Monthly Archives: January, 2011

Top 5 Movies of 2010

To round out the first series of Top 5, I have saved the best for last. My Top 5 favorite films of 2010. These may not be the very best films, they may not be recognized by the Academy or Rotten Tomatoes, but I have seen a lot of movies and these accomplished their goal as well as entertained me.

5. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

A movie about a guy in love dealing with his girlfriend’s exes has never been so funny and “epic”. Witty comedy and splashy special effects let you know you are at the movies, this film hides nothing. It gives audiences what they want, nerdy bass players kicking the crap out of Brandon Routh.

This movie is directed by Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame. Stars Michael Cera in the title role, with a supporting cast that includes Chris Evans, Kieran Culkin, Jason Schwartzman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Anna Kendrick. This ensemble made for great cameos as well as awesome villains; no one steals the show while they all do.

For a generation of boys and girls obsessed with getting to the next boss and winning all the coins, this movie nails it. At the same time funny and awesome. It is Rom-Com meets Capcom.

4. Toy Story 3

I may be partial to this movie, seeing as how I was 9 when the first in the trilogy was released. My timeline fits very neatly with Andy’s, I have my X-Men and Star Wars action figures in the attic waiting for my son. I cried in this movie multiple times, Pixar can do that to grown men.

Directed by Lee Unkrich, written by the Pixar team lead by John Lasseter, this is my favorite Pixar film since Toy Story was released in 1995. This film, as with any good sequel, has matured out of the original story. Woody has grown more laid back; Buzz and Jessie are less adventurous. They all still hold hope that one day they will be played with again. It is a theme I first saw in the John Lasseter original idea of The Brave Little Toaster (1987). What if the things we cherish so much as a child have personalities and life, and what if we outgrow them?

Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, and Ned Beatty top of the cast of the masterful animated adventure. See any Disney Pixar film you can, but most definitely see the Toy Story Trilogy.

3. Black Swan

Hauntingly real and insane at the same time. Having little interest in ballet, this film made me scared of ballerinas. This movie is about a young girl who receives the part of the swan princess in Swan Lake. She performs her version of the white swan flawlessly, it is her black swan that she has trouble letting go of. In an effort to set free her inner darkness for the performance of a lifetime she opens up a side of herself she had been hiding for many years. Obsession is an understatement in this film.

Directed immaculately by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman in the title role, with Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis. As much as I love Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, I firmly believe this is Aronofsky’s best work. It is simple and to the point, yet you still leave somewhat baffled by what you just witnessed.

Natalie Portman will win the Oscar. This story of the depth of the human mind reaches a part of you that you may be aware of but do not understand. It is portrayed to perfection by an incredible cast. If you don’t like ballet, go see this movie, you may learn to fear it.

2. Inception

This was the movie I most anticipated this year. After hearing about Christopher Nolan’s idea for this film after The Dark Knight, I knew it would be incredible. A large blockbuster that is crazy-awesome that really boils down to love and loved lost.

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, who first bent our minds with Memento (2000). A great ensemble cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, and Cillian Murphy. The best group of actors in a movie since Ocean’s Eleven.

The wonder of this movie is that it is a tragic love story hidden as a heist movie, hidden as a science fiction film, hidden as a summer action smash. You have to watch it over and over again to through all the levels, but they are there. This one didn’t surprise, but it did exceed expectations.

1. The Social Network

600 million people use Facebook, that is a BIG number. This is a dramatic retelling of how that came to be. How a self proclaimed nerd got pissed off one night and started a revolution with a friend. There can be an argument made that this may be the most relevant movie made for its time. I think so. I have a Facebook, chances are you do to. Mark Zuckerberg can be thanked for that. In the film it is balanced between loving him and hating him, but if you stop and think, you will somewhat understand him. He is a genius, he made money on it, anyone else would do the same if given the opportunity.

David Fincher makes great movies that make people think. All the way back to Se7en up to the Oscar darling The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, he loves his craft. He saturates his films with a blurry vision reality, of heightened versions of characters that we want to follow into project mayhem. The young and untested cast sold this film. The three players are Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield as Eduardo, and Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker. These three young men are guaranteed bright futures (Timberlake as an actor). The honesty they each gave to their characters made you forget you were watching actors. That is a sign of a great film.

On a philosophical, emotional, intellectual level, this movie connected with me and obviously many others. Great pace, great vision, great acting. The most perfect film of 2010.

Honorable mentions

6. True Grit

7. The King’s Speech

8. Kick-Ass

9. The Town

10. Tron: Legacy

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Top 5 albums of 2010

part 2 of 3

5. The Drums – The Drums

Out of Brooklyn comes my favorite new band of 2010. The Drums are upbeat and lively, this album was perfect summer fun. With key tracks such as “Let’s Go Surfing” and “I Need Fun in My Life” you get a sense of joy, as opposed so many of depressing songs coming out of the independent arena. This band has fun and they write fun and they make you feel fun. Catchy, musical, and awesome!

Listen to: “Let’s Go Surfing”, “I Need Fun in My Life”, “Me and the Moon”

4. The Social Network Soundtrack – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

With The Social Network being my favorite film of the year, it is no surprise I also loved the soundtrack. It is amazing because Trent Reznor has no history or credentials when it comes to film scores, and yet he blows me away. This soundtrack is simple while being highly complex at the same time. It flows so perfectly in and out of consciences thought, you feel like you are in a dorm room creating Facebook, you feel as though you speaking to attorneys, and you feel as though you have betrayed your best friend. Music is perhaps more connected to feeling then pictures, at least in this case I listen and I am transported to the environment of the film. I also feel is prophesizes the future and it has a post-modern quality that lets us know Facebook will always be around.

Listen to: “In Motion”, “Penetration”, “Magnetic”  

3. The Age of Adz – Sufjan Stevens

Stevens’ first linear thought since Illinois, this was a return to songwriting and less experimental then his previous two releases. Like The Suburbs, it is mature and it is impressive to see where Sufjan Stevens has come to, with haunting vocals, simple melodies, complex chords. You need to listen more then once to actually understand that this album is his best yet, maybe not your favorite, but from beginning to end, his most complete.

Listen to: “Futile Devices”, “Now That I’m Older”, “Impossible Soul”

2. The Suburbs – Arcade Fire

After 2005 there was a very high expectation for this little band from Canada, and I am one of the many who was sadly disappointed with their sophomore effort, Neon Bible. I was skeptical when listening to The Suburbs and it surpassed my concerns and came to be my favorite Arcade Fire album thus far. It is mature in its mixing and writing and epic in its vocals and production; you scream and hum in the same sitting. Like a blast to the ears, this album was an instant hit in my car and on my stereo.

Listen to: “City with No Children”, “We Used to Wait”, “Sprawl II”

 1. The Wild Hunt – The Tallest Man on Earth

The Swedish folkster, Kristian Matsson, has come to write, perform, and record like the great folk heroes of the 1960s. This is one of the few albums this year that I listened to all the way through over and over again. What is it about European folk pop that makes it so much better? I really want to know, but Matsson is the best for right now. Other then Dylan and Bazan, I do not know of a more relevant folk writer for his time. His screeching vocals and his absolute soul is what brings you to believe this guy could actually break your heart with his music. A perfect album in all regards.

Listen to: “You’re Going Back”, “King of Spain”, “Love Is All”

Top 5 Performances 2010

The first part of this inaugural 3-part series is Top 5 Performances by actors (actresses) in 2010.

5. Jeff Bridges is suddenly very popular. Again. Most people who have recent memory of Bridges think of him as “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski, a masterpiece by the Coen Brothers. This year, after winning an Academy Award, he returns as the great-great-great grandfather of the dude, Rooster Cogburn. Another Coen Brothers film, True Grit is more an adaptation of the novel by Charles Portis, then a remake of the John Wayne classic. In the film a young girl is out for revenge for her father’s murder and she hires Marshal Cogburn to help her in this, despite is unkempt appearance, foul attitude, and willingness to bend to rules, he is a man with “True Grit”. While the character is from a novel and not an original, Bridges makes it feel new and add that to the dialogue, pace, and tone of the Joel and Ethan Coen, you get a wonderfully true performance. This is what Jeff Bridges does best, honest and heartfelt acting, true to form; he nails nearly every performance he ever does. This is no exception.

I will also mention his performance in Tron: Legacy, a perfect sequel to the Disney classic. In this movie Bridges returns as the hero, Flynn, who is now stuck in digital frontier he helped create. His son must come to his rescue some 20 years later. The moment you realize that Bridges gives his all is in the end when you see his face and his pain and love are perfectly mixed as he must save his son and destroy his creation. Even in this “popcorn” movie, Bridges goes all out.

4. Jesse Eisenberg has been in three movies I have seen. These are Adventureland, Zombieland, and The Social Network. Except for the last one, he was easily written off, good, funny, and not memorable by any means. Then this year we waited for yet another David Fincher film that would touch a nerve. The Social Network did just that, being part of a generation who barely remembers before we could check a girl’s “relationship status”, it was amazing to see where that very idea was born. This film, which takes many liberties with the story of Mark Zuckerberg and the birth of Facebook, seems the most modern of films in recent memory. Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg with a pace and tone of the genius that he obviously is. While the attitude may be a bit contrived, I believed every second of story, from being broken up with and blogging about it, to the lack of interest in breaking one million users. You never hate the character, you barely feel sorry for him either, you simply understand him, somewhat, and because you have Facebook and you now appreciate how it came to be. Eisenberg will not win an Academy Award, but being cast in a Fincher film is a major step in the right direction. I applaud his performance, and continue to watch this movie over and over again.

3. Hailee Steinfeld came out of nowhere. Of all the performances this year, this one was unexpected. In True Grit, Mattie Ross is narrator, heroine, and driving force behind the chase for justice. This 14 year old girl fits perfectly into this western world of Arkansas and the Oklahoma Territory; she stands her ground with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper. As good as Bridges is in the film, Steinfeld is better. Having read the book a week before seeing this film, she embodies what Portis wrote. She is not whining, but determined and driven to get the revenge that will not satisfy her after her father’s death. Steinfeld has a bright future and like so many of the young actors this year, she has benefited from working with great directors and will hopefully continue to do so.

2. Colin Firth is King George VI. Having little knowledge of the British monarchy during World War II, I found this piece of historical fiction both entertaining and very interesting. Firth is the Duke of York, second son of King George V, he has a severe speech impediment which has embarrassed him most of his life. In an age of radio broadcasts across the country and the world, the prince is at a great disadvantage when it comes to public speaking. His old brother abdicates the thrown due to marrying a divorced woman, and Albert (his birth name) is forced to be crowned King of England. Firth plays this out smoothly, as do his peers Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush, this film shows a modern king who is in the shadow of his father and brother and who’s only friend is an eccentric linguist, Firth embodies this king and shows his humanity. He is funny, noble, brave, and angry and you believe Firth has a real fear of speaking and has a hard time handling emotions of any sort. By far the best performance by any actor in a leading role, obviously the critics and the Hollywood Foreign Press agree.

1. Natalie Portman has dedication and heart, so much so, it is scary in Black Swan. Portman portrays a young ballerina who competes to be the swan princess, her white swan is clean and perfect, and it is her black swan that is not sensual, devious, and dark enough. The greatest performance by any actor is when you completely forget that they are acting and you believe you are seeing something completely different. This is nearly impossible to do, but Portman does it so flawlessly. We believe she is insecure, obsessive, and that she is going crazy. Darren Aronofsky sets the tone, the lighting, the angle, and Portman takes you into the psyche of young woman who will give everything for the greatest performance of her life. It is apparent that Portman will win all the awards, and I rightly agree. Her performance is the best performance by any actor, male or female.

Top 5

One of my favorite films, and novels, is High Fidelity. So in accordance with the game played in that story, I will be doing “Top 5” lists and reviews over the next few days for the past year.