Overall, I found 2010 to be a pretty disappointing year at the movies. I skipped many of the summer blockbusters, and those I did see, like Iron Man 2, were underwhelming. I also skipped several of the major critical darlings for various reasons. I wasn’t particularly interested in The Social Network; it just wasn’t a story that appealed to me. I passed on Black Swan basically on principle, since I hated Darren Aronofsky’s last movie, The Wrestler, so much. So in lieu of a “Top 10 movies of 2010” list, I’ve decided to do something slightly different. I’ve compiled a list of my 12 favorite things from the movies this year. They’re mostly what I would call “Movie Moments”, either particular scenes or sequences that stood out to me, and that I really enjoyed. Sometimes it’s nothing more than a few seconds of film, sometimes it’s an entire scene or sequence of scenes, and in one case it’s an entire film. Some movies have multiple spots on the list. So here’s what I liked the most at the movies last year:
12) The existence of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
I wanted to pick something specific from this insane film for this list, but I couldn’t settle on one thing. There are so many ridiculous moments, special effects, fight scenes, characters, quotes and ideas in this movie that to focus on an individual item would ignore the greater whole. This is a film that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Director Edgar Wright (of Shaun of the Dead fame) said that he viewed the film as a musical with video game/comic style fight scenes in place of songs. The mere existence of this film is both mind-boggling and exciting. It was most certainly the most unique and creative film I saw this year. But it’s also fun and funny, in a freak-flag-flying kind of way. It’s the geekiest movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s kind of badass too, and that’s a tough balance to strike.
11) Destroying the Locket Horcrux in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
I was apprehensive about how this sequence would play out in the film. It’s such a major moment in the book, but I was worried that it would lose something in the translation to the screen. Boy was I wrong! From the moment Harry sees the doe-shaped patronus, all the way through Ron’s reunion with Hermione was absolutely perfect. None of it was softened for the screen, and it plays out almost word for word from the book. Rupert Grint’s performance as Ron really sells the moment. He manages to balance the happiness at rejoining Harry with the shame at ever having left, when we first see him after having saved Harry from the pool. The destruction of the locket is scary and horrific, while providing Ron with a moment of both devastation and triumph (with just the right amount of sex thrown in, which I considered having as its own spot on this list). And Ron’s little speech about the ball of light flying into his heart seals the entire thing and allows this little family to come back together for good. It was great to see Rupert finally get some material to work with, and I’m grateful that the filmmakers managed to nail this moment so perfectly.
10) John Malkovich is an Action Hero in Red
Red was a fun little action movie about retired black-ops agents being hunted down by the government. Malkovich plays the crazy/paranoid member of the group, and he and Bruce Willis get involved in a shootout with a squad of assassins. Partway through the scene, there’s a moment when a soldier lobs a grenade at the duo. Malkovich grabs his machine gun like it’s a baseball bat and whacks the grenade back at the man, who explodes in a ball of flame. He then looks up at the sky and gives the finger to the satellites watching them. It’s a perfectly executed bit of action comedy, which keeps you laughing for a long time. It’s something that more movies could learn from (The A-Team, I’m looking at you).
9) The Light Cycle Match in Tron: Legacy
This was the moment that fans of the original Tron had been waiting for. The famous Light Cycles as they were truly meant to be. As impressive as the effects in Tron were, when Tron: Legacy was announced (with a Light Cycle film teaser, no less), the fans knew that the potential established in 1982 was finally to come to fruition. The action scene surpassed all of my expectations, and was one of the most exciting and innovative action moments of the year. I really liked Tron: Legacy, more than I had even expected to, and I think a lot of that is owed to this one scene. It really is a case of giving the people what they want. It helped that I got to see it in IMAX 3D, as it was intended to be seen. But even in 2D I’m sure it was great. The pounding score by Daft Punk, the spectacular effects, the creative and original action choreography all combined to be the pulse-pounding moment we’d been waiting for.
8) “Fill your hands, you son-of-a-bitch!” from True Grit
This one is less of an action scene and more of a lead-in to an action scene. It was a tall order to remake a film, and in particular a character, made famous by John Wayne. The Coen brothers insisted that this was an adaptation of the original book, not a remake of the 1969 film that won John Wayne his only Oscar, but comparisons were inevitable. So after an hour and a half of proving that this new version is drastically different in tone than the original, we come to the most famous scene: the showdown between Marshall Cogburn and Ned Pepper’s gang. The dialogue is the same in both versions:
-Ned Pepper: “What is your intention, Rooster? You think one on four is a dogfall?”
-Rooster Cogburn: “I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned. Or see you hanged at Fort Smith at Judge Parker’s convenience. Which will you have?”
-Ned Pepper: “I call that bold talk for a one-eyed, fat man!”
-Rooster Cogburn: “Fill your hands you son-of-a-bitch!”
It’s amazing how those same words, delivered and directed differently, can have such different feelings, and both manage to be completely badass at the same time. For John Wayne it’s the classic hero moment, where John Wayne (not his character, Rooster Cogburn) charges down the badguys, with his reigns in his teeth, saving the day. With Jeff Bridges, the broken down and hollow Rooster Cogburn, with all other options exhausted, makes one last attempt to save the girl and end the standoff. Despite the western authenticity of John Wayne, Bridges makes the scene infinitely more real and more powerful; his is the more believable Cogburn, and it makes the moment of heroism and skill all the better.
7) “Do you know the f-word?” “Fff…fornication?” from The King’s Speech
And so begins the greatest (in my opinion) scene of swearing ever seen on film. As Lionel Logue, the speech therapist of King George VI, realizes that the King doesn’t stammer when he swears, he goads and encourages a most excellent tirade of curse words. But Logue knows that in addition to helping the tongue flow as freely as the naught words, he’s helping his King (and his friend) let out his frustration with his good-for-nothing older brother and with his entire situation. And as Colin Firth ends his rant with a sublimely hilarious “Willy, shit and fuck and… tits.” (pardon my French) the look on his face shows what a relief it is to let everything out. Firth and Geoffrey Rush share a look of understanding and their friendship grows even deeper. It’s one of those scenes that is wet-your-pants funny, but it helps deepen the characters and their relationship too, and there really is no higher praise than that. (If only they could show the scene at the Oscars.)
6) The finale of Toy Story 3
I don’t think the geniuses at Pixar could have come up with a more perfect ending to their Toy Story saga than the way this final film ended. Seeing Andy, as he’s heading off to college, pass on his toys to a shy little girl, was heartbreakingly sweet. It’s so well played, and subtle without being overly sappy. And you know, in those moments, that the little girl will take care of and love Andy’s toys as well as he ever could have. He has something special to say to each toy, and gets to play with them all one last time. There were certainly a lot of damp eyes in the theater when I saw it. But for me, the best moment comes right at the end, as Andy is walking back to his car. He looks back at the front steps of the house, where the little girl is surrounded by her “new” toys and is holding Woody. And as Andy waves, she raises Woody’s little arm and makes him wave back. And there is the softest of gasps as Andy’s heart catches in his throat. And with that last look, he’s gone. What an ending.
5) The Futterwacken from Alice in Wonderland
This has become one of my favorite things ever. I could literally watch it on a loop all day long. Usually when the anticipation for something like this is built up over the course of a movie, it ends up being a huge letdown. When Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter says early on “When that day comes I shall Futterwacken… vigorously” it invokes an air of mystery and anticipation that stays just under the surface for the rest of the movie. When the victory over the evil Red Queen is finally secured, the Hatter is free to dance once more. One follows is one of the most visually creative and fascinating combinations of vision, talent and technical wizardry I’ve seen. It is a 20 second delight to behold. A lot of the success rests on the illusionary dancer David Bernal who doubles for Depp during the dance, but most of the credit has to go to Tim Burton and his team for having the vision to do something totally unexpected and fantastic.
4) The muchness of Alice in Wonderland
As I said in my review, “Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is a masterpiece. It’s funny and bizarre and exciting, it’s empowering and touching, and completely unexpected. He took a children’s classic and crafted a feminist, adventure both epic and intimate. Making Alice a 19 year old rebel, fighting against the conformity of society gives the story more weight than it ever had as the absurdist fantasy of a 7 year old.” I was really surprised and excited by the sort of story they crafted for this version of Alice. And the fact that they managed to turn Lewis Carroll’s classic into an epic adventure, while simultaneously capturing the style and attitude of Carroll’s crazy vision better than any other film has yet to do, makes it all the better. To me, it was a masterful bit of adaptation, and something that most people would have never thought to do. But for me, it can be best summed up by one point: taking Carroll’s mention of believing six impossible things before breakfast, and making it a mantra for Alice to overcome the expectations rules holding her back. It may be a standard “family film message”, believing in yourself, but rarely has it been told in more muchier a fashion.
3) “I See the Light” in Tangled
It’s a classically Disney sort of scene. Our animated couple, upon reaching their destination, sings a song about their love to each other (alone in a boat, of course). Rapunzel and Flynn Rider have finally made it to the festival of the floating lanterns, and they take a boat out to enjoy the view. And as a thousand floating lanterns ascend from the castle, they sing to each other. It may not sound like anything special, but believe me when I say that it is one of the most visually gorgeous scenes I have ever witnessed. The directing and cinematography, combined with the visual style chosen for the animation, make it a wonder to behold. The song and the characters almost become secondary, because the emotion of the moment is told as much with the visuals as with the music. Don’t get me wrong, the Oscar-nominated song is wonderful, and the moment is sweet and subtle while being powerful and emotional at the same time. It’s a turning point for Rapunzel, when she finally achieves the dream she’s had her whole life (seeing the lanterns) and realizes that she now has a new dream, and he’s sitting next to her. And for Flynn, who has never had a dream worth having, he finally finds something to live for, and at that moment she happens to be right by his side. It’s a wonderful scene, the epitome of what Disney can do better than anyone else, and it’s something that will stick with you long after you leave the theater.
2) The King’s speech in The King’s Speech
It’s the moment the entire film has been building to. King George VI has to overcome his stutter to give a rousing speech to his people on the eve of WWII. As he and Lionel Logue, his speech therapist and friend, enter the isolated broadcasting room, the string music swells in the background and we know that this is the moment. It’s like the final few minutes of a sports movie, where the heroic underdogs triumph over adversity and win the day. And it’s exactly that sentiment that has drawn so much criticism to the movie (mostly from bitter fans of The Social Network, who are afraid that The King’s Speech will win Best Picture at the Oscars in a few weeks). But I think they should go back and watch the scene again. An ordinary movie would have had a few lingering moments of doubt before having the King launch into a perfectly delivered speech, as though he’d never had a stutter at all, while Logue stood nearby with a smile on his face and a tear in his eye. But the writer and directors paint a much more realistic and interesting picture of the moment. Each line of the speech is portrayed as a struggle, and the Logue uses every trick they’ve learned to try and help the King through, mouthing songs and hints and curse words in an effort to bring together everything they’ve discovered on their journey. It makes the speech all the more triumphant because it reflects not some destined shining moment, but the conglomeration of hard work, duty, friendship and determination. It’s masterfully played by Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth, and perfectly directed by Tom Hooper. It becomes not a story of a stutter or a king or a nation, but the story of one man helping another to do something he could have never done alone.
1) “The Tale of the Three Brothers” from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Simply put, this was the most stunning, beautiful, amazing, unexpected and wonderful thing I think I’ve ever seen in a movie. I don’t know what the inspiration was to go with such a unique style for the interpretation of this important story within a story, but it is perfect. Directed by Ben Hibbon and produced by visual effects company Framestore, the animated interlude that I never expected is now, in my eyes, the only way the tale could have ever been told. It’s eerie and spellbinding, melancholy and tragic, but also a flat-out brilliant storytelling device. It’s all beautifully narrated by Emma Watson’s Hermione Granger, and it fits so perfectly into the film that it seems like the natural visualization of what she’s reading. It’s something that has hung in my mind since I first watched it, and was by far my favorite moment at the movies in 2010, and it will rank high on my favorite film moments of all time.
There were plenty of things that didn’t make the list, so here I provide my honorable mentions:
The motorcycle chase from Knight and Day
The opening epic action sequence straight from Andy’s imagination from Toy Story 3
The perfect use of the Taylor Swift song “Love Story” in Letters to Juliet
The infinity magnet from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (if you saw it, you’ll know what I mean)
“Machete don’t text” from Machete
Everything else from Machete
Rapunzel’s first steps outside of her tower from Tangled
“Thank you for nothing, you useless reptile” from How to Train Your Dragon, the most perfectly delivered line of dialogue in 2010
The sexiness of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, which is a wonderful thing and really deserves its own article (even if it’s only a few moments in the film, it adds a layer of realism and adulthood that the film would not have been the same without).
Also, if you’re interested in my top 10 movies of the year, they are (in no particular order):
The King’s Speech
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Toy Story 3
Alice in Wonderland
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World