Monday, February 7, 2011

Mountain Monkey's 10 Best Films of 2010 and Oscar Predictions

Vicious indie political satire veiled as a horror flick. An insanely disturbing movie about ballet. A sports movie that avoids abusing montage or the pump-up speech. A romance which ends badly and without hope of redemption. A film which almost entirely takes place in a crevice between two rock walls one hundred miles from civilization. These anomalies, seemingly oxymorons, all hit theaters last year. And they are part of the reason 2010 surpasses any single year in recent movie memory. 

Honorable Mention Shutter Island
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Laeta Kalogridis (screenplay), Dennis Lehane (novel)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo
IMDB Ranking: 8.0
Metacritic: 63 ("generally favorable")
Mountain Monkey Scale of 2-212: 178

Beautifully filmed with stark noir scenery, and bearing a first-viewing unpredictability reminiscent of The Sixth Sense, Shutter Island is perhaps Scorsese's most critically underrated movie in years. Two U.S. Marshals are hired to investigate the disappearance of a patient at a highly guarded mental institution on an isolated island off the coast of Massachusetts. The ongoing investigation exposes a multilayered conspiracy of spookiness that crosses elements of Hitchcock, The Maltese Falcon, and The Truman Show with the best of The X-Files. Though the ending twist is sudden and perhaps difficult to believe, its unpredictability more than compensates.

10. Easy A

Directed by Will Gluck
Written by Bert V. Royal
Starring Emma Stone
IMDB Ranking: 7.2
Metacritic: 72 ("generally favorable")
Mountain Monkey Scale of 2-212: 178

A genuinely hilarious high school comedy that lambasts our witch-trial culture, Easy A is the best written movie in its genre in a very long time - and maybe ever. Eschewing the vapid nostalgia of something like Varsity Blues and the truly braindead comedy of most American Pie imitators, Easy A only appears to be anything like its predecessors. The story is the Scarlet Letter rewritten: a girl willingly sacrifices her reputation to perpetuate a lie that is serving and protecting her classmates and teachers. Aside from offering a scathingly sarcastic condemnation of the way we live - during (and well after) high school - it also offers the perfect engine for the sharp tongue of an actress startlingly capable of handling big words (a preciously rare skill, given our society's recently born desire to abbreviate and amputate the English language). If extreme at points, it only serves to highlight the satire.

9. True Grit

Directed by The Coen Brothers
Written by The Coen Brothers (screenplay) and Charles Portis (novel)
IMDB Ranking: 8.2
Metacritic: 80 ("generally favorable")
Mountain Monkey Scale of 2-212: 182

Filmed in typically epic Coen Brothers fashion, True Grit brilliantly evokes the colors and character of pre-citified Texarkana. Endlessly witty and darkly comic dialogue transcends a very simple and straightforward story: a young girl attempting to mete homebred country values on the world which murdered her father. This true grit, immediately apparent in Mattie Ross, is peeled slowly back from the in-town, on-trial drunken Rooster Cogburn as the story progresses. Though the conflict of the story is perhaps resolved too easily to allow for the suspense of past Coen masterpieces, True Grit stands on its own for its wit and artful narration.

Directed by David Yates
Written by Steve Kloves (screenplay) and J.K. Rowling (novel)
IMDB Ranking: 7.9
Metacritic: 65 ("generally favorable")
Mountain Monkey Scale of 2-212: 183

Very clearly, Deathly Hallows is the first Potter film to truly transcend, and even surpass, its novel counterpart. In my opinion the seventh book has always been the weakest of the seven part series, but that does not diminish what this movie has accomplished. By giving themselves nearly six hours - and two installments - to tell the conclusion to the story of Voldemort's rise to power and the ensuing hunt to end  his immortality, Yates and Kloves finally have the space with which to capture the beauty of the Potter story. The greatest parts of the book are not only captured, they are expanded. It is everything that the first five films could have been, everything which number three seemed to touch briefly, which six explored successfully. The horcrux-seeking, wilderness-wandering travels of Harry, Hermione, and Ron have a distinctly Lord of the Rings feel to them (and the excellent cinematography to match), which is entirely fine. The cliched, child-oriented, disneyesque character of many of the other movies is entirely absent here, and any real Potter fan will appreciate the depth of detail and emotional reality these adaptations have long lacked.

7. 127 Hours

Directed by Danny Boyle
Written by Danny BoyleSimon Beaufoy (screenplay) and Aron Ralston (book)
Starring James Franco
IMDB Ranking: 8.2
Metacritic: 82 ("universal acclaim")
Mountain Monkey Scale of 2-212: 188

The Beaufoy-Boyle team, plus cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and composer A.R. Rahman, responsible for Slumdog Millionaire, faithfully dramatize the story of a desert hiker who must hack off his own arm when it becomes trapped under a rock. Boyle, whose directing past includes Sunshine and 28 Days Later (both Mountain Monkey Hall of Fame movies), proves yet again he is one of the best directors alive today. The story of Aron Ralston's tragedy is interspersed with bits of his past, from the moments that made him who he is, to the adventurous and independent conceit that led him to disappear into Utah's Canyonlands National Park wilderness without telling a soul. The deftly handled transitions from past to present are a major highlight, along with an outstanding soundtrack and a best actor-worthy performance from James Franco.

6. Blue Valentine

Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Written by Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, Joey Curtis
IMDB Ranking: 8.0
Metacritic: 81 ("universal acclaim")
Mountain Monkey Scale of 2-212: 189

It took Cianfrance 12 years to write Blue Valentine, and it shows in the careful craftsmanship of the plot and dialogue connections and references. The film alternates between the dark heartbreak and fury of a marriage in the present, to scenes of its humble and innocent beginnings six years earlier. It is filmed in a slow, stripped-down, detailed, contemplative style that seems a cross between Once and The Wrestler. Incredibly realistic, it contains none of the crowd-pleasing Hollywood archetypes which seem to saturate, and eventually poison, even the best-conceived stories. Ryan Gosling's role as a well-intentioned, simple-minded mover was the best acting performance of the year.

5. The Fighter

Directed by David O. Russell
Written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson (screenplay), Keith Dorrington (story)
IMDB Ranking: 8.2
Metacritic: 79 ("generally favorable reviews")
Mountain Monkey Scale of 2-212: 193

The Fighter ignores and at points defies all the protocols of the typical cliched sports film. Where Rocky 19, We Are Titan, Remember Marshall's Last Friday Night would resort to montage, empty romance, and filler side-characters, David O. Russell delivers a poignant, excellently acted, and complete story. The film is distinctive within its genre for risking to avoid the guarantee of mediocrity that is the formulaic docudrama, and instead shooting a grisly and gusty movie that is real. The sentimentality is never cheap, which is the single greatest threat to all sports movies. It focuses on a boxer from a bad Massachussetts neighborhood, spited by family and fate, clearly competing for more than the empty claim of a championship. It relishes in its focus on detail and overlooks almost nothing in its character analysis. Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, and especially Christian Bale prove they can convincingly fill untypical, dangerous roles. One of the better original screenplays of the year, and probably the best sports movie since Chariots of Fire.

Written by Christopher Nolan
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Marion Cotillard
IMDB Ranking: 9.0
Metacritic: 74 ("generally favorable")
Mountain Monkey Scale of 2-212: 198

Perhaps the most popular movie released since Christopher Nolan's own 2008 The Dark Knight, Inception is an incredibly original action movie continuing Nolan's line the line of innovative action movies. In Memento, Nolan created a film which began at the end, and traced the story of an amnesia victim backwards, scene by scene. Inception is a similar subversion of action-film conventions, taking place almost entirely within a dream, a dream's dream, and a dream's dream dream. The unpredictably of the plotline and the very effective eeriness of the dream storyline is underlined by a consistently built tension that does not cease from the very first moment of the film. If the film had been slowed down and lengthened by another 45-60 minutes to examine some of its complicated twists and fascinating locations in closer detail, it would certainly be a threat for a number one spot.

3. The Social Network

Directed by David Fincher
Written by Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), Ben Mezrich (book)
IMDB Ranking: 8.2
Metacritic: 95 ("universal acclaim")
Mountain Monkey Scale of 2-212: 202

A thoroughly riveting and razorous examination of the founding of Facebook, and the reflection which the popularity of this new form of communication makes upon the human condition. The film is exceptional for its brilliant acting and writing, and more specifically for the cultural relevance to the state of the world in 2010. Every facet of Facebook reflects some aspect of human personality, and each is unflinchingly and often unflatteringly revealed in the story of the website's founding. Admittedly fictionalized and exaggerated for effect, it nonetheless displays, in witty fashion, the darkly comic underside of one of the most successful entreprenuerial ventures in history. The obvious favorite for Best Picture at the Oscars.

Directed by Gareth Edwards
Written by Gareth Edwards
IMDB Ranking: 6.5
Metacritic: 63 ("generally favorable")
Mountain Monkey Scale of 2-212: 204

A reflective and thought-provoking metaphor of a film, veiled as an evolved Cloverfield yet working more in the strain of District 9 than anything else in recent memory. A photojournalist attempts to escort a woman home to America through a ravaged Mexican that has been infected by 'monsters' - massive extraterrestrial creatures who have been engaged in combat by human military. The giant wall that has been erected at the U.S.-Mexican border plays a prominent part in the film. A final scene near the end, where the true nature and identity of the 'monsters' is revealed, a scene very reminiscent of the legendary lights scene in Close Encounters, was one of the more powerful single moments in a film this entire year. The movie is filmed realistically, with a sharply edited style that cuts all unneeded Hollywood dialogue and filler-explanation. Revelations in plot and scenery are made naturally, and you have the feel that you are discovering the story with the characters, not be guided by an omniscient directorial hand that needs always remind you of its presence. 

1. Black Swan

Written by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, and John J. McGlaughlin
IMDB Ranking: 8.6
Metacritic: 79 ("generally favorable")
Mountain Monkey Scale of 2-212: 209

A perfectly directed, written and edited film, Black Swan was obviously meticulously planned by director Darren Aronofsky for tremendous emotional effect. A woman wins the coveted lead role in a ballet company's production of Swan Lake, and undergoes a personal transformation to fit the dueling personas of the black and white swan. Despite the seemingly innocent nature of the ballet background plot, the film maintains a distinctly portentous air of doom. The grisly cinematographic style perfected by Aronofsky in Requiem for a Dream to display the brutality of drug abuse is used here to analyze the precarious kinetics of professional ballet. Natalie Portman's character is in constant flux, evolving from real to imagined, innocent to evil, white swan to black, with such smoothness that your perspective of the story changes with her. The lines gradually blur between reality and art, and by the concluding scene, the final production of the ballet, they vanish altogether. Ultimately the movie is a comment on the inseparability of those two things: real life, and real art. By far the best made movie of 2010.

Mountain Monkey also recommends: Never Let Me Go, happythankyoumoreplease, Shutter Island, Love and Other Drugs, The Ghost Writer, The Way Back, Winter's Bone.

Other Top Ten Lists From Around America

One of my favorite parts of watching good movies is comparing them. Consistently, critics, particularly well known ones such as Roger Ebert, offer up some claim that 'art cannot be ordered' and that is 'futile to rank films', yet they still do it every year. It is not futile to rank films, it is difficult to rank films - big difference. Every movie can be compared to every other movie. How different writers do this is the subject of another post entirely, but for now, before I expose you to a slew of reviewers who will tell you the exact opposite without any real explanation, I want to make it clear that it is done and that it should be done. To nominate films for any award, they must be directly ranked. To even distinguish ten films from the rest, their must be some form of ranking.

Take care to note that some of the frequently overrated films on the lists below deserve a final lambasting from Mountain Monkey before they are given props by media monkeys around the globe.

1) Toy Story 3 is a cartoon. It should not be compared with movies which required the full bodies and voices of real people, and the ensuing realities of production and directing, which comprise a live action feature film. Award the animators and screenwriters in a separate cartoon category, but don't compare it to a real movie - it's not! And I use exclamation points about as often as CNN or Fox present an unbiased and educated perspective. So...

2) The Kids Are Messed Up I admittedly did not see, nor will I see. Perhaps stubborness is a terrible trait in a film critic, but I don't think I'm being closed-minded. I will give just about anything a fair shot. This was instantly marketed to be over-hyped, and I have every expectation it fulfills its boring and feel-good promise.

3) The Town Good and suspenseful action movie. Not Inside Man, not even Heist. Keep in mind that many critics use affirmative action to form their best of the year lists. By this I mean they think by selecting the best in a genre or from a certain subgroup, they are portraying the best of the year. Not true, and also misleading to moviegoers.

4) The King's Speech was another well-made movie that gets a bad name on Mountain Monkey because of how overrated it has become.

The Chicago Sun Times (Roger Ebert)
Associated Press
Austin Chronicle
Baltimore Sun
Boston Globe
Christian Science Monitor
Entertainment Weekly
Film School Rejects
L.A. Times
New Orleans Times
New York Daily News
New York Times
The New Yorker
The Onion
The Oregonian
Philadelphia Inquirer
Rolling Stone (Peter Travers)
San Francisco Chronicle
USA Today
Village Voice
Wall Street Journal
Washington Post

Mountain Monkey at the Oscars 

To view a full list of the nominees, check out IMDB's informative page on the upcoming Academy Awards.

Best Picture
Who Should Win: Black Swan.
Who Will Win: Social Network, because Mark Zuckerberg was Time person of the year in 2010, and it's more socially relevant, etc., though not a better movie, than Black Swan. And god strike me down if it goes to The Kids aren't Alright or King's Speech. Or Toy Story 3. I don't care if it inspired the revolution in Egypt, cartoons should not be considered in the same category as live action films. P.S., my friend alerted me to some factual inaccuracies in King's Speech, particularly regarding the relationship between Winston Churchill and the supposed anti-Nazi self-deposed predecessor and older brother of King Firth. Check out Christopher Hitchens outing Edward VIII as a Nazi-sympathizer in Slate Magazine.

Best Actor
Who Should Win: Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine, but since he wasn't even nominated, it should to James Franco for 127 Hours.
Who Will Win: King Firth, of the Royal British Society of Monarch-Worshipping Filmgoers

Best Actress
Who Should Win: Natalie Portman for Black Swan
Who Will Win: Natalie Portman, and if not I will likely not be paying any attention to this ceremony in the future.

Best Supporting Actor
Who Should Win: Torn between Christian Bale for The Fighter, and Geoffrey Rush, the therapist from King's Speech, which was undoubtedly the best part of the movie. Andrew Garfield was decent in Social Network as well, but was not nominated. Bale's part involved losing a significant amount of weight and taking on a drug-addict's accent and persona, so I think he deserves the win here.
Who Will Win: Geoffrey Rush. They will have to make up for not giving Best Picture to a feel good flick. Not to mention, he was the only truly sympathetic character in the whole story.

Best Supporting Actress
Who Should Win: Either Amy Adams or Melissa Leo from The Fighter. Though the main character in True Grit, played by Hailee Stenfield, was undoubtedly good, I don't think she was given enough room by the Coen Brothers to expand beyond the overly (and sometimes unbelievable and so distracting as to be detracting) western vernacular of the screenplay. The former two each played out characters that were pretty shocking, and handled clearly more demanding roles.
Who Will Win: Melissa Leo - with a small possibility of another point for King's Speech with Helena Bonham Carter's six-line role (is there not a minimum limit of screen time or dialogue spoken in order to be considered "supporting"?)

Best Original Screenplay
Who Should Win: Inception, 100%. The mind of a literary novelist was required to conceive the plot. The structure itself is similar to William Faulkner's Light in August, where two characters are presented, and a story is told about their past involving other characters and events, and a story about those characters is told involving even more characters and events. This parenthetical technique of storytelling, simply put - (two men walking down the road meet two children (two children come from a house where a woman was just murdered (the woman was murdered by the mentally deranged cousin of the two men walking down the road))) - is employed by Christopher Nolan in Inception with the dream within a dream within a dream idea.
Who Will Win: The Kids are Alright. There's a double feel good option in this category, as King's Speech was also nominated. I will take this opportunity beforehand to vomit, for manufactured sentimentality being so lauded in our world.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Who Should Win: Social Network, though 127 Hours was excellent and would win in most years.
Who Will Win: Social Network.

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