Dec 28, 2010

2010 - The Year in Film (1.0)

2010 might be the first year in memory where movies didn't take up the majority of my personal time (*gasp!*), a fact that was not entirely out of my control. In previous years, had I the quantity of blind spots I do now, I'd be embarrassed to post this list; much as I like them, some of the latter choices in my top ten would be likely Honorable Mention candidates and nothing more. But, I'm far more grateful for the experiences I've had than disappointed at the trips to the multiplex I missed, and I'm still of the opinion that it was a damn good year at the movies. Here's what made it worthwhile to these eyes.

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10. How to Train Your Dragon (dir. Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders) Dreamworks Animation, all your prior offenses are hereby forgiven. Although not as gorgeous as the clever, partially redemptive Kung Fu Panda, this account of a scrawny, wannabe Viking Hiccup and his determination to buck the trend is exciting, affirming, witty, and one for the permanent family film collection (just a few slots up from the directorial duo's last feature, the exquisite Lilo & Stitch).

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9. Salt (dir. Phillip Noyce) To paraphrase a colleague of mine, Salt belongs on the list of "this is how it's done", it being on par with Die Hard, The Matrix and The Terminator for singular action gusto. It works fabulously whether you catch the details right away or not. At the center of the beautifully contrived plot is whirlwind Angelina Jolie: feline, brainy, secretive and utterly elemental. No sequel is necessary; the ending fade-out is the stuff of legend.

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8. The Other Guys (dir. Adam McKay) The comedy of the year, The Other Guys sets Will Ferrell's laid-back zero-risk zen against Mark Wahlberg's clipped claws, they being go-nowhere cops by respective choice and circumstance. In catching the trail of a Ponzi scheme without prosecutable evidence, they unwittingly take bribes, lose all respect as officers, and get their shoes stolen, among other things. Adam McKay's finest act of absurdity yet rails against our collective financial C.F., capping it off with an end credits sequence for the ages.

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7. The Fighter (dir. David O. Russell) The Fighter stands in the shadow of failure, and as only the best formulaic crowd-pleasers manage, it convinces us of the emerging victory. David O. Russell's take on this underdog tale - one fueled by the crushing effects of celebrity image, drug use, and familial over-attachment - is cheeky in its postmodern embrace. Highlights include: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Marky Mark, the pack of velociraptors, Amy Adams, Amy Adams, rock-scored sequences, use of slow motion, and Amy Adams.

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6. Prodigal Sons (dir. Kimberly Reed) The documentary of the year acts as a palate cleanser to all those snarky over-commercialized ones. Director Kimberly Reed's transsexuality is frankly unexploitative and personal, and she treats her mentally-challenged adopted brother with the same loving, unconditional directness. The discoveries that follow as she watches his grappling with life are shocking, unbelievable, and always revelatory.

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5. Winter's Bone (dir. Debra Granik) An ice-cold noir in Ozarkian clothing, Winter's Bone is strictly excellent, always personal filmmaking. Drugs and murder lie just beneath the surface of this rural America, where Jennifer Lawrence's Ree must prove her court-dodging daddy's incapacitation before the bank takes her family's home away. Raw, unflinching, moving and stylistically audacious, it's the movie that Frozen River wanted to be, and more.

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4. Let Me In (dir. Matt Reeves) An immediate edition to the short list of superior horror remakes, Matt Reeves' Let Me In trades the icy empathy of the 2008 Swedish original for a classic (and classy) Spielberg glow. If you haven't seen the original (it too is one of the great vampire films), it's excellent, and if you have, it might even be better. Just think: In a parallel, just universe somewhere, this was one of the box office sensations of the year, and Twilight doesn't even exist. Mmmmm.

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3. Shutter Island (dir. Martin Scorsese) This hard-boiled whodunit is the stuff of criminal cliché, but furthermore, its a pulp euphoria that taps directly into our survival instincts: (self-inflicted) violence and mental repression. Martin Scorsese's role as director - world creator - has rarely been used to more appropriately contextual ends than in this heartbreaking look at love, death, and defense mechanisms. Elemental, sensual, terrifying, monolithic, and only a sane man would ask the final question.

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2. The Ghost Writer (dir. Roman Polanski) Say what you will of the director, but there remains something to be said for troubled artists, and this captivating thriller adds fuel to the argument. This politico is like razor wire, cutting fast and deep and often so swift you don't even notice its cunning straight out; the final punchline gets more brutal in hindsight. What's more, as a politically conscious work, it's timely without the overt suffocation. A masterwork in all ways; if this isn't one of the ten nominees, someone in the Academy needs to be shot.

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1. The Social Network (David Fincher) The role of Facebook in society isn't of direct concern here, but it's there, writ large in the context. Writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher's film is about human connection in a digital society, where emotions become masked and muted by information. Luddites be damned, these portals have their own way of stagnating that which they intend to encourage; in our own way, we all become assholes. Like Fight Club, it's worthy of Kubrick, and further displays Fincher's emotional elasticity. The Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross score is unquestionably the shit, the cast is the best of the year, and the screenplay - while traditional in structure (at least by 2010 standards) - is endlessly quotable. It holds a candle to Citizen Kane, which is to say, it's a small masterpiece.

Honorable Mentions: The Crazies, The Eclipse, Greenberg, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, Hot Tub Time Machine, The Human Centipede (First Sequence), The Kids Are All Right, The Town, True Grit, Unstoppable

And some more: Cyrus, Despicable Me, Inside Job, Mother, Oceans, Piranha 3D, Predators, Red Riding (1974), Resident Evil: Afterlife, The Secret of Kells, Splice, Survival of the Dead, Sweetgrass, Toy Story 3, Tron Legacy, Trust Us, This Is All Made Up, The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest

Surprises (also honorable mentions): The A-Team, Burlesque, Grown Ups, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, The Mini, Shrek Forever After, The Warrior's Way, The Wolfman

Should Have Been Great (but still worthwhile): Black Swan, Easy A, I Am Love, Inception, The Killer Inside Me, Never Let Me Go, A Prophet, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Should Have Been Great (aka, that was awful): Alice in Wonderland, Iron Man 2, Kick-Ass

Blind Spots: More than I'd rather list here. As in, at least 30 or so that I'd consider essential viewing. I'll get back to you.

Best Leading Performances: Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right; Leonardo DiCaprio, Shutter Island; Ciarán Hinds, The Eclipse; Jessie Eisenberg, The Social Network; Will Ferrell, The Other Guys; Angelina Jolie, Salt; Hye-ja Kim, Mother; Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone; Tahar Rahim, A Prophet; Ben Stiller, Greenberg; Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit; Emma Stone, Easy A

Best Supporting Performances: Amy Adams, The Fighter; Christian Bale, The Fighter; Andrew Garfield, The Social Network; Rooney Mara, The Social Network; Jeremy Renner, The Town; Mickey Rourke, Iron Man 2; Justin Timberlake, The Social Network; Mia Wasikowska, The Kids Are All Right; Michelle Williams, Shutter Island

Great Ensembles: Cyrus, The Fighter, The Ghost Writer, The Kids Are All Right, Let Me In, Shutter Island, The Social Network, The Town, True Grit, Winter's Bone

Best Performance as a Bitter Old Man: TIE, Jack McGee in The Fighter and Dakin Matthews in True Grit

Thesping Moment of the Year: Jessie Eisenberg in The Social Network, “The site's live.”

Funniest line of dialogue: Jonah Hill in Cyrus, "It's like a crippled tree reaching for heaven."

Best Direction: Roman Polanski, The Ghost Writer

Best Bookend Shots (opening and closing): The Ghost Writer

Best Closing Shot: Shutter Island

Best Soundtrack: TIE, Shutter Island and The Social Network

Classic Discovery of the Year: Miami Connection, aka the Citizen Kane of bad 80s action films

In Poor Taste: Remember Me

I'm Glad I Didn't Finish: Clash of the Titans, The Karate Kid, Knight and Day

Worst of the Year: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, You Again, The Back-Up Plan


  1. This seems to be the year when a lot of cinephiles like us seem to have made movies less of a priority in our lives than in previous years. I, for one, was still seeing a lot of films in theaters—just not always the new releases. And I also began to take more of an interest in exploring other arts (theater, music, visual) in addition to cinema. As my mother never fails to remind me, there's more to life than movies. I couldn't imagine living without the cinema in my life, but this year it didn't necessarily dominate my life. Sounds like this was the same for you, Rob.

  2. Well, the Other Guys is the only movie on your list that I gave a negative review to, but I love Marky Mark in that. He deserves the Supporting Actor Oscar nomination that will go to his buddy Cracky Crack in The Fighter. The Fighter, while good, isn't on my ten best list for two words: Melissa Leo. I haven't hated a performance that much since Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer.

    I'm with you on Salt and The Ghost Writer, and even The Social Network, though it's not my #1. Funny how much I avoided that movie (I just saw it on Saturday), only to discover it really is good. Reading Shutter Island beforehand saved the movie for me, as did Scorsese's Val Lewton-y touches. I know I wouldn't have liked it if I'd not been prepared for just how stupid it is. Winter's Bone is good but left me cold for some odd reason. I've never heard of Prodigal Sons, but now I'd llke to see it.

  3. Can't say Leo rubbed me the wrong way, but for the exact same reason has Barbara Hershey (or rather, the part written for her) kept Black Swan off my top ten. That and what Ryland Walker Knight aptly calls "retarded ballerina horror."

  4. Also, Odie, I really liked Marky Mark in The Fighter, too. I instituted a pretty tough cutoff in order to not list twice as many performances; maybe I'll reconsider his exclusion. He should have won back in '07 for The Depahted.

  5. I'd like to see Marky Mark get the nomination for The Other Guys, as it's a comedic role and he's hilarious and psychotic. But he and Amy Adams are the heart of The Fighter and she definitely deserves a nomination over Melissa Leo. Marky won't get one for The Fighter because the role is more reaction than action. Leo and Bale chew the screen to shreds, and you watch Wahlberg cower in the corner of the screen holding onto the one unchewed shred of it.

    Remind me to tell you my Odie meets Marky Mark story someday.

    Ry is on point when he called Black Swan "retarded ballerina horror." I gave it a B, but I also wrote that it was "stewpit as fuck." I think critics are jizzing in their pants ENTIRELY because of the lesbian action. Just like when Sharon Stone showed her cooch in Basic Instinct and people went crazy, I ask: "what's the big fuckin' deal? Haven't you seen this before? And better? Damn!" Well, they are film critics, so probably not...

  6. This end-year list period has been great for me, not least because its the first in a while that hasn't made me feel like I've missed out on a hell of a lot more than the usual suspects. One of my most notable blind spots is your number 2, which I've tried to watch - only to be interrupted somehow - twice. But what I saw felt terrific, so it's possible it could rank equally high when I do this stuff sometime in January.

    Thanks for contributing several more additions to my to-watch list anyway, Rob. Your writing's as good as ever, even if I'm forever at a loss to understand how Noah Baumbach ever makes people's "honorable mentions." Greenberg was better than Squid and the Whale for sure, but I still found it noxious.

    Hope to read more from you in the new year.

  7. Anonymous12:11 AM

    Pretty good list. I agree with almost all...especially Let Me In.

  8. You should be thrown in jail.