For no reason at all, other than because I’m curious to see what I’ll write, I’d like to tell you the top ten films I saw in 2010. It’s tough because I saw a zillion movies last year. But I’ll do my best. Maybe because I saw so many, I’ll do ten that were actually made in 2010 and another ten that I watched but were from 2009 and back. We’ll see.
Also, keep in mind that there were a handful of films that I suspect were outstanding based on reviews and word of mouth that I haven’t seen yet–Four Lions, Restrepo, Mesrine, Tiny Furniture. I hope to watch all of these sooner than later.
OK, let’s go!
1. Black Swan: What is there to say about this movie that every critic hasn’t already said? It’s fantastic. I’ve been an enormous Natalie Portman fan for a long time, and seeing her in a gritter role like this was refreshing. She’s got loads of talent and it’s nice to see that being put to use. Plus, Darren Aronofsky did a brilliant job creating the world this movie lives in. Both visually and emotionally, this is how a film should be directed.
2. Winter’s Bone: Holy cow was this movie compelling. When I was watching it, I kept thinking about how much it reminded me of Frozen River, the brilliant film from 2008 that was nominated for two Oscars. I believe you’ll see some nominations for this one, too. It’s been nominated for a Golden Globe (Best Actress for Jennifer Lawrence’s incredible performance) and won this year’s Gotham awards for Best Ensemble Cast and Best Film–both of which were won by award darling, The Hurt Locker, last year. This film–like director Debra Granick’s last film, Down to the Bone–is gritty and desperate and, well, real. Maybe not the reality that you or I know, but this world is out there and Winter’s Bone does a brilliant job of capturing it. If you’re going to see one film on this list, make it this one.
3. 127 Hours: A lot of people are rough on James Franco, and I admit that I wasn’t his biggest fan for a long time. Even when I heard how he’s been attending all these schools, doing soap operas and all this other stuff, like most other people I thought it was a big joke. But I’ve grown to really like his work and his publicized adventures. I’m even reading his book and it’s not terrible. All of the things he’s been doing over the past few years aside, I was never fond of him because I didn’t think he was a very good actor. His character of Daniel on Freaks and Geeks just seemed like what I imagined him to be like, and maybe that’s the sign of a good actor–because after listening to and reading interviews with him over the past year, it doesn’t seem like that’s who he is at all. And his film work has really swayed me recently. I thought he was terrific as a young Allen Ginsberg in Howl, and when I went to see 127 Hours I realized that I expected more of him than I would have if I saw this movie, say, three years ago. I wasn’t disappointed. For the most part, Franco is on-screen for the duration of the film, often by himself. That’s a heavy load to carry and I think he pulled it off nicely. It takes a lot of ability to do something like that convincingly–especially in the circumstances that his character, Aron Ralston, found himself in. Throw in Danny Boyle’s trademark media/consumer/society snippets and quick camera cuts and you have a really entertaining ride.
4. The Kids are All Right: I think the main thing about this movie is its great acting–especially from Julianne Moore and Annette Bening. They play a married couple of something like twenty years and do it effortlessly both in the ups and the downs. They deliver lines from a really well-written script by director Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, and Mark Ruffalo plays the part of a one-time burn-out who is kind of dipping his toes into being responsible, but only half-heartedly. This film is smart, progressive in its content, and just really overall enjoyable. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s a lot like life. I mean, if you were in a gay marriage, had a kid with the name Laser, and welcomed a stranger into the family: that kind of life.
5. The Last Exorcism: Someone asked me what I thought of this movie a few months back and I think what I said was something to the effect of “It’s like if the people who created The Blair Witch Project were told, in a dream, the story of The Exorcist by Edgar Wright” and then got up made it into their own movie.” Or something like that. But even without remembering exactly what I said, this kind of sums up the movie. It’s probably (fingers crossed) one of the last movies we’ll see filmed in the fake documentary style. And it covers the topic we’ve seen so many times before: a little girl is possessed. While all of that sounds cliché and uninteresting, I think The Last Exorcism did everything really well. There’s humor, blasphemy, absurdity, and fright, all wrapped up into one surprising little package. If you haven’t spent all your fake documentary energy on being completely disappointed by Paranormal Activity 2, then you should give this movie a chance. It’s kind of refreshing in a genre that’s become drawn out and watered down franchises and bad remakes.
6. The Social Network: I was a little skeptical going into this movie. I trust David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin completely, but I think the idea of a Facebook movie at all made me a little bit apprehensive. Oh! And the poster didn’t help either. All that Futura type staring me right in the face with the vertical address bar. UGH. And the fact that Jesse Eisenberg was in it doubled that apprehension. There’s something about him that really bugs me. He’s like a slightly more manly Michael Cera. But while I couldn’t completely get over the fact that it was him, acting, I was still convinced when watching the movie. He did a great job, as did everyone involved. It’s really fascinating to see a film about young people getting rich and trying to come to terms with that success. Especially when it’s in a field that is ultimately still being pioneered. I can’t remember another movie that tackled something like this, especially so well. In the end, Fincher and Sorkin both delivered like I knew they would, and the cast really made the most of the top-shelf material they were given to work with.
7. True Grit: All you really need to know about True Grit is that it involved the Coen Brothers and Jeff Bridges. You know how that turned out last time, so why wouldn’t lightning strike twice? Here’s a hint: it did. Lightning did strike twice. See this film and you’ll know what I mean. It is different though, obviously. Instead of John Goodman and Steve Buschemi, Bridges’ sidekicks are Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld. Both are excellent.
8. I Love You Philip Morris: The most absurd movie on my list, I Love You Philip Morris is a story of a man who looks for the truth in his life by stacking lie upon lie to dupe just about everyone. It might be that he’s compulsive, or maybe that, in reality, he isn’t sure what he wants. But when he meets the title character, played by Ewan McGregor, he seems to level out a bit. At least for a while. This film is driven by a great story and some really outrageous performances. I though it was super entertaining and a lot better than I expected. From the title I thought it was about cigarettes!
9. Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child: I’ve been the biggest Basquiat fan for as long as I can remember. For some reason his art always spoke to me in a way that most other contemporary work didn’t. I love its elementary style, it’s base in jazz, its vibrant color and schizophrenic lines and shapes. And while I’ve read several books about the artist and saw Julian Schnabel’s film, Basquiat, a dozen times, it wasn’t until seeing this movie by Tamra Davis (and titles by Studio No. 1!) that I really felt like I understand the story of Jean-Michel Basquiat. There’s something about seeing him in action and listening to him speak that you can’t get from those other places and I love it. I’ve had such a fondness for his work, but now I really feel like I have an almost full understanding of where that work comes from. The 70s and 80s were a crazy time in NYC in general, but the art scene was extravagant and just insane. This movie really captures that and makes it understandable why Basquiat lived (and ultimately died) the way he did. It’s a must for his fans.
10. Exit Through the Gift Shop: I’ve been a big fan of street arti for some time–it might stem from my skateboarding days all throughout school–so it’s been very interesting to see how it’s evolved into something resembling a well-respected art form. I’ve seen several movies over the past few years that show just how much of a business all of this has become. I’m happy about it because I think so much creativity is born out of the danger of it. But that’s not to say that the work is getting less interesting now that it’s in gallery shows and on the walls of celebrities. Exit Through the Gift Shop does a great job of making fun of how big this world has become. Everything Banksy does is tongue-in-cheek, and for him to have 90 minutes of film to work with takes that to another level. It’s the gag of gags in my mind because, like the Blair Witch Project when I first saw it, I couldn’t separate lies from truth. I know there’s a Mr. Brainwash and I’ve seen his work, but I just can’t understand how he managed to be as prolific and mad as he is in this film. I’m going to re-watch this one to get a little more insight. Of course, maybe it’s all true; Mr. Brainwash’s show was written up in the LA Weekly as depicted in the film. That makes it even better because it all seems so exaggerated that it’s inconceivable. But it’s that kind of double-take that Banksy is known for and with Exit Through the Gift Shop he’s made another brilliant work of art.
And for fun, a quick list of pre-2010 movies that I rewatched this year and loved all over again:
1. The Birds: One of the best horror/suspense movies ever made. And maybe the first one without the totally happy ending.
2. There Will Be Blood: My favorite movie ever. P.T. Anderson cannot make a bad film if he tried, but I think this one takes the cake. Visually stunning, perfectly acted, and beautifully written. This is the movie they show in heaven.
3. White Zombie: A classic from 1931 that stars Bella Lugosi and a bunch of folks from the silent film era, this movie is maybe the original zombie flick. It takes some of the finer elements of silent films, like beautiful lighting and dramatic gestures, and pairs that with the modern marvel of “talkies” by incorporating dialogue and better set design. If you like zombies or are interested in film history at all, you should see this and look how far cinema grew at that point, and just how much further along it is today.
4. The Big Lebowski: Just all-around awesome on every level.
5. 13 Going on 30: (Don’t tell anyone)
6. Iron Man 2: Say what you want about superhero flicks, but I think this franchise really brings it. There are a lot of great elements to both of these films and Robert Downey Jr. really is superb.
7. Paris, Je T’Aime: I was reluctant to watch this because my girlfriend was actually visiting Paris when we got it and I was staying home. She eventually wore me down and wow, I’m really glad I caved. This collection of short films really–as far as I can tell, having only seen Paris on film–captures Paris beautifully. Such a wide array of styles are compiled here with one underlying heartbeat. I hear they’re making a horror version of this called Paris, I Kill You. Something tells me that one won’t be as good.
8. Julia: I don’t think a lot of people know of this film but they should. It’s the story of a drunk (masterfully played by Tilda Swinton) who uses a boy in a botched kidnapping plan to extort money from his grandfather who is connected to Mexican drug trafficking. Very compelling and, I think, a must-see.
9. Foot Fist Way: I went out of my way to find a theater (one of the maybe ten) that was showing this film when it was released. It was kind of dead in the water until Will Farrell and Adam McKay championed it and I’m really glad they did. In it, Danny McBride plays a screwed up Tae Kwon Do instructor who has one oddball life. I’ve been a big fan of McBride ever since seeing him in Hot Rod a few years back and I was excited to see how he’d do in a lead role. With Foot Fist Way he showed me that he can carry a movie. He and the movie’s writer/director are now the force behind HBO’s Eastbound and Down, one of the best shows on TV>
10. Wendy and Lucy: This film is relatively aimless, but I think that’s what I loved about it. Michelle Williams is on-screen pretty much the whole time and she really makes you feel for her character who has car troubles, loses her dog, and seems to be victim to one bad situation after another. Sounds depressing, but it’s done really well and it’ll sit with you for a while after you’ve seen it. To me, whether it makes you happy or sad, that’s a film that’s done its job.