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Posted: January 10, 2011

Dave on film: the year’s best and worst

Here are some of my picks

Dave Taylor

It's inevitable that we're not going to agree on which films were the best and which were the worst of the year. As a critic, I'm used to it, used to walking out of a theater shaking my head at what a banal, insipid film I just wasted two hours of my life watching, while surrounded by people excitedly talking about how awesome and thrilling it was. So it's totally okay if you disagree.

Let's start with the worst films, shall we?

Splice -- Great concept, incredibly idiotic story, with a "scientist" who holds a dirty scalpel in his mouth at one point, a scalpel dripping green ooze after trying to kill the misbegotten spawn of a weird, illogical DNA splicing experiment gone awry. Oh, and it wasn't scary but it was definitely disturbing once they broached the sexual awakening of Dren (Delphine Chanéac) and her incestuous relationship with researcher/father figure Clive (Adrien Brody).

Wolfman -- Again, this had a lot going for it, including Benicio del Toro and an original that was a terrifying, classic horror film. Indeed, the myth of the wolfman is a tale of the angry beast inside each of us, and the thin veneer of civilization that keeps us from all going wild in the streets. And yet, with its moody period look, this was one of the most boring films of 2010 and - I admit it - I never made it to the end.

The Book of Eli -- What happened to Denzel Washington? He was one of the brightest stars in Hollywood a few years ago, but his last few outings (also including 2010's Unstoppable) have shown an actor bored with acting, walking through his roles without a single emotion. The Book of Eli was a new low for Denzel too, a post-apocalyptic story that didn't make any sense and couldn't decide if it wanted to be The Road or Mad Max and was built around a sort of second messiah theme but without the guts to just call it as such.

The Bounty Hunter -- Have I mentioned how much I loathe Gerard Butler? And how Jennifer Aniston has the acting range of a mannequin? I mean, has she ever grown even the tiniest bit beyond her breakout role in Friends? Put them together in a "romantic comedy" where they're divorced, hate each other, and he's a bounty hunter who has to arrest her and bring her in, and mein gott, you have the makings of one of the worst films of the year, hands down.

Conviction -- This film wasn't so much bad as creepy, based on an apparently true story about a ne'er do well hick who was falsely imprisoned for murder just to have his sister dedicate her entire life to obtaining justice for him, even as he's telling her to back off and focus on her own life. Her husband leaves, her children are ignored and there are flashbacks that set a rather creepy tone about the relationship between brother and sister. Inspiring? A testament to sibling love? No. Weird and troubling instead.
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And the best films of 2010, in no particular order:

Inception -- I'm a sucker for complicated films, which is obvious if you look closely at the movie posters that comprise the background of my Dave On Film site.Inception is one of the most involved, complicated films I've seen, a sweeping, epic vision of film as a dreamscape in a most compelling manner. Leonardo DiCaprio leads a solid cast in a film that provoked much discussion and debate. Does it all work as a story-within-a-story-within-a-story? Does it matter? When the screening ended, I just sat there thinking, "This is why I'm a film critic."

The American -- I'm an unabashed George Clooney fan and this slow, thoughtful European-style film about a retired assassin who can't quite pull out of the business is everything that I seek in an introspective movie. There are action scenes and beautiful Italian landscapes, but it's really focused on what drives someone who is paid to kill other people without knowing why - or whether - they deserve to die.

Tron: Legacy -- Like the original Tron, Tron: Legacy isn't so much a great film as a great amusement park ride, a visually stunning epic that takes place in a world unlike anything we've seen on screen. It's also a son's journey to find his father (that hero's journey I talked about earlier) but like Inception, it's mostly just one heck of a ride, the kind of film that's just made for an IMAX screen and also has the best use of 3D since Avatar reminded us that a technological gimmick can take your breath away.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World -- In this amazing, delightful and whimsical adaptation of a popular graphic novel, Michael Cera is Scott, a twenty-something living in a radically modern world where live action becomes video game action and things are rarely just what they appear. His cute new girlfriend sort of forgot to mention that to win her hand he has to defeat her seven evil ex's and they're a pantheon of everyman (and woman) superheroes for the 21st Century. If you don't like this film, it's probably because you're simply just too old.

The Town -- Ben Affleck is an actor who is growing into his craft, along with a detour to direct one of the most engaging and challenging films of the year. The Town is Boston, but not the shiny, high-tech Boston of outsiders, but the gritty, blue-collar urban environment of Charlestown. It's also a well-trod story of a criminal wanting to go straight and the need to break free of his environment, but told well, with a standout supporting performance by Jeremy Renner of The Hurt Locker.

The Ghost Writer -- Directed by the great Roman Polanski, The Ghost Writer had its own built-in dilemma: as a father do I promote and laud a film by a director who is still at large for allegedly raping a young teen girl? I decided to let the film speak for itself, and it's a terrific example of the European school of film where the story unfolds slowly and methodically, but once you realize what's going on, gets tense fast. It's also a pleasure to see Ewan McGregor stretch himself in this dramatic role.

The Social Network -- I'm addicted to Facebook and find it the most compelling of the social networking sites and services available today, and I bet you do too. But what's the real story of how Facebook came about? The Social Network might not be completely truthful, but it's a powerful, engaging and, at times appalling story of greed, competitiveness and entrepreneurship, featuring a solid performance by Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Justin Timberlake as the alarmingly manipulative Sean Parker.

Black Swan -- A film about ballet dancers as a tense horror movie? Who would have thought it could make a compelling film, but Natalie Portman's portrayal of driven, troubled prima ballerina Nina Sayers was perfect and watching as she fights to escape the smothering world of ballet - and her scary, controlling Mom - and gradually loses her mind was a reminder to us all that goals and achievements are wonderful, but being present in your life is ultimately what counts. A brilliant, creepy film.

There are more films on my lists of best and worst, but in the interest of this not turning into a novella, let's stop here and open this up for comments, rebuttals and disagreement. Hey, I'm just one guy who watches a lot of films, and I know that we are looking for different things when we're in the theater, popping in a DVD, or streaming a film from iTunes or Netflix. So what about you, dear reader? What were your best and worst films of 2010?
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Dave Taylor has been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Along the way he’s become a nationally recognized expert on technology, an accomplished writer, and award-winning public speaker and blogger. You can find his film writing at  www.DaveOnFilm.com and follow his film commentary on Twitter at @FilmBuzz or just email him at taylor@intuitive.com.

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