It doesn’t always have to be about the best and the worst movies, which get all the attention around this time of year. There are always a few movies that were neither bad nor worthy of best of lists consideration. They’re decent — hell, they’re better than decent. They’re good, but not great movies, most of which would be perfect couch viewing on a snowy Friday night with your not-too-judgmental significant other. They’re all flawed, in their own way, but if we only watched award worthy films every year, we wouldn’t spend a lot of time watching movies, would we?
This is me not being a critic. This is me being a average guy with a wife and a kid, an alcoholic beverage, two hours to kill before bedtime, and a desire to relax and watch a movie.
These are the Ten Best Netflix Gems of 2010.
10. Green Zone: I didn’t disagree at all with William Goss’ review. It’s not up to the standards of Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon. It is also conversation heavy for a movie that takes place in a war zone. Goss was also apt to note, “the good guys and bad guys on each side of the conflict are glaringly apparent from the get-go.” But when I’m in couch mode, “a blur of frantic action and fractured ideals” suits me just fine.
9. It’s Kind of a Funny Story: As SLW wrote in his review, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story is reviewed perfectly by its own title, particularly if you prefaced it with a “meh.” It’s entertaining enough, but has no depth of feeling that would make it a compelling story.” In this case, “entertaining enough” is perfectly good, especially if you add the excellent song choices (seriously, does Bowei’s “Under Pressure” ever get old?), the lack of significant stakes, and characters that are “quirky and harmless.”
8. Date Night: It’s the rare movie where the two leads — Steve Carell and Tina Fey — actually elevate the sorry material and the bland execution over a level of tolerable and into outright pleasantness. If you like Carell and Fey (and Mark Wahlberg shirtless), chances are, you’ll like Date Night. It’s basically the pilot to a really solid action-comedy series on Thursday night NBC — completely frivolous, kind of dumb but with an edge of intelligence, and insanely watchable.
7. Going the Distance: 2010 has been a terrible year for an already maligned romantic comedy genre, as studios continue to pair bad leading actresses with absurd high concepts, which is like pairing boxed wine with frozen Salisbury steak. They’re barely palatable and it all goes straight to your thighs. Going the Distance actually pokes its head out of the muck by offering a nugget of sincerity and surrounding the middling main narrative with outstanding supporting comedy, primarily from Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, who has not — as was feared — been muzzled by the studio brass. He’s downright hilarious, and much of Going the Distance feels like an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” awkwardly stitched together with a rom-com. The result is not bad. Not bad at all, really.
6. City Island: City Island is amiable, warm, and even veers into Neil Simon-esque dramatic farce near the end. It can feel a little contrived at times — as the secrets mount — but it’s brilliantly acted, anchored by Andy Garcia, Julianne Margulies and their characters’ constant affectionate bickering, as well as Emily Mortimer and Alan Arkin. City Island is not an original piece of filmmaking, and Raymond De Felitta — who has been writing and directing films I’ve never heard of for 20 years — isn’t much of a creative visionary. But he’s sure-handed and smart, and his City Island feels fresh in an indie world dominated by quirk and whimsy. It may not be a movie that you’ll love, but it’s a difficult film not to like.
5. Red: As TK wrote in his review, Red is “not a bad way to spend a couple of hours, [although it] feels like an exercise in untapped potential and results in a lonely entry in the genre. The film simply isn’t solid enough to call for the actors involved, but on the other hand, it’s the very presence of those actors that elevates it above its lackluster script. As a result, I suspect that in a week or two, I’ll have forgotten about Red almost completely, other than to remember that on a Friday night in October, I had a decent time and wasn’t too bored. ” That’s the precise criteria for this list.
4. The Crazies: TK wasn’t wild about The Crazies, but his review was strong enough that I checked it out on a Friday night when the wife was away. It was perfect for that. As TK wrote, “The Crazies is quite entertaining and actually has some well-executed tense, scary moments — it capitalizes on an effective sense of dread and despair, mixing in the inevitable occasional jump scares … The Crazies is fun and scary, it’s well acted and it has a creepy, foreboding feel that gives it a certain edge-of-the-seat feel. But it never takes the path less traveled, instead settling for relying on the conventional. It’s not a bad movie — it’s just that I suspect that it’s destined to become a rather forgettable one.”
3. Let Me In: Look: There is no harder critic than Dan Carlson, and though he wasn’t particularly impressed with the Let the Right One In remake, he had some nice things to say about it. “Let Me In has moments of genuine terror and complicated human drama, as well as some fantastically rendered scenes of nightmarish suspense and even dark comedy … I should state clearly here: Reeves’ film isn’t totally bad. Rather, it’s horribly regrettable for how much better it could have been. In its more lucid and uncompromising moments, it’s clearly a work by a director who knows what he’s doing. Reeves is adroit at building suspense, especially when he locks the camera into a certain character’s point of view and holds tense moments a few beats longer than expected, and he’s able to stage some solid action scenes.”
In the end, it’s kind of unnecessary, and not as good as Let the Right One In. Let the Right One In was a movie that deserved to be seen in the theater, appreciated, and talked about. But Let Me In is a perfectly serviceable replacement if you’re not feeling up to the sophistication and nuance of the original.
2. Morning Glory : Morning Glory is the movie that triggered my full-on insane crush of Rachel McAdams (so much so that I finally took the recommendation of many of you and watched the brilliant “Slings and Arrows,” which we’ll be reviewing soon). In Morning Glory, Rachel McAdams is goddamn intoxicating. She is spunk and wit, a motherfucking firecracker that blows up (from a safe distance). She is adorable as hell, smart and ditsy, a heartmelt smile that dazzles, goofy and bumbling without being dumb. And sweet terrible Moses, she can fill out a pair of underwear. She’s been decent to good in the past, though she still carries with her the mark of The Notebook. In Morning Glory she conquers the screen, all Lucille Ball and and Annie Hall, making the case that she’s the next great romantic comedy heroine, one who eschews high concept in favor of narrative. In Morning Glory, she’s found a winsome, lightweight story to tell.
1. Easy A: Easy A is a 21st century teen comedy, and maybe the first really good one at that. It doesn’t borrow the archetypes of those ’80s standard bearers — there’s no expositional scene establishing where the various cliques are seated at the lunch table. It presents high school for what I expect it must be now: an amorphous body of singular cliques — teenagers too busy self-identifying to align with anyone else, except in such a way as to self-identify. You know this is not a John Hughes comedy because Emma Stone’s character doesn’t fall over herself for another guy — there’s a love interest (Penn Badgley), but he’s practically a background character. She doesn’t get the gang together and devise a plan. There are no grand romantic gestures. This is Emma Stone’s movie, and the story is that of Olive’s, and how she got herself into a mess and got herself out of it (a little too cheap and easy, perhaps, but that’s hardly the point). Easy A is more about a vibe, about a sense of humor, and Gluck — working from a Bert V. Royal script — maintains the sharp wit throughout. It’s clever, tongue-in-cheek without being smug, and whip-fucking smart. It may be the Ferris Bueller of this generation, but make no mistake: It’s not Ferris Bueller.