Every year begins with high expectations: a handful (or perhaps more) of titles that tantalize with the possibility of greatness or, at the very least, of providing a satisfying two hours in a movie theater. When it comes to quality, "Best of" lists are reserved for December (and, since I do a mid-point list, June/July), but January is an excellent time to compile a grouping of titles that quicken the pulse with anticipation. Some of these will be disappointments. Some will be forgotten when it comes time to put together the December "Top 10 of 2010" list. And many movies that will place on that roster haven't crossed my radar yet. Hype and marketing often result in films generating high expectations. Smaller motion pictures with less frenzied publicity engines rarely generate buzz much before their release.
I didn't assemble a list of this sort at the beginning of 2009, but it's easy enough to go back and put one together, to peel back the months and recall what excited me about the year when the bloom was still on the rose, so to speak:
Of those ten movies, only two (Inglorious Basterds, Avatar) placed on my Top 10 for 2009. Two (The Lovely Bones, Watchmen) were outright disappointments. The other six fell somewhere in between, with Star Trek, Up, The Time Traveler's Wife, and The Road satisfying, and Public Enemies and Terminator: Salvation nagging with thoughts they could have been better. What I'm saying is that measuring a movie beforehand based on expectations is not representative of measuring a movie afterward based on its subjective quality. But it's January, so let's have a little fun.
These are the ten movies I am the most excited to see in 2010, at least based on my limited exposure to trailers, posters, stills, and other advance publicity material. Most are big studio movies, as one might expect. I don't anticipate a majority of these to be on the year-end list, but that doesn't diminish my interest in seeing them.
1. Shutter Island (opens Feb. 19): This Scorsese movie would have been on my unwritten 2009 list (much as Star Trek would have been on the 2008 list) if the release date hadn't been changed. Moving the film out of Oscar season and into the wasteland of February does not build confidence, but I'm going to take the studio's word (at least for now) that this was done to provide the film with an opportunity for more exposure, not because it sucks.
2. Clash of the Titans (opens Mar. 26): Nostalgia strikes. The original had a wealth of potential to be a true fantasy/mythology classic, but was undone by some serious flaws. All of these can be corrected by the use of top-notch special effects and with a well-written screenplay (this one is by Lawrence Kasdan). It remains to be seen whether the new version achieves a lofty perch but, to be frank, the bar is pretty low. Just getting rid of the damn metal owl will be a big step forward. One worrying thing: the movie was not conceived in 3-D but there have been rumors it is being "converted." That's not the way to build on what Cameron achieved with Avatar. 3-D movies need to be envisioned, designed, and produced from the ground up with 3-D in mind. Making it an eleventh hour add-on is not the way to go, and smacks of a money-grab.
3. Iron Man 2 (opens May 7): Loved the first one. Hard to believe the second will be on the same level, but one of the intriguing things about superhero movies is that installment #2 is almost always the crown jewel. So maybe this has a shot to match (or exceed) its predecessor and make the end-of-the-year Top 10. Anything less than ***1/2 will be disappointing.
4. The Expendables (opens Aug. 13): Okay, it may be awful, but with this much testosterone in evidence, how can a red-blooded guy not at least be a little intrigued? And, although Schwarzenegger may not have a lot to do, his first screen meeting with Stallone ranks up there with the Pacino/DeNiro pairing in terms of legendary movie moments.
5. Wall Street 2 (opens Apr. 23): Another sequel to another good original. Gordon Gekko is one of the great all-time baddies and the opportunity to see him sleaze his way through another movie while chewing on some great dialogue has got to be worth the price of admission, doesn't it?
6. Toy Story 3 (opens Jun. 18): Loved installment #1 and installment #2, so there's no reason to believe I'll think less of this one. Plus, it's Pixar and it was always supposed to be 3-D. That's how I'll see it, but I'm going for Woody and Buzz, not for the visual razzle-dazzle.
7. Inception (opens Jul. 16): Chris Nolan's "in between" film looks intriguing, but I'm keeping expectations in check. His last "in betweener," The Prestige, was a disappointment. So I'll go to this one with fingers crossed, but I will be psyched when I see it show up on the upcoming screenings sheet.
8. Kick Ass (opens Apr. 16): I don't know much about the film but it has created a small storm of interest in geek circles and the trailer looks engaging. This is the closest thing to an "obscure" title on this list, and it's not very obscure at all.
9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I (opens Nov. 19): I would be a lot more excited if this hadn't been bifurcated to maximize revenue. Still, it's the beginning of the end. I only hope the filmmakers figure out a way to keep the proceedings from dragging. The book had some slow spots (the camping trip) that need to be addressed.
10. Tron Legacy (opens Dec. 17): Honestly, Iím not that excited about this film, although it retains a certain nostalgia factor. But I wanted 10 films on the list and my tentative #10, Bond #23, has apparently been pushed into 2011. So this lands here. I'd be more thrilled if I had liked the original Tron better, but I didn't warm to it when I saw it during its original release and again at one of the early Ebertfests.
Remember: this isn't a prediction of how the Top 10 will look, just a snapshot of the 2010 movies with the greatest potential to excite and/or disappoint. Your mileage may (and in many cases, will) vary.