2010 Film Retrospective

A recent Cracked Podcast dedicated to year end lists offered up what I thought was a great idea. The basic idea was concerned with big events of the most recent year might not appear as important with the passage of time. They'd spoken before about how they think the Oscars should have a five or ten year waiting period for that very reason. Why's that you might ask? Well think of 1998. The film that won Best Picture was Shakespeare In Love. There was a lot of drama surrounding that film's Oscar race, but seventeen years later I think it's obvious the more important film released that year was Steven Spielberg's war drama Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg's film has remained an iconic and lasting commentary on sacrifice and war whereas Shakespeare In Love is just a good movie. 

It's difficult to assess something in the moment. Time is a useful tool though, especially for film. Jason Pargin of the Cracked Podcast thinks that The Dark Knight will age awfully because the film works so well in a certain context and time period. Pargin argues the superserious superhero genre Chris Nolan drove forward will be laughable in ten years. 

To expand on Pargin's thought process, if you consider the other superhero film of 2008, Iron Man, that is a classic example of not fully grasping something's importance in the moment. At the time, Iron Man was just another superhero film. Eight years later we now know it's a film that has permanently changed a lot of the Hollywood business model. It paved the way for Marvel Studios. It revitalized the superhero genre. Perhaps it's biggest contribution was the beginning of the Shared Cinematic Universe model, something that is being adopted across the board in Hollywood. 

So instead of summarizing 2014 in film and listing my best and worst, I'm going to go back in time and look at 2010 in film. At the beginning of next year I'll look at 2011, and so on. So let's get into it. 

First let's list the top 10 grossing films of 2010. Source: Wikipedia.

1.    Toy Story 3    Disney / Pixar    $1,063,171,911
2.    Alice in Wonderland    Disney    $1,025,467,110
3.    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1    Warner Bros.    $960,283,305
4.    Inception    Warner Bros. / Legendary    $825,531,030
5.    Shrek Forever After    Paramount / DreamWorks Animation    $752,600,867
6.    The Twilight Saga: Eclipse    Summit Entertainment    $698,491,347
7.    Iron Man 2    Paramount / Marvel    $623,933,331
8.    Tangled    Disney    $591,794,936
9.    Despicable Me    Universal / Illumination    $543,113,985
10.    How to Train Your Dragon    Paramount / DreamWorks Animation    $494,878,759

And now let's briefly touch upon the Oscar winners of 2010. 

  • The King's Speech won Best Picture
  • Tom Hooper won Best Director for The King's Speech
  • Colin Firth won Best Actor for The King's Speech
  • Natalie Portman won Best Actress for Black Swan
  • Christian Bale won Best Supporting Actor for The Fighter
  • Melissa Leo won Best Supporting Acress for The Fighter
  • Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross won Best Original Score for The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3 won for Best Animated Film

So let's start with a few observations.

  • Toy Story 3 is the only top grossing film of the year to win any of the listed Oscars. 
  • Five of the top ten grossing films were animated. 
  • Only Inception and Despicable Me were not based on existing properties at the time. 
  • Three films were based on books.
  • Only one superhero film released that year. 

It's interesting to note that half of the top grossing films were animated. Animated films typically rake in higher box office grosses, but this was a standout year for animation. Aside from that, only one of the top 10 films that year was an original film. 

That film is of course Inception from director Chris Nolan. Since Inception, Nolan has made the finale to his Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar. Since Interstellar, Chris Nolan has become a filmmaker who still dreams big, but perhaps we're starting to see those limitations. Rises fell prey to some cliches that quite franky Nolan is better than, and Insterstellar had it's share of convenience and plot holes. 

So when we look back at Inception, it's hard to say. The film still holds up, and most of us have an opinion on that ending. The performances are great, his ambition undeniable, but it still is difficult to follow, despite Nolan clearly trying. For me, it's still a film I'm a huge fan of, but I know he can do better. Yet since Inception, I don't think he has. But Nolan is a filmmaker with vision and he can get the budgets to meet that vision. In short, we can't give up, and any original filmmaking deserves our support.  

Moving on, let's take the top grossing film of the year, Toy Story 3. How could it not be? Toy Story changed the game and revolutionized animated films. The finale to the story was perfect and still stands as one of the best films of all time. 

As great as it is, I don't revisit it that often. I think knowing how good it was going to be took the edge off. I know when I think of 2010 though, the film I loved infinitely more was number 10 on that list: How To Train Your Dragon.

HTTYD is a marvel all across the board. There is beautiful animation, a compelling and touching story that doesn't pull it's punches but respects it's audience, and a breathtaking score from John Powell. Something about Dragon resonated deeply with me that year and still does. It has since 2010 had a sequel, a tv spinoff, and is slated for a final in 2017. The sequel continued the greatness. The franchise has always had a certain ballsiness that is admirable. The relationships of the characters is just as compelling as those in Toy Story. I'm not saying one is better than the other, but for some reason the story of Toothless and Hiccup resonates more. 

Now let's shift gears and focus on number seven in the list, Iron Man 2. When released, Iron Man 2 wasn't the most loved at the time. It failed to deliver a story that was as compelling as the first film. The production of Iron Man 2 was rushed much to the chagrin of Jon Favreau, and undoubtedly it is the reason he didn't return for Iron Man 3. At the time the film felt rushed, there were too many stories, and the lack of focus certainly blunted that charm the first film had in spades. There also was mild whiplash (see what I did there) with the recasting of Rhodes, formerly Terrance Howard, now Don Cheadle. 

The production problems hampered the final product in a critical way, but did deliver in another. Iron Man 2 quite simply didn't feel like an Iron Man film. The story focus was on something else, and something grander. While we were robbed of a worth sequel at the time, the movie does work as a good introduction to the world of SHIELD and gives us indications of a bigger picture. So while it's lackluster Iron Man story, it is a good setup for The Avengers

Iron Man 2 was initially thought to be a misstep for Marvel (soon to be Marvel Studios) but we did get a good Iron Man story in the 2013 sequel. Since we live in a world of eleven Marvel films under the Kevin Feige leadership, we've yet to see any bad movies. There have been a few lackluster ones, such as this, but nothing truly awful. For now Iron Man 2 is a weak sequel but fine in its own way. Who knows how we'll look back upon it in five years after Phase 3 has gotten underway. 

Now I'll focus on the Awards films. The film that made a big splash at the time was The Social Network. It's a solid film, and it felt like the first film of David Fincher's recent groove. Since this film Fincher has perfected a style that he hasn't deviated from. Now, much like Chris Nolan, we know what to expect. However, with Nolan, I feel we're seeing his limitations, but Fincher is a director I feel who still knows how to challenge and push the medium. I hope. 

2010 awards season felt  like a duel between The Social Network and The King's Speech. Long run The King's Speech walked away with the notable awards, though Social Network did grab a few. But for me personally, neither of these films stick. Both are 'Oscar Bait.' Films that were destined to win because they met that cliched criteria of what makes the best film as seen by Academy voters. But as good as both are, are they lasting? 

The Social Network was a Shakespearean drama for the Social Media age versus The King's Speech which just felt like Oscar pandering, despite it's quality. But let's compare both of these films to another Oscar buzz film, The Fighter. David O. Russel's film about boxing legend Mickey Ward was funny enough, another film released in 2010 by a director who appeared to finally find his formula. Again, all David O. Russell films released since look like David O. Russell films. But the difference between The Fighter and other Oscar films is that it feels genuine. It felt like the performances were astounding because the actors cared about the story and not because they had an Oscar quota to meet. The story of The Fighter isn't the most revolutionary, but it's heartfelt and motivating. Of the Oscar winning movies in 2010, The Fighter's felt the most earned. 

One film that received several Oscar nominations and walked away with none was True Grit. It was nominated for ten awards but won none. True Grit in my opinion is one of the best and most easily forgettable films in recent years. The best thing about the movie by far was up and coming actress Hailee Stanfield, who I suspect has a few surprises coming in the next few years. Great actors surrounded her, Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, and anchored by the Coen Brothers. I once described No Country For Old Men as a solid film all around. I feel the same about True Grit, but it's so forgettable, a problem I have with many Westerns. And it's lack of discussion in the zeitgeist I think backs up my point. A perfectly forgettable movie minus Hailee Stanfield.

So when looking back at 2010 for film, what do I think? Overall, it was an underwhelming year. There were many film ideas that sounded good on paper, but failed to capture their promise. The Expendables had a premise that it didn't nail the first time around, but the sequel seemed to do a better job tonally. Machete hoped to capitalize on the Grindhouse popularity, and did to an extent, but led to a sequel nobody saw. A true sequel to PredatorPredators was released and was a fine followup, but didn't rejuvenate the franchise the way it was intended, and has since become a failed attempt to rejuvenate an 80's franchise. 

But there were films that surprised. Easy A starring Emma Stone as a whole is a decent film, but Stone is by far the best thing about it. Piranha 3D proved to be as much fun as it was stupid. Let Me In, the Matt Reeves directed remake of the beloved Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In, was a film people were ready to hate, but walked away from in stunned silence. Reeves would pull a similar feat with 2014's Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. The director of Cloverfield continues to stun us all.  

Speaking of Let Me InKick-Ass also came out in 2010. At the time it was seen as something groundbreaking and satirical to the superhero genre. The film still holds up, but it;s critique doesn't feel quite as sharp. That being said, Chloe Grace Moretz is still a standout performance as foul-mouthed and deadly Hit-Girl. 

The Human Centipede also came out that year, a film I avoided but which made waves due to it's disgusting concept. Somehow it spawned a sequel, but I get the impression the joke isn't funny any more. 

The Prince of Persia was a failed attempt by Disney for a new PG-13 adventure franchise, perhaps leading to the further dead horse beating that Pirates of the Caribbean has become. And M. Night Shymalan probably nailed his coffin shut for good with the maligned The Last Airbender film, an attempt to bring the Avatar series to the big screen. An attempt hated by all. Nope, he hasn't gotten back to the heights of The Sixth Sense yet. 

Blue Valentine was another film released that year that at the time was hailed as a hauntingly realistic portrayal of a decaying relationship that promised great commentary on modern romance. Since 2010, I feel Blue Valentine has faded from conversation as other films since then have provided better commentary on modern romance and aren't as depressing. 

This is by no means a comprehensive look back, at all, but these are my takeaways. So I present my five favorite films of 2010, in order. These are my favorites, but I won't declare them to the best. 

  1. The Town
  2. How To Train Your Dragon
  3. Shutter Island
  4. The Fighter
  5. Inception

Honorable mentions, Toy Story 3, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, and The Crazies

The Town is the movie that made me a Ben Affleck supporter. His direction is perfect in that film. The story is gripping, the acting all around spectacular. Don't forget Jeremy Renner got a Best Supporting Actor nod which he would have won were Bale not a contender that year. Everything about this film I love. Perfect balance of action, suspense, drama, even some compelling romance. Affleck actually filmed in Charleston, and used real Massachusetts citizens in it, lending it a refreshing realism. Affleck's Doug MacRay for some reason speaks to me, and the choices and sacrifices he makes I find compelling and highly rewatchable. It's still my favorite film of 2010, though How To Train Your Dragon has only grown on me, and my love of it from the start was high. (And Jon Hamm kicks so much ass in this film.)

So in summary, 2010 felt like a year which was for the most part played safe. A lot of great filmmakers found their groove but nothing truly special or spectacular was delivered. And there was more failure to deliver on great ideas and premises. So what was good in 2010? The performances. Bale, Leo, DiCaprio, Affleck, Renner, Stone, Grace Moretz, Stanfield, and many others delivered some great characters, and for the most part their performances anchored 2010's most memorable films. (Winter's Bone released in 2010, and was when we got our first look at soon to be star Jennifer Lawrence) There were a lot of great performances but other than that few films that I still love and rewatch to this day. And I fear the films I loved most from 2010 are ones that will be forgotten. But I also suspect The Social Network and The King's Speech will also become films that are equally forgotten (perhaps King's Speech more so). When all is said and done, I think the most memorable film of 2010 was The Fighter. Best? No, but out of all released that year, it stands out the most. 

Image Sources: amazon.com, blu-ray.com