Welcome back to the Decade Decathlon, where we’re taking an extended look back at the past decade of filmmaking to see what worked, what didn’t, and what stories we can learn from the past.
As is usually the case with a new decade, a lot of the old trends and pop mentality still carry over from the previous decade. When a new decade begins, it isn’t like flicking a switch and suddenly there are new ideas and touchstones from Day 1. Trends and ideas take time to develop, but 2010 was a bit different than most beginnings. Pop culture was at its most carefree and ephemeral in years, inspiring plenty of bubblegum summer jams without too many challenging social issues. All of which bled through into movies, giving us a fairly inconsequential year in milestones despite some truly important and relevant movies releasing, but not qualifying for this list due to extenuating circumstances.
It’s odd that these were the six movies that met my qualifications because they embody both the best and worst aspects of the year. Out of the six, only one of the movies was justifiably praised both then and now. These movies fell into one of two categories: they were content with chasing trends to the detriment of their longevity or they were ahead of their time and were ignored because of it and are still unfortunately ignored today.
Now let’s get ready to go.
Most Decorated Movie: The King’s Speech
Director: Tom Hooper
Total Awards: 14
Oscar’s Best Picture Winner?: Yes
Right off the bat I’m already complaining about the system that I made to choose the most decorated movie of the year. The King’s Speech is a fine movie, but when compared to the other movies that won awards this year, it’s the most uninteresting out of the potential candidates. I first saw The King’s Speech while I was studying abroad and it was used primarily to show us how the monarchy now holds a ceremonial role in the British government rather than an active political role with legislative power. As an educational tool it gets the job done, though it is for an admittingly niche interest if you are an American.
I had a lengthy discussion with our UK writer Sian about her thoughts on the movie, where she gushed about the psychological depiction of George VI and the various symbols at play inform us on King George VI stepping into his own as a monarch. All of which I can totally see and understand, but it just killed me that until it was pointed out to me, I completely missed it. This left me with the taste of watching yet another historically inaccurate period piece that won awards based on prestige rather than on impact.
If you wanted a movie from 2010 that is painfully relevant today, probably more so than when it initially released, one need look no further than David Fincher’s The Social Network, a fictionalized version of how Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook. Say what you will about Facebook, but there is no denying how much it changed and affected the world through both social and political change. But no, instead we have The King’s Speech. And I feel bad for beating up on The King’s Speech like I am because it’s still a decent movie, but outside of an educational tool, this could very well be the textbook definition of Oscar bait.
Worst Picture: The Last Airbender
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Razzie Wins: 5
Were the Razzies right?: Yes
The Last Airbender is a bad movie, that much is a fact, but its badness is absolutely fascinating to dissect. Taking one of the most critically praised cartoons of all time and turning into a feature film was not a bad idea in the slightest, but every decision made about the production was wrong and dedicated to riding trends that may or may not have existed. Ironically, in order to understand why The Last Airbender was such a mess, we need to look at the other Avatar.
James Cameron’s Avatar released in December of 2009 and made nearly $3 billion in profits, unadjusted for inflation. One of the main reasons for this astronomical gross was mostly due to its technical use of 3D effects, legitimizing the style as a mainstay of theaters for the next decade. Even today most blockbusters are shot with the intention of using 3D effects as a gimmick to get audiences in seats, despite the gimmick being well worn out, but that definitely wasn’t the case in 2010.
If you’ve seen The Last Airbender recently (in which case, seek help), you may recall that several of the scenes felt sloppily edited and directed. While there was no saving the actors’ stilted delivery, the choppiness of the movie had to do with around 30 minutes of the movie being cut due to time constraints. The movie had finished shooting, but due to Avatar’s success, Paramount announced three months before release that it would be screened in 3D, forcing Shyamalan and Paramount to make a difficult decision; delay the movie so that all of it could be converted to 3D, or sacrifice 30 minutes of the runtime in order to make sure the film could meet its 4th of July release date with 3D effects in tow. They chose the latter and we’re all the worse for it. The film was also not color corrected for an entire audience wearing 3D glasses, meaning watching it in theaters meant watching an incredibly dark, muted film that was difficult just to follow, not inclduing that slapped on 3D effects.
But even with several scenes being removed and viewed without dimming 3D glasses there’s no getting around the numerous errors and mistakes featured in it. Such as… The massive leaps of logic by the characters that fans of the show would rage at. The truncation of an entire season worth of material into an hour and a half. The numerous mispronunciation of character names. Racebending. Sokka. Shyamalan in general bringing his trademark lack of emotion to his actors. All of which made a sure fire hit into an unmitigated disaster.
It is my firm belief that this was the movie that killed Shyamalan’s career. He wasn’t a golden boy anymore at this point, making questionable movies like Lady in the Water that failed with critics, but he had his supporters. Ain’t nobody coming out to defend him after The Last Airbender. Even today he’s kind of a joke to talk about with people discussing his failures more than his successes. He’s spent the entire decade trying to make us say that “Shyamalan is back” because of just how far he fell from grace, with The Last Airbender being Ground Zero. Granted, some may argue that he’s redeemed himself thanks to the box office success of Split and Glass, though critics may beg to differ, but even his ardent defenders would have a tough time ignoring The Last Airbender’s abject failure.
Highest Grossing Movie: Toy Story 3
Director: Lee Unkrich
Total Gross: $1,067,969,703
The fact that Toy Story 3 was as big of a hit as it was should surprise no one. As the “conclusion” to a “trilogy” 15 years in the making, it should be pretty obvious why it resonated so much with families and audiences. Kids that grew up with Toy Story were either just entering college or even starting families of their own and dealing with the idea of growing up and becoming an adult. We weren’t kids anymore. We were Andy. We loved our toys, our childhood, our innocence, but now we were older and the toys that we played with as kids lost their magic. There was a perfect arc for Andy’s toys, being told in Toy Story 2 that eventually Andy will grow up and not want to play with them anymore. Well, the chickens came home to roost and the results will turn anyone into a sobbing child. I should know because it turned me into one. Easily.
Family movies are usually a safe bet for being commercial darlings, but it’s not every day that an animated kids movie grosses over $1 billion at the box office. There was, and still is, a stigma against animated movies being “just for kids” without taking into consideration that, yes, family movies can be “just for kids”, but adults can also enjoy them, with Toy Story 3 being the best example. On the surface, it was made for kids to watch, but you’d be a fool to think that parents or teenagers who saw the first two movies wouldn’t want to watch it too just to be reunited with the toys again only for them to rip your heart out and stomp it onto the ground.
And yes, the movie still holds up incredibly well today. It’s the perfect capstone to the movies that made Pixar into the household name it is today. Toy Story 3 is so perfect a conclusion that some people, myself included, still aren’t sold on the upcoming Toy Story 4. Why make a sequel to a trilogy that ended beautifully besides making an assload of money off of a recognizable franchise? Future installments aside, Toy Story 3 made bank due to its legacy and quality and this would have been a veeeery different discussion if Alice in Wonderland made $41 million more and became the highest grossing movie. Yes, Alice in Wonderland was that profitable. No, I have no idea why.
Biggest Bomb: How Do You Know
Director: James L. Brooks
Budget: $100-$120 million
Gross: $48.7 million
What even is this movie? No for real, after doing all of my research and trying to study everything about the production of this movie, I’m not one step closer to figuring out what the hell How Do You Know is. As the biggest bomb of 2010, I was expecting there to be something, anything noteworthy about this movie that may have helped me figure out why it bombed as hard as it did, but I found nothing. This was one of the most painfully mediocre movies I’ve seen in my entire life. The cast, as solid as it is, come across as stilted with no interaction even remotely resembling what a human conversation is like. I should have something, anything to work with here, but How Do You Know gave me a grand total of zero things to talk about.
At first I thought that it bombed due to its release in late December, right around the time big Oscar movies come out, but there’s no reason for me to believe that it was buried underneath a swath of better, more profitable movies. Then I asked if it was because it was a romantic comedy, since that genre generally doesn’t do too well at the box office unless it has a wide hook outside of appealing to moms. That got me a little bit further, leading me to think that romantic comedies, which used to be a staple of early 2000’s cinema, fell by the wayside and audiences were seeking something more interesting and unique. But we still get lame romantic comedies, mostly around Mother’s Day, and those seem to do fine.
So was this a case of releasing a mom movie at a time when moms are busy celebrating the holidays with their families? Was that why it failed? But then I remember Occam’s Razor, where the simplest answer is usually the right one; How Do You Know is so painfully vanilla that it hurts. Sometimes a movie bombs because it’s a bad movie, plain and simple. Maybe if it released at a different time of year it could have done slightly better? Probably not, since I’m not even sure how you would market a mealy mouthed romantic comedy about baseball players and lawyers whose only claim to fame is being the last movie that Jack Nicholson ever starred in. How… notable?
Most Underrated Movie: Shutter Island
Director: Martin Scorsese
Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
I’ve always wanted to watch Shutter Island, but it was always one of those movies that evaded me. For one reason or another, it always slipped right past me and left me admiring it from a distance. Looking back at all of the great horror movies from the decade, I kept asking myself why Shutter Island wasn’t listed among them. Why wouldn’t a Scorsese/DiCaprio horror movie be considered one of the best horror movies of the decade? The pedigree is there, but even if you ask a hardcore horror movie fan, their reaction to Shutter Island is ambivalence at best. So when I saw that Flixist voted it as the most underrated movie of 2010, I finally had an excuse to see if Shutter Island was a real diamond in the rough. Unfortunately I think I over-hyped a movie that never felt comfortable being in the spotlight.
While I do think that Shutter Island is a good movie, it plays things a little bit too close to the chest. It’s a good horror movie in the same way that Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a good game. It has a great premise, with a main character that’s searching for a missing woman/girl and goes down a surreal and psychotic chase into his own psychosis which culminates in a gut wrenching climax at a lighthouse, but both don’t show their cards until the very end. You spend 90% of the movie piecing together what’s happening and trying to tie together all of the various theories and conspiracies, only for the movie to pull the rug out from under you and undermine everything that it built up.
While it works in Shattered Memories because it delves into the main character’s mind at an intimate level, Shutter Island puts the plot before the character. Shutter Island, at the end of the day, is a character study about a man who we don’t really know. We’re able to see how skewed the story is, filling the viewer with paranoia in the same way that DiCaprio’s character feels, but Shutter Island never firmly connects its threads together. And yes, I’m trying to be as vague as possible when describing the plot because it’s one of those movies where even talking about the plot can spoil it.
It lacks the thrills of Cabin in the Woods and the terror of The Witch, offering instead a horror movie that feels off. And not off in the sense that the world it makes is naturally unsettling, but that it should be provoking a stronger reaction that it does. I can see why it has its fans, but I can also easily see why it’s been lost to time as a good enough horror movie. There are just more and better alternatives to Shutter Island. So yeah, it’s underrated, but on closer examination, it’s nothing all that special nowadays.
Favorite Movie: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Director: Edgar Wright
Why?: Ahead of its time action
Nowadays, we’ve all accepted that comic book movies are the defacto summer blockbusters, making obscene amounts of money at the box office. Marvel and DC may be the big names in town, but other companies decided to adapt their comics into feature films to ride off the hype train of being “based on the hit comic book/graphic novel.” Movies like Atomic Blonde, Kick-Ass, and Snowpiercer were all based on Indie comics or graphic novels, but none of them were quite as underground or as successful as the Scott Pilgrim series was.
Scott Pilgrim was a six volume graphic novel series that had an incredibly strong fan base, put Portland, Oregon publisher Oni Press on the map, and drew attention to writer/artist Bryan Lee O’Malley. The series followed a 23 year old Scott Pilgrim as he navigated adulthood and emotional maturity by dating Ramona Flowers and defeating her Seven Evil Exes to officially win her hand, while also being kind of a piece of shit in the process. It was a cult hit in the 2000’s, with a feature film releasing one week after the final volume released in the summer of 2010. And it kicked all sorts of ass! And also bombed hard at the box office!
No one went to go see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World except for the hardest of hardcore fans because even for a comic book adaptation, it was a bit too out there. Sound effects popped up with abandon, special effects ruled the day, transitions made it feel more like a video game, the structure was very much like a comic book series with a rigid pace of Scott defeating several bad guys every couple of minutes, and the film just had a goofier attitude than I think most audiences were used to. Keep in mind that this was several years before the MCU allowed its movies to be goofy or silly, with most of its earlier movies trying to be serious action movies first with comic book heroics second. I would argue that if Scott Pilgrim vs the World was released in 2012 or 2013, it would have been a much bigger hit than it was, drawing in fans around the world to see the weird, insane action of Edger Wright. Also it probably would have allowed the movie to have a more faithful adaptation of the source material, but now we’re just splitting hairs.
Now you can catch it playing occasionally on Comedy Central, but it feels like the perfect home for it. A bizarre hit that went unappreciated in its time, is referenced constantly by fans and non-fans alike, and sits comfortably as a cult classic. If it wasn’t for my selection process and how Flixist Awards override my personal selections in a category, I would have chosen Scott Pilgrim vs the World as the most underrated movie of 2010 in a heartbeat and probably would have given this slot to Black Swan. But it didn’t, so now I have a chance to talk about the best movie of 2010 that no one saw. It did whatever it wanted to do, and I can still appreciate Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as a comic book movie for hardcore comic book fans.
Was 2010 a good year for movies?
Bit of a tricky question to answer here, but I’d have to shrug and say, “sure?” 3D came into being in 2010, for better and for worse, with most major blockbusters playing into that gimmick. Even looking away from big features, none of the movies that came out in 2010 really had any lasting impact. I remember people were going nuts for Inception when it first released, trying to figure out what the hell was even going on in it, but the impact it had was negligible at best. I’ll still hear people occasionally talk about Inception (rarely), but ask yourself how long it’s been since you actually sat down and watched it? It commanded people’s attention for the summer, but now it’s regarded as not even a blip.
Truthfully, only Toy Story 3 holds relevance today because of how many people firmly believe that it’s Pixar’s best movie. Keep in mind that Pixar has numerous movies that outclass any and all animated movies, but Toy Story 3 is the one that can hold its own and still provide a reaction. Romantic comedies faded into obscurity, horror movies didn’t connect with audiences, and movies that should have become classics were instead relegated to cult status.
I said at the beginning that 2010 was ephemeral and I meant every word of it. We don’t talk about the achievements of 2010 because there really weren’t any. There were no game changers or revelations this year. We had a year where Hollywood coasted by, made some decent movies, and that was it. Granted, not every year will be legendary, but there’s nothing wrong with just being fine and riding trends. Sometimes good enough is just plain good. And we’ll see if Hollywood continues to be just good enough or become something better when we continue the Decade Decathlon next month with 2011.
Movies from 2010 you should still see: How to Train Your Dragon, Exit Through the Gift Shop, The Karate Kid, Inception, The Other Guys, The Expendables, The Social Network, Tangled, Black Swan.