Tuesday, January 18, 2011


2010 is widely considered a weak year for movies. There were full months where there was almost nothing to see, and this year's awards season seems to have settled on its choices even earlier than usual. But I would argue that while 2010 wasn't a great movie year quantitatively, it still succeeded qualitatively - the few movies worth seeing hold up. In that spirit, here are the ten movies I thought held up the most.

1. The Social Network
At this point, to say that The Social Network is the best movie of 2010 is less an opinion than an objective fact. I hate making the same picks as everyone else and seriously considered going with another movie just to be different. But I'd be kidding myself. Nothing else even comes close. How often do you find a movie that has it all? Writing, directing, acting, score. Thought-provoking, timely, entertaining, funny. Filled with memorable characters and epic struggles. What began as "the Facebook movie" now really is the film for this generation, and will be what people are still watching twenty years from now.

2. Black Swan
Brilliant or tawdry, classic or cheap melodrama. You can guess where I sided in one of 2010's biggest movie debates. You might begin Black Swan thinking you're getting Darren Aronofsky's previous film The Wrestler transposed into the world of ballet. But quickly it becomes clear there's a lot more going on. The film could succeed as a backstage ballet movie alone without all the craziness in the final act, but that just wouldn't be as much fun. And with scenes like the opening ballet dream and that final "perfect" line, I left the theater sufficiently wowed.

3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Here's a movie that exemplified one of the biggest trends of 2010: great movies bombing at the box office. Sure, the demographic may have been somewhat narrow (guys and a few girls exactly my age who grew up on exactly these video games) and the stylization extreme, but I was in love before the studio banner had left the screen. While the video game allusions and unique visual style may have been what made the movie so original, it was the characters that caused Scott Pilgrim to level up. And the dialogue. And the music. Really just across the board awesome.

4. 127 Hours
When was the last time you were so physically affected by a movie you left the theater shaking? For me, it was 127 Hours. And I mean that in only the best possible way. Forget about "the scene" - they get you through that as quickly and painlessly as possible. No, what makes this so hard to watch is the claustrophobia - sitting there with him as he struggles to figure a way out. But if you let yourself get scared off due to a little discomfort, you're not only missing an amazing viewing experience, but also one of the slickest movies of the year. With the entire Slumdog team in place, the music, editing, and cinematography all create what has to be the best possible execution of an unlikely movie idea. Don't be a baby. You're just missing out.

5. The Kids Are All Right
You don't have to look at the abysmal Golden Globes slate to see this wasn't a year filled with great comedy options. Yet into the dregs of summer fell the exact type of intelligent, emotional comedy we've been waiting for. The premise sounds like something out of a sitcom: "What happens when a lesbian couple meets their kids' sperm donor? Wackiness ensues!" Yet The Kids Are All Right avoids that trap by making you care for all of the characters. It would be so easy to view Mark Ruffalo's character as a loser out to steal the family of Annette Bening's, or to see Bening's as uptight and better pushed out of the way. But the writing and acting never give you either option. And when things get serious toward the end, there have been so many laughs beforehand that it feels totally earned.

6. Inception
No doubt about it: Inception was the movie event of the year. It was the only movie that kept me up for a midnight screening and the only movie that should have. Nearly single-handedly saving an infamously bad summer season, Inception was a blockbuster in the best sense of the word. No, I don't understand all (or, let's be honest, even half) of what actually happened. But who cares? Scenes like Joseph Gordon-Levitt's zero-gravity shoot-out and the building caving in on itself are movie magic, pure and simple. Besides, when was it a bad thing for pop entertainment to make people use their brains?

7. Toy Story 3
With possibly the most successful track record in Hollywood - creatively and financially - Pixar could have easily rested on its laurels, especially in making a sequel nearly a decade after the previous entry in the series. Instead, Toy Story 3 ups the ante of the first two, growing up with its audience to become a more mature and meaningful movie. While we may primarily remember the movie for its final scene, the rest deserves credit for being a thoroughly entertaining prison break, including some amazing visuals. But while the toys are great, this one is really Andy's movie.

8. Never Let Me Go
Another movie that failed to get the attention it deserved, Never Let Me Go is one of those rare adaptations that can stay faithful to its popular source material while still feeling like its own complete entity. There' s something about the dreary English countryside and the uncomfortable looks of the teachers that hits more immediately onscreen than on the page. Maybe it's the stunning cinematography and melancholy score. Maybe it's the extremely likable trio of Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and Andrew Garfield. But if you aren't moved by the emotional climax, you must be some kind of clone.

9. Shutter Island
Shutter Island got somewhat forgotten this year. Whether it was the early release date or the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio played basically the same character in Inception a few months later is anyone's guess, but I'd rank this close behind in terms of the year's coolest thrillers. It may have started slow and talky, but the suspense built and built as Leo was led on a surreal journey through a crazy looking prison ward and various possibilities of what was real. You definitely guessed some of the ending, but probably not all of it. And Martin Scorsese showed he knows his stuff when it comes to genre filmmaking.

10. True Grit
The Coen Brothers' most accessible and commercially successful film at first glance doesn't feel like a Coen Brothers movie at all. The story of a 14 year old girl who perseveres by pluck alone to save the day? Sounds like a Disney movie. But look closer and it's all there - the twisty, verbose dialogue that requires subtitles to fully understand; the quirky, oddball characters (what was up with Josh Brolin?); and the sudden violence. Still, the movie really belongs to Hailee Steinfeld, who breaks out in the biggest of ways as the quick-tongued and fearless heroine. Toss in a delightfully grumpy Jeff Bridges and this was the most fun movie of the Christmas season.

Honorable Mentions:
The Ghost Writer - Say what you will about Roman Polanski as a person, but this smart, intelligent thriller shows he still knows how to make damn good movies.
Easy A - The smartest, funniest high school-set satire since Mean Girls.
Greenberg - As unlikable as its protagonist may be, the movie makes coming back home decades later painfully relatable.
How to Train Your Dragon - Who would have thought a movie about dragons would feel so fresh and fun?
The Town - An old-school heist movie with a tinge of Good Will Hunting makes for a solid piece of Boston-set entertainment.

Now that I've made my picks, it's your turn. What am I leaving out? (And no, the exclusion of The King's Speech and The Fighter was not a mistake.) What am I overrating? And would you say 2010 ranks among the best or worst movie years? Leave a comment at the beep.


Foote Steppes said...

Nothing for The Fighter? Por que?

Zander said...

I wasn't impressed. Great performances, not a great movie overall. Don't worry though - it'll get some acting love when I do my awards picks soon.

Kara said...

I hated The Town. Ben Affleck is a whiny one trick pony. But the rest of your picks are pretty good. I, however, would have put Harry Potter in there somewhere. And I haven't seen 127 hours because it sounds so boring and painful.

Zander said...

I thought The Town was solid. Not amazing, but enjoyable. It's largely there since I wanted five runners-up and I just saw it a few days beforehand. 127 Hours is definitely not boring. Maybe a little painful, but it's worth it.