Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Movies of 2010

I've decided to make a list of the movies released in 2010 that I've seen, order them and write a few words about each. For future reference.

12. Inception

Inception is the most idiotic movie I have seen that's in this list. Just like in the movie, there are 4 layers to this, and I'm going to go through them.

On the very first level we have what is the main theme of the story. Lead character Cobb has to deal with the memories of his wife, his own guilt and has to succeed to get back to his kids. However, in the relationship with his wife we are never shown more than the fact that she is a psychopath; all we get is Cobb whining about how much he loves and misses her. This is the main point of the movie - everything Cobb does is related to this woman, and everything that happens is because of her, be they Cobb's decisions, or her projection interfering with things. We are supposed to follow with his conflict, yet every time I see the woman I want her gone as fast as possible. Whenever flashbacks or projections of his family appear, all we are treated with is a blank stare. Also, the whole predicament he is in is quite ambiguous. He can very well travel all over the world, meet his father, phone home, but he couldn't have taken his kids with him. Considering all this, how then am I supposed to cheer for the character to succeed when I don't care about his goal?

Stripping all that away, what we remain with is a heist action movie. I've already dismissed the fact that the purpose of what they are doing has any interest to me, so I'm going to go deeper - to the second level. The consequences of their mission is irrelevant to the movie. We don't care whether mister Japan gets to rule the world, and what would have been very interesting to follow - the Fischer father-son relationship is moved to the state of pretext, and is superficially treated. Just watch the scene where Fischer wakes up, shaken by his revelation and tell me that's not ridiculous, since it has no relevance to the main part of the movie.

Granted, the whole plan to convince Robert is interesting to follow and is backed-up by delicious three-level action scenes, a brilliant gravity shifting fight (the best part of the movie) and good, innovative special effects. But towards the end the action is shredded to bits by the moral conflict of the story, or rather the other way around. When Cobb finds his wife, and we are about to get some explanations to this whole deal, almost after each few relevant lines we cut to some men in white shooting or a guy placing yet another explosive.

The movie even tries to show us a bit of team spirit and build some character relations with some brief commentaries and cheap tricks. When I've got to deal with an ambiguous conflict, and a confusing story, the last thing I care about is a bunch of background people with little character to show.

And I really hate Nolan's directing on a large level. The details are great, but the movie is just a bunch of scenes coming one after another without any coherent train of thought, a structure to it, or any build up. The first hour was excruciating to sit through, having to sift through many details, and unknown characters, that you can't tell if they are going to be relevant in the rest of the movie or not.

There are also so many external references and movie homages, that just show how bad Inception is when compared to them.

Moving on to the third level, we deal with the movie's Sci-Fi under layer. In Inception this element is there for the sake of things and not to provide much significance, even though it tries to. We get the technical details - lots of them. This does provide us with some incredible effects, but this is just showing off, as they become almost irrelevant for the rest of the movie. The whole dream "technology" is basically the world the characters have to deal with, the laws that govern it. And they all accept it, for good or for worse. Rarely do they try to delve too deep into any of the consequences. The deepest the movie does go is to imply that the dream is just a trap, from which one should escape. What is the consequence of getting out or staying in? The movie doesn't say.

Finally, into limbo world, we sink into Inception's reflective layer. The ending wishes to send out a message that we have just witnessed something awesome and that we should be asking questions, that there is something profound there, an eye-opener onto the real world. However, for me, it's just smoke and mirrors, offering us several possibilities, none of which make much sense with what we have just seen. Up until the end we are not provoked to question the validity of what we are seeing. Simply showing a symbol is not profound. The ending could have simply been Nolan shouting "Cut!" and the camera panning back to reveal a filming set. That would have had the same effect.

The movie does not put an emphasis on discerning dream from reality, although those are supposed to be its major points. Simply wording it does not count. I cannot tell whether it's best to be in a dream world, or in reality, as there are no emotions shown from the characters part tearing them from one or the other. Our answer to the question "Is it a dream? Is it reality?" is not what's important, more intriguing would have been Cobb's reaction. If he found out he was still in a dream, what would he do? Does he accept it or not?

Rather than asking him, the movie is asking me: is this reality or a dream? It's a movie! I don't care what it is in the movie. It has no repercussions on how I see my world. The dream world is a construction that engulfs the movie world completely, because the movie doesn't want to tell me anything about its repercussions. It just accepts it as a natural fact, just like I accept my world with all the gravity and stuff. If you ask me, it was just one of Nolan's strange dreams in which nothing makes much sense when you think of it, but when you wake up sweaty you have the feeling that it's something great. With that shot of the spinning top, Christopher Nolan has implanted us with the idea that his movie is something great and profound. Do you choose to accept that? Or do you choose reality?

11. Tron: Legacy


This is a bullshit of a movie. Despite being a sequel to the original Tron, it's actually a remake, even though the story is different. Everything that was in the original, is redone here using the latest graphical effects. First we get the Recognizers, then Disc Wars, then we get Light cycles, then the lead gets out of the bounds of the race track, the heroes have to go to someone to help them reach the portal, and to get there they use the Solar Sailer where the guy and the girl can share an emotional moment.

Everything else about the story in this movie is totally irrelevant. It didn't make sense to me, and I couldn't care less what the final outcome was. In fact I think the creators themselves approached this movie by pushing the story to the background. All they wanted is to entertain us with special effects, cool music, hot chicks in hot outfits, cheesy references to the original and to have Jeff Bridges duplicated on screen as a young CG version of himself. Which is exactly what I liked about this movie.

10. How to Train Your Dragon

A movie with dragons and vikings! How cool! But among the cheesy modern teenage dialogue and some mildly interesting action scenes, this is a missed opportunity. Not very much is remarkable or memorable here, except maybe the kid and his relation with the other characters, especially with the dragon and with his father. It's nice to see intelligence being praised in such a movie. Other than that I think I would have like this more if was a kid.

9. Alice in Wonderland

Another not very memorable movie, apart from the incredible scenery and stylistic effects. The wonderful shots, Tim Burton's freakish touch and the empowering score made for a very thrilling experience. Who would have thought this is how Wonderland is like? It had the most immersive 3D effects that I've ever sat through, the height of which is represented by the scene where Alice falls down the hole. Another of my favourite scenes are those with the Cheshire cat, especially the moon turning into the cat's smile. I also enjoyed the ending when Alice dons the stylish armour and sword for the final battle, ending wit the dragon's head falling down the spiral stairs. That's Wonderland, heh!

8. Megamind

No you can't

The whole first act is exceptional. I was so thrilled that I thought this movie would be as amazing as Up with the great storytelling and homage to previous great works, but then it went from a movie with deep moral meaning to a generic action animation. Such a waste!

7. The Social Network

Great movie: great acting, great directing and great screenplay. Without these three you wouldn't be able to sit through the scenes in this film: people talking really fast and witty, people coding, people talking in a loud bar, lawyers talking and so on.

But.... there is a big problem. And since nobody seems to see the elephant in the room, I'll just point it out. This movie has no point! It tries to touch different aspects, but never bothers to stop on something meaningful and it is shallow in everything it deals with. As far as character development goes, it's like turning slightly to the side. Watching "The Social Network" gains you nothing whatsoever, and it does not offer anything emotionally or intellectually provoking.

For a movie with "Social Network" in its name, it's exactly the social interactions that are its weakest point. All of the relationships are soft and superficial, uninteresting and not very believable. The friendship between Zuckerberg and Saverin is never proven on screen, only taken for granted, with lines like "Friends don't do that". Even the conflict between them is weak and artificial, rather than emotional. The reasons behind it are vague and ambiguous, so I for one can't really understand the Saverin's outburst towards the end. I can't understand why Zuckerberg is doing what he is doing, as we get no insight to his emotions. He is simply a jerk, and nothing changes throught the whole movie.

I didn't expect to see the actual history behind the founding behind Facebook. But this is one of the most successful companies in all of history, which would have surely greatly affected its founders and people involved. Instead, we get some vague conflict regarding jealousy over acceptance to some exclusive douchebag club and a great conspiracy which involves a mistreated chicken (the highlight of the movie in my opinion!).

The other conflict, between the Facebook founders and the twins is just as weak, as they do not pose much threat to Zuckerberg's success, neither throughout the movie, nor in the end as we find out. In fact, they have their own story - one of morality, team spirit and boat racing. What that had to do with the founding of Facebook.... who knows?

The movie even turns into melodrama, in the scene where Saverin's girlfriend overreacts. A moment ago she was just some hooker who approached him because of his popularity and gave him a blowjob in the bathroom, but now the relationship is serious, and we find out she is overly jealous. This is soap opera material. In fact, I think the soap opera format would have suited this story much better. Zuckerberg's relationship with Erica is just as fake. From the movie I gathered she didn't matter much in his life, but the end would have us believe otherwise - not to mention the irony behind how meaningless the ending is. That sums up perfectly how little The Social Network has to offer.

Also, from the title you'd take it that the movie is in some way about social networking, a phenomenon so great that has opened amazing new opportunities, and has changed the way that most of us interact. What do we get? A bunch of silly people prancing around, arguing about their meaningless problems, with some cheap insertions of references to social network interactions. I mean, my girlfriend would kill me if I didn't set my relationship status, people get hooked to each other on Facebook, some people spend so much time on Facebook it's scary. But all we get is a few references that have nothing to do with the story whatsoever.

I'm guessing "The Social Network" was supposed to be a snapshot of modern social interactions, portrayed through the relationships of several people involved directly or indirectly in the founding of Facebook. Well, it's not a portrait, it's not a caricature, it's not even a sketch. I'd say it's something in between a sketch and stick figures. And no matter how good you make the lines of the stick figures, it's still not going to be a masterpiece, it'll only be superficial.

6. The King's Speech

The best actor movie on the list. Every scene is wonderful to watch because of this brilliant trio: the stammering king Colin Firth, the comical Geoffrey Rush and the loving wife Helena Bonham Carter. While the latter two have a quicker impact, as the movie progressed, I was drawn more and more by Colin Firth's character, as he could perfectly portray both the fear inside the man, and the power that he inherits through his royal blood, in a manner to which I could relate.

I liked that they tried to tell an inspiring story, but that didn't catch substance and it seemed to me like a just a setting for the brilliant talent of the cast to unfold in. The directorial touches are too obvious, too intrusive and some of the technical details are just superfluous.

Some scenes are way overacted. The first scene felt like I was being punched in the face to accept the larger than life tragedy of this poor man who stammers. Luckily the rest of the movie is nothing like this, making said scene seem taken from another production. In fact, I appreciated the light, merry tone all throughout, even in the more serious moments. Unfortunately, this too is stretched too much in the end, when the king's war speech matters more than the fact that war has just been declared. But all in all, it's just delicious British self-irony. And can you dig that ridiculous Churchill played by Timothy Spall?

5. Piranha

This is one gory movie that I really enjoyed! Rather than just showing would-be frightening or gross scenes, Piranha wants to thrill us, to engage us. The victims are tossed around and mutilated in spectacular ways, with an impression that some more powerful force is punishing them. I think, or like to believe that this movie has some moral message behind all the gruesomeness and blood, although sometimes it does appear to be radical. The scenes are well built and directed, and generally show off that there is some artistic feeling being put in there. I was surprised by the creativity shown at some points. (no spoilers) I also liked how the director even went out of the movie's way, reaching out toward the ridiculous, having something like a lesbian mermaid dance involving two naked girls. I really don't want to give anything away, but I can say that I've barely touched on all the things I've liked about the scenes. The ending shot is great - funny, but I think it also gives another perspective to the whole thing. All in all, a very good, fun, thrilling, artistic, gory movie.

4. Kick-Ass

3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

I'm putting these two together since they are very similar. First of all they're both comic book adaptations, and second, they both have originality as strong points. This can be seen in Kick-Ass's thrilling action scenes and extraordinary characters. And I mean that last part literally, especially when you think of the star of this show - the 11 year-old killing machine called Hit-Girl. Both movies use innovative narrative devices. While present in Kick-Ass as well, this is more evident in the video-game inspired effects used in Scott Pilgrim; which is just a modern way of telling a teenage get-the-girl story.

But all that originality wouldn't be shit if the movies didn't have bigger than life characters (really - these are the most interesting movie characters in 2010), captivating stories, humour and thrilling action scenes, making them really enjoyable to watch. However, while entertaining, Kick-Ass is just a superhero action-flick and Scott Pilgrim is just a romantic comedy. Nothing too deep or thought-provoking - just fun. That's why these movies won't be any higher on my list. A plus for Scott Pilgrim because it actually has the main character evolve and learn something about himself and his relationship with The World, giving the movie an overall meaning.

2. Toy Story 3

It was really hard to rank this movie. I've moved it back and forth, and finally decided to place it at this spot because of how deeply impressed I was by the ending, it's as emotional as you can get, and Pixar knows how to do it best. It's not really that good as a movie as the previous two, but since this is a subjective list, that doesn't count.

The big problem is that Toy Story 3 looks as two separate movies. It continues where the last one left off with the problem that Andie has grown up and needs to make a decision as to the fate of the toys. In any case it's not going to be a good one. Then, using the common plot device of a simple misunderstanding (present in the first two Toy Stories as well), the movie makes a hard turn into a generic action flick, that has nothing to do with what was shown up to now.

It is interesting to watch, but it just feels like to completely separate parts, and a motive to show something going on and to give all the toys a few moments of peril and togetherness. That is good, as each toy has its moment and backstory, unlike Toy Story 1 or 2 where mostly Woody or Buzz were in the spotlight. Especially interesting is the side story of Ken and Barbie.

The main villain is quite uninteresting and poorly sketched, with an unconvincing background. But at least we have his sidekick, one of the sweetest evil characters ever. And I mean sweet not as in touching, but in the pure evil, creepy way.

I think it's clear that this installment was created especially for the 3D, but I'm very glad they didn't dismiss the rest and put all efforts into making a good movie especially if it's the last one in the series, unlike other franchises that have had comebacks just for the 3D. I also regret not seeing it in the cinema, because I think the effects were really good.

Apart from a slow moment in the middle, the movie's pace is mind boggling, as it has been in the previous two movies in the series, with the heroes being thrown from one peril into another. I must say this is the first time that I see a plan going off without a hitch all the way to the end, when the bad guys just show up. It just adds to the feeling that the writers knew that this part isn't important and that we should go through it as quickly as possible.

But at least they offered us monumental climactic scene, in which the whole movie team seems to have brought its outstanding contribution: the direction, the animation, and the music make for a masterpiece of a scene.

The deep impression this movie left in the end is more than enough to make up for the bad structuring.

1. Black Swan

For me this is by far the best movie of the year. To quote the ending, it's perfect. I don't have anything to complain about this.

The story builds on a couple of age-old myths and the movie wraps around it like a glove. It stems a few side stories, it gives a bit of conflict and some character development, but all these act towards the build-up of the main thread, expanding and evolving it towards the climax and ultimate message of the movie.

Even though the characters are given some personality, they are just avatars to carry the artistic vision and message of the story. All the secondary characters are different faces of the main character and what they symbolize and their role within the story is more important than any individual traits.

Swan Queen Amidala

The orchestration of camera, lights and music is perfect, and all that remains is solid acting, and I think that Natalie Portman has outdone her self in an emotionally and physically exhausting role. I was afraid that she couldn't offer the transformation needed for the ending, but it just blew me away.

All that plus the salt and pepper added by Aronofsky in the form of surrealist introspection (without overdoing it) and (uhm... what's a nice euphemism for sex scenes?) artistic sexuality make for a very delicious viewing. This movie is thought provoking, mind stimulating, emotionally binding and .... yeah.

Final Thoughts

  • If you're wondering why "The Social Network" gets the award for most overrated movie, and not Inception, that's because Inception got the most idiotic movie award.
  • In case you missed it, click on the "Scrooge" Inception poster to find out what's the deal behind it and a higher-detail image of the poster.
  • Did you notice how the people in "The Social Network" keep a running tally of emails and messages they send, so that they can spontaneously come up with lines like "we've exchanged 52 emails", "you couldn't answer any of my 47 texts", and it took me 52 words to write this line?
  • Also, if you can't tell that a website is the next big thing just by glancing over one of its pages for a few seconds, then that is why you are not a billionaire yet.
  • Once again, the best animation comes from Pixar. Heh!
  • Enough with the comic books already!
  • It's nice to find a good diversity in the movies I've seen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful blog. I love it.