Most critics and bloggers put together their Best Of The Year lists at the end of the year. That doesn’t work for me. Many films take a long time before they arrive here in Sweden, a problem hardly alleviated by American studios scheduling a lot of quality stuff for awards season at the tail-end of the year. So by the time the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, I’ve never seen all the films I feel I need to in order to make a list that has any chance of meaning anything.
But by now I feel like I’ve caught up on a lot of my personal must-sees of last year, so the time to make my own list is at hand. That’s not to say I’ve seen all there is to see. I’m particularly underwatched in non-English language films still, not to mention documentaries which people were saying had a banner year in 2010. But the great thing about lists is that they’re never set in stone. This list only reflects my feelings today, and might well look radically different one year from now.
There isn’t a ton of surprises on this list of mine, which I’m okay with. So far I’ve mostly focused on seeing the films people are talking a lot about. As time goes on, I will hear about and track down the smaller films, the forgotten gems, the new cult classics. The further removed you are from a year and the more you see, the more eclectic your list is bound to become. Time changes everything.
So here are my ten favorite movies of 2010 (note: listed as 2010 on IMDB), a particularly strong year of cinema in my opinion. Many films were hard to leave off, but that’s the way it is. No honorable mentions, no consolation prizes, no mercy. Just ten films that I love.
10 – GREENBERG (Noah Baumbach)
“There’s a confidence in you guys that’s horrifying. You’re all ADD and carpal tunnel. You wouldn’t know Agoraphobia if it bit you in the ass, and it makes you mean.”
Some people can’t stand the quirky characters Noah Baumbach comes up with. I can’t get enough of them. In Greenberg, we’re treated to two stand-out examples. One is the titular Robert Greenberg (Ben Stiller), a man angry at the world and obsessed with his own misery. It’s arguably Stiller’s most nuanced and impressive performance, in some ways his own Punch-Drunk Love. The other is Florence (Greta Gerwig), a woman whose life is in turmoil yet she still can’t help but bend over backwards to help people. Gerwig is even better than her co-star. A grimly funny film, true to life if not the one we live.
9 – THE SOCIAL NETWORK (David Fincher)
“Did I adequately answer your condescending question?”
David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin play loose with the truth as they tell the tale of how Facebook came to be. Those wanting the real story ought to look elsewhere. The rest of us can enjoy the quick razor-sharp dialogue, the impressive performance by Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the Trent Reznor-penned score and a fascinating tale of how in the pursuit of connecting people, two friends can drift farther apart than ever.
8 – 127 HOURS (Danny Boyle)
Making a film that spends the vast majority of its running time in one place with only one actor can be a daunting task. Danny Boyle handles it as well as anyone could though, utilizing all manners of clever shots and techniques to keep things interesting. It’s a remarkable based-on-real-events story about mountain climber Aron Ralston (skillfully portrayed by 2010 it-guy James Franco) who finds himself alone in a Utah canyon with his arm trapped underneath a rock. The will to survive is strong indeed. Guaranteed to make you cringe, and probably marvel too.
7 – RABBIT HOLE (John Cameron Mitchell)
“Somewhere out there I’m having a good time.”
When tragedy strikes, we all behave in different ways. Rabbit Hole presents a couple who have lost their 4 year-old son Danny in a traffic accident. Howie (Aaron Eckhart) clings to the memory of their child but wants to have another one. Becca (Nicole Kidman) just wants to forget and move on, and rejects Howie’s advances. Director John Cameron Mitchell (whose previous work includes the uniquely sex-filled experiment Shortbus) here tells a highly moving story about grief, filled with sadness and hope, cold and warmth, and even a little bit of humor.
6 – THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (Lisa Cholodenko)
“It’s no big secret your mom and I are in hell right now, and… Bottom line is, marriage is hard. It’s really fucking hard. Just two people slogging through the shit, year after year, getting older, changing. It’s a fucking marathon, okay?”
When awards buzz starts brewing over a comedy, my ears immediately perk up as track record has shown it will often be a film I’ll love (see Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Juno etc.). So I fully expected to like The Kids Are All Right, and I did. What I didn’t expect was to laugh as much as I did, but this one brought on the funny in big heaps. And in the midst of all the humor, there’s an effective story about the effects infidelity can have on a family, anchored by some great performances by all the key players: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson. The slight blemish of the premature abandonment of Ruffalo’s character can’t outweigh all the strengths this film has going for it. Did I mention that the parents in the family are lesbians? No? That’s how small a deal this film makes of it, which is quite refreshing. Also the movie that really got me into Joni Mitchell.
5 – THE GHOST WRITER (Roman Polanski)
“Be sure to make a right at the bottom of the drive. If you turn left, the road will take you deeper into the woods and you’ll never be seen again.”
A tightly-wound political thriller about a writer (Ewan McGregor) who’s assigned the task of penning the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan playing a Tony Blair substitute). Then intrigue and drama unfolds as possible conspiracies and accusations of war crime start flying. There’s an ever-present sense of danger looming, which sets it apart from (surprisingly) many of its genre brethren. But this is Roman Polanski, and if any working director today knows suspense, it’s him. The Ghost Writer deserves to rank among the Chinatowns and Rosemary’s Babys as his finest films.
4 – INCEPTION (Christopher Nolan)
“The dreamer can always remember the genesis of the idea. True inspiration is impossible to fake.”
As far as big blockbusters go, Christopher Nolan makes them smarter than most. While he weaves an intricate plot about thieves enterting dreams within dreams within dream, he holds the viewer’s hand throughout (some say too much) to keep confusion from spilling over. Add in thrilling action scenes and whoa-inducing visual effects and you have the recipe for a great time at the theater.
3 – THE AMERICAN (Anton Corbijn)
“Don’t make any friends, Jack. You used to know that.”
Here’s a film hurt by misleading marketing. The poster, DVD box art and trailer all lead one to believe this is a fast-paced action thriller. It’s not. Instead, it’s a slow-paced, low-key character study of an assassin as he settles into an Italian town to lay low and maybe pull off an easy job while he’s there. George Clooney is stunningly good in the lead. He appears calm, collected and professional at all times, even when we can sense the tension lurking beneath his skin. The American is also beautifully filmed, thanks to photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn and cinematographer Martin Ruhe. Very underrated.
2 – BLACK SWAN (Darren Aronofsky)
“Perfection is not just about control. It’s also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence!”
After the uncharacteristically down-to-earth The Wrestler, Black Swan signals Darren Aronofsky‘s return to his usual highly stylized in-your-face work. There is little subtle about this film. Natalie Portman reveals on her face every emotion her perfection-seeking ballerina Nina goes through, her descent into madness manifests in grotesque scenes of blood and body horror, and her sexual hang-ups are never shied away from either. A breathtaking film.
1 – BLUE VALENTINE (Derek Cianfrance)
“How do you trust your feelings when they can just disappear like that?”
A heartwrenching look at two different stages of a relationship: the initial falling in love and the eventual collapse. What happens inbetween is left to our imagination, but who can ever pinpoint a precise moment in time when romance fades away anyway? Blue Valentine is my favorite film not just of 2010, but of the last couple of years as well. Because of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams delivering the year’s two best performances. Because of its frankness. Because of the shower scene. Because of all the revealing close-ups. Because of Williams’ dorky dance. Because of its clever cuts from present to past and back again. Because of the love. Because it hurts so bad.