Another year behind us, perhaps thankfully, the year in film that was 2010 was on course for disaster. If you'd asked me in June if I thought there would be 10 films worth nominating my prognosis would have been more hopeful for a Marx Brothers reunion. I'm actually pretty sure George Lucas could make that happen.
But the recovery from the worst summer film slate in years was dramatic and in the last few months we saw not only many of the best films of the year but a couple that might be the best of the decade, though I didn't see The Fighter -- one of the reasons I think lists like these are somewhat arbitrary. Regardless, 2010 turned out to be surprisingly rich in groundbreaking, thought provoking, funny (The Other Guys just missed the Honorable Mentions and I'm almost embarrassed by how much I liked MacGruber) and moving films. For a while it was looking grim. Twilight and Cop Out will do that to a guy.
But don't take my word for it. Actually, yes, take my word for it. Here are the best and worst of 2010.
1. Black Swan: Darren Aronofsky is one of the most exciting filmmakers currently walking the planet. All of the reasons why can be found in Black Swan, a gorgeously shot, expertly directed, emotionally raw psychological horror story that features not just a visionary director at the top of his game but also the gripping, brave, career-defining performance that we always knew Natalie Portman had in her. Black Swan is beautifully harrowing and unforgettable.
2. Un Prophet: A 2009 film that didn't get here until this year, this little French prison drama stands alongside The Godfather and Goodfellas as, simply put, among the best mafia films ever made. Tahar Rahim dissolves into the role of a French-Algerian teenager who rises amongst the ranks of the mob from lowly hit man to powerful a powerful capo and delivers a star-making portrayal, with great supporting work from Niels Arestrup as his mentor, in a great crime film that will actually leave you dying for a sequel.
3. The Social Network: What do you get when you pair a screenwriter so good that his words fly at you like the daggers of an expert knife thrower with a director so exacting you could almost watch the film without a word of dialogue anyway? You get the cinematic equivalent of fifteen rounds in the ring with Ali. Clueless critics see David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin's expose of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg as a cynical celebration of wealth and power but it's really a thrilling and forlorn tale of man who made millions of friends, none of them his own. Joe loves this.
4. The King's Speech: This story of a stodgy British royal with a speech impediment probably sounds a bit dry on the surface but don't be fooled, The King's Speech is deeply satisfying film craft. Stellar performances from Colin Firth as the Duke of York and the impeccable Geoffrey Rush, ably supported with fine work by Helena Bonham Carter, compellingly render the unlikely tale of the ascension of a King and his speech therapist with wit, humor and tangible warmth.
5. Inception: This superb entry from Chris Nolan is that rare thing: A brainy, imaginative hard sci-fi film that was a huge hit with audiences and critics alike and which rarely takes their intelligence for granted. Inception is a complete mind-fuck that's as intricately constructed as a Swiss clock (pull out one cog and it falls apart) that is a testament to the ingenuity and raw cinematic skill, which Nolan has to draw from. Keep an eye on your totem.
6. The Town: Perhaps the only thing more impressive than Ben Affleck's stellar direction of this exciting heist drama is Jeremy Renner's stunning performance as brother to Affleck's character Doug MacRay, Jem, a dangerous and charismatic bank robber from a part of Boston with plenty of competition to rise above. Affleck's always been a decent actor, but behind the camera he proves he's found his true calling.
7. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The saddest story of the year was Scott Pilgrim's belly flop at the box office. It seems like no one saw the most fun, funny, unique and in some ways groundbreaking film of 2010. Whether it's Michael Cera battling his way through seven increasingly deadly Evil Exes to win the heart of the girl of his dreams, the story's richly realized fantasy world or the eye popping visual feast that director Edgar Wright effortlessly cooks up using every trick in the book -- and a few new ones -- Scott Pilgrim is a one of a kind for this or any year.
8. Four Lions: A wickedly sharp British import about a cadre of clueless wannabe jihadists who conspire to bomb a mosque and foment a Muslim uprising, Four Lions is a wildly smart, funny and ballsy satire with comedy as dark as it is inspired. The fact that the film takes itself completely seriously makes it all the funnier, like adding salt to make your dessert sweeter. I hope you love it--or that is offends you. Four Lions is bound to do one or the other. Probably both.
9. Winter's Bone: This darkly haunting "Ozark noir" stands out with its originality, atmosphere and eye opening performances. Jennifer Lawrence's Ree is a young girl trying to keep her home and family together in a meth-infested backwoods after her father jumps bail, giving them both up for forfeit. John Hawkes, as Ree's uncle Teardrop, owns every second he's on screen, giving Jeremy Renner a run for his money in the Best Supporting Actor department. Enigmatically enthralling, Winter's Bone will stick with you.
10. 127 Hours: You'd think there wouldn't be much suspense in Danny Boyle's adaptation of the story of Aron Ralston, a young outdoorsman facing death from exposure in a Moab Valley canyon. It's like Titanic; everyone knows how it ends. But you'd be wrong, as Boyle brings his energetic and inventive visual style to the fore and James Franco knocks it out of the park with his stunningly emotional portrayal of a man whose zest for life nearly robs him of it.
The American, Blue Valentine, Fish Tank, The Ghost Writer, Shutter Island, True Grit, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Inside Job, Kick-Ass
The 5 Worst Films of 2010*
1. Cop Out: I hated this abortion from Kevin Smith so much it became the bar by which every bad movie this year was rated. Beating a three-legged, orphaned kitten to death with the only kitten-friend it ever made in its short, miserable life is less cruel than subjecting audiences to a feature length movie starring Tracy Morgan.
2. Grown Ups: Though Grown Ups came close, at least for me. But what's really maddening about this lowbrow, unfunny, self-respect pummeling story about a group of guys who suck only marginally less than they did twenty years ago is that so many people seem to like them. And this film. It made money. Lots. Why do you do this to me?
3. My Soul To Take: Wes Craven's name used to mean something though you would never know why from this boring, tepid, unoriginal, borderline nonsensical turd from the former horror icon. Stock characters and shopworn tropes bog down this derivative riff on the ghostly serial killer when the overly convoluted pretenses aren't rendering you unable to give a shit. The fact they converted it to 3D for no discernable reason but the money felt like a "craven" kick in the nuts. Scream 4 deserves him.
4. The Lovely Bones: What is so galling about this sickeningly sweet, horribly misconceived adaptation of Alice Sebold's apparently not this terrible book is that it's a film that's obviously trying to be great--and indeed you would think it would at least be good -- or even watchable. But Peter Jackson continues to sink deeper into narrative and technical overindulgence taking the entire film down with him, while Mark Wahlberg gives a performance that nails whiny, teenage girl better the actual teenage girl the movie centers on. Decent turns from Stanley Tucci and Saoirse Ronan aren't even close to enough to save this nauseatingly earnest bomb.
5. Twilight: Eclipse: I mainlined all of the previous Twilight films the week before seeing this and the amazing part was that despite the fact I hated all of these movies, by the time I got to Eclipse, the original film seemed like some sort of camp masterpiece. Endless exposition in the service of terrible prose, un-ironic homoeroticism in the service of a moping, utterly worthless whelp who sets the concept of female empowerment back half-a-century and the necrotic stupidity of its core romantic conflict all combine into a series that almost destroys my will to live. And I still have to see Breaking Dawn. If there's a Team Fuck These Movies, I want to join.
*I did not see Sex and the City 2, for which I'm eternally grateful.
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