This year I totally went with my gut. While I’m willing to acknowledge the quality boasted by many of this year’s releases, including the ones in my list, I have to give respect to the ones that generated an emotional response over anything else. Perhaps that makes me more of a fan than a critic – but we’re all fans first, and the geek in my can’t fight it.
5. Kick-Ass – Matthew Vaughn
I remember being so super excited for this movie, and it was partly because Matthew Vaughn was directing it and partly because it was based on some more underground source material. What I wound up with was a film that lived up to the hype and went even farther, delivering incredible action set-pieces, over the top performances and emotionally charged scenes like the one above that never fails to get me a little misty eyed. It introduced me to some new actors (Chloe Moretz is on an official “watch list” for the next 10 years) and gave me a refresher course on why I liked some familiar ones. Not bad for an independent film the studios didn’t want to take a chance on. Bring on the sequel!
4. Toy Story 3 – Lee Unkrich
The popularity and power of the first Toy Story film was odd enough, but that Pixar went on to make a sequel to it was even more extraordinary. The crowning achievement of the series however is the third installment that ties everything together and gives us all closure on a saga we hadn’t understood the impact of until it was over. The Toy Story films were a rare breed that managed to simultaneously borrow from and contribute to popular culture as they unfolded. I remember thinking to myself how it might be neat if the toys from the films actually became popular toys in real life, and now my daughter’s Woody, Jesse and Buzz dolls are her favourite playthings. That I’m actually happy about that kind of merchandising is a miracle all on its own. Equally miraculous is that I don’t even think of this as a Tom Hanks film because of how completely developed Woody’s character is that doesn’t need to be associated with the voice at all. Toy Story 3 hit all the right emotional notes and managed to present an adventure set against the anti-epic scale of a daycare and junkyard. It might have been a little bit too much for the young ones, but really this was for the kids who grew up watching these films from the beginning.
3. Inception – Christopher Nolan
It might have been a philosophy I’ve had for years and never articulated, but Inception affirmed my belief that for a film to be great, it has to do at least one thing better than any other film, or put familiar elements together in a way nobody’s ever tried before. Christopher Nolan’s Inception has the rare distinction of doing both, making great use of dream folklore for purposes other than nightmares on Elm St. staging zero-G Kung Fu fights for reasons other than being stuck in the Matrix. You could tell we had something special here when you heard the collective groan/gasp at the very end of the film – everyone was hanging on the last scene, completely engaged. It’s been a great decade for Christopher Nolan, and Inception is the feather in his cap.
2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Niels Arden Oplev
I’ve heard the arguments before, but according to the distribution release schedule, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wasn’t released in North America until 2010 – and if it’s not available here it might as well not even exist, right? Am I right? Anyway, this is one of the few “perfect” films I’ve had the good fortune of watching, with everything that makes up a great movie balanced in perfect harmony. It’s contribution to popular culture is impressive considering its origins, and I can’t wait to see what Noomi Rapace will have to offer Western audiences when she appears in Sherlock Holmes 2. I can only hope that David Fincher does this film justice when he adapts it for American audiences in 2011.
1. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – Edgar Wright
No film I saw this year was as original, as daring and as entertaining as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Edgar Wright has proven himself a master of bending genres to his will, and by combining several different elements that have all but been worn into the ground, he managed to create something entirely new. If I might paraphrase one of the movie’s producers, whereas a musical is a film traditionally where the players spontaneously break into song as if nothing ever happened, what we have in Scott Pilgrim is a fight-sical where outstanding Wuxia-style martial arts take place as naturally as someone might tie their shoelaces. Scott Pilgrim also spoke to me on a personal level as a former Torontonian, former band groupie, former music snob and recovering video game addict – so many influences mingling to command my attention there was no way I could resist. What’s best of all, Scott Pilgrim returned the love I showed it by offering up a blu-ray loaded with all kinds of special features to keep the joy alive.