I’m going to say this up front – 2010 was not as heavy a filmgoing year for me as previous years. Life just got in the way too much. And films that didn’t seem worth my time, I just flat out avoided. I’m going to be playing quite a bit of catch-up this Christmas break and next year. With any luck and some perseverance on my part, I’m going to be seeing a lot more films in 2011. Now that I’m writing for AICN exclusively, I’m going to have to take the bitter with the sweet next year and probably sit through more lousy movies. That’s fine. But take it in mind – I didn’t see near enough of my quota of films in 2010. I’m not even going to list the ones I missed here. It would be too embarrassing.
I’m not going to rank these either. That’s not some arty way to say that no movie’s truly “better” than the others, that’s me honestly saying I don’t know what my #1 film of 2010 is right now. It’s actually looking like a three-way tie, maybe even a five-way tie. Sorry if that seems ridiculous, but it’s how I feel. As years go, 2010 wasn’t particularly weak, or particularly strong, but the movies that made this list I’d have no problem ranking with some other year’s great films. When it was good, it was really, really good.
TRUE GRIT – An elegant Western, classically told. I’ve stated before in my review that I consider this Coen Brothers masterpiece to be a family film, and I stand by that. The richness of the dialogue, the glorious cinematography of Roger Deakins, the gorgeous score by Carter Burwell, the performances by Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and the revelatory Hailee Stansfield… this film is not only one of the Coens’ best – and that’s saying a lot – but legitimately better than the original and one of the best Westerns ever made. Call it hyperbole if you want. If you put a gun to my head and made me pick the one film from this year to keep over all the others… this one would probably be it.
INCEPTION – So many films on my list are about the will to create. If you’ve read Devin Faraci’s fantastic analysis of this film, that’s exactly what INCEPTION’s about on a deep level. It’s also about the dissolution of a marriage, the power of dreams, the joy of storytelling… this is Christopher Nolan’s quintessential film in my opinion, even over MEMENTO or THE DARK KNIGHT. I’ve seen it 5 times now, and there’s always something new every time I watch it. You would think that a film with this many layers to it would be too difficult to drop into, but INCEPTION’s directed in such a deft manner that the many themes that the film juggles are easy to follow. It’s popular entertainment at its very best.
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP – This one’s a late entry on the list, as I just saw it last night, and yet it was strong enough of an entry to enter this list with a bullet. I’m not an art collector, but I am a movie geek, so I know the idea of putting a value on someone’s work. I just bought a $60 TRUE GRIT poster from Mondo Tees, just because I had to have it. How does one put a price on creativity, and what does it do to the art when you remove it from the context from which it was created? On one level, the film’s a giant “Screw you!” to the art consumer community that insists on putting a price tag on everything, and on another level it’s a “Shame on you!” to those artists that participate in that commercial sham, and on yet another level it’s about what truly makes an artist –is it the will to create something or the thought and motives behind that creation? If this documentary sounds like a lot of work, it isn’t. It’s quite funny, fascinating, and well made. It’s on Netflix Instant and iTunes right now, and if you haven’t seen this yet, you have no excuse, really.
BLACK SWAN – Another film about the will to create art, this time through the lens of Darren Aronofsky, who has always been one of my favorite American filmmakers. BLACK SWAN tells the story of Nina, played with the bravest performance of the year by Natalie Portman, and her chasing the impossible dream of perfection, and what it does to her mentally and physically. I’m no stranger to gore in film, and most of the time blood and guts doesn’t faze me much. But I found myself wincing a lot in BLACK SWAN. Subtle use of gore done well always gets under my skin, and there are many moments in BLACK SWAN where I reacted viscerally. But as Nina goes on her journey through the film, we travel with her, and we question what it means to truly sacrifice for your art and your passions. Aronofsky is one of the masters, in my opinion, and BLACK SWAN just proves it. As for Natalie Portman, this is the performance of a lifetime, the role that most actresses never get, and it’s a tremendous achievement for her.
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD – I am not in this film’s demographic, although I remember the 8-bit games the film references very fondly. I won’t lie; this one took a little while to click with me. I really enjoyed it when I first saw it in the theater, but it wasn’t until I saw it multiple times that I recognized the universal (get it?) message of the film. That first love, regardless of whether or not it stayed with you, makes the entire world glow Super Mario blue, and how we handle the baggage they bring can only be settled in massive duels and with pounding music. It handles the deep issues of relationships in fun, light, and yet surprisingly subtle ways. It’s not my favorite Edgar Wright film, but as I watched this with my daughter I realized that this may be one of the best films to show to pre-teens who have yet to navigate the complicated roads of adult relationships – that by addressing this subject manner in such a visually striking way it actually lays the groundwork for kids to decide what is and isn’t a healthy relationship. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD isn’t a movie that should be dismissed as light and frothy. It’s making palatable some pretty heavy issues.
127 HOURS – James Franco’s tour de force performance makes what would seem to be an unpleasant filmgoing experience into something you can’t pull your eyes away from, even when Franco’s Aron Ralston is cutting the very flesh from his bones to gain his freedom. I don’t think Danny Boyle is given enough credit, in his body of work, in finding that one exhilarating, life-affirming moment that makes you as an audience member want to cheer even as the characters we are watching are going through some particularly horrific moment. He’s done it before in TRAINSPOTTING, in SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, and he does it in spades in 127 HOURS. Boyle keeps the film visually interesting and the pace never slackens even as we are trapped in that very real rock and a hard place with Franco. James Franco finds the heart of the story in his performance, and he’s sure to be recognized for it.
WINTER’S BONE – This has been a particularly strong year for women performances – Hailee Stansfield in TRUE GRIT, Natalie Portman in BLACK SWAN, and now Jennifer Lawrence in WINTER’S BONE. She’s compelling to watch as Ree, the daughter of a missing crystal meth dealer, and the film follows her journey to discover what happened to him. Ree’s struggles are monumental – she’s holding her family together with twine and gumption, and even her uncle Teardrop (played to chilling perfection by John Hawkes) seems at first unwilling to help her. Debra Granik’s a terrific director for this material – it’s gritty and rough, but the story and the characters are compelling as Granik shows us a world we don’t often get to see in films of this caliber – the rural Ozarks. It makes no judgments about these people’s lives – they do what they must to survive, and for those on the outside who can’t understand that, they had best tread lightly. A terrific film.
JACKASS 3D – At first I squinted, unsure what I was seeing. Something large… pink… flying at my eyes… Ah. A rocket dildo. At that point, I really had no choice but to put JACKASS 3D on my Top 10 list of the year. I didn’t laugh harder at any other film this year, and I understand something about JACKASS that maybe its critics do not: laughter is catharsis. We live in incredibly difficult times right now. That’s true for every time in history, of course, but in comparison to many post-war years, it’s undeniable that we have it pretty rough. And coming out of JACKASS 3D I felt the best I had about things in a while. And if the price to pay for that is an exploding, catapulted little person in 3D flying past my head, well, I’m completely willing to pay the adjusted ticket price.
TOY STORY 3 – I seriously debated putting this on my list. Not because it doesn’t deserve to be here, because it absolutely does. But if you’ve read my writing with any regularity, you know that I’m pretty much a shill for Pixar at this point. I don’t know what the future holds for this studio (CARS 2 doesn’t look particularly compelling) but ever since the first TOY STORY I’ve been a passionate fan of this studio’s work, and I fervently believe they’ve made classics for the ages pretty much every time out the gate. TOY STORY 3 is no exception. The TOY STORY films were always for the parents anyway, dealing with the issue every parent faces: the eventual fact that your children are going to leave you and go off on their own journeys. This final (at least I hope so) adventure of Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the gang is a graceful, beautiful film and a conclusion to one of the best film trilogies ever made. I can still see that shot in my mind of all the toys, hand in hand, as they face the fire together, and it’s hard not to get emotional at such a moment. A close runner-up for this spot, however, goes to HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, which tells me that Dreamworks has finally figured out how to get past the superficial SHREK films and make something that resonates with young and old alike.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK – As the very idea of relationships has changed from even just ten years ago, I think this film is going to resonate even more in the coming years. It’s been compared to many classic films like ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN or even CITIZEN KANE (my personal comparison is to AMERICAN GRAFFITI). But what strikes me the most about THE SOCIAL NETWORK is the idea that the film suggests – that friendship means something different now, and how true friends challenge each other and still manage to care for each other even when wildly disagreeing. I think that’s been lost in this day and age, how we “friend” each other but how we don’t befriend each other. It’s also about how the will to create doesn’t come from the most altruistic of motives. THE SOCIAL NETWORK is about many things, really, but the success of the film is that it tells its story with economy, with skill, with wit, and with directness. It’s still up to the ages to decide whether or not this is David Fincher’s crowning achievement, or Aaron Sorkin’s, but for now, we got a legitimately great film from both of them.
So that’s it. My Top 10 for 2010. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing this, and as I enter 2011 as the newest staff writer here at Ain’t It Cool News, I can’t wait to write more in the upcoming year with news, reviews, and my family film column YOU KNOW, FOR KIDS! I’m really excited to get started and I can’t wait to share with you all. I’m genuinely thrilled and touched that Harry’s offered me this wonderful experience and I’m chomping at the bit to get started. Thanks for reading and thanks for sticking with Ain’t It Cool.