Summer Superlatives 2010

As the summer comes to a close, it’s reflection time. On the eve of my plunging into five days or so of Fall Preview 2010, which will bring you all you need to know about movies between now and the weekend before Thanksgiving, it’s only fitting to bid adieu to the summer, perhaps the most heavily scrutinized of all the movie seasons. This list will award the best films of each genre (according to what I’ve seen and popular/critical reception) as well as the biggest disappointments — and there were plenty of those. I will also highlight the best talents in this summer’s films.

There’s no secret that Summer 2010 paled in comparison to Summer 2009. I gave out numerous honorable mentions in my days upon days of summer superlatives last August. This year was easy enough to condense to one post. Let’s begin.

Best Actor

1. Leonardo DiCaprio – “Inception”

2. Mark Ruffalo – “The Kids Are All Right”
3. Michael Cera – “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”

I don’t think “Inception” will warrant Leo the Oscar he will one day win, but he proves why he is just consummate leading man material. We’re still waiting for him to show us something we haven’t entirely seen from him before, but Cobb was one of the most intriguing characters of the summer and DiCaprio fiercely cool and complicated. If no other men give astounding performances this year, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be recognized with a nomination, but there’s plenty room to outdo him.

Mark Ruffalo gives his best performance ever in “The Kids Are All Right,” certainly worth supporting role consideration at this juncture. Never before has the free-spirited bachelor character been done so beyond black-and-white as Ruffalo’s portrayal of Paul, who finds out his sperm have become teenagers by means of a lesbian couple. Michael Cera also gives his best performance as Scott Pilgrim. It’s hard to say that considering Cera has played characters in so many seemingly identical films, but the range is there in “Scott Pilgrim” and his character has a unique tenacity when it comes to love. He’s more than a sad sap romantic with a quiet wit this time around. Eventually Cera will break the mold, he just needs to get a lot older.

Best Actress

1. Annette Bening – “The Kids Are All Right”

2. Mia Wasikowska – “The Kids Are All Right”
3. Ellen Page – “Inception”

I considered giving “The Kids Are All Right” the sweep in this category by putting Julianne Moore up there, but I decided to give Ellen Page some love for turning a character created solely to move the plot into an interesting and compelling one to some extent — that takes talent. As far as films that got a wide release, however, most were not offering much in the way of female characters.

Annette Bening will be talked about from now until February 27. She’s excellent and the role simply exudes the kind of stuff the Academy loves to honor. She’s the closest thing that the 2010 movie season has given us to a sure thing at the Oscars. Considering how good co-stars Moore and Wasikowska are, it really says something that she stands out. Wasikowska proves she’s going to be sought after for some time with her role as Joni. Rarely is one actress a star in both a quiet indie hit and a billion-dollar blockbuster (“Alice in Wonderland”)

Comeback Performance(s)

1. Michael Keaton – “Toy Story 3,” “The Other Guys”

2. Mickey Rourke – “Iron Man 2,” “The Expendables”
3. Kieran Culkin – “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”

The actresses came more in the breakout category this year while the boys had career renaissances. Michael Keaton’s career was long considered dead, but he’s found some life in the comedy genre, of all places, at the age of 58. Ken was widely regarded as the most hysterical new character in 2010’s biggest hit, “Toy Story 3,” and his brief parts in the cop comedy “The Other Guys” were highly memorable as the chief,  a role that would normally be an automatic for actor Fred Willard in a Will Ferrell/Adam McKay film, but he deserved it.

As for Mickey Rourke, one might say that his Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win for “The Wrestler” did it, but you don’t experience a total comeback until you get cast in mainstream fare again. Rourke completed his journey back to the forefront of American movie consciousness with a key role in “Iron Man 2” and in “The Expendables,” both of which he did well in critically speaking.

Culkin is a different sort of a career revival. A former child star like his brother Macaulay (Macaulay got “Home Alone,” while Kieran got “Father of the Bride”), Kieran’s comic turn in “Scott Pilgrim” as Scott’s gay roommate/best friend was terrifically subtle and fun. If this is what gay characters will be more like in the future in film, I’m thrilled; Culkin’s Wallace was completely defiant of stereotype but with the personality, flare and confidence an out gay character should have.

Biggest Disappointment

1. “The Last Airbender”

2. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”
3. “Eat Pray Love”

M. Night Shyamalan had his name attached and there were tons of fans out there waiting to be tickled by the big-screen version of their once-favorite Nickelodeon show, but quite literally — epic fail. “Airbender” was one of the harshest reviewed films of the summer and it upset even some of the built-in fans that should have liked it. How the other two films will be made in this “franchise” beats me.

Disney hoped this summer to have a huge hit between “Prince of Persia” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and the latter bombed despite Nicolas Cage and “National Treasure” director Jon Turtletaub. The film has made only $60 million domestically and $150 million worldwide. Not exactly what Disney was hoping for and expecting from that combination. And the disappointment came not just from a financial standpoint — the reviews were mediocre at best with a 43% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Lastly, “Eat Pray Love” was not the inspirational feel-good dramedy that fans of Roberts and the memoir were hoping for. Sony set the bar high with last year’s “Julie & Julia” coming out in that spot, but while Roberts kept this film together, no one else had anything good to say. Financially, however, it’s fairing as expected.

Best Drama/Comedy

1. “The Kids Are All Right”

2. “Cyrus”
3. “Get Low”

In this independent film category, “Kids” is by far the winner. Consummate performances back-up the rave reviews for Lisa Cholodenko’s film and justify the expansions and buzz. “Cyrus,” starring slightly more dramatic turns for Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly was another film that got strong wide release treatment, although I did not get to see it. Lastly, cinematographer-turned-director Aaron Schneider’s film “Get Low” starring Bill Murray, Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek finally got a limited release after doing a complete festival circuit starting last fall and going until this summer and earning a fair amount of admiration.

Best Animated/Family Film

1. “Toy Story 3”

2. “Despicable Me”
3. “The Karate Kid”

Hard to argue with the most financially successful animated film of all time, Disney/Pixar’s return to the franchise that made them great with “Toy Story 3,” which was every bit as amazing as we could’ve hoped from the storytelling juggernaut. “Despicable Me” turned out to be the summer’s biggest surprise, which when you consider the success of animated film the last two years, is not so surprising. 2010 is everything 2009 wasn’t (that’s a bad thing) except in the animation genre. Lastly comes the other surprise this summer, the remake of “The Karate Kid” with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, which is Sony/Columbia’s biggest film of the year thus far. The fact that it was a remake and it didn’t get ripped apart critically was an accomplishment in itself.

Best Action/Thriller

1. “Inception”

2. “Iron Man 2”
3. “The Expendables”

No denying that “Inception” was the talk of the summer and 2010’s savior from total dreck. Nolan’s film was outstanding on countless levels (consciously and subconsciously) and even though thriller better describes it, it belong with the action films too. Although few will admit that “Iron Man 2” was as good as the original, it was a darn good time and Robert Downey Jr. was superbly hilarious yet again. It did not do what “X2” or “Spider-Man 2” did for those franchises, but it maxed the entertainment factor in the right ways. I haven’t seen “The Expendables” yet, but two weeks atop the box office and all those stars means something is right. I personally would have put “The A-Team” at No. 3, but it seems to me that the financial success of “Expendables” will certainly outdo its action team counterpart despite a split between critics and action fans.

Best Comedy

1. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”

2. “The Other Guys”
3. “Get Him to the Greek”

Technically speaking, Adam Sandler’s “Grown Ups” was the hit mainstream comedy of the summer, but having seen that, I can’t put it on the list. “Scott Pilgrim,” though it could be in any number of genres, was so fresh, exciting and innovative in a summer of just total staleness everywhere outside of “Inception.” It’s far from traditional comedy, but I laughed a lot, just in different ways. “The Other Guys” turned out to be a much more likable Will Ferrell experience than expected considering he’s been on a downward slope with critics lately. As for third, I saw “Greek” and not “Dinner for Schmucks” and “Greek” seemed to do better with critics. I also though numerous parts were terrifically funny and the film managed to hold up with a sense of maturity that was unexpected, to say the least.


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