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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.