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.

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)





Academy Award Nomination Predictions

Here they are folks; my useless Oscar predictions. Every year I manage to pick the wrong things and this year will likely be no different. I’m really hoping for a few shockers on Tuesday morning. A couple of my choices are wishful thinking as well as a few purposeful omissions from categories due to reverse wishful thinking. The inclusion of Dogtooth in Foreign Film is completely unrealistic but I have high hopes for it and refuse to not put it in. I’ll do my Dream Ballot soon enough which is the ultimate wishful thinking activity as I allow everything that came out in 2010 to be eligible, neglecting to edit films that were not submitted (it is a dream ballot after all).What do you think of these? What are your predictions and what are the surprise nominations you wish to see Tuesday morning?

Oscar Predictions:

Best Actor: 4/5
Jeff Bridges – True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network
Ryan Gosling – Blue Valentine
Colin Firth – The King’s Speech
James Franco – 127 Hours
Alternate: Robert Duvall – Get Low

Best Actress: 4.5/5
Annette Bening – The Kids Are All Right
Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone
Julianne Moore – The Kids Are All Right
Natalie Portman – Black Swan
Michelle Williams – Blue Valentine
Alternate: Nicole Kidman – Rabbit Hole

Best Supporting Actor: 4.5/5
Christian Bale – The Fighter
Andrew Garfield – The Social Network
Jeremy Renner –  The Town
Mark Ruffalo – The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush – The King’s Speech
Alternate: John Hawkes – Winter’s Bone

Best Supporting Actress: 4.5/5
Amy Adams – The Fighter
Helena Bonham-Carter – The King’s Speech
Mila Kunis – Black Swan
Melissa Leo – The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit
Alternate: Jacki Weaver – Animal Kingdom

Best Adapted Screenplay: 5/5
Simon Beaufoy, Danny Boyle – 127 Hours
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Michael Arndt, Toy Story 3
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
Debra Granik, Anne Rosselini, Winter’s Bone
Alternate: Roman Polanski, The Ghost Writer

Best Animated Feature: 3/3
Toy Story 3
The Illusionist
How to Train Your Dragon
Alternate: Tangled

Best Art Direction: 3.5/5
Geoffrey Kirkland, Get Low
Guy Hendrix Dyas, Inception
Eve Stewart, The King’s Speech
Dante Ferretti, Shutter Island
Jess Gonchor, True Grit
Alternate: Stuart Craig, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Best Cinematography: 5/5
Matthew Libateque, Black Swan
Wally Pfister, Inception
Danny Cohen, The King’s Speech
Jeff Cronenweth, The Social Network
Roger Deakins, ASC, True Grit
Alternate: Robert Richardson, Shutter Island

Best Costume Design: 3.5/5
Colleen Atwood, Alice in Wonderland
Amy Westcott, Black Swan
Michael Kaplan, Burlesque
Jenny Beavan, The King’s Speech
Mary Zophres, True Grit
Alternate: Sandy Powell, The Tempest

Best Director: 4.5/5
Darren Aronofsky – Black Swan
David Fincher – The Social Network
Tom Hooper – The King’s Speech
Christopher Nolan – Inception
David O’ Russell – The Fighter
Alternate: Joel and Ethan Coen – True Grit

Best Documentary: 3/5
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Inside Job
The Tillman Story
Waiting for Superman
Alternate: Client 9

Best Editing: 4/5
Andrew Weisblum, Black Swan
Pamela Martin, The Fighter
Lee Smith, Inception
Tariq Anwar, The King’s Speech
Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall, The Social Network
Alternate: Jim Helton, Ron Patane, Blue Valentine (I fail to see why this is on nobody’s radar)

Best Foreign Language Film: 4/5
Biutiful, Mexico
In a Better World, Denmark
Life, Above All, South Africa
Incendies, Canada
Dogtooth, Greece
Alternate: Confessions, Japan

Best Makeup: 1.5/3
Alice in Wonderland
True Grit
The Wolfman
Alternate: Barney’s Version

Best Original Score: 5/5
AR Rahman, 127 Hours
John Powell, How to Train Your Dragon
Hans Zimmer, Inception
Alexandre Desplat, The King’s Speech
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network
Alternate: Alexandre Desplat, The Ghost Writer

Best Original Song: 3/4
“You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me Yet” – Burlesque
“I See the Light” – Tangled
“If I Rise” – 127 Hours
“We Belong Together” – Toy Story 3
“Shine” Waiting for Superman
Alternate: “Sticks and Stones” – How to Train Your Dragon

Best Original Screenplay: 4.5/5
Mike Leigh, Another Year
Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John J. McLaughlin, Black Swan
Christopher Nolan, Inception
Lisa Cholodenko, The Kids Are All Right
David Seidler, The King’s Speech
Alternate: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, The Fighter

Best Picture: 10/10
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Fighter
The Social Network
True Grit
Toy Story 3
Winter’s Bone
Alternate: The Town

Best Sound Editing: 3.5/5
127 Hours
How to Train Your Dragon
Toy Story 3
TRON: Legacy
Alternate: Unstoppable

Best Sound Mixing: 3/5
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Social Network
TRON: Legacy
Alternate: True Grit

Best Visual Effects: 4/5
Alice in Wonderland
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Iron Man 2
TRON: Legacy
Alternate: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

The 10 Worst Films of 2010 (that I saw)

These represent what I thought were the ten worst films of 2010 that I got to see. There were a lot of films that probably would have made this list had I seen them, but you couldn’t pay me to see the likes of The Bounty Hunter, Grown Up, Life as We Know It or any other rabble of probable schlock that entered the theaters this year. There were other films that were trying to be something and didn’t work for me. An overrated list would include Kick-Ass, The American, Micmacs, RED, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Piranha 3-D and others. There were other films this year though that were a lot worse.

10. Monsters
Probably the most overrated film of the year, Monsters collapses under the weight of its own concept because it does not have interesting characters to support it. The acting is not up to par and the dialogue is flat and stale. The concept is interesting and Edwards is clearly a director with potential. This debut though, is bland and even painful to sit through.

9. The Wolfman
The Wolfman‘s biggest flaw is that it managed to make story of The Wolfman boring. Johnston’s lifeless and hollow direction and an intriguingly miscast del Toro make this a missed and forgettable opportunity.

8. Clash of the Titans
It was all over for Clash of the Titans the moment it decided to take itself seriously. Hitting every single trope of recent big budget fantasy action blockbusters, Clash of the Titans is impossible to take seriously from all the actors phoning it in to Sam Worthington’s game face to the video game structure. Worst of all is Ralph Fiennes who parodies his own Voldemort performance.

7. Machete
Being a huge Grindhouse fan, the idea of seeing this trailer come to life as a full length motion picture was anticipatory. The most disappointing film of the year for me, Machete failed on every level and managed to become laughable once it misguidedly tried to become a message picture. Trejo has the presence but not the chops to be a leading man even in a faux exploitation picture. I am shocked that this got more than decent reviews as it bored me out of my mind.

6. Ondine
Nothing about Neil Jordan’s latest worked for me. Using a modern day fairy tale sensibility as an excuse for existing, this film’s only saving grace is Colin Farrell’s solid performance. The third act is ridiculous and the first two thirds go in endless circles. The daughter character and her interactions with others is forced and hard to care for. Ondine herself is nothing but a damsel in distress for us to oogle at. The great Christopher Doyle’s cinematography was praised but I couldn’t get past it. I couldn’t get past anything in this film.

5. Alice in Wonderland
Tim Burton’s latest inspired a very long review from me as well as an essay for my screenplay class where I had to pick a film with a bad script and explain how I would fix it. There’s no end to the number of things wrong with this take on the Lewis Carroll stories. Burton’s creativity and ability to create new worlds has become diluted and neutered. Adding such a plot heavy ‘Narnia’ feel to it not only takes away anything Carroll originally meant to do but it becomes a rip off of the Narnia films and does not replace Carroll’s intentions with anything that justifies making it plot heavy. Furthermore, Linda Woolverton’s script is entirely built around the idea that the Mad Hatter is a central figure solely so Johnny Depp is front and center.

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Another remake that mistakenly took itself too seriously. The decision to not make Freddie Kruger a jokester changes everything about the character and takes away what made him different from other serious minded slasher icons. Then the decision to make him a pedophile adds an unneccesary dynamic to the remake which comes off as a desperate attempt to change things up. Finally, the entire film is essentially the same scene over and over again. It soon becomes obvious exactly where each scene is going and the idea of not knowing what is or isn’t a dream is uncreatively trumped by the endless repetition of the film.

Featuring the worst performance of the year in the form of Christina Ricci, an unsuccessful gimmicky concept and a barely functioning film, is a travesty. Director Agnieska Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s own sense of cleverness destroys all the potential of the film. All of her effort is put into placing clues that will enhance the “is she alive or is she dead” mystery and then placing other clues to purposely throw us off the scent. In the process, she forgot to actually make a film. There is never any reason to care whether or not Ricci is alive and there are significant chunks of time where somehow nothing happens to either push the story forward or enhance any meaning within the film. Vosloo’s self satisfaction is  set in stone by the film’s special feature which has her going through the film, discussing each clue she put into place and talking about what we were supposed to take from it, answering the question of whether or not she was actually alive. Thanks Vosloo. Way to let your audience interpret a story their own way.

2. Jonah Hex
The last two films on the list are perhaps redundant choices. They got abominable reviews and this one was one of the biggest flops of the year. That this is atrocious cannot be overstated. At no point does this feel like an actual film. It looks like someone filmed some footage and it was never put together. Then, years later a random passerby finds the footage and decides to splice together some sort of story based on what’s available to him. This is the result. That this is not the case is shocking. Like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Clash of the Titans, the self serious tone is a big problem here. But so is the editing, acting, script and basic story. That’s what makes it so terrible. Every single aspect of it is outrageous. It must be seen to be believed. The only thought that comes to mind was “what were they thinking”?

1. Legion
What can even be said about Legion? One minute in and the stakes are already as high as they can be; the entire world is in danger. It expects us to be invested immediately and we have yet another film that takes itself WAY too seriously. Lighten up people. I don’t know how to convey why I thought this was the worst film of the year. It’s “end of the world” sensibility combined with its laughable group of stereotypical characters and attempts at speechifying were enough for me.



Golden Globes Wrap Up

Let’s just get into it with Ricky Gervais’ hosting. His controversial stint last night, which clearly made the vast majority of the room uncomfortable and downright offended, is being discussed ad infintum this morning after. Gervais has my eternal admiration for creating both “The Office” and “Extras”. The stand up of his that I’ve seen is underwhelming and does not represent what he is capable of. There are a lot of people who think Gervais did a fantastic job because he gave the stars a healthy dose of reality. I’m not adverse to the self congratulatory joke that are the Globes getting a beatdown, that is if the jokes are funny. For the most part though, Gervais managed to be offensive without justifying it with quality. How far he went is being a bit overstated. Most hosts go that far. From recollection, insults are thrown out at a wide array of people during award shows that are either insulting or touch upon some recent Hollywood scandal. That’s exactly what Gervais did. Except they were lazy jokes, with easy targets, making cracks about actors that have been made countless times. Lazy jokes aside, the source of the controversy is not neccesarily the material, but the way Gervais presented it. Robert Downey Jr. put it best when he called it, “hugely mean spirited with slightly sinister undertones”. To expect anything less than that from Gervais would be naive, but there was a particularly cruel vibe at work last night even for him. He seemed to actively want everyone to hate him. It was like watching Gervais on some sort of masochistic mission to be the most hated man in the room. It’s not a good sign if you’ve pissed off Tom Hanks of all people. At the same time, the HFPA is moronic; Gervais never pretended that his act would be any different than his stand up persona and this is exactly the kind of comedy he is known for. He certainly went for it which, in theory I love. I just wish the jokes had actually been funny to justify the outright hatred and disdain he exuded every time he came out. Sorry to say, but the majority of his jokes were uncreative and unfunny, which leaves us with a man on stage who despises everyone  and makes shitty jokes. I will forever be a fan of Gervais, but I won’t pretend he was a great host simply because he’s Ricky Gervais or because he stuck it to the Globes.

The awards themselves went as expected for the most part and were pretty boring outside of some small moments that made it all worth it. As a rule, seeing one film sweep during all of awards season is obnoxious.  The kind of groupthink that emerges every year overshadows how many films come out and undermines how many are worthy of attention. Sitting through months of Slumdog Millionaire winning every concievable award two years ago became painful. Thankfully, this year’s consensus pick, The Social Network is the most deserving of the film’s in contention for the big award. I might like Black Swan a bit more but TSN will also make my top ten of the year and as a film, it is a greater achievement than Aronofsky’s latest. Seeing something this great get deserved recognition is gratifying and it will remain so when it recieves its Best Picture Awards at the Oscars.

The best moments came in small and few doses. In all honesty, the highlight of the evening was a tie between Tilda Swinton’s epic delivery of “Pillars of the Earth” and Jeremy Irons equally epic delivery of “The Fighter”. Yes, these were the moments I clung to. Longer moments included certain acceptance speeches. Paul Giamatti’s amusing and assumedly drunken speech started with “I’ve never seen so many Godiva chocolates” and went to thanking “the great nation of Canada”. Steve Buscemi (while I would have very much preferred a Cranston or Hamm win) had a nice speech and referred to the “sad music” that comes up. Colin Firth gave the best speech of the night; it was dignified but kind of depressing because Firth seems to be going through a midlife crisis of sorts. Lee Unkrich wondering if presenters Justin Bieber and Hailee Steinfeld were even born when the first Toy Story came out was funny much needed l. Presenters Robert Downey Jr., Tiny Fey and Steve Carell provided some much needed laughs. Chris Colfer winning was a triumph. For all the innumerable problems I have with “Glee”, Colfer remains a pillar of talent in a sea of decreasing dreck. Sexiest line reading of the night goes to Alicia Keys saying Black Swan. Carlos winning was the most exciting win of the night. It’s not a film I outright love, but one I like a lot and greatly admire. Other than that, the proceedings were expectedly boring. I was clinging onto being superficially giddy over stupid things like Angelina Jolie fixing Brad Pitt’s bowtie or Emma Stone and Mila Kunis jumping up and down together out of context. Seeing those random celebrity moments before commercial breaks were a lot of fun. Lastly, being a huge (and I mean obsessively huge, this cannot be overstated) fan of “GUTS” and “Get the Picture” made it endlessly surreal to see Mike O’ Malley on a Golden Globes stage.

The low points of the actual ceremony? The DeNiro montage was in no way representative of a 40 year career. All I got from it was it reminded me how badly I need to see The King of Comedy. Also not so fun was seeing Michael C. Hall with a divorce beard. Calling Michael Douglas a “special guest” and earlier on cutting to Jane Lynch when The Kids Are All Right wins an award. Stay classy, Golden Globes. On the plus side, Douglas looks fantastic and seeing him get emotional and saying “There has to be an easier way to get a standing ovation” was a personal highlight. Having no In Memoriam segment was more upsetting than it would have been to be reminded of all the people we lost this year. “Boardwalk Empire” winning over “Mad Men” was dissapointing but expected since the HFPA likes recognizing new shows. The entire category was a joke the moment “The Walking Dead” was nominated over “Breaking Bad” which should have taken the award for Best Drama even over this past season of the always remarkable “Mad Men”. Robert DeNiro’s acceptance speech had its moments but it somehow turned into an awkward and unsuccessful stand-up routine. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo getting to go on and on endlessly while Katey Sagal and others get the “sad music” cue almost immediately.

All in all, the Globes had their moments but they were sparse indeed and needed active looking to be found. Thankfully there are a lot of strong films this year in contention for the big awards. Awards season continues to be a love/hate time and as ridiculous as it all is, it is undeniably entertaining to follow.

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.

2010 Film List: Top 10 Song Usages in 2010 Film

Hello all! I told you I would be back. It just took a while. I move into my dorm next week for grad school and my best friend came back from South Korea for a few weeks (who I haven’t seen for a year) so I’ve been busy. This also includes watching more 2010 films for my lists! There will be more soon to come. I’ll repeat this every time I post a list: these are not meant to be objective. Granted, obviously these are all on the list because they were well done but they do not represent what I think was the “best” of the year. These lists are based in what I enjoyed the most. While there is a moderately strong correlation between any “subjectivity” and “objectivity”, I prefer to claim subjectivity mainly because I think it’s not only more interesting but a hell of a lot less entitled. Being drawn to the way songs are used in film are a combination of the song itself and the way it is used. That may be an obvious thing to say but it’s worth mentioning.

Honorable Mention: “I’ll Try Anything Once” (demo) – The Strokes – Somewhere

10. “Strobe/Adagio in D-Minor” – John Murphy – Kick-Ass (SPOILER ALERT)
I’m still unsure if this should be eligible. John Murphy helped score Kick-Ass. He took the track “Adagio in D-Minor”, which he originally wrote for Sunshine and tweaked it a little, renaming it “Strobe (Adagio in D-Minor)”. The association with Sunshine is too strong to ignore, thus I’m counting it. I am not the biggest fan of Kick-Ass. It had significant problems and while there was a surprising amount of elements that worked, there were just as many that didn’t. The best scene in the film comes about three quarters in. Using Murphy’s Sunshine score has become quite a big fad recently. “The Adjustment Bureau” trailer, Walking Dead and Kick-Ass have all made use of the track. If the composer himself is recycling his own music, he clearly understands how powerful the track is. Even though the track itself guarantees success, the way it is used in this is especially notable. This is Big Daddy’s death scene. As he burns in front of his daughter’s (Hit Girl) eyes, she is forced to watch and simultaneously defend herself. She attaches a strobe light on her gun which she soon sets down in order to confuse her enemies. The strobe light effect lends standout visuals and the use of slow motion is well earned. Add Murphy’s music and you have a pitch-perfect scene that single handedly re-invested me into a flawed film.

9. “White Moon” – Jack White/The White Stripes – The White Stripes Under the Great Northern Lights

In this personal documentary that alternates between stellar concert footage and private moments between band members Jack and Meg White, the highlight comes in the film’s last scene. Jack White plays “White Moon” on the piano as Meg sits beside him and listens. As the song continues, Meg gets visibly emotional as she cries throughout. After it ends, he comforts her. Not having the specific emotional context allows us to focus solely on the moment itself. It is uncommonly personal given the band’s very private and at times even cryptic private lives. There are many private moments featured in this film, but nothing comes close to this closing scene.  It is poignant and moving; the perfect note to end this rich concert film.

. “Lady Grinning Soul” – David Bowie – The Runaways
Another film that I’m not quite on board with even though I very much enjoyed it. This was a standard biopic with two excellent lead performances and sprinkles of brilliance that remain some of the best moments from any film this past year. Cherie Currie’s (Dakota Fanning) unconventional choice of song for her school talent how gets her booed off stage. She manages to get the last word by flicking off her fellow students. I realize it’s wrong to say this but Fanning looks damn good in the film, especially here. Director Floria Sigismondi’s presentation of the material aligns itself with the song. It is a song you could melt to and visually the scene takes on the same relaxed and confident tone with its casual camera movements. The film uses it to introduce Cherie’s transformed identity which is protective and outwardly unafraid.

7. “You Always Hurt the Ones You Love” – Ryan Gosling – Blue Valentine

Anyone who has seen the trailer to Blue Valentine has essentially already seen this scene. It conveys the early chronological sequences’ spontaneous tone. By the time this scene occurs in the film, the audience has already seen plenty of sequences from the later chronological sequences.  The scene works on its own as a romantic and even adorable moment between two characters. Add the context of where Dean and Cindy end up and the scene becomes additionally somber.

6. “Don’t You Want Me” – The Human League – Cyrus
The highpoint of Cyrus comes early on when it combines our inherent desire to see John C. Reilly succeed with a great song to create a really fun scene that transcends its own cliches with excellent execution. John is having a rough night and by the time he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) he is drunk. The song in question comes on and he explodes with excitement and startes singing karaoke. Everyone watches him embarass himself until Tomei saves the day by joining him. Soon Catherine Keener is on board and then everyone at the party is singing along. The scene made me wish I was at that party so I could sing along with them. It’s also triumphant and had me smiling throughout.

5. “Shift” (Alternate Version) – Grizzly Bear – Blue Valentine (SPOILER ALERT)
Grizzly Bear’s music is used to act as a “score” for Blue Valentine. They did not actually create anything new for the film but gave the rights of their music over to director Derek Cianfrance for use. The best usage comes towards the end when the juxtaposition between the two time periods become actively involved with each other through the editing. It acts as a sort of climax between both periods of time, marking Dean and Cindy’s marriage and the subsequent final disintegration of of it.

4. “Dreams Never End” – New Order – Carlos

This was the only scene I could not find a picture from. While other songs like “Dot Dash” and “Loveless Love” are used memorably, it’s New Order’s “Dreams Never End” that stands out the most. What begins as a simple early scene as the song is coolly put to one of Carlos’ terrorist activities, is quickly transformed into something more complex. Carlos is seen naked in his room as he looks in the mirror grabbing himself with a new sense of power. From the start, we see how Carlos associates his terrorist activities. Aside from the complexity, it remains the hottest nude scene of 2010 and has a killer song to overlook the juxtaposition of destruction and power.

3. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” – The Stooges – The Runaways

This was the sexiest scene from a 2010 release. It essentially is this year’s equivalent to the “Carlos” scene from A Single Man. Hence it’s very high placement on the list.

2. “O Children” – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

This and number 1 were impossible to pick between. In an entirely added scene, Harry and Hermione are given an intimate moment that is representative of their friendship over the course of seven films. Ron has left and Hermione is miserable because of it. They have the radio on and “O Children” begins. They are on a hopeless journey and all they have is each other. Harry dances with Hermione in an effort cheer her up. For a moment Hermione allows herself to be happy but it soon passes and she sinks back into reality. The scene is an uplifting one featuring an inspired song choice; a bright spot in a film filled with ennui and hopelessness.

1. “Life’s a Bitch” – Nas – Fish Tank
Nobody expected to see “Life’s a Bitch” put to this kind of profound use. That’s right; profound.  By the time this scene arrives, the characters have gone through a lot. The family dynamic is virtually irreparable and Mia’s only real chance is to start anew. Her goodbye scene with her mother and sister turns into an impromptu dance. It contains all the unspoken emotion between the family and shows that this is their highest capacity of communication. The fact that this dance is all they can do for each other prevents the scene from veering into too much sentimentality. It remains touching without losing its edge. Not to mention the scene is just beautiful. A true highlight amongst so many memorable scenes from 2010 releases.