R0BTRAIN’s Top 10 of 2010

A year like 2010 reminds me of why I began loving movies in the first place. ‘80s action was back in a big way, one of the biggest films of the year was also one of the smartest science fiction films I’ve ever seen, the Coen Bros decided to forgo their usual pseudo-Western in favor of a full on horse opera, and I couldn’t get enough of cult comic books becoming instant cult classics on the big screen. For me, 2010 was like an all-you-can-eat buffet of great movies, and I got pretty fat on one amazing picture after another.

Also, aside from what Hollywood was giving me, I lived the high life this year when it came to Asian cinema in 2010. Korean movies were back in a huge way, Hong Kong cinema seemed to go back to its roots, and great films seemed to pop up in new places ready to join in the fight, such as Vietnam and Indonesia. Old masters such as Tsui Hark and John Woo also stepped back up to the plate, and newer film makers such as Kim Ji-woon and Bong Joon-ho continued their dominance. If it wasn’t a Korean Western that was blowing my mind, it was a period martial arts movie, or the return of an Asian cinema legend that ended up blowing my mind this past year.

It was a great year for comebacks, new voices, and astonishing examples of pure showmanship. 2010 was a year for great film makers to make great films, and a year where old masters reminded us why we loved them in the first place. The last 12 months may have had its share of stinkers (The Last Airbender, Jonah Hex), but you couldn’t go 10 paces without tripping over another awesome movie. There was never a time when I wasn’t looking forward to another marvelous film right around the corner, which usually ended up living up to its billing. I’m not sure what 2011 has up its sleeve, but if it’s anywhere close to what we’ve gotten in the last 12 months, it’s going to be a fun ride indeed.

Honorable Mentions

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I pretty much went into this film (and its two Millennium Trilogy counterparts) as blindly as possible and was gladly rewarded for my troubles with a thriller that blew away any expectations I could have possibly had. Noomi Rapace is mesmerizing as Lisbeth Salander, the young hacker who falls in with disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) after he has been hired to discover the truth about a decades old murder. The audience is enveloped into the pulpy confines of the movie’s central mystery while Rapace’s Salander hypnotizes us like a cobra ready to strike. The movie’s violence may put off some, but patient viewers should be pleased to discover one of the best cinematic heroines in years, and a finale that could rival The Silence of the Lambs for intensity.

Shijuku Incident

Think you’ve seen everything from Jackie Chan? Well, you haven’t. Sure, we’ve seen the guy fall from the tops of buildings onto his head, crawl on his hands and knees through fire, and fight off armies of villains, but in 2010 Jackie Chan gave us something he never has before in his four decades onscreen; a top notch dramatic performance. This is Jackie as we’ve never seen him before, an illegal immigrant so desperate to survive that he is willing to break the law, and kill those that would harm anyone in his circle as he works his way up the criminal ladder. The classic Jackie Chan charm isn’t lost here, but those that didn’t believe a performance like this was in Jackie Chan’s repertoire  would do well to check this one out as soon as possible.

Predators

Predators is just a flat out great time at the movies. Full of all the macho zeal of the original film, and paired with the keen sense of action by director Nimrod Antal and producer Robert Rodriguez, this is grand jumping off point for what will hopefully be a brand new revitalization of this franchise. Taking itself seriously, this retro ‘80s throwback is nonstop fun, with our band of reject misanthropic mercenaries coming face to face with their worst nightmare; a planet where they are the hunted, and to survive they not only have to face off against killer aliens, but somehow endure each other’s own murderous natures. The new additions to the Predator mythos are great fun, and the movie’s action style is terrific, forgoing your standard, overly edited blockbuster in favor of a much more exciting and classic approach to getting your heart pounding.

 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 

While not as dramatically satisfying as its predecessor due to splitting up its source material into two movies, this seventh Harry Potter entry is still a fantastically entertaining film. Director David Yates constructs a wonderfully handsome production that furthers the series’ ever increasing maturity, and sets up the ambitious finale which should be the crowning moment for the entire franchise. HP7 also features the best performances so far from series regulars Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, and has one of the most emotional finales I’ve seen from nearly any movie this year, despite only being the halfway point of this epic tale.

Kick-Ass

Anarchy is alive and well in director Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of the renegade cult comic from creators Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. So what would happen if a real kid decided to be a superhero? Apparently violence is what would happen and a lot of it. Vaughn’s movie doesn’t skimp on the brutality, but it doesn’t skip the fun either. Kick-Ass is a gleeful blast of entertainment, as we get some of the most over the top and welcome characters to hit the screen all year, especially Chloe  Moretz’ s unforgettable 13-year old assassin Hitgirl and Nicolas Cage as the Adam West inspired Big Daddy. Bloody as all get-out, Kick-Ass also finds the beauty behind the madness; the slow-motion, strobe light fight near film’s end creating one of my favorite images in any movie this year.

R0BTRAIN’S Top 10 Movies of 2010

10. The Town

There wasn’t a Michael Mann film that came out in theaters in 2010, but Ben Affleck’s The Town was probably the closest substitute. Heat-lite as it may be, The Town is still fully engrossing due to its authenticity with the city of Boston and the nail-biting action and suspense sequences orchestrated by the movie’s director. Going down this path, the Affleck of Bruckheimer, Bay, and Gigli will hopefully disappear forever, leaving us instead with a gritty director that seems to be getting better and better each time out and an actor that is seriously trying to mold his screen persona into something worthy of the potential we saw in him early on. Complete with a wild turn by Jeremy Renner and a determined looking John Hamm, The Town goes out guns-a-blazing.

9. Mother

I don’t know how you see your mom, but I’ve always seen mine as a larger than life person. If my mom gets an idea in her head, there’s no force of will that can hold back her determination. That’s the exactly the type of woman that Kim Hye-ja plays in Mother, Bong Joon-ho’s follow-up to The Host,  which gives us the story of a mother trying to save her mentally challenged son who has been accused of murder. This twisted tale has all of the director’s hallmarks of dysfunctional families, bungling cops, and darkly comical suspense sequences; weaving them together with an effortless style that would make Hitchcock proud. Bong Joon-ho is a director that knows when to push your boundaries and then bring the hammer down on your expectations. This is a mature and sincere work of art coupled with one of the best performances of the year.

8. The Chaser

As “edge of your seat” as thrillers get, what’s really scary about The Chaser is that it’s the work of a first time director. Na Hong-jin’s first film is so exemplary at nearly every level that you would swear it was the work of a veteran film maker with decades behind the camera, but instead it’s a rookie effort that shakes you to your core. The story of a pimp trying desperately to save one of his girls after he realizes her “john” is a serial killer; this movie will have you wound up so tight you won’t be able to breath until the final credits roll. Kim Yoon-seok is a perfect antihero, trying desperately to avoid the cops and stop the killer before he does his dirty work, but it’s the director’s tight pacing and storytelling that doesn’t let up as you sweat in your seat until the anxiety is almost too much to handle.

7. Toy Story 3

You keep waiting for them to trip up, but year in and year out PIXAR keeps their perfect record intact with another astonishing piece of pop art. This year, they even managed to do it with a sequel, as Toy Story 3 astonishes you with its wit and charm. Director Lee Unkrich (taking over for John Lasseter) performs a deft balancing act of nostalgia and introducing new, darker elements for Woody, Buzz and the rest of the Toy Story gang to bring you a tale of enormous depth in amongst the usual PIXAR shenanigans.

How do you introduce the notion of death and loss into a story where the characters are basically immortal? Well it’s a feat that is pulled off with ease as we’re thrown into another awesome Toy Story adventure that has a sense of finality that was missing from the previous two movies. This may not be the finest PIXAR film to date (my vote still goes to WALL-E or The Incredibles) but who other than the most jaded viewer couldn’t see the wonder that the studio has provided for us yet again.  The hardest and most stoic men may once more find themselves on unfamiliar ground as tears start to swell from their eyeballs while PIXAR works its magic onscreen.

6. The Expendables

Some may have said that there was no way Sylvester Stallone could meet the expectations of fans after assembling the greatest action cast of all time in one movie. I was not one of those people. For me, this movie is pure joy from one end of it to the other, from the movie’s goofy banter and impossible macho posturing to the film’s awesome climactic setpiece; where the body count is high, the explosions ridiculous and the fight scenes most glorious. The last 30 minutes of this film is pure mayhem, with something amazing happening every five seconds until your heart wants to burst out of your chest from adrenaline overload.

With a touch of depth added courtesy of Mickey Rourke, director Stallone simply lets the rest of the movie become an unstoppable thrill-ride by getting out his cast’s way. With guys like Jet Li, Jason Statham, Terry Crews and Dolph Lundgren onscreen, don’t expect poetry, but do expect more gunfire and explosions than in ten Jerry Bruckheimer movies put together. Promising more action stars and a possible Dolph Lundgren/Jean-Claude Van Damme rematch, Expendables 2 can’t come fast enough!

5. The Good, The Bad, The Weird

You may have never heard of this movie before now, but once you’ve seen it, this one is hard to forget. Even in a year when The Expendables hit theater screens, it’s The Good, The Bad, The Weird that ended up being the #1 action experience of 2010, featuring a chase scene so jaw dropping it nearly defies description. What you get with this WWII-set Korean Western (you read that right) is an astounding movie universe created by director Kim Ji-woon, as bandits vie for a mysterious treasure map, with all hell breaking loose along the way. Tailed by Mongols, the Japanese army, and tons of mysterious gunmen, our heroes and villains duke it out in shanty towns and vast deserts in displays of bravado and visceral action that would make Sergio Leone shed tears of joy. What’s also here to love is the old school nature of the film’s action, as we’re given limited CGI in favor of amazing stunt-work. There’s nothing quite as thrilling as watching men in real danger onscreen, which is apparently what was going on as explosions rock our cast of characters on the way to trying to find their fortune.

 Also, did I mention this movie was hilarious? With Song Kang-ho as our central protagonist, Yoon Tae-goo (The Weird), we’re given the full array of his odd ticks and one-liners adding to his long list of varied roles in movies such as The Host, Thirst, and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Grouped with G.I. Joe’s Lee Byung-hun as Park Chang-yi (The Bad) and Jung Woo-sung as Park Do-won (The Good), what you end up with is a trio of some of the coolest actors in the world doing some of the coolest things you’ve ever seen. The Good, The Bad, The Weird may not be for everyone, but it was definitely one of the films I could say was 100% for me.

4. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

If only more geek adaptations could be as wonderful as this movie. Scott Pilgrim Vs.The World should have been the “geek event of the year”, out-grossing Iron Man 2, Harry Potter, and Tron: Legacy all combined, but instead it barely made its money back. Reasons and theories for this are numerous, but the bottom line is that audiences missed out on one of best movie experiences of 2010, which is a shame. Not only is the movie funny, action packed, and touching in a very classic, lighter than air, Amblin entertainment sort of way, but the movie has a real honesty to its love story that’s hard to find in your standard Hollywood romance.

Sure, everything is told through a geek-lens, where our hero (Michael Cera) must literally battle his love’s ex-boyfriends in Street Fighter-style showdowns, but the way that movie handles its relationships is perfectly genuine, as Scott must deal with not only a girlfriend with baggage, but one where an ex has a mysterious hold on her. Sometimes those relationships are harder to hold on to, but in the end they’re the ones that are the most worth it, and if you’re lucky you discover things you didn’t know about yourself as well. Like the love of Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World  is movie worth fighting for and holding on to.

3. The Social Network

Is The Social Network the movie of this generation? Maybe or maybe not, but what is not in contention is that the movie is a work of greatness produced by two amazingly talented people. Someone should give a medal to whoever had the idea of combining David Fincher’s meticulous, almost obsessive amount of detail and place with the dialogue of wordsmith Aaron Sorkin. The film is a perfect example of action through dialogue, as we’re actually excited to watch these characters create Facebook and then deal with the aftermath.

Was I excited about the idea of a Facebook movie when I first heard about it? Not really. I figured it was just another crass marketing scheme developed to capitalize on the newest trend. Instead, what I got was personal, epic look at these people with very real lives and personalities. Jesse Eisenberg gives a star making performance and the rest of the cast around him follows suit. From top to bottom, there isn’t a single weak link in the chain that is The Social Network. With no hyperbole needed; it’s just a great movie, plain and simple.

2. True Grit

Upon first glance, you may think that the True Grit of the movie’s title belongs to one of the movie’s male leads, such as Jeff Bridges’ tough as nails U.S. Marshall, “Rooster” Cogburn or Matt Damon’s boisterous Texas Ranger, LeBoeuf, but in actuality the person displaying the most resolve in the entire movie belongs to newcomer Hailee Steinfeld’s Mattie Ross. Looking for retribution after the murder of her father, Mattie must contend with every single obstacle a 14 year old girl possibly could face in a world of outlaws and headstrong lawmen, and face them she does. Without backing down, Mattie outwits, out-charms or simply wills her way to getting what she needs to find her father’s killer. She is the picture of determination and Hailee Steinfeld is a revelation as this central character, showing her own grit by handling the movie’s dialogue and gravitas without batting an eyelash.

The world created around her by the Coen Brothers is nothing short of astonishing as well. This is perhaps their most elegant movie, filled with stark violence as usual, but crammed with no shortage of natural beauty, courtesy of Roger Deakins’ incredible cinematography.  The language and vistas simply draw you into this world, its borders full of wonderful characters. This is a classic western in every sense of the phrase; a movie with a nonstop barrage of colorful sights and curious people. If they never return to the true western after this movie, The Coens can take solace in the fact that they might never be able to top this one anyway.

1. Inception

Arthur: Cobb said you’d be back.

Ariadne: I tried not to come, but…

 Arthur: But there’s nothing quite like it.

Ariadne: It’s just… pure creation. …

This is what I feel like when I’m watching Christopher Nolan’s Inception, a movie so breathtakingly awesome that I scarcely believe it could actually be real. The movie is nearly everything I love about movies in just one package; a mind-bending sci-fi flick, a top notch spy movie, a brilliant heist film, a romantic story of loss and betrayal, a runaway action spectacle, and a deeply felt work about existence and not getting lost in our past sins. In the end, I believe Inception is just about as good as movies get.

The funny thing is, like a lot of people I think I just took for granted that we’d get another great work from Christopher Nolan. Like The Prestige before it, I thought this would just be another personal, but not necessarily mind blowing project to pass the time in between Batman films. Instead what I got was what might be the defining film of Nolan’s career. Inception is a movie on par with the vision and creativity of James Cameron’s Avatar, but doesn’t take any liberties or shortcuts with its storytelling to create mass appeal. Can’t follow it? Too Bad. This is a movie that challenges your mind and your senses, without needing 3-D, and in fact is pretty old school throughout with its various dreamscapes and visions.

Like its star, Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception may appear to be all flash, but underneath is real substance. DiCaprio’s Cobb is a man that can steal your memories, but each time he does it, he seems to lose more and more of his own soul; his crimes costing him the simplest pleasures of joining his family. His chance at redemption staring at him through one last job, he assembles his team and we are taken on a trip like no other and yet all others; an urban car chase, an espionage-filled scheme, and a machine gun filled siege, but mixed together like a brilliantly constructed meal.

Recently coming back to the movie, I wondered if it could still hold up after the months away. After ten minutes I wondered no longer. Inception is an enthralling, challenging piece of cinema that works on every level it attempts to. In the end, it is pure creation, and we have the privilege of experiencing it over and over.

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