A few times a year, movies are able to transcend their basic purpose as escapist entertainment by making their mark on pop culture, from fashion and hairstyle statements to quotable dialogue, controversial themes and memorable performances, capturing the zeitgeist, or spirit of the times.
Here's alook back at 2010 and the movies that got people talking:
'Valentine's Day' (February 12) – Director Garry Marshall's ensemble romantic comedy may have fizzled at the box office like a bad date, but all eyes -- and tabloids -- were on cute couple Taylor Swift and Taylor Lautner, who dated briefly as a result of working together.
'The Ghost Writer' (February 19) - Roman Polanski's film starring Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor was released in the middle of his legal battle to prevent his extradition to the U.S. to face sentencing from a 33-year-old sexual assault case against a minor (which prompted him to flee the country in the first place). The film garnered loads of critical acclaim, renewing the age-old debate of supporting or boycotting an artist based on their personal conduct.
'Alice in Wonderland' (March 5) – Director Tim Burton and Johnny Depp scored another big hit with their sixth collaboration, prompting a deluge of 'Alice in Wonderland'-themed tie-ins, another set of surefire Halloween costumes (the most popular being Alice and the Mad Hatter), and an excuse for Hollywood to justify the box-office up-charge for their 3D craze.
'Remember Me' (March 12) – Coming off the strength of his first two 'Twilight' hits, Robert Pattinson's serious turn in this romantic drama got more press than box office for the film's somewhat controversial 9/11 twist ending and the fact that most Twi-hards kept their distance.
'The Runaways' (March 19) - Coming off the strength off her first two 'Twilight' hits, expectations were high for Kristen Stewart's turn as Joan Jett in this rock 'n' roll biopic of the all-girl '70s band. Again, most Twi-hards kept their distance. On the plus side, former child star Dakota Fanning finally came into her own with her adult role as rocker Cherie Currie.
'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' (The Millennium Trilogy) (March 19) – The late Stieg Larsson's creations were all the rage this year, burning up the New York Times bestseller list and making headlines as Hollywood prepared to translate the books and films into a new, non-subtitled trilogy starring Daniel Craig and new face Rooney Mara (courtesy of 'The Social Network' director David Fincher). In the meantime, all three Swedish adaptations starring Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist -- 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,' 'The Girl Who Played with Fire' and 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest' -- hit the art house cinema circuit and got people talking about whether or not they were as good as the books.
'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' (March 19) – This movie, along with the whimsical stick-figure Jeff Kinney stories it's based on, became huge with the kiddie set; my seven-year-old nephew watches it over and over and quotes it beginning to end. 'Nuff said.
'Clash of the Titans' (April 2) – The first post-'Avatar' test for Sam Worthington to prove his box-office mettle, 'Titans' did well enough to green-light a sequel, but the muddy, cardboard cutout 3D transfer job drew plenty of complaints and provided kindling for a 3D backlash as studios began to release practically every other film in the format (with M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Last Airbender' listed as another prime offender of a poor-quality 3D transfer).
'Kick-Ass' (April 16) and 'Iron Man 2' (May 7) – The subversive superhero hit 'Kick-Ass' couldn't compete with the box-office behemoth 'Iron Man' sequel, an arguably lackluster, over-the-top follow-up to Robert Downey Jr.'s career-saving 2008 blockbuster, but both films got plenty of press and provided ammo for Halloween costumes for kids and adults alike. How many Iron Mans came to your door looking for candy this year, and how many Hit Girls in miniskirts did you see at those over-18 Halloween parties?
'The Back-Up Plan' (April 23) and 'The Switch' (August 20) -- This year, Hollywood delivered two high-profile romantic comedies about women who choose artificial insemination over an actual mate, in the form of Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Aniston, respectively. Aniston found herself defending herself against FOX News pundit Bill O'Reilly in August when he called her comments about women not needing a man to help raise a child as "destructive to our society."
'The Human Centipede (First Sequence)' (April 30) – Perhaps the most memorable film of the year for all the wrong reasons, 'Centipede' follows a mad scientist who plans to surgically connect his victims from end to end. Film critic Roger Ebert said, "No horror film I've seen inflicts more terrible things on its victims than 'The Human Centipede.'" Still, another fun and creative Halloween costume this year…
'The Karate Kid' (June 11) – Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith took on the beloved '80s classic as producers and moved the action to China, with their son Jaden Smith emerging as a box-office champ. Later in the year, daughter Willow Smith hit the pop charts with "Whip My Hair," officially booting up Smith Generation 2.0. Not to be outdone, original 'Karate Kid' star Ralph Macchio took the opportunity to lampoon his good-guy image in a "Funny or Die" short.
'Toy Story 3' (June 18) – Pixar/Disney did it again, proving the exception to the rule that a third installment just can't be as good as its predecessors (and perhaps rankling 'The Godfather Part III' director Francis Ford Coppola in the process). The final act makes everybody cry. Everybody.
'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse' (June 30) – Twi-hards continued to line up in droves, beginning with midnight screenings, to drink in the third chapter of the Stephenie Meyer vamps vs. werewolves saga this summer. The world got plenty of shirtless shots of Taylor Lautner, not to mention the big-screen 'Twilight' parody 'Vampires Suck.'
'Inception' (July 16) - Christopher Nolan's action-packed meditation on dreams vs. reality starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page became one of the top water-cooler conversation topics this year, and even spawned a clever "South Park" parody. Was Leonardo's Dom Cobb still stuck in his own dream? Was his spinning-top totem ever going to topple? Not everyone agreed on what the movie was ultimately about -- or whether or not it made complete sense -- but they're still talking about it.
'I'm Still Here' (September 10) – Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix left his successful Hollywood acting career behind him to reinvent himself as an aspiring rapper in Casey Affleck's documentary, but most people pegged it all as a possible stunt as early as February '09 when he appeared dazed and confused on David Letterman's "Late Show." Still, people were wondering whether it was a documentary or a mockumentary -- and after some "angry" reviews, Affleck tipped his cards to the New York Times and revealed that it was "a terrific performance … the performance of his career."
'Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps' (September 24) – Oliver Stone's sequel was more than 20 years in the making, and brought back Michael Douglas to his Oscar-winning role as Gordon Gekko. The film capitalized on the current financial crisis and villains of the trading scene, but most of all the movie got more press than it ever expected when Douglas revealed to the world that he was battling throat cancer.
'The Social Network' (October 1) – In July, Facebook hit 500 million members. The social networking site was cemented into the daily lexicon, and movies like 'Catfish' were using the site as a hook to entice viewer curiosity. Then came director David Fincher's 'The Social Network,' chronicling the reported backstory of how the site came to be and whether or not founder Mark Zuckerberg, faced with two major lawsuits, stole the idea. With the world following each other's every move on laptops, iPads and smartphones, 'The Social Network' captured the ever-elusive zeitgeist along with an avalanche of critical acclaim, with extra credit going to the film's ultra-cool poster, proclaiming, "You Don't Get To 500 Million Friends Without Making A Few Enemies."
'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1' (November 19) – The big-screen adaptation of (the first half of) the seventh and final book of the J.K. Rowling boy-wizard series was met with the same Muggle enthusiasm as all previous films -- big box office. But perhaps the most notable aspect to Hollywood observers was the fact that Warner Bros. scrapped plans to release Part 1 in 3D because the post-production transfer was not of the utmost quality, perhaps echoing their technical foul from earlier in the year, 'Clash of the Titans.' The studio declared in a press release, "Despite everyone's best efforts, we were unable to convert the film in its entirety and meet the highest standards of quality. We do not want to disappoint fans who have long-anticipated the conclusion of this extraordinary journey."