Top 30 Films of 2010 (#15-1)

My final 2010 Film Post! Finally! My goal was to have these up by the end of January. I just barely made it. For my introduction to this list, you can go to the Top 30 Films of 2010 (#30-16) post. Again, keep in mind films such as Inside Job, The Illusionist, The Way Back, Made in Dagenham, Another Year, Tiny Furniture and plenty others were not taken into consideration because I have not seen them. Also, a list of the films seen this year will be at the end of the post so that anyone interested can see all the work that was taken into consideration.

15. The Kids Are All Right
The very definition of a Sundance hit, Lisa Cholodenko’s film is a delight that manages to address issues of family and marriage with sincerity without being overly heavy. Bening and Moore have pitch-perfect chemistry and their marriage never feels anything but authentic. Some have criticized the film for the way it treats the Ruffalo character at the end. Despite feeling terrible for Ruffalo’s Paul, having Jules and Nic resolve their issues does not represent a definitive lack of sympathy towards Paul on the part of the film. The film discards him because that’s how Jules and Nic decide to handle the situation. We may not agree with it, but it’s ultimately their story and not Paul’s. Seriously though; poor Paul.

14. Inception
An essential film going experience of 2010, Inception is fully engrossing from start to finish. It manages to entertain and engage like few other films do. This is a film I definitely had issues with, (characters that solely function as archetypes, lack of complex characterization, not as much depth as others think, etc) but these complaints are all balanced out and more than made up for through the triumph of structural storytelling that Nolan displays and the complexity of the world he creates. Inception redefines what the blockbuster can be. It is made for repeat viewings and more than holds up from them. Nolan is one of the best working storytellers in English language filmmaking.

13. Blue Valentine
Derek Cianfrance’s hard work paid off with Blue Valentine, the story of a relationship shown in two time periods; the blossoming romance and the hopelessness of their marriage years later. Not having the middle of the story filled in for the audience smartly engages us in assessing where Dean and Cindy are in their lives as opposed to where they were. Forgetting the why and concentrating on what it is we are being shown, makes for a devastating portrait of what time and circumstance can do to a relationship, and is championed by its two captivating lead performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

12. Never Let Me Go
This film about the inevitability of death largely split audiences, with some being profoundly moved, and others being left coldly unaffected. Count me in with the profoundly moved crowd. Based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name, Never Let Me Go takes a sci-fi concept and turns it into a somber and muted drama. Kathy, Tommy and Ruth almost blindly drift towards their fate just as we drift towards ours. Mark Romanek has created a beautiful and understated visual aesthetic and captures stunning performances from Mulligan, Garfield and Knightley. This is a film that I feel will slowly gain more appreciation as years go on.

11. Four Lions
An outrageously funny comedy from the UK, Four Lions is a satire on bumbling Jihadi Islamic terrorists from England. A film that could have miscalculated every step of the way ended up hitting all the right notes. Chris Morris keeps the film loose without ever having it lose its focus and even manages to be oddly touching. Filled with hilarious performances and offensive but never misguided moments, Four Lions is the best comedy of the year and more than worth seeking out.

10. Everyone Else
This exhaustive look at the slowly changing dynamic between a couple is insightful and fascinating. Led by two remarkable performances (Lars Eidinger and Birgit Minichmayr) that function as two halves of a whole, this is easily one of the best films to ever closely examine a relationship. It has complex and frustrating characters that slowly change and affect the behavior of the other. The result is a unique and layered film that has two of the most complex characters from a film this past year.

9. The Social Network
The result of all the right elements coming together perfectly, The Social Network is a stinging piece of filmmaking marked by Fincher’s clean and even cold precision, Sorkin’s biting wit and cynicism and Eisenberg’s insecure, arrogant interpretation of a genius. This is a film brimming with confidence and perfectly paced. What started as an overstatement of the film’s relevance has now backtracked to being an understatement. I do think the film has some of the relevance critics at first claimed. The film to define a generation? No. A film with a lot to say both about its characters and the broad societal implications of their actions? Absolutely.

8. Fish Tank
From here on out, these numbers are essentially arbitrary. This could easily be in my Top 3. A beautifully photographed, raw portrait of a teenage girl, rooted in the British social realism films from the early 60’s. Katie Jarvis is magnetic and a natural performer, supported by equally admirable work from Michael Fassbender and Kierston Wareing. Unpredictable and poignant, this coming of age drama proudly defies yet at times embraces cliche. An unforgettable sophomore effort by Andrea Arnold.

7. Toy Story 3
As I’ve said many times, it was surreal to get a third installment of this franchise which I grew up with. A particularly meaningful end to a story which continues to address the themes that Pixar explores so well. A film that manages to pay tribute to its characters and provide a satisfying and bittersweet end to its story. Most importantly, it does what Pixar does best; it satisfies both the children’s demographic as well as the adults. Pixar continues to set a nearly impossible standard for what the children’s film can be.

6. Animal Kingdom
The crime thriller of the year, this Australian achievement has surprises at every turn. Its characters are distinct and layered from the get go. The family dynamic is thrilling to observe. The performances make up the best ensemble of the year. It tells a familiar story with unprecedented depth and insight. It completely took me by surprise and captivates from the first frame to the last.

5. Greenberg
Noah Baumbach is a treasure who is so acutely aware of how he sees the world and is able to, whether you love it or hate it, place that vision onto the screen with exact precision. Ben Stiller in a career best performance inhabits Roger’s misanthropy with ease. If everyone had liked the film, it wouldn’t have been a success. My admittedly overlong 3,000 word review tended to ramble a lot but the point of it was that it’s the film I connected to the most this year on a personal level and I took a different approach to writing that review. The film fully inhabits Roger’s perspective and is not afraid to sink into the way he sees the world. Greta Gerwig and Rhys Ifans provide excellent support.

4. I Am Love
I Am Love wears its emotions on its sleeves and it has the depth and complexity to back up its dressed up visual aesthetic. The tone aligns itself with Emma’s (Swinton) emotional state. Emma starts out being nearly invisible in a film that feel cold and empty. As she allows herself to experience physical and emotional love for the first time in her life, the film itself opens up and becomes a dramatic and invigorating experience that throws itself into melodrama without drowning in it. Tilda Swinton, who developed and produced the project with writer/director Ludo Guadagnino, continues to prove that she is the pinnacle of film acting.

3. Dogtooth
At once hilarious and unsettling, Dogtooth examines the family unit at its most absurdly twisted and deformed. Yorgos Lathimos; remember that name. Revealing its plot at just the right moments, this Greek film is a work of true originality, likely to elicit all sorts of reactions and emotions from its viewers. It may be number 3 on this list of favorite films of 2010, but if I had to pick a film that I’d call the “best” of the year, it would be this one. The performances have gone unfairly unacknowledged; they are tricky characters to play and their success is essential to why the film itself works. Photographed in amusingly off kilter ways along with just the right unglamorous cinematography, Dogtooth is a complete vision and a masterpiece. It also is unmatched in its use of film reference. I now have new connotations to both Jaws and Rocky.

2. Last Train Home
A documentary that will stick with you long after it ends, Last Train Home uses the tale of one family to represent China’s push and pull between the rural roots it comes from and the industrial present it accommodates. This cinema verite follows one couple as they take part in the world’s largest annual migration; the Spring Festival when millions travel home to see their families only once a year. On the other side of this is Qin, their daughter drifting towards rebellion and against the very values her parents (who she barely knows) tried to hard to instill in her. The result is tragic and surprising, even difficult to watch. It captures the unimaginable chaos within the Spring Festival migration. Even more interesting is the way the climax of the film seems spawned by the very presence of the camera which clearly suffocates certain family members after a while. That the climactic exchange of the film theoretically might not have happened without the camera’s presence, makes for excellent fodder for meaningful discussion about the nature of the documentary. While one family certainly cannot and should not be representative of the complex economical situation of a country, Last Train Home is incomparably moving and affecting.

1. Black Swan
Steeped in high drama and dipping into absurdity, Black Swan still manages to justify how seriously it takes itself. It is an experience, carefully executed and filled with particular repetition and gradual all-consuming menace. Darren Aronofsky knows exactly what he is doing and is unashamed in pouring blatant metaphor down our throats. Stunning in every regard with a powerhouse central performance by Portman, Black Swan is as dramatic as the ballet, and is a sight to behold. Like Inception, it is a bona fide experience at the movies and one that will leave you breathless.

Complete List of 2010 Films Seen:
127 Hours
A Prophet (2010) (2010)
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
All Good Things (2010)
The American (2010)
American Grindhouse (2010)
Animal Kingdom (2010)
Art of the Steal (2010)
Babies (2010)
Best Worst Movie (2010)
Black Swan (2010)
Bluebeard (2010)
Blue Valentine (2010)
Buried (2010)
Carlos (2010)
Catfish (2010)
Centurion (2010)
Chloe (2010)
Clash of the Titans (2010)
Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (2010)
The Crazies (2010)
Cyrus (2010)
Devil (2010)
The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2010)
Dogtooth (2010)
Easy A (2010)
Enter the Void (2010)
Everyone Else (2010)
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
The Fighter (2010)
Fish Tank (2010)
Four Lions (2010)
Frozen (2010)
Get Him to the Greek (2010)
Get Low (2010)
The Ghost Writer (2010)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010)
The Girl who Played with Fire (2010)
The Girl on the Train (2010)
The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2010)
Greenberg (2010)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)
Holly Rollers (2010)
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Howl (2010)
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
I Am Love (2010)
I Love You Philip Morris (2010)
Inception (2010)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Jean-Michel Baquiat: The Radiant Child (2010)
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)
Jonah Hex (2010)
Kick-Ass (2010)
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
The Killer Inside Me (2010)
Legion (2010)
Life During Wartime (2010)
The King’s Speech (2010)
The Last Exorcism (2010)
Last Train Home (2010)
Let Me In (2010)
The Lottery (2010)
Machete (2010)
Mademoiselle Chambon (2010)
Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2010)
Mesrine: Public Enemy Number 1 (2010)
Micmacs (2010)
Monsters (2010)
Mother (2010)
Mother and Child (2010)
Never Let Me Go (2010)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Ondine (2010)
Peacock (2010)
Piranha 3D (2010)
Please Give (2010)
Rabbit Hole (2010)
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
REC 2 (2010)
RED (2010)
Red Riding Trilogy (2010)
Restrepo (2010)
The Runaways (2010)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
The Secret in Their Eyes (2010)
The Secret of Kells (2010)
Secret Sunshine (2010)
Shrek Forever After (2010)
Shutter Island (2010)
Smash His Camera (2010)
The Social Network (2010)
Solitary Man (2010)
Somewhere (2010)
Soul Kitchen (2010)
The Special Relationship (2010)
Splice (2010)
The Square (2010)
Tales from the Script (2010)
Temple Grandin (2010)
The Town (2010)
Toy Story 3 (2010)
True Grit (2010)
Unstoppable (2010)
Valhalla Rising (2010)
Vincere (2010)
Waking Sleeping Beauty (2010)
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
When You’re Strange (2010)
White Material (2010)
The White Stripes: Under the Great Northern Lights (2010)
Who is Harry Nilsson and Why is Everybody Talkin About Him? (2010)
Winnebago Man (2010)
Winter’s Bone (2010)
The Wolfman (2010)

Top 20 Film Scenes of 2010

Yes, it’s almost the end of January and yes, I’m still cranking out these lists. I still have to see Another Year, Biutiful, The Illusionist and Inside Job (at least those are the most prominent absenses right now). The scenes that also made the song usage list will not have explanations to them since I already covered them in that list. My classes finally start tomorrow!

20. Kathy and Tommy visit Madame – Never Let Me Go

This is the scene where the overgrown hope that Kathy and Tommy have desperately clung to is shot down. The audience can see it coming but the point is that the characters cannot. Seeing Mulligan and Garfield slowly realize their dream will not happen is crushing and devastating.

19. “Pocket Full of Sunshine” Montage – Easy A
A showcase for Emma Stone’s comedic abilities and instinct, this montage near the beginning of the film is hysterical. The quick transition of Olive hating the song to becoming addicted to the song as well as her lazy weekend comes out of nowhere and is the highlight of the film.

18. Mari’s Temper Tantrum – Babies
Baby Mari from Japan is sitting in her room, playing with a toy. For no reason whatsoever she melodramatically throws her toy into the air, starts sobbing and rolls around on the ground. Then she does the same thing with a book. It is the funniest temper tantrum I’ve ever seen on film or even in real life.

17. Breaking up with Mark – The Social Network
Consistently sited as the standout scene in the film, Erica’s breakup with Mark is an exhaustive doozy of an exchange, setting the tone for the film as well as establishing the presence of Sorkin’s trademark dialogue.

16. Hiccup wins over Toothless – How to Train Your Dragon
John Powell’s Academy Award nominated score enhances this charming sequence which brought me to tears (what can I say? I’m a sap) After much time and effort, Hiccup finally starts to win Toothless over and the bond they establish is truly touching.

15. Prison Breakout – Mesrine: Killer Instinct
Mesrine plans one of his many prison escapes in a seemingly impossible situation. How is he going to pull this off? The answer to that question provides top quality action and suspense in one of the year’s most exciting scenes.

14. Car Accident – Let Me In
A completely new scene featured in last year’s remake in Let the Right One In which shows that horror films can still set up a sequence that pays off in every way. This already has an iconic feel; it’s the kind of scene horror fans will cite 20 years from now as one of the great set piece suspense scenes in recent horror. It’s that good.

13. Malik’s First Murder – A Prophet
In this brutal and essential scene, Malik is forced to follow his first tough order from Cesar. Malik’s fear and nervousness transfers to the audience in this scene which greatly effects the rest of the film and Malik’s psyche.

12. Beginnings and Endings - Blue Valentine (explanation on Song Usage list)

11. Plaster Mask – Somewhere
Sofia Coppola has a talent for knowing how long to keep the camera on her subject. Here, she captivates with a very slow zoom which observes Johnny who in the middle of a face mask fitting. I lost myself in this shot which forces us to wonder what’s going on in Johnny’s head and literally shows how trapped he is.

10. Home? – Inception
The reason this is on the list is Hans Zimmer’s score. It is the perfect accompaniment to the finale which has Cobb returning to the States as Saito keeps his promise. But is it real? That’s up to the viewer to interpret. Zimmer, joined by Johnny Marr on guitar stir up a hell of a number which builds in intensity, managing to be incredibly moving and triumphant yet foreboding underneath the surface. It is my favorite score composition of the year and provides the perfect emotional note for the film to end on.

9. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” – The Runaways (explanation on Song Usage List)

8. “Running with Explosives” – Four Lions - The funniest scene from a film this year (in competition with other scenes from the same film) came from this outrageously funny comedy from the UK. Omar, Waj, Barry and Faisal carry bags of dangerous explosives in their hands and have to get to their destination as quickly as possible without dropping anything. This results in some wonderfully absurd physical comedy that ends in comic tragedy.

7. The Black Swan Emerges – Black Swan
Nina’s eventual emergence of the “black swan” in the premiere of “Swan Lake” is like watching an animal in heat. Portman’s a force of nature here and the camera’s energy gets right in there with her with its almost delirious movements.

6. Qin Cracks – Last Train Home
All of the tension boiling underneath Qin comes to the surface in an explosive scene from this doc. The sacrifices behind China’s capitalism is depicted through one family. The result is tragic and even difficult to watch as the relentless efforts of two parents fails and the  justified rebellion of one daughter comes to a head. What makes this scene even more discussion worthy is that it is doubtful (IMO) this explosion would have occured had the cameras not been filming. The presence of the camera clearly exacerbates everything and adds in entirely new layer to this unintentionally disruptive example of “direct cinema”.

5. “Anniversary Dance” – Dogtooth
This scene which shows the physicality of the Eldest’s unraveling mental state is funny and strangely poignant. The fact that it is doubtful she understands her own behavior makes the scene even more enigmatically appealing.The wacky choreography is also very notable.

4. Andy Gives Away his Toys – Toy Story 3 – It’s difficult to explain the impact this had on me; I honestly don’t know if I can. Seeing this happen was surreal and marked an end to an franchise that I grew up with. I was 8 when Toy Story was released. Seeing Andy grow up into the next phase of his life was almost painfully bittersweet. As I said in my review, Toy Story 3 dealt thematically with issues I have a really hard time with. Time passing, growing up, not being a kid, etc. They hit hard; so hard in fact that I don’t know if or when I can watch the film again anytime soon. The only film that I had the same extreme emotional reaction to was Never Let Me Go. Toy Story 3 more than earns this sentimental scene because it is executed to perfection and covered in sincerity, significance and finality.

3. Emma’s Decision - I Am Love
The jump the shark moment for some, this final scene in Luca Guadagnino’s somewhat divisive film revels in the melodrama. For those of us who did love the film, this scene swept us up in its grandeur. The film manages to make us feel how Emma feels in that moment. We are caught up in her decision as if it were our own; a rare accomplishment, in large part thanks to John Adams lush score.

2. Harry Dances with Hermione - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (explanation on Song Usage List)

1. Mia Says Goodbye - Fish Tank (explanation on Song Usage List)