Ariel’s rebirth, Affleck’s revenge, stuttering blues, attack of the clones, superpoke supremacy, Rooster’s rage, a toothless friendship, apartment hell, unspeakable loss, and zombie flowers. These are the best films of 2010.
Watching Ben Affleck blossom as a performer and filmmaker with the Boston crime drama, “The Town,” was perhaps the most thrilling career revival of the year. It was formulaic material, yet, in Affleck’s capable hands, the picture became an irresistible brew of bad behavior, working the tropes of the heist genre with an invigorating passion, revealing taut directorial control. A richly talented cast helped to smooth out the script’s rough edges, making the film an exceptional ride of suspense, gifted an abyssal sense of pathos and urban character to develop the agitation further. Affleck blasted through cliché to create an amazingly entertaining, emotionally resonate motion picture, developing his aim as a filmmaker with an unusual accomplishment: He made a winded genre urgent again. Alive again. That’s an effort to treasure.
Waking Sleeping Beauty
Disney has always shown moderate interest in revealing their managerial tricks, permitting the occasional documentary keyhole access to spy the creative process in motion. “Waking Sleeping Beauty” kicked that door down, detailing the struggles, euphoria, and fallout of the Disney Animation Studio during the tumultuous Eisner/Katzenberg era. This was an honest, forthright documentary showcasing pure artistry in motion, revealing joyous and disturbing details of success (arriving on the heels of “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast”), yet not afraid to illuminate the internal bruising and recall flashes of nasty corporate ego once animation dominance was reestablished. Interviews were revealing, the home movies were unforgettable, and the unexpectedly mournful tone massaged by director Don Hahn was heartbreaking. A candid, informative gem.
While saddled with a distressing story of child loss, “Rabbit Hole” created something dramatically fulfilling from that reservoir of pain. Led by career-best work from Nicole Kidman, the film treated death with a tender hand, putting forth questions of intimacy and science to attack the core of grief, tracking the various paths of mourning. Director John Cameron Mitchell sustained a captivating pitch of determination throughout the film, finding beautiful notes of vulnerability to study along the way. It’s a heartbreaking picture, yet constructed with a rewarding sense of discovery and catharsis, eliminating melodrama to expose the raw truth of the moment. As dire as it may sound, this was a feature of immense beauty.
Taking on the tattered textures of the Old West, the Coen Brothers hit pay dirt with this leathery, sly adaptation of Charles Portis’s 1968 novel, which also provided a foundation for an iconic John Wayne picture from 1969. Standing in the shadow of The Duke must’ve been awfully uncomfortable, yet the Coens delivered an earthier, more memorable film, injecting their beloved idiosyncrasy into a hardened story of revenge and redemption. “True Grit” hit six-gun highs with gloriously clotted work from the ensemble, who also managed to sneak in a healthy sense of humor to the proceedings. The film ran rough and exhaled fire, but also sustained a vibrant visual poetry, giving western admirers exactly what they deserve, delivered with that exceptional Coen curveball.
How to Train Your Dragon
“How to Train Your Dragon” returned a sense of animated film awe to the silver screen. Though marketed with a certain lean toward goofball antics to keep kids interested, the picture pursued a thrilling, threatening storybook tone, soaring through the air with unlikely friends facing an impossible situation of misunderstanding, building a delicate connection of mutual respect. The animation was staggering here, draped superbly around the expressive voice cast, who nail specific emotional beats rarely allowed in modern animation, much less a Dreamworks production. “Dragon” was also daring with its surprises and challenging tonal changes, permitting the material to seize a rousing sense of unity between man and mythical beast, finding poetry in the darkest moments of personal loss. Some go to a group of forgotten toys for their emotional purge. I sought the comfort of a dragon.
This Greek drama was a potent, brutal examination of control, reserved for more adventurous moviegoers due to its graphic sexual content and shocking moments of cruelty. Stellar performances and inventive cinematography provided the visual jolt, but the real potency of the film was found within the lurid acts of dehumanization brought on by parents who endeavored to infantilize their children until their death. The picture was oddly humorous at times, horrific always, but director Yorgos Lanthimos found distinctive ways to penetrate the senses, examining a special type of prison built out of foreboding backyards, sexual gamesmanship, and askew vocabulary lessons, building to an expectedly drastic finale. It was an unforgettable picture, encouraging a rare flash of life in this year’s art-house dead zone.
Never Let Me Go
Haunting and heartbreaking, this borderline sci-fi tale of love’s enduring hold and scientific tragedy left an indelible mark on me. Gorgeous in its patient movement and brought to life through three accomplished performances from Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield, the film achieved an extraordinary embrace of sadness and uncertainty, hypnotizing viewers as troubling ethical revelations were made and relationships once brimming with youthful innocence were corrupted. It was a melancholy feature, but one of exquisite mood and affecting determination.
The Social Network
At the beginning of 2010, “The Social Network” was casually dismissed as “The Facebook Movie.” Now it’s an assured Academy Awards contender and one of the best pictures of the year. Leave to director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to snatch the minutiae of the Facebook creative ascent and turn it into a cracking drama with fabulous finger-snap timing. Colorful characters were filled with graceful, focused performances (some benefiting from clever digital trickery), but the real star of the show was the visual landscape of campus life, boardroom venom, and office expanse. The working parts of Facebook made for an arresting film of laughs and cringes, striking harder than most dramas of alleged importance. I can’t wait for the Twitter feature.
The King’s Speech
Typically, Oscar-bait such as “The King’s Speech” would flail unforgivably to make an impression, hoping to charm audiences with engorged emotional displays and showboat performances. Mercifully, “Speech” wasn’t interested in glossy theatrics, instead breaking down a portion of history to its most intimate parts. It’s a story of companionship rooted in discomfort and embarrassment, creating an endearing vulnerability sturdily explored by leads Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. The marvelous camaraderie between these actors was reason enough to recommend the film, yet director Tom Hooper found a more subtle display of accomplishment and regality that took to the picture to a surprising space of friendship, lingering long after the movie concluded.
Essentially, this is the “Aliens” of Spanish horror sequels. A furious, inventive return to the highlights of 2007’s “[Rec]”, the follow-up ingeniously drilled a new well of terror, generating multiple perspectives to enhance the fear factor, introducing a strange religious fervor to deepen and contort the story (imagine “The Exorcist” shot out of a cannon). The reworked madness provided a righteous launch to a franchise that could’ve easily churned out something cheap and flaccid to scoop up sequel bucks. There was an effort here to retain scares and amplify the suspense. Considering the limited mobility of the horror-in-the-hallway premise, I’d say this second chapter was downright miraculous.
Also: Red Hill, Marwencol, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Fish Tank, The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, The Virginity Hit, Restrepo, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Animal Kingdom, My Dog Tulip, Piranha 3D, The Way Back, Mother, TRON: Legacy, and Black Swan.
Plastic runaways, 100% medical accuracy, Kristen Bell x2, the strain of marriage, the wrath of Dick Chainy, Lawrence of My Labia, Edward Sullen, Schumacher’s revenge, and Nazi mice. These are the worst films of 2010.
Why Did I Get Married Too?
It’s easy to pick on Tyler Perry and his pedestrian filmmaking efforts, but everything about this rancid sequel rubbed me the wrong way. Fighting off Perry’s cinematic sleeper hold is challenging enough, but “Married Too” boiled his brand of hysteria to a whole new level of toxicity, drilling into the senses with a script sculpted out of shrill arguments, piercing performances from abysmal actors, and a reprehensible disconnect from reality that brought the original 2007 picture a faint flicker of life. The film is like a triggered car alarm with the owner on vacation, hitting a routine of strident, infantile behavior that could be considered a terrorist act in some countries. Or should be. Perry has his fervent defenders, programmed to deflect any legitimate criticism of his filmmaking proficiency and suspicious dramatic intent, but even the faithful seemed fatigued with this stomach-churning drivel, introducing a first for me in 2010: Positive e-mail responses to a negative Tyler Perry review.
When in Rome
The director of “Ghost Rider” went and made a romantic comedy with an irritating cast that includes Dax Shepard and Jon Heder. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that’s not going to pan out. The revelation here was Kristen Bell, who didn’t offer anything in the way of leading lady charm or comedic confidence, making for an uninspired eye to an appallingly unfunny slapstick hurricane. With zero laughs or even the slightest flash of invention, “Rome” fell once again, this time under the watch of a bush-league filmmaker trying to make a painfully stiff blonde shine as a beacon of swoony silliness.
In case you forgot, Joel Schumacher still makes motion pictures. They don’t always find wide release, but the 71-year-old director manages to keep churning out product. “Twelve” was Schumacher’s attempt to tap back into the youth market that served him well in the 1980s, sketching out the mumbly madness of overprivileged teens as they explore chemical excess and sexual experimentation, and endure parental disinterest. Obnoxiously scripted and wretchedly performed, “Twelve” solidified Schumacher’s obsolescence as a filmmaker, while providing an exceptional reminder that even if the kids aren’t all right, who really cares?
Sex and the City 2
Diving headfirst into the deep end of absurdity, “Sex and the City 2” managed to turn a franchise already developing cartoon attributes into a full-bore Hanna-Barbera extravaganza, making a mockery of Middle East culture, laughing at economic woes, and ruining the pleasures of heterosexuality for at least two generations to come. A shockingly overlong (146 minutes) and overblown monstrosity, “Sex 2” amplified everything diseased about this insufferable franchise, using the sequel as a sort of victory lap for altering the face of modern feminism. The parade of ridiculous fashions, melodramatic baloney, and New York snobbery is one thing, but this sequel came off downright hateful, filling the intended audience with a profound feeling of ick, not the reassuring kiss of high-heeled escapism. It was haute couture hell.
The Nutcracker in 3D
Tchaikovsky’s perennial holiday ballet has been adapted for film and television on many occasions, but few productions made the specific effort to rework the whimsical material into a bitter Nazi allegory. Thunderously distasteful, “Nutcracker” boldly carried on through a dreary wasteland of animal cruelty, sketchy special effects, arbitrary screenwriting, and unwelcome musical numbers, daring to supply dopey lyrics to a magnificent suite. Of course, a budget 3D conversion (the unofficial theme of the 2010 moviegoing year) only made matters more ghastly, adding the promise of a stinging headache to an otherwise excruciating, flabbergasting moviegoing experience.
An inane, nonsensical horror picture that somehow bribed its way into a theatrical release, “Chain Letter” is perhaps best remembered as the rare film that dared to do away with such luxuries as originality and an ending. Instead, this insipid slasher snoozer went about its business slaughtering teens and squirting blood, consistently reminding the audience of director Deon Taylor’s complete inability to stage basic suspense sequences or even tell a coherent story. Perhaps the picture’s intense idiocy was a blessing, leaving the viewer with something to mock instead of numbly accepting the depressing bad movie reality. Still, an ending might’ve helped.
Kristen Bell makes a second appearance on this list with another outrageously unfunny slapstick comedy from Disney. Again mistaking overkill mannerisms for comedy gold, Bell ran a capable cast (including Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver) into a wall of stupidity, while director Andy Fickman staged hoary comedic encounters even the most desperate CBS sitcom would reject. It was an absurdly lazy, grim picture. Perhaps Bell should stick to dramas.
This one’s straightforward: Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. The directors of “Date Movie,” “Epic Movie,” “Disaster Movie” and “Meet the Spartans” returned to mock the blockbuster bigness of the “Twilight” franchise. Consistent purveyors of putrid parodies, the boys couldn’t even muster comedy semi-wood with their latest razzing. If one considers how the vast opportunity to kick the omnipresent vampire saga in the rear end is squandered on puerile nonsense, it’s downright obscene. Making fun of “Twilight” should be easy. “Vampires Suck” made it look impossible.
While gifted a shot to document the rough ride of ‘70s girl rockers, The Runaways, the production instead pandered to the demands of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, turning a fascinating story of a band on the rise into an empty machine of self-promotion for the two participants who stood to profit the most from the film. Skipping feral group interplay to stumble through a field of bio-pic clichés and hackneyed visuals, the picture seemed more consumed with rewriting history than addressing it. Matters were soured further by lead performances from Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, who couldn’t muster the jagged edges and raw sexuality expected of them. Instead, the twosome dragged around like zombies, paying more tribute to useless surface details than the volatile whole. Teenage rebellion and music industry alarm never felt so lifeless and suspiciously incomplete. The cherry bomb detonated in their hands.
The Human Centipede
Cult favorite? Sinister horror happenings? Doomsday delight? How about a complete and utter bore. “The Human Centipede” looked to push the envelope in terms of shock value, summoning a tale of flesh-sewing medical terror that almost defies explanation. However, the execution of this cinematic Ambien pill left much to be desired, with large sections of the film devoted to the electrifying art of staring contests and muffled pleas. A macabre premise is left for dead as director Tom Six writhes around his Euro-cooled mood, trusting the mere sight of the titular creation is enough to build an entire feature around. Some genuine moments of surprise would’ve been nice, maybe actual suspense too. Instead, it’s an irritatingly stillborn effort, more effective as a pop culture punchline than an actual motion picture.
Also: Case 39, Toe to Toe, Our Family Wedding, Leap Year, My Soul to Take, Little Fockers, Easy A, Going the Distance, Eat Pray Love, Furry Vengeance, Drones, Valentine’s Day, Burlesque, Love and Other Drugs, and Somewhere.