Everyone Else

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)
After.life (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 25 Film Performances of 2010

2010 boasted some particularly great performances and I am very excited to share what I think were the 25 that stood out the most. I’ll list 10-25 alphabetically and then list the top 10 alphabetically. It seemed odd to rank performances to such the extreme degree of “this performance was better than this and this was better than those two”. There were many many performances that left me moved, impressed and even in awe that failed to make this list. Who do you think gave the best performances this year?

10-25 (in alphabetical order)

Christian Bale – Dickie Eklund – The Fighter
Bale captures the mannerisms of the real Dickie as well as the push and pull between his own selfishness and the moments he becomes aware of himself and the damage he has caused.  Unfortunately, all the hype led to me from being aware I was watching a performance the entire time. While I was unable to lose myself in the performance, I was able to become lost in my admiration for it.  His upcoming Oscar won’t be undeserved though as this ranks among his best work.

Jim Carrey – Steven Russell – I Love You Phillip Morris
There are some that are going so far as to call this Carrey’s best work to date. I would not definitively go that far but this certainly is one of his best performances and marks a return to form for the actor. Phillip Morris could have easily become a one note hustler character. Carrey is able to infuse sincerity amidst all of the lies as well as balance memorable comedic moments, his underrated ability to deliver lines that bring so much more comedy to the dialogue and his dramatic chops which he shows off here as well. Carrey gets to do everything imaginable here and it pays off big time.

Lars Eidinger – Chris – Everyone Else
With this film and Blue Valentine, the two central performances should be counted as one as they are so dependent on each other. While co-star Birgit Minichmayr has the more eccentric role, it is the slowly emerging identity crisis within Chris that is the catalyst for the changed dynamic between the couple. The way he is able to show the audience what he is thinking without saying much is an accomplishment. His dynamic with Minichmayr is unlike anything I’ve seen in a film before with its authenticity.

Ryan Gosling – Dean – Blue Valentine
I found Gosling’s Dean to be more than a little annoying. His way of picking apart everything his wife says, his inability to either have a serious conversation or to shut up for one second got a bit grating. This is by no means a flaw in the film; bring on the unlikable characters I say. Gosling dives into his heavily improvised portrayal of Dean. By the film’s end, the audience knows Dean very well and the relationship and dynamic he constructs with Williams’ Cindy is to be greatly admired. He is able to insert an unexpected amount of humor into the film which lightens the load just enough.  The actor continues to give exciting and vital performances that solidify his already impressive career.

Rebecca Hall – Rebecca – Please Give
Hall’s best performance this year and to date came not from the Red Riding Trilogy or from The Town but from Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give (which has quite possibly the best ensemble acting from 2010). She plays Rebecca, a shy but very honest woman who has to contend with her selfish sister Mary and her greedy but well meaning neighbors Alex and Kate. Helped by a very strong script, she is given plenty to work with and a lot of time to allow us to see how her character lives in the world.

John Hawkes – Teardrop – Winter’s Bone
I opted for choosing Hawkes’ performance as the intimidating  Uncle Teardop over Jennifer Lawrence’s Ree. That alone should be a testament to how difficult this list was to do. I’ve been a Hawkes fan for a couple of years now and he transforms himself every time I see him. This is no different and his scenes have an electricity to them from his unpredictability. I truly hope that he get the Oscar nomination he deserves. He actually has a shot at one and hopefully will get his due.

Kim hye-ja – Mother – Mother
Thankfully getting the acclaim she deserves for her stellar work, Kim Hye-ja is infinitely watchable as the Mother whose unassuming earnestness greatly contrasts the story director Bong Joon-ho puts her in.

Katie Jarvis – Mia – Fish Tank
Jarvis, an unprofessional who director Andrea Arnold discovered by chance for the film gives a raw and natural performance as a hard edged girl growing up and navigating through a number of challenges, some of which she deals with in ill advised ways.

Julianne Moore – Jules – The Kids Are All Right
I opted for Moore’s performance over Bening’s also excellent work. Her performance in A Single Man last year was disappointing not because it was overwrought and miscast. Here she is magnificent as the child-like Jules. Her mannerisms, speech patterns and characterization go far beyond what other actresses would have most likely brought to it. It is subtle and effective work by an actress who is better than most when she hits all the right notes, as she does here.

Carey Mulligan – Cathy – Never Let Me Go
Choosing one performance from Mark Romanek’s intensely devastating mood piece was a toss up. Andrew Garfield and Keira Knighley arguably give their best work here as well. It’s Mulligan’s performance (her best) that struck me the most. Cathy has to deal with an unspoken crush and looming death all while being repressed from the environment the Halisham children grow up. She is able to express so much without saying anything.

Cillian Murphy – John/Emma Skillpa - Peacock
The year’s most underrated performance comes from a direct to DVD flop. Peacock is a film with a fascinating yet ridiculous premise that starts out well enough but crumbles with the entrance of Ellen Page’s character (all the script’s fault). Here is another career best performance making its way onto the list. It certainly functions a a piece of showcase acting. The question is will Murphy be good enough to get the audience to buy into what it want us to? The answer is yes. Murphy seamlessly depicts two separate personalities, giving each depth and showing a great deal of range. It is impossible not to admire the ambitious and successful acting at work.

Noomi Rapace – Lisbeth Salander – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
One of 2010’s most transformative pieces of acting. She is what holds this film together (I’m not the biggest fan of the way the novel was adapted. The word lifeless comes to mind). Rapace is Lisbeth Salander. She perfectly portrays the awkwardness of the character without losing her uncompromising edge. She is the reason I was weary about the Fincher adaptations. She is the definitive Salander. With Rooney Mara’s pic as Salander out though, I am officially on board. While everyone else whines about how Mara looks like an unattractive skeleton, I’ll be admiring how great she looks. Rapace will always be Salander, but at least Mara looks able to fill her shoes.

Ben Stiller – Roger Greenberg – Greenberg
Aah, the character and film that inspired so much hate from so many. The blind rage disillusioned some from seeing how strong Stiller is here. He succeeds in that he is unwilling to give the audience a break. He plays the character the way it was written and refuses to relate to the audience so they sympathize or care. The actor trusts and accepts that there will be people who care about the film and people who don’t. By staying true to the defense mechanisms of Greenberg, Stiller reminds us that he is capable of strong dramatic work and makes us wish he would do more.

Emma Stone – Olive – Easy A
There is no amount of sufficient praise that can do justice to Stone’s revelatory and starmaking performance as Olive. She took a film that was passable (certainly above average in the current state of teen films) and turned it into a highly entertaining showcase. Females are still being forced into stereotypical positions by comedy filmmakers. It is a significant problem as women are frequently allowed to have no fun in comedies. For Stone to show this kind of comedic instinct is astonishing. The only thing one can do is watch in awe at what she is able to create out of one measly line or how she can throw a facial expression in that you don’t expect.

Michelle Williams – Cindy – Blue Valentine
Cindy is a girl tuck in a situation with no easy solution. Williams balances the early scenes and later scenes with great skill. In the early scenes she cares for her grandmother and has hopes for her life and career. In the later scenes she is trapped, has clearly fallen out of love and can barely go through the motions. The later scenes are where the performance achieves greatness. She conveys being trapped (an emotion women are often asked to show) in a fresh and effective way. She makes us feel her helplessness. There is no right or easy choice and she knows it. Williams makes us understand all of this.

The Top 10 (in alphabetical order)

Jesse Eisenberg – Mark Zuckerberg – The Social Network
Seeing Eisenberg get this level of recognition is satisfying. This is an intimidating performance. His relentless and focused conviction, at times cruel defense mechanisms, deep insecurity and endless ambition are captured perfectly. It is shocking just how much of the tension found in The Social Network comes from Eisenberg’s performance.

Colin Firth – King George VI – The King’s Speech
Last year Firth gave a stunning performance in Tom Ford’s A Single Man. This year, he gives another equally impressive performance. The role is definitely meant to function as a showcase for the actor. It requires quite a bit from Firth. There are a lot of emotions to play; not only to convey King George’s speech impediment convincingly but to deal with the unwanted transition of becoming a king. Firth has so much to do and makes the film with his winning performance.

Jeon Do-yeon – Shin-ae – Secret Sunshine
Seeing the brutal events that hit Shin-ae’s life are nothing short of devastating to see. Jeon throws everything on the table for us to see and the result is a tough film to watch because of the authenticity. She won Best Actress at Cannes when the film premiered there in 2007.

Catherine Keener – Kate – Please Give

This might be Keener’s best work that I’ve seen. At the very least, it’s her best work since Being John Malkovich. Keener excels partly because the character she is given is so different than most of the film characters one comes across. Keener is being able to play a type of inner conflict rarely seen, mainly because it has nothing to do with a man and entirely to do with her own ideals. It is unfortunately not the type of character that comes along for women often and it must have been a treat for her to act in it (clearly, since she continually appears in Holofcener’s films).

Ben Mendelsohn – Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody – Animal Kingdom
Along with Please Give, the best ensemble acting came from this superb Australian thriller from David Michod. Including stellar work from others like Jacki Weaver (deserving every ounce of the acclaim she has received, Mendelsohn stands out amongst the rest in an underrated performance. His ‘Pope’ is terrifying and unpredictable and filled with layers that go undiscovered but are lurking throughout. Mendelsohn always makes sure we see that there is so much to his character we don’t see; so much being kept hidden. I feel like if this had been played by someone else, ‘Pope’ would have fit more into an archetype. Maybe he was always meant to be this eccentric, but Mendelsohn brings something very original to the film with this performance.

Giovanna Mezzogiorno – Ida Dalser – Vincere
Mezzogiorno’s performance is one of exhilarating extremes. Whether exuding pure eroticism in the early scenes or pure rage and desperation in others, Dalser is a woman punished for loving the wrong man. Mezzogiorno is a force of nature.

Birgit Minichmayr – Gitti – Everyone Else
Gitti is unknowingly selfish, caring, carefree, opinionated, childish and animalistic. Gitti is a lot of things and Minichmayr gives a performance that takes on a life of its own. While dependent on costar Lard Eidinger for an essential dynamic, Minichmayr has to contend with the dynamic change between the couple and goes through a range of emotions that are almost never spelled out for the audience. She conveys all of the ways she tries to reconcile Chris’ change by acceptance, subtle power plays, confrontation and manipulation brilliantly.

Natalie Portman – Nina Sayers – Black Swan
Another career best performance. What hasn’t been said about her work at this point? Everyone seems to be in consistent agreement about Portman’s work as the fragile, emotional and obsessive Nina. Like I said in my review, there is a lot of melodrama in Aronofsky’s latest and an actress not up to the task would have easily drowned in all of it. Portman anchors it and allows the film to reach its full potential in what is the year’s most intense performance.

Hailee Steinfeld – Mattie Ross – True Grit
Despite the appallingly unfair category fraud at work with Steinfeld’s clearly lead performance, it should not detract from just how good the young actress is. She has to carry the film among such actors as Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. We feel like we know Mattie by the end of True Grit and it becomes bittersweet to leave the theater because of her.

Tilda Swinton – Emma – I Am Love
She gave 2009’s best performance with Julia and she comes back again this year with possibly 2010’s best performance. Swinton and director Luca Guadagnino had been discussing and working through this film for over 10 years. She clearly knows her character inside and out and playing the repressed Russian wife lacking an identity in an Italian family is a delight to see. It does not get any better than Swinton when it comes to the craft of acting and the way she plays the realization of her attraction to Antonio and her decision to enter into an affair is as good as character work gets. Even the film’s detractors cannot help but praie Swinton’s work which is uniformly superb.