It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… But mostly it was the worst of times. Actually, that’s a little dramatic. 2010 wasn’t a particularly stellar year for movies (unlike, say, 2007), but there were some really dynamite pictures out there. You just had to root around for them.
If there’s one thematic unifier to the best movies of 2010, it’s the interplay between fantasy and reality. Most of the biggest, most important movies concern themselves with this quandary – whether it’s the multiple points of view that make up the central narrative of ‘The Social Network’, Leonardo DiCaprio getting stuck in dream worlds in both ‘Shutter Island‘ (which didn’t chart here) and ‘Inception’ (which did), or Woody’s self delusion in ‘Toy Story 3’.
Even documentaries got in on the act. The best and most provocative documentary films made you wonder just how much of what you saw was honest-to-god truth. I’m still trying to figure out ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’, my favorite documentary of the year.
Anyway, enough introduction. Here’s my Top 10 list for 2010, with brief explanations. Can’t wait for the comments!
10) ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World‘ (Edgar Wright)
Yes, Edgar Wright’s hellzapoppin’ comic book adaptation was one of the year’s most astonishing visual feasts. But it was also one of the more emotional experiences of the year, for me. There’s real heart here. I’m still fighting for my Ramona.
09) ‘Rabbit Hole‘ (John Cameron Mitchell)
It’s more than a little upsetting that both critics and audiences haven’t gotten behind this film more. I know “dead child” isn’t a huge draw, but people are missing out on a really affecting, shockingly funny portrayal of suburban grief (embodied beautifully by the performances of Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart). It’s also elegantly directed by John Cameron Mitchell, who shows a real maturity.
08) ‘Piranha 3D‘ (Alexandre Aja) / ‘Let Me In‘ (Matt Reeves)
These two are grouped together because they’re both superior genre remakes, and I love them both to death. With ‘Let Me In’, Matt Reeves cut all the fat out of the original Swedish version (‘Let the Right One In‘) and made it leaner, meaner, more politically pointed, and more sexualized. He also ditched that goofy cat-attack sequence. (Plus, nothing beats that Michael Giacchino score.) On ‘Piranha 3D’, Alexandre Aja took the admittedly dopey premise of prehistoric fish chomping down on spring breakers and turned it into an expert satire on American excess.
07) ‘Mother‘ (Bong Joon-ho)
This criminally underseen South Korean crime movie is still one of my favorite movies of the year, and I saw it in September of ’09. Kim Hye-ja is outstanding as a fiercely loyal mother who goes to amazing lengths to clear the name of her mildly retarded son, who’s been arrested for the murder of a local girl. Bong Joon-ho is one of the greatest filmmakers in the world, expertly combining pathos, comedy and terror.
06) ‘127 Hours‘ (Danny Boyle)
Yes, James Franco cuts his own arm off. Are we done here? Okay. Moving on. Danny Boyle’s glorious ode to life was one of the most singular, powerful experiences I had all year. Only Boyle could make a movie about a man trapped in a confined space feel like you’re giving the universe a hug.
05) ‘Inception‘ (Christopher Nolan)
Few movies had the thematic ambition and visual sophistication of ‘Inception’. That’s even more shocking considering its size as a big-ass studio movie. Few movies spun my head around like this one. In its own way, it’s another moving love story. Even after my one millionth (roughly) viewing, I’m still trying to figure it out.
04) ‘True Grit‘ (Coen Brothers)
A surprisingly straightforward and sentimental effort from The Coen Brothers, I loved ‘True Grit’ from its opening shot. (God, it’s gorgeous!) What I wasn’t prepared for was the emotional wallop of the film, thanks largely to the star-making turn by Hailee Steinfeld as a young girl who hires a rough rider (Jeff Bridges) to avenge her father’s murder. What could have been another revenge tale is an affecting coming-of-age experience.
03) ‘Toy Story 3‘ (Lee Unkrich)
Speaking of affecting… Gee whiz, did anyone think that the one movie that would make both children and grown men alike bawl would be ‘Toy Story 3’? No. But it did. The third film is a profound meditation on life, death and belonging. It made me weep out loud. That isn’t to discount the rip-roaring fun I also had, particularly in the second act, when the film mutates into some bizarre prison movie. It can now be said with some certainty that the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy is the greatest movie three-pack of all time.
02) ‘Black Swan‘ (Darren Aronofsky)
Darren Aronofsky made something that not everyone is going to get behind, but something that is unquestionably his own. Natalie Portman, in my favorite performance of the year, plays a ballerina who loses her shit. In the process, the movie dips from a straightforward melodrama into some crazy feminist horror flick. Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy (there it is again!), Aronofsky totally puts you in the emotional and psychological space of Portman’s ballerina. This film is as gorgeous as it is terrifying.
01) ‘The Social Network‘ (David Fincher)
Shocker! I’ve only been talking about this thing since it opened the New York Film Festival last year. Still, nothing even came close to dazzling me the way that ‘The Social Network’ did. Less about the stupid program we all use every day than about the human compulsions (greed, jealousy, insecurity) behind the foundation of a profound technological movement, the movie made us care less about the software and more about what went into it. The chief criticism leveled at the movie, that it’s too emotionally aloof, should be shrugged away. I was totally involved in uber-geek Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his quest for power… and love. Refresh, refresh, refresh…