Best of 2010: Movies

As always during this time of the year, bloggers, critics, reviewers, and the general entertainment-loving public reflect on their favorite of the past year. I did it last year, and am attempting to quickly do it again for this year.

First up on my list is my favorite movies of the year. I’m not going to put a number or ranking on them, this is just a spattering of movies I enjoyed from the past year, and why I liked them. Simple enough.

The Social Network David Fincher

I reviewed it after it came out, or at least blogged about how I felt about the movie itself, and how Facebook has changed over the years I’ve been using it, and how much a part of my generation’s online life it holds. The movie itself was well-written, directed, shot and of course, acted. Jesse Eisenberg uses his strength as a fast-talking, nerdy-looking lead and put on his jerk-face to create a character that while not necessarily true to the real Mark Zuckerberg, carried the movie with a headstrong passion. Eisenberg really captured Zuckerberg’s drive to create a revolutionary enterprise in Facebook, and helped solidify the movie’s non-stance on the creation and subsequent litigation surrounding Facebook. The cinematography was also great, in particular the tilt-shift focused crew race sequence. I found myself glued to the screen, mesmerized by the sights and sounds projecting from above. We’ll see how the movie fares as we inch closer to the imminent award season, but if I were a voter, it would definitely be on my list.

Toy Story 3 Lee Unkrich

The emotional and cathartic conclusion of Pixar’s amazing franchise, Toy Story 3 was timed perfectly with the generational change occurring in both the film’s main human character Andy, and it’s audiences. When the first Toy Story came out, aside from being wowed by the technological prowess that Pixar provided with an entirely computer-generated film, the idea of having toys come to life and experience real human emotion with their owners was something every kid wished for. Now, 15 years later, my generation, like Andy in the film, is growing up and no longer play with those childhood toys we all loved so much. The movie captures the emotion that comes from growing up and letting go of your childhood, and while many of us painfully let our parents give away our favorite toys, and left it at that, Toy Story 3 gives us as sympathetic viewers, closure as Andy plays with Woody and friends one last time before giving them away to a young girl. It simultaneous gave us closure with the franchise’s end, and also with our own childhoods, and I applaud Pixar for achieving that near-impossible task.

Inception Christopher Nolan

I also blogged/reviewed this when it came out, and I was in the “wow that was amazing” state coming right off the movie. In the months since it came out, there has been a good deal of criticism of the movie, mostly calling out the logic flaws and lack of original plot, some going as far as saying the only real value of the movie was its visual effects. While all of these criticisms have their strong points, I simply go back to how I felt about the movie right after I saw it, and know that I enjoyed myself during it, and it left me thinking – whether it be specifically about the top spinning at the end and if it drops or not, or even just about the concepts of , and the rabbit hole that brings me through. It was exciting throughout, and like many of Christopher Nolan‘s films, leaves you guessing. I bought into it, and perhaps after another couple viewings it may lose its luster, but I still believe it belongs on this list.

Black Swan Darren Aronofsky

Just saw this, and was mesmerized by it throughout, especially watching Natalie Portman‘s psychological transformation. I always liked her as an actress, but I think this movie especially allowed her to show some real range as a sweet, innocent and driven ballerina, into an aggressive, sexually experimenting, paranoid, hallucinating ballet star, striving for perfection. Shot very intimately, the film-making allowed the viewer to watch this transformation, and Portman makes us believe every bit of it, even the horror-esque sequences. A real cross between Darren Aronofsky‘s “The Wrestler,” and “Requiem For a Dream,” both director and lead actress take us through a thrilling and emotional psychological journey. All in a movie about ballet.

The Fighter David O. Russel

Also just saw this, so it too is fresh in my mind, but I really enjoyed the gritty look at a struggling boxer caught between his career aspirations and his family. While everyone was great in it, I think that Christian Bale took the film, having lost 20 pounds and starving himself to portray a scrawny, crack-addicted has been boxer, trying to make a comeback by training his brother. A notorious method actor, Bale nailed the performance down to the last dropped r, (or should I say “ahh”), and this was especially evident after seeing the real life Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, giving a sign off to the crew after having been a part of the production process. The movie was half a boxing movie and half a family drama, and the boxing didn’t really show itself until the third act, where Micky is finally getting his shot and fighting toward a title shot. One of the more emotional parts of the movie occurs when the HBO documentary about crack-addiction airs, and the entire cast of characters huddles around their respective TVs, even Dicky in a large viewing in prison, hamming it up for the crowd of convicts. When they realize it is more of a tragic story than a triumph, the emotion of the family, and especially Dicky himself, brings down the excitement, and I think David O. Russel and the cast did a great job of capturing this quick emotional turnaround. Dicky says it best when he yells at his co-habitants to stop laughing, “my kid is crying and wants to be with his father, but he can’t because I’m in here with you all!” *may have gotten some of that quote wrong. As a coda, living in LA, across the country from my hometown, I love any movie that is spoken primarily in Boston accents. It’s a full-proof reminder of home. You may find me subconsciously dropping my r’s after seeing a movie like that.

*Honorable Mention – The Town Ben Affleck – Another Boston movie, this one showed Affleck’s ability to direct an action flick with some great sequences, including a European-style car chase through the narrow streets of the North End, and also a huge climactic shootout in Fenway Park. Great performances by Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively, both nailing a tough accent to grasp.

Feel free to comment on what you agree, disagree, or would like to add to this list. Stay internet-dialed to Josh Glass Online for more Best Of 2010 lists in the next day or two.

Top Movies of 2009

Like with my music list, I’m not gonna number these, and there isn’t a specific number I’ve chosen. These are just the notable movies from the past year, and what I thought about them.

Here we go –

Adventureland
A movie that exceeded expectations and sat with me a for a few days after seeing it, “Adventureland” was the coming of age story that came out of nowhere. Marketed as a a la Superbad (from same director of) and staring Bill Hader, it did have comedy and it did have Bill Hader, but most of the comedy stemmed from Hader and his comic relief boss role, probably only 10-15 minutes of screen time all together. The real movie follows James (Jesse Eisenberg) and his quest to find a summer job after leaving school. He gets a job at an amusement park, and meets an interesting cast of characters, including Kristen Stewart’s Emily. After they start hanging out, he falls for her, but she’s involved in a secret relationship with Ryan Reynolds’ Mike, who’s the cool guy “veteran” of Adventureland. So there’s a love story, a lot of drama and a well done, set-in-the-80’s movie (that’s not an 80’s movie) in there, which all make it a great watch. After seeing it in theaters, I was convinced I wanted to write a coming of age romance.

500 Days of Summer
I picked the soundtrack in my music list, but the movie itself was one of the movies that stayed with me the longest this year. It was one of those movies that shatters the viewer’s expectations of storytelling and love stories in general. As the voiceover in the beginning says, it’s a movie about boy meets girl, but not a love story. And it’s true. The time-jump storytelling may confuse at first, but is presented in such a way that you come in at important parts of both the initial meeting and hook-up of these two characters, and the turning point/big break up, then moves forward from one point, and backward from the other, then forward again. Actually, that does sound confusing, but the movie makes it work. Also, the editing is great, from the look of the days countdown, to the flashbacks and intercutting stories. Good example is the “Expectations vs. Reality” scene. After seeing this, my “Adventureland” inspired romance story went in the can. I was convinced love stories are stupid. It’s amazing how one movie’s message can completely destroy another’s message, while not taking anything away from the previous movie.

Zombieland
Another Jesee Eisenberg movie ending in “-land,” this one was great comedic take on the zombie movie. Eisenberg’s “Columbus” narrates the film, introducing his rules for survival in a zombie apocalypse. He runs into 3 other survivors – Woody Harrelson’s “Tallahassee,” Emma Stone’s “Wichita,” and Abigrail Breslin’s “Little Rock.” Everyone’s named after where they’re from, because one of the rules is to not really trust anyone in this apocalypse. Best part of the movie, aside from the general comedy stemming from the character interactions (especially Eisenberg and Harrelson) was the cameo from Bill Murray, and the hilarity that ensued from that – Harrelson dressing up like the Ghostbusters, he wearing the real outfit and gun, Murray using a vacuum cleaner. Heard that the writer’s originally did not have him in the script, but Harrelson pulled some strings and he was on board right away. He even came up with the idea of pretending to be a zombie, but not actually being one.

District 9
An independant, seemingly big-budget movie produced by but not directed by Peter Jackson, from South Africa, this movie stunned millions when it came out. An alien story with a strong Apartheid allegory not so subtly dipped in, it follows a field operative nacmed Wikus van de Merwe, as he heads the project of informing the alien “prawns” that they will have to evacuate their current living situation, in “District 9,” into a heavily secured concentration camp. He gets in over his head when he runs into a more intelligent prawn named Christopher Johnson, who’s spaceship chemicals spray onto Wikus, and start to change him into a prawn himself. A well-done film with a compelling storyline and great visual effects, I really enjoyed the out-of-the-box take on the alien invasion story. Not only are these aliens not on earth to take over, but the humans are in charge and forcing the aliens around. The marketing for the movie was very innovative as well – placing “humans only” warnings on billboards, bus stop benches, etc.

The Hangover
Probably the most outrageous, if not the best comedy of the year, it follows 4 friends on a Vegas bachelor party went awry. The best part of the movie is that we don’t see the actions of the night, because our main characters have forgotten all about it – we follow them as they piece together the ridiculous puzzle of their out-of-control night in Vegas. Anything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, and in the most bizarre of ways – Asian gangsters, bengal tigers, tooth pulling, marrying strippers, and of course some card-counting and gambling. This is one of those “only in the movies” type stories, and we’re all thankful for that denotation.

Inglorious Basterds
A Quentin Tarantino World War II movie about Jews who kill Nazis? Where do I sign up? I read the script last year, and although it took about 3 1/2 hours to read, it was a compelling and exciting. The movie was even more so, with great performances by Christoph Walsh as Colonel Landa, and Mélanie Laurent as Shoshana, the jewish girl who escaped from Landa’s grasp in the first scene of the movie, now disguising as a French theater-owner, and great action sequences that only can be the work of Mr. Tarantino. Another Tarantino-esque aspect of the film is the intertwining storylines – these Nazi-killing “Basterds,” and Shoshana,  both plan to destroy the Nazi party by blowing up Shoshana’s theater, where a German Movie night is planned by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propanadist minister. Needless to say, it has a great payoff in the end, and hopefully gives all Nazi-hating theater-goers a big smile on their face as the final minutes of the film play out.

Avatar
Just saw this last night, I was blown away by the visuals – especially in IMAX 3D. The story was compelling and kept you interested the whole time, but the real story was the technology and the CGI imagery used throughout. It is definitely the future of movie-making and viewing, however cost, availability and delivery methods will be make the transition a bit slower. I loved how realistic the Na’vi’s were, especially in facial features. The 3D looked amazing, but especially on some shots – the strong perspective of the sleeping chambers at the beginning, the pop up computer screens on the ships, and even Jake Sully’s video log. You can tell James Cameron put ever bit of hard work he and his company has into the 15 years this movie had been in the making. A visual masterpiece, and definitely the most mesmerizing movie-going experience I had all year.

Also wanted to say a quick thanks to everyone who’s visited the site over the last couple months. It’s already at over 900 views, and I’ve gotten some great responses from a handful of family and friends. Look for more reviews and more personal essays in 2010. Happy New Year everyone!