Andy Bockelman: My top film entries of the year — part 1

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

Top 10 movies released between January and June 2010:

  1. “Splice”

  2. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”

  3. “The Greatest”

  4. “Get Him to the Greek”

  5. “How to Train Your Dragon”

  6. “The Ghost Writer”

  7. “A Prophet”

  8. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

  9. “Winter’s Bone”

  10. “Toy Story 3”

Every year, movies come and movies go, with some making more of an impact than others. But, with so many worthwhile entries, the idea of compiling a top 10 list for the year seems impossible.

Instead, it seems more appropriate to list the top 20 in two lists of 10.

What follows is a countdown of the top films released between January and June this year, all of which are conveniently available on DVD.

10. “Splice”

A pair of geneticists (Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley) on the brink of a breakthrough in their field decide to go further than anyone has in the scientific world by creating a hybrid human (Delphine Chanéac). Their masterwork is a gold mine of possibilities in DNA study, but it isn’t long before Earth’s newest creature starts to turn dangerous and think for itself.

Brody and Polley are great as the romantically involved nerds — appropriately employed at a laboratory called Nucleic Exchange Research and Development — who decide to be fruitful and multiply in the most unorthodox way possible. Chanéac, however, shows them up easily as their creation, Dren, who oscillates between an infant-like innocence and an unholy bloodlust that knows no limitations.

Besides crafting a gloriously disgusting monster movie that’s akin to a contemporary “Frankenstein,” co-writer and director Vincenzo Natali makes an excellent point about the dangers of playing God and how the exponential day-to-day progress in science may just result in something horrible. Perhaps it won’t come to our deaths at the hands of a bald quasi-woman with wings and a tail containing a retractable stinger, but it’s still pretty scary to think about.

9. “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”

Upon entering middle school, Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) finds himself in an ongoing battle to become popular among his peers for the first time, as chronicled in his personal diary — ahem, journal.

But, his plans for yearbook immortality are hindered by his dorky best friend Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron) and a never-ending torrent of bad luck in athletics, schoolwork and practically everything else.

Jeff Kinney’s series of kids books come to life in this earnest look at the difficulties of the tween years, complete with parents (Rachael Harris, Steve Zahn) whose efforts to connect with their children all end up futile, an older brother (Devon Bostick) who lives to torment, a bully (Laine MacNeil) who uses the girls locker room, and a piece of moldy cheese on the playground blacktop that serves as the modern version of cooties. The first in the series sets the stage for what could be a respectable franchise, though we’ll have to see if the sequel, subtitled “Rodrick Rules,” is of the same caliber.

8. “The Greatest”

When their son, Bennett (Aaron Johnson), is killed in a car accident, Allen and Grace Brewer (Pierce Brosnan, Susan Sarandon) are beset with grief, with the loss nearly destroying their lives entirely.

Things only get more complicated when they meet Rose (Carey Mulligan), a young woman who not only claims to have been Bennett’s girlfriend but also that she’s pregnant with his child. And, as she begins to become closer to the Brewers, they all inevitably begin the healing process.

With numerous similarities to the much bleaker and more affecting “Ordinary People,” there’s still a lot of heart in this telling tale of family dynamics with each member expressing their sorrow in different ways — Allen, stricken with insomnia; Grace, who obsesses about the details of the accident; and younger brother Ryan (Johnny Simmons), a pothead who denies how much he cared for his supposedly favored sibling. Still, Mulligan stands out the most as warm-hearted Rose, whose involvement with Bennett is revealed in reverse.

7. “Get Him to the Greek”

A low-level record label employee (Jonah Hill) gets his big break when his boss (Sean Combs) tasks him with retrieving unpredictable rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) for the 10th anniversary of his famous performance at L.A.’s Greek Theatre. But, the next 72 hours are a frenzied mish-mash of drug use, groupie encounters and worse as Snow proves to our hapless hero exactly how he got his reputation as a hard-living force of nature.

Brand channels the spirit of virtually every self-destructive rocker who ever lived as he reprises his breakout role from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” with Hill doing everything he can to keep up. But, although there’s a lot — repeat: a lot — of raunchy material, the story at the core is one of an artist who has let his fame dictate how he lives his life, with a poorly-selling album being the equivalent of a death sentence. A string of music cameos, including Brand’s wife, Katy Perry, P!nk and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich make things all the livelier, but Brand needs little help as the frontman for fictitious band Infant Sorrow, especially with the new hit single “Furry Walls.”

6. “How to Train Your Dragon”

The Viking settlers on the island of Berk have a pest control problem. But, the beasts giving them a hard time are a little more bothersome than ants or mice, as the skies above the village are regularly blacked out by the wings of dragons. Joining in the fight against these flying menaces and usually exacerbating the problem is undersized, overeager teenager Hiccup (voice of Jay Baruchel), always trying to prove his worth to his more accomplished chieftain father, Stoick (Gerard Butler).

But, Hiccup’s outlook changes when he fortuitously captures the rarely seen Night Fury breed, which he begins to tame. In the process, he begins to realize that dragons and Vikings can live in harmony.

The “boy and his pet” film gets turned on its ear in this delightful family feature, the best of three cartoons released by DreamWorks Animation this year. Besides the fine voice cast that also includes America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, the sheer look of this adventure is incredible with soaring visuals, an impressive color palette and a dragon that’s as fully fleshed a character as any of its human counterparts.

5. “The Ghost Writer”

When he is hired to work on the memoirs of the former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), a career ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) doesn’t think the job will be any different than his usual work. He quickly learns how wrong he is when he learns that his predecessor died in a highly suspect accident. Already unnerved, he relocates to Lang’s Martha’s Vineyard retreat, where the one-time leader is holed up, making the ghost’s work more complicated as he uncovers more and more about how Lang’s actions while in office have made him a reviled political figure.

Infamous before it even hit theaters because of director Roman Polanski’s arrest, this political thriller is rife with suspense, mirroring not only the filmmaker’s notorious past and public perception, but the actions of Tony Blair during the Iraq War, expounded especially in Robert Harris’s novel “The Ghost.” The title also is the closest we get to a name for McGregor’s character, whose anonymity lets us know that he could be eliminated at any time.

4. “A Prophet”

Sentenced to a six-year prison sentence, 19-year-old Malik (Tahar Rahim) is put in an unusual position in the Corsican jail where he is placed. Because of his dual French and Arab heritage, he comes under the tutelage of the resident crime boss César Luciani (Niels Arestrup), who wants someone to enforce his rule who can easily move in and out among prisoners of different races, as well as do business outside prison walls. But, as the years wear on, Malik begins to find his own way in the system, working behind Luciani’s back to reclaim the pride of his own people.

A powerful prison drama that’s more along the lines of “Oz” than something like “The Shawshank Redemption,” this 2009 Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film manages to be visceral and violent in addition to having a worthwhile message about cultural conflicts in society.

3. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Disgraced Swedish investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is given a chance to put his tracking skills to work when businessman Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) asks him to put an end to an age-old mystery that has plagued his family for years. In his quest to uncover the truth about what happened to Vanger’s niece more than 40 years ago, Blomkvist becomes involved with Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a young computer expert and hacker with a troubled past.

However, neither of them are prepared for what they unearth about the Vanger clan.

Strong performances by Nyqvist and especially Rapace are offset by the terrifying look of the Vanger estate and even more so, what lies within, though as we come to learn, Lisbeth has a myriad of other such predicaments.

By now a worldwide sensation, the first film adaptation of Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s posthumously published “Millennium Trilogy” provides an excellent setup for the accompanying “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.”

2. “Winter’s Bone”

With her family living in poverty in the rural Ozarks, 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) has already had to drop out of school to take care of the household with her mother mentally unavailable and her father physically so, having abandoned his kin. But, even with all the hardships she has already faced in her young life, Ree is facing her biggest challenge yet, when the Dollys’ land is in danger of forfeiture thanks to her meth dealer father jumping bail.

The only way to keep her family afloat is for the teen to track down her father and ensure that he doesn’t ruin what little chance she has to get ahead in life.

Lawrence is amazing in a well-honed, compelling young female role, a character who has to break all the rules in an uncomfortably real community where the normal societal laws do not apply to the mountain dwellers who have their own customs.

Although not too different from last year’s “Precious,” this is an even more stark presentation overall as Ree does not even have the luxury of daydreaming her way out of her life.

1. “Toy Story 3”

With their owner Andy (voice of John Morris) off to college, cherished toys Woody the Cowboy Doll (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) must prepare their friends for the inevitable day that every plaything fears: storage. But, instead of going into the attic, Andy’s toys accidentally wind up being donated to a daycare center.

Though the idea of being played with and taken care of forever seems like paradise to his pals, Woody is intent to return to Andy. However, all is not well at Sunnyside Daycare, leaving Woody with the difficult choice of either rescuing Buzz and the rest of the gang or sticking with the kid who’s always been his friend.

Hanks and Allen head a typically phenomenal vocal ensemble with returning stars Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger and Wallace Shawn, as well as newbies Michael Keaton, Ned Beatty, Timothy Dalton, Jeff Garlin and Kristen Schaal. Undeniably just as good as the first two “Toy Story” films — in many ways, even better, depending on how old you are — Pixar’s newest entry takes its most beloved characters full circle in a story that’s as heartfelt and hilarious as the best of the best from the animation studio.

Not only is it the top cartoon of the year, but it’s jockeying for the top film of the year, quality-wise.

Its status as the highest grossing animated movie of all time and the highest of the year certainly doesn’t hurt.

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