February 24, 2011

2010: Year in Review

How many movies did you watch last year? I saw 77. That’s about a week straight of movie-watching. Despite lo these many films, I failed to see all ten Best Picture nominees. So, from the slice I sampled, I offer you crumbs of the best and worst among last year’s new releases and films “new to me.”

Best of 2010
Inception is ambitious - narratively and visually - and brings something unique to a table sagging under the weight of remakes. The film’s complex dream within a dream story-telling could easily spiral into murky confusion, but Nolan leaves flying off the rails to trains instead of the narrative. Who knew repeatedly watching a van careen off a bridge in slo-mo (passengers snoozing away) would be gripping and somehow not silly?

Overall the movie is so refreshingly engaging, I soon forget its detractors, like few fleshed-out characters and ridiculously arbitrary dream rules. I’m training my subconscious security system to make intruders spontaneously combust or, say, implode instead of shooting at them willy-nilly whilst skiing.

Perhaps the greatest thing about Inception is the glorious slew of trailer mash-ups that sprung up thanks, once again, to the Internet. If you enjoyed Inception, I must recommend eXistenZ, which tackles similar ideas of reality in a campy, science fiction-y, and extremely successful way.

Worst of 2010
Clash of the Titans

I went into Clash of the Titans expecting stupid action, bad CGI, and even worse acting, and boy did it deliver. Delivered like a cold pizza. The only thing duller than this brainless adventure movie’s special effects is its characters. Sam Worthington is capable of two expressions: angry and yelly (see above). I’ll consider adding brow-furrowy to his repertoire...maybe.

The trailers for Clash of the Titans are easily more entertaining than the movie itself. Picture Liam Neeson, with his twinkling robes and becurled beard, ordering “Release the Kraken!” with dramaticism that vainly struggles against an indomitable flood of hokeyness. Then, a flurry of noise as the word “Titans” slams on the screen, followed by “Will” and finally...the suspense! “Clash”! Amazing. Who would’ve thought Titans will clash in a film entitled "Clash of the Titans"? If only every trailer were so luminous. Penguins will march! Jedi will return! Miss Daisy will be driven!

Best New-Old Movie
Up in the Air

Any film wherein George Clooney pulls off a character who is more than just a derivation of George Clooney has to be good. On top of that, Clooney (as Ryan Bingham) finds himself in equally good company. Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick trot out solid performances as Bingham’s mercurial flame and his junior colleague/protégé, respectively. Clooney and Kendrick’s partnership drips with chemistry yet remains refreshingly platonic, promoting a male-female dynamic that Hollywood woefully underplays. This is what Up in the Air excels at: sometimes humorous, sometimes dramatic, but always honest human interaction. The viewer may occasionally desire Bingham’s plush first-class seats and estimable career, yet he is completely unenviable in his solitude.

If, years from now, we look to the cinema for an example of today’s financial incertitude and e-driven landscape, this film would be ideal. Though Bingham is largely moored in emotional isolation, the film closes with a sort of creeping cheerfulness, which left me looking up.

Worst New-Old Movie

Few things ruin a movie more than my expectations being crushed flatter than Sam Worthington’s acting range. Two things drew me closer (har har) to this film: Jude Law and Natalie Portman, actors whose performances I widely enjoy. And, hey, they’re easy on the eyes, am I right? Sadly, the strengths of Closer start and end there. The quartet (including Julia Roberts and Clive Owen) are capable artists, but their characters (no matter how well-acted) are spiteful and unsympathetic. Beautiful but ugly. Not only are the characters plainly unlikeable, but they feel more like caricatures than real people. The dialogue, while eloquent and enjoyable, enhances the characters’ inauthenticity. Who, after being hit by a car, still sprawled on the ground, calmly quips, “Hello, stranger” to the first person who rushes over? I mean really?

The characters’ motives are so incomprehensible, their reasoning so unbelievable, that I cared very little about them individually, much less about their muddled relationships and shared indiscretions. In fact, I nearly wished for them all to wind up miserable and alone. Is this what the film intended? Selfishness and deceit reap what they sow? Maybe. All told, Closer swallows fine performances, parades its self-importance, and rings utterly hollow.

And there you have it - Movie Meg’s 2010 review! Can I watch more than 77 films this year? Challenge accepted.

(Images courtesy of Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, and www.webweaver.nu)