Monday, January 3, 2011

Top 10 Favorite Movies of 2010

I watched 168 films this past year. These are, in my opinion, the best films I watched from 2010. They aren't all masterpieces, but they're creative, redemptive, and somehow point to the beauty of our Creator. A few themes emerged: many are based on true stories, many feature strong female performances, many involve themes of family and friendship, and all are worth your time.

10. Easy A (Will Gluck). This is a film I probably shouldn't like, but I do. It goes beyond the pointless schlock of the teen movies from the past 20 years and brings us back to the good ol' days of the 1980s teen film: charming, funny, romantic, and far more insightful than it should be. Emma Stone carries this entire film on her delightful performance as a misunderstood girl with a fake reputation to uphold. Her parents (Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) win the award for coolest movie parents ever (at least since Juno). Maybe it's because of my deep love for teenagers and adolescent culture, but this film was a pleasant surprise.

9. Winter's Bone (Debra Granik). Part noir, part Western, part family drama, Winter's Bone was a film I never would have bothered with had not the critics brought it to my attention. Jennifer Lawrence's performance holds this entire film together as she searches for the whereabouts of her drug-making father. Set in the murky blue-grey of the backwoods Ozarks, Winter's Bone is an American morality tale set in a culture I have no experience with. This is a world that is completely foreign to the majority of the world, and Granik's film reveals that the American dream is playing itself out in the dark corners of our country.

8. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard). While technically a 2009 film, A Prophet was finally released in the United States this past February. A 19-year-old French-Arab man is slowly transformed during his time spent in a French prison. Part prison film, part mafia thriller, A Prophet's paints a grim picture of the crime lifestyle. There is no mansion a la The Godfather, no parties like Goodfellas. Like 2008's Gomorrah, this international look at life in the mob offers plenty of violence, little in the way of hope, and a rich mine of spiritual undertones.

7. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich). I'm probably in the minority here, but while I really liked Toy Story 3, I didn't love it. People always say they cry during the final scene, and I'm an emotional film-watcher, so I expected tears. But I didn't cry. Maybe a brief moment of catharsis. No, the moment where the tears began to flow was the furnace scene. Facing their imminent doom, the toys grasp hands/paws/hooves in a moment of beautiful solidarity. They may be approaching their own destruction, but they are doing it together. And, like LOST, that's what the Toy Story films are all about--live together, die alone. We are most alive when we are in community, when we belong, when we're a part of a family. And "Spanish Buzz Lightyear" might be the funniest scene of the year.

6. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy). This documentary (maybe) about a filmmaker (maybe) turned into a street artist (sorta) manages to be entertaining, informative, and philosophical, all rolled into one delightful film experience. Street artist Banksy turns the tables on his documentarian, creating a hilariously insightful film about the power of aesthetics and consumerism. Mister Brainwash is a character conjured out of a Seinfeld episode, only he's real. What is art? What makes art good or valuable? Banksy asks the questions and doesn't offer easy answers. It's a film that I still think about months later, a film I can get into arguments over and can spur hour-long conversations.

5. The Fighter (David O. Russell). The boxing movie. The family drama. The redemption tale. It's all been done before, and I didn't expect much different from The Fighter. But there's something intangible and unique about David O. Russell's true-life story about boxer Mickey Ward and his brother Dicky Ecklund. With an incredibly talented cast (Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo) and an engaging script, The Fighter manages to rise above convention to become a beautiful story of communal redemption. This isn't about a single fighter rising to fame and success; this is a family film, a story about the salvation of an entire family. Christian Bale's performance as Dicky is astounding, the best supporting performance of any film I've seen this year. This isn't acting as much as it is transformation; Bale disappears and Dicky emerges.

4. How to Train Your Dragon (Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders). The best use of 3D I've seen in a film, I found How To Train Your Dragon to be even more captivating and affecting than Pixar's contribution this year. Maybe it's the story about a father and a son coming to really love each other. Maybe it's the idea of reconciliation between warring and misunderstood cultures. Maybe it's the awe-inspiring dragon-flying sequences. It's just good story-telling, and it surprised me how much I loved it. Can't wait to watch it someday with my son.

3. Inception (Christopher Nolan). It's a film that embodied its very message--ideas can get implanted and stuck in your mind. The conversations surrounding Christopher Nolan's psychological heist film were near-addicting. Sure, it feels a little bit too much like a revision of The Matrix. And, yes, you could try to poke plenty of holes in the complex plot. But it's a summer blockbuster that made audiences actually think. Any film that promotes cognitive usage has to have some merit. Inception managed to be both entertaining and, in some sense, intellectual. One of the only films where "it was all just a dream" actually doesn't feel like a disappointment.

2. 127 Hours (Danny Boyle). "I need help." The words pouring from James Franco's mouth in the best acting performance of the year is a wake-up call for his character, Aron Ralston, and for a hyper-independent American culture. Based on the true story of Ralston being trapped under a boulder in the Utah wilderness, director Danny Boyle manages to create an immensely tense and affecting film. Using unique camera angles, a well-structured script, and quick pacing, Boyle and Franco together create a memorable theater experience. I laughed, I cringed, I wept, and I nearly cheered. It sounds really cliche to say it, but as the critics put on the covers of DVD boxes, 127 Hours is "a triumph."

1. The Social Network (David Fincher). Let's face it: we're living in a full-blown electronically networked society. The Social Network perfectly captures the zeitgeist of our culture, the shift in our paradigm of community and friendship. It's also an incredibly well-made film, from the artful direction to the tight script, the editing, the lighting, even the score. It's not often that a film is both timely and timeless--even Citizen Kane didn't win the Best Picture Oscar--but I believe this will be a film that will endure, that we'll look back decades from now and say, "if you want to understand the rise of the Internet age, go watch this film." The young actors all reveal talent way beyond their years, and director David Fincher has never been better. And let me clear up an indictment of Aaron Sorkin's phenomenal script: just because the script's historical accuracy might be in question doesn't make the film any less true. Truth found in stories like these might transcend the history books. I know this film is getting lots of critical acclaim and popular to put as the #1 film. It should. It's the best film of the year, and might be the best film to capture an era.

Honorable Mentions:
True Grit, The Ghost Writer, Restrepo, Despicable Me, Shutter Island.

Films I Haven't Seen Yet, But Really Want To:
Black Swan, Another Year, Never Let Me Go, Blue Valentine, Somewhere


  1. Great list! All worthy films, in my opinion. Can't say that The Social Network was my favorite film of the year, but it was certainly well-made (man, I love that regatta scene). Other thoughts:

    I also liked Easy A.

    I counted A Prophet as a 2009 movie, so didn't include it on my list. Very good movie though.

    Glad we both liked the 3D in How to Train.

    Did you see The King's Speech? I loved it.

    And I also wanted to take this opportunity to say that you should join Miso. I know you already keep track of the films you watch in your film journal, but at least I can get alerts on what your watching in real-time instead of checking every couple months or so. And you can comment. It's basically like Facebook or Foursquare of movies and TV. =)

  2. Cam, I saw that enough critics were including A Prophet on their year-end lists, and it was only available for wide viewing in 2010, so I decided to include it. Otherwise, True Grit would have taken the #10 spot for me.

    Haven't seen The King's Speech yet, that's the plan for this week in Portland.

    Just checked out Miso. Interesting idea, but I think it might be honestly distracting for me, with "checking in" every time I watch something. It's hard enough keeping one film journal! :)