Mike’s Top Ten of 2010

The original 2010 Top Ten List was the very first article I posted on this site. So it’ll always be a special year for me. It was the year I really started taking movies (and watching new movies) seriously, and was the first time I really was prepared to pick my favorites for a given year because I watched the majority of stuff that came out.

Looking at the list for 2010 as it stands now… most of it’s the same. Which I like. I like knowing that my favorite films then are largely still my favorite films now. And the changes that were made were either minor or were things that were always gonna happen when time passed. Also, looking at this year, I’m fairly confident 90% of this list will remain as top ten films in perpetuity. It’s a real strong year at the top, and most of those top films are indisputable.

Mike’s Top Ten of 2010

Black Swan

Blue Valentine

The Fighter

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1


The King’s Speech

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

The Social Network

Toy Story 3

True Grit

11-20: Animal Kingdom, Enter the Void, The Ghost Writer, Kick-Ass, Never Let Me Go, RED, Rubber, Shutter Island, Tangled, The Town

Tier two: 127 Hours, The American, Arrietty, Buried, The Company Men, Defendor, Easy A, The Expendables, Flipped, Get Him to the Greek, Get Low, The Illusionist, Iron Man 2, Knight and Day, Let Me In, Monsters, Secretariat, Splice, Tron: Legacy, Winter’s Bone

Tier three: The A-Team, Another Year, Biutiful, Burke and Hare, A Distant Neighborhood, From Paris with Love, Going the Distance, Hereafter, Hot Tub Time Machine, How to Train Your Dragon, I Am Love, I Love You Philip Morris, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, The Kids Are All Right, Senna, Solitary Man, Somewhere, Waking Sleeping Beauty, She’s Out of My League, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Tier four: All Good Things, Barney’s Version, The Book of Eli, Brooklyn’s Finest, A Cat in Paris, Chico & Rita, Clash of the Titans, Cyrus, Despicable Me, Edge of Darkness, The Exploding Girl, Frozen, Jackass 3-D, MacGruber, Machete, Rabbit Hole, Robin Hood, Stone, Unstoppable, Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him)?

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1. True Grit

“Mister Cogburn, in your four years as US Marshal, how many men have you shot?”
“Shot? Or killed?”
“Let us restrict it to killed so we may have a manageable figure!”

Took me the better part of the decade, but I’m finally ready to admit that this is my favorite film of 2010. I love this movie. This is close to being my favorite Coen brothers movie. That’s how much I love it.

The original True Grit with John Wayne is well-remembered because he won an Oscar for it, but this is the far superior version. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is stunning, and the fact that he didn’t win his Oscar for this is one of the biggest travesties of all time. Jeff Bridges is incredible as Rooster Cogburn, Matt Damon is so hilarious as LaBoeuf, Hailee Steinfeld (in her film debut!) is amazing as Mattie, and the sneaky MVP of the movie is Josh Brolin, who’s Tom Cheney doesn’t have a lot of screen time but delivers volumes about who that man is. Every inch of this movie is note perfect.

I’m predisposed to liking a western more than most, but this is a Coen brothers western (just listen to some of the dialogue to recognize their familiar brand of humor), and it’s hard not to like the display of talent that this film has. (And also, to this day, it’s their highest-grossing film, so that should tell you something as well.) As much as there’s some amazing stuff that came out this year, this is my favorite of all of it.

2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

“Next time, we don’t date the girl with eleven evil ex-boyfriends.”
“It’s seven.”
“Oh, well, that’s not that bad.”

My original #1 movie from this year, which still almost held that title were it not for the fact that True Grit has elevated itself into just-about all-time favorite status for me. So instead this gets bumped down to a respectable #2, and I don’t love it any less than I did at the time.

This is just an amazing achievement. Edgar Wright creates the perfect adaptation of this material. Sin City is the film that came the closest to looking like its source material (and maybe Watchmen as well), but this is the one that feels most like a comic book. It’s got that energy and that playful brand of humor and fourth-wall breaking that makes everything work.

This is the kind of movie where it’s so much fun to watch that the plot almost becomes secondary. But the plot is also great: guy starts dating a girl and discovers he has to defeat (in combat) her seven evil exes. Which is brilliant. And, if you’ve seen Edgar Wright’s other work (namely Shaun of the Dead and Baby Driver) you know how amazing his visual sense is. So he just goes all out with this one and it lands brilliantly on every level.

3. The Social Network

“So what do you do?”
“I’m an entrepreneur.”
“You’re unemployed.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
What would you say?”
That I’m an entrepreneur.”

Before this movie came out, the idea that they made a movie about the founding of Facebook was a ludicrous idea. Now, not only was it a great idea, a prescient idea, but this movie has, in under a decade since its release, warranted at least one sequel given the developments of that site and the world at large.

Few people would dispute the notion that is the greatest and most important film of 2010. It might even be the most important film of the entire decade. It still holds up and will probably continue to hold up for years to come.

The real strength of the film… well, there are a lot of those. But when you have Aaron Sorkin writing your screenplay, you’re basically already starting on third base. A lot of the work is done for you. But then you have what David Fincher did with the film, which is stunning. And then there’s the actors — Jesse Eisenberg gives the performance of his career, Armie Hammer made a name for himself from this, Andrew Garfield is amazing, this movie brought us Dakota Johnson. Even Justin Timberlake is in it and we all went, “Damn, he’s good.” Everything about this movie works. Except that maybe it’s only the first act in what may be a Shakespearean tragedy when all is said and done.

4. The King’s Speech

“Well, please, don’t do that.”
I’m sorry?”
“I believe sucking smoke into your lungs will… will kill you.”

“My physicians said it relaxes the… the… the throat.”
“They’re idiots.”
“They’ve all been knighted.”
Makes it official, then.”

This is one of the movies that wasn’t on my initial top ten list because I was holding the fact that it was gonna win all the awards against it. (I was 22 and stupid at the time.) Even upon seeing this movie I knew it was great, and somehow I thought I was gonna ‘show it’ by putting it at #15 instead of in my top ten. That’s why these lists exists now, folks. Time equalizes all.

What’s most fascinating about this film is that it’s writer, David Seidler, wanted to write about it in the 70s. He did heavy research back then and interviewed a bunch of people and really went deep into it. Only, out of respect for the Queen Mother, he did not formally begin working on the project until after her death. So he waited almost thirty years to start working on it. Which is crazy.

The film itself is incredible. It’s about King George VI, a stutterer, who attains the throne and now must face his people. Only his condition prevents him from properly doing so. And after trying nearly everything, they end up with Lionel Logue, an unconventional Australian speech therapist whose methods, it turns out, are the only ones that actually work. It’s so great. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are amazing, as is Helena Bonham Carter. All three were nominated for their performances (Firth even won). It’s just a tremendous, tremendous film whose only real flaw is that it won Best Picture over a movie most people feel is the better film that will stand the test of time more. And it’s an unfair thing to hold over a film. Great is great.

5. Black Swan

“Perfect. It was perfect.”

This movie. My god. I’d been firmly on the Darren Aronofsky bandwagon since I saw The Fountain. And then The Wrestler was amazing too, so I was all in on this movie. I remember it was coming out and I couldn’t wait to run to a theater to see it. And I saw it and I came out and went, “She’s gonna win an award for that.” Because it was just undeniable.

It’s funny. There’s a movie that’s been long-since forgotten from 1947 starring Ronald Colman (that won him his Oscar as well, coincidentally). It’s a noir directed by George Cukor called A Double Life. He plays an actor whose performances are so convincing on stage because he sort of becomes that character to a certain extent while he plays them. And it’s about him playing Othello. So he becomes jealous and prone to fits of rage, and it starts to consume his very existence. And it ends in a similar place as well. And watching this, that movie was all I could think of, while also thinking, “Wow, this is so much better than that is.”

Darren Aronofsky achieves a tremendous feat with this film. Because this is a movie about perfectionism while also being a pure psychological thriller. Natalie Portman wants this role so badly that it starts affecting her sanity. And she has to become the dark sides of the ballet in order to properly play both sides of the character. And it’s just wonderful. Her performance, as her character says, is perfect, and the direction of the film is perfect. This movie is really close to being a masterpiece.

6. Toy Story 3

“So long… partner.”

It’s funny. The first Toy Story came out in 1995. I was 7. It was a big movie for me. By the time the sequel came out, I didn’t care anymore. I was 11, those movies felt too ‘kiddie’ for me, and while I’d seen it (largely because of my younger sister), it didn’t really mean anything to me. And I generally avoided animated movies for the better part of the next decade. I guess because you hit that age where you’re coming into your own and learning your own tastes and rejecting that you loved when you were a child so you could grow. Then, somehow, that switch turned back. Gradually I began to thaw, and I started coming back around to animated movies. Wall-E was really the one that did it for me, in 2008. And then, when this movie was coming out in 2010, not only was I in, I was fully expecting to be the only grown up in the theater not there with children who was just weeping throughout the entire film. (Spoiler alert: I was.)

This movie had me crying from its trailer. The first minute of that trailer instantly brought back everything you remembered about this franchise and what it meant to you as a child. Suddenly this wasn’t just another movie, this was something I’d lived with for fifteen years, that was an integral part of my life. And suddenly it felt like a big chapter in my life was about to come to an end. So this was a huge movie for me at the time.

And the film totally delivers on that. The toys are faced with Andy going to college and now have to figure out a life where they’re no longer needed. And, as someone who saw this movie a month after graduating college and now having to face the prospects of the rest of my life, this movie was heavy. Plus, you know these characters. You grew up with them. So to see some of the more emotional moments in this movie (especially that ending. My god. And I’m not even talking about the climax of the movie. I’m talking about the ending), they all resonate in a much more profound way than if this were just a one-off Pixar movie the way Up was. Up made me cry. This movie made me weep.

7. The Fighter

“Alice, this is Charlene.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Really? I’ve heard a lot about you, too.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Same thing you meant.”

This movie brought David O. Russell back into our lives, and that alone makes it amazing. He had Three Kings, and then he came back with I Heart Huckabees, which didn’t quite work for most people. Then he started working on Nailed, which is one of those legendary disasters and ended up getting abandoned (and then later recut and released by producers under everyone’s noses). So there’s a full six year gap between films for him, and he came back with this, which ended up defining his style for his next four films (this, Silver Linings, American Hustle and Joy).

This is a movie about people. About characters. All (well… mostly. Not Silver Linings) real, which is the hallmark of the run he went on, and all larger than life to the point where you wanna think they made some of it up but you almost know they didn’t. There’s a sense of community here that really defines these movies and makes them as good as they are.

This is about Mickey Ward, an aging Boston boxer managed by his family and trained by his older brother Dicky Eklund, once a local legend for going the distance with Sugar Ray Robinson and now a crackhead. And it’s about him trying to get his one shot before it’s all over for him. Mark Wahlberg plays Ward and is fantastic. Christian Bale won an Oscar as Dicky (and it’s the kind of performance where, when you saw this movie for the first time, you immediately said, “He’s gonna win an Oscar for that.” You just knew immediately). Melissa Leo won an Oscar for playing their mother (she’s incredible here, and won what might be the most competitive Best Supporting Actress category of all time, which is saying something), and Amy Adams was also nominated here, playing Ward’s girlfriend-then-wife. And she’s got some of the best scenes in the movie. Everyone is great here. Boxing movies are always interesting, and this one’s got the out of the ring stuff that make it even better.

8. Inception

“What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed – fully understood – that sticks; right in there somewhere.”

I used to jokingly refer to this movie as “Exposition” because of how all the dialogue is essentially just explaining to the audience what’s going on. But while that is true, that also does mean that the movie is so high concept and so far removed from what one would expect to see that it has to catch everyone up to what it’s doing.

This is a visual marvel and one of those movies that made everyone pull a Keanu Reeves in The Matrix ad go, “Whoa.” Not quite ‘mind blown’, but more ‘oh, so this is the kind of stuff that’s actually possible’. It’s a high concept heist movie about a man who performs corporate espionage by hacking into people’s subconsciousnesses and implanting ideas in their heads. So the movie largely takes place inside the human mind, while it’s in a dream state, so quite literally most of the stuff that happens is beyond the measure of reality. Which allows for some incredible visuals and incredible action sequences. That hallway sequence alone is a marvel, and that’s only one of four different set pieces the movie’s cutting between at the same time.

It’s a real masterstroke of filmmaking and it’s folly to try to claim otherwise. Have as many gripes about the dialogue as you want (or the ending, which I still have), but there’s no denying how incredible (and influential) this movie is and has been since it came out.

9. Blue Valentine

I remember wanting to see this so badly at the time that I practically dragged a friend who I hadn’t seen in a year to go see this rather than spending an extra two hours catching up. This was the unofficial #10 entry in my top ten list for this year. I ended up seeing it the first week of January and loved it so much that I went back and edited that first article to include this as “#10.5” on my top ten. I didn’t want to straight up alter the list but I also knew that this was on over what was then my #10 film and would have been had I been able to see it just ten days earlier. That’s something that’s really only happened twice in the history of my top ten lists, where I saw something just too late to put it on for the initial posting but it was clear that was always gonna be on from then onward.

This is a movie that director Derek Cianfrance spent about a dozen years trying to make. I think he had both leads signed onto it for at least five years apiece and spent the rest of the time trying to get the money to actually get it made. This is a real indie movie. This is the closest I’ve seen to John Cassavetes in the current day. It feels like Cassavetes, where you know they had a really tight script and then immediately threw it out and did a lot of scenes from scratch or from memory and just did whatever felt right on the day, and the result is this movie.

The film is about what it’s like to fall in love and fall out of love. It cuts between two different timelines, one with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as they meet and fall in love, and one years later as their marriage is falling apart. It’s both a beautiful and brutal film, never once flinching in how it shows these two at their highs and lows. The performances are spectacular, and this movie is, in my mind, a masterpiece for what it achieves. It might be too difficult for some people to watch, but for me, this gives me the kind of thrill that watching something like A Woman Under the Influence for the first time gave me. That doesn’t come around often.

10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1

“Deserves that. Brilliant, he was. Wouldn’t be standing here without him.”
“Always the tone of surprise.”

I just love this franchise. It’s importance to my life means that they’re just about all gonna make my top ten. At this point, all but one has, and that’s because its year is too damn strong to include it (and it’s the weakest of the eight films).

This if an entry that I wasn’t entirely on board with the first time I saw it (granted, the circumstances under which I saw it may have had a lot to do with it). But going back over the past few years, it’s become apparent that not only is this film great, but it might be one of the two or three best films in the entire franchise. They get a lot accomplished here. And it’s really well-handled. Because the second half of this film is the big battle. So this part is where they get a lot of their emotional loose ends taken care of. And it’s really poignant in a lot of ways. Some of the stuff between the three leads when they’re hiding out is just wonderful, and the cinematography in this film might be the most beautiful of the series.

I’m always gonna love all of these films and this is really the only time I’m ever gonna differentiate between them about which ones are slightly better and this and that. But I will say, this one will always be the most emotional of the series for me, and is gonna be the one I want to go back to most to get that feeling of sentimentality for this period of my life.

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Animal Kingdom — I remember watching this movie by chance. It was mid-to-late 2010, and I had heard good things about it and raves for Jacki Weaver’s performance. So I said, “Okay, I’ll check it out.” And I put it on, and by the time the first scene ended, I was in. That opening scene is one of the most stunning opening scenes I have ever seen in a movie. And then it just took off from there. And yes, Jacki Weaver’s performance is amazing, and got her nominated for an Oscar this year, it was so good. But also, everyone else in the film is so good. A couple of people broke out from this one. Joel Edgerton. Ben Mendelsohn. David Michod is an in-demand director because of this movie. It’s great. And they’ve now turned it into a hit TV show which, I imagine, only increases its stature and gets people to see it. It’s an Australian crime drama about a family of criminals. And it’s spectacular. Truly, truly spectacular. It still qualifies as a bit of a hidden gem because not enough people have actually gone and watched it. But man, is it one of the best movies of this year.

Enter the Void — This is Gaspar Noé. It’s his first film since Irreversible (which, at the time, was pretty notorious), and I had heard very good things about it but also kind of heard what the premise was, which really made me want to see it. And I remember sitting down to watch it for the first time. It was about 2 or 3am, and I was stone cold sober. And by the time it was over, I felt like I was on something. Because this movie is an experience. And that’s who Gaspar Noé is as a filmmaker. He’s gonna take you on a journey. Might not necessarily be one you want to go on, but it’ll be a journey nevertheless. I don’t really want to spoil this movie for those who know nothing about it, but just know…probably not best to see this movie on hard drugs, and also something that does some things you’ve never seen in a movie before. It’s trippy as hell, but in the best possible way.

The Ghost Writer — This would be my unofficial #11 for this year, just because this movie is so goddamn good. This was underrated from the moment it came out. It’s Roman Polanski, and honestly is one of Polanski’s best movies. Full stop. Chinatown. The Pianist. Rosemary’s Baby. And then for me, this. Those are the four. There are other very good ones too. But those four are like, the ones. And I know that’s high praise to put on a movie almost no one’s seen, but trust me, it’s great. It’s a Hitchcockian thriller about a writer (Ewan McGregor) who is hired to be (insert title here) for the former Prime Minister (played by Pierce Brosnan, playing essentially a Tony Blair type character) after his first ghost writer dies in a mysterious accident. If you haven’t seen this movie before, just put it on and go for the ride. Trust me and trust Roman Polanski, who I think has established himself as a filmmaker who knows what he’s doing. You’ll know from the first few bars of Alexandre Desplat’s incredible score that you are in the right hands. This movie is great.

Kick-Ass — There are three superhero films that came out within a year of one another that all deal around the notion of the real-life implications of someone deciding to become a masked hero. This one is the most ‘comic book’ of the three, not really getting too deep into the violence or mental illness the way the others do. But this one does show the real world consequences of doing something like this. And it’s the most popular of the three. But still, it’s cool that it shows that people who decide to do this will likely get the ever loving shit beat out of them a lot and maybe even get killed. Which is cool. Though I think we all know the highlight of this movie is Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl and Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy. Those two — I mean, Chloe Moretz has a career from her performance in this movie. And Cage gets to gleefully do his version of Adam West. It’s fun as hell.

Never Let Me Go — Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (who also wrote the Remains of the Day), this was, at the time, the most overlooked film of 2010. I could not believe that people just ignored this movie en masse. It’s absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking. It’s the story of three friends — Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley — who grow up together. And the film is mainly about them coming into their own as budding adults and the love triangle that forms between them, as well as what awaits them in the future. Which… just watch it. It’s incredible. Mark Romanek directs, and if that name isn’t familiar to you — he’s directed a bunch of great music videos (most notably Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”) and also One Hour Photo. This is an incredible piece of material that became an incredible film. One of the true hidden gems of this decade.

RED — What a great action comedy. Based on a graphic novel, it’s basically the realistic version of The Expendables. All these people would be old and retired. That’s what RED means — “Retired, Extremely Dangerous.” It stars Bruce Willis as a former assassin quietly enjoying his retirement. Only some people then try to kill him. Which forces him to go get the band back together to figure out who’s behind it. It’s so much fun. It’s got Helen Mirren, John Malkovich just going full on crazy, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman, Karl Urban, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, and, oh yeah, Ernest fucking Borgnine. Trust me, you want to see this movie. It’s fun as shit.

Rubber — Affectionately known as the “killer tire” movie, that’s what this movie is about. A tire becomes sentient and starts killing people. That’s all you need to know. It’s absolutely bizarre, but totally works. If you like surrealist films (like, real surrealist, to the point of absurdity), then this is for you. Quentin Dupieux (aka Mr. Oizo) has made a career out of this insane, weird little movies. And they’re all wonderful. This one, though, is in a class of its own. 

Shutter Island — Martin Scorsese doing a Hitchcockian mystery. Seemed like a weird choice to followup The Departed, and even now, still feels like a minor film for him. But he got Leo and he got an incredible cast, which includes Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine, John Carroll Lynch and Elias Koteas, and he makes it into a worthwhile film. It’s based on a Dennis Lehane novel (he wrote Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River) and it’s just a really effective film. It stars Leo and Mark Ruffalo as two “duly appointed federal marshals” who are sent to investigate an insane asylum after one of its patients (a murderer) goes missing. And then once they get there they notice all sorts of weird shit happening that may involve a conspiracy with all the doctors who work there. While it is definitely a ‘lesser’ Scorsese film, it’s still an amazing piece of work that’s great on its own. 

Tangled — This is probably the best recent Disney film that people still are sleeping on. It’s popular and people know it, but I don’t think people realize just how good this movie is. This movie legitimately fits among the top 25% of anything Disney has ever released. It’s the story of Rapunzel, and it’s great. My only gripes about this movie — CG and not hand-drawn, they tell the story from the perspective of the male character and not the princess, and the songs are good but not great (and Disney has developed a reputation for having their songs be great in the princess movies). All of those things are bummers, but not dealbreakers. The writing is such that this is still an amazing movie. And of the princess movies made in this new Disney era, I’d say — Moana is still the best, Frozen is right there as well, and then this is third behind those. And it’s close to those in terms of quality. They’re all really terrific films.

The Town — Ben Affleck’s second film, and the first of his own films that he’s starred in. This is another adaptation of a crime novel set in Boston. It stars him as a thief who runs a crew of guys who take down banks and things like that. It starts with them robbing a bank, during which he sees Rebecca Hall, a teller, and finds he has a thing for her. So he goes to see her later (they all had masks on, so she has no idea it was him) and starts up a relationship with her. This is concurrent with him trying to lay low and not get arrested by the FBI agent trying to nab him (Jon Hamm) and also plan his next heist. It’s an awesome movie. The cast is great. Jeremy Renner got nominated for his performance here as an absolute psychopath. It’s also got Blake Lively, Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite (in his penultimate film role). This is one of those movies everyone thinks is good. Because it is.

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Tier two:

  • 127 Hours
  • The American
  • Arrietty
  • Buried
  • The Company Men
  • Defendor
  • Easy A
  • The Expendables
  • Flipped
  • Get Him to the Greek
  • Get Low
  • The Illusionist
  • Iron Man 2
  • Knight and Day
  • Let Me In
  • Monsters
  • Secretariat
  • Splice
  • Tron: Legacy
  • Winter’s Bone

Knight and Day is a James Mangold film, which, given everything else he’s made, should tell you that it’s worth seeing. It’s Tom Cruise playing off his action persona in a really great way. It’s a rom com at heart. Cameron Diaz plays a woman who bumps into Cruise at the airport, and then somehow gets involved in his situation — he’s a secret agent who is believed to have gone rogue over some top secret information. And she doesn’t know who to believe, and Cruise seems to be showing up everywhere she goes… it’s great. It’s so great. It’s just fun, funny, well-written, and one of the most entertaining movies of this year. Arrietty is a Ghibli movie based on The Borrowers. About a family of tiny people who live in another family’s house. Only their daughter, Arrietty, gets discovered by the family’s son. It’s Ghibli. Ghibli movies are all great. They are more consistent than Disney in that regard. Once you see Ghibli, just watch it, because you know it’s gonna be great. Secretariat is a movie about Secretariat. I love horse racing movies. Seabiscuit is amazing. Let It Ride is one of my all time favorite films. As is National Velvet. They don’t generally make horse racing movies (mostly because it’s not something that you can really do, especially biopic-wise, since so few horses actually merit it), so it’s always a treat when one does happen to come out. Secretariat is, as anyone remotely familiar with horse racing knows, perhaps the greatest horse to ever compete in these races. There’s that iconic shot of him coming down the stretch of the Belmont ALONE. Which is unheard of. Secretariat still has track records, I think, on all those races. Honestly, the actual race is much more emotional than watching the dramatization of it here. But anyway, the film is very solid. It’s about the horse from birth, and the owners. It’s… there’s much more of a religious overtone to it that turns me off a bit. But like I said, anything with horse racing, I’m in.

Monsters is one of the most effective low-budget alien movies ever made. It’s also a movie about something, which makes it better. It takes place several years after a deep space probe crashes at the U.S.-Mexico border, allowing alien creatures to propagate along it. So now the area is quarantined and protected and people enter at their own risk. Kind of like the zone in Stalker. And the film is about a photojournalist whose boss asks him to escort his daughter (in a hospital in Mexico) back to the States. So the film is their journey, which does not go as expected and forces them to travel through the quarantine zone at risk of (insert title here). It’s a beautiful film that has no budget yet creates tremendous tension and really makes you… well, you’ll see. They do a fantastic thing with the narrative that does not feel cheap and really enhances the overall product. It’s great. It’s really great. It’s one of the best movies of this year. It’s so good that it got the director Godzilla and Star Wars afterward. Trust me on this one. See it. Winter’s Bone is the movie that broke Jennifer Lawrence. She earned an Oscar nomination for it and the film got nominated for Best Picture this year. It’s a mystery that takes place up in the mountains and stars her as a girl whose drug dealer father has gone missing after skipping bail. So she needs to find him because if she doesn’t, the house goes to the state and she and her siblings (who she’s in charge of) will go homeless. And that’s the film. Her going around (even though she shouldn’t be asking questions) and trying to figure out what happened to her father. She’s great in it, as is John Hawkes (who also got nominated for it). The Illusionist is a Sylvain Chomet animated film (he did Triplets of Belleville) based on an unfilmed Jacques Tati script. So it’s wordless, in the style of the M. Hulot films, and it’s absolutely wonderful. If you’ve ever seen a Tati film, you know how magical they are. This maintains that magic, and animation is the perfect medium for it. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough.

Get Low is such a great little gem with an amazing premise. Robert Duvall plays a hermit in a small town who hasn’t been seen for years and is the subject of great intrigue to the town. Most people think he murdered someone and that’s why he hides… kinda like that old dude next door in Home Alone. It’s that kinda vibe. Then one day he comes into town, to the local funeral parlor (run by Bill Murray, who is fantastic here) and says he wants to have a funeral. His own. He’s gonna pay for his own funeral and he wants people to show up. Which of course only causes further intrigue in the town. It’s… great. Duvall is fantastic, Murray is incredible, and it’s just a really great little movie that almost no one knows exists. Defendor is one of three movies that came out around this year that deals with the realistic consequences of someone deciding to become a superhero in real life. The three main themes are: vigilanteism, violence and the effects of these things on regular people, and mental illness. This one leans more heavily on the mental illness part. Woody Harrelson plays a mentally ill man who adopts a superhero persona and goes about the city at night to stop crime. And he gets himself up against some really dangerous people, the ramifications of which he doesn’t quite understand. This movie has one of my absolute favorite jokes ever. At one point the mobster villain of the film beats up Harrelson and takes his “damsel” (a crack-addicted prostitute, played by Kat Dennings) hostage, telling him that if he talks to anyone, he’s dead. So we cut to the next scene, where someone confronts him about the bruise on his face, he refuses to say a word… because he took what the guy said literally. He meant “don’t say anything about us,” meanwhile Harrelson just assumed it means “don’t say a word at all.” And the person’s like, “Who did this to you.” And he writes down that he fell down some stairs. And the other person, knowing full well it’s a lie, says, “What did they look like?” And then Harrelson lifts up his finger and draws a set of stairs in the air. And it’s honestly one of the funniest things I have ever seen. The movie… it’s solid. I think it’s the weakest of the three, next to Kick-Ass and Super, but it’s also the one no one knows about. And I think the premise, having Woody Harrelson as the star, and the fact that it’s just funny, makes it something worth seeing.

Easy A is the movie that broke Emma Stone. This is a star-making turn if I’ve ever see one. The plot is basic high school movie stuff. But she’s so good here that it transcends regular high school rom com. She plays a girl who becomes the subject of a vicious rumor after she helps out a friend at a party (the kid is gay but doesn’t want to be bullied so she pretends to have sex with him), thus labeling her a “slut.” And she, because it’s high school and they’re all studying “The Scarlet Letter,” decides to embrace it, and walk around with a red “A” on her chest. It’s great. She’s great. And the movie is very funny. It wins you over very early and even toward the end when it starts to veer into typical rom com territory it still maintains its charm. Also — Stanley Tucci. One of the best ‘father’ performances I have ever seen in one of these movies. He’s always great, but he’s really great here. Splice is a great sci fi movie. I didn’t know what to expect when I saw this one, figuring it would be watchable, but I didn’t expect it to be really good. It stars Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as married genetic engineers who are working to splice the DNA of different animal species together. They want to start using human DNA, but their superiors deny them the chance. So, they do it on the quiet and now have this creature, which they raise as their own. And for a while, it’s a movie about parenting, only with a creature that is very illegal, would get them in deep deep shit if it’s ever found out, and may even be dangerous. And then things get complicated as Dren (the creature/child) grows up and first wants to know why she’s never seen the outside of the facility, but then hits puberty, and… well, things get interesting from there. I really like this movie a lot. I’m surprised it got such mixed reviews, which I’m guessing are due to some of the stuff that happens in the third act (which is admittedly, insane. But also… you’ve never seen that in a movie before). But I love this movie and I’ve always loved this movie.

Tron: Legacy is the sequel, made 28 years later. Smartly, they focused the story on Jeff Bridges’ young son. Several years after the events of the first film, Bridges’ character disappeared (clearly back into the game). And now, his son, having grown up without a father, ends up (through plot machinations) in the game himself. And it’s just a really solid adventure movie. I’ve always really enjoyed it. The visuals are fantastic, and the score by Daft Punk is the best film score of 2010. By far. It’s incredible, and it’s still one of the best film scores of this entire decade. The Company Men is a terrific drama directed by John Wells (big TV creator or E/R and Shameless who makes his debut here and after this also made August: Osage County and Burnt) about a group of men and the effects of corporate downsizing on their lives. It’s one thing for a company to say “we’re cutting a thousand jobs,” but this movie looks at all the different people affected by that. It stars Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson and Rosemarie DeWitt. It’s just a really well-made, well-acted film that is a movie for grown ups. Let Me In is the American remake of Let the Right One In. Comparatively, this movie is not good. The original film is a masterpiece and this version is just watered down and basically just at thriller. That said, I’ll take a bad American remake of Let the Right One In over most other movies, just because I love the story. But also, if you’re thinking about watching this, please make sure you’ve seen the original first. There is no substitute for that movie, and it’s almost criminal to only have seen this version without having seen that one.

The American is a wonderful low key little thriller. Directed by Anton Corbijn (who did Control and A Most Wanted Man) and stars Clooney as an assassin who hides out in Italy after a job gone wrong. And — it’s just great. It got dumped quietly over Labor Day and never got anything but good reviews because it’s an adult drama and not an action movie. It’s meditative and it’s not about the shoot-em-up, which means this never got any word of mouth. But it’s great. It’s really a fantastic movie that holds up really well. Clooney is great at choosing good material, so you should always know you’re in good hands with one of his films. Get Him to the Greek is a spinoff of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Focusing on the Russell Brand character. Jonah Hill plays an aspiring music executive who thinks it would be great to record a 25th anniversary concert of Brand’s character’s original performance at the Greek Theatre, which has since become legend. But, Brand is a mess, having relapsed on booze and drugs, so Hill has to physically get a hold of him and make sure he makes it to the concert on time. Which… it’s My Favorite Year. Same exact story. My Favorite Year is so much better, but as far as templates go, that’s a great one to emulate. And it’s funny. It’s still got a lot of great moments in it that remain funny. The Expendables is a franchise built around 80s action stars getting together in the same place. Which… not a bad thing to build a franchise on. They’ve made three of these, and they’re all fun. No one would ever say the majority of these guys’ action movies from their heyday was anything more than just fun, so this fits right in. You’ve got Stallone, Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Terry Crews, Steve Austin, and cameos from Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, who would show up more in the sequel. It’s nice seeing these guys. 127 Hours is the Danny Boyle-directed film about the guy who went climbing and literally got stuck between a rock and a hard place. A boulder pinned his arm against the wall of a canyon and he was stuck there without any way of getting out or being found by another person. So… well, it doesn’t end well for his arm. It’s a solid movie. Not my favorite, but solid.

Buried is a film with a great premise and a great conceit: one man, in a coffin, for the entire film. That’s it. Ryan Reynolds is a truck driver working in Iraq who gets captured and buried in a coffin. He is given a lighter and a cell phone and told that his air will run out in a certain amount of time. And if he wants to get out, he has to get the government to agree to pay a ransom. And of course, he’s really doing his best to figure out where he’s buried so a rescue team can come and get him. And it’s just a tense thriller single location, not an ounce of fat on it. And a good showcase for Reynolds, who is the only person on screen for the entire film. It’s really solid. If you watch this under the right circumstances, you’ll enjoy it. Flipped is a movie that is entirely up my alley that I’m sure almost no one else would ever care about. It’s directed by Rob Reiner, who… most people couldn’t really tell you most of the movies he made since 1995. But coming off The Bucket List, this was what he wanted to do next. And it’s a romance movie starring 13-year-olds. Which, as I’ve said time after time… I love that shit. The premise is that the girl, when meeting the boy in grade school, knows she loves him. And he does not feel that way. But then of course middle school comes around, and all of a sudden… he’s starting to come around on that. It’s a very enjoyable movie, though admittedly not one I’d recommend for people unless they know they like this kind of a movie. Iron Man 2 is the sequel. They rushed it into development after the success of the first one. Probably because they were readying the rest of their universe and knew this would be a quick placeholder until the rest of that could be put into place. But anyway… it’s a solid, fun movie that also does feel kinda rushed and kind of compromised around this new thing they were building. It’s clear they cut out a lot of the character stuff in favor of universe building. But still, it’s fun. Mickey Rourke does what he can as a (now-classic staple of the MCU) underwritten villain. Sam Rockwell does what he does. Don Cheadle takes over for Terrence Howard. They introduce Scarlett Johansson. It’s good. It’s probably middle of the road as far as Marvel goes, but it’s fun.

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Tier three:

  • The A-Team
  • Another Year
  • Biutiful
  • Burke and Hare
  • A Distant Neighborhood
  • From Paris with Love
  • Going the Distance
  • Hereafter
  • Hot Tub Time Machine
  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • I Am Love
  • I Love You, Philip Morris
  • It’s Kind of a Funny Story
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • Senna
  • She’s Out of My League
  • Solitary Man
  • Somewhere
  • Waking Sleeping Beauty
  • Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is the sequel. It feels unnecessary in the grand scheme of things, but when you factor in that it was made during the financial crisis, it felt like a good time to try to bring back those characters, especially since we live in a world where there’s a generation of investment bankers who took the complete wrong message out of the first movie and grew up idolizing the Michael Douglas character. This one’s played as more of a thriller, with Shia LaBeouf taking over the Charlie Sheen role, only with the added bonus of him being Douglas’ eventual son-in-law, with Carey Mulligan playing the fiancée/daughter. It’s — I haven’t seen it since it came out, but I remember people being pretty meh on it and me thinking that it was actually a kind of brilliant sequel for the way in which it used Michael Douglas. I don’t remember at all why that was, but I do remember liking it enough and finding that one element that allowed me to view the film in such a way that made it feel worthwhile and not just a useless sequel. Solitary Man is another Michael Douglas movie from this year. Directed by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (who did Rounders and Billions and Knockaround Guys), it’s a midlife crisis kinda movie. It’s Michael Douglas as a guy who is aging but still continuing his self-destructive ways. It’s really good. He’s great in it and it’s just a really solid movie. I cannot recommend this one highly enough, and it’s a nice little gem from this year that most people don’t know about. The A-Team is a film version of the TV show. Not necessary, but fun. Liam Neeson stars, Bradley Cooper’s in it, Rampage Jackson does the Mr. T part and Sharlto Copley is the fourth member of the team. It’s not the greatest movie ever, but I remember seeing it right as it came out and a few years after and thinking, “Damn, that was way more fun than it ought to have been.” I bet Joe Carnahan had something to do with that. It’s Kind of a Funny Story is an Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck movie that’s about a depressed teenager who checks into a psych ward, and his experiences there. So it’s a coming of age movie in a psych ward. It’s fun. It’s got its moments. Not totally for me, but definitely quite likable.

I Love You, Philip Morris is such a great movie. People forget about this movie, even if they know what it is. It’s Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (who did Crazy Stupid Love, Focus and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) and stars Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. This came out during the period where Carrey’s career was basically just dead. He’d basically disappeared from big movies after 2004 (and even now has never really re-emerged) and only really did small parts here and there, nothing particularly acting-heavy. But this one… this one reminds you how good he is. He plays (a real) guy who gets in a car accident one day and suddenly realizes he’s gay. And then suddenly leaves his wife and kids and becomes a con man. He then gets sent to prison, where he meets Ewan McGregor, and falls in love with him. And the film is about his love of this man and him trying to get him out of jail. It’s so much fun. Truly one of those gems where fans of each actor don’t even know this one exists most of the time and will see it and go, “Damn, that was weird, but fun.” Hereafter is a Clint Eastwood film and honestly one of the weirder ones he’s made. But considering he’s made a career out of trying a little of everything, that’s probably an incorrect statement. But coming off the films he was coming off for the past few years, this one did feel a bit out of left field. It stars Matt Damon as a regular guy who just happens to be a medium who can communicate with the dead. And the film is about him and some other people who have been touched by death in various ways. It’s… fine. It was definitely way more interesting than I expected it to be, though it’s admittedly one of those Eastwood movies that has been forgotten since it’s not as good as some of the better ones he made during this time.

Waking Sleeping Beauty is a documentary about the Disney Renaissance. It shows where they were beforehand and all the elements that helped turn everything around for that decade when everything was perfect, as well as all the factors that helped end it. It’s a really great documentary and a must for anyone who loves that era of Disney films. Biutiful is an Alejandro Inarritu film starring Javier Bardem that earned Bardem an Oscar nomination (for an incredible performance). It’s about a guy living in Barcelona who’s got enough problems to deal with on a daily basis before he finds out he’s terminally ill. It’s — Bardem is amazing here. It’s never gonna be the most beloved Inarritu film, but it’s an incredible film that’s hugely affecting (and probably not something you’ll want to watch more than once). The Kids Are All Right is the indie darling of this year. A movie about the children of lesbian parents who want to know who their father is. So they set out to find him and then bring him into their family. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play the parents and Mark Ruffalo plays the father. Oh, and Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson play the kids. It’s a very likable movie. I’m not sure it’s as good as people made it out to be, but it’s a very well-made, well-acted film. From Paris with Love is a Luc Besson story that is just an insane movie. I don’t even know what the plot is. But… whatever the hell John Travolta is doing here… jesus christ. He’s just a reckless CIA agent who likes blowing shit up, and really is what makes the movie worth watching because he’s going at a full on 11 in a movie that only deserves about a 5.

I Am Love is a Luca Guadagnino film, and was the film that was his sort of festival breakthrough, six years before A Bigger Splash. It stars Tilda Swinton as a Russian woman who moved to Italy to live with her husband and his family but isn’t particularly happy. But then her son’s friend comes to stay with them, and… things happen. This is kind of a Visconti film, the way it’s shot. The sets and costumes are gorgeous. And Tilda — her performance here is incredible. Since the film is largely in Italian, and she’s playing a Russian woman who is speaking Italian (while also speaking Russian). She she has to not only speak two different languages, but also speak one of them in the other’s accent. It’s really tremendous. Hot Tub Time Machine is one of the great titles of all time. Because it tells you everything you need to know about the film. The film is not as good as that title, nor could it ever be as good as that title. Which is something you know going in. The plot is basically a Gen X movie, with guys in their 40s getting in a hot tub and going back to the 80s when they were all in college. It’s dumb, but it’s fun. She’s Out of My League is a fun rom com based on the joke that a very hot woman is dating an average looking dude and everyone is like, “That’s never gonna last.” It’s fun. Gets kind of by the numbers, but there are definitely fun elements to it. It felt like a decent enough rom com in an era where the genre was slowly dying. Going the Distance is another rom com that I quite liked at the time. It’s Drew Barrymore and Justin Long as a couple who have to deal with a long distance relationship and do what they can to try to keep the romance alive. It’s solid, as rom coms go.

Another Year is a Mike Leigh film, and one of the ones I actually quite like. I think because it’s not as dour as some of his other ones. It shows a married couple over the course of a single year, all four seasons. And that’s it. We just show them with their family and friends… existing. And it’s lovely. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play the couple, and then Lesley Manville is terrific as their friend. It’s not the Mike Leigh movie I would recommend everyone see to start, but it’s a terrific film that’s one of the ones of his I’d recommend people see most if they want to see the best of his output. Somewhere is a Sofia Coppola movie that (like most of her films) is clearly based on her experiences growing up. It’s about an actor who is bored with his successful life making hit movies, partying, and sleeping with lots of women. So he goes to hide at the Chateau Marmont (as many actors are wont to do), only to be surprised by his daughter, who is to stay with him. So now he’s him going around LA with his daughter. I mean… it’s solid. Stephen Dorff is good, and Dakota Fanning is good as the daughter. I can’t do anything more than respect the film, but it’s solid. How to Train Your Dragon is a lovely animated movie, and one of the best made by an American studio not named Disney or Pixar. It’s about a viking kid who aspires to be like his father and hunt dragons. Only… he comes across a dragon himself, and actually becomes friends with it. And the film is about two outcasts finding one another. And it’s really quite good. They diluted it with unnecessary sequels that are nowhere near as good, but this one still holds up.

Senna is a documentary about Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian Formula One driver. It’s… you know it’s good, because this is a documentary that most people heard of when they didn’t nominate it for Best Documentary. This actually won the BAFTA for Best Editing. It’s an impeccably crafted documentary (by the guy who later did Amy and Diego Maradona, if that matters to you) with some amazing racing sequences. It’s really good. Even if you don’t care about racing, it’s a hell of an experience, this one. A Distant Neighborhood is a really nice little Belgian film based on a manga. It’s about a guy approaching his 40th birthday who falls asleep on the train while coming home and wakes up at the town where he grew up. While there, he goes to visit his mother’s grave, and at it, falls asleep and wakes up a teenager again, only with all his memories of being 40. So basically it’s a film about getting to live your life over again. Most people would immediately use their adult knowledge to get better grades or get girls, but he’s more focused on one thing in particular — the day his father walked out on the family. And he thinks that this time, he’ll be able to make it so his father stays, which might change the course of how his life turned out. It’s a solid little fantasy drama. No one really knows it, but the story is very good and it’s well handled. Burke and Hare is a John Landis movie, of all things. He hasn’t made many of those in the past thirty years. It’s about the (real life) Burke and Hare murders. Essentially — two guys in London made money selling cadavers to medical schools… only the cadavers didn’t always get that way by natural causes. It stars Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis, and it’s a fun little dark comedy.

– – – – – – – – – –

Tier four:

  • All Good Things
  • Barney’s Version
  • The Book of Eli
  • Brooklyn’s Finest
  • A Cat in Paris
  • Chico & Rita
  • Clash of the Titans
  • Cyrus
  • Despicable Me
  • Edge of Darkness
  • The Exploding Girl
  • Frozen
  • Jackass 3-D
  • MacGruber
  • Machete
  • Rabbit Hole
  • Robin Hood
  • Stone
  • Unstoppable
  • Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him)?

All Good Things is a fictional movie that is clearly based on Robert Durst. Which most people may not have known at the time. EXCEPT… Robert Durst, having seen this movie, then contacted Andrew Jarecki, the filmmaker, and said, “How about I tell you my side of this?” And then that turned into The Jinx, one of the most stunning documentary series you will ever see. So, if you’ve seen that, you’re familiar with Robert Durst. Short story: it’s a dude who pretty much clearly killed his wife in 1982 and yet somehow got away with it. The documentary goes even further than that, but the movie sticks to just the wife bit. Ryan Gosling plays the stand in for Durst and Kirsten Dunst plays the wife. And it’s basically a rich white dude getting away with murder. The movie itself is pretty good, but it takes on a totally different tone once you see that documentary. Because holy shit. Cyrus is such a weird fucking movie. It’s a Duplass brothers movie, and is Jonah Hill right as he’s making that transition into serious actor. It’s right before Moneyball, right when he was known for nothing but comedies. And this made you go, “Jesus christ.” And it’s not that it’s technically the greatest performance ever given, but it’s an effective performance. Because the goal of the character is to be creepy and unnerving and he does that. It’s about John C. Reilly as a divorced guy who starts dating single mother Marisa Tomei. And things seem to be going well… until she introduces her to his son, Jonah Hill. He’s 21 and lives at home with his mother and is very protective of her. And because it’s the Duplass brothers, they encouraged the actors to improvise, which leads to some incredibly awkward moments between Hill and Reilly, especially since they establish a very strange relationship between Hill and Tomei. It’s such a weird fucking movie, but it works.

Frozen is not the movie with the singing ice princess. Instead, it’s a pretty cool-concept horror movie. It’s about three skiers who get stuck on a chairlift coming down from a mountain. So here they are, about a hundred feet off the ground, in freezing weather, seemingly stuck there for about twelve hours. So now they have to decide… do we jump or do we try to wait it out? And… well, things go from there. It’s a really effective movie considering it was clearly made for no money and does a lot with a little. It’s a single-location thriller and something you’ve never seen before. So on that alone, it’s a hugely successful piece of work. Stone is the second Edward Norton/Robert De Niro film. Not as good as the first one (The Score), but still interesting to see these two actors play opposite one another. Norton plays a convicted arsonist up for parole and De Niro his parole officer (who is of course about to retire). Norton, seeing that De Niro isn’t inclined to grant his release, gets his wife, Milla Jovovich, to seduce De Niro to try to sway him. And thus begins a chess game between everyone as all sorts of secrets and intrigue get unveiled. It’s solid. Worth it for the leads. Edge of Darkness is a Martin Campbell-directed, William Monahan-written, Mel Gibson-starring thriller. I originally had heard of this because Robert De Niro was originally cast in what ended up being the Ray Winstone role but quit after a few days (I think after a big argument on set). So I went into it the first time thinking, “Well this’ll be crappy,” as much as I love Mel Gibson movies. And I started watching it and… not to spoilt a whole lot, since the plot of the film is Mel avenging the death of his daughter by figuring out who is behind it and uncovering a conspiracy, but the moment where the daughter gets killed… actually made me sit up in my seat. It’s a really effective moment. And that made me more interested in the rest of the film. Which goes about how you’d expect it to go and contains very little in the way of surprise. Still though, that moment… big fan.

The Book of Eli is a Denzel action movie. That’s about the whole of it. He’s a guy in a post-apocalyptic world who has been traveling across the country with a secret book that could change the fate of mankind. Naturally, all the bad people left really want that book. It’s fun. I mean, if you really think about it, you can figure out what exactly is going on and what the book is, but that’s not really why you’re watching it. You’re mostly watching it because Denzel is beating the shit out of people and is Denzel. Machete is the feature version of the fake trailer they made for Grindhouse. Rodriguez was the first one to actually do it. Which makes sense, since Machete is a pre-existing character and everyone loves him. Mostly it’s funny that the character originated in Spy Kids and now is in these grindhouse movies, but hey, that just adds to the flavor of the whole thing. This movie, while fun, is hamstrung by the fact that it was stuck incorporating scenes from the trailer. The trailer was conceived and shot as its own thing, but never as a means to a thing. So now that they were stuck with those scenes and forced to make them make sense in the context of a feature… it dilutes the fun of it a bit. Still, it’s an enjoyable movie. I think the sequel ends up being better just because they could go balls out and weren’t tied to anything other than whatever they could dream up. But still, they get out of this what they need to. Jackass 3-D is the third one. More crazy stunts. They’re all fun, these movies. We all know what it is. Brooklyn’s Finest is a solid cop drama from Antwon Fuqua that flew under the radar almost from the moment it came out. But it’s got Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke and Wesley Snipes (who is really good in this). It’s the story of three cops, all of whom have different stories and different paths, but end up at the same location. And we follow each one leading up to that moment. And it’s quite good.

The Exploding Girl is a great little indie with Zoe Kazan as a girl on summer break from college who is dealing with a boyfriend who’s just kind of meh (as much as she’s trying to make it work) and has her best (male) friend staying with her for the summer. And it’s a bit of a coming of age film about her trying to figure it all out. She’s terrific here. It’s one of her many great performances (she’s one of those perennially underrated actresses who never gets any credit for the great work she puts out there), and is just a very effective movie that gets in and gets out without wasting any time on subplots. Rabbit Hole is an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, starring Nicole Kidman (and also Aaron Eckhart and Miles Teller). It’s about the aftermath of an accident that kills the young son of a married couple. Very dramatic, very actorly. Kidman was nominated for her performance. It’s a drama that probably works better on the stage but works well enough on the screen, with good performances all around (and also Teller’s screen debut). Barney’s Version is based on a Mordecai Richler novel. And, having seen both films based on his novels, that means something specific. Otherwise, it’s a movie with Paul Giamatti as a guy looking back over his life. And Giamatti plays him over the course of like fifty years, and it’s just about him as a person. He’s just this brash, loudmouth dude, and Giamatti gets to tear into the role with reckless abandon. The performance is quite great and the movie is very amusing. One of those things where it won’t be for everyone, but it’ll click very quickly for those it’s going to click for. MacGruber is an SNL film. Of which there are fewer and fewer as the years go on. There were a lot of these made in the 80s and 90s. It’s a play on MacGyver, and the joke of the character in sketches is that he always gets himself blown up. Here, they sort of turn it into a parody of action movies, and it mostly works. I know some people really love this movie. Personally, I think it’s dumb but has its moments.

A Cat in Paris is one of two animated movies that got nominated for Animated Feature this year (or rather, next year, 2011). They shut out boring stuff like Pixar and instead put in some cool foreign stuff. And honestly, that’s the only reason that I even know what this is. And for that, I’m grateful. This is a mystery movie about a cat (in Paris) who is a literal cat burglar. And during the day he’s just a regular house cat who lives with a little girl and her mother. Only, the girl ends up getting involved in some dangerous business involving gangsters, and the cat has to come to her aid. It’s… trust me, it’s good. It’s weird and awesome and the animation style is fantastic. The other animated film they nominated next year is Chico & Rita. This one is more… this one could have been live-action if they wanted to. But instead they went animated, which really adds to the flavor of it. It’s about a piano player and a singer who fall in love. That’s all you need to know. It’s wonderful. I’m so glad they nominated it and allowed me to come across it. Robin Hood is Ridley Scott doing Robin Hood. It’s very Gladiator. Not really sure what he was going for with it, but a Ridley Scott movie is always worth watching. Russell Crowe is Robin, Cate Blanchett is Maid Marian, Oscar Isaac is Prince John. It’s also got Max von Sydow, Mark Strong, William Hurt, Danny Huston, Lea Seydoux. Unstoppable is Tony Scott’s runaway train movie with Denzel and Chris Pine. Not much more else to say. Pure action, pure fun, good people involved. Good stuff.

Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him) is an awesome documentary about one of the great underrated singer/songwriters of the 70s. It begins with a clip of John Lennon being asked who his favorite singers are during the height of the Beatles’ fame and saying Harry Nilsson. And the doc is about how this guy with so much promise and respect from the most famous musicians of the day just didn’t become a household name. Because he’s not. Most people wouldn’t immediately know Harry Nilsson by name. But the thing is — everyone knows his music. He wrote “Everybody’s Talkin’,” from Midnight Cowboy. Also, everyone knows the lyrics ‘you put the lime in the coconut’. He wrote those. Also the song “Jump Into the Fire,” which everyone will immediately place during the helicopter sequence from Goodfellas. Not to mention his cover of “Without You, which is super famous.” Everyone knows the music, they just might not know him. And this documentary tells you all about him. How he refused to do what was expected of him and always went sideways when they wanted him to go left or right. After “Without You” was a big hit, on the next album the label wanted another love balled, what did he give them? “You’re Breakin’ My Heart,” which literally begins ‘You’re breakin’ my heart / You’re tearing it apart / So fuck you’. Dude wrote a concept album for children called The Point! that was turned into an animated film (and it’s great, by the way. It’s about The Land of Point, so called because everything in it had a point. And it’s about a boy who is born with no point). It’s brilliant and he’s brilliant, because he always went above the fray and went for smart and interesting, which wasn’t always commercial. That’s why this documentary is so good, because it tells you all about this guy you probably know nothing about. I highly recommend it. Despicable Me is the first one, before they ruined it with sequels and spinoffs and shoving the Minions down our fucking throats. It’s a fun concept: an evil genius has to become a father to three orphaned girls. Which brings out the secret good guy in him. Great premise. And the best parts of this movie are him trying to do evil but being won over by the sweetness of these girls. The worst parts of this movie are those fucking yellow bastards. Which, unfortunately, is what the franchise eventually became. So as much as this is largely a charming little movie, they’ve now buried it to the point where I wish fire to everything having to do with this franchise. Nice going, Hollywood. This is why we can’t have nice things.

Clash of the Titans — okay, I’ll admit, I don’t really love this remake all that much. I mean, it’s a watchable movie and all, but really the reason I put this here is for one line, and one line only:

Animated GIF

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