresses, a fast-paced exciting script, and a nearly-flawless soundtrack. How I went for so long without seeing this movie, I don’t know.
Worst 50 Movies for 50 States film: The nominees include Idaho Crossing (Idaho), Abby (Kentucky) and Purple Rain (Michigan). The award goes to Abby. This was a tough one, because Purple Rain is so dated and bad, and Idaho Crossing is so fucking nonsensical. But when it comes down to it, Abby deserves this award because there’s no excuse to make a black Exorcist rip-off and not have it be entertaining. Inexcusable.
Most Unnecessary Remake of 2010: Skipping straight to the winner, I Spit on Your Grave wins this one followed very closely by A Nightmare on Elm Street. I have yet to see Let Me In. The previews, I’m going to admit, look good. But was it really neccessary to remake a movie as great as Let The Right One In? Prooobably not.
Favorite Album of 2010: Probably LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening. Belle and Sebastian’s latest, Write About Love, was pretty good too.
The plot of Winter’s Bone in a nutshell: Ree Dolly is a 17-year-old Ozark Mountain girl on a mission to find her father, who stands to face drug charges but is on the lam with their family home as bond. If Ree’s daddy is not found, Ree, her younger brothers and sisters, and her invalid mom, will be homeless. Ree has a hunch where to start looking, but the junkies and dealers she encounters warn her to quit poking around. But Ree’s got … uhm … “true grit.”
Winter’s Bone is the best movie to come out of the Ozark Mountains since Boxcar Bertha. The mountains are a truly unique setting — a lawless frontier — the kind of place where a person could disappear to and never be seen or heard from again. The people and places that Ree encounters as she attempts to find the truth of what happened to her father are so authentic you’ll swear director Debra Granik — who only directed one film prior to this — recruited her cast from a pool of local mountain folk. If you pay enough attention you might recognize one familiar face: Sheryl Lee — aka Twin Peaks‘ Laura Palmer — who has a minor role. Peaks fans might get a kick out of seeing Lee. For people who don’t know who she is, Lee’s tired, weathered face will hardly stand out.
Obviously, the character of Ree is the focus of this movie, and the actress who plays the part is fantastic. Ree is played by Jennifer Lawrence, whose biggest TV or film credit prior to Winter’s Bone was a role on the failed TBS sitcom, The Bill Engvall Show. Don’t know who Engvall is? Ever hear of Larry the Cable Guy? How about Jeff Foxworthy? Yeah … he’s part of that crowd. Luckily, her stint with the Blue Collar group was short. Unlike the rednecks and hillbillies portrayed by the Foxworthy and friends, the meth dealers of Winter’s Bone are no cartoons. Lawrence, as Ree, acclimates well to the more realistic setting and is fearless, despite the dangers that accumulate around her as the film goes on.
Watching Winter’s Bone, you’ll wind up caring deeply about the characters, and you’ll find yourself walking in Ree’s shoes with her, determined to discover the truth. The film’s climactic scene is one of the most harrowing moments of any movie I’ve watched this year.
It’s not much a stretch to compare Winter’s Bone to True Grit. Both feature strong, determined, teenage women “questing” in rustic, rural settings. True Grit, however, I found to be a lighter film. There is drama, but there are also laughs … high adventure. I don’t remember laughing once during Winter’s Bone. It’s a weighty film, albeit a spellbinding one — not a movie to be missed.
My wife Anna disagrees with me on this one, but I knew I had to put it in my Top 5. I was raised on the summer blockbuster and Inception is the perfect summer movie. It’s everything that a blockbuster can and should aspire to be. It’s engrossing, it’s visually amazing, it’s smart.
Inception — the story of a team who specialize in invading and creating virtual worlds in other people’s dreams in order to commit a sort of mind espionage — is the film in which director Christopher Nolan lets his fans and the rest of the movie-going crowd know that, not only is he content in making the greatest superhero movie of all time, now he’s going to make the best sci-fi movie of all time. This guy thinks Inception is the best movie ever. He’s not alone. Did I mention that Inception was the 4th highest-grossing movie of 2010? The 5th highest? Spoiler alert. Shrek Forever After is not in my Top 3 — and yes, I have seen it.
I’ll say this about Inception: it shows that all it takes is a mind-blowing idea to pull your audiences in. And some really amazing special visuals. And a star. What percentage of the average movie-going public would have gone to see Inception if it hadn’t starred Leonardo DiCaprio? I was not impressed with Inception‘s casting — besides DiCaprio, who do you have. Fuckin’ Juno? The kid from 3rd Rock From The Sun? As for DiCaprio, I still think that every movie he’s in where he plays an adult, he still looks like a little kid to me. And what is he? 40-something?
Never mind the script. The dialogue is what you would expect from a sci-fi movie. Even though it’s necessary, the constant explaining of how “dream sharing” and “inception” works — pretty much a third of the movie — gets to be a bit much. All the explaining is necessary to set up the last hour and a half, in which the film basically turns into the most cerebral heist movie ever. Just make sure you’re paying attention during the lecture. You might even need to take notes.
“Matt, it sounds like you didn’t like Inception?”
Are you kidding? I loved it! The perfect combination of a great idea and great execution.
Remember when The Matrix came out and knocked all of us on our ass with its depiction of a reality versus unreality, “There is no spoon,” all that good stuff? If the Wachowski Brothers hadn’t already taken a huge dump all over the Matrix franchise, Inception would have – in a not-so-brief two and a half hours — completely wiped any memory of The Matrix from our heads. Inception simply made me realize how basic the concepts in The Matrix were. Inception is, in a word, “dense.” It will quite simply rape your skull if you’re not paying attention.
And to think that this was Nolan’s baby, born from ideas he had when he was 16 years old. Nolan wrote the treatment for Inception. He then brought it to the screen, nearly flawlessly. The man is a mad genius.
Is Inception the greatest science-fiction movie of all time? No. Is it one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever? Maybe. But I’m sure you’ve already seen it and I’m sure you have your mind made up.
3. The Kids Are All Right – Movies, or more accurately, movie distributors have the habit of lumping movies into one of two categories – gay or straight – and more often than not, never the twain shall meet. There aren’t a lot of movies that straddle the line. The Kids Are All Right does. From the plot description – the son and daughter of a lesbian couple meet their two moms’ sperm donor – The Kids Are All Right might sound like the kind of movie geared toward the rainbow crowd. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that for one second. Sure, gay people will enjoy it. But The Kids Are All Right is also the kind of movie that any red-blooded heterosexual man or woman can enjoy and not have that voyeuristic feel like they’re getting a glimpse of some secret gay society that they’ll never be a part of – like I feel when I’m watching Logo or, say, BET. Sure, I might laugh. But I’d still wonder, “If I was gay or, say, black, would I be laughing louder? Would I be laughing … differently?”
The Kids Are All Right is a movie whose two main characters are lesbians and I, a straight man, loved it and would recommend it to my straight friends! Okay … that’s why I think this movie is important.
But is it any good? Yes! Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are excellent, playing a middle-aged gay couple dealing with the same bullshit that straight couples deal with after years and years of marriage – okay, not exactly the same. But close enough. Both Bening and Moore deserve an Oscar nod. I was especially impressed with Moore’s performance and am continually amazed at her ability to switch back and forth between strong, forceful characters and vulnerable ones. Then there’s Mark Ruffalo, who first caught my attention in 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Ruffalo is just an amazing, underrated actor. In The Kids Are All Right, his character (the sperm contributor) is dopey, kind of ignorant, spacey, but — despite these flaws — allows you to feel bad for him. That’s my new definition of a good performance: If an actor can cause you to feel bad for him despite his character being obviously flawed, it’s a good performance. Which is why Harvey Keitel’s performance in Bad Lieutenant is one of the best ever.
How about that script, written by Lisa Cholodenko (who also directed) and Stuart Blumberg? Cholodenko wrote and directed the films High Art and Laurel Canyon, which you may or may not have seen. I fall into group B. Blumberg wrote the scripts for The Girl Next Door and Keeping the Faith. Who are these people? Where did they come from? Who cares. They’re here. They (might be) queer. And they made a really great movie!
The Kids Are All Right is just a shockingly, surprisingly good movie. And that’s why it’s so high on this list. Sometimes a movie comes out of nowhere and really moves you, entertains you, wows you. This movie did all these things.
2. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World – Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is not going to appear on a lot of Top 10 lists. Judging from it’s box-office failure, it’s not a movie that everyone is going to get or even want to try and get. So why is it ranked so high on my list?
Because it, quite simply, was the most fun I had watching a movie all year.
I just bought Scott Pilgrim on Blu-Ray. The DVD has four commentaries. That gives me an excuse to watch it four more times. I also have hours worth of extras to watch.
The premise of Scott Pilgrim is ridiculous — ridiculously sublime. Scott Pilgrim, a 20-something-year-old Torontonian (Torontoite?) … CANADIAN living in Toronto, is a lot of things: wanna-be rock star, slacker, friend to gays (for financial reasons, he shares a bed with his gay roommate Wallace, but it’s cool — seriously … it’s not weird at all.)
Pilgrim is also a hopeless romantic. Still hurting from a break-up a year ago, at the start of the film Pilgrim has begun dating a 17-year-old Chinese schoolgirl named Knives — which is kind of weird, although they haven’t … you know … done it.
So, Scott Pilgrim is enjoying the simpler aspects of his new relationship — stuff like holding hands — when She walks into his life. She is Ramona Flowers, a delivery girl for amazon.ca with florescent hair and, get this … she’s American. Pilgrim is smitten with Ramona. He severs his “easy” relationship with Knives to pursue a relationship with Ramona, who he willfully admits to being “obsessed” over.
However, Ramona is no easy catch. Others warn Pilgrim that Ramona carries some “baggage”, which he soon learns takes the form of seven evil ex-boyfriends that he must defeat to win Ramona’s heart. These exes range from Matthew Patel, who performs magic using Bollywood-style dance numbers, to Todd Ingram, a psychokinetic vegan, to Gideon Graves, the mastermind behind the League of Evil Exes. Also, by “defeat,” I mean “kick their ass.” Lucky for Pilgrim, he’s got some sweet fighting moves.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World was directed by Edgar Wright, creator of the UK television series Spaced with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Wright later directed Pegg and Frost in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz — both excellent movies in their own right. Scott Pilgrim is probably Wright’s best movie to date, but shares a lot in common with his past work, especially Spaced. Spaced was a sitcom about a pair of layabouts, a man and a woman, who pose as a “professional couple” to convince a landlady to rent them an apartment. The show focused on their misadventures (in one of my favorite episode, Pegg’s character takes a bunch of “cheap speed” and, after staying up all night playing the video game Resident Evil, is convinced he’s being pursued by zombies.)
Part of the fun of watching Spaced was picking out all the pop culture references sprinkled throughout in each episode in the form of music and visual cues — one episode in particular alluded to famous scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as well as the theme song from The Magnificent Seven. Scott Pilgrim, the graphic novel, uses similar conventions. The fights between Pilgrim and Ramona’s exes resemble face-offs from video games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. When Pilgrim defeats an enemy, the enemy explodes into a shower of “coins.”
Wright and Scott Pilgrim are a perfect match.
After reading the manga (and playing the Xbox game), I had some concerns whether Michael Cera would work as Scott Pilgrim, but he did a surprisingly excellent job, keeping his nervous mumbling to a minimum. The rest of the cast was superb and is a virtual “who’s who” of young Hollywood: Anna Kendricks, Brie Larson, Keiren Culkin. The script is well paced. The cinematography is visually striking. And the score, composed by Nigel Godrich? Just awesome.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is my favorite film of 2010 — even if it’s not the “best.”
1. The Fighter – What is “The Best” in regard to film? Is it best in artistic merit? Is it the most entertaining? Is it box office? (It’s not. Otherwise the latest Twilight film would probably have crept its way into my Top 10.)
In considering the “Best of 2010,” I tried to give equal weight to both art and entertainment. In doing so, one movie stuck out above the rest – that’s David O. Russell’s latest film, The Fighter.
A sports movie? As my #1 pick?
You may recall from my reviews of Hoosiers and The Slaughter Rule that sports just aren’t my thing. As for boxing, it’s hard for me to get behind a sport which basically consists of two guys whose goal is to give each other permanent brain damage.
Hypocrite alert! “But you like professional wrestling, Matt. How is that any better than boxing?” It’s true. I was a really big fan of professional wrestling growing up. I still enjoy going to events put on by a local Philadelphia-based group, Combat Zone Wrestling, whose form of wrestling has more in common with a GG Allin concert than the spandex-clad gladiators whose exploits I followed as a kid. However, despite serious injuries that occur in both boxing and wrestling, the difference between the two is that wrestling is performance art. Its participants are trained to put on a convincing show without causing permanent injury to each other. In boxing (and mixed martial arts), the two combatants are trying to hurt each other without regard for an opponent’s safety. Sure, they wear those big padded gloves – but when you’re taking a hit from someone like Mike Tyson, the difference between a bare knuckled punch and a gloved punch is the difference between death and vegetable, which is to say very little difference at all.
With such serious consequences, boxing is high drama and a favorite subject for movies. Oscar loves boxing too, especially when there’s an underdog involved – as evident by Best Picture winners Rocky and Million Dollar Baby, as well as should-have-been-a-winner Best Picture nominee Raging Bull. You could probably even throw Best Picture winner On The Waterfront into that group as well, in which Brando played an ex-prize fighter.
I have no doubt that The Fighter – easily a Best Picture nominee come Oscar time – will be mentioned by many film critics in the same breath as movies like Rocky and Million Dollar Baby. Those same critics will probably point out what I’m about to point out, that The Fighter strengths lie not in the drama which takes place in the ring but what goes on when the arena lights go down.
Even Anna, who hates sports, thought The Fighter was an incredible movie, confirming what I suspected – that The Fighter doesn’t rely a bit on a person’s preconceived feelings about the noble art of boxing to be effective. It’s just a fantastic movie. You may not get that impression, based on its marketing — particularly the stark, kind-of bland poster you see above. But take my word for it: The Fighter is pretty goddamn good.
Like The Kids Are All Right, like Winter’s Bone, like Rabbit Hole, The Fighter is about family. Based on a true story, Mark Wahlberg stars as “Irish” Mickey Ward, a semi-pro boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts, and brother of “The Pride of Lowell” Dicky Eklund, whose claim to fame is once going toe-to-toe with legendary boxer Sugar Ray Leonard. The Fighter, however, finds Eklund years after his boxing career has ended, addicted to crack and in trouble with the law. Eklund is played by Christian Bale, who lost a whole ton of weight to play the part, although not as extreme as his transformation for The Machinist. Bale is barely recognizable and not just due to his physical appearance but also the mannerisms he adopts. It’s a astonishing performance. Bale’s Eklund is both charming and sad — hilarious and heartbreaking.
Also starring in The Fighter is Amy Adams, who is just great playing Mickey Ward’s love interest, a tough-talking bartender completely in contrast to the roles she’s been famous for – whether it be the naïve, innocent cartoon princess in Enchanted or the naïve, innocent nun in Doubt.
The rest of the cast is perfect. There are too many minor roles to mention.
Hands down, The Fighter contains some of the most memorable acting performances of 2010. Wahlberg, Bale, Adams and the rest make you care about their characters so much that, by the end of the movie, it doesn’t matter if the grand finale a boxing contest or a pie-eating contest, you will be cheering for them to persevere.
To wrap things up, if you can only see one movie this year – print out a list of all ten of these movies, tape it to a dartboard, close your eyes, throw a dart, and whatever movie the dart lands on, go see it. You won’t be disappointed, no matter where the dart lands – provided it lands somewhere on the dartboard. (The Critical Masses will not be held liable for any dart-related injuries resulting from this suggestion.) Of course, if you can only see one movie this year, what are you doing on this website? Are you seriously telling me you can’t fit in more than one movie a year? Stop reading about movies and go watch some! The Kids Are All Right, Scott Pilgrim, Inception, Catfish, and Kick-Ass are all available on DVD.
BTW: Here’s some runners-up/honorable mentions: The Town, Life During Wartime, The Wild And Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Exit Through The Gift Shop Window, Cropsey