I’ve got to be honest, finding ten films that were decent enough to put on this list was not an easy thing to do. If this were a top ten mediocre films list, I would’ve had to cut it down from about 200 gigantic piles of “meh”. That’s how wretched this past year was for the cinema. However, I managed to pluck ten sparkly gems from the rotting walls of the stinking, decaying, festering cave known as the film industry, and here they are for your enjoyment:
10.) The Runaways
Now, I know what you’re going to say, “This movie has Kristen Stewart in it. Kristen freakin’ Stewart! How could it possibly be good?” Well, despite the presence of the Queen of the Twi-Tards, it is. The Runaways triumphs mostly due to Dakota Fanning’s excellent and ultimately tragic performance as Cherie Curie, the lead singer of the titular all-girl hard rock band. Her rise and fall through a 1970’s punk and glam-rock underground of booze, pills, drugs, and sexual experimentation is fascinating to watch. The Runaways were all exploited and abused both physically and emotionally by their manager, Kim Fowley. This guy oozed misogyny, sleaze, and 70’s excess, and Michael Shannon absolutely nailed every slithery, manipulative beat in his tour de force performance. Kudos must also be given here to the film’s set and costume designers, who perfectly captured the essence of the early 1970’s Los Angeles music scene.
What would really happen if some schmuck off the street strapped on a store-bought superhero costume and went out into the night to fight crime? Director Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the Mark Millar/John Romita Jr. Marvel comic series attempts to answer that question in a funny, brutal, and entertaining way. It mostly succeeds, if you can get past Nicolas Cage’s ridiculous homage to Adam West when he’s in his Big Daddy costume, anyway. The breakout character in the film is of course Chloe Moretz as the foul-mouthed, 12-year-old schoolgirl assassin Hit-Girl; whose high energy scenes of ass-kickery are stylish, funny, and cringe-worthy all at the same time. Kick-Ass is a deconstruction of superheroes and superhero films, but in the end it was a sort of love letter to them as well.
8.) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1
Director David Yates really amped up the melodrama for this penultimate chapter of the Harry Potter saga, and the result is the bleakest, most powerful, and best overall film in the series yet. These films are no longer about precocious kids running through the halls of a castle in school knickers waving wands and flying around the Quiddich pitch on brooms, they’re about sacrifice, honor, friendship, and yes, even death. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint have all developed into fine young actors. The majority of the film is spent with the three of them walking through endless forests, wind-swept plains, and craggy mountainsides; which could have easily become tedious, but the emotion and the chemistry shared amongst these three characters who have been through Hell together drove the film home. Great cinematography, spooky special effects, and a beautiful and haunting animated segment make this one a winner.
7.) Micmacs (Micmacs à tire-larigot)
I don’t get to see too many foreign films, but I’m so glad I was able to catch Jean-Pierre Juenet’s amazing Micmacs at my local art house theater over the Summer. It was perfect counter-programming to the commercial, popcorn bombast stomping through the nearby cineplex. Micmacs expertly balanced sweet, slapstick comedy with a politically-charged, anti-arms message. The result is a film that isn’t meaningless fluff, but isn’t overly preachy, either. Inventive, spectacular, and hilarious stunt pieces are the highlight of the film, as is the fantastic physical comedy of Danny Boon and the rest of the quirky French cast.
6.) Tron Legacy
Tron Legacy is an extremely polarizing film. The detractors will tell you it’s a dull, lifeless, plodding bore, with a terrible screenplay and stiff performances. Those who appreciate the movie say it’s a dazzling visual masterpiece with breath-taking digital dreamscapes and intense action set-pieces, all set to a grandiose, heart-pumping score by Daft Punk. I count myself among the latter, as I was immersed in the depth of the digital 3-D, and mesmerized by the blazing lightcycles and light-gliders. Despite the awkward CG-rendering, I also thoroughly enjoyed Jeff Bridges dual-role as Kevin Flynn and his computerized creation, CLU.
5.) Toy Story 3
When you pay to see a Disney/Pixar production, it’s a safe bet that you will get a quality movie-going experience with memorable characters and beautiful CG-animation. You also know going in, that you’ll get the standard children’s movie tropes and a happy ending. However, in Toy Story 3, there is a sequence towards the end of the film that is shockingly dark; a moment of true despair that had me convinced that all hope was lost. But after the trauma of that moment subsides, the reward is one of the most emotional and cathartic scenes of any film carrying the Walt Disney logo. Toy Story 3 is a wonderful film about the bonds of friendship, and the ability to let go and move on. It is a huge delight for children, but also functions as a wonderful pay-off for fans that have been with Woody, Buzz, and the gang since the beginning.
4.) True Grit
A well-crafted, highly entertaining, and surprisingly straightforward Western by the Coen Brothers with amazing performances by Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and its breakout star, 14-year old Hailee Steinfeld. The cinematography is beautiful, the story is terrific, and did I mention this is directed by the Coen Brothers? ‘Nuff said.
3.) The Social Network
When news of this film started hitting the Internet, the early buzz was completely negative. Almost everyone immediately dismissed it as “that stupid Facebook movie”. But they had no idea what sort of dark, engaging masterpiece David Fincher was about to unleash upon the world. I knew I was in for something special as soon as the first notes of Trent Reznor’s sparse, ominous score transformed the darkened sidewalks of Harvard University into a sinister labyrinth with dark secrets lying within its walls. The story of how Mark Zuckerberg changed the face of social networking forever is one wrought with jealousy, lust for power, class status, ambition, and betrayal, and the phenomenal young actors portraying the pieces in this fascinating chess match were absolutely incredible. Jessie Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, and even Justin Timberlake all turned in tremendous acting performances; handling Aaron Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue with aplomb. An absolute must-see and it was difficult to keep this film out of the top spot.
2.) Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Whenever I try to convince the people who were too short-sighted to see this movie in the theaters to check it out, I always use the same adjectives: dynamic, energetic, fresh, funny, clever, bold, smart, exciting, vibrant, loud, sexy, rockin’, entertaining, and most of all FUN. This film is just a blast from start to finish, making perfect use of video game references, rock music culture, and suburban angst to effectively capture the zeitgeist of the 90’s and early oughts. It’s a highly entertaining movie with well fleshed out, engaging characters, and a sweet story of love and self-respect at its core. Director Edgar Wright is a ninja with the camera and editing software, and the soundtrack just flat-out kicks ass. Those who dismiss the film as a “hipster movie” are missing the point. If anything, Scott Pilgrim holds an un-flattering mirror up to hipster society, mocking it’s too cool for school conventions at every turn. This would easily be my #1 film of the year if not for….
I went back and forth with the notion of giving the top spot to Scott Pilgrim or The Social Network, but honestly, they never had a chance, because Nolan’s labyrinthine masterpiece took hold in my brain like a parasite, or a virus, or the most contagious thing of all – an idea. Inception is brilliantly edited, masterfully crafted, and impeccably shot; with solid acting performances from the entire cast and jaw-dropping action scenes, all set to a thunderous Hans Zimmer score. Christopher Nolan delivered us a moving love story, a fiendishly clever Heist film, a relentless action movie, and an epic mind-twister all in one. No other film this year can match Inception in scale, action, spectacle, and sheer imagination.