Communication and identity were big themes in 2010 (and every other year), right alongside isolationism on top and kids (and their toys) growing up to mounting uncertainty. The films, as they always do, reflect that. The best ones had none of the problems that their characters often face, and though there are thousands of tireless idiosyncrasies among this year’s releases, it’s the bigger connections that are important, and we’ve left one out. All of the films on this list are wonderful, if each in their own way. So here’s a toast to the great, the weird, the insightful, the funny, and the heartbreaking, and here’s hoping Transformers 3 doesn’t prevent 2011 from being just as good if not better.
1. Black Swan- Taking lessons from classics like The Red Shoes and Repulsion and then adding in more frantic body horror, Darren Aronofsky has us follow Nina the ballerina on her nightmarish journey toward perfection in her preparation for the leads in Swan Lake. In this unlikely companion piece to 2008’s The Wrestler, we dive deeper into the depths of an athlete’s mind and body at war with itself while Nina tries to find her inner dark side to play the Black Swan. The battle is projected onto the environment with hallucinations and onto Nina’s weary body in the form of scratches, bruises, and emerging feathers. Aronofsky himself wages a successful battle between perfect technique and dark, brooding instinct. He, along with a never-better Natalie Portman, creates a new masterpiece full of feverish dance sequences, controlling mothers, and fierce competition for his catalog. Like his protagonist, he flies past the competition and lands atop the pile of 2010’s best films. Read Full Review
2. The Social Network- Much like last year’s Up in the Air, David Fincher’s The Social Network takes a snapshot of where we are at as a country. This time, though, it’s uploaded to Facebook. A dark exploration of the ways we communicate and the ruthless nature of business, the genius of Fincher’s film and Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is that it shows that even though all of this is online, not much has changed. Mark Zuckerberg, despite his tech savvy, is just another lonely, socially inept king. Played superbly by Jesse Eisenberg, we follow Zuckerberg as he comes up with the idea for putting the social experience online, creating a community where you can keep in touch with your friends and losing all of his in the process. From its hilarious, revealing opener to its stirring final image of a tyrant alone at his laptop, The Social Network makes art of its nerd king and his online conquest. Read Full Review
3. The Kids Are All Right– Sometimes watching this film with the same ease and comfort in which it is presented makes you forget about how controversial it may be, which is a testament to how well crafted it was by the filmmakers and actors. To quote my mother after seeing the film, “I’m not sure we’re ready for this kind of film yet.” It really hadn’t occurred to me yet that the couple’s sexuality was really a source of political controversy since it’s so seamless, modern and real feeling into a story that can be applied to a family of any walk of life. Maybe that’s all the more reason for this brilliantly acted, cleverly written, professionally shot film. Like Brokeback Mountain, we can start getting past the issue of orientation and look for the story beyond that, the story of a family just trying to keep it all together at a time when growing pains are tearing it apart. Surely almost any family can relate or take something away from this film, making it the most touching one of the year. Read Full Review
4. The Ghost Writer- Like a ghost sneaking up on you, The Ghost Writer is by far one of the biggest surprises of the year. For a genre film it has real guts and the intricate inner-workings to make it come alive as a film that a lot can be talked about. It’s not quite a personal film or a statement of defense like Woody Allen’s recent work, but Roman Polanski is definitely tapping into his own experience with scandal to make a great statement about today’s political climate with Tony Blair, the American involvement in the Middle East and the issue of political scandal as a whole. It is much more minimally directed than other thrillers like Shutter Island, but it includes some of the finest, most precise film making choices to send audiences on a gloomy thriller that will excite as much as it makes one think. Read Full Review
5. 127 Hours- It is no question that Danny Boyle has made himself one of the strongest, most stylistically advanced modern directors after seeing him turn the true story of climber/adventurer Aron Ralston, who cut off his arm to free himself after 127 hours caught between a rock and a hard place, into a masterful work of art. What could have been summarized into a headline or made into a crappy big studio piece of shit was made into a thrilling, nerve-teasing, beautiful and even funny film that will be remembered well beyond Slumdog Millionaire. Even if this film gets missed in the Best Picture category, film editing or Danny Boyle’s direction are two things that should not go home empty handed. Read Full Review
6. Inception- Definitely the most talked about film of the year, whether that is buzz, debating the ending, or whether it is the best movie of the year or not. There are many things that cannot be denied about Inception. Yes, the film is a true work of visual art with some of the most magnificent special effects productions, breathtaking sights and taut editing abilities seen this year. Also it cannot be denied that is one of the most complexly crafted stories and films that have reached mainstream status for a long time. Similar to high-concept, mind-blowing science fiction like Lost and influenced by the likes of 2001 and The Matrix, this movie crams some of the most complicated ideas we’ve all thought about but could never dream up and put into reality the way only Christopher Nolan could. Finally, it cannot be denied that with all the hype and hoopla surrounding the film, it had some sound performances and a great score. Is it genius? Maybe. Is it Best Picture worthy? It was certainly more artful than Rabbit Hole or The King’s Speech. All our questions won’t be answered yet. Time will tell if Inception is brilliant, if it’s all a dream or if Warner Bros’. marketing team has had us all dreaming. Read Full Review
7. A Prophet- In this epic prison/gang drama, we find a haunting, poetic, and brutal dive into the very depths of the human soul as it becomes eaten away by murder for both profit and survival. Malik (an excellent Tahir Rahim) arrives in the confines of his French prison with no contacts or friends, and begins his slow, grimy climb atop the criminal social structure. The ghost of his first kill, whom he brutally murders with a razor blade to prove himself, haunts him throughout the film. When on leave for good behavior, he continues to extend the will of his boss Cesar while planning a ruthless double-cross. He emerges a violent car shooting, filmed like he is exiting a blood-splattered cocoon, a new, violent moth hopelessly drawn to the criminal flame. Director Jacques Audiard has created a gangster movie that does not revel in its violence, but rather in its moral lessons, and it creates one of the most insightful, well-thought out explorations of that genre in recent memory.
8. Exit Through the Gift Shop– No film this year, fiction or non, works harder at making the audiences contemplate the story afterward (yes Inception included). This documentary follows an amateur “filmmaker” follow street artists at the time of street art’s massive expansion into popular culture as he meets artists like Banksy who soon realize his talents are a hoax. Banksy then takes the camera into his own hands and follows the filmmaker as he creates his own identity as the street artist, Mr. Brainwash, who begins his career making bullshit, ripped off art and throwing on the most lucrative and successful art shows to date. The story rids itself of the old question, “Is it graffiti or is it art?” and takes up a new one, “Is it art or is something so anarchic that any moron can take it up and profit off it?” The questions that are asked and the answers that come out of it are stunning. As far as the technical aspects of movie making goes, this is no documentary masterpiece like The Cove or Man on Wire. It is a lot more like its subject matter, street art. Every aspect of the film loops the audience around and around, wondering what is and what isn’t. Read Full Review
9. Toy Story 3– Pixar can almost always expect to be on these year-end lists. With Toy Story 3, it caps off its original film and only franchise with an excellent, emotional farewell. It begins with a visually stunning, exhilarating duel among toys that we soon learn is all in their owner Andy’s imagination, and then we find Woody, Buzz and all the other mainstays once again find themselves dueling for relevance. Shipped off to a daycare center where they can be played with again, they soon learn that paradise was only on the surface and they once again depart to go back to Andy. Toy Story 3 admirably and elegantly shows us, with the latest modern technology, the power and importance our toys carry with them, especially in its highly charming and emotional final moments. Read Full Review
10. I Am Love- In the age of the horrendous Katherine Heigl rom-com, a searingly passionate work like this is hard to come by. Armed with an Italian-speaking Tilda Swinton, director Luca Guadagnino gives us the story of a Russian woman married into a lush Italian hierarchy. Filled with elegant images of tightly wound mansion corridors and elegant dinner parties in the first half, I Am Love descends into the natural beauty of nature and its stars as Emma (Swinton) falls in love with the house’s new cook. Guadagnino’s supremely confident feature strays largely away from melodrama, and instead gives us a film filled with beauty and emotional resonance. Read Full Review
5 More Finalists: Splice tackled the cloning issue with visionary direction, an excellent cast and a new movie monster legend. Winter’s Bone gave us a truly gritty look into the life of a determined young Ozark girl on the hunt for her druggie dad. True Grit is the Coen Brothers’ meditative Western about a young girl hunting down her father’s killer with a drunken, one-eyed Marshall. Shutter Island also showed Leonardo DiCaprio lost in his mind and sad over his dead wife, but this time in the hands of Martin Scorsese. The Fighter stays largely out of the boxing ring and becomes a compelling human drama powered by style and some of the finest performances of the year.
What was your personal favorite of 2010? What ones do you think we shouldn’t have left out?