Sunday, March 13, 2011

Top Ten Movies of 2010

Better late than never, I suppose. We're only 3 1/2 months into the new year and I'm just getting around to posting my top ten films of 2010.

I compiled this list sometime in January but never really felt like it was finalized. This is the problem with being limited in the number of films you can see in a given year. I saw 71 feature films from the year 2010. I'm already starting off with something of a misrepresentation. My list includes one film that actually dates from 2009 and won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar last year, but it was released commercially in the United States in calendar year 2010, which is what I use to determine a film's year for the purposes of my film lists. However, those 71 films mentioned earlier include 3 films not released in the United States and one theatrical film from Europe that only got a direct-to-video release in the US (none of those 4 made my top ten).

It may seem somewhat arbitrary to use the US release dates to decide what year to place a film into, but it's no more arbitrary than choosing to highlight 10 films instead of 12 or 13 or any other number.

So here they are from bottom to top:

Honorable Mentions (alphabetical):
The American (Anton Corbijn)
Animal Kingdom (David Michod)
I Am Love [Io sono l'amore] (Luca Guadagnino)
Inside Job (Charles Ferguson)
The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko)
A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)
Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich)

and on to the top ten...

10. True Grit (Joel and Ethan Coen) - Okay, I've got a thing for the Coen Brothers. There's hardly a movie of theirs I don't love, and in recent years they've been on a hot streak with 3 Best Picture Oscar nominations in 4 years. Not simply a remake of the 1969 Henry Hathaway film starring John Wayne, but a new adaptation of Charles Portis's novel. The old film was Wayne's film with Rooster Cogburn as the centerpiece. The Coens maintain Portis's vision of telling the story through the eyes of 14 year old Mattie Ross (played in a stunning debut performance by Hailee Steinfeld). The dialogue contains the classic Coen musicality and poetry. It's a bit short on those inexplicable Coen Brothers moments, but they make up for it with an atmosphere of calm cool anticipation.

9. The Fighter (David O. Russell) - This makes my list primarily for the four outstanding performances by Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams. But additionally it's a fantastic example of how cinematography and editing make the film. The three elements of the film - the narrative sequences comprising the majority of the film; the documentary segments; and the boxing scenes - are all shot using different camera equipment, lighting schemes, shot style and editing techniques. Then the three elements are woven together into a coherent narrative about both Mickey Ward (a boxer on his rise to the tope) and his brother Dickie Eklund (a crack addict ex-boxer hopelessly believing his comeback is around the corner).

8. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold) – A portrait of 15 year old English girl from a poor neighborhood, growing up in a broken home with a party animal for a mother. Arnold’s spare true-to-life drama is made all the more intensely real by the locations she uses and the amateur local girl cast in the lead role. She has a bright future ahead of her as an actress if she can capitalize on this performance and extricate herself from a life similar to that of her character.

7. Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell) - Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart embody the devastation of the loss of a child. Mitchell never goes for the purely sentimental. David Lindsay-Abaire's screenplay, adapted from his own play, takes what surely works quite well on the stage and successfully transferred it to the cinema. This didn't get as much recognition as I think it deserved.

6. The Secret of Their Eyes [El secreto de sus ojos] (Juan Jose Campanella) - released in the United States early in 2010 and in most other countries in 2009, this was last year's Foreign Language Film Oscar winner, beating out The White Ribbon and A Prophet, both of which are probably better films if I'm honest, but Campanella's story of revenge and justice carried out over a period of about 20 years in Argentina as a detective investigates the brutal murder of a beautiful young woman and the prime suspect goes free and then disappears and the victim's inconsolable husband resigns himself to a life of solitude.

5. The Social Network (David Fincher) - Aaron Sorkin's signature rapid fire and precise dialogue brings to life this somewhat fictionalized account of the founding of Facebook. Jesse Eisenberg reaches maturity as an actor in his performance as Mark Zuckerberg, fending off not one, but two lawsuits against him. The structure seamlessly jumps between three different timelines without ever losing the audience. Fincher has been working his whole career toward making a film this good. I've been waiting with anticipation since Seven for his great film. Here it is.

4. Inception (Christopher Nolan) - This film is building a movement of detractors who feel the dialogue is far too expository for it to reach the level of greatness so many seem to believe it achieved. Still, this was the most fun I've had in the cinema in years and it was a reminder of why I love watching movies projected through celluloid onto a screen while sitting in the dark.

3. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky) - Aronofsky's treatise on the struggle of artists to strike a balance between technique and passion focuses on ballet dancer Nina Sayer, recently cast in the dual role of the White (pure, innocent) and Black (lustful, passionate) Swans in a new production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. Her psychological unraveling begins before she even believes she has a hope of being cast in the role, and then accelerates at lighting speed. The film is a psychological horror film much more than a dance film that hinges on Natalie Portman's performance, which teeters on the brink of fragility through 90 minutes before she finally lets go and becomes the Black Swan.

2. Winter's Bone (Debra Granik) - It's so rare to see a film so perfectly capture a particular place. Of course I say this knowing full well that I've never visited the Missouri Ozarks, but with absolutely nothing about the production design that feels Hollywood and virtually no recognizable Hollywood actors (Jennifer Larence is a newcomer and John Hawkes is hardly well-known) this movie feels like you've been thrown into the thick of the world of meth dealers in the backwoods of Missouri.

1. 127 Hours (Danny Boyle) - Boyle is a director who really understands the medium of film. His films, even when they're not very good, jump off the screen (and without the use of garish and distracting 3D). He attacks his films with unbridled energy. The early scene of Aron Ralston riding his bike across the rocky desert terrain of Utah is shot, edited and scored with the same vibrance Boyle brought to the opening of Trainspotting. I'm not sure another director could have made a movie about a guy stuck by himself in a canyon for 5 days as visceral, compelling and interesting. In pure cinematic terms and also in terms of the way it made me feel, this was easily the best film of 2010.

All feature films seen from 2010 (based on US commercial release dates)
* Full length review available on this site
+ from my collection
^ no United States theatrical release
titles in bold received at least one Oscar nomination

*127 Hours dir. Danny Boyle
44 Inch Chest dir. Malcolm Venville
*Agora dir. Alejandro Amenábar
*^Air Doll (Kuki ningyo) dir. Hirokazu Koreeda
*Ajami dir. Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani
*Alice in Wonderland dir. Tim Burton
*The American dir. Anton Corbijn
*Animal Kingdom dir. David Michod
*Another Year dir. Mike Leigh
*The A-Team dir. Joe Carnahan
*Barney's Version dir. Richard J. Lewis
*Biutiful dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
*Black Swan dir. Darren Aronofsky
*Blue Valentine dir. Derek Cianfrance
*Conviction dir. Tony Goldwyn
*Country Strong dir. Shana Feste
*Cyrus dir. Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
*Dinner for Schmucks dir. Jay Roach
*Dogtooth (Kynodontas) dir. Giorgos Lanthimos
*Dorian Gray dir. Oliver Parker
*Due Date dir. Todd Phillips
*Exit Through the Gift Shop dir. Banksy
*The Expendables dir. Sylvester Stallone
*Fair Game dir. Doug Liman
*The Fighter dir. David O. Russell
Fish Tank dir. Andrea Arnold
*Get Low dir. Aaron Schneider
*The Ghost Writer dir. Roman Polanski
*The Good Heart dir. Dagur Kári
Green Zone dir. Paul Greengrass
*Greenberg dir. Noah Baumbach
^*Habitación en Roma (Room in Rome) dir. Julio Medem
*Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I dir. David Yates
*Hereafter dir. Clint Eastwood
*How to Train Your Dragon dir. Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
*I Am Love (Io sono l'amore) dir. Luca Guadagnino
+*Inception dir. Christopher Nolan
*Inside Job dir. Charles Ferguson
*Iron Man 2 dir. Jon Favreau
*Kick-Ass dir. Matthew Vaughn
*The Kids Are All Right dir. Lisa Cholodenko
*The King's Speech dir. Tom Hooper
*Knight and Day dir. James Mangold
*Life During Wartime dir. Todd Solondz
*L'illusionniste (The Illusionist) dir. Sylvain Chomet
*Love and Other Drugs dir. Edward Zwick
*Mother and Child dir. Rodrigo García
*Mr. Nice dir. Bernard Rose
*A Nightmare on Elm Street dir. Samuel Bayer
*Ondine dir. Neil Jordan
Outside the Law (Hors-la-lois) dir. Rachid Bouchareb
*Predators dir. Nimród Antal
A Prophet (Un prophéte) dir. Jacques Audiard
*Rabbit Hole dir. John Cameron Mitchell
*Restrepo dir. Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
*Robin Hood dir. Ridley Scott
*The Runaways dir. Floria Sigismondi
*Salt dir. Phillip Noyce
*Secretariat dir. Randall Wallace
*El Secreto de sus ojos (The Secret of Their Eyes) dir. Juan José Campenella
*Shrek Forever After dir. Mike Mitchell
*Shutter Island dir. Martin Scorsese
+*The Social Network dir. David Fincher
*Solitary Man dir. Brian Koppelman and David Levien
*Tamara Drewe dir. Stephen Frears
*Tangled dir. Nathan Grenon and Byron Howard
*The Tourist dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
*The Town dir. Ben Affleck
+*Toy Story 3 dir. Lee Unkrich
*TRON: Legacy dir. Joseph Kosinski
+*True Grit dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
*Unstoppable dir. Tony Scott
*Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps dir. Oliver Stone
*The Way Back dir. Peter Weir
*Winter's Bone dir. Debra Granik, Debra
*The Wolfman dir. Joe Johnston
Yo, también (Me too) dir. Antonio Naharro and Álvaro Pastor
*You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger dir. Woody Allen


  1. I noticed you didn't put 'the king's speech' who won best picture here. maybe it's not in your favorite ones?

  2. It was in my top ten preliminarily until I thought more about it and decided it was really a very conventional movie and I also don't like the whitewashing of history that it does.

    You can find my review on the blog.

  3. Jason: woud you happen to know the music that accompanies the credits to Incendies?

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.