Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top 10 Movie Picks of 2010

Making your pick is tough work sometimes...
Anyone who is acquainted with me knows I'm a movie hound.  Movies move me and often inspire themes in my work.  I hate television... been completely unplugged from it for six years now and I don't miss a thing but I couldn't live without the joy of cinema.  I feel it is one of our highest art forms now, having developed from the exploits and exploration of 70's film to the visual feasts constructed today.  A good movie can change your perception of life and the world through various means, whether it be the story, the acting, or even just the cinematography. I love the idea of list-making, which probably stems from me reading High Fidelity as a teenager and I was compelled to compile my Top 10 list after seeing what I feel is the best movie of the year just last night.  However, we have to countdown to it so here we go...

Alas, I am not a famous film critic and don't have access to all the movies I would like to see but here are the flicks I have seen  which got my gears turning.  I've not made it to a few which very well could have made the cut including True Grit, Biutiful, or The Fighter- so this is the Top 10 of 2010 (that I saw in 2010 if you will.)

10.  Devil (directed by John Erick Dowdle)

This movie makes the list for two reasons.  The first is the fact that it kept me guessing and actually surprised me at the end.  The second is the acting, which was pretty damn good for five people being stuck in an elevator the entire movie.  This is a pretty suspenseful and fun flick.  I'm not saying this one will stand the test of time but should develop quite a cult following down the road.  It's not often I don't find a film predictable after seeing soooo many of them.  The director gives an edge to M. Night Shyamalan's story that I think would have been lacking if he pursued the project himself.  It's no secret that one of the people in the elevator is the Devil, but which one?  The director exploits what he has to work with and is very successful.  The movie would have been much better however without a couple of the characters written in to guide us through the obvious, which weakens the thrill in my opinion and knocked it the bottom of the list.

9.  Machete (directed by Robert Rodriguez)

One of my favorite directors certainly didn't let me down this year.  Machete is a spin off of a spoof commercial spot Robert Rodriguez directed to go along with his double feature, Grindhouse (directed with Quentin Tarantino.)  Reception to the idea of the movie (and the fact that many people thought it was real at the time) led him to go ahead and create this full-length feature.  Rodriguez knows how to go over the top but also be subversive as hell... who else can make a political statement about immigration and border patrol with A-list actors fighting and swinging from human entrails?  Sometimes it takes absurdity to point out the absurdity of real life taboos and politics.  One of the most prolific directors of our time continues to impress (now if he could just get on to Sin City 2 finally...)

8.  The American (directed by Anton Corbijn)

George Clooney stars in this true gem of a suspense movie.  Corbijn is known as a music video director (mostly for Depeche Mode and Metallica) so this movie was new territory for him and he did a wonderful job.  Shot in a small European village of 129 people, it has the feel of such films as the original Italian Job or Straw Dogs.  A new take on the assassin movie with classic thriller roots.  It's a fairly short movie which moves quickly and tells an intriguing tale which kept me on the edge of my seat and entranced by the scenery and story.  I'm a huge fan of 70's film, from which this entire film borrows it's style.  If you're not a fan of that time in cinematic history and need special effects not to fall asleep, skip it.  If you like a good story and scenery, you'll be quite pleased.

7.  The Experiment  (directed by Paul Scheuring)

Twenty-six men down on their luck volunteer for a fourteen day psychological experiment (with the agreement to get paid $1,000 per day.)  Thirteen are given the roles of guards and thirteen are the prisoners.  They are given a simple list of rules which prisoners must obey and the guards must enforce.  If the rules aren't enforced, the lights come on, the doors open, and nobody gets paid.  This film is a deep evaluation of power structure among men and the lengths they will go to preserve perceived order.  How long can they keep things together and what lengths will they go to in order to stake their claim on their 14K?  I'll never understand how a movie starring two Academy Award winners of Best Actor (Forest Whitaker and Adrien Brody) didn't justify a US theatrical release.  Pick this one up today... it went straight to DVD and straight to my list after watching it.

6.  Clash of the Titans (directed by Louis Leterrier)

When your first movie is Transporter, the second you're put together with Jet Li, and then you make The Incredible Hulk the right way, well.... there's nowhere to go but up.  The sky is the limit for Leterrier, who is already working on a sequel to this blockbuster.  An all-star cast with all-star special effects really did this reboot justice.  I'm not a big fan of remakes, but it was good timing polishing this classic story into the epic we got treated with this past summer.  It's the non-stop action I was hoping for from one of the flashiest new directors of our generation.

5.  Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (directed by Oliver Stone)

I have to admit I had my reservations going into this one.  Oliver Stone hasn't exactly blown me away with his choice of movies in the past fifteen years or so.  Everything he ever touched before that falls in line with the best movies ever made.  One of my favorite directors redeems himself this year with a stunning acting job by Michael Douglas, reprising his role as Gordon Gekko from the original Wall Street.  This movie needed to be made.  The original film was a commentary on power and greed.  This one is a recoil from the blast- how we rise and how we fall.  Frank Langella and Josh Brolin also do some of their most poignant work with small roles.  This movie is powerful all over.  The script and characters make several commentaries on the facets of our financial system and the greed that comes along with it.  This is one of the most important movies made this year.  Don't be surprised if Michael Douglas gets his second Best Actor Oscar for the same role which he won his first.  

4.  The Town (directed by Ben Afflek)

For all his shortcoming in choices of acting roles, Afflek is one amazing writer (you can't deny this if you've seen Good Will Hunting or Gone Baby Gone.)  He takes the director's chair also on The Town, a heist movie set in Boston.  I can't say enough good things about this movie.  I was going to be satisfied with a good cheap thrill because I love heist flicks but this one blew me away.  It's filled with great action and has a feel that I can only compare to Michael Mann's Heat (maybe just a bit more rugged.)  Flat out intense acting by Jeremy Renner and a shaking cameo by Chris Cooper round out a great ensemble cast.  This movie competes with films like The Departed (and I'll stand by that.)

3.  Inception (directed by Christopher Nolan)

Man o Man, how does this guy manage to top himself film after film.  I have had more anticipation for Nolan's release than any other movies of the past ten years.  Inception is a sci-fi concept pulled off in Nolan's own stylized mode of storytelling (like some orgasmic fusion of James Bond and Stanley Kubrick.)  If you like a movie that will make you think, this is your ticket.  I was delighted to see him create a new and unconventional structure for this movie just as he did with Memento.  The movie will take you on a roller coaster ride so far deep into the mind that you'll question reality for weeks.  The true genius of Nolan's work is simply that he trusts his audience's ability to think for themselves and interpret what's being told.

2.  Black Swan (directed by Darren Aronofsky)

If Natalie Portman isn't awarded her first Oscar for her portrayal of the Swan Queen, she's been robbed.  My friend Dan (who I've talked, discussed, and argued movies with for the past 15 years) simply said, "Hitchcock would be proud."  I concur.   The main character's passion and art create a surreal metamorphosis of her reality into her dreams and her nightmares.  What results is an macabre homage to the concept of the central work which the film is made around (Swan Lake) and an unforgettable performance by Portman as she comes face to face with the duality of her role.  She spent the better part of a year learning the craft of dance for her part.  The movie is a step up for an already amazing director.  Black Swan is a gorgeously stylized tale which keeps you talking and guessing weeks later about where the character's reality and art begin, end, and come together.

1.  Howl (directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffery Friedman)

I couldn't have ever expected a more solid and encompassing tribute to one of my favorite authors, Allen Ginsberg and his masterpiece, Howl.  Back in the 50's, City Lights and Lawrence Ferlingetti (who published the book) were put on trial for obscenity charges.  The movie weaves the story of the trial along with interview-style footage of Ginsberg along with the best part- the psychedelic animated sequences of the poem being read.  James Franco does such a brilliant job portraying Ginsberg that I never saw the actor, I say the poet every second of the film.  He sounds like, moves like, looks like, and completely embodies this great writer.  Even many of the shots in the film were based on the author's photographs, which have been displayed in numerous gallery settings over the years.  Ginsberg played a large role in not only freedom of speech but gay rights in the 1950-60's.  All of this comes across in a complete and fantastic way with this movie.  If you're not familiar with Howl, here is the complete work from the man himself to get you started.... (and then watch the movie!)


  1. And now for my two cents:

    Valhalla Rising - Nicolas Winding Refn

    This movie completely knocked my socks off. With ~120 lines of dialogue in the whole movie (the lead character has none) and winner of the 2010 International Fantasy Film Special Jury Award, this movie is like a Viking acid trip. It's blindingly violent, beautifully shot, and leaves you feeling completely obliterated.

    Repo Men - Miguel Sapochnik

    This is the first major motion picture for Sapochnik, who previously worked in the art department of movies such as Trainspotting. The dark visual tones in this movie, and futuristic stylization is very reminiscent of Blade Runner. What happens when you finance replacements for your internal organs when they fail and can't pay...ask the Repo Men? I love the political statements this movie makes. Welcome to the Brave New World.

    The Book of Eli - Albert/Allen Hughes (Hughes Brothers)

    This movie did not get the attention it deserved, and I don't know why. Another gangbuster performance by Gary Oldman, Denzel washington and surprisingly Mila Kunis (who went two for two if you count her outstanding support role in Black Swan). Maybe because there have been too many post apocolyptic movies lately. Maybe because of the religious overtones. This movie is beautifully shot, well acted, and ends with a twist that makes the Sixth Sense look like a bad card trick. Remember that the Hughes Bros also brought us From Hell, Dead Presidents, and Menace to Society. They know bleak oulooks.

    The Crazies (Remake) - Breck Eisner

    I have to admit, I had no hope for this 1973 George Romero remake. Being a great fan of the original, I saw no room for improvement. I have never enjoyed being more wrong. Breck Eisner (Sahara, Thought Crimes) brings more energy and edge of your seat nail gnawing to this remake than the original ever did. If he doesn't make more movies in the horror genre, it will be a huge waste of talent. Rob Zombie, if you are reading this, you need to hang out and learn a few things from Breck.

    Blood into Wine (Documentary) - Ryan Page, Christopher Pomerenke
    I'm a huge Maynard fan, and enjoyed watching this movie at a wine tasting event at the Belcourt theater. Watch this movie. It's funny, heartfelt, and gives you some insight into the voice behind TOOL, APC, and Puscifer.

    On my list to see:
    127 Hours
    Exit Through the Gift Shop
    I Spit on Your Grave (Remake)
    Let Me In (American remake of Let the Right One In - one of the best horror films I have ever seen)
    Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead
    The Tempest (Julie Taymore is one of the finest directors alive)

    Movie sites of the year:

  2. Dude... I forgot about The Tempest! I can give that an honorable mention BEFORE even going to see it. I'll never forget watching Titus for the first time... Julie Taymor gets my juices goin'!

    Repo Men was a tough call... great flick though!

    Book of Eli sucks by the way... Hughes brothers should have hung it up after Dead Presidents (one of the best Vietnam AND Heist movies ever made.) You gonna get all jesussy on me now?

  3. Titus stands in my top ten favorites, and I love the idea of Prospero's character being a woman in the Tempest.

    Lets just agree to disagree on BOE. Many people felt the religious overtones in that movie, and just shut down their neurons. Can't wait to see The King's Speech though, which I should have added to the must see list. Also, Natalie Portman deserves best actress. Her transformation into the Black Swan gave me goosebumps. Barbara Hershey's performance is very Mommy Dearest.

  4. Absolutely, Barbara Hershey deserves at the very least a Best Supporting Actress nod.

    I think you are right about Book of Eli. Same movie ten years ago I would have been blown away. Too many apocalyptic movies the past ten years (and seeing The Road last year) sucked a lot of the thunder out of this one. Just as too many multiple-personality main characters preceding Shutter Island made for the first Scorsese movie I've ever been disappointed with this year as well.

    The King's Speech is another one I haven't gotten to. Maybe we'll have to split a bottle of scotch for that one when we get our hands on it. Maybe we can get 127 Hours or Buried to follow up.

    I like what you had to say about Repo Men. If I had one Honorable Mention, it would snag it.

  5. What about the King's Speech?!!!!!!!! That was a great movie starring Colin Firth!!!!! It should definitely win best movie of the year!!!!

  6. Dan and I were talking about that one this morning... neither of us have seen it but continue to hear amazing things, particularly about Geoffrey Rush.

  7. Interesting Top Ten. I have posted mine Top 10 like X3 because I made one with the movies I did not see. The Last Train makes my top ten and King's Speech and Inception naturally.

    H @ The Trough

  8. I just can't vouch for anything I've not seen. A perfect example would be Shutter Island. If I based my picks on what I expected from a film, ANY Scorsese movie would make the cut but this was a bitter disappointment, mainly through an overused twist at the end.

  9. Dan: Just finished Valhalla Rising- the credits are rolling and I am obliterated.

    My God... this is the best movie recommendation you have made to me since Memento (ten years ago when it came out if you needed to feel old today.) You knew I'd like this one... wow. I already need to watch it again so we gotta make a date with a bottle of Scotch. The journey of the hero and metaphor for a million things shot with a natural dirt and grit ultraviolence that doesn't leave much to the imagination. The scenery and cinematography is otherworldly (or othertimely, if you will.) Wow, I don't know if it's religious or political or metaphysical but I like it. What a ride!

    By the way, the theatrical release was 2009 so retrograding here, it's my #1 movie of 2009!

  10. I like your picks. I did like The Town a lot, and this year it has to be The King's Speech. I haven't seen you on the HBO blog before, but it's a good place to voice whatever opinion you have on anything. The Stickman


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