Maybe I’m getting too old, but not many movies truly moved me this year.
Conversely, I had to make a top 15 list because there’s so many deserving films worth mentioning (plus a swollen honorable mention section). One conversation I had with a friend settled on the agreement that this year was more about performances than front-to-back tried-and-true great films. Perhaps that’s it. Whatever the case, to regurgitate a maxim I’ve restated over the years, the equation that makes a film is: experience + resonance.
A film can’t just be a thrilling, intense experience in the theater. It has to last and linger. That doesn’t necessarily mean holding up on repeat viewings (though it sure doesn’t hurt), it just means, the more a film haunts you months after it’s over, the more it did its job in the theater. I’ve had many experiences where the in-the-moment picture was amazing, but days later, poof, it was gone. I’ve also had pictures that didn’t strike me so much in the moment, but then just circled mercilessly around my head; always the meaning of a good film. Obviously having both elements is best, but it’s my personal opinion that too many out there put a high premium on experience only. Sure, “Inception” probably blew you away in theaters. Did it still grip you months later? If not, that’s a tell-tale sign (it still holds up for me, personally).
I digress, but these are the films that stayed with me the most, their impact resonating far long after they were over, regardless of their flaws. And some do have their imperfections. I realize what I value in movies might not be the same as what everyone else values. So be it. And as usual, another dictum. The top 10 (or 15 in this case) list is a living, breathing organism that evolves, grows and changes tastes just as we do. So this is how I feel about 2010, right now and I place an emphasis on “favorite” films over “best.”
15. “Exit Through the Gift Shop“
How did you think something this wild could be made up? Street graffiti artist Banksy creates one of his greatest masterpieces with this wicked documentary and wry commentary on the value of art that’s two movies in one; the first half a “Finding Forrester“-type scenario with a documentarian seeking court with the elusive Bansky, the second half flipping the script, with Banksy taking over and watching as his sycophantic apostle attempts to be a street art god himself. Fascinating stuff and a third act played out with a shit-eating grin; not because it’s fucking with anyone, but because again, it’s just too good to be true.
14. “Blue Valentine“
A devastating and heart-aching portrait of the natural decay in relationships. Are they all doomed? Is this the natural evolution of love? Derek Cianfrance raises a lot of disturbing questions for you to ponder and Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are as good as you expect them to be. Heartwrenching.
13. “127 Hours“
I made the stupid mistake of seeing this twice; something I generally avoid until at least a year later. It would have been top three for sure if I hadn’t seen the movie so soon after its initial impact, which was so grand for me. I left TIFF thinking it was hands down the best film of the festival. It has a visceral attack, it’s brimming with life and I love the hope and optimism that Danny Boyle brings to his film. If James Franco doesn’t get a Best Actor nomination, burn down the Kodak Theatre. I honestly resent that second screening for robbing of me of that tremendous, elating feeling after the film was over. I would give anything to go back and be completely happy and content with the exhilarating first screening. Still, all said and done, it’s being overlooked during awards season and that’s seriously bumming me out.
12. “Rabbit Hole“
Do not underestimate Nicole Kidman or she will sucker punch you. She, Dianne Wiest and Aaron Eckhart are tremendous in John Cameron Mitchell‘s grieving drama about a couple that lose their son in a freak car accident. The wounds never quite heal, but watching these people cope as JCM’s compassionate, carefully observed camera respectfully watches from afar is a striking thing of beauty and cuts a very emotional and deep chord. Kudos to Anton Sanko‘s plaintive and elegiacal, simple score.
11. “The Town“
The rehabilitation of Ben Affleck‘s career is officially complete and surely he regrets Bennifer more than any of us. A more than competent director, he proves that “Gone Baby Gone” was no fluke and the actor establishes himself as a truly thoughtful filmmaker, adept in both the quiet, expressive moments and the necessary thrilling action beats. Yes, the emotional love story in the film is a little short-changed, but it’s a testament to the intensity of the picture and something you don’t really realize until long after it’s over; plus Rebecca Hall makes the most of her scenes and leaves an impact. Jeremy Renner‘s simmering and volatile performance will likely score him another Oscar nomination and with due reason. Not perfect, but a great, entertaining ride.
10. “A Prophet“
Jacques Audiard‘s prison drama is incredible; immaculately crafted and harrowing stuff. Tahar Rahim is a gift to acting — a breakthrough performance if there ever was one — and Alexandre Desplat‘s score is one in of a long line of impressive works. This guy will eventually be seen as one of the all time greats. Audiard has made some great films, but this is now probably my favorite.
9. “True Grit“
Matt Damon, Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin are tremendous in the Coen Brothers tried and true, salt-of-the-earth Western, but the real star is their script and the language, lifted straight from Charles Portis‘ matter-of-fact novel which is far more cheeky then John Wayne understood. They nail every second of it. Hailee Steinfeld is outstanding and hopefully has a long and illustrious career in front of her. Now someone give Greg Mottola and Bill Hader money to make Portis’ “Dog of the South,” please.
8. “Let Me In“
Matt Reeves shut haters like The Playlist up this year and proved himself one of the most formidable talents in genre filmmaking (we initially thought the remake was a terrible idea). He matched the tenderness of the original, “Let the Right One In” and far outdid the action, effects and creepy tone which were always the element lacking in the initial film. The cinematography by Greig Fraser and music by Michael Giacchino were also atmospheric, moody and total aces. Chloe Moretz is going to be a huge Kate Winslet-around “Titanic” star when she’s older. She’s got amazing chops and we’ve just seen the tip of the iceberg.
7. “Easy A“
The front to back most enjoyable and entertaining film of the year? Hard to argue with, which is why it’s included here. I had an immense smile on my face the entire time and left elated, which counts for a lot these days. Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson steal every scene and should be in every movie from now on. The endlessly charming Emma Stone was so good they plucked her for instant stardom-to-be with the next “Spider-Man” film. Sony will keep this girl in their stable as long as possible because she’s a genuine star. This movie is proof #1 why.
6. “Please Give“
Thank god Nicole Holofcener makes movies and that someone out there is still bold enough to fund, small, intimate personal dramas like this one, full of work-in-progress characters that can be jerks, but are fully human. So full of life. So much like what we all experience on a daily basis. Catherine Keener and Rebecca Hall were exceptional.
Slow-motion Edith Piaf dreamscape, narcolepsy MC Escher brilliance. Christopher Nolan does it again, proving original ideas can be king. Also, hello once again Tom Hardy, glad to see the world has noticed you after “Bronson.” Nolan dreamt big this year, Warner Bros. thankfully took the risk, and moviegoers were paid in full with this emotionally rich high-concept thriller.
4. “Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno“
Everyone loves a good what-could-have-been story from the vaults of cinema, right? What about an extraordinary documentary about the legendary master of French horror — France’s Hitchcock — Henri-Georges Clouzot who was gunning to top Fellini‘s “8 1/2” with an experimental relationship drama about a man who goes mad with jealousy? Ironically, art imitated life, and Clouzot’s own obsession with making the picture — including his endless optical experimentation featuring his gorgeous lead, the great Romy Schneider — deep-sixed the project midway through a nightmarishly difficult shoot. It’s entirely conceivable, this ambitious picture and its super abstraction could have been a for-the-ages mess, but what’s hinted at — as what footage was shot still survives today — is still a fascinating snapshot of a film unfinished and therefore a must-see historical piece of cinema.
3. “The American“
An iceberg-slow European art film and anti-thriller starring George Clooney, is this what Focus Features wanted? Did they expect Anton Corbijn to direct a hitman film as if Ingmar Bergman were making it? No matter. Their commercial loss — though not a financial one, the film grossed $65 million worldwide against a $20 million dollar budget — was our artistic gain. In one of Clooney’s most haunted and internal performances to date, with a deep de-emphasis on words, Corbijn guided the superstar to a picture actually about faith, or rather a lack thereof. This is a contemplative drama about a hired killer in crisis, who desperately seeks salvation in the comfort of connection that has eluded him his entire life. The simmering paranoia and anxiety Clooney evinces as he tries to make a break from this life is riveting, intense stuff.
2. “The Fighter“
Good on comeback kid David O. Russell for taking what could have been a fairly predictable, dark, paint-by-numbers boxing flick and infusing it with a jovial, light-on-its feet touch filled with pathos, humor and energy. Also kudos for simply making a boxing film that’s actually about family with an emphasis on the girls. There’s a loose and limber electricity running through the air of this thing; Melissa Leo is on fire as the bouffant-haired mom, Amy Adams will scratch your eyes out and Christian Bale is arresting and playful as the gaunt and mercurial drug addict brother. The ending is so exhilarating I jumped up and cheered when Mark Wahlberg knocked out Sanchez. I was right there.
Too long, too bleak, too narratively disjointed or meandering? Possibly, but no other picture in 2010 punched me as savagely in the gut as Alejandro González Iñárritu’s soulful, painful and spiritual paean to family, mortality, his father and the suffering of humankind. Javier Bardem won the Best Actor Prize at Cannes with good reason. It’s an immersive and devastating performance and even if Oscar neglects him, he shouldn’t feel too bad. So humanist, it scrapes hard on the inside of your heart and yes, it will hurt. Yet more passion and more palpable blood, sweat and tears than any other movie this year.
Honorable Mention. These first three I’m a bit embarrassed didn’t crack my top 15. Cerebrally I’m in love with them, but when I ask myself honestly where they belong, they just can’t crack this list, however, in another world, they’re in my top 5. It’s hard to explain, I suppose.
Luca Guadagnino‘s “I Am Love” is sumptuous and graceful and contains some of the best sequences in cinema all year hands down, but at 2 1/2 hours it was a little long in making its point for me. “Black Swan” is terrific. Natalie Portman is fantastic and Aronofsky‘s dance sequences are thrilling. “Dogtooth” is dark, twisted and fucked up with delicious black humor. It’s amazing. Had Olivier Assayas‘ “Carlos” been as strong as part 1 across its three films, it would have been a top 5 contender. Unfortunately it’s three films long and tends to have diminishing returns as it moves along. Best soundtrack of the year though in terms of music within a film (no soundtrack was ever released). Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right” is a wonderful humanist film and every actor in the picture, including once again, the always exceptional Mia Wasikowska, is tremendous. I have no excuse as to why it’s not on my proper list and I hope to god it earns itself a Best Picture nomination this year. Mike Leigh‘s “Another Year” is terribly good. Ashamed, it’s not in my top 10, but for whatever reason it’s here. The “Red Riding Trilogy” is fantastic, especially parts one and two by Julian Jarrold (1974, shot on 16mm) and James Marsh (1980). “Winter’s Bone,” Debra Granik‘s sophomore effort is a visceral whodunnit. Jennifer Lawrence is a revelation (star watch alert), John Hawkes proves that he’s as riveting as ever given half the chance and the cinematography is the best RED camera lensing of 2010. “The Killer Inside Me” is extremely underrated, also way misunderstood. Oli articulated that well. “Trash Humpers” and “Ondine” were great too.
Kieran Culkin and Chris Evans – “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” – Culkin flat out runs away with every scene he’s in the movie. The actor seems born to play the wry, wise-cracking gay roommate Wallace. Chris Evans plays his evil ex-boyfriend dead straight and comes on top of all of his six compatriots. He was certainly my fave. Shame mainstream audiences ignored this picture.
Worst Movies of the Year
“Alice In Wonderland“
“Hereafter” – Clint Eastwood malaise. So crushingly dull.
“I Love You Phillip Morris” – Ugh, from its pedestrian voice-over that connects you to one of the films final scenes (cliche alert off the bat), to its ridiculous plot twist ending to its ineffectual
performances by Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, I thoroughly disliked almost every minute of this film minus a few admittedly laugh-out-loud jokes. Still, naïve or not, greatly looking forward to the directors’ next picture (“Crazy, Stupid, Love“).
Favorite Female Performances of the year
Lesley Manville – “Another Year”
Jennifer Lawrence – “Winter’s Bone”
Jacki Weaver – “Animal Kingdom”
Favorite Male Performances of the Year
Christian Bale – “The Fighter“
Javier Bardem – “Biutiful“
Underrated Male Performances of the Year
Jim Broadbent – “Another Year”
Mark Wahlberg – “The Fighter”
George Clooney – “The American”
Ben Affleck – “The Town”
Ed Norton – “Leaves Of Grass”
Joaquin Phoenix – “I’m Still Here”
Underrated Female Performances of the Year
Emma Stone – “Easy A”
Isabelle Huppert – “White Material”
Most Disappointing Film of the Year
“The Social Network” – A good film and the reasons for placing it here have already been articulated so I won’t karp on about it.
Best Onscreen Chemistry
Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson – “Easy A”
Most Underrated or Undervalued
“127 Hours” – A relative underrated pick. Obviously it’s a celebrated film, but somehow went from surefire top 3 Best Picture contender to a drama that will be lucky if it finds itself in the expanded Oscar 10. How did that possibly happen? Though don’t count it out, probably will still nab Best Picture and Best Actor noms.
Worst Continuing Trend of 2010
Movie reporting about movie reporting.