As the year draws to a close, let's look back at the year in DVDs. There was a wide variety of films that found their way to our DVD players and/or video game systems for public consumption. Similar to my list from last year, there will be a mix of the critically acclaimed and fluffy popcorn flicks for the whole family to enjoy. To be fair and give all good movies a chance, I am also excluding the movies I listed last year for movies to anticipate being released on DVD (otherwise Up in the Air was winning the race again).
10. Despicable Me -The first of three animated movies on the list, and there is a reason, proves just how stellar a job the studios did this year with creating animated films that beguiled audiences and shushed critics that like to throw these movies aside as fodder for kids. This cute film is about a man named Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) who ends up in the awkward position of adopting three girls while trying to prove he is the greatest super villain ever. The jokes are clever, the movie is well cast with recognizable voices, and the animation breaks the normal Disney mold of perfection for some genuinely human and interesting characters.
9. Twilight Saga: Eclipse - This is probably the film that will have the most divided audience. There are people who simply now see the word, twilight, and cringe, where on the other hand there are those that scream with unbridled glee at the throught of the franchise. It makes the list because it was hands down the best made of the films thus far in the saga (thank you to director David Slade), and genuinely paid off at every turn what is the strongest book in the series. Also, this was the first film in the series that has a wink and a nod to those who are asked to sit through the movies while not being big fans by making fun of itself and not being too serious without diminishing the movie overall.
8. The Blind Side - There was a really good reason this seemingly innocuous sports drama ended up blowing up the box office and saw movie star Sandra Bullock win herself an Academy Award for Best Actress, it was really good. This movie benefitted from a crisp script, interesting characters that were developed by the entire cast (who knew Tim McGraw could act?!), and did not kill the underdog movie cliches that it could have so easily mined. At the heart though, this is Bullock's show as the astounding Leigh Anne Touhy who adopted a boy off the streets, encouraged him to get an education and taught him how to play football (this young man is Michael Oher, who currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens).
7. How to Train Your Dragon - This cute movie about a Viking named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) who accidentally injures and befriends a rare dragon ended up being one of the surprise early hits of the year. Based on the ad campaign and trailers, it seemed like an all right action-comedy that would be good for the kids on a rainy day. Yet, once you see the movie, you will quickly understand that this is a visually dynamic spectacle with a sly witty sense of humor that will appeal to the entire family. Plus, its fun to pick out the cameos (my favorite is Doctor Who's David Tennant) and starring voice cast that you would not automatically connect with a movie like this.
6. Easy A - This quirky comedy is a moden take on The Scarlet Letter could have been your standard romantic teen comedy and lost in the post summer movie haze. Yet, it ended up being a decent hit at the box office and is certainly worth taking another look. The script is concise, clever, and manages to not hit a dull or cliched beat. The cast gels together nicely, particularly the movie's main trio Emma Stone, Penn Badgely, and Dan Byrd. It's an intelligent comedy that actually does pose some questions about our society that will have you talking afterwards.
5. The Town - Who would have thought that when Ben Affleck and Matt Damon won the Academy Award for Screenwriting (yes, screenwriting) that Affleck would become the auteur director while Damon would continue to be the big-time actor?! Well we know Damon is still cranking out hits and with his second film as a writer-director-actor, Affleck is proving to be a truly intriguing cinematic voice. His latest, an adaptation of Chuck Hogan's The Prince of Thieves, finds Affleck starring as a Boston-based bank robber who gets in trouble during a heist and the conflict that ensues. It's a well-paced and shot film that continually turns the audience on their head, and features an amazing performance by Jeremy Renner (as Affleck's character's childhood friend) that rivals his work in last year's The Hurt Locker.
4. The Kids are All Right - This dramedy from writer-director Lisa Cholodenko relies heavily on the viewer investing themselves in the intricately knotted relationships featured throughout, and for the most part, she succeeds. It's hard not to fall in love with the wayward Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) as they search for Paul (Mark Ruffalo), their biological father (who donated his sperm), and their mothers Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) who must deal with the ramifications of the kids' discovery. The delightful thing about this movie is that you never know where you will go, or what turns will occur, but it is always a delightful surprise without any contrivances. Also this movie does bring up an interesting debate about the ethics and obligations of artificial insemination and gay adoption.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World - This adaptation of the graphic novels by Brian Lee O'Malley was one of the more underappreciated movies of the year. It's a simple concept, really, about the jaded Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) fighting his potential girlfriend's seven deadly exes in order to win the right to date her. Director Edgar Wright crafted a visually dazzling and unique world while still honoring the source material and media, and chocking the movie full of homages to other films that would appeal to its core fanboy audience. Cera delivered one of his best performances since Superbad, and it was hard not to fall in love with Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Scott's dream girl Ramona Flowers alongside him. Honestly the entire cast was pitch perfect and kept the proceedings bouyant and fun while spouting out more exposition and cutting one-liners than should have been physically possible.
2. Inception - Writer-director Christopher Nolan created a daring movie about the business of stealing dreams that contained some of the most inovative fight sequences in film history. The cast was effective and delivered performances that best serviced the script and concepts being played with. Still, if you're getting this movie to keep, it has less to do with the story and more to do with the action-packed eye candy throughout (cue bad joke about Leonardo DiCaprio here).
1. Toy Story 3 - This may be the first animated movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, will it? Who knows? All we should cheer about now is that this movie is out on DVD and available for repeated viewings. It's hard to find many movies where it is the third film that outshines the others, but Toy Story 3 achieved that. The toys leave the safety of their owner Andy's room to the seemingly greener pastures of a preschool where the kids always need toys to play with and technically can never outgrow them with each new class the comes in. The film artfully deals with the pains of growing up and out growing your childhood wants and desires, while also playing as an entertaining action-comedy. It's hard not to cry throughout the final twenty minutes of the film, but it's okay for this movie it seems and oddly right to do so. For generations, they are watching their childhood memories wave goodbye and say hello to a new era.
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