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By Michael Calleri

If there's one major thing I noticed at the movies last year, it was the rise of cell phones as a part of an actor's performing arsenal. In too many movies to count, the cell phone showed up as a part of hundreds of roles for both men and women. It has officially replaced the cigarettes of the '40s, '50s and '60s as a key affectation of players on the screen, especially those with little or no talent. When in doubt on how to play a scene, the acting schtick is now: talk on a cell phone, remove it from your ear, and then stare at it.

Noticing cell phone use in 2010's movies is probably a good indication that it wasn't a particularly memorable year for Hollywood studios and independent producers. As of this writing, the total box office gross and number of tickets sold is down from 2009. In all, 517 films were released in the United States in 2010, many of them festival pictures or one-week Academy Award qualifiers in Los Angeles. The average ticket price in the United States was $7.95, which is up 45 cents from 2009. Ten years ago, in 2000, the average ticket price was $5.39.

The highest-grossing movie in 2010 was "Toy Story 3," which took in $415,004,880; however, box office figures were generally weak in all genres.

2010 was supposed to be the year the 3-D format wowed moviegoers, but as the technology became gimmicky, it faltered. "Clash Of The Titans" was the worst major studio example of the misuse of 3-D. Shot in 2-D, but enhanced in the film lab to make it three dimensional, it featured characters throwing rocks and weapons toward the camera. There are those in Hollywood who insist 3-D is here to stay, with audiences being given the choice to see a new release in 2-D or 3-D. Always remember that a 3-D movie will appear darker thanks to the polarized glasses that must be worn.

Last year I saw 168 new films in theaters, some at morning press screenings, some at special studio advance evening screenings, some at film festivals, some out of town. If a picture is not screened before opening, more often than not it means the distributor has little faith in it. However, some studios are eliminating press screenings as a matter of course.

The Walt Disney Studios continues to show its contempt for moviegoers in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany by refusing to show movies in advance to the press. If a feature has not been shown in advance to the media, I'll catch it on opening day. Sometimes I may see two on opening Friday. This makes withholding the film absurd. I will still review the movies.

I also saw 64 new movies on DVD advance press screeners. Therefore, I saw 232 new movies in 2010. This is in keeping with my average for the past decade, but down from the 1990s, when I would see on average 340 films a year. Around the world, there were 7,478 new motion pictures released in 2010.

The Academy Awards nominations will be announced on Jan. 25, and the Oscar ceremony will be held Feb. 27. The Irving B. Thalberg award and special Academy Awards have already been given to their recipients. On Nov. 13, Francis Ford Coppola ("The Godfather" movies, etc.) received the Thalberg Award and actor Eli Wallach, British documentarian Kevin Brownlow, and French New Wave auteur Jean-Luc Godard were given honorary Oscars.

The hosts for this year's televised show will be James Franco and Anne Hathaway. I like them both as screen talents, but the Oscars have been known to chew up hosts and spit them out. We'll see how they fare. Franco may well also be a best actor nominee for his role as hiker Aron Ralston in "127 Hours." I also like Ryan Gosling for a best actor nod as the strange, cold-as-ice businessman at the center of the superb mystery drama "All Good Things," which is playing in our area.

Right now, if there's a safe bet, Colin Firth will be the best actor winner for his part in "The King's Speech," which will also be a front-runner for best picture. The superb movie, my favorite of the year, is both entertaining and emotional as it dramatizes the struggle of King George VI (Firth) to learn to speak without stammering. Expect Oscar nominations for his co-stars Helena Bonham Carter as the queen and Geoffrey Rush as the man who teaches the king to speak.

I wrote that Annette Bening's performance in "Mother And Child" was Oscar-worthy, and she may well be nominated for her role as the heterosexual mother of the title. However, it now looks as if she will probably be nominated for her part as the lesbian mother in "The Kids Are All Right." Either way, I don't see any other actress taking the award from her.

As always, I don't believe in restricting a "best of" list to 10. That said, I really consider "The King's Speech" to be the one perfect movie I saw all year. Of the films I saw in 2010, I have come up with 31 titles that deserve recognition for various reasons.

In alphabetical order, they are: "All Good Things," "Babies," "Buried," "Cairo Time," "Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky," "Conviction," "Death At A Funeral," "Fair Game," "Farewell," "Get Low," "Heartbreaker," "Howl," "I Am Love," "Inside Job," "Let Me In," "Mao's Last Dancer," "Mother And Child," "127 Hours," "Please Give," "Red," "The Art of The Steal," "The Ghost Writer," "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played With Fire," "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest," "The King's Speech," "The Secret In Their Eyes," "The Tillman Story," "Unstoppable," "Winter's Bone," and "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger."

E-mail Michael Calleri at michaelcallerimoviesnfr@yahoo.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Jan. 4, 2011