My Top 5…errrr, I mean, 7 Favorite Movies Screened in 2010

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely read my rambling preamble that I published the other day. If not, go back and read it. It’s one post below this one or better yet, you could just click here and add to my hit counts. I got kids to feed after all.

Anyway, this post accomplished two things. First off, it’s my annual rundown of my favorite movies seen in the past year. And while I haven’t seen everything, I did manage to screen 45 flicks released from the last quarter of 2009 through 2010. As I described in that prior post, most of my viewing comes via Netflix so some titles on this list may be plucked from last year. It doesn’t matter though. For my purposes, I’m offering up the list of my Top 7* Favorite Movies (screened by me for the first time) in 2010. Actual release dates are negligible.

*I know I promised 5 in that previous post, but I left one off the list in error and I realized after I wrote this piece that there was one more movie on my list of those I screened that I needed to put the spotlight on. Both movies fit in at #6 and #7, so it was easy to amend. So, some of you will see this as a bonus while those of you who enjoyed my Top 10 list last year still feel like you’re being rooked out of three selections. If you fall in the latter camp all I can say is “Suck It Up!!!”

With that said, I thought 2010 was fairly weak, especially when compared to some of the Golden Years of Recent History. At my annual Christmas Party, I got to talking with a friend about the greatest years in movie history. We keyed in on 1982 – which saw The Thing, Gandhi, Annie, Star Trek II, Rocky III, ET, Poltergeist, Tron, Conan the Barbarian… and many more. Those are some iconic movies – even if they may not be the BEST movies of all time. They linger.

Looking back at this past summer, with dreck like Prince of Persia disappearing from a crowded marketplace just as quickly as its titular alter ego, it’s easy to become despondent and pine away – “They just don’t make them like they used to.” Well, I think those magic summer movie seasons occur maybe once or twice a decade. These things are cyclical. We’ll hit another good year at some point. But for this past decade, there may have been some good movies but no true bumper crop seasons.

Oh well, that’s not what you’re here for. We’ve got business to attend to. Without further adieu, I offer up my Top 5 … errrr, I mean, 7 Favorite Movies Screened in 2010.

7. Exit Through the Gift Shop

The Simpsons have been running since I was a Senior in High School. Do you know how freakin’ old that makes that show?!?!? It’s like when we were growing up and our parents would wax rhapsodic about Dobie Gillis. Who?!?!? The thing is, kids these days may actually know their Barny Gumbel from their Bryant. Bryant?!?!? Who?!?!?!?

Believe me, this actually ties into the flick. I mention The Simpsons because with a show running that long, its bound to gain and lose viewers. Consider me one of The Lost. Hey, I gave it a good decade and a half (during its Golden Age when young bucks like Conan O’Brien were pushing pen on the writing staff). And yet, despite the fact that I haven’t seen one episode in almost a decade, I tuned in for the September 2010 Season Premiere to see the Opening Credits masterminded by Banksy, the notorious British street artist who is both the quarry and the hunter in this masterful documentary.

For starters, this is easily one of the breeziest, most entertaining documentaries I’ve seen since The King of Kong. There’s something so fascinating about that viral culture of artistic tagging – and for awhile, the film plays by the normal documentary rules. We have a subject, some knowing narration by Rhys Ifans and we’re pulled into a fascinating counter-culture.

But as filmmaker Thierry Guetta closes in on the elusive Banksy, he finds an all-too willing collaborator who just happens to have a few tricks up his sleeve, aimed at Thierry, the audience and the world at large.

The film is currently available for streaming on Netflix, so I demand that you rush out and view it tonight. It’s a fun, funny and thought provoking take on art and celebrity. And if you haven’t caught Banksy’s Simpsons intro, Google it. Some ballsy stuff for prime-time, and I salute Fox as much as I do Banksy for letting that thing air unfettered.

6.   Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1

I have a piece that I plan to write in the next few weeks where I’ll argue that Harry Potter is bigger than Jesus… or at least Jar-Jar. All right, we’ll let the Beatles keep their lock on blasphemy but I truly do believe that Harry Potter is Star Wars‘ equal and stands to eclipse that juggernaut over the next few decades. This is a whole mythological universe that will define generations and it will linger as future generations share the magic with those they shepherd into this world.

Alas, that’s a tale for another day but stay tuned, because it’s been churning in my brain pan.

I think J.K. Rowling’s awe-inspiring feat of wondrous world-building has been matched on the silver screen – and they both serve to compliment each other – thus lending this epic a longevity that shall never perish.

These films just keep getting better and better. And as much as the original director Chris Columbus was maligned for his workmanlike job on the first two flicks, you have to credit him with laying the foundation – with casting these pivotal roles. I mean just look at how each actor has grown into their parts. The sign of a great performance is when you can’t imagine anyone else in that role. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson ARE Harry, Ralph Malph (errr, Ron Weasley) and Hermione Granger. Nobody does it better.

If I cherish this series this much now… imagine when Colin and Aria are old enough to soak it in. This will be with me a long time and my world is all the better for it.

5.   Toy Story 3

Every year, PIXAR makes its way onto my list. They’re just that good. With that said, they usually rate a little bit higher and I think in a better field, this film may not have cracked my Top 5. I think that has a lot to do with sequelitis.

While Toy Story 2 acted as that rare sequel that bests the original, I felt this third go-round went more for laughs and less for that potent blend of original storytelling that these maestros have made their mark upon. I’ll admit that in the last few moments, they had various members of my household choked up but I think I’ve appreciated the brave new worlds that recent releases, such as Ratatouille and Wall-E, brought me to.

That’s not a knock though. This was still one of the most entertaining films I’d seen this year; and every year, I look forward to the Humphries Family expedition to screen the latest PIXAR masterpiece. Movies are so expensive these days so it’s nice to know, going in, that you are going to get your money’s worth and as far as I’m concerned, these guys get me in the wallet (and the heart) every damn time.

4.   How to Train Your Dragon

The fact that I chose a Dreamworks Animation flick over PIXAR on this list shocks the hell out of me… but they finally did it. For years, Dreamworks flicks have been nothing but “of the moment” entertainments surviving on a series of quick sight gags and pop-culture references that only serve to doom them upon later review. Seriously, aside from the first Shrek, is anyone going to understand half of Shrek 2 or 3 two decades from now?

With their adaptation of the popular children’s book, Dreamworks has finally entered that rarified air enjoyed by PIXAR and offered up a genuinely thrilling film that could only have been done via animation.

I love the fact that the movie takes these dragons seriously. Even the main lizard has an air of danger about him – and watching the young Viking protagonist befriend this beastie awakens that dormant little boy in all of us.

It’s a great adventure story that never puts its tale aside for a series of cheap laughs or pop-music montages and in training this dragon, Dreamworks learned quite a bit too.

3.   Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

I have a real hard time buying Michael Cera in any leading man role because I have a real hard time accepting Michael Cera as any brand of male. He has that same weird, androgynous vibe that Jack MacBrayer exudes and while MacBrayer uses it for cartoon effect, filmmakers seem to want us to buy Cera as the object of a lady’s affection. That’s a large pill to swallow.

Here’s a film that uses Cera just right and like the best films, I find it hard to picture anyone else as Scott Pilgrim. It helps that the character is ripped from a graphic novel as Cera has no problem slipping into that skin.

While it may have flamed out at the box office, this is one of those blessed films that will cultivate a cult that’s long and loyal. There’s a lot to chew on here and this is honestly one of the most unabashedly entertaining flicks I’ve seen in a good long while. It’s also the absolute pitch-perfect date movie with some blisteringly stylish battle scenes, genuine laughs and good old-fashioned romance added to the mix. And while the characters all speak in that glib-Tarentino-ese that’s oh-so popular, they never seem too cool for school. In fact, it was a pleasure just listening to them gab before the action hits fast and furious.

Finally, this flick proves I will watch anything Edgar Wright directs. After Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and now this – the guy is complete aces in my book. And his young filmography can stand with the best of them. It’s gonna’ be fun seeing where he brings us next.

2.   Inception

I think I knew I loved movies the first time I started chatting up someone about Spielberg’s filmography. I then moved on down the line to James Cameron. And then continued to regale them with tales of John Carpenter’s past. I realized I was hunting Director’s resumes the way my friends would chase ballplayer stats. I wanted to see where they came from and to what heights they could reach.

I realize that aside from a few household name directors, most people could care less who took the helm. They watch a preview, something about the story sucks them in, and voila – their ass is in the seat. And then they want to hear another story. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But I’m intrigued by the mechanics of it all and I love studying different directors and seeing how their independent visions bring certain stories to life. And then imaging what a film might have been like under different stewardship. Sometimes, that’s an impossible task. Sub Scorcese in on a Tim Burton flick. That’s bound to mess with ya’.

Take Christopher Nolan – who after Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, The Dark Knight and Inception – has permanently wedged himself on the list of my all time favorite directors. To me, a Christopher Nolan film is an EVENT – the same way Steven Spielberg’s flicks used to guarantee a Must See on Opening Night.

Beyond this, Inception gooses that part of me that loves to work through a good puzzle. And this is a dense, deceptive labyrinth whose rules are continually changing yet always maintains a shadowy sense of dream logic. It’s big, dark, daring – compelling you to look closer and turn over every intriguing image.

And then there’s that final shot that has sent so many people into the lobby arguing what it all means. I thought I had it all figured out last July. I’ve thought differently about it and am absolutely certain that NOW I know what happened. I’m sure I’ll change my mind again.

And that’s the beauty of this movie. Like a half-remembered dream, it changes to suit our perception at the time. Like the best movies and the most haunting dreams, it lingers long after its close.

1.   Up in the Air

Half way through 2009, I found my professional life ‘Up in the Air’ when I got swept up in the tsunami of layoffs that swept across our Global Economy. I spent the next year jostling for wing room in that crowded sky as I applied for close to 200 jobs and put my best foot forward to land back on my own two feet again.

My daily routine would involve the job hunt from 9 am ’til 1:30 p.m. followed by a stint on the treadmill and then I’d boogie down to my kids’ school to pick them up and spend some quality time as they enjoyed the fresh air and played amongst their school mates.

I bring this up because on one such day, I found myself on that treadmill, scanning for something to watch while ticking off the 30 minutes of cardio I’d cursed myself with, and finally settling on my wife’s DVR’d selection of The Oprah Winfrey Show – certainly not my definition of Must See TV.

Well, it WAS that day!!!

Turns out, this episode that I wandered by through complete happenstance, featured director Jason Reitman and a trio of true-life displaced employees whom Reitman pressed into service while making his “of the moment” flick, Up in the Air. And each one told their story of building a career – a second life – and then dealing with things when the rug was ripped out from underneath them. And much ado was paid to Reitman’s flick – a comedy-drama that is as much a tale of the current working climate as it is about George Clooney’s flighty loner.

This hit me at the exact right moment and I remember when I finally received the Netflix screener, I tore into it. It’s a funny movie punctuated by some telling truths. One in particular tore right into me:

“How much did they pay you to give up on your dreams?… At what point were you going to stop and go back to what made you happy?”

That’s all I needed to hear to know this was my favorite movie seen in 2010.

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