Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Top 10 Movies of 2010

I'm with William Goldman who says there is is no such thing as the 10 best movies of the year, only the ten that the writer liked the best. It may be possible to argue for the best movies of the year but that would probably require that all the critics sat down and did a shot-by-shot analysis of ten of the same movies and spoke about things such as canted angles and split diopters and mise-en-scene and wide lenses and long lenses and long takes and deep focus and all those other vast technical things that make up filmic language and affect the way we see things, mostly unconsciously.

That's why I have named my list the Top 10 Movies of 2010. They aren't the best (I haven't seen every movie in 2010 so how could they be?), but rather the ones that moved me in some way the most because it is my belief that all art has the ability to move us in one of two ways: emotionally or intellectually (the best of which often does both) and that's what this list of films did.

The list however, isn't complete. I thought I could do better (which explains it's delay in arriving) but I've finally given up. As of this writing I still haven't seen The King's Speech, Somewhere, 127 Hours or Another Year. It is what it is.One of the film's is from 2009. Deal with it. It's my list. I saw it in 2010 and it deserves the recognition. Just to be fair, I've put it at number 10 if that makes the blow a little easier.

I'm also doing something a littler different this year. Instead of making a separate post for the worst films I'm just going to list them without explanation. Life's too short and it's hard coming up with ten different ways to say something sucked.

So, at long last, here is my 10 favourite films, but first, those honourable mentions that would have made the list were it not for those other 10 (some of them, of course, are from last year but were seen in 2010):

Sin Nombre, Whatever Works, Management, Shutter Island, Rudo Y Cursi, Hot Tub Time Machine, Away We Go, Summer Hours, Death at a Funeral, Everlasting Moments, Orphan, The Losers, Sugar, The Cove, The Messengers, In the Loop, Just Wright, You Don't Know Jack, Knight & Day, The Invention of Lying, Inception, Amreeka, Moon, Legend of the Guardians, Salt, The Karate Kid, 2012, Dinner for Schmucks, Flame & Citron, Bandslam, Taking Woodstock, Easy A, The Princess and the Frog, The Road, The Book of Eli, Pirate Radio, District 13: Ultimatum, Trucker, Morning Glory, Winter's Bone, Remember Me, The Trotsky, Public Speaking, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, She's Out of My League, Unstoppable, A Small Act.

10. Michael Jackson's This is It - Michael Jackson's This Is It doesn't sound like a good idea on paper. It's a collection of footage shot before the death of the pop icon, rehearsing for his upcoming comeback tour. However, despite how excellent the music is and what a true professional Jackson was, what this document truly reflects is just how few gifted contemporaries Jackson had. In a day when songs sound more like they were spit out of computers with no human involvement and performers sing in concerts to tapes and put on spectacles to mask lack of talent, Jackson actually sang, on a stage, to music that can be reproduced entirely by real instruments. And when his voice didn't have the power to reach the notes it needed, he utilized back up singers. This is It is thus a bittersweet farewell to one of pop music's last true talents.

9. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World - This film proved that if filmmaking is moving towards being nothing more than computer generated flashes of light and sound then it may as well still also be funny and entertaining and involve characters that we like and want to go on the journey with. Chalk it up to the combination of Michael Cera's ever charming screen personality and Edgar Wright's frantic imagination and ability to squeeze visual comedy out of every crevice of the film. Wright, a director of excesses who, finally after three tries, has found a platform in order to let his tendencies soar as opposed to bog down a story, goes to great painstaking detail in order to create the actual feel of a graphic novel and video game, while still allowing enough room for the characters to shine through, even if the story does dive into repetition. You wouldn't want every movie to be like this, but you're glad this one is.

8. Chloe - Mistaken and written off by many as trash, Atom Egoyan's Chloe is another dark and intelligent exploration of the lives of people who are all, in some way, emotionally connected. Like Egoyan's other works, but more straight forward this time, Chloe starts out at a distance and slowly zooms in in order to reveal relationships and connections in a light in which they didn't appear before. Taking the shape of an erotic thriller but delivering a fascinating character study of sex and need and desire, Chloe is also one of the few films that takes sex seriously and deals with it in an intelligent and mature manner.

7. True Grit - True Grit is, I guess, the only straight genre film by the Coen Brothers and shows that the madcap duo can play by the rules just as well as they can bend them. Stripped back and adhering to the conventions of the traditional western (while also finding the language and humor of the book that was lost in the earlier John Wayne adaptation of the same name) the Cohen's prove what master storytellers they are, building a film by creating one great scene after another. True Grit plays like a collection of short films that all run together. There's the scene with our young heroin haggling with a crooked business man, Rooster Cogburn's courtroom scene and so on, building up to a whole which is probably the entertainment of the year.

6. Hereafter - Another misunderstood film, this is an intelligent and compelling meditation on life and death that ends with the ultimate truth on the subject: that no one really knows. It involves three separate stories from around the world, who are connected by their encounters with death and who will all ultimately come into contact with one another. But the film, masterfully directed by Clint Eastwood, is not so much about story or plot as standing back and quietly meditating on how fragile life really is, how unexplainable the mysteries of the universe are and how little control we really have over the time we have here. The film doesn't claim it believes in a Heaven or not, but opens itself up to the possibility that there is, just maybe, something profound out there that cannot be explained. Than again, maybe not.

5. It's Kind of a Funny Story - Ryan Fleck and Anne Boden make genre films that stand outside of genre conventions and instead present real character dramas. They've made one film about a drug addicted teacher, one about a foreign baseball player and now one about a kid who checks himself into the mental ward at a hospital. Despite what a plot outline would suggest, the film avoids all opportunity to make fun of the colourful people who populate the ward and instead focuses on their hero and his journey toward discovering that maybe life isn't as bad as he thinks while he is accompanied by another young girl and another (Zack Galafinakis in a brilliant dramatic turn) mysterious fellow who has closed off his baggage from the world. The film avoids every opportunity to become cutesy or preachy and instead just follows this boy up to a realization that is both nice and utterly realistic in its open-endedness.

4. Rabbit Hole - Like Hereafter, Rabbit Hole is another meditation on death and all the mysteries of the universe from a completely different angle. This one is a quite, stripped back drama about a family coping with the loss of their young son. One of them is distant and has emotionally removed herself from the world, finding group meetings a joke and scorning her mother (Diane Wiest stealing the show) for trying to relate to her, and the other who is open and confused and resents how his wife is trying to erase their son as if he never existed. The film raises all the hard questions and delivers none of the easy answers. What begins as a simple drama slowly expands into questioning the entire nature of the universe.

3. Greenberg - There is a scene in which Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller in his best performance since Your Friends & Neighbours) steps gallantly into a swimming pool, stands at the edge, nobly prepares to swim a length and then sputters, coughs and gags his way to the ladder on the other side. That scene essentially defines Greenberg whose most noble actions end up pathetic attempts to prove nothing in particular. And as hard as it is to like this pompous man who fails at life, spends his time writing complaining letter to large corporations, has just recovered from a mental breakdown and is now taking some time off to just do nothing, Stiller kind of has you admiring the guy at the same time. Maybe that's the genius of Noah Bambauch's film: it never quite let's you know how to feel about this guy who can't quite do anything right, especially the on-again off-again romance he develops with his brother's assistant, but is still kind of admirable in his dedication to doing nothing at all. Greenberg is so fascinating because he is everything you wish you could have been and also every reason why you didn't.

2. Black Swan - Black Swan is another study in which director Darren Aronofsky follows a character unmercifully towards their own destruction as they try to reach for something that is just ever so slightly out of their human reach. This time it's a ballet dancer who has been set up with the nearly impossible task of taking the lead in a new version of Swan Lake. She's perfect for the role of the White Swan but is too meticulous and rigid for the part of the Black Swan. She is slowly driven mad in her attempt to unlock her personal hang-ups (parental, emotional, sexual) in order to unleash her inner black swan. Barbara Hershey, as her over bearing mother steals the show.

1. The Social Network - Here's a film that conveys a story that exists inside a paradox: the world's most popular social networking site was creating by a guy with next to no social skills whatsoever. The Social Network is thus a fascinating study of how one kid, so oblivious to the world around him, went on to create a phenomenon that has defined a generation and changed the way we relate to people and communicate with one another. The film is perfectly directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, who manages to create amazing dialogue that explains complex things in a way that is both compelling and yet can be understood by anyone watching. Like Fincher's last masterpiece Zodiac, The Social Network creates drama not through plot twists and turns but by piling mounds of information onto an exciting case. Jesse Eisenberg also deserves credit for his role as Matt Zuckerberg who gets to act the best scene in his career as Zuckerberg addresses a lawyer who he has been largely ignoring. As close to perfect as any other film this year.

The Bottom 10 Films of 2010:

Honourable Mentions: Valentine's Day, The Ugly Truth, Dead Snow, Ghosts of Girlfriend's Past, Franklyn, I Can do Bad All By Myself, Pandorum, The Final Destination, Sorority Row, Grown Ups, Couples Retreat, Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Whiteout, Armored, Nine, The Spy Next Door, Legion, Daybreakers, The Bounty Hunter, Furry Vengeance, Going the Distance, Love and Other Drugs

10. The Lovely Bones
9. Twilight: Eclipse
8. Killers
7. Year One
6. Kick-Ass
5. The Other Guys
4. When in Rome
3. The Boondock Saints: All Saints Day
2. I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell
1. Sex and the City 2


  1. Good to see some left field picks on've definitely given me a few I need to check out. And we agree on number 1!

  2. It's not really as these picks were intentially to be different although I will say the vast majority of best of lists this year were predictable and featured mostly the same movies across the board (although Tom I think you may have stood alone on Predators).

    I think it's more the difference between mob mentality and actually putting and thought and effort into what you like and why you like it.

  3. Great list, Mike. I had problems with both BLACK SWAN and CHLOE, though enjoyed the former much more than the latter. Only just saw TRUE GRIT and RABBIT HOLE, both of which I loved. Will check out HEREAFTER.

  4. I am going to try and let you off the hook for calling them the "Cohen" brothers. ;-)

    I would have definitely seen It's Kind of a Funny Story if I hadn't needed to see it in the theater in time for my deadline. Knowing who directed it, I suspected the trailers were aimed at a popular middle ground that made the film seem less perceptive than it really was.

    Love that you also hated Dead Snow (I didn't get the fuss) and Legion, but why Daybreakers?

    I must be the only person who liked I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell.

    Of your top ten I am most excited about endorsing Rabbit Hole and Greenberg. The Social Network is better than both, but I am not excited about endorsing it, per se, because so many others already have.

    Thanks for sharing ... I've been looking for this post for about three weeks. :-)

  5. Alex - You're not the only one who had problems with Chloe. I think what happened with it, and this is in way a knock on your critical skills because I have read your review and it is valid, is that Egoyan is used to making obviously complex movies where people can see the complexity unspooling. Obviously to look no deeper into his work than this is a crime but, hey, welcome to film criticism circa 2010. Chloe has all the complexy of an Egoyan film but none of the obviousness while also taking on the guise of a genre film and people couldn't see past that. It seems that these days face value is everything.

    Vance - Yeah, I had a busy month and fell way behind. Hopefully I will get more productive again into March. I need to finish my recollection of my time in the movie industry and really miss my regular reviewing and editorializing as well as frequently commenting on other blogs.

    I've fixed my error. Daybreakers I felt had plenty of ambition in it's style and was backed by an interesting concept but damn, the execution was boring and was reduced to more or less a bloodbath in the end. Call it a missed opportunity. What though, I must ask, could you have possibly liked about Serve Beer in Hell?

    AS for the Social Network, don't dock it for everyone loving it, but rather take pride in knowing that you loved it for different reasons (could one be so bold as to say, the right reasons?).

  6. Wouldn't dream of docking Social Network. I ranked it #3 out of the 109 films I saw in 2010. But if I were to say in your comments section "So glad to see Social Network on there!", it would seem a bit superfluous, doesn't it? Personally, I'm worried that The King's Speech has the momentum and that The Social Network will somehow not win the Oscar for best picture. That wouldn't be as criminal as some choices (Crash over Brokeback Mountain?) because The King's Speech is definitely very good, but come on, this should be Social Network's year. (And, do my special "right reasons" for loving The Social Network have anything to do with Trent Reznor's score?)

    Also glad that you didn't like The Other Guys. What a confused mess that was. They had no idea what they wanted to do, and changed up the traits of the characters every five minutes. It was really good up until the point The Rock and Sam Jackson jump off the building. But that's only about 20 minutes in.

  7. Another Year was great, go see it ( : Made my top 3 of 2010 releases (look out for my review in the next couple of weeks)

  8. Hereafter...didn't think I'd see that on a 'best of' list.

  9. Kick-Ass in the bottom 10? Really?

  10. Movies and Songs - Has Mike Leigh ever made a bad movie? I can't think of one that comes instantly to mind.

    Edgar - I think Hereafter is the kind of movie that will maybe take a few years to sink in with people.

    Dan - Yes, I truly hated Kick-Ass for many, many reasons.

  11. I liked your list. We share some of the same picks, but I've got a couple unconventional favorites of my own. They are here: in case you're interested.