Time flies and as such, another year came to a close. But I’m glad it does because when it came to movies, 2010 was anything but a watershed year. In fact, it may have been the worst movie-going year in recent memory (both artistically and commercially). Nevertheless, it marked my first full year as a film critic and allowed me the opportunity to watch a lot of movies without having to endure long lines, over-priced tickets and annoying cell-phone addicted moviegoers. So for that, I am grateful.
For better or for worse, the biggest story of the year was the re-emergence of 3-D as a marketing tool. Ten of the year’s top 20 grossing films were 3-D releases including the year’s top 2 moneymakers: Toy Story 3 ($415 Million) and Alice in Wonderland ($334 Million). Other than 3-D, sequels and prequels continued to be the rage as originality in mainstream blockbusters faded into oblivion. 2011 will continue the sad trend as more than 40, yes 40, sequels and remakes will make their way to multiplexes. God help us all!
Despite its faults, 2010 was also a showcase for new works from beloved established filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, the Coen brothers, Danny Boyle, Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky, David Fincher, Edgar Wright, Roman Polanski and Matthew Vaughn among others. While not every one of their works lived up to my expectations, they proved that even in a terribly weak year like 2010, there’s still hope for artistic movies in an industry obsessed with the bottom line. Along with the established filmmakers, 2010 also saw the emergence of rising talents like Tom Hooper, Matt Reeves, Lisa Choledenko, Debra Granik and best of all, Ben Affleck who has officially refashioned himself as an A-list director.
Of the 90 or so movies I watched in 2010, here are the 10 (plus 5) that were the best…
BONUS FIVE: These were five movies that I really wanted to put on my top ten but couldn’t find a place for. Instead of relegating them to the honorable mentions section, I figured I’d cheat a bit by creating a special section for these special five.
Derek Cianfrance’s gut-wrenching love story about a disintegrating marriage was hands-down the most emotionally draining film I watched last year. It’s also one of the most brutally honest depictions of a relationship I have ever seen. Stating that Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams deliver career-best work is understating the power of their heart-breaking performances. Unforgettable.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD
In this hyper-stylized adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic book series, writer-director Edgar Wright utilizes groundbreaking editing and visual effects to seamlessly blend video game and comic book aesthetics, pop cultural references, and comedy to create the year’s most inventive romantic comedy. With a fantastic ensemble cast led by Michael Cera and a killer soundtrack composed by Beck, this is a movie made in geek heaven.
Martin Scorsese’s atmospheric puzzle box Shutter Island was a creepy and intense character study saturated with nods and references to Alfred Hitchcock, film-noir and B-grade horror pictures of the 1950s. Free of the pressure of delivering an Oscar-caliber movie, this film found America’s greatest living filmmaker showing off his flair as a master of style and technique. Add in an incredibly layered and haunting performance by Leonardo DiCaprio and you’re left with one of the year’s best genre films.
With his second feature, Ben Affleck proved that the incredible reception he received for Gone Baby Gone wasn’t a fluke. Though The Town may not match the dramatic complexity of his first film, it’s the ambitious Michael Mann-esque action sequences and his direction of a talented ensemble cast including Rebecca Hall and a truly terrifying Jeremy Renner that help place the film on this list. The film’s center-piece – a breath-taking action sequence where a crew of thieves evades cops through the narrow streets of Boston will leave your heart and mind racing. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
While it’s hardly the best film in the Coen brothers’ cannon, True Grit is nevertheless an impeccably directed, gorgeously shot, and sharply written film that ranks as the best western since the terrific duo of 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in 2007. It also greatly helps that the movie is propelled by two of the year’s finest performances in Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges, the former who is undoubtedly, the breakthrough performer of the year.
#10. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
In a dismal summer stacked with one disappointment after another, Lisa Choledenko’s at-once moving, funny and thoughtful The Kids are All Right stood out as a much needed breeze. Poignant and honest in its depiction of a modern family, this was a movie that showed the conservatives in us that it doesn’t matter what type of family you’re raised in – good parenting is universal. As the wound-tight, control-freak matriarch of the family, Annette Bening delivers one of the finest performances of her distinguished career while Julianne Moore may be even more impressive as her long-suffering partner who almost ruins the family by involving herself with the family’s surrogate member – played charmingly by Mark Ruffalo.
#9. 127 HOURS
There’s not much you can do with a story that takes place predominantly in one location but with the help of some inventive cinematography, rapid-fire editing and James Franco’s towering performance as Aron Ralston, Danny Boyle pulls it off in style. What we get is one of the year’s most visually and emotionally rich cinematic experiences – equally funny, sad, beautiful and inspirational. As for the infamous arm-cutting scene – yes it’s tough to watch but when placed in context of the story, you’ll oddly find yourself egging him on to chop that thing off.
#8. A PROPHET
It hasn’t been intentional but I’ve always managed to include at least one foreign language film on my top 10 list ever since I started compiling them in 2000. This year’s entry is Jacques Audiard’s harrowing French gangster epic A Prophet which tells the story of Malik (a brilliant Tahar Rahim), an insecure and terrified 17-year-old Algerian immigrant who is imprisoned for petty theft but slowly evolves into one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the brutal French mafia all while remaining confined within the walls of the prison. It’s a plot-line that may sound derivative but Audiard’s film feels so fresh because it weaves a terrific gangster tale against the backdrop of sharp social commentary on the increasing diversification of modern French society.
#7. THE KING’S SPEECH
If there ever was a machine to conjure up the ultimate Oscar-bait movie, the end-product wouldn’t be too different from The King’s Speech. But unlike many Oscar-bait films, this one is actually deserves all the attention and praise it has received; It’s one of the most heart-warming and enjoyable movies I’ve watched in a long time. Like The Fighter, The King’s Speech is bolstered by the impeccable performances of Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, two of the world’s finest actors at the very top of their game. Firth in particular, perfectly brings embodies the insecurities and pompousness of King George VI while also masterly portraying his crippling speech impediment without resorting to over-acting. The Best Actor Oscar is his.
#6. THE FIGHTER
As far as boxing movies go, David O. Russell’s The Fighter is about as formulaic and predictable as you can get. But what elevates it from the constraints of boxing clichés into one of the year’s most entertaining and re-watchable films are the magnetic performances of the mesmerizing Christian Bale, the amazing Melissa Leo, and the always delightful Amy Adams. Russell’s decision to shoot the picture on-location in Lowell, Massachusetts lends it an aura of grit you don’t see in many mainstream studio movies.
#5. THE GHOST WRITER
The plot line for Roman Polanksi’s The Ghost Writer, the best political thriller since Michael Clayton, is pure pot-boiler stuff but it’s the style and execution of the story that make it one of the year’s best movies. Being a sucker for moody atmospheric thrillers with fantastic cinematography, only added to my passion for this thriller. Say and think what you may about Polanski but the man is a master of suspense. Like Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, Polanksi’s film oozes with so much mood and atmosphere that you may want to consider wearing a jacket or a raincoat while watching it. The story centers on a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) who is hired to complete the memoirs of a disgraced former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan, doing his best Tony Blair) after the minister’s first writer was found dead under mysteriously circumstances. Things go well until the minister becomes the subject of a global political scandal and McGregor realizes that his predecessor may have been killed for uncovering a shocking conspiracy whose secret is weaved deep within the pages of the work he’s been assigned to finish.
#4. TOY STORY 3
What can I say about Toy Story 3 that hasn’t been already said: It’s witty, funny, moving, action-packed and just about amazing! Toy Story is my favorite animated movie of all time so it goes without saying that I had ridiculously high hopes for Toy Story 3. But to complete blow away those expectations and almost bring me to tears is something I never expected. It was a fitting conclusion to one of the greatest trilogies in cinema history and a wonderful end to the flagship franchise of the best studio in Hollywood. Thanks for the memories Woody and Buzz – you’ll be missed.
#3. BLACK SWAN
Natalie Portman’s devastating performance as the perfection obsessed Nina Sayers is the crux of this atmospheric (see a trend?) mind-fuck of a thriller set in the world of ballet. Part psycho-sexual horror movie, part intense character study, Black Swan marks a giant leap for director Darren Aronofsky who continues to build a reputation as one of the greatest working directors in the business. Scene after scene, Aronofsky ratchets up the tension, getting under our skin as he progressively immerses us into Nina’s state of mind while consistently drumming things up for the film’s shattering finale. Matthew Libateque’s stellar cinematography and Clint Mansell haunting “Swan Lake”-inspired score only add to the film’s incredible aura.
Christopher Nolan’s Inception was the closest 2010 came to having a pop-cultural phenomenon. It may not be Nolan’s greatest achievement but it certainly qualifies as his boldest, most ambitious work. With INCEPTION, Nolan proved that you don’t have to dumb movies down to the lowest denominator to make a tidy profit. Starring one of the year’s best ensemble casts led by the always excellent Leonardo DiCaprio, Nolan’s version of a Bond movie is an experience that left me wowed, exhilarated and debating for days. In a time when sequels, prequels and remakes are just about the only thing in movie theaters, Inception was like an Oasis in the middle of the Sahara. Great action, a literally-layered plot, jaw-dropping visuals and award-worthy writing and direction – this is the type of big-budget studio moviemaking I wish Hollywood delivered more of. Oh and it also had the year’s best ending! BROOOAAWWMMM!!!
#1. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
What is it about The Social Network that makes it better than any movie released in 2010? Why is it that almost every critics group in the nation has placed it at the top of their list of the year’s best movies? Is it sheep mentality? Will naming it the ‘best movie of the year’ make them hip? Is it peer pressure? I mean, what is it about David Fincher’s Facebook drama that makes it a better film than Inception, Black Swan, and Toy Story 3 or any other movie released in 2010?
Here are a few reasons:
One – Every faction of this film – the direction, the writing, the acting, the music, the editing, the cinematography, and even the sound – is masterfully executed. Most movies have one weak element – Inception had its script issues, Toy Story 3 followed the formula of its predecessors, Black Swan required a massive suspension of disbelief. But The Social Network doesn’t have a single weak element. It’s more or less a flawless film.
Two –It’s a movie about the now. No film captures my ADD-inflicted, technology-dependent, attention-seeking, emotionally-anemic generation the way Fincher’s film does. It’s a movie that says so much without explicitly stating any of it. Sorkin’s sensational (but admittedly fictional) script presents Mark Zuckerberg as a socially-stunted genius who created a social networking site to connect people from all over the world but ironically, his invention also drove the people closest to him apart. Similarly, we claim to have this many friends on Facebook but how much do we really know about these people?
Three – Though the film portrays Zuckerberg as a conniving asshole who walked over others to get to where he is today, it also shows him as a phenomenally talented and hard-working genius. Sorkin’s version of Zuckerberg is the definition of the 21st century Daniel Plainview. He may be a jerk but its people like him whose drive and ambition this country was founded on.
Finally, it’s just such a damn good time. It’s a movie that completely grips you from its very first scene (that breath-taking war of the words between Zuckerberg and his soon-to-be-ex girlfriend Erika Albright) and doesn’t let go until the last shot featuring The Beatles’ “Baby You’re a Rich Man.” Throughout its running time, it engages you with its instantly-quotable firecracker dialogues (I’m 6’4, 220 lbs and there’s two of me”), its Rashamon-styled he-said-she-said (“what led his best friend to sue him?”) structure, and floors you with its universal themes of ambition, greed, friendship, jealousy, betrayal and loneliness. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s heart-breaking and it’s riveting. It’s the best movie of the year.
Honorable Mentions: Kick-Ass, Animal Kingdom, Let Me In, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Tangled, Winter’s Bone, The Other Guys, How to Train Your Dragon, Hereafter, Exit through the Gift Shop