10 for ’10: Best Movies (The Challenge)

31 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

By the time the clock runs down on 2010, I will have seen over 90 movies.  Most of them were average, nothing special but nothing horrible.  An alarming number were downright terrible.  But, as always, there are enough gems that shine above the coal to fill out a top 10 list.  It wasn’t quite as agonizing a process this year, but that’s beside the point.  I want to leave 2010 smiling because, for the most part, it was a good year for the movies – provided you were willing to look off the beaten path.

What I found in common with these 10 special movies released in 2010 was a challenge.  Each movie, in an entirely different way, issued a challenge to the moviegoer.  These movies weren’t complacent just providing two hours of escapism; they went so far as to engage our minds, hearts, and souls in the moviegoing experience.  They provided something that stuck with me, the movie watcher and reviewer, long after they ended and will continue to stick with me well into 2011.

So, here’s to the challenge, here’s to 2010, and here’s to movies!

#10

Easy A
(A Challenge to High School)
Directed by Will Gluck
Written by Bert V. Royal
Starring Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, and Amanda Bynes

It was about time that a movie like “Easy A” came along and perfectly encapsulated what it’s like to be a high school student in the era of texting and Facebook.  I was scared that my generation wasn’t going to get a Hollywood spotlight until twenty years later, and that would make us look like some kind of hokey antiques like the kids in “Grease.”  What makes “Easy A” so brilliant is how it incorporates the modern with the past, be it as distant as the Puritans or as recent as the Breakfast Club, to show how fundamentally different the high school experience has changed even since 2004’s “Mean Girls.”

For me, very few moments were so beautifully authentic this year as the movie’s high-speed mapping of the rumor mill, which now moves at the speed of light (or a 3G connection).  Propaganda posters after World War II suggested that loose lips cost lives, but in 2010, “Easy A” shows how it can cost reputations, something much more precious in high school.  Technology may have evolved, but high school hasn’t.  Society may have improved thanks to these innovations, so why haven’t we?

#9

Rabbit Hole
(A Challenge to Coping)
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Written by David Lindsey-Abaire
Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, and Dianne Weist

Grief is either overdone or understated.  In “Rabbit Hole,” it’s presented in a manner so raw that it manages to be both at the same time, making for one of the most moving experiences of the year.  A story about a husband and wife, played to brilliance by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, grieving their lost child, the movie shows many ways to cope.  Kidman’s Becca wants to move on, Eckhart’s Howie wants to live with it, and in the middle of it all is Becca’s mother, played by Dianne Weist, offering her advice on how to get to the peaceful state in which she resides.  There’s no answer to the question of who handles it best or which way is best; in fact, there’s not even an attempt to answer it.  But there’s something beautiful about an unanswered question, and maybe that’s why the grace of “Rabbit Hole” has stuck with me for so long.

#8

Get Him to the Greek
(A Challenge to Remain Silent)
Written and Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Starring Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, and Sean Combs

Okay, you can forget the challenge here.  It’s not coming from “Get Him to the Greek,” it’s coming from me – I dare you not to laugh at this movie.  Between the dynamite comedic pairing of Jonah Hill and Russell Brand, the scene-stealing farce that is Sean Combs’ foul-mouthed music exec Sergio, the ridiculous and totally awesome music of Infant Sorrow, and the hilarious situations that drive the movie, “Get Him to the Greek” was my favorite comedy of 2010.  It’s filled with endless quotables and capable of many repeat viewings without any diminishing laughter.

#7

Fair Game
(A Challenge to Patriotism)
Directed by Doug Liman
Written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth
Starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn

Rather than fall into the pile of scathing movies about America’s involvement in Iraq, “Fair Game” takes its anger in a fresh and different direction and funnels it into something constructive.  The story of Valerie Plame Wilson, a scapegoat for the federal government in the wake of their exposure, is meant to rouse us, not to dismay us.  We are proud that there are still people in this country who believe in the Constitution and the principles on which we were founded, and staying silent is simply not an option.  While it hits you with rage, the knockout punch is of pride in Valerie and her courage to stand up for herself.  “Fair Game” stands out as an exuberant flag-waving fan while all other movies of the same vein just mope in dreary cynicism.

#6

Inside Job
(A Challenge to Care)
Written and Directed by Charles Ferguson
Narrated by Matt Damon

Who is responsible for the financial collapse of 2008?  Charles Ferguson lets us know who he thinks in the activist epilogue, which you can more or less disregard if you choose to do so, but in the hour and 40 minutes prior, he points the finger at just about everyone possible.  Including us.  Sure, there were many factors leading to a worldwide meltdown of the economy that were out of our control, but a little bit of oversight, we could have seen it coming.  By his systematic explanation of everything you need to know to understand what went down (call it “Global Meltdown for Dummies” if you must), he is challenging us to be the oversight that was lacking two years ago.  And judging by how things have developed since then, we are going to need a whole lot of it.

#5

Inception
(A Challenge to Imagination)
Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard

For as much as I love the four movies I’m ranking ahead of “Inception,” none had such a monumental impact on the way movies are perceived and made quite like it.  Christopher Nolan successfully redefined what imagination means for millions of moviegoers, many of whom had to see the movie multiple times to figure out what was going on in his labyrinthian dreamscape.  With a massive spending allowance, he brought the spectacle to life and managed not treat the audience like children, which proved to be one of the most thrilling and psychologically satisfying experiences ever.  If a movie like this can’t change the fabric of filmmaking, maybe we are headed for the dark ages like Roger Ebert cries.

#4

The Social Network
(A Challenge to Modernity)
Directed by David Fincher
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake

As an old adage goes, “Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.”  David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s “The Social Network” may appear to be a movie planted in the digital era, but as has been said many times, it’s a movie about age-old themes like power, greed, and betrayal.  In essence, we’ve seen it before.  Yet retold as the story of the site we visit every day, it’s fascinating.  And it’s sublime thanks to brilliantly sculpted characters who never fit traditional hero/villain roles driving the narrative.  However, this is not just a rehash; it’s a brilliant cautionary tale for our times about individuality, innovation, and solitude.  “The Social Network,” along with its cryptic leading man Mark Zuckerberg, is the best movie of 2010 for serious conversation that’s relevant away from the screen and out of the theater.

#3

Toy Story 3
(A Challenge to Feel)
Directed by Lee Unkrich
Written by Michael Arndt
Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and Joan Cusack

So maybe the whole prison escape plot wasn’t the most original thing in the world.  But “Toy Story 3” has a heart so big that nothing else matters.  I have no shame in admitting that I cried like the child that the movie made me feel like.  For the last 20 minutes of the movie, I felt the most beautiful mix of nostalgia, sadness, and joy that may just be the most powerful potion Pixar has brewed.  To be my age and watch this movie is like an ultimate realization that childhood can’t last forever.  But the tears aren’t just mourning, they are happy as the torch is passed to a new generation.  I pray, for their sake, that no technology can ever replace the comfort that a toy and a little bit of imagination can bring to any child.

#2

127 Hours
(A Challenge to Live)
Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy
Starring James Franco

Life-affirming isn’t a word I get to use to describe movies very often, and that’s precisely what makes “127 Hours” one of the most special experiences of 2010.  The perfect combination of Danny Boyle’s superhuman directing with James Franco’s rawly human acting makes for a movie experience defying the odds.  Who would have thought that a movie about a man losing his arm would be the movie that made me most glad to be alive?  The movie that made me most appreciative for the relationships in my life?  The movie that took me on the most gut-wrenching yet blissfully rewarding roller-coaster ride?  I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch “127 Hours” again, but I’m so glad I watched at least once because it truly was a movie I’ll never forget.

#1

Black Swan
(A Challenge to EVERYTHING)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John MacLaughlin
Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, and Vincent Cassel

It’s such a fantastic irony that “Black Swan” is a movie about the inability of humans to achieve perfection, yet Darren Aronofsky’s movie is the closest thing to cinematic perfection in 2010.  Behind Natalie Portman, who delivers one of the finest, if not the finest, performances I’ve ever seen from any actress, the movie soars to heights that I had previously thought unfathomable.  It challenges just about every cinematic boundary that still exists and then proceeds to demolish them.  But “Black Swan” doesn’t just destroy these boundaries for fun; it’s a purposeful and intelligent movie that gives a reason to change the boundaries of cinema for better and for good.  Fearless director Darren Aronofsky choreographs a master ballet of a movie that weaves together horror, beauty, and psychological breakdown with such poise that you’ll wonder why every movie can’t be as thrilling as his.  “Black Swan” is a glorious exaltation of cinema and a monumental achievement that will go down in history.

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10 for ’10: Quotes

28 12 2010

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

A single line can have so much power in a movie.  It can make us laugh, make us think, or make us cry.  It can delve profoundly into the soul, give insight into a character’s mind, provide a perfect punch of beautiful language, or be so foolish that we can’t help but repeat it endlessly.

2010 gave us many great quotes from many great movies.  Here’s just a sampling of how the power of the written word was wielded this year from 10 fantastic lines that served a great deal of purposes.


“Dating you is like dating a Stairmaster.”
– Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) in “The Social Network

“I just want to be perfect.”
– Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) in “Black Swan

“That Charlene … she’s one of them MTv girls!”
– Micky Ward’s sisters in “The Fighter

“It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!”
– Agnes in “Despicable Me

“This rock has been waiting for me my entire life.”
– Aron Ralston (James Franco) in “127 Hours

“It was almost as if … I had a love that was all mine.”
– Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) referencing Natasha Bedengfield in “Easy A

“You’re waiting for a train, a train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can’t be sure. But it doesn’t matter … because we’ll be together.”
– Mal (Marion Cotillard) in “Inception

“When the world slips you a Jeffrey, just stroke the furry walls.”
– Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) in “Get Him to the Greek

“Stop trying, SURRENDER!”
– Richard from Texas (Richard Jenkins) in “Eat Pray Love

“Thanks, guys.”
– Andy in “Toy Story 3





REVIEW: Get Him to the Greek

10 06 2010

Some movies really do need to come with a health warning.  “Get Him to the Greek,” for instance, should inform all moviegoers that that it packs enough laughs in under two hours to make you hurt all over.  Along with the usual beautiful gut-wrenching pain, the comedy is so potent that it can hit you as high as the throat.

For a year now, we have been waiting for a movie as hilarious as the runaway smash hit “The Hangover,” and that movie has finally arrived.  I’ll even be as bold to say that upon repeat viewings, “Get Him to the Greek” could prove to be better.  And I’m not being sensational to grab attention or to wind up on the DVD case; I think I laughed harder, louder, and more consistently.

“Get Him to the Greek” is a spin-off of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and it manages to make the movie that introduced us Aldous Snow look like the ugly step-cousin in every way.  It’s infinitely funnier; the characters are more interesting; the plot is more absorbing.  I didn’t think Brand was all that funny in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” but now it’s clear that the emotional aspect of the movie weighed him down.  Here, he is unleashed and immature as ever.  And it’s an absolute riot.

Brand and Jonah Hill, who plays young record label employee Aaron Green, are the “Odd Couple” for a new generation.  A pairing such as theirs might be labeled a “comic man-straight man routine,” but the movie neither fits those labels nor feels like a routine.  Both get the chance to side-splittingly hilarious, and it absolutely works.  As much as I expected Brand to run away with the movie, Hill gets some of the best laughs of the movie as he tries to adjust to the crazy antics of the rockstar he’s attempting to control.

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Random Factoid #312

5 06 2010

Just my luck.

On Thursday, I went to see “Kick-Ass” at AMC Studio 30 (you know, the one I always gripe about).  After the movie was over, I headed to the automatic ticket kiosk before returning home.  Because I go the movies so much, I happen to know that the kiosk shows what specific theater number a movie will be showing in at a certain time.

Going all the way back to Random Factoid #1, I shared that I keep a collection of movie ticket stubs.  However, I don’t think I have revealed that I have a desire to get a stub for every theater number at a theater.  So I went to the kiosk with the intent of finding out if “Get Him to the Greek,” which I was planning on seeing the next day, would be in a theater that I didn’t have a ticket stub for.  Sure enough, it was showing in theater 15, one of the ones I didn’t have.  I wrote down the showtimes for theater 15 and made sure that I went to one of them the next day.

I went at 5:00, one of the showtimes for theater 15.  However, when I bought the tickets, the tickets said theater 14.  My brilliant plan backfired.





The Comedy Flops of 2009

4 06 2010

I don’t often put much thought into what is written on DVD cases.  However, I saw a particularly interesting one on the cover of “Year One.”  Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald wrote:

“I double dare anyone not to laugh.”

So, I decided to take Mr. Rodriguez’s dare.  Easier done than said.  I think I laughed more in “Revolutionary Road” than I did in “Year One.”

A few weeks later, I found myself watching “Land of the Lost.”  On the DVD case for that instant classic, Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune said:

“Laugh-out-loud funny!”

I never LOLed, although I did chuckle a few times.  These weren’t mild laughs; they were a response to very uncomfortable situations that I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to.

We laugh off these two movies now like an age-old joke; they somehow have quickly come to be the quintessence of comedic failure.  But back in June 2009, “Year One” and “Land of the Lost” had massive expectations.  They were supposed to rake in the money while making audiences howl with laughter.  But as we all know, they both fell flat on their faces in both respects.

Fast forward to today, 2010, and the studios are praying they haven’t got another comedic dud on their hands.  Universal, who was responsible “Land of the Lost,” brings us “Get Him to the Greek” on June 4; Sony, guilty for “Year One,” gives us “Grown Ups” on June 25.  These studios would nothing more than to have their latest releases become the new “The Hangover,” a modest comedy which far exceeded anyones expectations.

There are reasons why “Year One” and “Land of the Lost” flopped, and both share a lot of the same missteps.  Allow me to elaborate…

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What To Look Forward To in … June 2010

16 05 2010

Summer heats up with June’s releases.  We have the welcome return of an old franchise (“Toy Story”) and the unwelcome return of a newer one (“Twilight”).  We have reboots (“The A-Team”) and remakes (“The Karate Kid”).  We have old comedic stars (Adam Sandler) and new ones (Russell Brand).  Whatever the month give us, let’s just hope for some entertainment.

June 4

“Get Him to the Greek” looks to provide some summer humor in the same weekend that made “The Hangover” the smash success of 2009.  I’m not even watching the trailer in an attempt to make it the most hilarious experience possible.

“Splice” stars Oscar-winner Adrien Brody and Oscar-nominee Sarah Polley (for writing, not acting) as scientists who create a monster.  This looks really freaky.

Really, Katherine Heigl?  You quit an Emmy Award-winning show so you can focus on movies, and now you are doing this?  And you really expect people to take you seriously?  Really?  SNL references aside, “Killers” looks absolutely horrific.

June 11

“The A-Team” looks to reboot the franchise with only a little bit of nostalgia.  Good luck.  With Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley of “District 9,” and some guy who looks like Mr. T, it might be possible…

A remake of “The Karate Kid” already?  The original only came out 25 years ago, and Pat Morita only just passed away.  I’m curious to see how this fares.  Jackie Chan isn’t exactly on a hot streak – “The Spy Next Door,” anyone?  Jaden Smith is unproven other than “The Pursuit of Happyness,” which was all his dad.  It’s only going to corner the market on the family crowd for one week, so Sony had better hope all the families come out on opening weekend.

Opening in limited release is “Winter’s Bone,” a Sundance hit which made it onto my list of the ten most anticipated movies of the summer.  It reminds me a bit of “Frozen River.”  That movie got 2 Oscar nominations.   We’ll see how this turns out.

I’m really excited to see what makes Joan Rivers tick in the documentary about her, “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.” What lies behind that plastic face will most certainly be entertaining. Now it just has to get to Houston…

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What To Look Forward To in … Summer 2010

5 05 2010

Before the season actually gets kicked off in two days, I thought it was necessary to spell out my five most anticipated movies of summer 2010.  Rather than bore you with verbose observations, I will give you the rationale for my picks with only two things: the movie’s trailer and 10 words or less describing why I’m dying to see it.

Winter’s Bone (June 11)

I can’t wait because … it’s a rare summer drama and won big at Sundance.

Shrek Forever After (May 21)

I can’t wait because … it has to redeem “Shrek” after the last movie stunk!

Eat, Pray, Love (August 13)

I can’t wait because … this is that enjoyable watching chick-flick I’m always weak for.

Robin Hood (May 14)

I can’t wait because … Russell Crowe has Maximus bottled up inside for this.

Get Him to the Greek (June 4)

I can’t wait because … it’s time for Jonah Hill and Russell Brand’s breakout movies.

The Kids Are All Right (July 7)

I can’t wait because … it’s an indie and this makes comedy out of controversy.

Iron Man 2 (May 7)

I can’t wait because … action plus Robert Downey Jr. have equaled big fun before.

Toy Story 3 (June 18)

I can’t wait because … it’s going to be like revisiting my childhood!

Salt (July 23)

I can’t wait because … Angelina kicks butt!  And it’s not a franchise movie!

Inception (July 16)

I can’t wait because … it’s Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to a new classic.