The Best & Worst Films of the Year

The ball has dropped, resolutions were made and the 2011 film season has begun — the beginning of which, like most new years, looks pretty limp-dick (“Season of the Witch”? Really, Nick Cage?). Luckily, the sparks from 2010’s top dogs have enough cinematic crackle to power us through 2011’s opening lame ducks. For the lazy man, here’s a cheat sheet (in no particu- lar order) of the best and brightest of 2010’s big screen — cowboys, computer nerds and all.

FILM OF THE YEAR

The Social Network – David Fincher

If wit is a man’s greatest treasure, then director David Fincher’s “The Social Network” is a gold mine. The movie follows Harvard coed Mark Zuckerberg (a headstrong, fast-talking Jesse Eisenberg) as he conceptualizes and realizes the now 500-million-strong Facebook. Armed with razor-sharp dialogue, the movie is more a generational introspective and an examination of the human condition than a chronicle of a website’s creation. It’s an effortless flow of tal- ent — from the director’s chair to the camera hand — making “The Social Network” the most complete cinematic experience of 2010.

THE REST OF THE BEST

Black Swan – Darren Aronofsky

In Darren Aronofsky’s world, we’re caught in a rapidly expanding nightmare birthed from the head of Swan Queen ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman). Through the dancer’s story mirrors Swan Lake’s narrative, it’s unpredictable in its pre- dictability — creating uncomfortable moments of tension between Nina and her competitor (Mila Kunis), so much so that the final outcome remains masked by the emotional drama. The imagery is hauntingly beautiful — faces morph, glass shatters and blood blooms from every part of Nina’s body, as the sky remains in a perpetual and impenetrable darkness, existing in a universe seemingly devoid of daylight.

Toy Story 3 – Lee Unkrich

The third installment of the Toy Story franchise is its most successful yet. The tear-jerker transports us back into Andy’s familiar home and into the welcoming arms of the lovable toy-troupe we’ve fol- lowed since Pixar’s inception. A welcome break from the predominately stern 2010 film season, the toys of “Toy Story 3” find themselves abandoned at a nursery for ungrateful children and band together in a bid for freedom. Whooping and hollering with gusto (and with Buzz, occasionally in Spanish), the characters are vivacious as ever. With an amped-up and effervescent animation style, this trip to colorful toy-land is the best go-to to break up the monotony of Winter-time gloom.

The King’s Speech – Tom Hooper

Though it isn’t as pointed as Sorkin’s “The Social Network,” “The King’s Speech” is a smart biopic of the speech-challenged King George — an inspirational story of triumph and hardship overcome — without all the expected kitsch. Decidedly British in its humor and style, “The King’s Speech” is most notable for the vetted cast that supports it. Colin Firth’s belabored speech, practiced stutter and escalat- ing frustration are convincing. When paired up with a wife played by Helena Bonham Carter and speech therapist played by Geoffery Rush, the authenticity of the king’s daily strug- gle emanates from each tear-filled scene.

True Grit – Joel and Ethan Coen

The Coen brothers aren’t known for their Western fare, but their remake of the 1969 film “True Grit” stays true to the canonized original, while making use of their iconic dark humor. Scrappy 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is determined to avenge her father’s death by capturing (or killing) his murderer. To do so, she hires bear-like U.S. Marshal Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track him down. Though Cogburn may shoot first and ask later, the Coens’ aim is always true: With “True Grit” they’ve cre- ated a fast-paced film that accentuates each character’s strength and shortcomings, without degenerating into Western-style caricatures.

THE WORST

Sex and the City 2 – Michael Patrick King

A movie where the glittering opening montage of New York’s cityscape is, unfortunately, the most tolerable part. As “how to alienate your fan base in 30 minutes or less,” the ladies assume the roles of equal-opportunity offenders: first to gay men, then to Americans and then — in a sweeping finale — the entirety of the Middle East. Laughless — and sexless— from the beginning to the end.

Valentine’s Day – Garry Marshall

As contrived as its namesake, “Valentine’s Day” shares more similarities to the horrors of speed dating than a romantic night on the town. The ensemble comedy shuffles from char- acter to character, briefly following each through their romantic trysts on (you guessed it) Valentine’s Day. But the film is unwilling to commit — each subsequent character is shallower than the last — leaving the overall effect flimsier than the sappy greeting cards it promotes.

The Last Airbender – M. Night Shyamalan

Every few years, M.Night Shyamalan tricks us into thinking that he might finally pro- duce something worth seeing for the first time since 1999’s “Sixth Sense.” With “The Last Airbender” (originally called “Avatar”), Shyamalan took a bastardized version of a popular television show about a heroic young boy with wind powers and made a subpar live-action complement — poorly utilizing the 3D effect used so expertly in James Cameron’s film of the same name. After enduring two hours of fumbling acting and dialogue, it lives up to its prom- ise of being “the last.”

Jonah Hex – Jimmy Hayward

Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) is an ugly man (second only to Sarah Jessica Parker in this round- up), but it’s not his fault — his face has been badly charred by baddy Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich), and he’s out to get revenge. The acting is one-note — Brolin growls throughout while the prostitute Lilah (Megan Fox) is resolutely emotionless. Of course, the film doesn’t bother to tell us why Turnbull takes an iron-hot poker to Hex’s face (if only he would do us the same service) until the very end, and the journey to the answer is long, arduous and not worth the wait. The best part is that Fox is finally playing a role she’s suited for.

The Tourist -Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck

Johnny Depp should probably stick to playing Tim Burton’s weirdos. In one of his weak- est performances to date, the actor plays dull everyman Frank, who is roped into a spy vs. spy plotline by Elise (Angelina Jolie) as they play cat-and-dead-mouse throughout an Italian countryside that’s far more captivating than any insights the characters have to offer. The real clincher is Jolie and Depp’s joint- Golden Globe acting nomination for the most unenthusiastic performances committed to film — even better is the film’s nod for “Best Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical.” (Quick spoiler: it’s neither)