If there is one element of American culture that seems to reflect our national psyche, it is box office receipts. National voting only takes place once every two years; polling data is often skewed by sample size and question wording. What happens at the movie theater, however, tends to chart America's mood to a T.
And surprisingly, it's been a good year for movies. The biggest and best movies tended to celebrate what's right with Western civilization; the eggs tended to denigrate America and her allies. By and large, Americans rejected elite critics' take on film, turning aside liberal offerings glamorizing gay marriage, ripping American involvement in Iraq, and complaining about the ills of capitalism. Instead, Americans embraced action blockbusters and heroic deeds by men of honor.
Not surprisingly, it's also been a good year for America. Not because the economy healed -- it didn't. Not because America saw a racial unification -- it didn't. It's been a good year because Americans in 2010 celebrated the same values in real life they celebrated on the big screen: courage, work ethic and hard-charging masculinity. If you want to know what's going on in America, watch the culture rather than the news channels.
Here, then, are the best and worst of American cinema in 2010:
Best Picture: "The King's Speech." This magnificent movie justifies the medium. The fascinating and important tale of King George VI -- who had to lead a nation rhetorically while fighting a brutal stammer -- is a tearjerker, a crowd-pleaser and an intelligent homage to Western civilization. If Colin Firth does not take away Best Actor at the Oscars, the awards have lost all meaning. Geoffrey Rush is also tremendous, as usual.
Most Overrated Picture: "Black Swan." Against my better judgment, I saw this Darren Aronofsky ode to yuck this week. As usual, Aronofsky manages to fill the screen with unsympathetic characters doing unsympathetic things, plus his requisite over-the-top sex scene (this time, a lesbian one for added buzz). Aronofsky has made a living from doing movies nobody really wants to watch by attracting groupies who think he is God's gift to grittiness; in Hollywood, the critics call this sort of stuff "profound." Those who are sane call this sort of stuff unwatchable.
-- "Furry Vengeance." Environmentalist garbage masquerading as kiddie fare. No, I didn't see it. But I did sit through the trailer a half-dozen times, which should allow me to file as lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Brendan Fraser for participating in this atrocity.
-- "Burlesque." Cher and Christina Aguilera. Whoever gave the green light for this one must have been very, very drunk.
Most Fun Picture: "Inception." Christopher Nolan is the anti-Aronofsky. If Aronofsky is no style, no substance, then Nolan is all-style, all-substance. Eventually, he will go down as one of the best directors ever to stand behind the camera. His material is fun, thought-provoking and visually pleasing. "Inception" is a treasure trove of mind puzzles and memorable imagery. So why is it that Nolan never gets the awards-time plaudits, while hacks like Aronofsky do?
Least Fun Pictures:
-- "Green Zone": Matt Damon goes to Iraq to show how evil America is.
-- "127 Hours": James Franco gets his arm stuck under a big rock. That's the whole movie.
-- "Buried": Ryan Reynolds gets stuck in a coffin. Hollywood could have saved us a whole a lot of trouble if they'd put Franco's rock in Reynolds' coffin, and then let the two pretty boys go make a romcom with Katherine Heigl.
-- "The Killers": Why is Ashton Kutcher ever on screen? Ever? Heigl would have been better off with the rock and the coffin.
"The Bounty Hunter": Jennifer Aniston is not a good actress. Several years ago, she got beat out as the star of "Marley and Me" by a golden retriever. Now inanimate objects do the trick.
The Pixar Picture: "Toy Story 3." Pixar deserves its own category. They never fail to mesmerize. "Toy Story 3" was no exception. Moving, masterful work from people who put story before art and art above everything else.
By the way, "How to Train Your Dragon," while not of the same level, was also excellent. "Tangled" is delightful.
There were other good movies made this year, too. "True Grit" is a polished remake of the John Wayne original (though you'll miss the Duke's iteration of the movie's climactic line). "The Social Network" is interesting if cold. "The Fighter" provides great performances and an uplifting story.
Good for Hollywood. Hollywood is beginning to mirror the wants of the American public, producing more and more pictures people actually want to see. And that means, overall, better films with better values.
Ben Shapiro, 26, is a graduate of UCLA and Harvard Law School. He is the author of the new book "Project President: Bad Hair and Botox on the Road to the White House," as well as the national bestseller "Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth." To find out more about Ben Shapiro and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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