Saturday, January 1, 2011

Top 10 Films of 2010

The time has come: as a new year begins, I've compiled my top 10 list for last year. Through the years, I've become much more critical of films, through experience and a greater understanding of the filmmaking process. This year featured round two of a marquee auteur matchup: Christopher Nolan vs. Darren Aronofsky. In 2006, I chose Nolan's The Prestige over Aronofsky's The Fountain, though over time I've grown to find the latter a much better film. In 2008, The Dark Knight came in at #3 on the year, while I didn't get a chance to see The Wrestler in time for it to make the list. Will either one prevail this year? Check it out below.
10. Animal Kingdom
This Australian import was not originally on my radar at the beginning of the year. I only picked it up after hearing breathless praise for it from numerous critics and friends. The result was easily the best crime thriller of the year. David Michod's tight direction keeps the action tense, and his twisty script keeps the surprises fresh, but its the impeccable ensemble that really makes this film so terrific. Ben Mendelsohn is delicious as a tightly-wound criminal feeling the increasing pressure of the law, and newcomer James Frencheville is excellent as the relative who gets in way over his head with his family. That's to say nothing of Guy Pearce as the detective hunting them down or the phenomenal Jacki Weaver, who makes matriarch Smurf one of the most thrilling mob moms of all time. This is what American crime films should be striving to be: a examination of how, beneath all the civilization and society, we're still feral and instinctual.
9. I'm Still Here
I'm Still Here has been knocked as a hoax, since Joaquin Phoenix and director Casey Affleck announced just after its release that it was an elaborate, year-long, Andy Kaufman-like performance. But to call it a hoax is to do a serious disservice to it. As a "mockumentary," the film turns a startlingly candid mirror on celebrity meltdowns, not only in how celebrities themselves handle it, but also how their friends, family, and especially the public at-large react to it. Just look at the reactions we had when we thought he went crazy, and how we then responded to the film itself in calling it a hoax. In a culture full of "reality" "stars," no film made us examine the monster we've created more, and Phoenix's performance is without a doubt the best of the year. Where is his Oscar talk?
8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Plot-wise, not a lot happens in this film; its mostly just setting us up for Part 2's epic Battle of Hogwarts (um, spoiler? Shouldn't be anymore.). But on a character and emotional level, this is the most mature Potter outing yet. Featuring beautiful cinematography by Eduardo Serra, the film has an almost European-auteur feel to it, substituting an examination of the core friendships over fast-paced wizarding action. I can understand why people would turn against this film, seeing as how much different it is from previous Potter films, but when you look at the first half of the book, you'll see that this is a pretty straight adaptation. And with a deepening of the characters and their relationships, it should mean a richer, more emotionally rewarding finale come July.
7. Exit Through the Gift Shop
In an excellent year for documentaries, this one was the best I saw. A in-depth look at the artifice of consumer art and the consumerization of street art, Banksy (the world-renowned and elusive street artist) makes a film that also questions reality, since filmmaker "Thierry Guetta" may not be a real person. But its that questioning of veracity that makes the film so interesting, not to mention the art and the who's-who of street artists (Shepard Fairey, Pacman). Hopefully, an Oscar nomination will result from this masterpiece of an art documentary.
6. 127 Hours
It takes a true star to make a 90-minute movie about being trapped by a boulder deep in a Utah canyon engaging. Luckily, 127 Hours has two. James Franco delivers his best performance to date as Aron Ralston, the canyoneer who had to amputate his arm with a dull pocketknife to escape the aforementioned situation. He conveys him as a reckless adrenaline junkie who is forced to come to terms with the fact that is not, in fact, invincible, and must find the strength to do what's necessary to live. Every look and glance tells more than any words could, a testament to the multi-hyphenate's considerable talent. The other star is director Danny Boyle, the hyperactive auteur who's brought us Slumdog Millionaire and 28 Days Later. One would think that a film that takes place mostly in one spot would be difficult for him, but Boyle accepts the challenge by making all of the action interior, exploring the depths of Ralston's mind and memories to create a survival-horror-character-study. And of course there's the infamous amputation scene, graphic more in emotion and vicarious experience than it is physically. All of this adds up to a film that you don't just watch, you live through, and what a rewarding experience it is.
5. Toy Story 3
Pixar's winning streak extends another year with this film, which proved that, despite the worrying trend of sequels in Pixar's upcoming slate, that as long as the idea is fresh and well-executed, some things are worth revisiting. What really helped this film succeed is that it aimed directly at the audience that grew up on Toy Story, with Andy going to college and the toys having to come to grips with moving on. I am a member of that audience, so of course the film hit me hard. Its the most emotional film Pixar has created yet, and, a few cheesy jokes (though Spanish Buzz was the comic highlight of the year) and pointless new characters aside, one of the best. I admit: I was reduced to a blubbering mess at the end, a reminder that, even though time goes by, there will always be new experiences to be had. And, of course, we'll always have friends in them.
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
There's no way to describe this film without making it sound ridiculous. A comedy that tackles young love, indie music, video games (particularly Street Fighter), superheroes, comic books, Hollywood vanity, veganism, sitcoms, censorship, "selling out," hipsters, Bollywood musicals, and tales of redemption, among other things, is bound to sound like a complete disaster on paper. And in all honesty, it should have been. But director Edgar Wright, along with terrifically game ensemble, made this work and more, creating a film that is an experience like none other. Visually energetic and spiritedly played, the film creates a world all its own that you can't help but want to revisit over and over. Its no exaggeration that there's nothing like this. Its a film that you just have to see for yourself.
3. The Kids Are All Right
Forget for a second that the central couple are both women. Forget the supposed liberal agenda that detractors say its pushing. Forget that the dad is a sperm donor. Now look at the film: has there been a more honest portrayal on film of a modern family in recent years? Director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko crafts a superb tale of family dysfunction, anchored by glorious performances from Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as the two moms, both of which bring a chemistry that most on-screen couples lack. Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutchinson show talent beyond their young ages in their assured performances. And Mark Ruffalo....oh, Mark Ruffalo. He absolutely oozed self-assured, laid-back masculinity as the sperm donor dad who's trying to be a part of the family, despite having no clue how. He may not have earned the ending he got, but he's the glue that ultimately brings this family, and this outstanding film, together.
2. Black Swan
As you'll see below, this was a really hard decision to make, since my top two films of the year had the same score. But when it came down to the intangibles, its Black Swan that earns the number-two spot on this list. A terrifying, enthralling horror masterpiece, the film takes audiences along for a dizzying journey into the fragile mind of Nina Sayers, a ballerina succumbing to the psychological pressure of landing the dual roles of the Black Swan and the White Swan in a production of Swan Lake. Natalie Portman shines in the lead role, easily her best performance to date, and Mila Kunis is unexpectedly engaging as Nina's possible projection of her repressed female id. Director Darren Aronofsky makes some incredibly bold choices, such as shooting the whole thing with a handheld camera, and creates a wholly unique psychological experience that will make you cringe. Its rewarding in the end, but its a hell of a trip.
1. Inception
(There are some really clever, probably fan-made posters for this movie. This one is one of my favorites.)
Inception went through the ringer critically this year. It was hailed one of the year's best, then received a backlash for being too clever, then saw the backlash to that backlash...and this was all before the film even came out. But I am not ashamed to say that I consider this film a bona-fide masterpiece. Sure, a good portion of the dialogue is exposition, but there's no other way to tell a story this complex without it. And to complain that there's no emotional core is to be jaded, as Cobb's struggle to get over his wife Mal provides a powerful emotional through-line. And then of course there's the labyrinthine script and visuals, with dreams within dreams within dreams, and the ambiguous ending that questions reality. Its a film that's not spoon-fed to you, which may have been a turn-off to some, but to me that makes it all the better. With the multiple theories about what its all about (and I have my own), its guaranteed to keep fans talking for years. And given the deft direction by Christopher Nolan and a great ensemble lead by standout performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, along with the most engaging and original action sequences in years, its a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience. Inception may be divisive, but its full of big ideas and delivers on them. Maybe its because I love sci-fi, or maybe its because I have a particular soft-spot for heist films, but I have to go with Inception as my choice for the best film of the year.
So that's the Top 10. Below I'm including the full roster of 2010 movies I saw, with the score as well. A note about the grading: there are five categories - writing, direction, acting, visuals, and ingenuity (essentially a catch-all for the intangible qualities of a film) - which are averaged together to make a final score. Each category is scored on a scale of 1-100, so the final is out of 100 as well. If the distribution seems kind of top-heavy, its because I mostly saw films I really wanted to see or had heard good things about. I have no apologies for my scores; this is what I thought. If you disagree, please feel free to comment; I enjoy good conversation ;).
1. Inception (100)
2. Black Swan (100)
3. The Kids Are All Right (98.8)
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (98.4)
5. Toy Story 3 (98.2)
6. 127 Hours (97.6)
7. Exit Through the Gift Shop (96.6)
8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (96.2)
9. I'm Still Here (94.6)
10. Animal Kingdom (94.2)
11. Love & Other Drugs (94.2)
12. Red Riding: 1974 (93.4)
13. Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (92.4)
14. Fair Game (92.0)
15. Red Riding: 1983 (92.0)
16. The Fighter (91.8)
17. Iron Man 2 (91.0)
18. Easy A (89.6)
19. True Grit (89.0)
20. Red Riding: 1980 (88.6)
21. Kick-Ass (87.8)
22. The Social Network (87.6)
23. Date Night (87.4)
24. Greenberg (87.0)
25. The Town (86.2)
26. Please Give (86.2)
27. Winter's Bone (85.8)
28. Nowhere Boy (85.4)
29. Shutter Island (84.8)
30. Youth in Revolt (84.4)
31. Get Low (84.2)
32. Never Let Me Go (84.0)
33. The Girl Who Played with Fire (83.6)
34. Get Him to the Greek (82.2)
35. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (81.4)
36. MacGruber (81.2)
37. Eat Pray Love (81.0)
38. Hereafter (80.0)
39. Due Date (79.8)
40. The Other Guys (79.6)
41. Babies (79.2)
42. Blood Done Sign My Name (79.2)
43. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (78.0)
44. Splice (77.0)
45. Alice in Wonderland (72.2)
46. Conviction (65.6)
What were your favorites? Please share and comment below.


theoncominghope said...

Nice post! I'm working through my thoughts on the year on my own blog, but have found it very difficult to actually rank movies this year.

But I definitely loved I Am Love and Winter's Bone.

Supercords said...

I liked your list. We share some of the same picks, but I've got a couple unconventional favorites of my own. They are here: in case you're interested.