Theatrical Review: My List of the Best and Most Disappointing Movies of 2010

So, I’m probably running behind in comparison to others in putting together a Top 10 list of movies for 2010, but I’ve been thinking about it a bit before putting it together, so that’s my excuse and I’ll run with that…

I don’t consider myself a professional movie critic by any means. Even though I do review movies for The Trades web site and have the opportunity for press screenings, I’m not getting paid for any of this and so still have the right to pick and choose what I’m going to see throughout any given year. I do see a lot of movies theatrically throughout a given year, but I don’t see all of them. This list is culled from that. There’s a few movies that I would’ve liked to have seen this past year, but just didn’t get the opportunity. In the case of two of them, Catfish and Buried, They just didn’t play in an area here that was convenient to get to. In the case of Jean Jeunet’s Micmacs it just didn’t show here at all. Some honorable mentions before we get into the final list include Antoine Fuqua’s cop drama Brooklyn’s Finest, Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley in the highly underrated sci-fi movie Splice, and the fun as hell blend of martial arts and westerns, The Warrior’s Way. If this was a top 13 list, they would’ve filled the spots. So with that said, off we go onto the best of the year, starting with number 10…

10. Piranha 3D
For some this would be seen as a “guilty pleasure,” but I don’t feel guilty in the slightest for my enjoyment of this movie. I love exploitation films, and Piranha 3D wallows in being an exploitation film and has so much fun along the way. Director Alexandre Aja has taken the original film from the 70s and kept it’s overall structure pretty much in line, but takes advantage of a far bigger budget and the gimmick of 3D, and he knows it’s a gimmick and plays it to the hilt. Gratuitous violence and nudity abound in this fun little nature-runs-amok piece made for an irresistible combination for me.

9. Paranormal Activity 2
Last year’s Paranormal Activity was number 3 for me on my list of favorite films for 2009, and I’m happy to be able to put the sequel down on my list for 2010. This is both a sequel and prequel to the little movie that could using the same technique of “found footage” in telling the story of demonic activity. it gets expanded on in technique with more camera footage to use and ties in very closely to the first film and it’s just a fun ride from start to finish. Can’t wait to see the third…

8. Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky’s latest film is just a fantastic look into the dark side of creativity that never plays it safe and is highlighted by a terrific performance from Natalie Portman. It’s a beautiful production, and I’d expect no less from Aronofsky.

7. The Fighter
Director David O. Russell and star Mark Wahlberg tells us the moving story of boxing brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund and deliver a footnote sports history movie that’s both tremendously authentic and moving. Wahlberg has been wanting to get this on screen for quite awhile and he’s put his heart right into it. He’s terrific in the film but gets overshadowed by showier performances from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. Kudos to Wahlberg though for being that generous an actor to do that. This one’s a big winner and literally brought a lump to my throat in it’s final fight.

6. The Book Of Eli
One of the earliest movies that I saw in the year is still one of my big favorites. The fifth movie from The Hughes Brothers tells a story of faith in a post-apocalyptic future and the efforts of one man to keep it alive. Easily one of the best looking movies I’ve seen all year with exacting composition on damn near ever shot in the film. It wouldn’t mean a thing though without the immense gravity that leads Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman bring to their respective parts.

5. 127 Hours
Director Danny Boyle tells us the true story of Aron Ralston and his harrowing struggle to stay alive over a five day period while being trapped in a narrow canyon crevasse. Boyle’s direction is kinetic and exciting and still never loses sight of it’s main focus, being the perseverance of one man’s spirit to stay alive. For my money, James Franco gave this year’s best single performance as Ralston and I hope he gets recognized for it.

4. The Social Network
Director David Fincher and writer Aaron Sorkin tell us the story of the origin of Facebook, and give us a tale of ambition that’s right for the time. The amazing thing is that they’ve made this compelling with nary a sympathetic character in sight. You’ve got a talented young cast here with Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer, and for the most part, you’ll probably hate them all the way through, but the story itself carries the day. I cannot wait to see this again (and hopefully will within the next day).

3. The Town
Masterful work from director and star Ben Affleck, who tells us the story of criminal Doug MacRay and trying to get out of a life that’s the only thing he knows. Affleck’s action scenes are as thrilling as they come, but they’re balanced out with the right quiet moments in between. Affleck is terrific here in front of the camera, but doesn’t hog the spotlight and the ensemble cast he has around him is just awesome, including Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Blake Lively and my favorite of the bunch, Jon Hamm. Don’t miss this one…

2. Toy Story 3
Pixar Studios continues the story of Cowboy Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the gang and they do it with comedy, action, adventure, romance and sentiment. And it’s all in the state of the art when it comes to computer animation and cinematic techniques. You’ve got a spot-on voice cast and a story that goes from broad comedy to genuine pathos that can bring a tear to the eye. Pixar can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.

And finally…

1. Inception
Christopher Nolan’s follow-up to The Dark Knight, is this terrifically conceived story/idea of dream invasion and the implanting of an idea into a specific target. What you get is a summer movie that has all the right action beats but gives you plenty to think about as well, all within the trappings of a classic caper film. Everything is spot-on in this, with stand-outs in production design, editing, a killer score from Hans Zimmer, and an ensemble cast that’s thoroughly convicted to getting it right. That cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Marion Cotilliard all at the top of their games. This one demands repeat viewings with it’s many layers of depth and it’s captivating ideas, and for me, it’s the best movie and movie experience of 2010.

Now onto the worst, and maybe worst isn’t quite the right word, let’s just say disappointing instead. As I said above, I don’t see everything that’s out there and I expect that if I saw a Katherine Heigl romantic comedy or Kevin Smith’s Cop Out I’d probably have some new leaders here. So here’s five that I was most disappointed by:

5. Legion
This story of God having had it with the way that humans have run the world and wanting to start it all over is more concerned with looking cool than giving anything to us that has any sort of real thought behind it.

4. Jonah Hex
This adaptation of DC Comics’ biggest western character is a choppy mess that’s more concerned with blowing things up than mining the real mythos behind Jonah Hex, much less give us a good solid western.

3. The Last Airbender
M. Night Shymalan’s adaptation of the Nickelodeon cartoon series misses the boat entirely and loses all of the fun of the TV series, with boring characterizations, a disjointed story and action sequences that have no affinity for doing them right. Thank goodness I didn’t see it in 3D…

2. Robin Hood
Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe try to give us a new and edgier origin to a classic character that’s over-bloated and full of political angst, and loses all of the fun that should be part and parcel to Robin Hood.

1. Tron: Legacy
This long-awaited sequel to Disney’s original 1982 movie Tron was the biggest disappointment of the year for me. There’s nothing wrong with doing a deconstructed, darker vision of a classic franchise when it’s done right. Part of doing it right means keeping true to it’s source in some aspects and imbedding it with the right amount of humanity- Christopher Nolan has done this with his reinvention of Batman for the big screen and it’s been done on television by Ron Moore with Battlestar Galactica. Both succeed in big ways, because even though they are darker and edgier, they’re also still fun, loaded with humanity and not embarrassed by their sources. Tron: Legacy feels to me like the writers certainly loved the original as kids, but now they’re embarrassed by parts of that that they probably see as too corny for today’s audiences. They seek to rectify that situation and in the process lose all of the sense of fun and wonder that was in the original. Add to this a cliched-as-can-be lead character, a tired father-son story and lackluster 3D and you get something, that to me, was just totally soulless. This actually would’ve tied with Robin Hood but the thing that pushed it over the edge was it’s poor 3D, and really there was no excuse for that at all. From what I’m reading around the interwebs though, I’m a minority on this one, but still I’ll stand by it.

That’s it, even with the disappointments, 2010 was still a pretty good year at the movies as far as I was concerned. I look forward to seeing many in my top 10 (or top 13) again and again in the future. Here’s hoping that 2011 delivers the right stuff as well…

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

23. January 2011 by Darren Goodhart
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