GATW Critics’ Top 10 of 2010

GATW Staff

by: GATW Staff
December 28th, 2010

Sometimes, it feels as if the editing work that goes into crafting our year-end top tens is endless - in the midst of putting together my own list (oh, hey, shameless plug for the GATW Editors' Top 10 of 2010, which you can check out RIGHT HERE), I also need to worry about getting everyone else's fit for publishing.

Why do I even bother to worry? Each list that gets submitted to me inevitably delights in all manner of ways - some surprises, some matches to my own list, a number of choices that make me slap my forehead and shout, "why did I forget that one?!" In short, the content makes the editing more than worth it. I hope you all have that same experience with this next round of Top 10 madness, this time coming to you from our non-editorial critics who have earned their wings throughout this year, be it with astute observations about big-time releases or, more often than not, close examinations of festival flicks. Let this serve as a warm-up for tomorrow's big Top 10 meal, a meaty affair full of all the delicious picks of our news team. Read on, Whalers, read on and enjoy! -Kate Erbland, West Coast Editor


Allison Loring
Soundtrack/Festival Reviewer

This was the kind of vampire movie I had been waiting for. DAYBREAKERS brought the blood and fear other vampire films lately have only danced around. The sleek and stylized of the vampires almost made me want to live in a world without light.

One of my favorite artists, Banksy, does not disappoint with his “documentary” that leaves you with more questions than it answers, which in turn, is the brilliance of his work.

A sweet story about a girl trying to find her way and figure out where she is going next. Director Brett Haley’s debut is real and honest about asking those hard life questions, but doing so in a way that reminds you that life should never be taken too seriously.

Always top notch story telling, the final chapter in our journey with Woody, Buzz, and Andy brought everything full circle and I think there were a rare few that did not well up as we felt our own childhoods coming to an end too.

Big car chases, loyalty, and a powerhouse performance by Jeremy Renner quickly put THE TOWN on my list for the year. The clips I was able to see during the LA Film Festival got me excited and the completed film did not disappoint.

Simply beautiful – I was immediately sucked in to Gareth Edwards’ world combining realistic documentary style filmmaking with something slightly unreal. With hardly any dialogue, MONSTERS still asks some big questions, which in itself is a feat and one that was wholly consuming.

“The Facebook Movie” ended up being some of the sharpest dialogue on screen set over a dark and foreboding landscape. These actors' brilliant performances gave us a new view on how a website most of us use every day came to be.

Simply entertaining from the Coens' dry humor to a classic Wild West manhunt and unexpected twists at every turn. Never a huge fan of Westerns, TRUE GRIT made me take a second looks at a genre I usually dismiss.

A horror movie so beautiful in its terror you simply cannot look away. Watching someone walk that fine line between perfection and destruction is all the more haunting as it is one that could be easily crossed by any of us.

As someone who has always been intrigued by the idea of dreams, this was the movie I wanted (and needed) to watch (and analyze) over and over again. From the story to the performances to the music, INCEPTION was the full package.

J.C. De Leon

J.C. De Leon

I have a simple criteria for how I compose a Top 10 list for the end of every year, and it begins with one question: how often will I re-watch this film? Every now and then, I will include a film that may not necessarily fit that criteria entirely, but it will be one I can't help but love. That occasional exception will often result in some unusual films making my list, but these are films that I genuinely do love, and some of which I've already revisited several times over. Now without further ado:

I'm a lot stronger than you think I am.
From CLOVERFIELD director Matt Reeves, this remake of the Swedish film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, was a finely crafted film and a worthy enough remake that many felt was on par with its original. Sadly, it didn't do very well at the box office, but hopefully one day this great film will find its audience, and hopefully they will also discover the original.

I need one million dollars by nine o'clock tonight or I'll be left to die in this coffin!
This may be the one film that I won't revisit as much as the rest of the films on my list, but that shouldn't underscore its effectiveness. Watching this in your living room may not have the same effect as watching it in a pitch black theater, but as a moviegoing experience, these 90 minutes in a box were some of the most intense I've ever had and made for one of the most unique theater experiences I've ever had.

Whatever happened to chivalry? Does it only exist in 80's movies?
I want John Cusack holding a boombox outside my window. I wanna ride off on a lawnmower with Patrick Dempsey. I want Jake from SIXTEEN CANDLES waiting outside the church for me. I want Judd Nelson thrusting his fist into the air because he knows he got me. Just once I want my life to be like an 80's movie, preferably one with a really awesome musical number for no apparent reason. But no, no, John Hughes did not direct my life. Emma Stone turned in an incredibly funny performance in this modern high school retelling of The Scarlet Letter. EASY A has gotten a lot of positive reactions and this may end up one of the more surprising quality films of this past year.

Do I really gotta be the asshole who says we got in this thing and went back in time?
Despite your feelings about this movie, this most definitely fits my criteria of a fun movie that I will re-watch over and over again. This made me laugh hysterically when I first saw it, and it's held up since that first viewing. Plus there's the love that I have for John Cusack, who's been in two movies that are in my all time top 5, so to say I'm a fan of his would be understating it. Seeing him in a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed so much brought back many happy memories of some of his classic movies.

Them boys, don't think about the wrath that's about to set down on them.
I have a strange relationship with the films that writer/director tandem Joel and Ethan Coen create. Often times, I don't like them the first time I see them, but somewhere along the line I revisit them and for whatever reason, they seem like a completely different film to me and I never know what was wrong with me the first time I saw them. Not the case for TRUE GRIT. Beautifully shot by the incomparable Roger Deakins, amazingly acted by the entire cast, especially Hailee Steinfeld who plays Mattie Ross.

[narrating] Driver's name is Arthur Shea. Former Metro Police officer, fifty-seven years old. Soon as his partner leaves with the coal bag, Artie cracks a Herald, and he don't look up 'til the guy gets back. Marty Maguire. Cummins Armored courier. Five-ten, two-twenty, fifty-two years old. Picks up every Wednesday and Friday at exactly 8:12, makes a hundred and ten dollars a day, carries a Sig nine. And he's about to get robbed.
The sophomore directorial effort from director Ben Affleck initially got a very strong positive reaction from me, but I wasn't sure if it was Top 10 material. Upon revisiting though, it seemed much more gripping, and any problem I may have had with it could no longer remember. Jeremy Renner was also very good in it and he needs to be in more movies helmed by competent directors.

I just want to be perfect.
Fairly obvious choice as I'm sure this is on most peoples' lists. That's not going to take away from the brilliance of this film and its ability to prevent you from breathing comfortably. The third act of this film is one of the most intense of any film I've seen this year.

And now he's spinning, thank you for nothing, you useless reptile!
I have nothing against TOY STORY 3, while it may in the end win all awards over HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, this movie did for me what I imagine the TOY STORY franchise for all of those fans. It grabbed a hold of me and never let go. I find myself at times when I'm bored putting on the scene where Hiccup is learning how to fly Toothless, and that scene combined with John Powell’s score instantly turn me into that 11 year old that may have very well ended up falling in love with TOY STORY, instead, for me, it's Toothless and Hiccup instead of Woody and Buzz.

I'm in lesbians with you.
The adorable tale of Scott Pilgrim trying to woo the elusive Ramona Flowers (played beautifully by the goddess that is Mary Elizabeth Winstead) was one of the more highly anticipated films of the year for me. It's always great when a movie delivers exactly what you're expecting out of it, and then even surpasses those expectations. A truly great film that underperformed at the box office, yet was amongst the list of most pirated movies for the year, very heartbreaking indeed.

People wanna go online and check out their friends, so why not build a website that offers that.
I'm talking about taking the entire social experience of college and putting it online. This choice, besides being a great movie comes solely out of my love for Aaron Sorkin's writing style. The quickest way to this cinephile’s heart is through smart dialogue and intelligent characters, two Sorkin screenplay staples that are present throughout this entire film.

Brian Kelley
Writer/Associate Editor

I wrestled long and hard with putting this film on my list. More than a movie, ENTER THE VOID is the most unique theater experience you could possibly have this year. A stunning assault of colors and sounds, there has not been anything like it before and, I pray, never again. It's a film that will rustle up every possible emotion over the course of its near-three hour runtime- I loved it and hated it at the same time. The thing is, though, it's a theater experience, not a movie one will likely be able to appreciate fully at home. One must be trapped (yes, trapped) in a dark theater in order for Noe to have complete control over the entire ordeal of one's viewing of the film. It's surely the most challenging film on my list and also, sadly, the one with the most limited reach. Should it play near you ever, you should at least give it a try without hesitation.

Anticipation for Yoshihiro Nakamura's follow up to the (almost) unanimously adored 2009 Fantastic Fest darling FISH STORY could not be higher. So imagine the shock of finding out that his newest film is even better. Following a much more straightforward narrative while preserving every bit of the sense of fun present in FISH STORY, GOLD SLUMBER is crowd pleasing mystery-thriller that's more about its characters than its central charade. The tale of a man framed for the murder of Japan's prime minister and the relationships he must return to in the hometown he left spoke to my soul more than any other film this year.

Shion Sono may very well be my favorite living director and my expectations for each of his new films are impossibly high. Based on a true story, COLD FISH tells the tale of Shamoto, a tropical fish store owner and head of a dysfunctional family, who soon becomes wrapped up with a husband and wife serial killer team. Through the course of the next two and half hours we are treated to a methodical spiral into insanity punctuated by trademark Sono jabs at religion, fads and fatherhood all capped off by a finale sure to shock and repulse many. It's deceptive in its straightforward beginning before descending into pure Sono lunacy. After a single viewing I suspect it may be his most assured work and I look forward to watching it many more times in the future.

A thriller concerned mainly with unspoken personal secrets hidden amongst the uniformly strong characters makes this Argentinian film completely deserving of the foreign language Oscar it received. Once it opened in the US, I made my way to the theater completely unprepared for how blown away I would be by the quality of the performances, plot and direction. Two of my favorite cinematic moments of the year are contained in this film (both involving a soccer stadium and the events that unfold within). Riveting from start to finish.

One begins to grow weary of documentaries about odd individuals that crop up in droves at festivals. Far to often they are less insightful than they are exploitative. At SXSW this year I walked into MARWENCOL cautiously and came out having experienced of the best documentaries of its kind. The subject is Mark Hogancamp, a man who suffered a traumatic head injury and now deals with putting the pieces of his life back together by taking stunning photographs of a miniature world of his creation. The film ends up dealing with some very serious issues regarding art and who it belongs to. It's never anything less than captivating and truly respectful of its subject.

Edgar Wright delivers yet another candy-filled gift to the geeks of the world with an effortlessly kinetic comic come to life. I saw this film in theaters more times than any other this year and even on the 5th screening I was finding new hidden details. In terms of new advances in how a film can be constructed and how momentum of narrative can be achieved, there was no better example this year than SCOTT PILGRIM. Oh, it's also hilarious and touching with incredible music.

A writer and director at the top of the game gather some talented young actors to tell a story that, as it turns out, is one of the most important of our lifetimes. The face of social interaction has been morphing before our very eyes. Why? THE SOCIAL NETWORK doesn't seek to answer that question directly, but by digging into the real lives of those involved in the creation of the platform that more or less put a name to that shift in social ideology it certainly provides a grounds for understanding.

This is the best film I've ever seen that I would recommend to nobody. Seriously, I hope you never see it. The fact that I did, though, allowed me to experience one of the most powerful pieces of cinema imaginable, a film that packs a truly physical punch. Buried beneath the surface is real emotion, a rage so great the filmmakers saw fit to put some of the most disturbing images conceivable on screen to make a point. Hopefully it's not lost on those seeking only to push their own limits or have a desire to be "grossed out." I can't deny the power of a film that disgusts me as much as A SERBIAN FILM did this year.

A family lives on a remote estate in the Grecian countryside, the children are never allowed to leave and they are taught a skewed stream of vocabulary and rules. Why? It doesn't matter. Director Giorgos Lanthimos never allows his camera to pass judgement on the events on screen. It is this complete insistence on never providing a grounding for subtext that makes the film so strangely compelling. If you don't give into it, it will frustrate. However, losing yourself in the strangeness of it all will provide a beautiful, fascinating and (at times) hilarious experience.

Italian horror cinema of the '70s and '80s holds a very special place in my heart. That Aronofsky chose to filter his ballerina story through Soavi and Bava-esque sensibilities made BLACK SWAN the richest film experience of the year for me. Even without the predestined appreciation for the techniques used to create this wicked horror-thriller, one can't help but be beholden to its earnest weirdness. With a stunning lead performance by Natalie Portman, Barbara Hershey reminding us why we love her, and Mila Kunis falling into a role it feels like she was born to play, BLACK SWAN's cast plays everything right so as to keep the odder moments from becoming silly. Aronofsky is one of my favorite filmmakers and this is his best work yet.

Gwen Reyes

Gwen Reyes

Back in November I started getting really worried about my year-end best-of list. I honestly couldn’t think of ten movies that I enjoyed so much that I had to share them. 2010 was kind of all over the map with movies, some good, some terrible (looking at you, IRON MAN 2), but it wasn’t until THE SOCIAL NETWORK that I started to think maybe this year could show some potential. After lots of thinking, and three days of Christmas movie marathons, I finally constructed a list of my favorite 2010 movies. I decided to embrace the diverse offerings and celebrate the outstanding indies, the envelope-pushing studio pictures, and the off-kilter genre movies that defined this year.

I saw MARWENCOL in March at SXSW, and fell in love. Who would ever think a movie about a man who is beaten to near death and then photographs a world of dolls would be equal parts moving, hilarious, and tragic? The movie went on to win the festival’s documentary category, and has been touring the country on the festival circuit. It was a great way to kick off a year of great documentaries, and unlike many of the popular summer docs, it does not leave the audience questioning the validity of the subject’s story.

Russell Brand nailed it this summer as drug-addicted Aldous Snow, a character he originally played in Nick Stoller’s FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL. His quirky heroin-fueled performance had me laughing until I cried, and then laughing some more. As a bonus, Aldous also offers the best life advice out there: If someone passes you a Jeffery, just rub the furry wall.

Natalie Portman’s performance in BLACK SWAN has garnered the young actress so much attention the last two months. The movie is visually stunning, dark, confusing, and nail-bitingly suspenseful. A drama that pulls more from horror, BLACK SWAN not only deserves multiple viewings, it might actually demand it.

It seemed that 2010 was the year of the, pardon me, man trapped in a closet movie with both BURIED and 127 HOURS released this fall. Maybe it’s because I saw BURIED first or maybe it’s because being buried alive is infinitely more terrifying to me than getting my arm stuck under a boulder, but I think BURIED blew 127 HOURS out of the water. I’m now adding being buried alive with a snake to the top of my list of irrational fears.

I always thought Ben Affleck was the dreamier of his coupling with Matt Damon. Tall, handsome, and brunet, what more could a lady ask for? To find out that he’s also an incredibly talented director just sealed the deal.

This next one can leave you asking one of two questions: “What is DAYBREAKERS?” or “Gwen, really???” Let’s address the first one, DAYBREAKERS came out in February after having been shelved for a few years. The last two years have been good for vampire movies, and DAYBREAKERS asks what happens when the vampires’ food source is gone? It’s a question not often addressed in vampire movies and I was completely engaged the entire time I watched this movie (and the many times since). Yes, the ending is not as stellar as it could be, but as a whole it is a self-aware horror movie, and we rarely get to see those anymore.

Speaking of redefining a genre. Hello, TRUE GRIT. The Coen brothers took a huge gamble by remaking a Western staple - even if it’s really more an adaptation of the original novel - and their gamble paid off. Jeff Bridges gives a powerhouse performance that is both dark and hilarious. He is the only person who could have worn John Wayne’s eye patch, and he wore it well.

Romantic comedy is not a genre I have liked in a long time. It’s hard to find catharsis in pretty people’s love foibles when you’ve had a few heartbreaks. But there was something different about GOING THE DISTANCE. Just like YOU’VE GOT MAIL cutely touched on the beginning of online dating, DISTANCE kept a level head when addressing the difficulties of long distance dating. Drew Barrymore and Justin Long were adorable together, but it was Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, and Christina Applegate who really made this movie. Fart and dick jokes are always great when paired with a classy romance.

I almost forgot this one when making my first draft of this list. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat at 10 AM when I saw this last February. The acting, perfectly bleak cinematography, and plot twists made THE GHOST WRITER one of the most suspenseful movies of 2010. It’s honestly a shame that it came out so early in the year, I doubt I’m the only one who almost forgot about it.

Another festival find, WE ARE THE SEA is the perfect movie for anyone in love with the following: Iron and Wine, beards, lost heroes, and winter. I have not stopped talking about it since I saw it in April, and admit that if I had watched the screener at home I wouldn’t have loved it as much. WE ARE THE SEA is the rare indie that needs to be enjoyed on the big screen, which is hard in the day of DVD and On-Demand. But if you have the chance to see this lyrical melodrama, make time for it. You will not be disappointed.


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