GATW Newsies’ Top 10 of 2010
This year has been one of growth for this little movie website that could, as we were privileged to be joined by a bevy of beautiful new writers, each with their own unique voice, style, and tastes. With this came diversity and eclecticity in our content - multiple viewpoints on one film in the daily news, thought-provoking editorials on a weekly basis, and even our very own Gordon and the Whale podcast where you could actually hear these varied voices week to week. Not to mention the fact that just about all of the writers that were with us at the time helped to provide GATW's extensive coverage at this year's SXSW, giving you, our readers, round-the-clock information on just about every film that screened there.
In simpler terms, a lot of movies were seen in 2010 by the collective known as the newsies. Below you will see that very diversity that we pride ourselves on having. And while their lists may be very different from one another, there is one thing in common between them all. A love for cinema. And it's that love that brings us, the writers and the readers, all together.
We've loved providing content on all things film in 2010 as much as we hoped that you've enjoyed reading it! But I assure you it's only the beginning. Enjoy! -James Wallace, Managing Editor
10. THE FIGHTER
It isn’t often that I’m ever as surprised with movies as I was when I watched THE FIGHTER earlier this month. The film sports three of the year’s best performances, all from people who I don’t normally love. The Oscar is Christian Bale’s to lose this year, which is something I never expected to write. Mark Wahlberg had one hell of a performance, one that signifies something of a comeback for an actor I’d all but written off. It couldn’t have been a better parallel, a comeback story full of actors making comebacks.
CATFISH could easily be seen as a parallel to both THE SOCIAL NETWORK and DOGTOOTH, two other films on this list. Instead, it takes the form of a documentary- the truth and legitimacy of which has drawn questioning from just about everyone. Which is just one aspect of the deeply, “meta,” ideas of CATFISH. Everything from the reactions to the film to the marketing all contribute to the philosophical contentions of the film, a feat that is definitely worthy of praise.
8. BLACK SWAN
Darren Aronofsky, the man behind fantastic films like REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and THE FOUNTAIN, made one of 2010’s most psychologically horrific films. I can put up with zombies, slasher villains, and insane asylums. It’s when you show a good person losing their mind on screen that I start to feel the effects of a horror film. And that is exactly what BLACK SWAN is, the physical and emotional transformation of a once chaste and dedicated young ballerina.
7. TRUE GRIT
It's been a scant few hours since I finished watching TRUE GRIT, making it the most recent film I watched on this list. However, even with such a short amount of time I've come to the conclusion that it's one of the most well crafted films of the year. It's articulately directed, which results in three amazing performances- Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn, Matt Damon as LeBoeuf the Texas Ranger, and, most notably, Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross. The Coen Brothers continue, in my mind, with one hell of a streak of great filmmaking.
6. TERRIBLY HAPPY
This film, a Danish neo-noir with hints of dark comedy, is about an ostracized police officer who is reassigned to a remote town in the country side. Once there, he is forced to contend with other powerful forces in the town. At first glance, the film is simply a well constructed story with riveting characters. Upon further examination, a Weberian analysis of human institutions emerges- a theme that transcends language and cultural barriers.
Bong Joon-ho, one of the best directors working today, brought his latest film, MOTHER, to American shores. And for that, I thank him. This movie is emblematic of the burgeoning South Korean film movement, one that I contend will be studied by film students in the decades to come. The movie follows a mother who spends the duration of the film attempting to prove that her son is innocent of murder. This is no small task for one of my favorite characters in 2010, one who lacks an education or any semblance of social capital. It’s one hell of a film backed up by superb direction and a great performance.
4. WINTER'S BONE
WINTER’S BONE features my favorite performance of the year, that of Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly, a girl who is forced to either find her father or prove he’s dead in order to save her family’s house. It’s the story of a young girl who is forced to abandon any notion of adolescence or childhood and is forced into adulthood all too early. There’s more emotional resonance from this single character in WINTER’S BONE than in any other movie this year.
3. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
Banksy, the infamous street artist behind some of the best contemporary art, has solidified himself as one of the most interesting individuals in my mind. His film, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, is definitely one of the most interesting films of the year. This British sort-of documentary is a film that asks questions, rather than provides answers to them. It wonders about the nature of creation, the implications of artistic endeavor, and the responsibility that artists do or don’t, should or shouldn’t, take for their creations.
2. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
To say that THE SOCIAL NETWORK is the most important film of the year is an easy statement for me to make. I believe it represents a completely new approach for analysis of our post-Internet world. Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg and Aaron Sorkin’s flawless script take a close look at our culture’s changing landscape, one that defines success as rooted in social isolation, elitist mentality, and billions of dollars.
Out of everything I’ve seen this year, nothing has come close to DOGTOOTH. It’s continued to inspire deep thought within me, months after I first saw it. I feel as though there is a common theme with my favorite films of 2010- many of them ask the question, “What does it mean to live in our modern world?” DOGTOOTH doesn’t just ask this question, it answers it in one of the most strikingly cynical ways possible. And or that, I love it.
10. I SAW THE DEVIL
I'm a sucker for Korean filmmaking, there is just something about the boldness of films that come out of the country that really captivate me. Ji-Woon Kim (A TALE OF TWO SISTERS) is no exception. I SAW THE DEVIL is his fourth consecutive film to rock my world. Elevating the film, Choi Min-Sik gives his best performance since OLDBOY and Byung-Hun Lee plays it colder than a cube. At first glance the film seems like your run-of-the-mill thriller but as you dive deeper into the madness it becomes very clear that I SAW THE DEVIL is a beast all its own.
9. I'M STILL HERE
Speaking of madness, I'M STILL HERE blows past the realm of believability and into the depths of the surreal. We all now know I'M STILL HERE is a fake documentary, but the comedy and brilliance is all real. Joaquin Phoenix has never looked better towel-whipping a naked albino after doing lines of coke off hookers. Yeah, it's that good.
8. VALHALLA RISING
Mads God Damn Mikkelsen. What else do I need to say here? VALHALLA RISING is director Nicolas Winding Refn's latest Danish masterpiece. The film itself is somewhat of a challenge to watch but ultimately on of the most rewarding film experiences of the year. VALHALLA RISING feels like ANTICHRIST set in 1000 AD, with less naked psychos, but with more reigning chaos.
CATFISH is nearly impossible to describe without ruining the mystery (which is half the fun). Essentially, CATFISH is about a semi-douchey guy who engages in a semi-bizarre online relationship. The film has been the target of a lot of criticism regarding its validity, but the film doesn't need to be "true" to touch on something that is real. CATFISH with shake you up and leave you in tears, it's the kind of film that makes a bigger statement than it may have intended originally.
6. RED RIDING: IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1974
Many people will look at THE SOCIAL NETWORK as the film that put Andrew Garfield on the map. But those lucky enough to have seen the first installment of the three-part RED RIDING series know otherwise. 1974 is the most focused piece of the RED RIDING puzzle and also the most entertaining to watch. Sean Bean gives a devilish performance which provides a great foil to Garfield's naive yet ambitious character. RED RIDING left me jumping out of my seat and screaming for more.
5. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
Disclaimer: I may have been predisposed to love this film as I may, in fact, be Scott Pilgrim. I feel confident putting it in the top five movies of the year because I'm not the only one who feels a kinship with Scott Pilgrim. Director Edgar Wright should go down as the first person to perfectly capture the feel of a comic book on-screen. This isn't so much a film as it is an experience. SCOTT PILGRIM is one of the most fun films of 2010 and contains my one of my favorite performances of the year (Kieran Culkin as Wallace Wells). Equal parts thrilling, hilarious, and somber; I've got a cinema crush on SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD.
4. UNDER GREAT WHITE NORTHERN LIGHTS
I've never been a massive fan of The White Stripes, though I do enjoy large portions of their catalogue. The brilliance of UNDER GREAT WHITE NORTHERN LIGHTS is that you don't even have to KNOW of The White Stripes to feel the powerful impact of the film. Following the band on a tour across Canada, LIGHTS paints the clearest picture of Jack and Meg White's electric relationship without ever showing its hand. Visually, the film captures the band's asthetic and in some cases lends to the appeal of their infectious music. Adding weight to UNDER GREAT WHITE NORTHERN LIGHTS the pair broke up shortly after the tour ended, and you can feel that tension throughout the film, leading to one of the most emotionally striking scene in 2010.
3. WINTER'S BONE
WINTER'S BONE is an all-around delightful surprise. Director Debra Granik is a relatively untested director, Jennifer Lawrence is still a young face in cinema, and John Hawkes has yet to find a role that perfectly fits his enormous talent. But none of that exists after WINTER'S BONE. The film is beautifully shot and captures the tone of the despondent Ozark Mountain's perfectly. There is no misstep in the deliberate performances of Lawrence and Hawkes and "Ree" and "Teardrop". Unrelentingly bleak, WINTER'S BONE is a film that deserves more attention this awards season.
2. TRASH HUMPERS
You may expect a film with a title like TRASH HUMPERS to be one of the most absurd films ever. You'd be right. TRASH HUMPERS is a sociopathic opera directed by Harmony Korine. The plot is exactly what the title suggest and yet is a thousand things more below the surface. I don't think I've seen a film this terrifying in years, but unlike other shock-films, TRASH HUMPERS has something to say. The brilliance of TRASH HUMPERS is that the message is completely unique to the viewer. I personally find TRASH HUMPERS to be a commentary on the desensitization of our society and the terrors of sub-cultures run amok. Whatever it may be, TRASH HUMPERS is as ambitious as a film can get.
1. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
If you haven't noticed yet, 2010 is the year of the "documentary." Some of this year's docs have been 100% real, others were manufactured, and some have used the documentary asthetic to a story's benefit. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is all of these things and more. A film by the notorious Banksy, EXIT THROUGH is a documentary on the roots of street art, the story of one man's decent into madness, and a commentary of what art is. I don't think there is a piece of this film that is not deliberate. Banksy is using film as an art form to talk about art…freaking' meta. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is one of the most re-watchable films of 2010 and also the most entertaining. I love films because they provide a platform for stories told in a way that no other art form can tell them, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is the definition of this mentality.
This film shows how an entire country can be seduced just as easily as a woman. Giovanna Mezzogiorno's operatic performance alone makes this one worthwhile.
9. WILD GRASS (LES HERBES FOLLES)
WILD GRASS is like any other romantic comedy in which an unusual circumstance brings two people together. In the film, as in life, there is little explanation of random events. At 87, Resnais is still reminding us of why we love the movies, because anything can and will happen.
7. DADDY LONGLEGS
In the vein of Casavettes, this is an honest and darkly humorous portrayal of parenting in the modern age. Parents don't have all the answers and at times they make selfish, and sometimes dangerous, decisions. But hopefully at the end of the day, we can sit back and laugh and just be glad that nobody died.
6. FOUR LIONS
This is bold and audacious filmmaking. Nowadays, the threat of terrorism is a reality of everyday life. If we can't laugh at that, what can we laugh at? This film shows us how dangerous extremist views can be, as even the dimmest of wits can be moved to action by their convictions.
5. EVERYONE ELSE
An honest portrayal of a relationship on the verge of collapse. Nothing is exactly keeping them together and nothing in particular is driving them apart. But isn't that how it always is?
4. WINTER'S BONE
Netflix is constantly giving me suggestions based on its perception that I have a preference for films with "strong female leads." This film totally embodies that. As Ree wanders the Ozarks in pursuit of her deadbeat father, she encounters many reasons to be afraid. But when she tells her brother, "there's a bunch of stuff you're going to have to get over being scared of," you know that she has come to this realization out of necessity and it isn't just something to say.
3. TRASH HUMPERS
Reminiscent of watching skate videos and JACKASS in my youth. Korine may have created a whole new category of outsider in this one, but they are not much different from my thrift-store shopping analog over digital fetishizing contemporaries.
We are all a product of how we are raised. No two families are alike, but one thing we all have in common is that we each have one no matter how "normal," dysfunctional, or estranged they might be. DARKLY funny and unsettling, this movie is a strange invitation into a family you hope doesn't really exist.
1. BLACK SWAN
A spellbinding depiction of a magnificent undoing. I really need to see it again.
Honorable Mentions: ENTER THE VOID, NEVER LET ME GO, I AM LOVE, MARWENCOL, A PROPHET, MOTHER, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP.
10. TINY FURNITURE
The SXSW award winner, and second feature from writer/director/actor Lena Dunham, is a stunning little piece of work. Very much in the vein of films from Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson, or its closest relative, the works of Whit Stillman, the “doomed-college-grad-in-the-real-world” masterpiece from Dunham is a fantastic look at both alienation, and the strive to fit it. Dunham gives a ferocious performance as Aura, a recent college graduate, looking to find a place in the world. With a striking sense of alienating cinematography and framing, the film may be low in budget, but it’s absolutely brimming with style, philosophical depth, and emotional resonance.
9. SHUTTER ISLAND
Lost amongst both the yearly malaise and the subsequent hullabaloo unleashed surrounding the fellow Leonardo DiCaprio starrer, INCEPTION, SHUTTER ISLAND has often been called “minor-Scorsese,” but no film in 2010 has been so singularly proud of its genre stylings, that it’s hard to not admire it. Featuring a cavalcade of great performances, the film may be, superficially, a stylistic ode to B-thrillers, but it’s far more along the lines of a frightening tale of a man trying to cope with the loss of both innocence, and more physically, his lover. Scorsese has rarely gone this off the hinges both narratively and visually, that SHUTTER ISLAND is simply a thrilling masterpiece that sees its director having an infectious amount of fun behind the camera.
8. TRUE GRIT
There is nothing quite like a good Western. And with the latest film from the Coen brothers, it is once again proven that no one quite makes a film like these two. Featuring great performances from everyone involved, the film is stunningly crafted, darkly humorous, and simply a true blue crowd pleaser. Not quite the world shaker that both NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN or A SERIOUS MAN were, this film is no less stunning. A true actors' piece, the film is gorgeous, perfectly acted, and easily one of the year’s most engaging narratives. This is an absolute must-see.
7. NEVER LET ME GO
NEVER LET ME GO, the latest from director Mark Romanek, is both your quintessential period actors' piece, as well as a hauntingly poetic look at love, loss, and what, at our core, makes us truly human. A mixture of CHILDREN OF MEN story and style, and the aesthetic of a Merchant Ivory production, NEVER LET ME GO, Romanek’s adaptation of a classic Kazuo Ishiguro novel, is a tone poem if there’s ever been one. Brooding, and yet poetic, this neo-sci-fi film may go down as the year’s most underrated film. Emotionally powerful, NLMG tugs on every heartstring you have, and is ultimately a meditation on the nature of humanity. An absolute must-see.
6. INSIDE JOB
Just what those Wall Street jackoffs deserved. Charles Ferguson’s body blow known as INSIDE JOB is again proof that while names like Alex Gibney and Morgan Spurlock may be getting the publicity, it’s Ferguson that, after his previous film, NO END IN SIGHT, proves to be the best working documentary filmmaker. Filled with a dense amount of information, the film neither talks down to its audience, nor expects it to have a Ph.D. Far and away the year’s most entertaining documentary, this film proves that while it’s easy to blame Wall Street executives, it’s actually human nature that did us all in. Anger-inducing, INSIDE JOB will leave you talking about it for days. Just what any documentary should do.
5. WHITE STRIPES: UNDER GREAT WHITE NORTHERN LIGHTS
It’s hard for me to truly become enraptured by a rock documentary. Focusing more on the reactions of the audience, there has always been a superficial nature to the music documentary. However, UNDER GREAT WHITE NORTHERN LIGHTS destroys that notion. The film, directed by Emmett Malloy, is about two sonic lovers saying their final goodbyes. Every moment is as intimate as an Ingmar Bergman film, with the raw attitude that have made The White Stripes gods amongst their fans. Concluding with one of the most emotionally resonate moments of the year, UGWNL is more than a rock documentary. It’s more than a film. It’s a document of two jilted lovers trying to give it one final hurrah through their music.
4. WINTER’S BONE
Debra Granik’s piece of Southern Gothic noir, WINTER’S BONE is the best neo-noir film that you’ll see. Playing on beats ranging from the aforementioned genre to classic Westerns, the film features a series of performances, particularly the lead Jennifer Lawrence, the detective tale is a fantastic piece of neo-neo-realist filmmaking that, while suffering from the same problems that hinder other films of that genre, is one of the most stunning pieces of narrative filmmaking you’ll find around. Featuring top tier performances, WINTER’S BONE is a fantastic film that hits every single note with the style of a gritty blues musician.
3. VALHALLA RISING
It goes without saying that yours truly is a fan of director Nicolas Winding Refn. However, no film this year proved that the director behind it is a filmmaker to be reckoned with quite like the Danish auteur’s VALHALLA RISING. A haunting and meditative look at a Viking warrior and his battles with men, religion, and the world around him is both a poetic piece of Terrance Malick-like filmmaking, as well as David Lynchian madness. The film is a deftly atmospheric look at what happens when a warrior's mentality meets that of a person of faith, and how the two aren’t all that singular. A Masters class in mood in every sense of the word, VALHALLA RISING proves that there is not a single more exciting filmmaker working today than Refn. Eat your heart out, Chris Nolan.
2. TRASH HUMPERS
There are many filmmakers that push the cinematic envelope. However, none toss it squarely over the edge, light it on fire, and then shoot it on a grainy VHS camcorder quite like experimental performance art auteur Harmony Korine. His latest film, TRASH HUMPERS, is both quaint in its nuance, and frightening in its portrayal of human beings who honestly aren’t too far away from us. The physical manifestation of each human’s ID, the Freudian horror film that is TRASH HUMPERS is both visually visceral in its VHS-blown-up-to-35mm style, and intellectually the most stimulating film I’ve seen in years. The unflinching look at humans, like you or I, simply without a moral compass, is simply put, the best damn piece of narrative cinema you’ll see this year. Unlike anything you’ve ever seen, this is art at its most experimental. It’s art at its most pure. It’s art at its most haunting. It’s art at its truly most interesting.
1. BLACK SWAN
While many people may say that the visionary filmmaker of this generation resides over in the world of WB, Batman, and poorly done third acts (yes, I’m looking at you, Chris Nolan), it is Darren Aronofsky that is truly this era’s auteur. BLACK SWAN is the director’s latest film, and while it may not be his best, or his most thematically interesting, it is one of his most purely crafted. Featuring career best performances from both Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, the film is a stunning look at the artistic experience, and the obsession that not only leads to the creation of art, but the destruction of the artist. A body horror film on par with the likes of IN MY SKIN or any David Cronenberg film, BLACK SWAN has Polanski style mental thrills that will leave every frame of the film burned onto your retinas. Simply put, it’s the year’s best film.
10. THE TOWN
This is a film I didn't catch till the very end of the year, despite my excitement over seeing Ben Affleck's second directorial effort. The film is certainly flawed, but I feel it further cements Affleck as a director. Give him ten years, I'm positive he will be considered one of the best out there.
I've said many times that KICK-ASS feels like it was made for me. It has superheroes, gruesome violence, and excessive cursing, all things that make up some of my favorite films. I could watch this film on repeat.
8. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
It isn't hard for a geek to love SCOTT PILGRIM, as it successfully blended modern cinema with epic levels of nostalgia. They took all the best things from the comics, mixed it with Edgar Wright's talents and made the most rewatchable film of the year.
7. TOY STORY 3
As someone who was roughly Andy's age at the time when the first TOY STORY was released, it was really easy to relate to this film. Growing up with these characters and seeing their evolution was truly something remarkable. So very touching.
INCEPTION is truly a marvel of a film, and proof that even a big budget film can have not only stunning visuals, but smart ones. This film, along with THE PRESTIGE, is proof that Chris Nolan will have no problems making films after Batman.
BROTHERHOOD is the kind of film that you want to share with all your friends. Every twist and turn leaves you wondering and excited, with the fast pace never stopping. The final payoff is amazing, and totally gratifying in every way.
4. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
In Fincher we trust. In the hands of anyone other than David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin, this film probably would have been a disaster. Yet the performances, writing, and direction was top notch. It is surely to be a film that is talked about for years to come.
3. BLACK SWAN
Aronofsky can do wrong, BLACK SWAN is a testament to that. He successfully created a companion piece to THE WRESTLER and evolved that style of filmmaking into something simple mesmerizing. Bravo.
2. TRASH HUMPERS
Although Harmony Korine may not be a household name, he certainly is known by film fanatics. TRASH HUMPERS shows that creativity can fuel an entire film, even if it doesn't have a cohesive story in the traditional sense. He also shows that even in the digital age, sometimes VHS is the way to go.
DOGTOOTH is not only an intriguing story about the human condition, that is hilarious, confusing, and oftentimes horrifying. It is the kind of film that makes you really consider what makes human beings so special. Simply spellbinding.
10. IRON MAN 2
This film was high anticipation for me, and ended up being an epic (and, at times cheesy) superhero film. Jon Favreau also has a great pace for comedy without it feeling overused. While many may not have this on their top ten of the year, there was no way I couldn't.
9. TRUE GRIT
An easy pick, a Coen brothers film that is right up there with O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. What I enjoyed so much about this was the unapologetic humor in the cold hand of Rooster Cogburn and his Colt pistol. I also enjoyed how it paid homage to the original, yet it still was able to garner a new set of fans and be it's own film separate from the "remake" status.
8. ROBIN HOOD
I kind of enjoy that over-saturated, grainy look that so many filmmakers are using today, even if it's slightly overused. This spin on the original story of Robin Hood took the usual thought of him and showed him as more of a leader/loyalty-deserving kind of guy. It wasn't about all the things he did so much as his abilities in honesty and courage and that's what drew me to put this in my number 8. Also, it was a great popcorn flick.
7. THE GHOST WRITER
Maybe it's because I dream of becoming a writer and I love a good detective story, but this had all those great elements, not to mention it's Roman Polanski. Een though he still can't come back to the U.S., he can still make a good movie.
6. FAIR GAME
I enjoy a good conspiracy story, especially when you really have to pay attention or you will be lost. That's where this falters a bit, because I felt it didn't give a enough context at times - but if you really pay attention like I had to, you will be surprised at how good the film is.
5. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
For some reason I am in love with this film, I just remember watching it thinking that it has a little bit if everything that people love in movies - suspense, drama, romance, and is overall just plain cool.
4. TOY STORY 3
How can you improve on the original? It rarely happens, but with the team at Disney/Pixar, they did. It pulled on my heartstrings and made me remember what it was like when I was 10 seeing the original for the first time and loving every second.
3. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
David Fincher can make a movie. The dialogue is what really pulled me in and made me find the story and characters' interests so engrossing, I couldn't tear my attention away from it
Easily the most anticipated film for me, the more and more I see Christopher Nolan's films, it's hard for me to find fault with his work, I will be a fan of no matter what project he is attached to. This film really takes on the idea that a filmmaker making a con movie can pull a con on the audience, and I loved that about it. This is a film that we still talk about, many love it, a lot hate it, but not all come up with the same idea as to how it ends and what's real and what is not, and that is what I love about it.
1. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
It's tough to come up with reasons why this wouldn't be on the top of my list, maybe I just love comic/graphic novel to film adaptations, but this particular one felt so faithful to the actual comic material. Edgar Wright is also so, so good at comedic timing, he really can map out a script and make the pace of a film feel like so much happens, yet nothing feels rushed. Visually this film is so good, I am a nerd at heart and with all the classic game references, I was in love. One thing that made me nervous was the action, I wasn't sure how it would be done and not feel overdramatic or too campy, but in my opinion the action was really good and choreography was done very well. Another thing I loved about this film was that, for me, it felt like the first time I saw a really confident Michael Cera - he pulled it off well and could easily make a lot of people want to emulate him and his hipster style.
2010 was not a fantastic year for cinema. With very few exceptions, the entire first half of the year was full of the cinematic equivalent of a hall of mirrors: essentially the same formulaic garbage we’ve seen time and time again, just with slightly different proportions. However, just when it looked like this might even turn out to be a worse year for movies than 2009 (which I think was perhaps the most atrocious I’ve ever lived through), the fall and winter season brought with them some pretty decent offerings. Though I saw around 140 movies theatrically this year, only one or two of the films on this list will probably ever come to be culturally considered among the all-time greats. And yet, while they might not be perfect, the others are still really damn good. During a year when mainstream blockbusters seemed to be even staler than usual, I found quite a few smaller independent projects that filled the void. It’s also worth pointing out that many of these films did not strike me as particularly inspired immediately after I saw them. I did not originally think they would make this list. However, looking back over the year, they stuck out. Each of these films touched, moved, shocked or elated me enough for them to stick in the back of my mind and keeping popping up in my thoughts. Surely when all the hype has died down and the initial wave of feeling has passed, that’s the true sign of a great film.
10. THE MYTH OF THE AMERICAN SLEEPOVER
Adolescence is a subject many films try to tackle but only a handful manage to get perfectly right. There is now a new addition to the latter. This low-budget feature debut from David Robert Mitchell carries more resonance in single scenes than most films do in their entirety, despite the fact that its premise (a bunch of teenagers spend one last summer weekend looking for love, friendship and connection) has been done before. Mitchell gets fantastically naturalistic performances from his cast of unknowns, and the result is a touching meditation on the period between childhood and adulthood. Definitely look out for this one when IFC releases it in theaters next year.
9. A SERBIAN FILM
In all likelihood, I will never see A SERBIAN FILM again. Once is enough. It’s not the kind of film I can claim to have “enjoyed.” It is the single most disturbing film I have ever seen. Its depiction of graphic sexual violence is so horrifying that many places, including the UK, have banned the uncensored version from ever being screened. Why it is on this list? Because art isn’t always pleasant, and I don’t think it can be denied that Srdjan Spasojevic’s film about an aging porn star who takes one last job that goes horribly awry is, in fact, art. This is not torture porn, or violence for the sake of violence. This is a film fueled by historical, cultural and sociological rage. In some respects it resonates primarily as a product of Serbian national trauma, but others of its themes are universal: the ethics of censorship, the role of the media in perpetuating violence, and the entrapment of the Everyman by larger social institutions, to name a few. I spent the last 20 minutes with my body physically shaking uncontrollably at what I was witnessing onscreen, but I came away feeling like I was punished purposefully rather than gratuitously.
8. THE AMERICAN
If you go in expecting Anton Corbijn’s film about an aging hitman working in Italy on his last assignment to be an action-packed thrill-ride of blood and mayhem, you’ll be disappointed. But if you can handle your films deliberate and meticulous, there’s a lot here to love. When the action scenes occur, they’re crafted efficiently and with visual flair, but those moments are few and far between. Most of the film’s runtime is spent developing mood and establishing the character of “Mr. Butterfly,” as he comes to be known, and in the hands of Corbijn it’s a fascinating and beautifully-shot journey. George Clooney gives one of the most subtle, controlled performances of his career as a haunted man seeking redemption, and when the bullets started to fly I actually found myself caring about his fate.
7. THE FREEBIE
This is what happens when talented writers and actors get together in a room and just film. Katie Aselton’s feature debut follows a couple (played by Dax Shepard and Aselton herself) who allow each other one night to have a “freebie” and sleep with other people. Armed with nothing but a six-page outline and a lot of heart, Aselton relied on extended improvisational takes (some lasting nearly an hour) to capture dialogue. The result is some of the most naturalistic performances I’ve seen all year, and a rare relationship drama that hits all the right emotional beats without coming across as preachy or phony.
6. FOUR LIONS
It’s been quite a year for first-time directors. British comedian Chris Morris is yet another who knocked his feature debut out of the park. This dark comedy follows a group of bumbling jihadists as they train to become terrorists and strike fear into the heart of the West. Who knew terrorism could be so funny? This film is what OBSERVE AND REPORT tried and failed to be: a subversive comedy about bad people that dares to make its subjects sympathetic. As a work of political satire, it’s brilliant, and as a work of comedy it’s just plain hilarious.
While I think there’s a deeper level of intelligence running through the film than most give it credit for, that’s not the reason KICK-ASS made this list. No, it made the list just because it’s one of the most purely fun experiences I had at a movie theater all year. The dialogue is witty, the characters are larger-than-life, and the action sequences are some of the most well-shot and edited of the past few years, reminding us that it is possible to create great violence without the use of shaky-cam and quick-cutting. Simply put: I had a blast.
While I think Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending heist film about dream manipulation is slightly overrated, there’s no denying it deserves a place on this list for sheer ambition and spectacle. The filmmaker was given $160 million to make this weird, ambitious brain-twister of a movie, and I came away wishing more studios were willing to take such risks. From Hans Zimmer’s booming score to its well-paced editing of multiple timelines, there’s a lot here to love. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a major blockbuster that actually dares the audience to – gasp! – think and work to keep up. In other words, it treats us like adults.
3. NEVER LET ME GO
One could argue that the most important question that faces mankind is that of our own mortality. Here’s a film that actually dares to examine that theme without coming across as heavy-handed (until the last 20 seconds, anyway) or simplistic. Set in 1970s Britain, this tale of friendship between three adolescents is one of the most heartbreaking looks at the human condition of the past decade. Director Mark Romanek uses a simple love triangle with a sci-fi twist to explore some of the most provocative philosophical questions ever asked. What is the price of immortality? What is the nature of art? Do we have souls, and if so, what defines them? The answers may not be clear, but that doesn’t stop the search from being beautiful and worthwhile.
2. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic book is, quite simply, the most fun I had in a movie theater all year, and emerges as the most successful translation of video game sensibilities and aesthetics to the big screen since… well, ever. Each frame is meticulously crafted and serves a specific function. The editing style is Oscar-worthy and potentially groundbreaking. And for a film about a guy who has to literally battle his girlfriend’s evil exes to the death, it’s surprisingly insightful and down-to-earth about the complexities of relationships. Trust me, whatever your preconceptions are, set them aside. You haven’t really seen anything like this before.
1. BLACK SWAN
I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that Darren Aronofsky is probably the greatest living American filmmaker. No other director makes projects that are as inventively-shot, tightly refined, personal, ambitious and thematically dense. He will toil for years, switch casts, and even slash his budget in half if that’s what it takes to get his vision to the screen. Well, he hasn’t ruined his track record. BLACK SWAN takes the psychological unwinding of PI and combines it with the body horror of THE WRESTLER and is the best psychological horror film in years. Natalie Portman’s depiction of Nina, a ballerina who begins a descent into madness when her life begins to mirror the events of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” merits all the awards that can (and probably will) be thrown at her. Freudian psychology, beauty ideals, patriarchy, and the destructive toll great art may take on its artist are only a few of the themes Aronofsky manages to explore in this gorgeous-looking new entry to an already astounding resume.
Honorable Mentions: CATFISH, DOGTOOTH, GASLAND, I AM LOVE, INSIDE JOB, LIKE A PASCHA, ME TOO, THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS, SHUTTER ISLAND, SPLICE, WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS, WINTER'S BONE.
This list was tough to narrow down. There may be a few surprises and some that might have made the cut if I could have seen them, but I hope you enjoy. Here are my Top 10 Movies of 2010, descending order to build the suspense!
10. STEP UP 3D
This is honestly the best use of 3D I’ve seen since AVATAR. Shot on the same type of cameras, it made the show stopping dance routines come alive. While the story and acting aren’t exactly high caliber, this was one of the most entertaining movies I watched this year.
9. THE SECRET OF THE KELLS
It has layers and history that I am not at all familiar with, but I enjoyed it regardless. You can enjoy its simple, concise story with beautiful imagery and animation without knowing the Irish symbolism and history that this movie is steeped in. A mark of a good film is how long it stays with you, and I was researching celtic mythology and folklore long after viewing.
This tightly written, claustrophobic piece rests solely on Ryan Reynolds' shoulders and he does a fantastic job. My heart was racing, I was laughing, I was crying – I was completely invested in this character’s plight in his small coffin. I wish this film had been distributed wider, I feel like it went completely under the radar.
Starkly original, it was a fantastic blend of a big idea and big budget. While some have knocked it for clunky exposition, I feel the unique idea needed that extra bit of explanation. Christopher Nolan has become a brand name director, with his previous critically acclaimed hits like MEMENTO, THE DARK KNIGHT, and INCEPTION just further solidified him as the director of the 21st century.
Disney movies will always have a special place in my heart, and this was the best non-Pixar Disney film in years. Last year’s THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG was a return to form, but this was them at the top of their game since the golden age of the early 90s. Lovable characters on a quest filled with heart, laugher, and good songs. It brought me right back to my childhood.
5. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
It was a strong year for documentaries, but it was easy for me to pick which one would land on this list. As a fan of Banksy’s street art, I’d been looking forward to this for a while and it did not disappoint. It gave us a look into the fascinating world of street art and then flipped in the middle to focus on a different beast entirely. Thoroughly entertaining, I recommend everyone add this to their Netflix Instant Queues now if you haven’t seen it.
4. BLACK SWAN
As the most recently seen film on my list, I’m still trying to properly put my feelings on it into words. An entirely visceral film, it had my heart racing while I was tensed in my seat. Blending high art like ballet with the more low brow genre of horror/suspense makes for an art house flick that should make some big money.
3. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
It's sharp writing, giving us an excellent look at Facebook and the internet start up age, with fascinating characters and top notch acting from Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake move this to near the top of my list. It’s currently sweeping all the critics awards leading up the Oscars, deservedly so, and I hope it can keep it up throughout the award season.
2. TOY STORY 3
I've loved these characters for 10 years and to see them in a new adventure - with suspense, laughs, and heart - was amazing. Further proving that animation isn’t only for children, Pixar may just have crafted their masterpiece with this one. Could this be the year an animated feature takes home Best Picture at the Oscars?
1. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
I loved this movie the first time I saw it, and my love has only grown with every repeat viewing. Edgar Wright seamlessly blends film and video game tropes to create a thoroughly modern romantic comedy. Michael Cera has experienced some backlash recently, but this seems like the role he was born to play. I have no doubt that this will just become more popular on Blu-Ray/DVD, because there’s no where to go but up from its disappointing box office performance.
Honorable Mentions: SHUTTER ISLAND, THE LOTTERY, THE GHOST WRITER, JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK. And I really wish I’d been able to see I LOVE YOU, PHILIP MORRIS and BLUE VALENTINE.
I am a fan of films that leave an impression, and try something new. I love films that are sure of themselves in content and form, and divide audiences. Although I did not get to see every film I wanted this year, I did see enough to make what is arguably this year's best top 10 list.
10. NEVER LET ME GO
It's an emotional film that made me actually feel for the characters occupying it. It features fine performances from the three leads, and tells an interesting story that had me emotionally attached from the beginning and never let me go.
9. VALHALLA RISING
If Terrence Malick directed AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD, it would turn out to be something like VALHALLA RISING. It is an important film because it is a throwback picture; a film that actually uses pictures to tell a story. The dialogue is minimal and unimportant, the images are breathtaking as well as thought-provoking. VALHALLA RISING is a visionary, nightmarish film that is not afraid to be quiet.
It's got something few summer blockbusters do: brain and brawn.
7. TOY STORY 3
TOY STORY 3 gives the first TOY STORY a run for its money. The film is lively, funny, and emotionally resonant. The film also does something that no film should: make a man in his mid-20's openly weep in the theatre.
6. TRUE GRIT
I love the film because it is a classic western that tinkers with archetypes. All the performances are great, but I would like to mention that Barry Pepper was especially impressive, as he will undoubtedly get overshadowed by Bridges, Damon, and newcomer Steinfeld.
5. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
The film is extremely entertaining, and it is awesome to see a film inspired by true events that occurred in my lifetime. THE SOCIAL NETWORK delivers exactly what it promises with its film lover's wet dream pairing of Sorkin and Fincher.
4. BEST WORST MOVIE
I was expecting to have a great time at BEST WORST MOVIE, a documentary that tells about the actors of TROLL 2, one of my favorite bad movies. I was not expecting BEST WORST MOVIE to be such a great film about failure, fandom, and fame. The film is hilarious one moment, and heartbreaking the next; a great documentary to be sure.
3. FISH TANK
While FISH TANK sounds like many other "broken family" films (young girl is mistreated by parent; behaves badly), it doesn't get caught in retread mode like it could have. The film has several cards up its sleeve, and Katie Jarvis gives an excellent performance.
2. ENTER THE VOID
It's a compelling, nauseating, seemingly endless film by Gaspar Noé, whose IRREVERSIBLE divided audiences much in the same manner as this film. ENTER THE VOID is too busy breaking rules and norms to create anything even resembling a straightforward narrative. The film is incredibly inventive technically. Any adventurous moviegoer should check this film out.
1. BLACK SWAN
Natalie Portman gives one of the year's best performances in the year's best film. BLACK SWAN is a dark, brilliantly shot film by Darren Aronofsky, a man who becomes more fascinating with each new film. BLACK SWAN is THE RED SHOES as directed by David Cronenberg. It's a scary film about obsession and greed that doesn't drag and genuinely shocks. Everyone gives a great performance and the film is thrilling, especially as it barely stays on the rails in its third act. BLACK SWAN is the best film of 2010 because it's a magnificently told tribute to films of the past, while still managing to be exciting and new.
Honorable Mentions: BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, MOTHER, PIRANHA 3D, SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, TRASH HUMPERS, VENGEANCE.
10. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
This probably would have been in my top five if the second half was as good as the first half. As it is, this film is a wonderful documentation of street art that eventually transforms into either a commentary on how art is all about perception, or an elaborate hoax by the director, and legendary street artist, Banksy. You do not need an interest or knowledge of street art in order to find this film fascinating.
9. BLACK SWAN
Darren Aronofsky is the new king of depressing films. It is actually a little odd that his last couple of films have come out around the holidays. This one may do to attendance at ballet schools what MIDNIGHT EXPRESS did for Turkish vacations. It is really beautiful the way this film is so good at making us feel so bad.
8. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE
Who said a myth cannot have a revisionist history? An evil Santa found buried in the Korvantunturi Mountains who beats or boils kids to death? Yes, please. This Finnish film knows that the world has both an infatuation for Santa Claus and a lust for the macabre. I wonder if this could become a Christmas classic with repeated viewings.
7. LET ME IN
This film would probably lose in a comparison battle with the original film, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, the Swedish film that ranked #2 on my list two years ago. That said, this is a great film on its own merits. Before these two films, I had not seen a vampire movie I had really enjoyed since THE LOST BOYS, and do not believe that there had been a truly great one since Werner Herzog’s NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE from 1979. It takes the concept of a young girl stuck as a vampire, much like in INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, but shows the true tragedy of such a predicament.
6. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
I would not be upset if this did not win the Best Picture award, but I would be scratching my head if it did not win the Best Original Screenplay. The dialogue is what makes this film tick and it was obvious from the first scene that this was going to be a film of heightened intelligence. TRUE GRIT is the only other film that came close in terms of dialogue, and that would be up for the adapted screenplay award. Oh, and since people keep comparing the two, Jesse Eisenberg is far and away a better actor than Michael Cera.
5. JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK
Maybe this film is so high on my list because of how pleasantly surprised I was. I was pretty much expecting some E! True Hollywood Story that hits the subject’s rise and fall, and catches a couple of sound bites. This film was so much more than that. Listening to Rivers uncensored made me feel like I knew her by the end of the film. She riffs on how she has hit rock bottom, how her daughter should ask for an extra $200,000 to pose for Playboy, and how she hates celebrities on the red carpet...all in the first two minutes of the movie.
4. THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
This film was actually released overseas in 2009, but it did not hit the US of A until 2010. It is out of Argentina and took home last year’s best Foreign Film Academy Award. It is a murder mystery that is the best I have seen in years. While very different, its story is as gripping as MEMENTO or L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and has a very convincing love story in the middle of it. The ending was as satisfying as any you will ever find in the mystery genre.
3. TRUE GRIT
This film was vastly superior to the original. I wish the Coens came out with a movie every week. It is tough to think of a single actor who did not outshine their counterpart from the 1969 version, and it was great to see that Barry Pepper is still alive. When compared to recent Oscar nominated performances for young actresses, such as Ellen Page in JUNO and Anna Kendrick in UP IN THE AIR, Hailee Steinfeld leaves them in the dust.
2. TOY STORY 3
I am one of the few who do not have TOY STORY or TOY STORY 2 in my top 5 Pixar Films. Now comes TOY STORY 3, which is my number one Pixar film ever. I cannot believe that I am of the opinion that the best villain in the movies this year was a teddy bear named Lotso Huggin’ Bear who smells like strawberries. I have seen it multiple times and, oddly enough, every time the end comes, I seem to get something caught in my eye.
1. A PROPHET
This is another 2009 film that got to us in 2010. This film was actually released overseas in 2009, but it did not hit the US of A until 2010. The basic fact is that this mash up between THE GODFATHER and ANIMAL FACTORY would be my number one film for either year. Tahar Rahim channels DeNiro’s version of Vito Coreone, playing a Muslim who rises through the ranks of the prison sector of the Corsican Mafia.