The best thing about 2010 is that it’s over. I’ve been writing film reviews, free hand and on this blog, for 11 years, and this past year was easily the worst. I usually have trouble slimming down my end of the year list to just 10 films. This year, I was hard pressed to think of 10. My top four are solid; they are game-changing measures of the film medium and will be remembered and mimicked for years. The rest are all worthy of your time, but they aren’t classics. Sorry if some of the titles don’t ring a bell; most of the mainstream movies didn’t really do it for me this year.
Top 10 of 2010
10. The American
I think I’m one of seven people who have actually seen this, but that matters little, because a good film is a good film, popularity be damned. Despite its title and leading star George Clooney – in a wonderfully restrained performance – The American is anything but domestic. It’s slowly paced, tersely written, and shot with purpose. Most of you probably haven’t paid this movie the time of day. Shame. It’s one of the best hidden treasures of this year. (Currently on DVD)
9. Winter’s Bone
Not many films released before November have the luxury of being remembered come Oscar time. And the margin slims even further when you’re talking about independent films. So, it’s a testament to Winter’s Bone – a beautifully realized, meticulously detailed drama about an impoverished teenager barely keeping her family afloat – that it has stayed above the radar since July. Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, and Dale Dickey are all fascinating; much like the film as a whole, you can’t take your eyes off them. (Currently on DVD)
8. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
I was tempted to clump the Millenium Trilogy together, but on second thought, this is the only one that best stands alone as an individual film. Crafting together source material that Hitchcock would be jealous of, in such a wildly successful way, is enough of an achievement. Having a force of nature like Noomi Rapace be the face of that great venture, well, that’s something else all together. Okay David Fincher, let’s see what you’ve got. (Currently on DVD and Netflix Instant)
7. I Am Love
Another indie darling that I came across by chance one lonely night while scouring my Netflix Instant queue. Thank God I did. Tilda Swinton delivers the best work of her impressive career as a quiet, out of place Russian woman who married into phenomenal Italian wealth. The film’s overall look and sound seem effortless, but they're the work of a very skilled, very purposeful director. (Currently on DVD and Netflix Instant)
6. Never Let Me Go
A great counterpoint to the lavishness of Inception, Never Let Me Go is most definitely a science fiction film, but you wouldn’t know it unless you pay close attention. Stamping this film with a one sentence plot description would do it a grave injustice. It’s far too original and engaging to have it ruined here. (On DVD Feb. 1)
The real shocker on my list is this indie curveball, which I had next to no interest in seeing, and was utterly blown away by the final result. It’s painfully slow, yes, but wholly deliberate. Stephen Dorff delivers a performance of such restraint and candor, it should vault him to the top of the A list. Critical response has been positive, but Somewhere isn’t attracting crowds, which is why it most likely won’t reach your local theatre. Bummer. All’s I want to do is watch it again, and then again. I’m dying over here. (Currently in, some, theatres)
4. The Social Network
One surprising thing about 2010 is that it has every major critic aligned, as most of them have chosen David Fincher’s Facebook flick as the best film of the year. It’s a wise choice, one backed by the year’s best screenplay and an ensemble of flawless acting performances. You can’t just watch The Social Network, you have to listen. A rare critical darling that everyone can enjoy. Don’t be surprised if it snags the Best Picture Oscar. (Currently on DVD)
It’s easy to knock a film like Inception, given its plethora of praise. Hype does that to pop culture: everyone else likes it, so we start to find things wrong with it. While Inception may have its fair share of naysayers, you have to make one hell of a compelling argument to call the film unnecessary and anything but completely fucking mind blowing. Me? I’m thinking ahead. Inception, like the greatest films stuck in the science fiction genre, is years (possibly decades) before its time. Just wait. Ten or 20 years from now, when the only sci-fi movies being released are about the effects of dreams, you’ll wonder what movie started it all. (Currently on DVD)
2. Blue Valentine
I didn’t know two characters better this year than Dean and Cindy from Blue Valentine. Maybe it’s because Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne and Joey Cutris’ script was so poignant and honest. Maybe it’s because Cianfrance’s direction made us feel like a fly on the wall in the best, most shocking way. Those are two good reasons, but I suspect that I knew Dean and Cindy so well because they were played so flawlessly by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Many roles demand a broad spectrum of emotions from the actor, and many roles demand that those emotions be played out simultaneously. But rarely are those emotions carried out so convincingly. I saw Blue Valentine only five days ago, which is to say, it’s the film on this list that is freshest in my mind. That hardly matters, due simply to the fact that I haven’t been able to shake it for one waking minute. I think Blue Valentine will be lingering around my subconscious for many a cold night to come. (Currently in threatres)
1. Black Swan
“I just saw Black Swan. The whole drive home from the theatre is a blur, now I’m sitting in my car trying to remember how to get out and walk. It was that good. Also I feel physically ill and am afraid to take a shower or look in the mirror. I’m 100% serious.”
That was the reaction my best friend had after seeing the best film of 2010. Loyal readers know I haven’t shut about this movie since I saw it in the beginning on December. And for good reason. It’s everything a contemporary movie should be: new, inventive, emotionally gripping, and wholly convincing. Natalie Portman delivered the best acting performance of the year as a tortured ballet dancer, and she should be awarded accordingly. Black Swan is the highlight of Darren Aronofsky’s already impeccable career. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “Perfect. It was perfect.” (Currently in threatres)
Most Disappointing Films
The Cove was my second favorite movie last year, but this year, I was left confused and dumbfounded by most of the mainstream documentaries. Waiting for “Superman” and Inside Job are earning rave reviews (one of them will likely win the Oscar) but I thought they came off as boring history lessons. And don’t even get me started on Catfish, Exit Through the Gift Shop and I’m Still Here; they had their moments, but a fake documentary is not a documentary, it’s a lame marketing ploy.
While A Prophet, The Secret in Their Eyes and The White Ribbon were all released in American theatres this calendar year, they were technically 2009 releases. Where the hell were the good foreign films of 2010?
I love Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding) and what he’s learned from the school of Wes Anderson. But I detested Greenberg, a trite, overzealous, boring mess of a film.
Note to Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott: you guys got lucky with Gladiator, but you’ll never duplicate its success. Stop trying.
Sex and the City 2
I wasn’t exactly disappointed by this film, I figured it was going to suck. But while Sex and the City 2 did manage to suck, horribly, it also pulled off the grand feats of being offensive and racist. On top of all that, seriously, who wants to watch a two and half hour movie about rich white women bitching about being rich white women?