And now, for something completely different…

Movies. No tie to education. Just movies. I love them and love this time of year when people make their cases for the best this and the best that. Considering that the vast majority of people believe that Due Date was the year’s best movie (it’s not even right to call it a film – and I actually liked parts of it, but it’s not nomination-worthy, of course), and would never dream of seeing Rabbit Hole or The Kids are All Right (lesbian parents, gasp!), I always think it’s interesting to see what the experts have to say about the year’s offerings.

So I thought I’d give my thoughts about the movies that are eligible for this year’s Oscars that I have seen. After going through the list, I realized that while I watched a ton of movies last year, the vast majority are actually older movies that weren’t even released during the past year – and this surprised me. But here goes, in no particular order:

The American – George Clooney kept an air of mystery about himself in this and his understated performance worked for me. The movie was average, but the cinematography was absolutely incredible. I’m not sure that I’ve seen a movie that has made me want to move to where it was set more than A River Runs Through It, but this is sure close.

The Ghost Writer – I actually really liked the idea of this movie much more so than the actual movie. Maybe this is because I have a hard time seeing Ewan McGregor in anything. Maybe it’s because I prefer to see Pierce Brosnan with a side of Rene Russo. Either way, I was underwhelmed.

Salt – I have no issues with admitting that I’m an Angelina Jolie kind of guy – and I’m not talking about her acting talents. That being said, I really didn’t think it’d be possible to sit through a movie like this and actually like her less. The movie itself was a poor man’s No Way Out and did what many movies keep trying to do – the amazing, you-never-would-have-guessed-it-but-here-comes-a-surprise-twist-ending that makes absolutely no sense and insults your intelligence. Shame on you, Angelina – but I still will think of you kindly just because of your performance in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Shutter Island – Admittedly, I wasn’t a big Leonardo DiCaprio kind of guy from the time of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? to Blood Diamond. That movie and The Departed won me over and he’s been strong since, in my opinion. His performance in Martin Scorcese’s take on Dennis Lahane’s novel was solid as well. If you haven’t read the book, you’ll enjoy this movie more. It’s not that the movie’s bad, it’s just that Lahane crafted a magnificent novel that just didn’t come completely to life on screen. (Incidentally, the same could be said for Mystic River – Sean Penn was strong, as was Tim Robbins, but the movie was a paltry attempt at the actual book).

Inception – One of this year’s most anticipated movies was Inception, and it didn’t let me down. I was impressed with DiCaprio again (although one can make the argument that this movie and Shutter Island are almost the same movie, when you get down to it…),  but even more impressed with Christopher Nolan’s work in directing this movie. Visually, it’s monumental, and yes, I said monumental. It was 2010’s The Matrix – and that’s a good thing. I’ve seen it several times and pick up on something different each time. If nothing else, it will get you thinking, and that’s a good thing. Simply put, does the top stop spinning or not? The beautiful thing is that this movie doesn’t leave you when you walk out of the theatre.

Due Date – Yeah, I went to see this hoping for this year’s The Hangover, and while it was nowhere near close to being as funny, it still had its moments. Specifically, scenes with a dog in the backseat of the car (we’ll leave it at that) and a short spot by Danny McBride come to mind. Worthy of a rental, but you didn’t miss that much if you didn’t get to see it at the theatre.

The Town – This could be the movie that defines Ben Affleck’s career. Go ahead and think about trying to name one movie in which he truly gave a solid performance (and unless you make the claim that it was in State of Play, I’m not going to agree with you – not even Good Will Hunting). Beyond his acting performance, Affleck also had a hand in writing the screenplay and directed this movie. I was pleasantly surprised with these efforts as well. He brought this town to life for me and I really felt as though he captured this story well with some interesting, yet non-invasive techniques thrown in to boot. In addition, I was impressed with Jon Hamm’s performance – typically, I look at him as the old Ben Affleck – stiff and overacting everything, but I thought he did well in this.

The Next Three Days – Sure I went to see it mainly because it was shot in Pittsburgh. I love to see chase scenes that are just so out there and geographically inaccurate (if you know the area, then you know that you can’t quite go directly through the Fort Pitt Tunnel into Oakland). I was entertained and impressed with just how beautiful Elizabeth Banks is without being all made up. Yeah, I’m reaching.

Rabbit Hole – I’ve paid attention to Aaron Eckhart ever since Thank You for Smoking – he’s pretty inconsistent in his performances, but he gave a good one here. More importantly, Nicole Kidman gave the best performance of her career – and while I realize that’s not saying that much, she was very solid in this movie. I liked that the movie took a look at how we deal with grief – and didn’t take the easy way out as so many movies these days do.

True Grit – I shouldn’t admit this, but I’ve never seen the original version of this movie. In fact, I’ve never even seen a movie with John Wayne in it. Take away my movie “card” if you like, but I’ve just never seen anything. Perhaps I’m missing out – but I will say that I think Jeff Bridges is morphing into the character I always envisioned John Wayne being, if that makes any sense. He was brilliant in Crazy Heart and pretty darn good in this role as Rooster Cogburn. I have a hard time taking Matt Damon seriously in just about anything that doesn’t include Bourne, and I had a hard time with him in this as well. And the critics are absolutely correct about Haille Steinfeld – she hands down steals the show. As some people have said, I just didn’t feel a lot of sympathy for these characters – and perhaps showing what set everything in motion rather than just telling us would have helped this.

The Kids are All Right – You had me at Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. Seriously. Throw in a great storyline and Mark Ruffalo and I’m definitely in. Again, I saw a movie that didn’t take the easy way out, demonstrating to us that relationships are hard. It demonstrated to us that raising kids is hard and it doesn’t matter who you are, how old you are or what you do for a living. Bening gave a very strong performance and Moore was pretty darn good as well, although she’s not being recognized as much as Bening is. And oh yeah, they’re lesbians. Hide yo kids. Bening’s spot on throughout – especially when at dinner at Ruffalo’s (I’ll leave it at that so as not to give anything completely away), but she was brilliant in this scene in particular.

The King’s Speech – I’ve definitely saved the best for last. There’s no real action in this movie – so if you’re a Con-Air kind of person (and I’m not going to hyperlink to anything with that, it doesn’t deserve it whatsoever), you might want to just skip along now. But a lack of action, and a focus on characterization appeals to me at times. I have never in my life felt more sympathetic toward a character than I did for King George VI. Quite simply, Colin Firth was incredible in this role. Throw in a little Geoffrey Rush (who continues to excel as the character who doesn’t appear to be all there) and Helena Bonham Carter (who plays a character who is definitely all there, which is a little abnormal for her) and you’ve got a masterpiece of a movie. The movie built up to a speech. That’s it – a speech – yet it had me from the get-go. This film deserves every award it wins and it should most definitely win Best Picture, Director and Actor. Rush also deserves strong consideration for yet another strong piece of work, but will probably lose out to Christian Bale’s performance in The Fighter. I can’t say enough great things about this movie.

So that’s it. I missed some good ones, I think. I haven’t seen The Fighter or Black Swan or Fair Game or The Social Network. I hope they’re all good, but I truly can’t see any of them being nearly as good as The King’s Speech.

Your thoughts on the best films of 2010 or others that I missed and should have seen?

2 thoughts on “And now, for something completely different…

  1. Does the top stop spinning or not?! Augh…. I’ll never be able to stop thinking about it.

    I love movies, but I also love money, and so I haven’t seen many this year. We have a $1 theatre in town, so we do catch them after they’ve had their run.

    Glad for your reviews. I’ve got The King’s Speech on my list – might even fork over the $8 for it. I love, LOVE Colin Firth (have you seen Easy Virtue? His role in that movie was small but powerful.) And I’ve loved Geoffrey Rush ever since I saw him in Quills.

    I went to Inception kicking and screaming (ok, not quite that dramatic), expecting some half-a$$ story plot and assuming DiCaprio would at some point in the movie yell, “I’m king of the world!” Boy was I wrong. That movie blew. my. mind. Maybe it’s because I’m a vivid dreamer and connected with it on that level, but…. wow.

    Did you see Unstoppable? I was rolling my eyes the whole way to the theatre and during previews. And then the movie started, and my eyes stopped rolling. It was actually halfway decent. Totally unexpected. I guess it was also kinda cool that they filmed it in PA and kept all the real town names. Lots of shots of Central PA.

    “so if you’re a Con-Air kind of person (and I’m not going to hyperlink to anything with that, it doesn’t deserve it whatsoever), you might want to just skip along now.”
    Love it.

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