Friday, December 31, 2010

Silver's Bakers Dozen of 2010

Yeah, so it's a little embarrassing that this is the most recent post since my last post about the top films of 2009. Hopefully I'll be a little more consistent over the coming year, a New Year's resolution.

Once again, I find it hard to limit my favorite films of 2010 to a list of just 10, so 13 it is. While I thought that 2009 was an excellent year for movies, 2010 was quite underwhelming to least at first remembrance. Many of the blockbusters that came out failed to live up to their own hype and it was a spring and summer of sequels and remakes...most of which were not very good. Movies that you will not find on this list such as Alice in Wonderland, Iron Man 2, The A-Team, or most especially The Last Airbender (more on that right before the list). However, even with these disappointments, this year had many incredible original films if you were willing to search for them, a fact that I was reminded of when I was compiling this list. But first, on to the biggest disappointment of the year, possibly decade.

Dishonorable Mention. The Last Airbender

In a year filled with disappointments we come to the biggest one for me and the final fall of M. Night Shyamalan. Like many, I had been let down by M. Night's recent films, but was curious to see how he would handle adapting a story that he didn't write. The trailers only got me more excited to see the film. The film is an adaptation of the first season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, a cartoon which aired on Nickelodeon. As the film came closer to release, I kept hearing amazing things about the show from reviewers and sites that I respect. So, even though it was a "kid's show" I felt I should at least watch a couple of episodes. The show hooked me after the pilot and I watched all 3 seasons in two weeks! Needless to say I was now really excited for the film...and then it released. I have not been so bored in a film in my entire life. I wanted to cause myself physical harm just to see if I was still conscious and not in a coma. M. Night, may your career have a swift and painful death for doing this to one of my favorite shows. Short story; please, please watch the show as it is incredible; please, please save yourself the agony of watching the worst film of this year.

So, with that off the proverbial chest, let us dive into the wonderful films that came out this year. On to #13!

13. An Education

It feels a little odd placing this film in the 2010 selection since it was nominated for several Academy Awards this past year, but the film didn't release wide until early February, it's in this year. Carey Mulligan delivers an incredibly nuanced performance, and one that I believe deserved the Oscar over Sandra Bullock, but that's neither here nor there. She grounds this coming of age story in her performance, and through it we learn the joys and hazards of being swept into a life that she didn't know existed. We watch her discover new aspects of life, make mistakes, and in the end come out a more mature woman. Come for Carey Mulligan, stay for a story well told.

12. The Fighter

This film is so much more than the trailers lead you to believe. It seems like it's just going to be another Rocky like story...and to some extent it is, and it's also much more. The film covers "Irish" Micky Ward in his rise to become a boxing champion. But the film is about the relationships around Micky and how they are both good and detrimental to him. The most inspiring part of the film is not his success, but his family putting aside their selfishness to stand behind him. Christian Bale delivers another fantastic performance as his cocaine addicted brother Dicky.

11. Exit Through the Gift Shop

How on earth do I even introduce this movie? Hmm, well, first off this one surprised the hell out of me. For those that don't know (like myself before hearing about this film) Banksy is a well known and controversial street artist (or graffiti artist) who lives in London. The film follows a man named Thierry Guetta who began documenting street art from it's lower levels until he finally met Banksy. Now at this point, the film goes from Thierry behind the camera to it pointed at him as he tries to break onto the street art scene. A truly fabulous documentary that defies expectations and explanations.

10. 127 Hours

Danny Boyle has played in so many genres now, that it's nigh impossible to know what the man will tackle next. After Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture, he decided to show the world the story of Aron Ralston, the man who amputated his own arm that was under a boulder in order to survive. Boyle captures the hubris of Ralston leading to his predicament, as well as his pathos in his will to survive. Like Slumdog, you will exit the film feeling exuberant about life. The amputation scene is intense, but much less graphic than anything you've seen in a war film. James Franco turns in what is essentially a one-man performance and is one to check out.

9. True Grit

Chalk another one up for the Coens. One of my favorite parts of a Coen Brothers film is their penchant for dialogue. Once again, they do not disappoint. I could listen to the characters in this world talk for hours. For all the talk going around about Jeff Bridges, which is true, Hailee Steinfield truly steals the entire move. It truly is something when you have a movie with the likes of Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin, and yet whenever Hailee is on the screen you cannot look at anything else. Everything in this movie is meticulously done, from the screenplay and acting to the cinematography and music.

8. Winter's Bone

This is a movie that nearly flew under my radar, but kept hearing about Jennifer Lawrence in the film. The film follows her in a search for her deadbeat, meth cooking father who skipped bail, and she and her family will lose their house unless she finds him. What follows is an intense journey through the underbelly of Missouri. At a time when strong female characters are largely absent from films, the likes of Winter's Bone, An Education, and True Grit come highly recommended.

6(tie). How to Train Your Dragon

Continuing their streak after Kung Fu Panda, it seems that Dreamworks has finally discovered how to capture some of that Pixar magic. This movie may be the most fun that I have had at the movies all year. While watching the flying scenes I was laughing just from the sheer joy coming from the film. A great film to see with the whole family.

6(tie). Toy Story 3

What more can be said of the best reviewed film of the year? I thought that the film was going to be good, but I had no idea what emotional devastation awaited me. It is an unflinching look at life and death, and yet is joyous and life affirming. If you can watch this movie without tears coming to your eyes, you may not have a soul.

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Okay, so I may have fibbed a little when I said that Dragon was the most fun I had at the movies all year, because Scott Pilgrim is right up there with it. I have seen the film at least ten times, and I would watch it again right now. It has the most rocking soundtrack of the year, and the film just incredibly exuberant and fun. Bravo Edgar Wright, bravo.

4. Inception

Count on Christopher Nolan to deliver a thrill ride of an action film that is also intelligent. In a summer of poor sequels and adaptations, Inception was like a breath of fresh air. Watch it again (or for the first time) and thank whatever movie gods allowed such an adventurous film in a climate of safe sequels and adaptations.

3. The King's Speech

This movie hit a little closer to home than the others on this list. I have stuttered from a very young age, and while it has lessened as I have aged, it is still something that I struggle with. Colin Firth makes it seem like he has stuttered his whole life, which I consider one of the greatest accomplishments I have witnessed, since I have experienced how the disability works. While the premise of the movie is somewhat formulaic, like The Fighter, it is so much greater than the sum of its parts and is an absolute must see here at the start of a new year.

2. Black Swan

Black Swan is a movie that works on many different levels. On one, it is about a young woman's descent into madness as she tries to train for Swan Lake; on another, it is a modern retelling of Swan Lake, using Swan Lake as a plot device for its characters; it can also be about the dangers of seeking perfection. The film works on all of these levels. It is a dark dark film, but Aronofsky once again delivers a tour de force.

1. The Social Network

This was probably the biggest surprise of the year for me. When this film was first announced, I was disappointed that David Fincher was "wasting" his time on the Facebook movie. Boy, I could not have been more wrong. Aaron Sorkin delivers the best screenplay of the year, with the most rapid dialogue I have ever heard. Fincher directing at his most subtle, and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails delivering one of the finest scores of the year. No matter what your reason for not seeing this film, you should rectify that as soon as possible.

Well, that's about it for 2010. As 2011 enters in, this site should be updated more frequently as I hope to post at least 3 to 4 times a month. May the following year be a great one for entertainment for all of you. Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Silver's Baker's Dozen of '09

First off, this is a little bit late for my best of '09 (since it can't be called a Top 10 list), but as it's still within the first week of January, I'll let myself off the hook. In response to the title of this post, I simply could not whittle down my favorites of this year to a mere 10, I could have gotten to 11...maybe, but this frees me up a little bit more and allows me to say that I'm bucking the trend of nice even numbers and going with a prime number!

I thought that 2009 was a fitting way to go out of the aughts. While surprisingly sparse on the one massive "must-see" film (of course excepting Avatar, but I'll get to that) 2009 had a surprising amount of quality films to see over the entire course of the year. Like previous years it had it's fair share of inane drivel, but for that you'll have to go to other sites for the "Worst's Lists". So without further ado...On to #13!

13. Taken
I know that I will probably receive flak from this, and truthfully, there are better films than this released this year that aren't on this list, but for thrilling action and a balls-to-the-wall badass action hero who is in his mid 50's there isn't a better title. If you haven't yet had a chance to watch last January's surprise thrill ride, you owe it to yourself to watch Liam Neeson unleash hell on all who stand in his won't regret it.

12. Coraline
Do you remember when kids films used to have actual peril in them and would be scary? Prime examples of this would be Sleeping Beauty, The Brave Little Toaster, and The Great Mouse Detective. I remember seeing these films as a kid and getting downright frightened, but that didn't prevent me from loving these films any less. Coraline is a fantastic return to having a family film that has peril for it's heroine which makes her all the more heroic. It doesn't hurt to also have a fantastic story, utterly superb stop-motion animation, and a sublime soundtrack. Coraline will haunt your dreams in the best possible way.

10. Moon (tie)
This year saw the return of sci-fi films with a vengeance. Some of these were good, several were bad, and more than a few were superb. It also saw the release of a bunch of fantastic films that were criminally under marketed and under released. Moon fits into the latter category on both counts. It is a phenomenal debut by director Duncan Jones with the best acting I've seen come from Sam Rockwell, yet did not find the market for anything close to resembling a wide release. The story covers a the end of a three year contract, one-man mining operation on the dark side of the moon and the questions of morality, loneliness and sanity that being alone for that amount of time can raise. I won't ruin the story, but every part of this film is of the highest quality, from the cinematography to the music, which is Clint Mansell at his hauntingly best.

10. Public Enemies (tie)
When I first saw this trailer, I sincerely hoped that it would be return to form for Michael Mann a la Heat, but I was bracing myself for an epic fail like Miami Vice. Thankfully, I needn't have worried as Public Enemies is easily Mann's best film since the superb crime caper Heat. You can veritably feel the grit and grime of these robberies in the early days of the FBI. Come to see fantastic set and action pieces, stay because you can't tear your eyes away from watching the inevitable destructive end of the most charming (real life) anti-hero of the year.

9. Star Trek
I am a self-professed UNtrekkie. Pretty much none of the films did anything for me, and for the most part I did my best to avoid any Trek TV show. Needless to say, I was very upset that J.J. Abrams was going to "waste" his talent by working on Star Trek after M:I:III. Fortunately for myself and everyone who saw this film, my fears were baseless. This film was one of the most fun summer joyrides I have had in a while. The pacing is breakneck, the visual effects are fantastic, and the story and characters are just a blast to watch. Live long and prosper, indeed.

8. Up in the Air
No current filmmaker is a master of satire like Jason Reitman. Both of his previous films, Thank You for Smoking and Juno, are intensely funny, while maintaining a genuine heart about the characters. Up in the Air proves to be his most intimate film yet. It is a poignant look at corporate firing culture, relationships, and the cost of willingly being on the road for 90% of the year. George Clooney is at his subtle best as a man whose job is to fire people when their bosses don't have the guts to do it themselves. In our "plug in, tune out" culture, this film is a real wake up call to the costs and joys of real relationships.

7. The Brothers Bloom
For all two of you who somehow accidentally stumbled onto this blog, you already know of my love of Rian Johnson and his newest film, The Brothers Bloom from my previous post. This was one of the most delightful times that I've had at the movies. The movie is a con movie that doesn't focus on the con. Why see it then? I'll tell you why, because in this case the characters are so interesting to watch and see the emotional payoff for them, that the actual con is only there to serve the characters. If all of this sounds somewhat subversive to the con man genre, it is. But, it is also an incredibly fun and intelligent film that begs to be seen.

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson makes a return to the heartfelt and dysfunctional family pictures! This film shocked me. After watching the trailers, I knew that I would end up seeing the film, but was fairly certain that I would end up not liking it. I thought this primarily because of the jerky animation style and I was worried that Anderson's self-aware film style wouldn't work well in an animated children's film. Luckily for myself and everyone who had the opportunity to see this film, I was wrong on both counts. The story is surprisingly heartfelt and very mature in how it approaches the family unit and the inherent dysfunctions thereof. The animation reminded me of Aardman Animation's Wallace & Gromit films. These films are not an example of pristine animation, but they are an example of animation that has charm absolutely oozing from every loving frame. Fantastic Mr. Fox dares you to not fall in love with its's impossible not to.

5. Inglourious Basterds
I, like most people, went into this movie expecting a violent love letter from Quentin Tarantino to the "Dirty Dozen" WWII movies of old. What I did not expect was that it was a violent love letter to those films, but was also be an incredibly taut, personal, verbose thriller. Only Tarantino could have his opening scene be a half-hour of the an SS officer talking to a farmer be the most nail-biting intense scene I'd seen that year...only to have the tension increased during a drinking game at a local bar between undercover agents and drunk Nazis. Intrigued yet? You should be. You should also check out this film.

4. The Hurt Locker
Once again, if you've read my previous post, you know that I'm a little upset at Summit Entertainment for screwing over the distribution and marketing for both The Brothers Bloom, and also The Hurt Locker. DO NOT let their stupidity keep you from seeing this movie. It is hands down one of the most thoughtful looks on military life over in Iraq. Shockingly for a Hollywood film, it also doesn't preach at you or take sides on the war. The film just shows you what a day in the life of the bomb squad is like...and damn, it's intense.

3. (500) Days of Summer
Normally, I hate Hollywood love stories. I also feel this hate is somewhat justified. The typical film is telegraphed so far ahead, that I know how the movie will play even before the opening title rolls. I also hate how the "Hollywood" version of love is so incredibly far removed from how life works, that it just makes wishing for anything like the movies completely ridiculous. Fortunately for everyone involved (500) Days of Summer is the antidote. It portrays love in a completely believable manner, with the ups and downs that naturally happen in a relationship. This film makes the punch-drunk, love-sick, die hard romantic in me just stand up and cheer. Favorite scene, Expectations vs. Reality.

2. District 9
You will not see another film like District 9 over this past decade. One reviewer called it the most important sci-fi film in the last 10 years. I'm inclined to agree. It combines an excellent story with near perfect CG character work to create an incredibly tense and immersive movie. Made for $30 million (less than the budget for Julie & Julia), the experience is as immersive as Avatar, but with important and razor sharp storytelling. District 9 will blow your mind and influence science fiction for the next 20 years.

1. Up
Really... Why are you reading this? If you haven't seen this film, shame on you. Each year I wonder if Pixar will be able to pull it off, and every single amazing year I'm ashamed by my doubt in Pixar. Up is the most soul touching film you will see all year. This film has me in tears every damn time, and I love it. You'll be laughing, crying, and cheering along this hour and a half of brilliance. Pay attention to Michael Giacchino's score, which is my prediction for the Oscar for Best Original Score. Marvel at the 6 minutes of silence that perfectly sums up the life of Carl & Ellie. But most of all, let yourself be taken away by the majesty that is Up.

And because I feel obliged to explain:

Honorable Mention: Avatar

That is correct, Avatar isn't in my top 10. It didn't even make the Baker's Dozen list! "But how can this be?!?!" you ask. Well, I'll give my answer to the best of my ability. Whether it's valid to you is not my concern. Avatar contains some sumptuous eye candy...ok a ton of sumptuous eye candy. Avatar is by absolutely no means a bad film, it's actually pretty darn good. However, it is not Best Picture quality, simply due to the story. The story is a rehash of every "man goes to fight natives, lives among them, comes to love them, ends fighting with them against own people" story ever told. This in and of itself is not a detractor, if Cameron would have made the story in a new and fresh way...he didn't. The villains (and actually, most of the cast) are two dimensional, the story is incredibly preachy, and the movie just didn't immerse me. I always felt like I was watching a pretty film with 3-D glasses on, not like I was being drawn in through a window into another world. Which is a shame, it's such a beautiful world.