This wraps up 2010 for us here at Cinesnark. “Us” being me and my nerd box Megan.
Pixar turned in their annual stellar piece of work like clockwork, returning to the Toy Story franchise with the threequel and rendering us all weepy, nostalgic messes as Woody & Co. showed us what happens to our toys when we outgrow them. What made this year special for cartoons were the number of very quality non-Pixar work. Dreamworks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon was a surprise early-summer hit and Disney Animation scored a box office surprise of their own with Tangled this fall. Megamind and Despicable Me were one-off the leaders of the pack but they were very enjoyable cartoons all the same. It was also a good year for non-computer animation lead by French director Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist (L’illusionniste).
2010 also saw an especially strong crop of documentaries. Wall Street meltdown doc Inside Job was my favorite of the year, but many critics favored Sebastian Junger (of Perfect Storm fame) and Tim Hetherington’s look at life inside an Army squadron serving in Afghanistan, Restrepo. There was also the chilling A Film Unfinished about “lost footage” of the Warsaw ghetto taken by the Nazis during World War II. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, The Tillman Story, and Exit Through the Gift Shop were popular on the festival circuit yet Freakonomics seemed to come and go without a blip. And of course, there was the is-it-or-isn’t-it real drama surrounding Catfish and 2010 had Davis Guggenheim’s follow up to An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman. The story of the Disney Animation revival is told in the excellent Waking Sleeping Beauty and Eliot Spitzer explains how he ruined his life in Client 9. There are over two dozen strong docs this year, an unusually deep field.
This year was dominated by dramas and dramatic central performances. Natalie Portman (Black Swan), James Franco (127 Hours), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Christian Bale (The Fighter) all gave defining performances and actresses like Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole) and Halle Berry (Frankie and Alice) attempted to return to dramatic glory with roles in art-house fare. Early-year releases like Get Low and Winter’s Bone featured fine lead performances from Robert Duvall and Jennifer Lawrence, respectively, but they got a bit lost in the shuffle with the crush of dramas released late in the year for Oscar contention. True Grit made Hailee Steinfeld the hottest teenage actress today and a legitimate star to boot, while Chloe Grace Moretz was unfairly overlooked by many in the Let the Right One In remake, Let Me In, which also featured a great performance from Richard Jenkins. Barry Pepper turned in two a-ma-zing character jobs with Casino Jack and True Grit, being virtually unrecognizable in the latter. Black Swan, Inception and Somewhere are particularly stylish and visual dramas and 2010 had two terrific dramedies with The King’s Speech and The Kids Are All Right.
As good as 2010 was to dramas, it was harsh on comedies. The Duplass Brothers’ Cyrus is the only comedy I really liked, though The A-Team proved unintentionally hilarious. Date Night, Dinner for Schmucks, Due Date, Easy A and The Other Guys were all passably funny but I don’t think I’d sit through any of them again (of course, I said that about Zoolander once and now that’s one of my favorite all-time comedies, so it’s likely one of these movies ends up in heavy rotation later). Get Him to the Greek and Hot Tub Time Machine disappointed me and four of the top-earning comedies of the year (Grown Ups, Valentine’s Day, Sex and the City 2 and The Bounty Hunter) are straight up revolting. One stand out comedy was Britain’s terrorist farce Four Lions but that movie is definitely not for all audiences and while I admire the chutzpah that went into making it, I found much of the humor flat.
Based on an obscure graphic novel series by Andy Diggle and Jock, The Losers is what The A-Team tried to be. For despite The A-Team’s star-studded roster (and Sharlto Copely’s genuinely funny turn as a nutso pilot), the movie never quite gelled for me. The Losers, on the other hand, has improved in my estimation over the year. When I first saw it in theaters last April, I thought it was a passably entertaining action-comedy—unlike The A-Team, which found its humor in sheer farcical insanity, The Losers was actually trying to be funny. Tried and succeeded. Because one day in a Best Buy I picked up the DVD and decided to give it another spin and I liked it. More, better. I took The Losers to a movie night where it was a big hit, making the whole room laugh consistently and argue over the physical plausibility of the stunts. I have recommended it to a number of people, none of whom have been disappointed. The Losers very quietly made one of the most enjoyable pieces of popcorn in 2010.
Then-new, now-defunct distributor Apparition’s partners, Bill Pohlad and Bob Berney, couldn’t agree how to market this. Berney planned a wide release, Pohlad made a late decision to cut the release back to a limited platform and also reduce marketing spending. Pohlad had the right of it—The Runaways played better to art-house audiences who remembered the 1970’s girl group, especially since its R rating kept the younger fans of Twilight, from which hailed The Runaways’ two stars, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, out of theaters. The Runaways was a solid music biopic. First-time features director Floria Sigismondi nailed the 70’s aesthetic and despite the inherently cliché rag-to-riches-to-rags story, she kept The Runaways from feeling cliché. Fanning gave her best performance in years as lead singer Cherie Currie and Michael Shannon was off the chain as manager Kim Fowley (Shannon’s work is especially interesting when contrasted with his super-restrained performance on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire). And Stewart—who famously mulletized her hair for the part–perfectly embodied Joan Jett, wielding her guitar and attitude like a double-edged battle axe, stomping her way into rock’n’roll legend by sheer determination. Backed by a great soundtrack and excellent period details, The Runaways deserved better than it got.
Best Comeback: Ben Affleck
When Affleck arrived on the scene in the mid 1990’s with pal Matt Damon and their smarty-arty, feel good friendship movie Good Will Hunting, he was embraced by the American public. He was a Boston boy made good! Who doesn’t love that story? Everyone loved it until Affleck made a laundry list of shitty movies (Reindeer Games, Gigli, Pearl Harbor, Jersey Girl, Daredevil, and Bounce all come to mind) and then engaged in an overly public, embarrassingly leveraged relationship with Jennifer Lopez. By the time Bennifer I was over, Affleck had whittled away all his public sentiment. But Affleck started making the right moves, taking a year off in 2005 and disappearing before re-emerging in character roles in smaller films, like Hollywoodland, and content to let years pass before working again. And in the interim he married Jennifer Garner, launching Bennifer II and producing two adorable tots, thus giving him a stable family image in the public—Affleck the reformed rake—and co-writing and directing a surprisingly solid effort with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone. 2010, however, marked Affleck’s real re-emergence into the public conscience with The Town. It’s his best effort yet as a filmmaker and also the best leading role Affleck has ever played, and it’s garnering him some recognition this award season. He also made it through 2010 without getting divorced, so all around a great year for Ben Affleck.
Biggest Downfall: Mel Gibson
Best of New TV
Timothy Olyphant returned to a leading role on TV with FX’s Justified and the result was a widely admired, gritty crime drama about an old-school (read: trigger happy) US Marshal assigned to apply his law (because Raylan Givens’ laws are better than the actual laws—that should be the season two tagline) to his hometown in rural Kentucky. I really like Olyphant—he’s a charismatic and handsome leading man with relaxed delivery, and he’s a performer content to let scenes unwind without having to be the center all the time. A lot of Walking Dead fanboys wanted him for Officer Rick and while I see their point, I think ultimately Olyphant’s overtly butch sexuality is too much for Rick Grimes, who is at heart a peaceable family man pushed past endurance. But Olyphant is perfect for Raylan, a swaggering alpha dog who not only pisses on your leg but sets it on fire just to prove a point. Justified is over the top Southern Gothic drama but with such a likeable lead surrounded by a capable supporting cast, it’s always fun.
The Walking Dead
Season one, only six episodes long, was short on characterization but it did just enough to introduce us to our band of zombie-apocalypse survivors. Lead by Rick Grimes, a sheriff’s deputy outside Atlanta who goes into a coma right before the zombies obliterate modern society, the crew includes Rick’s best friend and partner (and uber-douche) Shane, Rick’s wife Lori and son Carl, and a raggedy bunch of survivors including RV warrior Dale, future zombie killing machine Andrea, ex-pizza boy turned zombie-defeating general Glenn and white supremacist Daryl (whose older brother Merle is likely to become the show’s villain). Headed by movie man Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), The Walking Dead had a spectacularly cinematic look and really gross zombies, thanks largely to monster make-up master George Nicotero. The cast is largely veterans of TV and character actors, though lead Andrew Lincoln is pretty well known in his native UK. The acting was a bit choppy from some of the secondary players but I’m hoping with more room to breathe in season two that evens out. Season one, short though it was, was enthralling and left us salivating for more. And that pilot was a thing of beauty.
Best of Old TV
I debated between this and the also-excellent Community but ultimately went with 30 Rock for its consistency. Community can produce big laughs but I know every episode of 30 Rock will make me laugh at least four times. I want Liz Lemon to be my friend. Like I imagine all the conversations I would have with her. We would be such good friends. Why isn’t she real? In lieu of that, I’ll take lady-crushing on Tina Fey. 30 Rock remains one of the consistently best comedies anywhere on TV and though NBC is practically in the ground these days, you have to admire them for sticking with Fey and her television-skewering show (NBC is often the butt of many jokes) even though ratings have never been all that high. The addition of Matt Damon as Liz’s cranky pilot boyfriend, Carol, was a genius stroke and this season has benefitted from his here-and-gone presence. Here’s hoping he pops up in the season finale.
Is this show ever not good? Season four had some real gems, from Joan’s pregnancy to Peggy’s rise as a force within the firm and the sudden expiration of Miss Blankenship. I love this show so much I almost can’t talk about it at all. Like it’s a private ritual just for me to watch it. I think my favorite aspect is the relationship between Don and Peggy, mentor and mentee, and maybe the healthiest relationship in Don’s life. I…just can’t talk about this anymore. I won’t get anything else done for the day.
Daniel Tosh is one comedian who did not change one thing about his club act to adapt it to TV. Tosh.0 season two was more of the weirdest, most disturbing internet videos to be found undercut with Tosh’s scathing one-liners and criticism. To call Tosh.0 “just a clip show” is to completely miss the point—Tosh is deconstructing pop culture gone viral with a wit and style that would do Oscar Wilde proud. What I really want to see in season three is for Tosh and The Soup’s Joel McHale to go head-to-head in a zingathon.
Worst of TV
I LOVED season one of glee. LOVED IT. I was so excited for season two. And then season two got here and I…hated it. Like, HATED it. Glee was one of the freshest, most relevant shows on TV–with so many people concerned about bullying these days, here is a show about misfits banding together through music to survive high school bullies and the teacher that encourages them to realize their potential and dream bigger than their small town. The show had a cast of complex, well balanced characters lead by cool teacher Mr. Schue (Broadway star Matthew Morrison), who could run a classroom better than anyone but could barely manage his person life. Cheer coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) was hilariously vile, the perfect foil to over-serious Schue. And who wasn’t really touched when she voted for New Directions in the end? There were a few cameos that played effectively, such as Josh Groban and Olivia Newton-John starring as themselves, but on the whole Glee was character-driven ensemble piece that found creative ways to work music into the show. Now it’s just horrible. It’s devolved into episode of stunt casting after episode of stunt casting, Sue is a caricature of a caricature, Schue has become a creepy, unlikeable man, and the kids are running amok. There are too many of them. Who are all these kids? Each week brings a new Glee casting announcement and most of these people aren’t really contributing to anything other than more noise. But perhaps worst of all is the music. Where before Glee featured musical numbers that enhanced and advanced the story at appropriate points, now it’s a fifty minute music video. People just start singing for no reason, which is exactly why I hate musicals. They’re never organic. And that Glee these days. Not organic and too noisy.
$*!% My Dad Says
Remember when this Twitter feed was funny? Well it’s not funny anymore and the show is a disgrace to the name “comedy”. The pilot episode was one of the most painfully unfunny things I’ve ever sat through in my life and I’ve been to a Carrot Top show. And what really chaps my ass about this show is that the premise—a guy in his late twenties loses his job amidst the recent economic upheaval and must return to live at home with his irascible dad—is totally my generation and I still hate it! That’s us—staying at home or returning home because college leaves us with massive bills we can’t possibly repay on entry level salaries. I have friends who moved home after losing fancy downtown condos to foreclosure when they lost their jobs at this, that or the other financial institution. I know a guy with a top-notch MBA who’s still bartending where he worked in college because he’s overqualified for entry level but under-experienced for anything else. This is my life! What I loved about the Twitter was that it perfectly highlighted the gap that defines us as a generation—the classic “American dream” isn’t panning out anymore and we’re making a new one through technology. There is rich material there for a sharp social satire yet CBS and creator Justin Halpern waste it in favor of lame “jokes” and William Shatner.
Best Commercial: Kevin Bacon for Logitech
Funny every time and improves on repeat viewings. Bacon’s Logitech ad just beat out the Old Spice Guy, mostly because after the Super Bowl I never saw the Old Spice ads on TV again.
Worst Commercial: Ellen Page for Cisco
These make me uncomfortable and kind of embarrassed for Page. It’s not that they’re bad ads in and of themselves, but more that it’s massively the wrong product for Page to be endorsing.