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You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling

Despite the fact that the first movie I saw in 2010 was Avatar, 2010 was a great year for movies. (Sorry, had to.) Last year, more or less on a whim, I decided to do a top five list of movies I had seen in the last year, so this year I’m taking that whim and making it a tradition. Below are my top five movies of 2010.

Honorable Mention: How to Train Your Dragon, The American, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

5 – Despicable Me

I always approach movies like Despicable Me with some caution. First of all, it’s a 3D movie. That doesn’t necessarily make it bad, but generally movies that are 3D are 3D to be a gimmick, to sell tickets, and squeeze as much money as they can out of patrons before they realize how bad it was. It pleases me to say that both of Dreamworks’ offerings, Despicable Me and How to Train Your Dragon, were both quality movies despite the fact that they were in 3D. (It should be noted that while I say all these movies were in 3D, I didn’t actually attend them in 3D.)

Despicable Me also suffered a long lead time, as it was first advertised in summer 2009. This isn’t a bad sign per se, but it means that by the time the movie comes out I’m probably sick of it. With Despicable Me however, this wasn’t the case – there were still laughs left over for the film’s release.

Steve Carrell’s performance was the best of the film, and I sort of thought the film underused Jason Segel’s talents. Nonetheless the story was good, the movie had me laughing in many spots and I walked out of the theater not regretting that I didn’t see Inception for a second week in a row.

4 – Iron Man 2

I saw Iron Man 2 at midnight and walked out of the theater thinking it would easily be a shoo-in for the greatest film of the summer. But after thinking about it for a bit I remembered that the story was a little less believable (yes, I get it, it’s about a man in a super-suit powered by an artificially sentient robot, but besides that), the characters a little more caricatured, and the movie itself a little less real.

But then I bought it on Blu-ray, and you know what? It’s still a darn fine movie. Jon Favreau had a lot to manage in the second incarnation of this franchise, while trying to tell his story as well as merge Iron Man with The Avengers and really, he did a pretty good job to make a film that is, at the very least, incredibly entertaining. I’m worried about the future of this franchise without Jon Favreau at the helm; that’s how important he was on the first two.

Equally important was Robert Downey Jr., who is experiencing a career revitalization paralleled only by Michael Vick. He was once again able to make Iron Man appear human, an impressive feat considering Iron Man’s extensive arsenal. I also liked Don Cheadle as James Rhodes, and felt that he made a more convincing Warmachine than Terrence Howard would have.

3 – Toy Story 3

When I was drawing up my top five this year, I had to go back and rethink my choices when I landed with Toy Story 3 at #3. I was shocked. I wondered if I had forgotten a plot hole somewhere, maybe forgotten one of the finer intricacies of Toy Story 3 (and to be fair, I only saw it once and have yet to acquire the Blu-ray release).

But the fact that Toy Story 3 was #3 doesn’t say as much about it or Pixar as it does about the movies that bested it. For Toy Story 3 to take a 10-year old franchise, resurrect and invigorate it with new life and end up with what is, in my estimation, the best film of the franchise, there’s really no word to describe it other than “unprecedented.”

I don’t know what the 3D looked like because I only saw it in 2D. But that 2D movie was the best looking movie of the series (not surprisingly) and perhaps the best Pixar’s ever done. The voice acting, one of the most star-studded Pixar releases ever, was superb. The soundtrack was superb. It’s a rare occasion that final movies of trilogies deliver in the way that Toy Story 3 does, but it definitely does here.

It’s so hard for me to pick favorite Pixar movies anyway because they’re all so so good, but I’d be hard-pressed not to put this one near the top.

2 – The Social Network

When I heard they were making a movie about Facebook, I was interested. When I heard Aaron Sorkin was attached to the project, I was very interested. But seriously, I didn’t expect this movie to be good. It’s a movie about a programmer and friends, people who generally communicated via IM during the day instead of getting up and talking to each other twenty feet across the room. The catchphrase “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies” was pretty corny, and the trailer with the operatic emo music was really just awkward. All of these factors caused The Social Network to be made fun of incessantly before its launch.

But then I went to the movie, and despite all the hype, despite all of the “what the heck are you doing?” press, it was fantastic. I fully credit Aaron Sorkin for the fast-paced, intelligent dialogue (this had to be the first movie I ever saw in which the text editor emacs was referenced). Jesse Eisenberg, who was probably cast based on how similar his appearance is to Mark Zuckerberg’s, does really well at playing a college student who suddenly becomes a billionaire.

And while some of the story is true, some of it is embellished, and some of it is downright false, the movie as a whole is entertaining, thought-provoking, and yes, inspiring. Unfortunately for The Social Network, it happened to come out in the same year as the #1 movie, or it wouldn’t have settled for #2 on this list.

1 – Inception

If you’ve talked to me about movies since this summer or read my blog, you’ll know that Inception was going to top this list. I first saw the trailer before Avatar back in January, but my interest grew after seeing the now famous trailer before Iron Man 2. Why was my interest high? Three people: Christopher Nolan, Hans Zimmer, and Leonardo DiCaprio, in that order. Those three people rarely make bad movies (especially Nolan). And the catchphrase “Your mind is the scene of the crime” grabbed me.

I saw this one in theaters, at midnight on opening night. And again a couple weeks later. And again a week after that. It’s the first movie I’ve seen three times in theaters, and I’d have happily seen it a couple more times. Everything about the movie was outstanding. The writing was deep and extremely provacative, the acting was superb (Ellen Paige, DiCaprio and Tom Hardy get special mention), and the musical score, by Hans Zimmer, is one of the best I’ve ever heard. Zimmer’s score seems like it’s a part of the movie in a sense that if you listen closely you can hear three different levels at three different tempos, symbolizing how time moves differently in the different dream levels. Zimmer could have gone with something ordinary here, and it would have been fantastic. But the fact that he went out on a limb and did a multi-tempoed waltz made it extraordinary.

It seems like most top-N lists just end, so instead of doing that, I’ll list a few of the movies I’m looking forward to in 2011: The Adjustment Bureau and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II top the list, but Thor, Sherlock Holmes 2, Star Trek 2, Cowboys and Aliens and Captain America are high up there too. I’m also looking forward to PotC: On Stranger Tides and The Hangover 2, and yes, even Cars II. In short, it’s a great time to be a movie fan, and although I’m not sure any year could top 2010, I’ve been wrong before.