04 March 2011

Good and Bad of 2010: Movies - Vol. 4

And the best and favorite movie of 2010 is...

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Really, is anyone surprised? Anyone? I mention my love and devotion to this film more than enough. Yes, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the winner of not only my favorite movie of 2010, but what I also feel to be the best. I expect plenty of head scratching and disagreeing to go on, so allow me the opportunity to present my case. First I'm going to talk about why it's my favorite movie of the year, and then I'll get into points where I say my reasoning why Scott Pilgrim should at the very least be considered one of the best - if not the best - of the year.

I think it was December 2009 when the first few photos of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World surfaced on the interwebs and magazines like Entertainment Weekly. It looked interesting, but the primary factor that peaked my excitement was the presence of Edgar Wright, the man who blew my mind with Hot Fuzz [yes, I am indeed one of the few who loves Fuzz over Shaun, although sizing up the two probably shouldn’t be permitted due to the different genres they cover], and express undying love for this new project.

Then a few months after that more photos surfaced, and finally the trailer was released.

I was in love.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was destined to become one of the greatest movies of all time, one of the few that I would love unconditionally, mention or show to every single one of my friends until they got to the point they would plot certain death for me. A release date wasn’t set for the longest time, and when it finally was, nothing else mattered. Inception was great, and audiences spent the next two weeks discussing the ambiguous ending or dissing on M. Night Shyamalan. As for me, I was ready and waiting for August 13, 2010.

There was a midnight showing at the Carmike Stadium 20 in Oakdale. Not a lot of people showed up, most if not all clearly folks who were anticipating the flick as much as me based on the conversation I overheard pre-screening. It being a Carmike theater, there were a good 24 minutes of commercials and trailers, and finally the feature presentation. It was finally here, the most anticipated movie of 2010.

It did not disappoint. Scott Pilgrim met my expectations and succeeded them.

I loved every second of the movie. It was a thrill ride, full of comedy, action, gorgeous female stars, awesome cameos, beautiful special effects, a rockin’ score, a fast pace, and best of all, it was spectacular fun. Hell, I think the only other film where I had so much fun from beginning to end was Edgar Wright’s own Hot Fuzz. I left the theater in love, knowing it was my favorite – and most likely best – movie of the year, and one of the top favorite films ever. In theaters I had the luxury of watching it four times, and then three other times when they played it for free at my school. The first day of the Blu-Ray/DVD release it was purchased and explored, and by the end of the week, the bonus materials and (most of the) commentaries exploited and just as awesome.

First off the whole premise of the movie: Scott Pilgrim needs to defeat seven ‘evil’ exes to date Ramona Flowers, a girl he is so completely stricken with. Thanks to loads of video game playing, Scott engages in battle with the exes to keep the girl of his dreams (literally). There is so much that is awesome in that plot alone. Not only does it scream ‘fun!’, but it sounds absolutely exciting. I don’t care if it doesn’t make much sense that a League of Evil Exes is formed to take the heart of Ramona, or why they’re necessarily labeled ‘evil’, or why they blow up into coins, it’s all very brilliantly thought up and executed and it’s just so much damn fun, questioning the whole thing seems pointless. Brandon Routh is hilarious in his scene as the third evil ex, and by that point, you’re so completely sucked into the world of Scott Pilgrim, so sucked into the rules and jokes and video game and anime/manga references that literally anything can happen and anyone can be or do anything. The various music used in the film, and not only am I meaning the main band Sex Bob-omb but others like Metric’s “Black Sheep”, help shape the rhythm and feel of the movie. The quick-paced unrelenting energy engages the viewer in the opening minutes and honestly don’t let go, to the point where you arrive at the final credits and you’re bloody pissed there ain’t more. But where is there to go? It’s a nice, well-rounded, complete story. Sure, a bit more could be added to the running time to add more depth to character and such and add in complexity, but you got the general story, the boy falls for girl tale with a twist, and you have a hopeful, satisfying finale.

And the fight scenes. Holy freakin’ crap how can one NOT be wowed and totally engulfed in the awesomeness that is the fight scenes? Each fight with an ex is different, and that makes it all the more interesting and entertaining. They’re absolutely crazy, they are, like the type of overboard, hyper kinetic craziness of Quentin Tarantino’s bloody revenge tale Kill Bill, minus the blood, in this case. Any fan of action films owes it to themselves to see this movie. Any bloke who doesn’t like Pilgrim can’t possibly diss the fights, at least, I can’t see how that’s possible. They are spectacular, taking inspiration from martial arts movies and anime and video games, the fights work on multiple levels and makes you want to replay ‘em as soon as they’re done.

Any geek/nerd will find themselves enamored by the many references to franchises they love, whether it be a direct reference by a shirt or some visual thing or sneaky dialogue or musical homage.

Small sidetrack here so you don’t think that no matter what I was going to love the movie, that I went into the theater with a singular mind that could not under any circumstances be changed. Worth noting is that I was well on the bandwagon with the whole being sick of Michael Cera thing. I just had the honor of watching Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, and there was absolutely nothing redeemable about Cera or the movie, despite my initial excitement. Michael Cera was playing the role he always played, reinforced not too long after that by Youth in Revolt. I won’t say playing Scott Pilgrim is a revelation, but this truly was a role Michael Cera was born to play. Yes, he does boast similarities to many of his previous works, but simultaneously, Scott is so much more. Cera is given the opportunity to be an interesting character with flaws (he’s an ass sometimes; juggling two girls), display a wide range of spectacular fights, be hilarious for the first time since 2007’s Superbad, and generally be the real star of the show. He didn’t steal the movie, ultimately, that was Kieran Culkin as Scott’s gay bestfriend Wallace, but Michael Cera defied his usual routine and delivered a rounded character that was immensely satisfying and marvelously portrayed. Hell, Cera’s little quirks and fidgety bodily movements helped the character.

This movie is two hours of pure enjoyment, of pure escapism. There's a lot of heart in Scott Pilgrim, and there's a lot of action, and there's a lot of fun and comedy. The unfortunate truth is that ultimately, the movie may not appeal to a large demographic, and therefore not as accepted and loved. For that rather large majority of folks who either didn't see it or like it, I hope what follows may at least inspire you to rewatch the movie or reexamine your thoughts.

Now how does Scott Pilgrim vs. the World possibly compare – and for that matter beat for ranking of ‘best’ – against such magnificent films like Black Swan and, for many, The King’s Speech? Well, frankly, it doesn’t. Scott Pilgrim is in an entirely different league from these other films, I daresay. The movie defies description, the perfect mixture of cinema and creativity coming together to create something so mind boggling perfect, I can’t believe more people don’t recognize what an true accomplishment Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is.

In an attempt to do so, I will tackle the film by category:

(a) Directing – Edgar Wright, you are a genius. No, Scott Pilgrim doesn’t boast imagery like the one take of Nina becoming the Black Swan and causing my jaw-drop because of how beautiful it is. Wright is a different kind of director with a different kind of style that is just as marvelous as Darren Aronofsky’s eye. Shaun and Fuzz hinted at Wright’s talents, but that was just kindergarten to what’s on display here. The camera is his playground, the frame ready to be manipulated for his pleasure. There are one shot location changes [i.e. Scott using bathroom, Scott exists in the school hallway], there are beautiful overheard twirls [Scott and Knives teaming up on Gideon], there are split screens [see below], there are shots framed just right it sells the joke, or the emotion, or the story [Scott walking through the party, eyes scouting for Ramona]. And Wright’s decision to twirl the camera to the right or left to lead us into the next shot on multiple locations is pure brilliance, which is only assisted in its cleverness by the movie’s superb editing. Now an argument against my justification for Wright’s skills as director can be that he bases many shots from source material – the graphic novels [see below], and although there is truth to that argument to an degree, it doesn’t fully hold. This isn’t Sin City here where Rodriguez and Miller fought to replicate the comic to cinema, but even if it were the case, Wright breathes life into those frames like no other. They’re fluid, they’re full of action and dimension. No part of the frame is left without a gag, or reference, or show off of the terrific set design.

(b) Adapted Screenplay – The origin of Scott Pilgrim rests in a six-volume graphic novel series by Brian Lee O’Malley, and the movie’s title comes from the second book. The script for the movie is penned by Wright and Miachael Bacall, and it’s brilliant. The dialogue is top notch, full of clever and witty jokes, scenes that are quick, concise, and straight to the point. Establishing a romance that feels real and complex in a short running time aided by fight scenes every ten minutes. Balancing all these various elements that make up Scott Pilgrim vs. the World isn’t an easy task, and thanks to the tight script and editing and even directing, it’s all present and accounted for and fantastically incorporated into the final product.

(c) Editing – No amount of tightly edited scenes in Black Swan or careful structuring in the epic that is Deathly Hallows, Part 1 compares. Without a doubt, Scott Pilgrim is the best edited movie of the year. With the small, tiny exception of the first five minutes (opening credits excluded), where the film lags ever so slightly [noticeable against the rest of the film], the editing is marvelous, pitch perfect. The pace is rapid, unrelenting; before you know it, forty minutes have gone by, and then it’s almost over. The cuts come so quickly, the pacing of the jokes is absolutely perfect, and no single shot overstays its welcome – everything is just sublime.

(d) Visual Effects – Well, frankly, TRON: Legacy owns the special effects in this department, and deservedly so, but that doesn’t mean the marvelous work here should go unmentioned. Name one other movie that takes place in the real world where a character jumps up in the air, throws a load of punches on a dude and sends him flying back to the ground complete with a numbered point score popping up with each punch, and visually looks so impressive and believable. Or take the fight where a two headed dragon and a giant gorilla (something) engage in a duel at a Battle of the Bands type deal. Or the bleached out, acid looking slow-mo shot of Scott and Lucas Lee running at each other (a beautiful nod to action films like Bad Boys). Or the sword erupting from Scott’s chest in the final battle. Or the various defying the laws of gravity in a fight or the words that appear out of nowhere. The special effects aren’t epic in scale like TRON, but they serve the story well, adding to it rather than making it like a particular bigtime franchise.

(e) Acting – I’ve already noted my feelings on Michael Cera: he rocked in the role, and played with the Michael Cera stereotype, overcame it, and became one of the great parts of the movie. If there is one real giant fault with my proclamation of Scott Pilgrim being the best picture of the year, and being so thanks to fulfilling the obligations of most, if not all, categories, it would be in the acting section. None of the characters are all that complex, and therefore, the actors don’t need to be as such. However, each and every one of the actors here is superb. As noted, Kieran Culkin basically steals all the scenes he’s in, Ellen Wong is adorable, cute, and kickass as Knives Chow, Mary Elizabeth Winstead epitomizes Ramona Flowers even if she gets the short end of the stick, Alison Pill is a comedic genius, Anna Kendrick is given limited time onscreen but impresses each and every time, Johnny Simmons is laugh out loud hilarious with his awkward moments and statements, and Mark Webber is perfectly cast as Stills who simply loves the band. And that’s not even counting the evil exes, who are the biggest success of the movie. Brandon Routh the Superman is the absolute best, Chris Evans the Captain America is hilarious in his impersonation of the bonafied action actor, Mae Whitman is one scary lesbian, Jason Schwartzman doesn’t annoy for the first time ever, and the Saito twins are the weakest link for the unfortunate fact that they have zero lines and are the movie in only one whole scene. Each of the actors here loves their roles and watching the movie over and over and over like I have shows just how committed and impassioned they were with the project. The comic timing is impeccable, and the actors own their roles.

I may or may not have completely sold you on the idea that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the best movie of the year, but at the very , very least, I provided the chance where a reader might reevaluate their thoughts on the movie and find the many successes within it, or at least cemented my unabashed love for it. Scott Pilgrim is unique, a film that amazingly blends special effects and live action superbly, having them complement each other without overbearing the other; a film that is fun, entertaining, hilarious, and awesome all at the same time; a film that tells a very simple and redundant story of the boy meet girl type but with a twist that makes the tale feel new and fresh again; and finally, a film with a eye for the frame that produces shots one is not likely to forget anytime soon.

For these reasons and more, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World gets my vote for being my favorite movie of 2010, and the best movie of 2010.


Jack L said...

I loved this film, it was simply brilliant and one of the best of last year, I just don't understand the negative criticism it often receives.
Glad I read your impressive review, now I know I'm not the only one that absolutely loved this film.
I look forward to Edgar Wright next film, he's amazing.

Andy the Time Lord said...

Jack - 'impressive review', thank you. And here I thought I was nearly borderline crazy with the amount I wrote about it. But then again I wouldn't shy away from writing an book analyzing THE DARK KNIGHT, so I guess this is small potatoes to that...

Yes, I, too, can't wait for Wright's next film. But seeing as it normally takes three to four years for it to be out and about, I'd say we have awhile. I know he wrote an ANT MAN script, and he said something about a flick called AT WORLD'S END he was developing (with Pegg and Frost!), so I hope either one of those see the light of day relatively soonish.

jeremythecritic said...

After finally viewing Scott Pilgrim for the second time I've resigned myself to the fact that the movie just doesn't connect with me like it has with others. I mildly enjoyed it, but just can't fully get on board like everyone else. That said, you put up an excellent case (one of the best I've read for it), specifically in regards to visuals and editing. I agree with you on Cera. Unlike "Nick and Norah"(a total disaster in every way as you said) his acting style really suited this role.

Fletch said...

@ Jack - "now I know I'm not the only one that absolutely loved this film." Sorry, but really? Have you ever thought you were the only one that loved Pilgrim? The internets went nuts with lovers of this movie.

Anyway...Andy, I do agree that this is quite the impressive, comprehensive piece. And no, it was no surprise...oh look, there's your Andy Pilgrim avatar. :D

Jack L said...


I suppose it did get a lot of praise, but I would place it above Inception, The Social Network and Black Swan, which is something not many people would agree with me on.
Besides, there was a bit of a backlash after the initial excitement...