Is it possible to say that we’ve seen some awful movies recently? Yes, we have? But must this be classified as a horrible year for movies? Depends on your angle. Maybe those people who can’t see a bright spot have been subjected to too many viewings of “Robin Hood.” “Robin Hood” brought out the very worst that movies can be. It was overly long and painstakingly dull. The action was too quick to be admired. In the end, it was just a two hour trailer for a sequel no one is even interested in seeing.
Then, there was “The A-Team,” a fine example of Hollywood creative bankruptcy. The film mainly consisted of sloppily edited action sequences, unfunny jokes that made no sense, and a plot that’s beyond incomprehensible. Seriously, if the audience is supposed to buy into the idea of a flying tank, the world being portrayed must first be remotely believable. Without that, it’s just a tank being held up by a parachute. This would likely be a top contender for worst of the year had it not been for “Robin Hood.”
It seems funny to say that for the first half of the summer, the best movie was “Iron Man 2.” “Iron Man 2″ lacked the surprising fun of its predecessor. Two great villains and a surprising story were bogged down by a need to constantly promote the upcoming “Avengers” movie. It would’ve been much better had Robert Downey Jr. had just been allowed to do whatever he wanted to.
The conventional superhero genre may be dead, but the graphic novel genre is just being born in an amazing new way. The ambitions and satirical edginess of the late summer pleasure “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” cannot easily be equaled. The more I think about it, the more “Scott Pilgrim” stands out as a perfect representation of our current world. It parodies video games, comic books, and hipsters like only someone who has ever been involved with video games, comic books, and hipsters could. Edgar Wright is officially the satirist film director of our generation.
Of all the sequels, prequels, and remakes to grace the cinema this summer, of course the only one actually worth seeing comes from Pixar. “Toy Story 3″ is the rare sequel that not only felt necessary, but also worked to finish a story. It also brought tears to my eyes for all the right reasons. The “Toy Story” saga began with the story of a child and ended with the child going to college. Maybe the reason that this film seemed even more meaningful to teenagers than children is that it fit in so perfectly with our lives. Now, I need to think twice before leaving a toy behind.
Pixar may rule the animated genre, but that doesn’t mean that competitors don’t have a chance. The scrappy debut effort “Despicable Me” didn’t have the money and talent of Pixar, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be worthy entertainment. This one might be meant more for kids, but it got me with its near perfect voice talent (Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Will Arnett) and little creatures called Minions.
As usual, the greatest summer delights came from the indie surprises. On the darker side, there was the twisted creature feature “Splice” and the hauntingly realistic “Winter’s Bone.”
“Splice” was far from perfect, but it was without a doubt one of the most expertly directed films made in a while. Vincenzo Natali so effortlessly vacillates between the many different moods and feelings projected by the film. Until the very conventional ending, he made “Splice” something truly special. I can’t wait to watch “Cube,” and all other films he has planned down the line.
“Winter’s Bone” was a much different film than you’d expect to see over the summer. The cold, harsh Ozark landscape certainly contrasts the summer attitude. But the film played off both murder mystery and character study so well. I guess this one was just too dark and too realistic to reach out to a wider audience.
Another indie that didn’t reach out as far as it should’ve was “Cyrus.” I will admit that my expectations for “Cyrus” were extremely high and that they weren’t exactly met. I certainly got a different movie than I anticipated. Still, it certainly surprised me in a good way. It was frank and understanding while being so hilarious and breezy. It also elevated Jonah Hill from good comedic actor to impressive dramatic actor. Maybe the love triangle was a little too weird for some people.
The indie community can live with one true victory this summer: “The Kids Are All Right.” “The Kids Are All Right” deserves so much praise for so many reasons. No comedy in the past year has felt this warm, inviting, and all out hilarious. Not to mention, it also contains a groundbreaking portrayal of a lesbian couple as, well, normal. “The Kids Are All Right” could’ve been about a man and a woman and their relationship wouldn’t have been much different.
Now, I save the best for last. It’s a pretty obvious choice, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t talk about it one last time. It’s Christopher Nolan’s brilliant triumph, “Inception.” Maybe I’ve talked enough about this movie, but the more I talk about it, the more I enjoy it. Now is no time for further in depth analysis. Now it is time to praise “Inception” for what it really is: the smart and original blockbuster we don’t get anymore. The film certainly has its faults, and it is definitely too early to put it next to the likes of “Citizen Kane” and “The Godfather.” But appreciate “Inception” for what it is, because we rarely get a film like it. Then again, with its huge box office success, perhaps studios will finally start to take risks on original ideas.
That’s summer 2010 for you. It was a summer in which good ideas and imagination triumphed over the uninspired. However, summer is not over yet. “Piranha 3D” is just around the corner.
So far, this year in cinema has been quite odd. So far, trash has just been piling on and on. Big films have either been disappointing or flat out awful. “Robin Hood” was an example of Hollywood desperately trying to market off an existing franchise. That one failed, miserably. Another movie, “The A-Team,” is an example of the death of both originality and intellect.
Yet, maybe the financial troubles of those two films could prove that the public is actually starting to search for quality, not crap. But then again, some really great films also had trouble finding an audience. And yes, there have been a few really great films so far this year, ones that will most likely make it onto my year end top 10 list.
The best films so far this year are a mixture of independent and mainstream. Some are ultra violent, and others are ultra silly. Since we are only halfway through the year, I will do only half of a top 10 list. Here are my five favorite films so far from 2010. They are listed in alphabetical order, as I still have half a year to decide what is truly best.
Nobody can do Realism quite like the Brits can. “Fish Tank” is a gritty and unflinching look at the troubles of a rebellious teenage girl living in a London slum. It’s documentary-like style is almost painful; it introduces to moments that perhaps we aren’t even supposed to see. But we’re looking at it for the better. Even from a removed distance, we feel with the characters, and change with them. Challenge yourself to watch it; you won’t regret it.
The movie to end all superhero movies, though it probably won’t. “Kick-Ass” manages to be so many things. While it’s a social satire about why superheroes can’t exist in reality, it’s also a fine entry into the superhero genre. It’s one of the best made films in a while, and it contains some amazingly shot action sequences. It’s also not afraid to get gory. In a world where few things seem taboo anymore, “Kick-Ass” is the rare film that actually feels edgy for all the right reasons. Oh, and I have to mention Hit-Girl. Believe me, you’ll never stop talking about her.
By far the most underrated film of the year. Most unfortunately saw “MacGruber” as dumb and unnecessarily vulgar. Vulgar indeed, but not stupid. What exactly is the essence of the brilliance of “MacGruber”? Is it how it managed to take a one minute long sketch and develop it into a feature length story? Or is it how perfectly it mocked the action genre without repeatedly winking at the audience? I would say a little bit of both. I think what made “MacGruber” ultimately so satisfying is that it’s truly, originally hilarious. It might not have made as much as “Killers,” but I think we all know which one people will be talking about 10 years from now.
If there’s one person on the planet who could make a mainstream film feel like art, it’s Martin Scorsese. “Shutter Island” could’ve been a total disaster, but all it really needed was someone with as extensive a knowledge of film as Scorsese has. The film is a throwback to ’50s noir. It utilizes cinematography and soundtrack to the highest degree in order to elevate the extremely creepy atmosphere. It’s brilliant technically, but it’s also given a heart by the emotionally complex performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, who proves himself a better and better actor everyday. And unless you’ve read the book, there’s a nice little surprise waiting for you at the end. “Shutter Island” is a movie made for movie lovers.
Toy Story 3
Few movies have the capacity to both make me cry and feel like a child again. Congratulations, “Toy Story 3,” on getting nostalgia down right. “Toy Story” captured two very important moments in my life: the beginning of my childhood, and the end of it. I remember seeing the first one in theaters, and I’ll never forget when I saw the third one. But if you didn’t grow up with “Toy Story,” then see it because it proves why animation is officially a respectable form of art in society. It’s fun and it’s filled with more actual jokes than just pop culture references. Pixar, keep being you.
A Few Other Good Ones: Hot Tub Time Machine, Greenberg, Cyrus, Winter’s Bone, Splice, The Ghost Writer
How rare it is to find a sequel that’s not looking to sell a new toy line, or even another three sequels. How nice it is when a sequel would rather continue telling a story, than capitalize off of it. That rare day has come with “Toy Story 3.”
Then again, this should’ve been expected by this point. Pixar cemented its status as the greatest animation creator since Walt Disney years ago and they proved they could handle sequels when “Toy Story 2″ was released 11 years ago.
Rather than start directly where it last left off, “Toy Story 3″ takes place in the present day. Andy is now 18 and heading off to college. He hasn’t played with any of his toys in years. While he means to keep them stored in the attic, the toys end up being donated to a day care center by accident. What seems at first like paradise with a benevolent bunch of toys, including Lotso (Ned Beatty) and Ken (Michael Keaton), turns into a living hell for deserted toys. The mission, once again, is to get back to Andy.
Despite being locked up in a chest for years, the toys haven’t changed at all. Woody (Tom Hanks) remains the most loyal friend in the world. Buzz (Tim Allen) still believes he’s a real space cadet. Jesse, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Rex, Hamm, and even the little red monkeys, are all still there. And let the nostalgia begin.
When the original “Toy Story” was released in 1995, it ushered in an era of computer animation. It’s incredible to see how far the genre has come since then with the characters that started it. By this point, “Toy Story 3″ doesn’t even look like it was created on a computer. It might as well have been shot on real Hollywood sets. Well, it might just look even more real than that.
“Toy Story 3″ also has the benefit of 3D. That’s right, I said benefit. The only other movie I’ve seen that’s benefited from 3D is “Avatar” (the wine cork scene from “The Final Destination” doesn’t count). What works with the 3D in “Toy Story 3″ is that its not gimmicky. Nothing pops out at you. The characters and settings pop out of the screen organically. If more filmmakers could harness 3D in appropriate ways like this, then I might just hop on board.
“Toy Story 3″ certainly doesn’t hide behind its visuals. Who needs them with a story this good? The movie might be a slightly basic variation of the first two (toys get lost, toys try to get back from Andy), but that doesn’t mean it’s not original. Most sequels usually lazily ripoff their predecessors. Pixar is too good for that.
Not only does the story feel fresh, but so does every individual moment. That’s another rarity. For example, “Shrek 2″ tried to teach important lessons like its predecessor. Yet, they were basically the same as the original, and therefore felt nowhere near as effective. However, every little poignant moment in “Toy Story 3″ feels so new.
And once again, Pixar proves it amazing ability to bring human qualities to the nonhuman. Sure, its not too hard to feel sympathetic for a fish, or even a kind rat. But making the audience care for inanimate objects is no easy task. Once again, this task is pulled off perfectly. What we see is that a toy can be just as good a friend as any person.
To classify “Toy Story 3″ as a kids’ movie would be a gross inaccuracy. It is a family movie, meaning any member of a family, at any age, will get something out of this movie. Children will learn the value of friendship and commitment. They will also get an exciting story. Teens and adults might even get a more enriched experience. Some of the humor involves a keen sense of observation, and some film knowledge (spot the “Cool Hand Luke” reference). This movie should finally teach the haters that animation is not purely kiddie junk.
Now, I’m going to do something I don’t normally do. Rather than discuss “Toy Story 3″ for what makes it such a great movie, I’m going to discuss what this movie means to me. The “Toy Story” series will always hold a special place in my heart, and this sequel certified it. How amazing it is that the creators coincided Andy’s life with both the beginning of mine, and my entry into adulthood. Pixar doesn’t always deal much with its human characters, but Andy’s college angst feels too familiar. “Toy Story 3″ made me want to rediscover my childhood.
This also helped make every character even more meaningful to me. There is a moment toward the end, which I obviously won’t fully reveal. It was handled so maturely, and it’s so dark, that I’m shocked the studio didn’t alter it. Yet, it shows us the unbreakable friendship between the toys. After all these years, they’re still together. After all these years, I still want to be a part of their journey.
As a friend lamented once the movie ended, “‘Toy Story 3′ represents the end of my childhood.”* Pixar bookmarked the start and end of my childhood. It was one of the first movies I remember seeing, and one of the last ones I’ll see before I walk down graduation isle. As the film’s conclusion showed, it’s not just about the end of one phase of life, but the beginning of a new one. And if this new beginning might also signal more time with Woody, Buzz, and the gang, then count me in.
*Quote attributed to Reverend Doctor Eric H. Wessan