In sports, rooting for the underdog is fun; with movies, it's torture. When a flick you like is critically panned, the common response among cinephiles is to assume a defensive crouch, ready to spring whenever the movie comes up in conversation. By now, acquaintainces pretty much know not to raise 'A.I. Artificial Intelligence' or 'The Village' in my presence.
Here, in that same friendly-but-cantankerous spirit, we submit for your consideration seven poorly reviewed films from 2010 that deserve a chance, even though the Tomatometer may suggest otherwise.
'Agora' (Alejandro Amenabar) – Alejandro Amenabar's modestly budgeted historical epic is grand, sweeping, old-fashioned entertainment as well as a stirring paean to rational thought and humanity's continuing quest to discover its place in the universe. Lukewarm reviews and a hideously botched domestic theatrical release by Newmarket Films doomed this movie to obscurity (it won't even be available on Blu-Ray), but please: if you catch up to only one 2010 obscurity next year, make it this one.
'Devil' (John Erick Dowdle) – Blah blah blah Shyamalan yadda yadda 'Airbender' sneer sneer laugh. But buried somewhere under the critical pile-on is a nifty little splash of cold water – a high-concept chiller that works despite being beholden to M. Night Shyamalan's quasi-religious, there-are-no-coincidences worldview. Breathless and persistently tense, the film delivers 80 minutes of undemanding fun, and Philadelphia, rain-drenched and gleaming, has never looked so good on screen.
'Flipped' (Rob Reiner) – In the year of 'Alice in Wonderland', 'Yogi Bear', 'Gulliver's Travels' and other crass bastardizations posing as family entertainment, we should all have been grateful for this soft, elegant, instantly engaging movie – an easygoing return to form for Rob Reiner. The bad reviews bemoaned the ceaseless voiceover and the somewhat processed nostalgia, and frankly they're not wrong, but the charming leads and Reiner's ability to speak to young'uns without condescension put it over the top.
'It's Kind of a Funny Story' (Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden) – Indie darlings Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden ('Half Nelson', 'Sugar') took a tentative step into the mainstream and found it rather inhospitable. Though the negative response to the other films on this list is mostly understandable, the hostility toward this exceedingly good-natured flick is baffling. 'It's Kind of a Funny Story' is a sharp, affecting dramedy about learning to chill out and live with yourself, featuring a remarkably self-assured lead performance from 17-year old Keir Gilchrist.
'Robin Hood' (Ridley Scott) – Ridley Scott is the consummate Hollywood professional. You go to a Ridley Scott film and you expect impeccably crafted, often old-fashioned big screen entertainment. 'Robin Hood', his much-maligned latest, is admittedly not up to his usual standards – the last third feels rushed, and others have persuasively argued that the movie ends just as the story is finally getting off the ground. But don't be deceived: this is still handsomely mounted, enjoyable stuff – not as good as the rest of Scott's output, but well worth a couple hours of your time.
'She's Out of My League' (Jim Field Smith) – For a while it seemed that this thoroughly lost-in-the-shuffle romantic comedy, released back in March, might really be something special. Then it took a turn for the dumb and vulgar. But it's still a rarity: a romantic comedy about two perfectly nice people whom we actually would like to see end up together. ('Going the Distance' was another, better-received example of this in 2010.) It's funny, too, with a terrific lead turn by Jay Baruchel, who had a break-out year.