23 February 2011
  my top 10 of 2010

last year, the first one in which the academy decided to have ten best picture nominees, was incredibly difficult for me to create a top ten list, because i simply didn't think there were ten films deserving of spot on such a list. this year was exactly the opposite. so many terrific films were released this year, and i really had a hard time narrowing down the field. i really hit a wall when it came to comparing well done mainstream fare (e.g. the king's speech) to exceptional, if somewhat experimental, indie work (e.g. blue valentine). in the end, there were quite a few honorable mentions this year, and i am not sure that this list precisely summarizes the best work of the year, but at the very least here are ten exceptional films that i really enjoyed this year:

10. blue valentine. . . this is not a perfect film. i had a lot of difficulty understanding the actions of a cast of characters who consistently behaved irrationally. dean and cindy are so epicly bad for one another, that i just can't understand why they are making any effort at all to stay together. however, the fact that this movie made me think so much, combined with the exceptional acting of michelle williams and ryan gosling, made this movie one of the year's best.

9. hereafter. . . clint eastwood simply can't make a bad movie. unfortunately, and quite confusingly (to me at least), it has become fashionable of late to dump on his work. this is really a shame, since this is probably eastwood's best film since million dollar baby. i think a lot of the bad reviews of this movie stem from the fact that many critics missed the central point of the film. too many people came to this movie looking for a spooky thriller about a man who can speak to the dead, when what eastwood created was a pensive drama about the daily connections humans make with one another in society. (added bonus- the introductory tsunami scene showed that eastwood can master special effects as well. who knew?)

8. rabbit hole. . . john cameron mitchell really came out of nowhere with this wrenching drama about parents dealing with the death of their son. a fan of the directors' two previous films, i never would have expected his third to look anything like this-- so polished, quietly introspective and carefully crafted. knowing that this was a passion project for nicole kidman, one has to wonder how much of a collaborative effort this was between the film's director and star. maybe it's time for kidman to step behind the camera?

7. get low. . . this film really came out of nowhere for me. having read a few reviews of the film, i expected a pretentious, somewhat stodgy drowsy religious drama. what i got was a smart, funny, relatable film punctuated by three masterful performances. casting bill murray as the funeral home director was an inspired move. no other actor could have delivered this character's lines in such a hilariously dry way. and robert duvall really only missed out on a best actor nomination, because he disappears so wholly into his character that you forget you are watching acting. a consistently great work all around.

6. shutter island. . . i held out hope until the very last moment that scorsese's latest would pull out a best picture nomination. lesser work of his (the aviator) has garnered far more praise. unfortunately, for reasons which are beyond comprehension, the film's march release date dumped it in an awards season black hole that made it all but impossible that it would be noticed come voting time. that being said, the theme of diving into our own subconscious to uncover the true reality of our existence was a popular one this year, and this was the single best effort to engage it.

5. winter's bone. . . there is nothing flashy about this film- just simple, well done storytelling. debra granik's film is perhaps one of the year's most watchable. this drama about a teenage girl in the missouri ozarks searching for her drug manufacturer father unfolds gradually, always keeping the viewer glued to the movie's twists and turns. one of the best surprises of this year's oscar nominations was john hawkes supporting actor nod. but jennifer lawrence and dale dickey are equally deserving of the awards attention they have received this year. i can't wait to see more work from these actors as well from granik herself.

4. true grit. . . the screenplay for true grit is something like a tone poem. it is a lyrical work that keeps the viewer interested as much in the language of the film as in the story itself. it's hard to imagine any other screenwriters capable of such deft cinematic artistry. this is really a very simple story, much less ambitious than some other recent westerns of note. but it is the careful writing, superb acting and studied direction that makes this movie stand out as probably the best result of the recent renaissance of the genre. i for one am somewhat shocked that the academy took so warmly to this film, but more than that i am surprised that it was so successful at the box office, as this is really one of the year's smartest movies.

3. animal kingdom. . . on the one hand, we have ben affleck's the town, a masculine fantasy of elite white boy gangsters who somewhat miraculously manage to stump an entire city worth of law enforcement officers, all the while making themselves irresistable to the opposite sex. on the other hand, we have animal kingdom, a realistic portrait of some very flawed individuals, struggling against local law enforcement with varying degrees of success. in the town, the bad(ass) guys win (with almost no competition). in animal kingdom, nobody wins. there are no superheroes, just real people on both sides of the law. and no matter how invincible the gangsters in the film think they are, the director shows how the real mastermind behind their efforts is the little middle-aged woman at home they they call mom. without a doubt, animal kingdom is the far better film in this comparison, and one of the year's absolute best.

2. never let me go. . . there are these shots in never let me go that just sort of seem to go on for far too long-- where we are looking at a character just sitting, thinking, walking, listening to a song, etc. what mark romanek has done is crafted a movie that not only impresses but enables the audience to ponder mortality. he leaves these moments throughout this film where the viewer is drawn into the characters' pensiveness, where the lack of action for a moment allows us to take a second to think about what is going on, to imagine what these characters are experiencing. without a doubt, one of the year's superp, if understated, directorial accomplishments.

1. black swan. . . about halfway through this movie, i actually said under my breath that i was completely over darren aronofsky. after watching his last movie, the wrestler, i started to wonder if maybe this may doesn't respect women too much. then, watching this film, i began to be assured of that fact. however, there was a moment somewhere in the film's second act where a lightbulb went off and i really understood what this movie was about. aronofsky isn't attempting to exploit womens' sexuality in this work, but rather he is plumbing that exploitation. he is showing how the hypersexualization of women in contemporary art has created this situation in which successful women in this field are compelled without choice to sell sex. this is a fascinating film about women, sexuality, art and society. also, it is beautifully crafted. the best film of the year.
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