This time of year, top ten movies lists are everywhere, which isn’t surprising as movies are one place where everyone has an opinion. I’m no exception. I like to think I have a relatively informed viewpoint when I sit down in a darkened theater. And in 2010 I averaged better than a film a week (which is about 10 times better than the average American, who goes to the movies about once every two months.)
So here’s my list of favorite films from the past 12 months. It’s just my opinion; you should see from my list that my tastes are pretty varied (I have dramas, comedies, animations, biopics, action, and thrillers on my list.) And of course, the point of any top ten list is to give an idea about what should go at the top of the Netflix queue. (According to Netflix, Americans watch nearly 50 dvds a year.) Hopefully there’ll be something on my list that you haven’t seen, and the next time you’re deciding between Furry Vengeance and 127 Hours, you’ll know which “man vs. nature” film to choose.
A couple notes: I only considered films that are eligible for the Oscars. So yeah, maybe I’m missing out on an obscure Chinese documentary (The Last Train Home, anyone?) or two, but there were 248 films eligible for Best Picture this year, which is enough for anyone. I’ve seen 57 films from 2010, so far. Several critical favorites have yet to open in Las Vegas, including Blue Valentine, Another Year, and Rabbit Hole, so I reserve the right to change my list at a later date. Finally, I’ve included a few honorable mentions: movies I really liked, but that didn’t quite make the cut. After all, 10 is such an arbitrary number.
First the honorable mentions:
127 Hours: Danny Boyle’s direction and innovative script keep this story of a hiker trapped in a slot canyon when a boulder falls on his arm fluid and compelling.
Catfish: The other social network movie of 2010 follows what happens when two documentary filmmakers decide to follow along when one’s brother decides to pursue a Facebook romance in real life. Hampered by doubts of its veracity, Catfish is nevertheless a creepy and sad cautionary tale that blurs real life and cyber-make believe.
The Ghost Writer: Say what you like about Roman Polanski the man; Roman Polanski the director knows how to make a film. Timed with the political upheaval in Britain and the U.S., and set against the austere backdrop of Martha’s Vineyard in winter, The Ghost Writer is a cold, calculated thriller about the man hired to write the just-resigned British Prime Minister’s new tell-all memoir, which tells a little too much.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I: By Book 7, Harry Potter is all grown up, and so is the first installment in the two-part finale to the franchise. Dark and philosophical, the film actually improves on some of the weaker narrative points of the book and leaves off at just the right place to set us up for next July’s finale in the epic series.
Iron Man 2: Everything that a Hollywood action blockbuster should be. Far flung locations, huge set pieces, fast cars, explosions, a memorable villain, and an attractive cast. As far as popcorn movies go, this one has extra butter.
Secretariat: It’s a throwback to how movies were made 15 years ago, a glossy fairytale that’s more like Forrest Gump or The Shawshank Redemption than True Grit or Black Swan. But it’s beautifully shot; the racing scenes are particularly good, and the by-the-book script hits all the right notes. Besides there hasn’t been a movie this good where the main character doesn’t talk since The Piano.
And now for the Top Ten:
10. Easy A: The smartest comedy of the year, Easy A had all of the charm and wit of Clueless or 10 things i hate about you, two other films based loosely on works of classic literature. With a cast that was the perfect mix of veteran character actors and young up-and-comers, and a script that wasn’t afraid to go there, Easy A is an instant classic in the often forgettable teen comedy genre.
9. The Fighter: Like the city of Lowell, MA where it’s set, The Fighter is a gritty, scrappy film that shines when given the chance. It’s led by a superb cast that includes Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams, and Mark Wahlberg and superbly directed by David O. Russel (who is overdue for some recognition from The Academy). While it’s just another boxing movie on the surface, The Fighter is more about family, what it means to be part of a family, and why you need that support, even when it jeopardizes everything you’ve worked for.
8. The Kids Are All Right: The controversial film about a lesbian couple, their children, and the children’s biological father has managed to be a “gay” film that mainstream audiences loved even as many gay audiences rejected the premise. But the premise is only a hook for what this film is really about: the work it takes to keep two people together even as they grow older and apart, and the different paths to happiness and fulfillment in life. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are perfectly cast and willing to do the work required by the challenging script. So much of what happens in The Kids Are All Right happens in the silences and pauses between lines. More goes unsaid than said in this quiet film with a lot to say.
7. How to Train Your Dragon: In any other year, this would be a lock for Best Animated Film. How to Train Your Dragon is whimsical and funny, poignant and clever. Like any great animated film, there’s as much for the adults in the audience as there is for the kids, and the best part: it never, ever takes the easy way out. And ohhh, those flying scenes in 3D!
6. The King’s Speech: What is it about the British royal family that makes for such great film? The King’s Speech goes behind the scenes of the controversial ascension to the throne of King George VI, who led Great Britain into World War II after his brother abdicated to marry an American. Suddenly required to be the voice of his country, George VI must confront a lifelong speech impediment and its psychological root cause. Colin Firth gives a career-defining performance and is supported brilliantly by Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter. The film makes you believe that the outcome of the war hangs on every word.
5. Toy Story 3: The addition of more toys upped the nostalgia and the ante in the best animated film in a year that was great for animation. Part caper, part romance, part buddy flick, Toy Story 3 has everything that Hollywood Blockbusters have, plus something that many don’t: heart. It’s rare that the third film in a trilogy outshines the first two, but Toy Story 3 is a rare film. This time, the film goes beyond the “secret second life of toys” storyline and actually shows us what it means to grow up and move on.
4. Inception: Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece was the most anticipated film of the summer, and it didn’t disappoint from the mind-bending visuals to the labyrinthine script. Plus, it had the most talked about ending of the year. Though it may come up short in the acting categories at the Oscars, Inception is sure to nab its share of nominations: script, cinematography, score, art direction, and editing are locks, as are Best Director and Best Picture. That’s the sort of success most filmmakers only dream about.
3. True Grit: The Coen Brothers latest darkly comic morality tale relies on an unknown teenage actress to hold the screen opposite a scenery chewing Jeff Bridges fresh off an Oscar win. But hold the screen she does. Though Hailee Steinfeld will most likely be recognized in the supporting actress category, she’s the center of the film and absolutely captivating from the moment she appears on screen. As usual, the Coens pull no punches with either their peppery script or sweeping direction, and rely on a deliberate pace to build tension throughout the film. The Coens have put their own spin on many genres, and their take on the Western is as successful as any of them.
2. Black Swan: Darren Aronofsky is not for everyone. His films are decidedly bleak, his characters tend to run from dark to darker. His kinetic style sometimes feels like one of the drug-induced mental breakdowns so often experienced in his films. His narrative structure is held together by dental floss. And yet Aronofsky never lets things fall completely apart. Visually, Black Swan is like filmic poetry, pulsing with intense emotions and fractured realities until the final gorgeous, tragic, disturbing end. Emily Dickinson once wrote, “If I read a book and…I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” If I watch a film and feel the same way, isn’t that another form of poetry?
1. The Social Network: With a crackling script, sharp and unexpected performances (Justin Timberlake, who saw that coming?) and a timely subject matter, The Social Network may be the film that defines the decade in the same way that American Beauty defined the 2000’s and Dances with Wolves defined the 1990’s. With Facebook now worth an estimated $50 billion and Mark Zuckerberg named Time’s Person of the Year, there’s no doubt about the role that social networking plays in our lives. In The Social Network, Zuckerberg is the new Bill Gates, both hero and villain, the brilliant mind that will change the world, but also the giant ego that makes enemies like they were items in Mafia Wars. It’s a microcosm of the United States, a country at a crossroads; it’s also the best picture of the year.