I ended 2010 by checking out three more of the most popular films of the year, two of which can possibly sneak their way into the big Oscar races. Each of these films are as different as they come with their stories, settings, and casts, but universally manage to hypnotize, impress, and entertain.
Based on the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a comical and visually out-of-this-world fantasy saga about a nerdy aspiring rock musician fighting for love, and eventually for more. Michael Cera stars as the title character, who finds the girl of his dreams in the offbeat, neon-colored coiffed Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But in addition to already being romantically attached to a high schooler (Ellen Wong), Scott faces another dilemma: Having to defeat the League of Evil Exes. Each ex has unique qualities and powers that Scott, Ramona, and Scott’s band Sex Bob-omb must figure out and plan a strategy for defeat. Kieran Culkin and Anna Kendrick humorously portray Scott’s gay roommate and sister, respectively, and Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, and Jason Schwartzman make up some of Ramona’s evil exes.
While the plot is quite superficial, this film is brilliantly executed on all levels. It’s meant to be pure unadulterated fun, but no other movie released in the last year is quite like it. It plays out like a comic book in motion, with captions, sidebar illustrations, and words in large letters to emphasize sound effects, and the fights are like a real-life video game with graphics and a voiceover to announce the “K.O.!” after each bout. The visual effects are mindblowing. To put it quite bluntly, watching this movie is like going on a drug trip, minus the drugs. The cast and the characters are quirky and very likable, and in addition to being blown away by the special effects, lots of laughter is a guarantee in your movie-watching experience of Scott Pilgrim v. the World. Also, you’ll enjoy the rockin’ soundtrack.
While Cera’s performance in the film was critically recognized (Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical at the Golden Satellite Awards), it’s actually quite a disappointment that it hasn’t received any Golden Globe nominations, especially when questionable films like Alice in Wonderland and The Tourist don’t belong in the Comedy/Musical category. It’d be nice to see it land a nod in the Best Visual Effects category at the Oscars to make amends. An underrated and overlooked movie, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is bound to be a cult classic in the near future.
OVERALL SCORE: 8.5/10
Leonardo DiCaprio was the king of the 2010 box office—not just with the release of Inception, but with the February release of a dark psychological thriller directed by frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese. Hell, DiCaprio’s character here was almost eerily similar to Dom Cobb that Scorsese’s film almost felt like an alternate universe prelude to Christopher Nolan’s movie. Welcome to Shutter Island.
Set in 1954, DiCaprio stars as U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, who is sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Boston’s Shutter Island Ashcliffe Hospital for the criminally insane. With his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), Teddy interviews doctors and other patients and attempts to search records to find leads in the case. But it’s only a matter of time when he has to take matters into his own hands and makes startling discoveries about the patient in question and others in the hospital, and the extreme and unethical methods the staff uses to treat them. Or, it may just be that he’s falling into his own delusions. Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow play two of the hospital’s most renowned doctors and Michelle Williams plays Teddy’s biggest haunt—his wife. Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, John Carroll Lynch, and Elias Koteas co-star.
In its enthralling sea of mystery and descent, Shutter Island uses a series of flashbacks and hallucinations to tell a rather twisty story from the point of view of its confused main character. As the tagline on the DVD cover says, this is a movie that demands multiple viewings. One might have to watch it again and again to pick up on clues scattered throughout to understand the bombshell that’s dropped in the last few minutes. However, that is the brilliance of this movie—it really makes you think about the story. Even just watching it once, you’ll be fascinated, and sometimes frightened, from beginning to end. Awards pundits believe that the chances of a Best Picture nod is a small possibility, and DiCaprio’s chances of earning a Best Actor Oscar nod is a long shot (One list ranked him #10 in a list of ten). But since it only comes down between this movie and Inception, I actually think his performance in Shutter Island is more noteworthy. Whereas Inception was more of an ensemble piece, DiCaprio has much more to do and say in Shutter Island and truly is the leading man. He has the more emotionally and mentally demanding role and while it may not be the best performance of DiCaprio’s career thus far, it certainly is respectable. A drama that intrigues, mindbends, horrifies, and is even a bit heartwrenching, Shutter Island will sweep you away.
OVERALL SCORE: 8/10
Ben Affleck directs and stars in a crime drama that features intensity of both the emotional and action kinds. The Town is about a group of tight-knit bank robbers who terrorize the crime-ridden town of Charlestown in Boston, the only home they know. Affleck plays Doug MacRay, who leads heists with James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner in a Golden Globe-nominated role), Albert ‘Gloansy’ Magloan (Slaine), and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke). Doug’s life as a robber is questioned when he gets romantically involved with Claire (Rebecca Hall), the manager of a bank he and his crew robbed. Meanwhile, the entire crew is in danger of being disbanded as an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) leads a plot to take them down once and for all. Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, and Chris Cooper co-star.
The multiple narratives—the life of crime, the love story, family drama, the tests of loyalty and friendship, and federal authority’s mission to chase down the bad guys—makes The Town one very riveting movie. It is a true ensemble drama where each character is essential and all the roles are played with believability and with emotional fragility, as crime has affected all of them in a different way. Renner proves to be a standout and plays the character I connected with the most, because by the end of the movie, I wanted to punch him raw in the face through my television screen. However, it’s only a testament to his incredible acting in this film—he makes James Coughlin a very real (and unlikeable) person. The action sequences are executed remarkably and are breathtakingly brutal. The final faceoff between the robbers and the FBI’s team will keep your hands clenched on your armrests.
But while the “thriller” aspect is an important and captivating part of the movie, it doesn’t let you lose sight of what’s really the heart of the story, which consist of the struggles of the town’s inhabitants and how being the crime or fighting it takes its toll, especially when the two ends clash. The Town is a gritty and soul-searing look at lives tarnished and their seemingly unbreakable ties to Charlestown.
OVERALL SCORE: 8.5/10