It probably goes without saying, but you’re not going to agree with much of what’s listed here. Movies are varied beasts, with so many to choose from and everyone having their own tastes. There are probably a dozen other options for each of these categories that are just as good.
But this is my list, so stick it.
The following represents what I felt stood out this year. My reasons for picking each of these films are explored. And if there’s something you feel is missing, I can only offer two reasons: 1) I didn’t think it deserved to be mentioned or B) I didn’t see it.
I’m happy to hear what you think, so feel free to give me a wedgie below for not including Inception anywhere.
Geekiest Flick: Kick-Ass
This was a film I didn’t see until its release on DVD, but I was happy when I did. It shattered a record string of really bad movies, and is easily one of my overall favorites from 2010.
But more than that, Kick-Ass is a celebration of geekdom. It’s a tale of an average teenager who decides to become a real-life superhero (come on, who among us hasn’t thought of it). Lifted from the pages of a comic book, it explores what it means to be a hero, and the impact that such an over-the-top idea of a vigilante would have on the criminal element he or she hoped to confront.
Kick-Ass also manages to be fairly clever, with a unique collection of characters that are both interesting and complex. The action sequences are well done, the story moves well, and the dialogue snaps and crackles. Of course, there’s also an 11-year-old girl who curses like a sailor (more on her later).
Funniest Flick: Hot Tub Time Machine
Comedies were a little challenging for 2010. There wasn’t really one that had me in stitches from beginning to end. I chuckled a few times here and there at a few, but that’s about it.
Hot Tub Time Machine, however, had me chuckling, giggling and entertained. This goofy laugher is about four losers who struggle to figure out where their lives went wrong and get zapped back to 1986 thanks to the mysterious powers of a hot tub (and its repairman, Chevy Chase).
What works so well about this movie is how everything they seem to know about time travel can be traced to some movie or television show. It’s what makes it so relatable, because the way they look at it is the way most people would. On top of that, you have some great actors such as John Cusack and Craig Robinson who don’t take themselves too seriously and have fun in every scene.
And I have to give Cusack credit here. This film was a big throwback for the actor, who started out in really oddball comedies. The film itself is practically a reference to him (fans of Better Off Dead better note that “$2” mention).
Hot Tub Time Machine‘s mixture of sci-fi silliness and raunchy, slapstick humor really just made it a no-brainer for this list.
Cartooniest Flick: Tangled
As much as I may have gone with the clever Despicable Me or the beautifully designed How to Train a Dragon, I strangely found myself coming back to Tangled. And I think because it’s a classic Disney film, in the vein of Cinderella, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.
Although it’s popular and often “cool” to hate on Disney films, Tangled felt like a return to form for an animation studio that defined the genre. For so many years they were the only game in town, but with the rise of Pixar and others, the House of Mouse has really become second-rate.
Tangled restored a little bit of that glory, or maybe just captured a piece. It went back to Disney’s animated roots, revisiting a classic fairy tale. It took a simple idea of a princess with really long hair and managed to turn it on its head, with a charming prince and a wicked villain that was reminiscent of Snow White‘s evil witch.
On top of that, it presented some beautiful animation. Tangled successfully merged the grace of the company’s traditional style and gave it a dazzling update thanks to computer wizardry. The sequence with the Chinese lanterns, for example, is just classic Disney.
In a sense it could be argued that Disney’s Tangled merely stayed true to formula, borrowing bits and pieces from previous films in order to craft a new one. And maybe that’s true. But even Disney has failed to get it right for so many years. The company has fallen down from its heyday, during which it pushed the medium forward. Growing competition only managed to highlight the company’s failure to live up to its history.
Tangled, however, got it right. Good characters, a fun story, beautiful imagery. Watching it was like watching an old prizefighter deliver one more dizzying right cross. Whether or not it serves as a comeback is something else entirely.
3D-est Flick: TRON: Legacy
Since becoming popular again some two years ago, 3D has turned into a staple of the moviegoing experience that – for better or worse – doesn’t appear to be dying down. This year brought another batch of films presented in the eye-popping format. In the end, the only real impact most of them had was the amount of money they yanked from your wallet.
While all of these efforts had some benefits – Pirana 3D gave us boobies – most were pretty flat. There was no Avatar to give the format some legitimacy.
Then came TRON: Legacy. The sequel to the often forgotten 1982 cult classic took full advantage of the 3D format, and was fairly clever about it. Although it felt as if the dark background in the unique virtual world cancelled out the three-dimensional environment, the arena sequence really capitalized on the effect to deliver a spectacular set piece of visual eye candy.
Like the original TRON, programs are forced to endure a series of deadly games in the cyber world. Only now, the two-dimensional playing field has become like a hamster cage of levels and enclosures, where glow-in-the-dark gladiators whip their glo-discs at one another.
This toe-to-toe clash is followed by a light-bike duel which also adds dimensions to the classic and is equally as tantalizing.
But what made TRON: Legacy a clever 3D film was how sections of the movie were shot in 2D. The filmmakers really used the format as a storytelling tool, not just a budget-busting gimmick to squeeze more dollars out of the audience. For that, this film takes the year’s 3D cake.
Sci-Fi-est Flick: Repo Men
The film was largely written off, perhaps because it lacked big star backing, but I encourage everyone to put this on their Netflix list.
Repo Men, starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker, is a dark science fiction film about the down and dirty job of reclaiming artificial body parts from people who can’t keep up with their payments. When Jude Law finds himself on the losing end of the equation, he goes on the run, and the hunter becomes the hunted.
This tightely-woven tale harkens back to some of the best sci-fi films of the last 30 years, withthe tone of Blade Runner, the violence of They Live and the bleakness of Brazil. It’s smart and rich, with fully realized characters and a simple yet intriguing concept that is relevant to today and foreshadows a future which doesn’t seem so far out of reach.
Repo Men is science fiction filmmaking done right. It’s not a concept-driven picture with elaborate special effects, but a grounded tale which is more real than virtual, the antithesis to something like Predators or Iron Man 2.
Weirdest Flick: Human Centipede
Although pitched as a horror flick, there’s not a fright to be found. There are a few thriller moments, perhaps, but that’s about it.
What Human Centipede is loaded with is straight up odd stuff. Bizarre characters and twisted concepts are at the core of this German-made indie flick that officially arrived in the United States this year. It’s the story of two American girls who take a wrong turn in the European backwoods and find themselves house guests to a demented doctor with some strange ideas about biology.
The quack kidnaps the girls, along with an unfortunate Asian fellow, then cuts and stitches them all together into a human centipede. The women are attached ass-to-mouth (even though you should never go that way), leading to some really screwed-up scenes that are the heart of Human Centipede.
I’ve met several people who thought all this was gross, sick, and disgusting. I found that funny, since they would react with less incredulity to scenes of decapitations and disembowelments which are far more graphic. In fact, there is very little that is grotesque about Human Centipede. The operation scene features only a small amount of gore, and even the parts showing the characters attached head to rear do not show much blood. It’s more what they suggest than anything else that I think offends people so much.
In the end you’re left with a film that’s isn’t frightening, but just frickin’ weird. A wonderful mixture of sadistic humor and freakish fiendishness, making for an enjoyable yet bizarre experience.
Best Remake: True Grit
It’s hard to imagine anyone stepping into the shoes of John Wayne.
Jeff Bridges isn’t just anyone. He doesn’t play the role of John Wayne, however. He makes Rooster Cogburn, the Duke’s signature character, and makes it his own with a mix of gritty realism and Jeff Bridges charm.
The Coen Brothers have delivered some classic films, yet their track record is scorched with quite a few misses. True Grit is not one of them. The duo return to the source material to bring Grit back to the big screen, remaining more loyal to the book than the 1969 film. Co-starring Matt Damon – who is top-notch – and introducing Hailee Steinfeld, this new version of True Grit brings the western back to the big screen in a big way.
That’s not to say we’ll see a resurgence of the once all-powerful genre, but this sweeping movie is top-notch filmmaking. The Coens bring their unique storytelling prowess to the western, and in the end I was left hoping they would do it again.
Pop Culturiest Reference: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World mentions Launchpad McQuack
I’m gonna say right off the bat this should not be taken as praise for this film as a whole. It’s not. Scott Pilgrim vs The World, which was not devoid of merit, was a pandering pollution of pop culture for a generation of young adults and aging gamers who can identify the sound of Mario scooping up gold coins with their eyes closed.
The middling storyline and shallow characters kept Pilgrim from being a great movie. But there was one moment that to me was inspired. One brief line of dialogue that jumped off the screen and fluffed its feathers in my brain for months.
The use of the Disney character Launchpad McQuack, who famously jumped shows from DuckTales in the 1980s to DarkWing Duck in the early 1990s, was just brilliant. Although a mere offhand reference to a song by Pilgrim’s band, it could arguably be called a nod to the comics upon which the film was based more than the cartoon character. Either way, I just found it brilliant that a film – any film – would make mention of one of my favorite cartoon characters from my childhood.
Downright Best Flick: Toy Story 3
I expect to get shit for this, but I don’t care.
Pixar is the most consistent film company in the world. With the exception of perhaps Cars, the company has produced incredibly imaginative fare that has inspired and amazed audiences for more than a decade. The original Toy Story was the first feature-length computer-animated film. Every other company, from Dreamworks to Fox, has been chasing that dragon ever since.
The folks at Pixar did not want to do Toy Story 3. The only reason they created it was because Disney owned the rights, and would have done it anyway, with a pedestrian storyline involving a trip to Japan that undoubtedly would have destroyed the characters and the reputation of the franchise.
Like Orson Welles and Touch of Evil, people often do their best with a gun to their head. And that’s precisely what Pixar delivered with Toy Story 3. What makes the film so beautiful is that the characters have grown and evolved over the course of three films. Instead of just dishing out some random adventures, Pixar wonderfully expands the story and grows the characters and their relationships with one another.
Woody and Buzz, like a pair of aging screen legends, are finally facing the end of their run. With Andy heading off to college, his days of playing with toys are over. Their future uncertain, the two must figure out what to do with the rest of their existence, and come face-to-face with their own mortality in a way that is both profound and heartwrenching.
Toy Story 3 doesn’t push the envelope of animation, nor does it try to. What it does is tell a compelling story involving beloved characters who have not lost their luster, despite three films. And it allows them to ride off into the sunset with dignity and respect, with a movie that rivals the best that live-action has to offer.
Toy Story 3 took the top spot for me because it wasn’t just a great animated film. It was just a great film… period.
Breakout Chick: Chloe Moretz
Although a Hollywood veteran at the tender age of 13, the lovely young girl from Georgia has without a doubt taken the big screen by storm this year.
In a collection of roles, from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Let Me In, Chloe Moretz shows the same kind of promise once displayed by Kirsten Dunst and Natalie Portman. Yet she seemed to take it one step further as the foul-mouthed Hit Girl in the comic-book inspired Kick-Ass. The ultra-violent role is not one you would expect the grounded young girl to play, yet the teen displays a strong screen presence that has the aura of an actress twice her age.
But Hollywood is replete with once-promising young stars whose careers derailed somewhere along the line. It is far too early to say just where Moretz’ adventures on the big screen will take her. However, if 2010 is any indication, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come.
Breakout Dick: Keiran Culkin
One of the shining stars in the mediocre Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was this 28-year-old actor. Keiran Culkin, younger brother of Home Alone‘s once-legendary star, Macaulay, stole the show from the movie’s star, Michael Cera.
Only a year older than the Arrested Development Canadian, Culkin has been working in movies since the early 1990s, sharing the screen with Steven Martin and Jean Claude Van Damme. In the role of Pilgrim’s gay roommate, Wallace Wells, Culkin steals the thunder and delivers a witty, charming performance, turning a minor character into the one person worth caring about.
Culkin proves small roles can be big parts, and he’s got the chops to perhaps be the big star many thought his older brother would become.