Top One Movie of the Week: The Last Airbender, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, and Love Ranch

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Our critics choose between The Last Airbender, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, and Love Ranch.

Helen Mirren, Gina Gershon, Ling Bai, Taryn Manning, Scout Taylor-Compton, Elise Neal and others in Love Ranch

The Last Airbender

ANDREW: So, last week, you were spouting a lot of crazy talk about how certain smartypants critics think 2010 may very well be the worst year for movies in the history of cinema. I’ve got one ridiculous, made-up word for all those elitist naysayers: Airbender. After all, wasn’t it Thomas Edison‘s dream way back in the nineteenth century to found an industry that would someday beat all the original ideas out of erratic-but-distinctive artists like M. Night Shyamalan, so they could instead produce films that look like video games based on TV cartoons in overpriced, inescapable 3D? And what could be more relatable to modern audiences than, y’know… airbending? Meanwhile, the trailer is full of cool things to look at, and I’m sure the storyline about the Earth Kingdom, the Water Tribes, and the Air Nomads battling the Fire Nation will be at least as wondrous as listening to my brother describe his latest Dungeons & Dragons campaign in painstaking detail for 103 minutes. Yet even more fantastical is the fact someone not only agreed to let Shyamalan write and direct another film, but also gave him a higher budget than that of his last two bombs combined. Ah, well, I guess nothing succeeds like failure in twenty-first century America. Plus, it’ll probably be fun watching The Daily Show‘s Aasif Mandvi trying to keep a straight face as a hot-tempered admiral out to destroy the moon spirit, or something like that.

SCOTT: Not even the so-called "racebending" controversy, in which fans of the original Nickelodeon series joined forces to protest the casting of white actors as Asian characters, can pique my interest in this one. True, I pretty much gave up on Mr. Shyamalan two or three movies ago, but even so, I’d still prefer to see him following his own quirky (if increasingly ridiculous) muse than chasing the franchise dollar. In any case, something tells me the tween audience will have something else circled on their entertainment calendar this weekend…

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

SCOTT: Yes, Andrew, at long last it’s here. The wait has dragged on for an agonizing seven months since the release of the last Twilight movie, New Moon, but finally Bella, Edward, Jacob, and the rest of Stephenie Meyer‘s indelible crew of brooding supernatural hotties return to the big screen. Of course, there’s nothing you or I could say here that would dissuade Twi-hard Nation from lining up in droves for the latest installment. The official fanzine of the Twilight franchise, Entertainment Weekly, assures me this is the best entry in the series so far, which is presumably good news for those who have seen the first two movies… but that’s a group that doesn’t include me. So unless I start dating a fourteen-year-old girl sometime soon (in which case I’ll have much bigger problems than trying to decide which movie to see this weekend), count me out.

ANDREW: While I haven’t dated any fourteen-year-olds since junior-high school, you may recall that I’m surprisingly (and somewhat embarrassingly) well acquainted with the Twi-liverse, thanks to a parody of the first film I shot with some actual tweeners at a performing-arts summer camp last year. And, while the best thing about Catherine Hardwicke‘s humorless, sexless non-thriller was reacquainting myself with the live-wire stylings of Anna Kendrick (whose work I’d previously enjoyed in Camp, way before her well-deserved Best Supporting Actress nod for Up In The Air), I nevertheless stand by my longtime claim that I’ve never met a vampire film I didn’t like on some level. I was a sucker for bloodsuckers long before it became fashionable — hello, Lifeforce! — and though the Twilight series is sex-negative at worst and just plain goofy at best (while featuring the cruddiest CGI this side of SyFy), I have to admit I’ll probably wind up renting both New Moon and Eclipse the next time my wife goes out of town, if only to see Dakota Fanning and Michael Sheen as Volturi, because… well, I just kinda grok on dorky Goth stuff like that. Normally, of course, a guilty pleasure I’m too embarassed to actually watch in public wouldn’t be much of a contender for Top One Movie honors, but given the weak competition and the film’s rabid fan base, it might just get my vote… unless there’s some worthy, under-the-radar contender to challenge it this week. Which brings us to…

Love Ranch

ANDREW: So whaddaya think? Helen Mirren, Gina Gershon, a Nevada whorehouse full of sexy ladies, no CGI whatsoever, and Joe Pesci finally back on the big screen bashing people in the mouth? I know it’s a long shot, but is there any chance you’d have the slightest interest in such a thing?

SCOTT: Oh, what a well-timed save! And here I was thinking I’d have to spend my Fourth of July weekend barbecuing and hanging out poolside, without ever setting foot in an air-conditioned movie theater. Not that Love Ranch is necessarily a slam-dunk — director Taylor Hackford (Proof of Life, Ray) has often embodied the first syllable of his last name — but with any luck, working with wife Helen Mirren will bring out the best in him. Journalist Mark Jacobson wrote the script, based on a lurid piece of true crime (the 1976 murder of boxer Oscar Bonavena at the Mustang Ranch in Nevada). Even if the subject matter, setting, and cast weren’t interesting to me, I’d be tempted to name this my Top One Movie simply out of gratitude that a movie geared toward adults has made it to theaters… but they definitely are interesting to me, which makes Love Ranch my uncontested pick for this week.

ANDREW: Yeah, I’ll double down on Love Ranch, if only to satisfy my own intense curiosity about whether the nude scenes will be, uh, period-appropriate. (Though I sure will feel bad if our surprise pick winds up hurting Eclipse‘s weekend box office numbers!)

The Top One Movie of the Week: Love Ranch