Hey folks, Harry here… It’s time for my top ten of the year. Like usual, I’ll just be posting 10 films. No runner ups, no genre specific lists – just my pick for the best 10 films I saw in 2010.
I do believe that this year marks the low point in terms of the sheer number of reviews I’ve written. A big part of that has to do with a miserable summer, where the output of films just demoralized me. That changed with Fantastic Fest – which blew my mind with the sheer amount of exciting and thrilling films. Movies that were not predictable, that didn’t follow paths that I’ve seen trampled upon thousands of times before.
I’ve seen probably more films in 2010, than I have in any year previously. The combination of my positions programming for various festivals, the regular DVD columns and just the regular slate of releases… it is over-powering. Trying to intellectually dive through 2010… well, it was a crazy year. Let’s get into it though…
10. THE LAST CIRCUS
Alex De La Iglesia’s THE LAST CIRCUS could very well be the best film of 2010, but unfortunately, I’ve only had the opportunity to see it once. It drives me crazy when I see people that try to classify Alex as “like Guillermo Del Toro,” mainly because Iglesia came first. Alex unleashed upon cinema with ACCION MUTANTE back in 1993. Then fired off the brilliant DAY OF THE BEAST – one of those films that I just love with every ounce of my too many ounces body. But my previous favorite film of his was 800 BULLETS – a film that takes place within the mythos of the Spaghetti Westerns and the fascination with the Western iconography in Spain. A great film.
But this year, with THE LAST CIRCUS, I feel that Alex De La Iglesia has made a searing intimate work that one viewing can not possibly capture adequately. On the surface, the film is about a son of a clown who died during the Spanish Revolution, that we’ve seen glimpsed in Guillermo Del Toro’s DEVIL’S BACKBONE & PAN’S LABYRINTH. The story is interlaced through some of Spain’s more sordid history, which the country has apparently shamefully put away into an unopened closet of history. But more so – the film is a fetishistic display of everything that Iglesia loves about cinema. Riffing on Hitchcock, DePalma, Fellini, the Universal Monster films and German Expressionism.
The film is definitely not for all audiences, but for me… it all works. That underneath it all – he’s layered a life long love for the Spider-Man/Gwen Stacy story, in the guise of making SPIDER-MAN out to be the sad clown. Brilliant.
I can not wait to see this again!
9. SOUND OF NOISE
I had no idea what I was heading into when I saw SOUND OF NOISE at Fantastic Fest. I chose it, mainly because the festival write-up made me think that it could possibly be a film that Yoko would love. I was so right, but unexpectedly… I fell madly in love with the film too.
If you love the (maybe) Documentary, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, about the guerilla art movement as told by Banksy… this takes that spirit. The notion of aggressive semi-terrorist-style tactics being applied to a group of percussionists that will transform their world through ingenious and unorthodox manners.
In particular, this Swedish film conjures memories of the bedsprings scene in DELICATESSEN – but takes it to an extreme level. The film is set up like SE7EN in some ways – you have a detective, who happens to be the black sheep of a musically inclined family, that is put on an investigation that leads him to discovering a series of “musical crimes?”
The film is pure joy. Fantastic editing and sound editing, but more than that – the characters are a pure joy to witness. An outstanding unconventional work that must be seen and heard to be believed.
8. THE FIGHTER
David O Russell has made his best, most accessible work to date with THE FIGHTER. Christian Bale is given the showcase role of Dicky Eklund, the former boxing glory of his family and trainer of his little brother, Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg). That Bale’s Dicky happens to be a crack head… well, that’s the showy part of the role. Bale is electric, and I can’t imagine him not picking up an award for Best Supporting Actor. But stranger things have happened.
However, better than Bale, better than Amy Adams on all fours in a black bra & panty set… better than watching Wahlerg box… better than all other aspects of this film… THE MOTHER & SISTERS… oh my god. Since watching this film, I’ve had nightmares about them standing around my bed commenting upon my enormous penis. They’re the scariest PACK OF WOLVES that you’ll ever see. Pure horror show. The predatory gang nature of this pack of women, its something that I don’t think I’ve ever quite seen in a film before.
I just desperately want to see a remake of THE WOMEN, with these women, told in a modern setting befitting their nightmarish white trashery. They make Rosanne Barr seem like Foreign Royalty. They’re that scary.
All kidding aside, this is a tremendous story on multiple fronts. In particular, I love Amy Adams’ Charlene – and how she attempts to wean and comfort Mickey Ward into being his own man. Wonderful film.
7. A SERBIAN FILM
Of every film on this list, the one that you’re least likely to have an opportunity to ever see, is A SERBIAN FILM. This is a fantastic, brilliant film – that given time, will eventually outgrow the absurd reactions of people that think it is a far harder film than it actually is.
This is a movie about a male Porn Star in Serbia, their Evan Stone if you will, who has retired from the business to raise a family with his beautiful wife and child. As he’s seduced back into the business by a financial incentive that would ensure his family’s security – he takes a gig for a Porn Auteur that nobody has ever heard of. A former child psychologist.
The film reeks of David Fincher & Paul Schrader. The film also echoes THE HANGOVER – in the sense that it does concern trying to piece together what exactly happened, since a character wakes up with little memory of what ensued… and he has to rediscover what did happen.
It is a down right shame that this film has no U.S. distribution of any kind, and while I do understand the why – I absolutely disagree. This is a film that absolutely deserves an NC-17, but that absolutely does not deserve to be unseen, which too often, is the end result of an NC-17 rating. As a result, no one will pick it up. It needs someone like who Harvey Weinstein used to be. This is powerful, uncompromised filmmaking for an Adult audience – and one of the best films of 2010.
The best supporting female performance of 2010 belongs to Yeong-Hie Seo, who plays Bok Nam in the Korean film BEDEVILLED.
I’ll tell you why in a little bit. BEDEVILLED is an astonishingly powerful and emotional work from Korea – that was one of the most powerful film experiences I’ve had in 2010. The film is about a young Korean bank officer that is forced to take some time off after an incident at work. We watch as she heads off to visit a friend on an island that she once grew up upon, just off the coast of South Korea.
Shot on Geumodo Island, director Jang Cheol-so creates one of the most disturbing portraits of a pocket community, that I’ve ever seen. The island has had generations of its youth leave the tiny island for life in the big city, leaving an almost exclusively elder community to fend for themselves. Upon the island, you have Bok Nam & her Husband – who represents the one young man upon the island. As a result, the elders pretty much give her husband complete rights to do as he pleases upon the island.
The film is nearly 2 hours long, with the vast majority of the film concerning the beautiful Hae-Won and her friend Bok-Nam rekindling their childhood friendship – and Hae-Won discovering the evil of the island. But in particular, Bok-Nam shines above all else. She is a simple girl. Not particularly bright. She idolizes her friend Hae-Won – and dreams of living with her on the mainland, far away from her abusive husband and the hen-pecking of the elders upon this island.
Where the film goes, should not be spoiled by a living soul. But I will say, the film is one of the surest most cathartic film experiences you’ll discover. The movie has a very definite turn, and the turn hinges upon the performance of Yeong-Hie Seo, who nails it. Just a stunning film and a brilliant performance.
5. NEVER LET ME GO
Mark Romanek is a remarkable director.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel could have been woefully mishandled. But with Alex Garland’s screenplay and Mark Romanek’s attention to detail – that keeps the film focused upon character, rather than whatever future world that this story would take place… well, it keeps the focus where it must be.
So many would want to focus on the kind of world that could raise separately a stock of humans for organ transplant, but this film is never focused upon that outer world. Instead, we’re focused on the stock. The spare parts. Spare parts that are raised from birth to fulfill a destiny. Raised with pride to be what they are, for the noblest of purposes. To ensure a longer life for whom their organs are meant.
Rather than focus on escape, the focus is upon the lives lived. The personal mythology and interaction of these rather special spare parts. The film hones in upon a trio of friends, played as children, then later as young adults by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield.
All 3 should be nominated for exemplary work. In particular, I fell madly in love with Carey Mulligan’s selfless Kathy. She loves Tommy (Garfield), but when her friend Ruth (Knightley) snatches him up, she spends a life on the outside, watching & loving Tommy. Never interfering, never betraying… the constant, wonderful friend.
The film loves life so intensely that it becomes contagious. The result is a desire to more fully appreciate the life that we the viewer has. The freedoms, the luxury and the gift that is our free lives. Along with a desire to more fully live our own lives. And what a beautiful thing for a film to be.
4. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
I’ve watched this film about 8 times thus far, and it never fails to capture me as though I was watching it for the first time. For the longest time, I thought that was mainly due to Aaron Sorkin’s BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY OF THE YEAR. But upon repeated viewings, I began to believe it was Fincher’s eye that captured me, but on the last two screenings that I took in, I realized just how powerful Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ contribution was for me.
When you watch a film, over and over again – you begin to have elements of the film that begin to leap out at you in a manner that you would not instantly grasp. Upon initial viewing, the dialogue and the performances are the most obvious aspects of this film that grab you. I absolutely believe that Jesse Eisenberg should win Best Actor for his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg. It is incredibly subtle and powerfully mature work coming from Jesse – who has done brilliant work before, most notably in THE SQUID AND THE WHALE… though prior to this, my favorite work of his was in ADVENTURELAND – which is a fantastic film. But here, Eisenberg gives Zuckerberg a charisma that I’m not entirely sure the real Zuckerberg could possibly convey. He makes the character likable, simply for how his brain works. For the thoughts you read in his eyes as other characters have the floor.
Rewatch THE SOCIAL NETWORK and never take your eyes off Eisenberg. When other characters are talking in wide shots, watch Jessie. He’s amazing. Always alive within the scene. Constantly thinking, perceiving and evaluating. It is a masterful performance.
I’ve a feeling that this film could end up being the Best Picture of the year. Personally, I’d be ecstatic if any of my top 5 won BEST PICTURE – as I love these 5 intensely.
3. BLACK SWAN
With PI, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, THE FOUNTAIN, THE WRESTLER and now BLACK SWAN – Darren Aronofsky has become easily the most daring and powerful American filmmaker working today.
He makes films that work on a purely visceral level, a complex psychological and emotional level, an artistic level and that absolutely entertain. That is such an amazing combination.
BLACK SWAN is beautiful. There are camera movements that literally made me hold my breath, because I’d never seen dance shot with such a ferocious and bold manner. From the dream till the final performance, the film sweeps you into it visually.
That Darren never ever hides from the ugly side of life, but instead uses that brutality to more fully illustrate the beauty of the human spirit in all of its fragility and flawed beauty… I am serially impressed by him. His ability to capture a realistic portrayal of drug use continues to be impressive. But it is what he does with his actors that is truly the most amazing thing.
Without a doubt, Natalie Portman gives the best performance, male or female, of 2010. Her Nina Sayers is a performance that will be studied and written about for a very very long time. You watch the complexity of what Aronofsky coaxes out of Natalie Portman – and you wonder… how could George Lucas get so little from her in the Prequels. It makes you look at every role she has ever played and appreciate the work even more. That isn’t to say that Natalie Portman hasn’t been brilliant before. Hell, right from the beginning in THE PROFESSIONAL, I wanted her to win an Oscar. But this year is her year. This is simply a role of a lifetime.
Let us hope that the award attention for this title, which should be nominated for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actress, Cinematography, Make-up, Costume, Production Design, Sound, Sound Editing, Editing…. At the very least. It is a towering film.
2. TRUE GRIT
Fuck you GOLDEN GLOBES! Seriously. How on Earth do you deny the Coen Brothers on TRUE GRIT. I know everyone was expecting TRUE GRIT to be my pick for BEST FILM OF 2010. It still is. Except on this list.
TRUE GRIT is constantly amazing to watch. From that stunning first shot, till the last - the Coens have crafted their Western at last.
Every single character is a wholly different person, from every other person in the film. I don’t see… filler characters, instead I am delighted with a constantly delighting parade of awesome faces, voices, dialects and costumes. Each feeling absolutely true to the times.
People often times seem perplexed by Coen Brother films, not knowing whether or not the film is serious or intended to be funny. The same can often be said of Quentin Tarantino’s work. Should I be shocked or should I laugh? That is up to the individual, but for me – I quietly giggle in my head, even as my face betrays the emotion of the scene I’m watching.
I sincerely am hoping for a Supporting Actor nod for Matt Damon as LeBoeuf, and I would kill for him to come out in character as a Texas Ranger to accept it. I would be so incredibly delighted by that. I know, it’ll never happen, but it would be so amazing if it did. I like to dream of LeBoeuf’s “Coen scripted” acceptance speech – and I’m a happier person for that imagination.
Meanwhile, there’s Hailee Steinfeld – who is obviously THE featured character of the film, but who curiously keeps showing up as a supporting actress. This just pisses me off. Hailee Steinfeld is a Best Actress nominee. Putting her in the Supporting category is a disservice to the work and the role. She doesn’t stand a chance of beating Natalie Portman, who is about as 100% as one could be for BEST ACTRESS as I’ve seen in some time, but Hailee absolutely deserves and commands to be mentioned in the same breath.
The Coens continue to impress as the best filmmaking team in modern film history. They so completely understand and can express effortlessly within the language of cinema that any true lover of the medium, need only take a seat, to be taken away.
1. SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD
My most controversial pick for my top pick ever? Most likely. Do I care what anyone else thinks? Not one iota.
What is a Best Film of the year?
Does that mean it has to be dirty and grimy? Does it have to “feel” important? Does it need to be a giant money maker? Does it have to be so incredibly serious and inaccessible that you feel like you must claim its importance, otherwise there would have been no other point to having watched it in the first place? Is the best film a movie on every other list?
No. BEST FILM is a personal decision. Once decided, it becomes the author’s responsibility to illuminate the reader as to what it was about that film in particular that lifted it up above all others of the year.
Well, here we go.
I’ve watched SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD a lot. So much, that I now anticipate the film. Edgar Wright has made a film, that given time, will grow and grow and grow in the estimation of those that watch it. How can I say that? Because that is exactly what has happened to me.
I’ve been going through screeners of all the best films of the year. December was a very intense film viewing month for me. I pitted films against one another in a tournament style bracket in my head. I’d watch the films on this list against one another. Against films like KING’S SPEECH and THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT, both of which were easily defeated. They’re fine films, but they don’t really stand up against stronger competition, but through the entire process – I wasn’t even considering SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD.
It wasn’t supposed to be “that type of film”. You know, the sort of film that everyone can look at and say, “Harry Knowles is right, that is the best film of the year!” Oh, don’t get me wrong. There is a group that feels that way. They’ve become radiantly in love with SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD – and several of my online brothers would probably feel more comfortable naming SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD their “favorite film of 2010”. But ya know what…
I’m nearly 40 years old now. I no longer care what the grown ups say, I’m very likely to be considered a grown up by a lot of folks – and this Grown Up is saying SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD is the best film of 2010 – and I will absolutely not back down from that decision.
Because it feels nothing I’ve seen before. Because it plays with sound & editing in a way that would make Buster Keaton smile and admire. Because like TRUE GRIT it is filled with unique and fully realized characters. Because like BLACK SWAN it dips into the surreal. Because like THE SOCIAL NETWORK, it follows the socially inept. Because like THE FIGHTER it’s about a character that everyone tries to beat down, from his family and friends, to himself, yet through it all he discovers what matters most and pursues it. Because the film is young, full of vitality and isn’t a contributing funk to the world. Because, SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD is my Best Picture of 2010.
Because a film does not have to be self-serious to be great. Because it doesn’t have to be about old people and old things. It can be about triumph and happiness. Why must we celebrate only the dark, when the light is as beautiful as this. Because sometimes we need a movie to rock us. To beat us over the head and shoulders with the fevered mania of a generation that is just starting to scream in front of the cameras with a glee that seems all too rare in this world.
I know I’m alone as a film writer on this front, but I don’t care. Sometimes you have to be alone when picking the BEST FILM OF THE YEAR. Because you must have the courage of your convictions. And mine say SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD is the best film of 2010.