Top Films of 2010

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 30 Films of 2010 (#30-16)

Finally, we have reached my final 2010 list. It’s been really fun to dive into the year in film and come up with all sorts of stand out moments. There were many other films that stood out for me this year for a variety of reasons that did not make this list. Top 10 lists generally are not enough for me. It always seems like there is this groupthink that if a certain film fails to make a Top 10 list it’s a. somewhat unworthy in the list maker’s eyes (even if it isn’t) or b. an assumption that the person did not like a film missing from the 10. How many times has a cinephile reacted to a film with “it was really good, but it won’t make my Top 10 for the year”. A dismissal comes with that which I like to avoid. The same goes for this list of 30. Just because it did not make my list, does not mean I did not like it. I have seen 115 films from 2010 and I only disliked about 20 of them. Also, this is subjective. Obviously, I thought all of these films were quality, but it represents my favorites of the year, not what I think were the best. My list of the best would look extremely similar but would be ordered a bit differently. I’ve eliminated having separate favorite and best lists this year for the first time. They are similar enough to function as one. Anyways, I apologize for the at times incoherent and redundant rambling that comes before any list of mine; it’s a trait I cannot shake. Again, I still have not seen Another Year, Biutiful, Inside Job, The Illusionist, Made in Dagenham and more. After posting the final part of the list, I’ll have a list of all the films I saw from 2010. What were your favorite films of 2010?

30. Splice
Being a fan of Vincenzo Natali’s from Cube, this was one of the my more anticipated films of the year. It has aspects of sci-fi in its premise and cautious parable, but is more a character study of a family unit than anything else. Natali takes the time to establish the two leads, their relationship and their interactions with Dren and how it drastically changes over time. While the message of the film is really overt and the last ten minutes significantly detract from the film’s overall effect, Splice is still a refreshing and thoughtful sci-fi film from a gifted writer/director.

29. Mother
Bong Joon-ho’s latest characteristically balances multiple genres and tones with his usual ease. By placing an unlikely character in a situation we’ve often seen others in, the director and lead actress Kim Hye-ja (in a revelatory performance) are able to extract originality and macabre humor as well as touching solemnity from a crime revenge tale.

28. Secret Sunshine
This heartbreaking film about a woman who loses her son is exceptional for its lack of embellishment and sentimentality. The film clocks in at two and a half hours so that we get a real sense of Shin-ae’s relationship with her son as well as a sense of the very different phases she goes through following his death. Song Kang-ho provides dependably excellent support as a lovable goofy, creepy and humble car mechanic. He offsets Jeon Do-yeon’s emotionally naked performance perfectly.

27. Bluebeard
Catherine Breillat gives us a different take on the fairy tale that subverts both the lighthearted adaptations and the misguided but potentially fun trend of fairy tale “reimaginings”. Breillat digs deep at the sexual politics as well as the gruesome implications of Charles Perrault’s “Bluebeard” by coldly presenting the tale for what it is. It is deceptively simple and we are allowed to observe and ponder what is really at the heart of it. Breillat juxtaposes this with a parallel story of two young girls who are reading the tale in the attic which asks questions about the relationship and interpretation between fairy tales and the children who read them.

26. Exit Through the Gift Shop
The documentary that has taken 2010 by storm certainly lives up to its hype. Banksy’s is-it-real-or-fake doc is a hilarious send-up on the modern art world and beyond that, the modern cultural enthusiast of any kind. What starts out as an eccentric character study turns into an elaborate circus as Thierry Guetta misguidedly yet successfully tries to carve out his own identity in the art world. There are a lot of very broad and worthwhile questions being thrown at the viewer. We may not have definitive answers, but they are questions that have rarely been raised in cinema and certainly never in such an entertaining way.

25. True Grit
The Coen Brothers have made yet another winning feature with their adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel. They continue to write dialogue you can lose yourself in. They have such an exceptional understanding of their craft and the confidence this film exudes is well earned. Headlined by excellent performances, particularly from newcomer Steinfeld, the directors have managed to make a great Western that is surprisingly straight forward without losing their auteur touch.

24. White Material
This is a film I definitely plan on revisiting once it comes out on Criterion. The first Claire Denis film I’ve seen, this hypnotic work is boiling over with complexity and intrigue. It is the type of film that would only increase admiration with repeat viewings. The always enigmatic Isabelle Huppert plays a woman who refuses to acknowledge the civil war going on around her. Abandonment is not an option. In the meantime, her husband and son are facing problems of their own. This is a haunting film that you will not forget. The score by Stuart Staples, is by far one of the best scores of the year. Denis makes her film stunning to look at without ever for a moment making the issues she is exploring artificial.

23. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Pacing problems aside, this final tale in the Potter universe is filled with plenty of drama, death and hopelessness; and I ate up every second of it. Being a huge Harry Potter fan, it is easy to take for granted what this series has become and how serious it can take itself without ever seeming unjustified. It is giving us fans a well earned end and the art house sensibility that David Yates displays at times makes for refreshing execution. I cannot wait for Part 2, at which point the full extent of how well Part 1 holds up will be revealed.

22. Babies
I don’t plan on having babies. There also are no babies in my extended family right now. Everyone has grown up. So unless I want to be a creepy stranger that stares at babies or watch terrible reality shows where people have them, I don’t really get a chance to observe them. Others may not find the appeal of observing babies for an hour and a half but I certainly do. Getting rid of all the devices used in documentaries and allowing the various infants to the absolute center of attention was the right way to go. By showing us the different environments that children grow up, it becomes all the more clear that the babies themselves still see and interact in the same way, no matter where they are.

21. The Ghost Writer
A mystery story told with impeccable precision and effect. There’s nothing particularly profound about Polanski’s latest; it’s just entertaining through and through and shows just how well a story can be told. Olivia Williams and Alexandre Desplat’s score are stand outs. The ultimate selling point is the last minute which I won’t spoil, but it’s a doozy.

20. Please Give
This also marks the first film by Nicole Holofcener that I’ve seen. Holofcener knows how to write complex female characters that have original inner conflicts and arcs that are a welcome breath of fresh air. She actually gives her actresses something to do. They are not providing support for the man. They are not the leads in their own mundane and superficial romantic comedy. They are not the “girl”. They are human beings and this is a grossly overlooked and original work, despite the final scene which fails to hit the right notes the way the rest of the film does.

19. Somewhere
Sofia Coppola may not be breaking new ground here, but that does not mean her films are devoid of meaning or thoughtfulness. She has a lot to say and says it in a simple but very meaningful manner. She has impeccable intuition for capturing ennui with the length of her takes and her shot compositions. She can also create many insightful moments that add up to a solid work as opposed to merely being a collection of moments. The final scene is too obvious but it’s a minor complaint in an excellent film.

18. Mesrine: Killer Instinct
This first part of Mesrine headlined by Vincent Cassel is one hell of an entertaining gangster flick. Plenty of great action scenes buoyed by solid character work and hip direction by Jean-Francois Richet, Mesrine is a thrill ride that works well with its standard biopic structure.

17. The Fighter
This is a familiar story that excels from inventive direction, a script that is marvelously tailored to its specified environment and first-rate performances. We may know where it’s going but getting there is still stimulating. I didn’t expect much from this film despite the people involved. I was shocked that how much life David O. Russell injected into the film which directorial choices that stood out but did not distract.

16. The King’s Speech
The trend of ripping apart The King’s Speech for being an “Oscar” film is getting old. This was another film I had zero interest in. The trailer failed to impress me. I knew exactly what I was going to get going into it. When a film with all this going against it succeeds, why isn’t this seen as more of an accomplishment? Screenwriter David Seidler was able to tell two stories; one about a friendship between two men and one about a man tentatively taking his place at the throne. It is everything it wants to be and more. The high point is the chemistry between Firth and Rush which is phenomenal. Seeing their friendship blossom and overcome all is all kinds of life affirming. Tom Hooper is unfairly getting called out lately when his work here is exceptional. I’m simply not ashamed to like a predictable “Oscar” film. It deserves it’s praise and it won me over with its superb, rich and heartfelt storytelling.