I have finally seen all of the movies I wanted to see coming out of the 2010 year, and here are my top 10:
The Kids are All Right
This movie was much better than I expected it to be. Focusing more on what it means to be a family rather than the lesbian relationship, this film holds some serious performances from Bening, Moore, and the standout Mark Ruffalo. A very involving and emotional film, but it does give into some cliché moments a little to often to get into my top ten favorites.
10. Blue Valentine
This movie was absolutely powerful. With my favorite lead performance this year being belted out of Ryan Gosling, it is one not to be missed. Examining the relationship between a man and a woman from their first meeting into their marriage, this is a difficult and heart-wrenching film to experience.
Michelle Williams garnered an Oscar nomination for her performance here, which she definitely deserved, but it is Gosling who really stands out here. From the opening scene, he is completely unrecognizable. It is a fearless performance. While the story isn’t too original or strong enough to simply hold our attention, the actors most definitely do – to the point where it feels as if you are watching a documentary.
9. The King’s Speech
That’s right, The King’s Speech…the Best Picture of the year comes in on my list at number nine. While I thoroughly enjoyed this film, it does not stand up against other releases this year (in my opinion). Colin Firth gives an extraordinary performance here, but it is Geoffrey Rush who holds this film together. The relationship between the two men is the real heart of the film, and when it strays from that, it falls a little flat. Rush is so exuberant and alive here that when he is not on screen, almost everything feels dull – apart from a small performance from Guy Pearce here.
This is a typical Oscar-bait film, hence why it picked up so many awards. For me, the middle section of the film felt a little dull and the camera work was distracting. Great performances from the cast, but the direction seemed average.
8. 127 Hours
A huge step up from 2008’s Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle comes back with a truly original and involving story (two things the former severely lacked). James Franco gives the performance of a lifetime here as a man literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Boyle ingeniously leaves the camera on Franco throughout the movie, letting the audience feel as if they are right there with him. Being brutally realistic and patient has typically been one of Boyle’s strong points, and it works with him well here. The arm-cutting scene is intense and heart-wrenching.
A true testament to the strength of the human spirit, 127 Hours is an inspirational and involving tale that should be seen.
7. The Town
Ben Affleck should have focused on directing a long time ago. After his amazing debut, Gone Baby Gone, he ventures into the world of bank robbery while staying within his hometown of Boston. Though Affleck gives his best performance to date in the film, he is clearly a more talented director.
Affleck is also surrounded by an amazing cast including Jeremy Renner (earning a nomination for his role here), Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper, Rebecca Hall, and a surprisingly effective Blake Lively. The Town plays like a Boston-set Heat on steroids. While I prefer the extended cut that was released, the theatrical cut is more than effective. While not completely predictable, you generally know what kind of conflict this film will end in, and Affleck does a good job of hitting hard with the action scenes. Personally, Renner was the most memorable character in the film, literally frightening me every time he came on screen – a true powerhouse performance.
6. True Grit
Right off the bat, I love westerns and I can honestly say this is the first one to stand in the same category of western films with Clint Eastwood’s immediate classic Unforgiven. So many films have tried to match up, but this is the first one that has achieved it. It comes as no surprise that the men to bring this film to life are the Coen Brothers. Making vast improvements over the original John Wayne film, the Coens bring their own wit and style to make the experience even more enjoyable and entertaining.
With a cast like Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and even a nice cameo by Barry Pepper, the true standout is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld. She commands scenes with such veterans as Bridges and Damon, expect great things from her in the future. Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn is also a joy to watch, chewing up every bit of scenery. Apart from an unsatisfying ending, True Grit is fun, witty, and very much a western. It was a nice genre to return to.
5. The Fighter
It can now be said that there is a boxing film that can truly stand with those like Rocky and Raging Bull. David O. Russell’s sports film does the smart thing by not focusing on the actual sport, but by focusing on it’s two main characters – played perfectly by Mark Wahlberg and a transcendent performance by Christian Bale. Watching these two work alongside two other great performances, by Amy Adams and Melissa Leo, is worth the ticket price alone. The emotional involvement and satisfying story is simply icing on the cake. This is arguably the most interesting and engaging sports film since Friday Night Lights, which it surpasses.
4. Toy Story 3
This was one of the most enjoyable experiences I had in the movie theater this past decade. With the memories of seeing the first two films as a child fresh in mind, I became very nostalgic. The Toy Story films have always been my favorite animated films, but came up against some tough competition with 2009’s Up…good thing Toy Story’s third installment came out just in time.
Visiting all of the old gang once again was an experience I would pay anything for…and it would have been well worth the money. I cannot explain in words the joy I got out of watching this film – as well as the perfect ending to a perfect animated trilogy. Woody and Buzz are back in what is the most heart-wrenching and exciting animated film I have ever seen. I will miss them greatly.
3. Black Swan
Director Darren Aronofsky truly has a way of taking things one normally wouldn’t be interested in and grabbing your attention from the opening scene until the end credits. He did it first with drug addicts in Requiem for a Dream, again with pro-wrestling in The Wrestler, and now with ballet in Black Swan. Aronofsky unravels a tale of destruction, sexuality, and sacrifice here with a unique type of grace and class.
Natalie Portman gives the performance of a lifetime in a film that is simply one of the most engaging and shocking films of the year. Part horror film, part psychological thriller, and part ballet, Black Swan is an experience not to be missed.
2. The Social Network
David Fincher has directed such films as Se7en, Zodiac, and the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Never has he gotten the recognition he should have (i.e. an Academy Award). I honestly thought this was his chance. It is no simple task of taking the beginnings of a social networking site and weave such a beautiful, classical, and consistently engaging film as this. The direction, the screenplay, and music all seemed to come together perfectly in a number of scenes that I can only describe as movie magic.
Lead by a powerful performance from Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network studies how immediate recognition and fame can change our lives in such drastic ways. It is a disgrace to call this film the “Facebook movie,” as it truly is the Citizen Kane of our time.
Ironically enough the movie I am watching as I write this post, Inception is truly the best film of 2010 – and arguably my favorite film of all time. Rarely do you see a movie bursting with such originality, intensity, and intrigue come out of Hollywood…or anywhere else for that matter. This is why writer/director Christopher Nolan is such a special talent. I have yet to see a writer or director create such a complex story that focuses as much on the character development as it does the action. The film is at times beautiful, complex (but never to the point of utter confusion), intense, and emotional.
Picking up four Academy Awards for its work in sound editing and mixing, cinematography, and visual effects, I am still offended that this film did not receive the recognition it deserved – and most notably for its writer/director. Inception is easily the best directed film of the year. In the hands of anyone else, it would have been filled with CGI and much less focused on it’s story or characters. In anyone else’s hands, you would have gotten a completely different movie, and I guarantee you it would not have picked up 8 Oscar nominations.
Christopher Nolan has never gotten an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, even with films under his belt like Memento and The Dark Knight. I thought this would be his year…but he was not even nominated. He was also not awarded for the amazingly original and creative script he took ten years to write, which he lost to The King’s Speech. Many people criticize the film for it’s first half not being as exciting as the second, but without the exposition in the first half the film would not make sense. Personally, every second of this film holds my attention, even after so many viewings. During this “dull” part of the film, Nolan gives us some eye-popping visuals and even a fantastic chase sequence in Mombasa. All of this exposition only takes up about 30 minutes of the film, and I find it impressive that Nolan is able to explain a complex world such as this in that amount of time without just having one character sit in front of the camera and explain the rules of this world.
At its core, Inception is about the difficulty of being able to let go of the ones we love. I give Christopher Nolan a lot of credit for constructing such a deep, complex, and original film while incorporating a great deal of tense action scenes. There is nothing wrong with making an emotional drama entertaining for the masses. Nolan makes the movies he would want to see and has a hand in absolutely every aspect that goes into the production of his films, and I thank him for that.