[31 August 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
The Summer of 2010 was a lot like one of those cheap, massive all you can eat buffets - dozens of different dishes to try out, all supposedly succulent and delectable, but most leaving you hungry and feeling malnourished. The studios, like cooks in these massive moviemaking assembly lines, have finally figured out how to micromanage a film down to its core components - casting to a certain age bracket, using genre and storyline to speak to yet another part of the demographic. By the time it gets down to hiring a director, setting a budget, and compiling its Comic-Con panel, it’s already figured out who’s going to show up come opening day and the dollar-derived numbers of such a sell-through. Even before DVD, Blu-ray, Pay Per View and On Demand, the suits know where their bottom line lies - which doesn’t leave a whole lot for that formerly mandatory movie element: magic.
Indeed, the entire year has been an underwhelming combination of undelivered promises and same old shi…nola. The runners up for this seasons honors reads like a who’s who of could of and should of beens. In the Best category, we can celebrate the anti-war stances of Micmacs, rally behind Steve Carrell’s scene stealing insanity in Dinner for Schmucks, and marvel at the nu-fear facets of Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime. On the down side, we continue to lament the commercial collapse of Nicolas The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Cage, argue over the franchise worthlessness of Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, and kvetch over which is worse - the sappy spirituality of Eat, Pray, Love or the romantic dopiness of The Switch/Letters to Juliet. Indeed, had we only discussed the Summer’s stink bombs, the piece would seem endless.
So as we do every year, SE&L struggles through the myriad of product we’ve compiled over the last four months and have come up with our Top Five Best/Worst titles for Summer 2010. A couple will cause concern, but in the general light of most critical thinking, the list is loaded with the usual cinematic suspects, beginning with the quintet that made us wish we never got in the film journalism biz in the first place:
In the cyclical world of horror films, we have suddenly shifted from the vile vivisection of torture porn to the undeniably hit or miss “found footage” approach. Sometimes, the concept works brilliantly (see #2 on this particular Summer Best List). At other instances, it fails to deliver on a single scare promise. Such is the case with this tepid terror take on demonic possession. For nearly an hour, nothing happens. Then our supposedly bedeviled heroine starts giving everyone dirty looks and bends over backwards. Big deal. Finally, our fledgling filmmakers decide to dump anything remotely associated with reality and turn the experience into Rosemary’s Baby on a Race with the Devil holiday. Just awful.
4. Sex and the City 2Director: Michael Patrick King
Frankly, this selection was as easy as shooting drunken cougars at a Chippendale’s review. This metro-RomCom ridiculousness may play like nothing more than a sneak peek inside the puppet Id of Wayland Flowers’ harpy puppet Madame, but there is even more to hate about the conspicuous consumption and demagnetized moral compass of these former HBOres. Taking the entire post-menopausal entourage to Middle East may have seemed like a blow for Western feminism, but it ended up playing like a mascara minstrel show, complete with our oversexed heroines debasing any and all cultures in the process. And yes - it was still only the fourth worst experience of the summer.
3. Vampires SuckDirector: Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer
Team Edward? Team Jacob? How about Team Crap? In an oeuvre that will be argued over like the various levels Abu Ghraib torture, supposed filmmakers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer finally find a perfect target for their Mad Magazine written by dead monkeys approach to lampoon - and completely miss the mark. Granted, there is so much about Stephanie Meyer’s cat lady meets teen angst supernatural love story that plays like a parody that staying focused must be hard, but somehow, the duo that turned the term “movie” into something to be feared (Date Movie, Extreme Movie and the totally apropos Disaster Movie) fail to deliver on said potential time and time again.
2. Lottery TicketDirector: Erik White
Sometimes, a critic can use the audience as a gauge of a film’s success. While never a consistent or completely valid radar, a horror film without screams or a comedy without laughs indicates an abject failure of the genre basics. So you know things are bad when a crowd primed to see their favorite onscreen faces crack them up instead sits silently, struggling mightily to find a single reason to snicker. Even when male machismo is undermined and new school hip-hop icons are mumbling away furiously, the viewers in attendance for this Brewster’s Millions mediocrity sat there, stone faced. It was amazing to watch enthusiasm turn to ennui, then to a mad dash to the nearest exit.
1. Jonah HexDirector: Jimmy Hayward
It’s rare when a movie wholly fails on two accounts - both as entertainment and as an actual film - but this horrific adaptation of the DC property managed that…and much, much more. Incoherent to the point of preposterousness, jumping around like a sugared grade schooler with hyperactive ADD and actually wasting the questionable talents of Megan Fox, this proposed actioner was a fiasco from the moment Crank‘s Neveldine/Taylor were fired in favor of Horton Hears a Who helmer Jimmy Hayward. Their original script, filled with sex, violence, and horror hybrid specialization was then stripped of all its intentions and turned into an incomprehensible riff on Will Smith’s Wild Wild West. The results were just as repugnant.
Imagine Hannibal Lector sponsored by the Free Masons and you’ve got some idea of how brilliant the basic premise of this foreign thriller really is. Combining Nazis, secret societies, eccentric wealthy families (and their isolated estates) and the unlikely duo of a disgraced investigative journalist and his angry Goth gal computer hacker sidekick as our “heroes”, this Swedish Silence of the Lambs is just amazing. It’s taut, terrifying, and when it needs to be, tough to endure. With the absolutely stunning Noomi Rapace as the title character and a narrative that plays out over three incredible novels, this introduction to the late Stieg Larsson’s take on the thriller is very special indeed.
4. Toy Story 3Director: Lee Unkrich
Sequels rarely succeed. With that in mind, tre-quels are even more tentative. Few, if any, have found a way to keep up with their originals, let alone surpass them in endearing entertainment. So leave it to the still perfect Pixar to once again deliver a sunny Summer surprise among all the dismal faux Disney dreck. Few thought the animation experts could surpass the sentiment of Toy Story 2, but by focusing on how our attachment to childhood changes as we age, these geniuses created a masterpiece. For the single scene in the incinerator, by far the best movie moment of the season, they should be earning enough Year-End accolades to fill their already overrun awards cabinet.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The WorldDirector: Edgar Wright
It’s such a shame that mainstream moviegoers couldn’t embrace this visionary take on the RomCom. Perhaps its stylistic cousin - Marc Webb’s wonderful (500) Days of Summer - was more than enough reinvention for the masses. Whatever the case, Edgar Wright’s reputation as a director of infinite skill was confirmed (and then some) by this take on the popular graphic novel, a wistful indie look at love and interpersonal baggage in the form of variations on video game aesthetic. Few films have tapped into a particular zeitgeist as readily or reverently, with the imaginative use of all a medium has to offer. Perhaps it will see a second life on home video. It definitely deserves it.
2. [REC]2Director: Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
Remember the last time you were really scared by a horror movie, when the premise, performances, and payoffs got under your skin in a way that disturbed your waking moments and totally destroyed your ability to sleep? No multiply that dread times two and you’ve got some idea of how absolutely perfect this sequel is. Picking up directly where the first film ended and playing like a combination of Aliens and The Exorcist, we have a flawless combination of narrative expansion and invention both working to make our trip through this infected apartment house even more unnerving. And the best thing about it all? The ending suggests an easy route to a third installment (which is already being planned - YEAH! ).
1. InceptionDirector: Christopher Nolan
It was the water cooler conversation starter of Summer 2010, and with good reason. It frustrated some, entranced others, and set off a series of debates about meaning, interpretation, storytelling, and the intelligence starved state of Hollywood. At the center stands Christopher Nolan, the man who turned Batman into a post-modern part of the crime drama. Working within a 3D chess game of ideas and possibilities, he draws career defining performances out of his cast while constantly challenging the audience to fall right along into his reality twisting rabbit hole. He then maneuvers and manipulates the various pieces, pulling significance and implication out of the emptiness of our own entertainment expectations. His success shine a light on how otherwise uninvolving the typical Tinseltown title really is.