It’s been an interesting year in film. From powerhouse performances [James Franco in 127 Hours; Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone] to terrific ensemble pieces [Scott Pilgrim vs. The World]; from unexpectedly great remakes/re-imaginings [Let Me In, True Grit] to spectacular animated features [Toy Story 3, Megamind] there has been no shortage of entertaining films.
Bearing in mind that there are limitations in terms of critic’s screening access [I am on very few critic’s screening lists], budget [that old fixed income bugaboo] and availability [some amazing indie films haven’t even played here], here are my favorite films from 2010:
15. The Tourist [Columbia Pictures]: Oscar® winner Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck [for The Lives of Others] echoes late period Hitchcock; Johnny Depp channels bits of Cary Grant and James Stewart as an ordinary guy who winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Angelina Jolie channels the elegance of Audrey Hepburn and the sexiness of Sophia Loren in a movie that reminds of classics like To Catch a Thief – without feeling inferior.
14. Megamind [DreamWorks Animation]: clever spoof/satire of superhero conventions with two last survivors of their respective planets’ destruction becoming arch-enemies on Earth – with unexpected results. Megamind benefited from a remarkably sophisticated script [probably too sophisticated for younger kids], a really good cast and razor sharp 3-D. When Megamind [Will Ferrell] defeats his arch-enemy, Metro Man [Brad Pitt], he finds life too boring – so he creates a new hero, Titan [Jonah Hill] but things go spectacularly awry.
13. Easy A [Columbia Pictures]: riffing on The Scarlet Letter, Easy A’s Olive [Emma Stone] lies about her sexual exploits for fun and profit – until she discovers that her reputation is dimming her chances with a really cool guy. Easy A features a ton of great performances, including Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as the world’s most supportive parents and Lisa Kudrow as the guidance counselor who’s having an affair with boyfriend of an uptight born again type played by Amanda Bynes [possibly her best work, too]. Finally, there’s a genuinely smart teen comedy that comes thisclose to matching Mean Girls.
12. How To Train Your Dragon [DreamWorks Animation]: Viking boy Hiccup [Jay Baruchel] isn’t good at things like weapons training, or much of anything physical, but he discovers a knack for befriending a wounded dragon and challenges his peoples misunderstanding of the creatures. This movie has terrific 3-D, which really brings its many flying sequences to breathtaking life. Apparently, the answer to how you portray Vikings to make them palatable is to give them Scots accents and de-emphasize their pillaging in favor of hunting dragons. Somehow it all works.
11. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll [Tribeca Films]: One of the best biopics of any year, this one tells the story of Ian Dury, who overcame polio to become one of rock’s strangest leading lights with his band, Ian Dury and the Blockheads. A warts-and-all biopic, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll moves between bursts of psychedelia and realism as it recounts Dury’s struggle, success and all-too-early death. Andy Serkis plays Dury and performs a number of Dury’s songs – backed by the original Blockheads. This is the power of rock!
10. Micmacs [Sony Pictures classics]: Trust Jean-Pierre Jeunet [Amelie] to take a prosaic genre like a revenge movie, and infuse it with a strange and wonderful charm. When Bazil [Dany Boone] discovers the makers of the bomb that killed his father and the bullet that put him in hospital [and cost him his job] across the street from each other, he decides to take his revenge. He falls in with a group of very unusual folks who live in a home carved out beneath the contents of a junkyard and things get surreal from there. Bazil’s revenge relies on intelligence and does not include much in the way of weaponry, but it is a tale that holds an audience with its unique approach.
9. Millennium Trilogy [Music Box Films]: This choice might be a bit of a cheat, but The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest [based on the bestselling novels by the late Steig Larsson] tell one complete story. When crusading journalist Mikael Blomqvist [Michael Nyqvist] accepts the job of solving the forty-year old murder of a young girl, it leads him into a weird partnership with the aggressively anti-social Lisbeth Salander [Noomi Rapace] – who has a background that includes false commitment to a mental hospital, physical abuse and a father who was a monster. By cutting a lot of extraneous material, the writers and directors turn the extremely layered novels into starkly brilliant thrillers. Rapace gives a performance that is both unexpected and electrifying. Even if you don’t usually watch sub-titled films, you owe it to yourself to see these movies.
8. Kick-Ass [Lionsgate]: A kid with an implausible dream, a neo-conservative Batman and Robin and a social network combine in unexpected ways to provide Kick-Ass [both the film and the character] with an eager-to-please rambunctiousness that makes it both infectious and scary. Based on a graphic novel by Mark Millar, Kick-Ass is a balls-to-the-wall satire of superhero comics with enough style and adrenaline to fuel a half-dozen Michael by films – only smarter. The entire cast is superb, but the movie features a star-making performance by Chloe Grace Moretz as a potty-mouthed mini-samurai named Hit-Girl.
7. True Grit [Paramount Pictures]: Based on the novel by Charles Portis, The Coen Brothers’ adaptation of True Grit is more faithful to the source material than the 1969 John Wayne movie, and considerably darker. The story of the humorless fourteen-year old girl who hires a deputy marshal with ‘true grit’ to bring her daddy’s killer to justice is beautifully shot and filled with the formalized dialogue that made the novel particularly notable. Hailee Steinfeld shines as Maddie Ross – and matches Jeff Bridges [as Deputy Marshal Rooster Cogburn] and Matt Damon [La Boeuf – pronounced La Beef] throughout the Coens’ unexpectedly traditional western.
6. Let Me In [Overture Films] – When word came that Matt Reeves was planning to do a American version of Let The Right One In [Sweden, 2008], fans of the original were appalled. Fortunately, Reeves went back to the book, as well as the movie, and the result was as starkly beautiful and emotionally resonant as the original. The story of Owen [Kodi Smit-McPhee], a bullied boy who befriends Abby [Chloe Grace Moretz], who ‘needs blood to live,’ hits all the notes of the original as well as adding a uniquely American tone – best shown in a scene in a car parked outside of a convenience store – that makes the stark beauty of the original feel like something more universal.
5. The Social Network [Columbia Pictures]: somehow, writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Finch make the story of the creation of Facebook feel like a thriller. Sorkin’s ultra-fast paced dialogue and Fincher’s propulsive direction practically yank the audience into the film. It’s so engaging that most viewers probably won’t quibble about any liberties taken with the story [though all the deposition scenes are taken from transcripts]. Jesse Eiseneberg is dazzling as Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and Justin Timberlake is nicely sleazy as the founder of Napster, Sean Parker. Even better are Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin and Armie Hammer as both of Winklevoss twins [thanks to some nifty effects work], who sued Zuckerberg – claiming that he had stolen their idea.
4. Toy Story 3 [Pixar]: Woody [Tom Hanks], Buzz Lightyear [Tim Allen] and the gang are back for one last time – dealing with the possibility of being tossed in thrash as Andy [John Morris] heads off to college. The film deals with growing up, moving on and making new friends. It also combines genres [prison break, action-adventure, coming of age] seamlessly. As usual with Pixar, they didn’t make Toy Story 3 until they got the story just right. Toy Story 3 is a match for its predecessors in terms of quality and, more importantly, fun.
1c. The King’s Speech [The Weinstein Company]: A man must overcome his stammering when he is unexpectedly forced to take over the family business. That is the essence of The King’s Speech. Of course, the man is Prince Albert [Colin Firth], second in line for the British throne – and the unexpected abdication of his brother, King Edward VIII [guy Pearce] – so he can marry the twice divorced American, Wallis Simpson [Eve Best] – puts poor Bertie on the throne, the last place on Earth he ever wanted to be. That he overcame his stammer to become the calming voice of the British peoples during World War II, thanks to the help of speech therapist Lionel Logue [Geoffrey Rush], is fact. The King’s Speech takes that true story and gives it immortality.
1b. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World [Lionsgate]: Young love is a constant theme in movies, but with Scott Pilgrim, Edward Wright takes that theme and filters it through graphic novel and videogame sensibilities to create an utterly unique film. Michael Cera plays a tougher version of his lovable nerd in conjunction with Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s wandering [through other dimensions – not other men] Ramona to create a couple that works though every instinct says it shouldn’t. Between the engaging characters and Wright’s manipulation of movie, comics and videogame sensibilities, the result is the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year.
1a. Inception [Warner Bros. Pictures]: Where Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was amazing fun, Inception is the smartest, most awe-inspiring film of the year. Christopher Nolan’s exploration of dream worlds – with the intent of using someone’s dreams against them – could have been a boring psychological piece with science fiction overtones. Instead, it’s a tightly plotted heist flick that brings all the questions of that more possible film into play without even seeming to. Leavened by quirky bits of humor [‘Kiss me!’] and a surprising amount of practical effects work [the majority of Inception was filmed in camera], Inception was the first movie I had to see again, the next day – and I’ve watched the DVD three times… so far.
Honorable Mentions: 127 Hours [Fox Searchlight Pictures], The American [Focus Features], Max Manus [D films], The Other Guys [Columbia Pictures], Salt [Columbia Pictures], The Town [Warner Bros. Pictures], TRON: Legacy [Disney Films], Winter’s Bone [Roadside Attractions].