Thursday, August 4, 2011

Top 10 Films of 2010

(written in December)

2010 has been an extremely good year for film. If you did not like the bunch of films that stacked the Best Picture category and the performances and writing of many of the films this year, then you might as well quit watching them. It was the best year since at least 2007. I even included 3 films from my top 5 of the first half of the year list, suggesting that the return to 10 nominees in the Best Picture category really did cause the studios to let their films get an early-year release, which makes the first half not just a complete black hole of nothingness at the box office. It was also an extraordinary year for documentaries, an amazing year for foreign films, a very strong year for animated film, and it contained perhaps the best film of the last five years. It seemed like every film that had hype lived up to it. Some of them, such as Hereafter, did not do so well with critics or at the box office, but it was still a fascinating picture with some truly great things to say and some amazing achievements. There were a bunch of independent films that swept everyone off their feet, including Winter’s Bone and Blue Valentine. There were some really great comedies as well, none more satisfying and surprising than Easy A and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It was a year that was about as well-rounded as any, and I will remember it as being one of the better years of the new millennium. I can see a few of these films ending up in my end of decade top 10 for 2010-2019. Now, to the films:

Others receiving votes:

Blue Valentine

Get Low


The Secret in Their Eyes

Shutter Island

10. The Fighter (directed by David O. Russell). This movie is one of immense passion and feeling. It is unlike any boxing movie that I have come across. Its gritty style suggests a Raging Bull aspect, yet the underdog story is almost a form of Rocky. This is a true story, however, and it is about so much more than just boxing. The stories of Mickey Ward and Dick Eklund are so rich and true, and they just come alive under the superb direction of David O. Russell. Each character is given its time to shine, yet each one has their own flaws that are sometimes excruciatingly exposed. You cannot look away, though. It is as inspiring as they come, and it is certainly the best ensemble cast of the year. It was the ultimate dark horse and the little film that seemingly could not get made. I am glad it did. It was as satisfying as any film-going experience I had in 2010.

9. Exit Through the Gift Shop (directed by Banksy). Is it a hoax? Is it real? Are they just playing with us? We do not really know, but we are willing to spend several viewings getting lost in whatever it is. The filming of this documentary about street art was started by Thierry Guetta, an eccentric French shoe keeper and amateur filmmaker. He filmed everything and met every major street artist, even the amazing, famously unseen Banksy. One thing led to another, and Banksy took over the filming after a dreadful attempt at editing by Guetta. This comedic and always strange documentary is as thought-provoking and crazy of an experience that could be had in 2010. It is so interesting, especially because they basically make their profession out to be a sham. Is it staged? I really do not care. This is a hilarious film that struck a chord with audiences and critics, and there are images that are forever engrained in my head. I loved this film.

8. Mother (directed by Joon-ho Bong). This is one of the craziest thrills I have had at the movies in the last couple years. It is about a mother, played with fierce brilliance by Hye-ja Kim, who searches for the murderer who framed her son of a horrible crime. The director, Joon-ho Bong, has made a couple films that unquestionable rank with the best foreign films of the past decade. He is the most interesting and creative auteur in Asia without a doubt. The film, while brutal, is also darkly comic and always intriguing. It is highly recommendable and appealing. The ending is as thought-provoking and haunting as any that I saw in 2010. It is a completely original crime thriller, unlike anything I have ever seen. More people have got to check this one out.

7. Cyrus (directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass). This was one of the stranger films that came out in 2010. It was marketed as a mainstream film, but it really wasn’t one, nor was it released as one. It has the A-list cast, but it was really still a mumblecore film, which almost makes it mainstream and to me made it feel like an instant classic. The Duplass brothers can to do so much with only casting themselves and their friends, but when they get Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, and John C. Reilly in the leads, it makes the film almost more credible. Jonah Hill is so nuanced and really has a creepily keen ear for mixing comedy and drama. His talent is shown here like it never has been before. The film is deeper than might be expected. It pulls its punches, while still being quite sensitive and realistic in its portrayal of relationships, which is the staple of the mumblecore subgenre. I cannot wait to see where the brilliant Duplass brothers go from here.

6. Restrepo (directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger). This documentary is a brilliant, breathtaking tribute to the men who so courageously defended one of the most strategically-crucial spots in Afghanistan. It says all that you need to know about the military soldiers without any politics or manipulation. It is just watching the soldiers in their daily routine. How do they spend their time? How do they stay motivated? There is one moment where they actually get into a group and basically get psyched-out to go to battle, not unlike a sports locker room. That is something that I have never seen in any war film or documentary, and it was really refreshing. This is a film of reality, and nothing in it felt staged. It is a deeply revealing film that is also flawlessly-edited. It is as inspirational as any film that I saw in 2010, but it is also quite poignant. It plays like a drama, and it is certainly the best documentary that I saw last year.

5. Black Swan (directed by Darren Aronofsky). I have yet to hear an opinion of Black Swan that sounded the same. Everyone thinks something different about it, yet very few people seriously dislike it (that moron guy on the new Ebert show is one). It has something in the film for everyone. The psychological drama-thriller elements are brilliantly realized. The tone of the film is one that only Aronofsky could create. The final dance sequences are breathtaking and unforgettable. It really does a fantastic job following up the other ballet classics The Red Shoes and Suspiria. In a way, it is a superb companion piece to The Wrestler. Both are remarkably deep, meaningful, and devastating views of a somewhat glamorized performing art that are really as physically and mentally demanding as any sport. Some of the images will be stuck with me forever. It is yet another masterpiece from the brilliant auteur Darren Aronofsky.

4. A Prophet (directed by Jacques Audiard). Watching this film, I felt like I was watching an already accomplished crime masterpiece. Its tone alone makes the film feel like a classic in the vein of Goodfellas and Donnie Brasco. It is the best prison movie in ages. The lead actor, Tahar Rahim, gives an absolute breakthrough performance. Every bit of his performance suggests that he is a future star in Europe. The film itself has a somewhat classic storyline, but it is done with such brutality and intensity that it is impossible to not get immersed in it. The final hour or so is absolutely stunning and unforgettable. It could be considered this generation’s The Godfather if it had been more accessible. It is perhaps the quickest 150 minutes of 2010, which is not a back-handed compliment at all. Films that long come around more often than they should and can fail quite easily. This is one of the best ones in a while. Any fan of crime dramas should see it pronto.

3. Animal Kingdom (directed by David Michod). This was perhaps the biggest surprise addition to my list of any this year. I went in expecting a Jacki Weaver show, but everything else about it was completely astonishing as well. It is like a more polished Shane Meadows film. From the opening shot, I knew that this film was going to be loaded. It has a classic feel like The Lookout, yet it has an indie heart like A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. It is also like Saints in that the director and lead both made their debuts with this film, which only makes it that much more impressive. The story is a somewhat conventional one, which is a young man who is thrown into a life of crime due to circumstances beyond his control. That is actually a connection to A Prophet as well. As the film goes along, I felt more and more like this could actually be the best film of the year. Like La Haine, the film has so much passion, grittiness, and honesty that it thoroughly draws the audience in and blows them away. The tone and editing feel a bit like Clockers, but much more compelling, satisfying, and tighter (and congealed). So, yeah, put the best parts of those 6-7 mentioned movies together, and you get this stunning, incredible masterwork.

2. Toy Story 3 (directed by Lee Unkrich). What else is there to say about this movie? It is the best third leg of a trilogy maybe ever. It is a brilliant film about life, love, film, imagination, and family. There really are not enough positive words to say about it. I was so skeptical when I heard about a third film in this series, which was already flawless and seemed like it had closure. The first one was a film that basically defined my childhood and is an all-time favorite. This film was different, though. That is not just because it will make you cry, but also because the human characters are much more central. Andy becomes the one that the audience relates the most. Letting go of your childhood and imagination is something that we all have to do, and this shows in heartbreaking and humorous fashion how difficult that can be. Also, the main characters are still the toys, which are as appealing and brilliant as ever. How can Pixar keep spitting out these all-time great animated films year after year? It is an astonishing run that they have been on, and this ranks with their best films. I cannot be more enthusiastic about it.

1. The Social Network (directed by David Fincher). Now we go to the obvious choice for the number one film of the year. It is the consensus number one, and unlike so many times in the past, the best one is actually sweeping all of the awards and made a big box office statement. What is it that we love so much? There are too many aspects of this flawless work of art to count. It is like this generation’s All the President’s Men or Citizen Kane. It takes a total in-the-moment story and makes it undeniably timeless. There is not a wasted moment. The editing is some of the best I have ever come across. Every scene is so flawlessly-detailed and structured. The performances are top notch. Every artistic and technical aspect is as good as is possible, let alone for a movie made about Facebook. This is a film that I have discussed and analyzed with several people several times since the first time I saw it. I am always noticing something new and interesting, never feeling like I have come close to exhausting the scope of the film. There is so much going on in every scene that it is impossible to cover it. This is not only a testament to David Fincher’s career-best direction, but to Aaron Sorkin’s masterful script. In his speech at the Critics Choice Awards, he stated that he asked a lot of the audience. He had to convince the producers that the film’s audience was at least as intelligent as the people involved in making it. This is something that I greatly admire. Not since Sideways have I felt so intellectually-stimulated by a film. It challenges us in ways that we could never have expected. There is never a dull moment, and there never will be, even when the viewings approach double digits in number. This will be looked back on as the film that defines an entire generation of film and film-goers. There is nothing like it anywhere. Looking at the surface, it could be construed as a film about young people getting rich. It is so much deeper than that. Try to find a flaw in it. I dare you.

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