10 Best Films of 2010

December 27, 2010

 

The Town Poster

10)  The Town

“Inception” was good, but I think the best action sequence edits this year in the vein of Nolan’s “Dark Knight” were found in Ben Affleck’s superb directorial work, “The Town.” Affleck’s performance is suitable–you rarely step back and think, “I’m watching Ben Affleck rob banks,” so you can envision him as the character he is supposed to be. The story is great and crime-noir gritty, with just enough depth to make this feel like a semi-“serious” film.  Audiences have been exposed to these Boston area crime noirs before in recent years, often starring folks like Affleck, but this one is creative for focusing on a particular neighborhood which, at least in the movie, is the ground zero of bank robbers, hoods who train and live to rob banks for a career. “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm is the obligatory FBI agent stock-chracter here, but he works just fine. The love story is a good plot supplement, and the protagonist’s journey to get out of the role etched out for him from birth is captivating throughout; the unhinged performance of Jeremy Renner after his breakout Oscar winning role in “Hurt Locker” was arguably the best in the movie, but as mentioned above, those marvelous action sequences that kept audiences on the edge of their seats was what cemented this one on the list–smartest action pic of the year.

Robin Hood Poster

9) Robin Hood

Aparrently the bulk of the critical world hated Ridley Scott’s reinterpretation of “Robin Hood.” Really, this is “Robin Hood: Year One” done with all of Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” flair. Great battles, historical hyperbole that tweaks your nerd gauge to 11, wit, charm, thrills and nice performances. Another retread of Nottingham would’ve been fine in this team’s hands, but this origin tale gives us something pleasantly new that maintains the characters and gives us backstory we never thought to wonder about as Robin Hood and his band get to know each other in the aftermath of the Crusades. King John certainly is an over-the-top villian trope, but works nonetheless. Crowe is stoic and bloody–this is no light hearted Erroyl Flynn Hood trying to earn the fair maiden’s hand. Russel Crowe and Cate Blanchett as Robin and Lady Marion were a nice adult touch–thank God this wasn’t a “Twilight” inspired casting call. Big, full scale, historical action with the mythos of Robin Hood spun in a creative new way, the most overlooked blockbuster of the year.

Hereafter Poster

8 ) Hereafter

Clint Eastwood is a consumate filmaker, he’ s yet to direct a dud. “Hereafter” isn’t as wonderful as his classics “Mystic River” or “Unforgiven,” but this is such understated spiritual beauty I can’t help but rank it with the best of the year. The opening disaster sequence is harrowing; cameras follow the Tsunami as it destroys lives and buildings in its wake and the near-death sequence of one of the central characters–Marie–is handled artfully. That’s as much action as the film provides as Eastwood uses Matt Damon as a psychic who can authentically communicate with the dead yet who sees this ability as a curse rather than a gift as the focal point for a series of stories and characters facing death through the loss of those close to them. In many scripts (hmm…”What dreams may Come”?) this could have been over the top or mushy sentimentality. Eastwood gives us genuine spirituality and a smart plausible script about what might come after this life in contrast to science and religosity. The climax sequences, wrapping up the story of the child who lost his twin brother in a heart-warming supernatural manner and the love story of Damon’s psychic and the disaster survivor turned near death experience author are phenomenal and satisfying scenes.

The Last Exorcism Poster

7) The Last Exorcism

The thing that drives this movie is the intense character portrayal of protagonist Cotton Marcus. Cotton is a charismatic preacher from the south that began in the field as a child preacher doing revival meetings and progressed to a ministry of performing exorcisms for sizable fees. Now middle-aged with children of his own, Cotton is quickly losing his faith. News reports of botched “exorcisms” that caused much more harm than good lead Cotton to film his last exorcism to expose the procedure as fradulent. Patrick Fabian delivers a terrific performance in this what appears to be his first major film role: a performance of great warmth, humor, conviction; a performance that has to traverse every imaginable emotion and Fabian does so exceedingly well. There have been a lot of these faux-documentaries with first-person horror thrills and most have been poor. This one works well for being pretty original for the most part; the horror is left ambiguous and approahces a “conclusion” that leaves the audience with a satisfying “answer” to all the horrors before twisting back with a shock horror ending that angered many but which produced some authentic jolts and wasn’t a complete detour since it tied many premonition plotlines together from earlier in the film. Topping it all off was a defiantly creepy and acrobatic performance by Ashley Bell as the demon possessed (or not?) victim.

 True Grit Poster

6) True Grit

The Coen brothers rarely dissapoint and usually deliver classics–Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, No Country For Old Men–and “True Grit” is no exception. Though not their best ever work, though some hyperbolic infatuated with the new aspect of it may say, it is certainly enjoyable with great action and a surprising (for me anyway) amount of comedy. Jeff Bridges, the Dude, is terrific as always giving a grizzled, comic performance. Hallie Steinfeld as Mattie is the real star here though as she plays the 14-year-old girl consumed with bringing her father’s killer (Josh Brolin) to justice and enrolling bounty-hunter Rooster (Bridges) and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) to do so. There are really great scenes in this one and the final 30 minutes are classic Coen cannon.

The Social Network Poster

5) The Social Network

What more is there to say about this movie not said by many others? I’ve yet to read a negative review, it’s pretty much universally praised. While in the theater to see it on a rainy Saturday afternoon on opening weekend, I noticed all the single people strewn across the theater. I was alone as well, having the day to myself and I noticed I was the only loner to not be playing with a smartphone. The guy in front of me was perusing his Facebook page, which was a bit surreal since it was that added layer of subtext to this whole film taking place in the audience–he continued to do that throughout the movie.
The folks at Paste magazine had an interesting article the weekend before this opened that stated this movie had a low “excitement” ranking pre-release, with most who saw early previews for it not overly jazzed to see it; then it opened to universal acclaim, holding a 100 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes from all the compiled ‘net rankings. And everyone loved it. Paste’s later review mentioned that “The Social Network” was much more of a true successor to “Wall Street” than it’s own sequel which opened the same month. Folks have been comparing this to “Citizen Kane!” Structurally it is that in many ways–the flawed protagonist who seems consumed with proving himself to the world but never seems to be happy or really close to anyone at all, but let’s give this one a few years before artistically we make such comparisons. Everyone does put in a good performance and scenes like the one where Napster founder Shawn Fanning (played by Justin Timberlake) seduces Zuckerburg and friends to his vision is one for the cannon of movie history. Reznor does a wonderful job with the score, one of the best I’ve heard since “Dark Knight” or “There Will be Blood.” David Fincher has been one of my favorite directors for years with such classics as “Fight Club,” “Zodiac,” and “Seven,” and he is top-notch on the camera here–cutting and pacing scenes in action-like frenzies then slowing things down to showcase screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s trademark snappy dialogue, creating high-tension drama from scenes about out of court depositions and dorm room backdealing, even out of computer programming marathons! Zuckerburg has done his best to laugh off the movie as pure fiction, noting that the details like the clothing his character wears are spot-on but the big things–like the protagonists dire quest for female attraction and social approval—are pure fabrication, missing out on the real life details (such as the fact that he in real life has been dating and now lives with a long-time girlfriend omitted from the film). I wouldn’t hold this up to the truth microscope–this is purely window dressing with factual hints to paint a portrait of an entire generation and culture now “wired in.”

Winter's Bone Poster

4) Winter’s Bone

This one could have been called “True Grit” if that title wasn’t taken! Louisville,Ky newcomer Jennifer Lawrence gives one of the absolute finest performances of the year as Ree, a teenage girl fighting to take care of her entire family in the Ozark mountains, a setting which is as icy and dark as the film’s title. She crosses the mountains in search of her bail-jumping absentee father who has placed the home housing her, her mother, and younger siblings up for bail and now they are in danger of being homeless. Standing in her way are crazed meth dealers and users, armed criminals, police officers, and the harsh environment; extended family prove untrustworthy and through the violence and struggle, Ree never gives up yet never obtains real hope either. A stark movie about survival, one of the best crime pics in ages, a script that does its own thing and zones in with a literate attention to detail, setting and dialogue.

Black Swan Poster

3) Black Swan

Black Swan is undeniably a horror film; with its critical pre-release buzz that was a bit surprising, but there’s no getting around the fact and that is a good surprise especially in light of what kind of horror film this–this is claustrophobic, harrowing psychological horror like Roman Polanski and the like were making in the late ’60s…this is truly frightening, unsettling, artistic, and intelligent horror: art-house horror. Natalie Portman gives a terrific performance; she’s a wonderful actress and was far overdue for another great role and “Black Swan” delivers that spot for her and she gives herself over to it moving from fragile to ferocious to sexual. The camera hones in so tight that the tension surrounds the audience with sonic intensity to bring each moment home. Mila Kunis also delivers a great performance, given this chance to display more range than any previous role has given her. The director (Darren Aronofsky) is new to me but I plan to follow his work from here on out because he gives us this non-redundant but pleasantly reminiscent of “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Suspiria” equivalent horror film. This film does a great job of setting the pace of things by breaking things up with a good amount of comic relief, another nice surprise for a so strongly artistic piece. With the attention to character and craft–this is afterall about a woman who works for a ballet company in preparation for the lead role in a production of “Swan Lake”– the script masterfully weaves the themes of that ballet with the themes of the characters, giving us the drive, ambition, care,  strength and work of  Portman’s “Nina” and her ballet trade.  

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Poster

 

2) Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Scott Pilgrim is certainly a film not intended for everyone–it makes no attempt to be middle of the road or explain its every reference and instead launches fully into its own world complete with its own language and vocabulary, texture and environment. Second only to “The Dark Knight” as a comic adaptation, it gives the essence of its characters and landscape to the mainstream without needless concession. It’s a beauty of a film, graphically it is light years ahead of anything else in the multiplex this year–if you’re not hip to the story and can’t follow its hip and frantic pace, just sit back and enjoy the jaw-dropping visuals (and to be honest, it’s not too complicated for the uninitiated–sure it’s a mashup of indie rock, comic books, video games, anime and internet, but this isn’t a convoluted or head scratching narrative). The jokes are funny, the action sequences are exciting, the performances are superb–Michael Cera as an action hero? Only in “Scott Pilgrim” and seeing him embody the character it seems no one else could have done it this well. This was a creative, entertaining, original and start-to-finish fun movie.

The American Poster

1) The American

“The American” is a remarkable picture that American studios rarely produce–its pacing is not geared towards being of the “crowd-pleaser” status; if you have a short attention span, you’re likely to lose focus and not enjoy this film, which is a shame. Because this one’s all about atmosphere, mood, subtlety and things just underneath the surface. The previews made this one look as if it would be an action movie, but they should have marketed it as a noir piece instead. This one gives you the details and lets the big story come secondarily. Granted, the “big story” is not overly complex, but that’s not the point of this movie. George Clooney plays Jack (the man without a given last name) wonderfully; Clooney has gotten very good at depicting these characters who can express a lot of emotion with minimal words and at creating relatable protagonists who are much more than a little morally suspect. The supporting cast is spot on also. This film is shot incredibly beautifully; it’s not just something pretty to look at though, as many critical of it seemed to think. Certainly the scenery is gorgeous and there are art-shots galore; watching the protagonist’s car wind around European side streets and countryside might make the impatient wonder what happened to the plot, but it is always part of a very delicate pacing act. It’s emotionally deeper than just a “pretty“ picture. Through the conversations Jack has with the priest and through the interactions he makes along the way of his tragically fated mission, it’s more a story about living in hell and searching for salvation only to lose the one shot you have at that. The action sequences are appropriate when they do show up, and the movie provides the audience great suspense in delaying that action. The violence is so subtle that when it occurs it shocks and hits like life. This is the type of movie you’d expect from a Japanese studio, not an American one, and it’s likely to be over-looked come awards season as being the masterpiece that it truly is even with the star power behind it.  As I mentioned, it truly is a noir picture posing as an art-house film–it presents a deeply flawed character that you know is on a trajectory toward imminent collapse that is introduced to us in a heinous manner yet becomes someone we root for and support even though we as an audience know it’s hopeless. Clooney was terrific in “Michael Clayton,” and changes the business suit for assassin gloves to give an equally riveting performance here–as enjoyable as he finishes, cleans, and builds a weapon for sale as he is when doubling back to take down his would be killer.

Honorable mentions: The Fighter delivered a familiar underdog-style script that was enjoyable and greatly enhanced by top notch performances by Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale that turned this into a film about the strain and loyalty of family; Tron delivered some of the years best visuals of the year; The Kids Are Alright was a very solid and engaging family drama;  Get Him to the Greek was the best rock-comedy since “This is Spinal Tap” and let Jonah Hill play a straight-forward role for once ; Kick Ass and Red were fun comic adaptations ;  127 Hours was carried by a primarily solo full force performance by James Franco; Inception gave us some stop-gap thrills until the 3rd Dark Knight ;  Toy Story 3 packed more emotional punch than it had any right to and looked beautiful while doing so. I have yet to see either The King’s Speech or I Love You, Phillip Morris so they are exempt from this ranking.

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