I saw a lot of movies in 2010, though I certainly didn't see everything. Still, I made sure to at least see the major movies that were released that were acclaimed or popular. I feel if you're going to do any type of end-of-year list, you need to have a good understanding of how the year in film was. Otherwise, it's merely just the "favorite movies you saw" list, which is why a lot of bloggers and so forth only put out popular movies of things they've seen (usually genre pictures or big-summer flicks, smaller films, no matter the acclaim, are often unseen).
I don't like doing that. I'm not going to sit here and claim to be a film lover and not see at least a majority of the pictures that came out. I don't expect anyone to see everything, but some are certainly required and I certainly have the luxury of receiving DVD screeners of the major films of the year helping me out in that regard. I also won't claim that my list is better, but I do consider it a bit more comprehensive because for two weeks, I did nothing but watch movies. If I made any type of (subjective) best of the year list but didn't see, say, Blue Valentine or Get Low, then I wouldn't make the list at all. I'd just say "here's my favorite movies that I was able to see."
Well below are my favorite movies, but also a list of the great films of the year that everyone should see at some point. It changed here and there for a few weeks, but I'm pretty satisfied with the end result.
First off: Honorable Mention
Mesrine: Parts One and Two
The four hour epic saga of notorious criminal Jacques Mesrine is an impressive piece of work. I don't quite know its status of theatrical release nor do I know if it qualifies for this year's awards season, so due to that I'm putting it as an honorable mention as one of the year's best, even if it may not be "officially" released until 2011. Vincent Cassel is amazing as the films trace the life of one of the most vicious gangsters in history.
Now on with the list...
Kicking off this Top 25 is a movie that, quite honestly, is a mixed bag. But damn if I can't applaud its utter uniqueness and vision. Gasper Noe's Enter the Void is truly a one-of-a-kind picture from a director known for being pretty one-of-a-kind to begin with. It's a daring film that I put on this list for that reason alone, that and some of the most impressive and seamless camerawork you'll ever see.
2010 had a pretty consistent theme with it: lots of bleak and depressing films. Only one really took a science fiction route and that's the adaptation of Never Let Me Go - a film that's a cross between The Clonus Horror and a British period piece. Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan are astounding, Garfield being damn impressive, and the directing and subtle nuance of implementing the "science" into the "fiction" is top notch. Not a film for everyone, and not without its share of problems, but one that is hard to forget once you've seen it.
Some movies just end up better than they're supposed to, and The Crazies was certainly one that did. It's a horror remake of a sub-par movie to begin with, and it exceeded it on every level. It's one third horror, one third conspiracy thriller and one third road-trip movie. It's a zombie movie without the zombies and with good actors in solid roles. Proof you shouldn't throw out the idea of remaking a movie merely because it's a remake.
Dreamworks finally got it. A great artistic design, a perfect balance of comedy and heart and it really knew how to hit those emotional beats. I also applaud its willingness to take a chance with the ending. It shows that some things aren't invincible, but even little wounds won't stop friendship. By far Dreamworks's best animated feature and DeBlois and Sander's defining movie (You can see a lot of Lilo and Stich going on as well, but here more refined).
Not just a "sports movie." In fact, the film's weakest parts are when it tries to be a "sports movie." But the characters, acting and directing are some of the best of the year. It's a pretty candid and honest portrait of two brothers arguably wasting their life and their chances at a better future, finally finding the right way to do it all. An underdog story at its core, but not just in the ring. Fantastic acting across the board, and some pretty believable boxing going on as well, which you don't see too often in movies.
A small British movie that just seemed to hit all the right points. Mike Leigh just commands every minute of the film making even the mundane really seem intriguing as we peak into the life of an aging couple and the family and friends that surround them. It just really hits some nerves about life, the passage of time and the idea that we simply live each day just trying to get by.
2010 was a strong year for crime thrillers. Movies like Mother, A Prophet, The Town and Mesrine (the former two from last year, but most didn't see them until this year making for a difficult decision to leave them off) are superb works. The little independent Australian film, Animal Kingdom, took a bit of a unique approach. It blends a family drama with crime thriller beautifully and is an incredibly well-written little gem of a movie from down under.
18: The Way Back
Classic moviemaking if there ever was an example, Peter Weir's long-time-coming work is just great moviemaking. Shot on location through a large portion of the world, the ambition to say "no, I don't want to use computers to create these places, I want to actually shoot there" isn't something studios get overly excited about, especially with Weir who's known for being a bit in over his head at times. The man is up there in age but never makes compromises, and the result is a damn good movie from a master.
Danny Boyle has never made a bad movie. Even The Beach had some shining moments to it. 127 Hours is a movie that was a labor of love. It feels and plays out on a far more personal level than one might anticipate. It's not just about "a guy stuck under a rock." It's about contemplating life and regrets and trying to figure out where things went wrong - from how you got stuck under a rock and tracking back to not telling your mother you loved her enough. Franco carries it perfectly in a career-defining role and Boyle's eye for shots and framing have never been more impressive.
16: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Is it a perfect movie? No. But it's a damn enjoyable one. Well, to a certain niche audience at least; one that will grow over time as Scott Pilgrim will go down as one of the most unique pieces of filmmaking to ever be released. It's a symphony for every sensation. The fact it did sub-par numbers is disheartening, as Guillermo Del Toro (ever the proponent of artistic uniqueness) noted, there are original and unique films being made...but nobody ever goes. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is just such a movie.
I do hope this is the final chapter to the Toy Story, err...story. It just NEEDS to end like this. A fourth movie would undermine everything this film achieved, which is the ability to really reach into the hearts of everyone and recall their own childhood memories. Those days gone by when you had a toy and you, maybe even recently, thought about your favorite action figure or doll or toy car or stuffed animal. That's where Toy Story 3 really gets at you and hits those emotional chords. It's a great sendoff and a movie that had its detractors eating crow once it was finally released. It needed this third film.
The story of a life of regret, building and building to bitterness and spite. Get Low was just a fantastic movie with a great sense of style, just the right touch of humor and a great set of actors, notably Bill Murray and Robert Duvall, both of whom really find the heart of the film for very different reasons. If you're a fan of quirky but heartfelt little movies, this one is for you. I know it was for me.
I don't expect a lot of people to like The American. It's more a foreign thriller than a typical Hollywood one - as I mentioned in my review it brings back the feeling of French thrillers of the 60s such as Le Samourai of which it has a lot of inspiration from. That, though, is exactly why I like it, and Clooney is as great as ever. He's choosing different and daring indie roles lately and that's interesting to see for a guy that was once tabbed as Batman and the next action hero. He took a smarter route with roles like this, The Men Who Stare at Goats and Michael Clayton. It's because of that we'll see him not just as some typical Hollywood actor, but an actor actor's who can carry a demanding, methodical thriller like The American with ease.
Despite the bitterness around it, The Illusionist is just a completely fresh and beautifully animated little picture. It's endearing and subtly funny in that "life is weird sometimes" kind of way. I suppose that's what Jacques Tati, the script and concept from him, had always done. It is a little strange to see an animated Tati that's still very distinctly him, but it's not so strange to see the appeal of my favorite animated film of the year.
A love letter from the Coen Brothers to the classic westerns of old, True Grit isn't your typical Coen Brothers movie, but they are probably fine with you saying that. It still had enough of that sharp dialogue (easily one of the best scripts of the year) and bits of humor to be identifiable with them. Truth is, if they did, it would probably detract from the film more than add to it, and thankfully we just get to relish in amazing performances by the three lead and with the beautiful cinematography of Roger Deakens.
Roman Polanski has always been a master at handling intensity and suspense. His ability to progress a story and handle dialogue-heavy scenes mixed with silent observational ones shows the old director knows how to make a damn good film. The Ghost Writer is one of his best, certainly in the past many years at least, and has a fine cast - notably Pierce Brosnan as a very obvious Tony Blair-esque Prime Minister, and Ewan McGregor showing a lot of ability to handle a pretty nuanced role as the title character unraveling a mystery.
Much like Get Low, only far more on the dramatic side of things, Winter's Bone takes us out to the country and relishes in atmosphere and strong acting to really carry us. Jennifer Lawrence is the person here, and this bleak (some might say rather depressing in its authenticity) film shows a side of our own country that we may choose to ignore, but certainly can't turn away from when it's on film. Poverty. Drugs. Murder. The realism makes for a chilling (pun perhaps intended) film.
The Town would have been fine just as a typical crime thriller, but as it turns out you have a damn good script that goes beyond the call of duty. It starts small, merely a crime story about bank robbers, but escalates into something grander - a story of a community and the history behind it alongside the story of a man trying to escape it and all that has been stripped of him in the past. The directing by Ben Affleck (who also wrote..and stars...and is good on both those elements as well) hits just the right moments with action and knowing how to handle some great dramatic moments as well.
Biutiful is just an awful movie to sit through. But it's awful in a good way. It's just incredible, sometimes very uncomfortable, drama at its finest no matter how painful it might be. Bardem probably gives his best performance of his career, one already full of great performances (and variety), this one wears its heart on its sleeve and is one of the best foreign films this past year (and this past year was pretty darn good for the foreign film fans). If you can, you should take the time to see it.
Chris Nolan has always been a director and writer who's films have been about "escalation." In the case of Inception, it's an escalation from the very first scene to the very end. It never stops and to hold you in the palm of your hand the way it does is a testament to damn good filmmaker and one of the best movies of the year. What's most notable, again as is always with a Nolan film, is the perfectly-cast ensemble of actors all giving 100% and seemingly having a great time along with it. As far as I'm concerned, Inception is Nolan's masterwork. A career-defining film that implements everything the man is known for and executes it perfectly.
Likely to win this year's Oscar Foreign film category, I found it damn hard to find problems with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It's biggest success isn't in the twists and suspense, but in the relationship between Mikael and Lisbeth which just feels incredibly natural, ever progressing and ever evolving into a non-typical friendship. Rapace is the revelation here, though. Damn is she good in this thing (and the following two, which may not have the impact of this first outing but still has her).
It all starts with a script. That's how movies are made. Here we have a very Aaron Sorkin script, fast "don't turn away" dialogue and all, and some damn good actors to deliver it as well. He took what could have been a standard entrepreneurial story of a founding of a business and molded it into a generation-defining movie that will be remembered. David Fincher's ability to make ever scene engaging is true to form for him, not to mention the very unique soundtrack on top of it all drawing you in.
Some won't like its cynicism and brutal honesty, but those reasons are why I found Blue Valentine an uncompromising look at relationships and how love can be so great in the eyes of all at the beginning, yet time making it more and more a fleeting dream. Gosling and Williams are one of the best on-screen couples I've seen in years, and not because of the easy-to-list mushy romance of it all that most attribute "screen couples" as - but because you see them as they are as though you're observing two real people through a microscope.
A powerful movie that doesn't try to be powerful. It just naturally is as you become invested in the story and characters. The next thing you know, a man speaking a few words becomes as emotional as any movie that would try something more profound to get a response out of you. That's just great writing and acting, and as a whole The King's Speech will be known for that. It doesn't forget just enough humor to help that, though, and is a must see and, likely, going to be receiving its share of acting nominations across the board.
Sure, you might think "wow, aren't you just the populist?" After all, everyone and their grandmother found this movie, at the very least, one of the top three of the year. Well you have to call it like you see it. Aronofsky's directing style combined with the psychological thrills and Natalie Portman's most-likely Oscar winning performance made for a damn impressive movie. It's half drama, half horror, all a mind-trip that seems to relish in the fact it's a mind trip. Considering the context of it all, I wouldn't have had it any other way. Ballet has never been so messed up.
The others that were on/off the list: City Island, The Kids are All Right, Leaves of Grass, I am Love, Chloe, Nowhere Boy, Shutter Island, Kick-Ass, Please Give, Made in Dagenham, The Concert