The Best and Worst
Film of 2010
by Dan Lybarger
1. The Social Network
For a movie that’s been touted as an awards contender, The Social Network has few Oscar moments. You don’t get to hear Jesse Eisenberg bellow out a lot of dramatic monologues. That may have something to do with how screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (Charlie Wilson’s War) churns out bon mots the way Nabisco makes cookies.
At its heart, The Social Network is a tale of ambition and betrayal that may owe more to Shakespeare’s Richard III than it does to the non-fiction history The Accidental Billionaires. Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg is treacherous and misshapen and yet grasps the potential of technology better than those foolish enough to try to control or even befriend him. David Fincher’s direction is so quick and lively, that it’s easy to forget he’s made a movie about people talking about technology. On a technical level, he achieves some sophisticated illusions without tipping the audience off. You quickly forget the egotistical Winklevoss twins (or Winklevi) are played by the same actor.
South Korean Bong Joon-ho’s Mother can’t decide if it’s a thriller, a character study or a broad but dark comedy. As a result, it can only be classified as a great movie. Kim Hye-ja stars as a struggling acupuncturist who goes to insane lengths to prove that her mentally challenged son (Won Bin) isn’t a homicidal pedophile. Thanks to Kim’s astonishing range, it becomes impossible to tell if she’s defending a son who can’t be defended or if she does indeed know her lad better than the bumbling local cops. Bong may change tone radically from scene to scene, but he can handle terror and comedy with equal finesse. He also puts viewers into the twisted mind of his title character.
3. Winter’s Bone
Debra Granik’s take on the Daniel Woodrell novel about the meth trade in the Ozarks is tense but oddly poetic. Jennifer Lawrence gives a quiet but commanding performance as a teenage girl who has to find her drug-dealing father so that her home won’t be foreclosed. Along with the way, she discovers a variety of dangerous characters, including her unstable uncle (a terrific John Hawkes). Granik hails from New York, but she depicts the poverty stricken residents with respect. She also creates complicated characters who aren’t what they initially appear. One bonus is a great soundtrack of regional music.
Writer-director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) has specialized in big superhero movies, but the quirky sensibilities that led him to make clever, idiosyncratic films like Memento are thankfully still there. Inception has lots of tasty eye candy, but Nolan also includes a delightfully complicated logic and intriguing characters. Leonard DiCaprio stars as a cat burglar who breaks into people’s sleeping heads to either steal or plant ideas. The layered storytelling throws off some viewers, but it’s a treat to take in all the detail that Nolan and his collaborators have put into this story. When so many filmmakers seem intent on dumbing down their work, it’s refreshing to see film that takes some effort to grasp while rewarding the effort.
5. Inside Job
Charles Ferguson’s (No End in Sight) examination of the 2008 economic collapse is an astonishingly accessible look at how Wall Street screwed the rest of the country, their own investors and even themselves while eventually left the rest of us holding the bill. Remarkably thorough but consistently engaging, Inside Job picks its targets shrewdly. Ferguson explains that collapses like this one used to be an anomaly because investment bankers were using their own money to back their transactions. Without that sense of accountability, all hell broke loose. Matt Damon’s narration has a consistent gravity without going overboard. The situation he’s describing is too sobering and urgent for histrionics.
6. Restrepo Review
7. The King’s Speech Review
8. How to Train Your Dragon Review
9. True Grit Review
10. Toy Story 3 Review
1. Tron: Legacy
I hate to tell Tron that there’s already someone who fights for the users. He or she is called a customer support technician. If the idea of sitting through a movie where someone answers angry customer calls sounds dull, perhaps you’ve never seen Tron: Legacy.
Hundreds of millions have been spent on a script that recycles portions of the 1982 film, as well as the Star Wars movies and somehow makes the dialogue for the latter sound as if it were written by Shakespeare. It doesn’t help that the allegedly magical world inside the computer looks more like Blade Runner without the grit (that’s like cigarettes without the nicotine), and Jeff Bridges’ costume looks as it were stolen from Alec Guinness’ trailer. Even Bridges’ lines sound as if they were taken from a soundboard of his “The Dude” quotes in The Big Lebowski. The computer generated “younger” version of him looks as if the actor’s face were made of plastic and has fewer expressions than Steven Seagal. At least the original tried to do something new and interesting. Neither was attempted here. Moved to first place in the Worst List for its flat, retrofitted 3D, which does nothing but fatten the ticket price.
2. Clash of the Titans
The 3D effects looked like a cheap popup storybook, but they had more depth than the characters or the plot. This remake of the Ray Harryhausen 1981 classic lacked his charmingly jerky handmade puppets. Perhaps they could have written a better script. The sense of wonder the original had is completely missing here, and the computer generated critters look like castaways from a Wii. That may explain why Laurence Olivier’s Zues has been tossing thunderbolts at Los Angeles all winter.
3. Life as We Know It
Perhaps retrofitting Life as We Know It for 3D might have helped this laughless, heartless romantic comedy. Maybe poop jokes are funnier with the glasses on. Katherine Heigl stars as yet another career woman whose life is turned around when she finds herself caring for some orphaned waif. The new film has only a portion of the vulgarity from Knocked Up and none of the chuckles. The people in the film are so obnoxious that perhaps it would be best if the characters involved didn’t discover the joys of love or parenthood and leave us with their equally odious offspring.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street
The makers of this Fred Krueger outing have used the latest digital technology to reproduce the same chilling images that Wes Craven created in 1984 using analog techniques. In short, they have scanned instead of remade the original. It doesn’t help that Jackie Earle Haley is so short that he has to bring his victims close to him in order to look intimidating as he unconvincingly dispatches them. He also has none of the maniacal glee and ferociousness Robert Englund brought to the role. Wes Craven has denounced the new film, so it’s safe to imagine that director Samuel Bayer’s dreams will be tormented by Craven and Englund for years to come.
5. Gulliver’s Travels
Thanks to the latest 3D digital images, floods of urine can look just as flat as they do on your six-inch TV at home. Jonathan Swift’s writing if full of dark and gross stuff. For example, A Modest Proposal suggests that the Irish can solve their starvation problems by offering up their own babies as food. Actually, the primary sin star/producer Jack Black commits with this latest travesty is forgetting that Swift’s material is as smart as it is disgusting. Just because a film is aimed at children doesn’t mean its viewers are stupid. Our next generation should not be treated to movies that are beneath them.
6. The Tourist Review
7. Yogi Bear Review
8. The Wolf Man Review
9. Eat Pray Love Review
10. Marmaduke Review
Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@efilmcritic.com.