Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Totoro's Fantastic Four of 2010

Aloha everybody!

It is now time for me to present my four favorite films from the previous calender year. Before I do so, let me run down my selections from prior installments of this article:

Totoro's Fantastic Four of 2008
#4: Tropic Thunder
#3: Iron Man
#2: WALL-E
#1: The Dark Knight

Totoro's Fantastic Four of 2009
#4: Sherlock Holmes
#3: Inglourious Basterds
#2: Up
#1: Star Trek

Now, you may be wondering as to what process I use to compile this list. Well, here are the basic guidelines:

1) I have seen the movie during its original theatrical run.

This is almost a personal matter of pride. For me, the hands-down best way to see any film is in the theater. So, in order for me to even consider a film for this article, I must have observed it in its natural habitat.

2) I have re-watched the movie at least once, either in theaters or on DVD.

As someone of limited means even before this difficult recession, I am particularly picky when it comes to watching any type of entertainment. So, if I have seen a movie either a 2nd time in theaters or watched it again after it comes out on DVD, then it is definitely a contender for this list. If anything, this demonstrates a movie's "replay value".

3) I have quoted dialogue from the movie to either a family member or a friend.

As an aspiring writer, I am drawn to great stories and storytelling. But as an actor with a pretty good memory, I am drawn to great dialogue. Over the years, I have amassed a substantial library of movie quotes for use at any opportune moment. So, if I have heard myself repeat a line from any particular movie, than it either was a favorite or at least something worth remembering.

Alright, enough stalling... Let's get the ball rolling by presenting what has become the customary opening paragraph:

A common theme among entertainment aficionados is to compile a list of either the best or worst examples of a particular subject. Movie critics have their list of the top 10 movies of the year, while fashion watchdogs have a list of the best and worst-dressed celebrities. Even Maxim, which I like to call "The Essential Guide To Understanding Modern Man" has their own list (The 100 Hottest People).

While my own contributions may not matter much in the long run, a part of trying to stand out against a large landscape of voices is to do something different, especially when it comes to things that I feel passionate about (in this case, movies.) So, in homage to both this "listing" tradition and to my mother's favorite superhero team, I am proud to present to you...

Totoro's Fantastic Four of 2010

#4. Iron Man 2
These days, when a film is released to huge commercial success, it's almost a foregone conclusion that a sequel will be produced. But it's also important to remember that producing a sequel is even more of a risk than the original film on almost every level. The cinematic landscape is filled with lackluster sequels that didn't live up to the potential of the original film, so I wouldn't blame you if you had placed Iron Man 2 on the list as a matter of default. As for me, I reserve final judgment on any film until I see it in the theater.

As it turns out, I really didn't have anything to worry about. On the acting front, Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow continue their pitch-perfect performances as Tony Stark/Iron Man & Pepper Potts respectively, but I also thoroughly enjoyed Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko/Whiplash and Don Cheadle's turn as Col. James Rhodes/War Machine. On the FX front, the action sequences in this film are way better than the previous film. I also found the story twist involving Tony (the chestpiece that saved him from death is slowly killing him) particularly poignant. All in all, a worthy example of a, "good sequel" and my 4th favorite film of 2010.

#3. Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows, Part I
As the saying goes, "All good things must come to an end." For me, the Harry Potter series, both in print and on film, has definitely been a good thing and I will no doubt shed a few tears before it is over. It will be remembered as one of the seminal stories of our time, but it also means I will have one less thing to look forward to as one year progresses to the next. So, I sat in the theater waiting for the movie to start with mixed feelings in my stomach, and a flurry of questions racing through my head, with one question above all others: "What moments from the book did they leave out of the film?"

Now don't misunderstand me. As an aspiring screenwriter, I am well-aware when you condense a 300+ page book into a 100-120 page screenplay, some elements from the book just won't make the cut. However, I was pleasantly reassured that this film stayed true to both the spirit and plot of the book. I also enjoyed the performances from the three lead actors - Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) & Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) - who have matured before our eyes into veteran performers. This was truly one of my favorite films of the year.

#2. Inception
Ever since I started watching movies I have been drawn to films that involve either our established perception of reality or the untapped potential of the human mind. Past noteworthy examples of these types of films include Rashomon, Dreamscape, The Usual Suspects, Face/Off, Fight Club, The Matrix, Waking Life, Memento, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and this year's Shutter Island. So, when I finished my initial viewing of Inception, I realized that I just saw a film that not only had both of the elements stated above, it was constructed in such a way that one did not take anything away from the other.

Inception was one of the true breakout hits of the 2010 movie season, and helped cement Nolan's reputation as one of the best directors working today. I also found it noteworthy because it was based off an original script that Nolan had spent about ten years working on between his other projects. This movie also has what I have come to expect out of a Christopher Nolan film: Great visual spectacle interlaced with performances from a stellar cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy (scene-stealer extraordinaire), Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Ken Watanabe & Michael Caine. This is a film that I will remember for a long time.

#1. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World"Scott who?" was my initial reaction upon learning that a movie adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's series of graphic novels was in the works. After my customary research, my interest level increased when I heard that Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) had been signed on to direct. However, I preferred to wait until those whose opinion I trusted saw the film for themselves and reported back to me. Let me put this way: When four of your friends (in this case, Mr. A, Zyconis, Jam, & Neko-X) unanimously encourage you to see ANY film, take their advice. I'm glad I did.

I pronounce that this film was not only the best comic-book film of the year, it was actually the best videogame film as well. The source material was transferred to the screen largely intact, and I found the writing sharp, witty and highly quotable. I also enjoyed the acting in this film, particularly from Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Ramona Flowers), Kieran Culkin (in a scene-stealing performance as Wallace Wiggins), Ellen Wong (Knives Chau), Brandon Routh (Todd Ingram), Jason Schwartzman (Gideon Gordon Graves) and the perfectly-cast Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim). Combine that with a hard-pounding musical score composed by Beck and Wright's visual storytelling skill, and you have my favorite film of 2010.

And that concludes my listing of the favorite films of the 365 days that will forever be remembered as 2010. I hope you've had as much fun reading this as I did writing it, and I look forward to what the next year in cinema has to offer for an unabashed dork like me.

See you at the movies,
~Totoro (Otaku 5-0 Executive Producer)