Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

2010 has been an interesting year for me, both in my moviegoing and in my life in general. On the latter, I released my fourth album; got in a car accident, totaling my second truck in two years; reconnected with a dear friend; expressed interest in dating said friend, only to discover she was interested in my best guy friend (fret not; their love is genuine); got dressed up for Atlanta’s annual Dragon*Con; and was able to spend the last few months of the year off of oxygen. Yeah, it’s been a crazy year.

On the moviewatching front, things were just as hit-and-miss. And by miss, I mean “missed in theatres.” Among the films I didn’t see in theatres included “The Karate Kid,” two Jerry Bruckheimer “blockbusters,” “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” two Julia Roberts-starring hits, and a laundry list of smaller films that have made my Netflix watching quite slow at times, and has made for a fast and furious final month of the year. The erratic nature of my moviewatching (and subsequently, review posting) is probably the reason for Sonic Cinema’s numbers dropping off after three years of pretty-good growth and consistency. I’ll try and do better with that in 2011…

Below you’ll find the current rundown of the year’s best, worst, and most enjoyable (in my humble opinion) of 2010. If you don’t see a film of your choosing on here, I more than likely haven’t gotten to it yet, although there’s always a possibility I just was never interested in seeing it in the first place. As for award-seeking staples like “The King’s Speech”; Mike Leigh’s “Another Year”; John Cameron Mitchell’s “Rabbit Hole”; “Blue Valentine”; Sophia Coppola’s “Somewhere”; the documentaries “The Tillman Story” and “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”; and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful,” well, that’s the down-side to being an “amateur” film reviewer– I still have to wait for opening weekend on certain films.

I hope you enjoy, and I’d like to thank my friend Heather Elle for her assistance in helping make Sonic Cinema better: she offered to proofread my reviews/entries before their publications, and for the past few months I’ve been taking advantage of that offer on many reviews. And she contributed her first review for the site in early December for the musical “Burlesque” (unseen by me). I look forward to publishing more from her in the coming months (and years), and maybe even getting her in on a commentary or two.

Viva La Resistance!

Brian Skutle

Brian’s Top Ten Films of 2010
1. “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” (Directed by Edgar Wright)- Yes readers, of all the films I saw in 2010, none topped the artistic ambition or entertainment value of Edgar Wright’s epic adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s cult comic series about a 20-something guitarist (a never-better Michael Cera) who falls hard for an aloof wallflower (the wonderfully dry Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who has seven evil exes that must be vanquished to win her heart. No form of nerdiness is free from Wright and O’Malley’s subversive gaze. Sadly, that’s probably what made the film fail to connect with audiences, who dismissed it as kid’s stuff. Their loss. This cult classic in the making has the stuff of a genuine masterpiece. Who knew the director of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” had it in him?

2. “The ‘Millennium’ Trilogy” (Directed by Niels Arden Oplev & Daniel Alfredson)- In 2004, author Stieg Larsson passed away, leaving behind a trilogy of novels about a brilliant (but guarded) computer hacker and an investigative journalist who find themselves working together uncovering the secrets of the past. This year, art houses (and book stores) exploded as a trilogy of films from Sweden brought Larsson’s prose to vivid and powerful life onscreen. Originally made for Swedish television (which has played extended versions of all the films), critics lavished praise on the smart suspense and political provocation in Oplev and Alfredson’s films, with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” firing the first salvo, and “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” bringing the saga to a subversive and satisfying conclusion, and turning stars Noomi Rapace (as Lisbeth Salander, the “Girl” in the title) and Michael Nyqvist (as Mikael Blomkvist) into art house celebs overnight.

3. “Inception” (Directed by Christopher Nolan)- For a decade now, Christopher Nolan has been challenging audiences with films (from “Memento” to “The Prestige” to “The Dark Knight”) that probe the human mind, and the obsessions that define an individual. With his latest, he takes off into the labyrinth of our dreams, as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb sneaks in and steals secrets for a price. But can he plant an idea in the mind of a son whose mogel father is dying? More importantly, can his own mind allow him to do the job without getting in the way? Nolan and DiCaprio form a genuine collaboration in this sensational, visually-unbelievable thriller that goes beyond the realm of the real to reveal the truth buried deep within our subconscious.

4. “Black Swan” (Directed by Darren Aronofsky)- The first word that comes to mind immediately after watching Aronofsky’s latest exploration in obsession is astonishing. The second word is brutal. Both words are fitting not just to the film itself, about a young ballerina dealing with the psychological effects of being the lead in a bold new version of “Swan Lake,” but also the performance by Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers, the young woman whose been pushing herself for this chance for years. Portman goes for broke in ways that few actresses do for a role; she trained in ballet for a solid year to prepare. The result is a stunning performance that builds on the charm and sass we’ve seen for years, while also pushing her over the edge dramatically and emotionally in ways we’ve never seen from the “Closer” Oscar nominee. That said, the film wouldn’t work without the visionary energy Aronofsky displays as director. The final 30 minutes– with Nina in a hallucinatory daze as she preforms with sensual, surreal precision –will be impossible to shake for years to come.

5. “I’m Still Here” (Directed by Casey Affleck)- At once both a heartbreaking documentary about a life gone to ruin and a stinging social commentary on our culture’s celebrity obsession, Ben’s younger brother Casey shows himself just as adept behind the camera as he is in front of it, directing his brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix in a monumental performance as he retires from acting to become a rapper. Even from the start, rumors were that it was an elaborate hoax, but watching the unsettling footage Affleck captures makes one wonder how much of it was an act. Phoenix really does appear to be coming apart at the seams. When the film debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, Affleck had to fess up that it was a hoax, but even now, there’s enough evidence to make you wonder. The film (love it or hate it) makes an impact. If the Academy were smart, they’d feel the same way about Phoenix’s landmark turn…as himself.

6. “Leaves of Grass” (Directed by Tim Blake Nelson)- Wow. I’m honestly not quite sure to make about this film. That’s a good thing. Ever since writer-director Nelson costarred in the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” he’s been on my radar. This is the first film I’ve seen of his as a director, and dear God do I want to watch the rest of them. Edward Norton gives the best performances of his career as twin brothers who couldn’t be more different. One is an Ivy League philosophy professor, the other is a hydroponic pot grower. When pot grower Brady fakes his own death, philosopher Bill has to go home to Oklahoma, getting him into a scheme that just seems too crazy to work. Nelson has a great ear for dialogue and a remarkable gift with actors, and he and Norton are having the time of their lives in a comedy that plays it both wildly funny and oddly profound. Believe me when I say that you’ve never seen anything like it.

7. “How to Train Your Dragon” (Directed by Chris Sanders & Dean Deblois)- Honestly, I can’t help but blame Shrek. Were it not for that big green ogre, Dreamworks may not be playing catch up to Pixar in the run to CG animated supremacy. (Or maybe they would; Pixar is that good…) Yes, the “Shrek” franchise made serious green for the studio, but the series lost steam after that great 2001 original. Leave it to another fantasy adventure to kick things into high gear, as “Lilo & Stitch” directors Sanders and Deblois take Cressida Cowell’s childrens book and turn it into a thing of fast and funny beauty. Like with 2008’s “Kung Fu Panda” (another highlight for Dreamworks), “Dragon” is less about hip jokes and more about the type of smart, coming-of-age stories classics are made of. I’m just grateful audiences caught on after a slow start, and turned this into a smash, and Pixar’s first *real* competition for an Oscar since “The Triplets of Belville” threatened to surprise “Finding Nemo.”

8. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” (Directed by Banksy)- In 1972 Orson Welles created a free-form “documentary”/essay film entitled “F for Fake” about hoaxes that took the art world (and the world itself) by storm. I think it’s a final masterpiece from the long-suffering filmmaker; others think otherwise. Watching this newest “documentary”/essay film about street artists and the provocation of whether they are vandals or artists in their own right, I was reminded of Welles’s bold and original look at Clifford Irving (who had just fooled everyone into thinking he was doing a biography of Howard Hughes) Elmyr de Hory (who was a notorious painting forger) as we look at footage shot by Frenchmen Thierry Guetta as his cousin (known on the streets as Invader) introduces him to the world of art on the edge of legality, leading to a chance encounter with notorious British street artist Banksy. Guetta is a great guerrilla cameraman, but he’s not interested in documenting in the same way filmmakers who document life work. Banksy, however, knows how to shape these rough images into an unforgettable experience that blurs the line further between art and experimentation. There are people who claim the film is a hoax. I’m not sure I believe that, but like Casey Affleck’s “I’m Still There,” whether it’s authentic or not is irrelevant; what’s important is that the emotions felt watching it are completely genuine.

9. “Waiting for ‘Superman'” (Directed by Davis Guggenheim)- After taking a break from “serious” topics with his guitar doc “It Will Get Loud,” “An Inconvenient Truth” director Guggenheim turns his eye on another “before it’s too late” topic in the American education system. He gets deep into the root issues through probing looks at families hoping for the luck of the draw to get into private schools to administrators who have tried (and largely failed) to bring change to a system the still leaves too many children behind. True, some of the blame can be turned onto the children who don’t work hard, but as this sad and thoughtful portrait shows, there’s plenty of blame to go around for adults as well.

10. “The Social Network” (Directed by David Fincher)- Who knew a collaboration between writer Aaron Sorkin and “Fight Club” auteur Fincher could be so enthralling without compromising Sorkin’s prose or Fincher’s visual gifts? More surprisingly, who knew such an inspired pairing could come from recounting the founding of Facebook, and the power struggle that ensued? Whether it’s the question of if Mark Zuckerberg (the computer wunderkind who created Facebook, played by a never-better Jesse Eisenberg) stole the idea from rich frat kids or if he deliberately froze out best friend Eduardo (an Oscar-worthy Andrew Garfield) after became a billion-dollar idea, Fincher finds the lonely soul of today’s Net-driven age.

Eleventh Place: As always, there were a lot of quite good films that didn’t quite make the cut for the final 10. That doesn’t make them any less noteworthy (Hell, they could make a deserving Top 10 by themselves). Among the “runners-up” for my top 10 are: “Shutter Island”, Martin Scorsese’s taut psychological thriller about a US Marshal investigating a disappearance from an isolated mental hospital; “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I”, with Harry, Ron and Hermione alone, and trying to find not just the pieces of Voldemort’s soul but also their way in a life that’s cruel and foreboding; “True Grit”, the Coen Brothers’s beautiful and blustering Western with the Dude (Jeff Bridges) taking the Duke’s (John Wayne’s) Oscar-winning role and turning it into a memorable study of grit in the Old West; “Toy Story 3”, Pixar’s beautifully moving close to its peerless animated trilogy; “Someone Else in the Evening”, one of the best DIY/festival features I’ve had the pleasure to watch, with writer-director Edgar Muniz telling a story of a young woman (Laura Benson) who is struggling to find her voice in film school; “127 Hours”, Danny Boyle’s thrilling true-life tale with James Franco stuck between a rock and a hard place as adventurer Aron Ralston; “Let Me In”, Matt Reeves’ haunting remake of the Swedish masterpiece “Let the Right One In,” with a haunting Chloe Grace Moretz as a vampire who’s been 12 for a long time; “Winter’s Bone”, a striking and unflinching look at one woman’s search to save her family from ruin-Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is one of the year’s best; “Hereafter”, Clint Eastwood’s haunting and heartfelt look at three people trying to grasp with death; “The Kids Are All Right”, a funny and touching drama about a lesbian couple (Annette Bening & Julianne Moore) who are faced with difficult decisions when their children want to meet their biological father (Mark Ruffalo); “Chloe”, Atom Egoyan’s erotic and moving love triangle about a marriage in flux and a hooker who’s more than she seems; “The Art of the Steal”, an exceptional look at the struggle to maintain one of the world’s great private art collections as it was intended by its creator; “The Fighter”, David O. Russell’s boxing underdog drama that shows Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) taking as many hits out of the ring as he does in; “The Ghost Writer”, Roman Polanski’s dark political thriller about the dangers of state secrets and a writer who may have taken on more than he bargained for; “RED”, a comic book adaptation about retired Black Ops agents forced into one final mission when their lives are on the line; “Inside Job”, an angry and insightful look at the causes of the 2008 financial crisis; “Red Princess Blues”, a short, sweet burst of grindhouse thrills and wicked humor from writer-director Alex Ferrari; “Best Worst Movie”, an affectionate and hilarious look back at the filmmakers behind “Troll 2,” and the fans who’ve embraced it; “The Town”, Ben Affleck’s gripping and entertaining thriller about a band of bank robbers in Boston; “Waking Sleeping Beauty”, a poignant and fascinating look at Disney’s Renaissance during the ’80s and early ’90s; “Road to Victory”, a drama about one athlete’s struggles with drug use, and the decisions he has to make when it comes to his future; “Easy A”, with a never-better Emma Stone as a high school hottie who goes from nobody to somebody after lying about a hot weekend; “Hot Tub Time Machine”, an uproarious glance at wasted youth and second chances when three friends go back in time; “Casino Jack and the United States of Money”, the latest documentary provocation from Alex Gibney (“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson”) that sheds light on the corruption of lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the conservative Congress that let him run wild; “Tangled”, Disney’s latest “princess” crowdpleaser, with a CG Rapunzel trying to get out in the world after years of captivity– the Mouse house is back in form with this revisionist riff on the classic tale; “Dinner for Schmucks” Jay Roach’s hilarious remake of a French farce featuring Steve Carell as an odd man with a genuine passion; and “Kick-Ass”, a hard-hitting (literally) comic book adaptation that shows the reality of what might happen were someone to really don costume as a crime fighter.

Brian’s Favorite Films of 2010
As you’ll see right away, the overlap between my “best” films and my “favorites” this year is pretty astounding. That speaks either for how weak this year was in film or how strong it was; I look at it as the latter. From animated entertainments to memorable genre-benders to bold art house experiments, filmmakers found truly remarkable ways of to mold entertainment and art in the same film. The films below may not *all* be Oscar-worthy, but they left quite an impression in their own ways.

1. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (Edgar Wright)- Oh yeah, Edgar Wright’s dazzling entertainment is just that fun. Plumbing video games, comic books, and the mind of its hopeless romantic hero for the most original adventure love story in years (oddly enough, “The Princess Bride” comes to mind), Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series is brought to outrageous life with wit, heart, and imagination to spare.

2. “Toy Story 3” (Lee Unkrich)- While Dreamworks has spent the last decade sucking the soul dry of its flagship franchise (that would be “Shrek”), the wizards over at Pixar have been carefully plotting the perfect way to bring things full-circle for Woody, Buzz, and the rest of Andy’s toys. The result is pure Pixar- funny, emotional, and exciting with genuine surprise and suspense that helps define character in a film that does what any film should do best- leave you wanting more.

3. “Inception” (Christopher Nolan)- Don’t ask me to sum up Christopher Nolan’s latest mind-bender of a thriller. The story is knottier than a pretzel and has just as much salt sprinkled on it. All you need to know is that the director upped the ante big-time with scope, smarts, and feeling, and came back with arguably his best and boldest film yet.

4. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” (David Yates)- Hmmm…maybe splitting the seventh book of J.K. Rowling’s generational phenomenon franchise wasn’t just about the money after all. True, without the deep and fascinating supporting cast for most of its middle section made time feel slower as Harry, Ron and Hermione were alone in the world, searching for Lord Voldemort’s hidden Horcruxes, which contain pieces of the Dark Lord’s soul. But between the riveting maturity of the series’s “growing up on-screen” lead actors and the haunted visual language of David Yates’s direction (including a remarkable animated sequence unlike anything else), “Deathly Hallows, Pt. I” has more than enough dramatic juice to make the wait for July’s “Pt. II” almost unbearable.

5. “RED” (Robert Schwentke)- Between “The Losers,” “The A-Team,” and “The Expendables,” the idea of a misfit band of mercenaries and soldiers looking to get their lives back was played to death, with typically-middling results. What makes this adaptation of Warren Ellis’s smart graphic novel about former Black Op agents on the run from the Feds different is the tone. The characters played by Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox, Helen Mirren, and a live-wire John Malkovich are pros who behave professionally, but also have a peculiar outlook on life and their work. That sly wit is what makes “RED,” which includes Karl Urban as the FBI agent on their tale and Mary Louise-Parker as an appealing and offbeat love interest to Willis, stand high above the rest.

6. “Hot Tub Time Machine” (Steve Pink)- As much as I love John Cusack as an actor, I honestly wasn’t expecting to love this raunchy time-travel comedy as much as I did. It’s a credit to him and the rest of the cast around him (including Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke, Lizzy Caplan, and cameos by Crispin Glover and Chevy Chase) that this film plays more like “The Hangover” and less like “Miss March.” It’s silly but not stupid, outlandish but not unrealistic, and just plain funny. And when I say funny, I mean REALLY funny. Like, “I want an escort to escort our penises into her vagina” funny. If you aren’t sure what to make of that line, don’t worry; it’ll make you laugh when you hear it.

7. “Shutter Island” (Martin Scorsese)- To be fair, Martin Scorsese isn’t the same filmmaker he used to be. Just in the past decade he made a flawed (but no doubt fascinating) passion project in “Gangs of New York”; a large-scale biopic about an iconic figure (“The Aviator”); and a crime story that lacks the true-life juice of “GoodFellas” or “Raging Bull” but still proved Marty could spin a great story (the Oscar-winning “The Departed”). After making a lively concert film with the Stones (“Shine a Light”), however, Scorsese looked to the past of low-budget genre and film noir that inspired him growing up and delivered a mesmerizing psychological thriller as Leonardo DiCaprio plays a US Marshal haunted by past tragedies investigating an escape at a mental institution. “Shutter Island” is all style, with Scorsese creating hallucinatory moods and images with all the tricks of his trade and actors unafraid of delving into the heart of guilt and mental instability. In the end, the film boils down to one of its last lines, when Leo’s Teddy Daniels asks, “Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?”, a question we all have to ask ourselves at some point of our lives. Teddy’s answer will linger long in your memory.

8. “Someone Else in the Evening” (Edgar Muniz)- Since I received my first screener/screening invitation from a filmmaker back in 2006, I’ve become acquainted with a good number of filmmakers I still try to follow and have a genuine passion for the films they’ve sent my way. Writer-director-actor Edgar Muniz is one of those DIY filmmakers; the technical qualities haven’t always been there, but the passion for the stories he’s told both in front of and behind the camera is unquestionable. This film– which tells the story of a theatre major (Laura Benson in one of the best female performances I saw all year) stuck in a creative and emotional malaise –is no doubt my favorite of not just Muniz’s but also of all of those screeners I’ve gotten. The story struck home with me, having gone through my own artistic and mental restlessness over the years, and I haven’t forgotten it since. Paired with his starring vehicle “Doorways and Meanders” (listed below), Muniz has proven himself a filmmaker of depth and spirit like few others have. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

9. “Let Me In” (Matt Reeves)- Like most people who saw the Swedish cult hit “Let the Right One In,” to call me skeptical about the idea of Hollywood remaking the film (from the source novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist) would be a gross understatement. That made the result, true to the dark spirit of its predecessor, all the more surprising, as “Cloverfield” director Reeves brought a thoughtful eye to this tale of lost innocence with a bond between Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Owen and Chloe Grace Moretz’s Abby that is genuinely frightening and lovely, many times in the same scenes.

10. “Black Swan” (Darren Aronofsky)- The film that comes most to mind when watching Aronofsky’s erotic and unusual thriller about a prima ballerina’s descent into madness while preparing for “Swan Lake” is the Anime masterpiece “Perfect Blue,” where a Japanese pop star was psychologically tortured by a stalker when she turns to acting. The comparison is more justified than we know: Aronofsky has been a fan of the film for years, and even owns the remake rights to the film. It no doubt played a huge influence on this film, but the director of “The Fountain,” “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream” is too smart and original to want to just remake a movie. Thankfully, he understands the film’s thematic underpinnings in his core and drives Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel and Barbara Hershey to unforgettable and unmissable performances in a mesmerizing tour de force.

Other Notable Favorites: Personally, I found this a particularly strong year on the faves front- a lot of movies I can see myself watching over and over in the years to come. Apart from the ten above, others that didn’t quite hit that level of entertainment (but came really dang close) include: “How to Train Your Dragon”, Dreamworks’s offbeat and funny animated winner about a young viking who makes a surprising mark on Nordic life; “Easy A”, an easy-to-love teen comedy with a beautifully funny and feisty Emma Stone; “Leaves of Grass”, Tim Blake Nelson’s original and insightful comedy about twin brothers (played by the never-better Edward Norton) who get in over their heads on a pot scheme; “I’m Still Here”, a heartbreaking look at one performer’s decent into the heart of darkness; “True Grit”, a new classic in the oft-neglected Western genre (an American original) with a young and determined Hailee Steinfeld hiring Jeff Bridges’s weathered lawman to track the man who killed her father; “Knight and Day”, a quirky and highly-engaging spy thriller with Tom Cruise as a man of mystery and Cameron Diaz as the woman he picks up in his wake; “The Other Guys”, the latest bizarro Will Ferrell/Adam McKay confection that sticks it to buddy cop movies, and all manners of logic, for a wildly funny time; “Exit Through the Gift Shop”, a guerrilla look at street art and the elusive and (sometimes) ambitious rebels who take things to bold levels while challenging the definition of what “art” is; “TRON: Legacy”, the mega-sequel to the 1982 cult groundbreaker that finds its vision in thrilling battles, Daft Punk’s charged music and Jeff Bridges artful performance; “Iron Man 2”, with Robert Downey Jr. back as Marvel’s bad boy superhero, and Scarlett Johansson coming into the fold as the comely Black Widow; “Best Worst Movie”, a look back at the cult phenomenon of “Troll 2” directed by the young star of that dreck; “The Town”, with Ben Affleck as a bank robber in love with the only witness (Rebecca Hall) to his crew’s latest heist; “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, a Swedish thriller about a decades-old mystery and how it brings together a tough computer hacker and a determined journalist; “Doorways and Meander”, a bold, independent experiment in form and theme with a fascinating central performance by Edgar Muniz; “Tangled”, Disney’s beautiful rendering of Rapunzel, with Mandy Moore and Donna Murphy in a battle of dreams and singing voices; “Dinner for Schmucks”, with Steve Carell in a career-best turn as a lonely guy who makes the most out of mice; “Letters to Juliet”, a lovely romantic comedy for the radiant Amanda Seyfried; “The Losers”, an off-kilter look at some dysfunctional trained assassins trying to clear their names and get their lives back; “The Social Network”, David Fincher’s smart and wicked drama about the rise of Facebook; “Salt”, Phillip Noyce’s smart and slick political thriller with Angelina Jolie as a federal agent who may not be what she appears; “Machete”, Robert Rodriguez’s wildly ridiculous grindhouse action flick inspired by his and QT’s “Grinshouse”; “The Ghost Writer”, Roman Polanski’s atmospheric thriller with verbal sparring between Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor that pops and pulls you in.

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order): “127 Hours”; “Alice in Wonderland”; “The Art of the Steal”; “Chloe”; “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader”; “Cop Out”; “The Crazies”; “Date Night”; “Despicable Me”; “Edge of Darkness”; “The Fighter”; “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest”; “The Girl Who Played With Fire”; “Green Zone”; “How Do You Know”; “Inside Job”; “The Karate Kid”; “Kick-Ass”; “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole”; “Love and Other Drugs”; “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done”; “Paranormal Activity 2”; “Predators”; “Red Princess Blues”; “Saw 3D”; “Solitary Man”; “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”; “Spoiler Alert”; “Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen”; “Waiting for ‘Superman'”; “Waking Sleeping Beauty”; “The Wolfman”; “Youth in Revolt”

Brian’s Favorite Performances of 2010
Michael Cera (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “Youth in Revolt”); Leonardo DiCaprio (“Inception,” “Shutter Island”); Emma Stone (“Easy A”); Joaquin Phoenix (“I’m Still Here”); Chloe Grace Moretz (“Kick Ass,” “Let Me In”); Jeff Bridges (“True Grit” & “TRON: Legacy”); Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”); John Malkovich (“RED”); Tom Cruise (“Knight and Day”); Mary Elizabeth Winstead (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”); Keiran Culkin (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”); Noomi Rapace (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”); Anna Kendrick (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”); Steve Carell (“Dinner for Schmucks”); Laura Benson (“Someone Else in the Evening”); Michael Keaton (“Toy Story 3,” “The Other Guys”); Amanda Seyfried (“Letters to Juliet,” “Chloe”); Marion Cottilard (“Inception”); Scarlett Johansson (“Iron Man 2”); Ellen Page (“Inception”); Mandy Moore (“Tangled”); Mila Kunis (“Black Swan”); Reese Witherspoon (“How Do You Know”); Mel Gibson (“Edge of Darkness”); Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Inception”); Will Farrell (“The Other Guys”); Mark Wahlberg (“The Other Guys” & “The Fighter”); Christian Bale (“The Fighter”); Amy Adams (“The Fighter”); Mary Louise-Parker (“RED”); Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”); Cameron Diaz (“Knight and Day”); Ewan McGregor (“The Ghost Writer”); Anne Hathaway (“Love and Other Drugs”); James Franco (“127 Hours”); Paul Rudd (“How Do You Know”); Bruce Willis (“RED”); Tom Hanks (“Toy Story 3”); Donna Murphy (“Tangled”); Tim Allen (“Toy Story 3”); Patricia Clarkson & Stanley Tucci (“Easy A”); Kodi Smit-McPhee (“Let”); Matt Damon (“Green Zone” & “True Grit”); Robert Downey Jr. (“Iron Man 2”); Ben Affleck (“The Town”); Jeremy Renner (“The Town”); Jay Baruchel (“How to Train Your Dragon”); Michael Caine (“Harry Brown”); Barbara Sukowa (“Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen”); Hannah Herzsprung (“Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen”)

Brian’s Favorite Music of 2010
Maybe it’s because of my bias towards film music, but soundtracks seem to be getting better and better as the years go on. Bolder composers are coming out of the woodwork, or established masters are asked to take risks that pay off in huge musical dividends. This year saw more of the former, starting with the stunning instant classics like the electronic moods Nine Inch Nail’s Trent Reznor co-created with Atticus Ross for “The Social Network” and a double album whammy for “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” featuring a lovely, quirky score by Nigel Godrich and songs by Beck that should’ve landed the alt-rock god in Oscar’s winner circle (unfortunately, since Beck’s work incorporated lyrics first seen in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series, Oscar disqualified his songs). And while it’s true their score for “TRON: Legacy” was more conventional than their fans would have expected, the French dance duo Daft Punk still delivered plenty of musical bang for my soundtrack-buying buck.

Thankfully, a few acclaimed veterans also had a few tricks up their sleeves, like the epic orchestral hits Hans Zimmer brought to “Inception”; the erotic tension Clint Mansell weaves between his own work and Tchaikovsky’s iconic “Swan Lake” for “Black Swan”; last year’s Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino and his haunting restraint for the vampire remake “Let Me In”; and recent Oscar bridesmaid Alexandre Desplat and his atmospheric scores for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” and Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer”. If there were any justice, all three of them would land in Oscar’s top five, even if it meant the Academy passing over superb work by the likes of Christophe Beck (who took his game to a higher level in scores for “RED” and “Waiting for ‘Superman'”, the latter of which also featured the Oscar-worthy ballad “Shine” by John Legend); John Powell (another duel favorite of mine for his work in off-beat action/comedy– “Knight and Day” –and the animated jewel “How to Train Your Dragon”); Carter Burwell (who blends traditional songs with orchestral mood brilliantly for “True Grit”); Randy Newman (who continues to bring his best out for Pixar with not just his score for “Toy Story 3” but his end credits song “We Belong Together”); and Alan Menken (who returned to Disney musicals in fine form with lyricist Glenn Slater for “Tangled”). In my opinion, all of the above delivered deserving musical Oscar bait, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the superb soundtrack Marty Scorsese compiled for his thriller “Shutter Island”; James Newton Howard’s latest “better than the movie” effort for M. Night Shyamalan’s summer stinker “The Last Airbender”; Clint Eastwood’s elegant restrained for his somber, spiritual “Hereafter”; A.R. Rahman’s pulsing, heart-pounding score for Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours”; David Hirschfelder’s adventurous work for the animated “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole”; and finally, Christian Heyne’s classical evocations for the German film “Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen”.

Brian’s Worst Films of 2010
OK, here’s the deal: I’m a very generous reviewer. I’m not ashamed of it. I’d rather acknowledge the good in a movie than the bad, which will explain the lack of “The Last Airbender,” “Robin Hood,” and “Shrek Forever After” on my lists of the year’s worst films. Plus, the best reason to be an amateur review– I don’t have to see everything. (Shhh…) That said, my generosity towards films should if anything make a film’s inclusion below even more significant; if I hate it enough to put it here, you KNOW something is seriously bad about a movie. It’s not a long list, but let’s put it this way: if you haven’t seen these movies yet, trust me– you aren’t missing anything.

The F’s:
=“My Soul to Take”– It’s a sad state of things when the upcoming “Scream 4” appears to be more of a return to form for Wes Craven than an original film. The first film written and directed by Craven since 1994’s superb “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare,” “My Soul to Take” takes an intriguing story and flushes it down the crapper with amateurish acting, uninspired directing, predictable writing, an a waste of time conversion to 3D that tops off the layers of bad this film offers.

=“Little Fockers”– There’s not much to be said about this except that everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.

=“Marmaduke”– There’s a really good cast in this film (Owen Wilson, Emma Stone, Judy Greer, William H. Macy), but to call this film a dog is being generous.

The D’s: This year has seen more than its’ fair share of duds. Although none of these hit the level of disaster of the film’s above, well, they weren’t far off. The worst-of “runners up” includes: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (D-), another overly-slick remake of a great slasher original that follows the story, but lacks the nerve and imagination; “Sex and the City 2” (D), a deplorable sequel to an otherwise entertaining (if overlong) TV spinoff with the fashionable to a fault characters at their most narcissistic and spoiled; “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” (D+), the latest bore of a melodrama based on Stephanie Meyer’s vampire phenomenon.

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