Article first published as A Baker's Dozen "Top Ten" Films of 2010 on Blogcritics.
When I sat down to mull over the 132 locally released films I’ve seen during 2010, I thought it would have been harder to come up with a list of the best. Through some parts of the year there seemed to be a glutton of greats, for the better part of the year they were few and far between. A bunch seem to stem surprisingly from the middle of summer while lots of the remainder were collectively released almost all at once at the tail end just in time for awards consideration.
I honestly thought coming up with a list of the year’s worst offenders would be harder than this but probably not. It’s so much easier to rag on something as atrocious as “Little Fockers,” “Furry Vengeance” or “The Back-up Plan” than it is to come up with something new to add to the heap of praise already allotted to most of these films. Having already fully reviewed most of the films on this list also represented an obstacle all its own.
While I figured a Top 10 would be suitable enough there were a few more films that needed some light shone upon them. You’ll see what I mean. Alas, here is a “baker’s dozen” of the best and some extra favorites from 2010.
#13: “Piranha 3D”
Why is this film on the list? It never pretends to be anything more than it is and wound up being the perfect end cap to a pretty slow summer. With teeth and breasts bared in equal measure it was a grand time for those going in knowing what to expect: balls to the wall gore and nude underwater ballet that made your eyes pop out all in the best use of 3D technology almost all year. If not for “TRON: Legacy” it would have single handedly held that title. Bring on the tentatively, or would that be tittatively titled, “Piranha 3DD!”
#12: Easy A
Emma Stone has been a comedic force to reckon with even since we first laid eyes upon her back in “Superbad.” With her long red hair and sultry voice she’s been intoxicating cinematic hilarity but not with the exactitude she brings to the scathing screenplay presented here. Even in “Zombieland” she wasn’t afforded the barb-tongued wit on display afforded by Bert V. Royal and amazingly “watered down” for the PG-13 rating, along with Will Gluck quickly rising through the ranks of today’s top comedy directors. Easily earning back seven times its $8 million budget, Sony Pictures obviously knows they’ve got something with Stone and have just cast her as Gwen Stacy in their knuckleheaded “Spider-man” reboot. This is the perfect love child representation for if the '80s, “Clueless” and “Juno” had a threeway. Having just been released on Blu-ray and DVD this week, the film easily earns its spot in your video library’s A-list.
#11: “Four Lions”
While I may not have caught this little bit of surreal outrageousness at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, I sure am glad to have seen it now. All you need to know is that a hapless quartet of British Jihadists dream of becoming the next big terrorists. This also includes a trip to boot camp. You may ask yourself why you’re laughing at all as everything from crows to sheep to the wannabes themselves start to go boom, but it’s a true tour de force all in the name of farce and satire and never lets up. This movie made me laugh hard and even think hard as ideology gets caught in the crosshairs and co-writer/director Christopher Morris shows “Dinner for Schmucks” how it’s done.
#10: How to Train Your Dragon
Admittedly, dragons have always interested me for some reason or another. While I may not be a fan of say “Dragonheart,” I found “Reign of Fire” to be somewhat of a guilty pleasure and at some point I plan to dive into the “Temeraire” novels. If any movie was best seen on IMAX and in 3D this year it was “How to Train Your Dragon.” With its simple story of a boy and his “beast,” leave it to the directors who brought us the misunderstood “Lilo & Stitch” to bring us a heartwarming tale about a finding yourself with a period-perfect version of man’s best friend and give DreamWorks a film that finally gives Pixar a run for their money.
#9: True Grit
This was the movie I had waited for all year long. And for a good 100 minutes it surpassed every bit of my expectations. And then came along the film’s cold shoulder of an ending. While the Coen Brothers have been anti-climactic before (“Burn After Reading,” “A Serious Man” and even their Best Picture winner “No Country For Old Men”), here’s a story so simple that there’s no excuse for such a lackluster ending. It’s almost as if they wanted to keep the runtime lean enough that they totally skipped out on what should have been a far more emotional ending moving this one higher on the list. Alas, leave it to source material to not translate as well as you’d expect and this is what we’re left with. A Best Picture nod is surely in the ranks as well as for Best Adapted Screenplay and hopefully something for little Hailee Steinfeld but unfortunately I foresee no wins here. Perhaps the story itself is now “too old and too fat?”
#8: The Social Network
With a ripe cast, a game director and another of the year’s best screenplays at work, we got this gem of a film. David Fincher seems to be on the fast track to accessibility with each film but it never undermines what comes first in each of his films: story. Aaron Sorkin delivers a shoe-in for Best Adapted Screenplay and deserves to win, for without his brilliant script the film wouldn’t be anywhere near as great as it turned out. Oh sure, Fincher’s direction and his cast of Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer hilariously pulling double duty. However, it’s Fincher’s overdirection that keeps the film as a whole from achieving true greatness and Timberlake is far from the “revelation” that people proclaimed upon its release.
Standing in line for this at this year’s Sundance Film Festival there was a lot of buzz. All we knew was that it was described as a documentary/comedy/thriller and had something to do with Facebook. As the perfect companion piece to “The Social Network” these two films together paint the ultimate portrait of a generation. While the film has been unjustly ousted from Oscar’s Best Documentary shortlist it should be at the top of the list. Knowing as little about this film as possible going in is the ultimate gift to yourself as you watch the story develop with your jaw on the ground. In case you missed it in theaters which its box office surely indicates, do yourself a huge favor and rent it once it hits Blu-ray and DVD on January 4th.
#6: “Black Swan”
Darren Aronofsky may not have been nominated for his direction of “The Wrestler” but that may continue to be his most mainstream film ever. He’s back to his perversely twisted ways and appears to be much more comfortable here. Working with a smashing original screenplay by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John J. McLaughlin, along with Natalie Portman’s brilliant performance, everything comes together for one of the most sinister films of the year if not one of the most entertaining. While the main attraction is all the talk surrounding the sexual nature of the film, and who can resist the temptation to bare witness the Portman/Mila Kunis lesbian action, there’s far more than meets the eye as Aronofsky dabbles in Hitchcockian territory while blowing full steam ahead into his own. If Portman doesn’t win Best Actress I don’t know who can.
#5: “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”
Rewatching this film at home on Blu-ray is a thing of sheer beauty. Thankfully the rest of the movie lives up to its visuals. Edgar Wright deserves any number of accolades for bringing this rambunctious piece of video game art come to life for all to behold. Between this and “Youth in Revolt” Michael Cera proves himself leading man status and shirks his pigeon holing and Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes everyone chant “nom, nom, nom” but it’s Ellen Wong’s astounding portrayal of Knives Chau who steals the film. She truly is the hilarious epitome of teenage obsession. As for the rest of the film, everything from the opening 8-bit Universal logo (used at my own wedding this past 10/10/10) to the brilliantly realized “nega”-ending, if this film doesn’t shine from your HDTV you need to adjust your picture because it looks more amazing and is thereby far more engrossing watching at home and in some ways that says more than anything.
#4: “127 Hours”
Danny Boyle may have won Best Director in 2009 for his over-direction of that year’s Best Picture winner “Slumdog Millionaire,” but it’s exactly that that keeps this film from beating out my top three. With another shoe-in for Best Adapted Screenplay, Boyle and Simon Beaufoy (who also won his own Oscar for “Slumdog’s” screenplay) have taken Aron Ralston’s book “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” and masterfully brought to the screen his accounting of 127 hours stuck in a canyon with limited resources and a fight to stay alive. You don’t have to cut off anyone’s arm either to guarantee a Best Actor nod if not win for James Franco who affectionately portrays a man willing to cut off his own arm to survive against his own ego’s best wishes.
#3: “The Fighter”
Having never heard of Micky Ward or Dicky Eklund prior to walking in to “The Fighter,” all it had going for it was its stars and director. David O. Russell has had me since “Three Kings” bursts into theaters. With its meticulous melting pot of war hijinks and a dose of hilarity for good measure I have been a fan even through “I Heart Huckabees.” With his one-two punch of his cast including Mark Wahlberg as Micky, Melissa Leo as contender for world’s most controlling mother, Amy Adams as a surefire Best Actress nominee if not winner and Christian Bale as Dicky, you’ve got one of the best ensemble pieces of the year. However, if Amy Adams somehow doesn’t nail down her award, there’s no one that can displace Bale from his. While at first you might be annoyed with the character of Dicky he portrays and think, “Wow, at least Bale took the “Machinist” route to get into character,” it’s during the closing credits where we see video footage of the real Micky and Dicky and the walls come tumbling down as we realize that what we just witnessed for 2 hours was a solid case of amazing acting. I expect big things to come about once the Oscars nominees are finally announced.
#2: “Toy Story 3”
Oh, Pixar, how do you keep doing it? Every year, one right after the other, you just keep hitting them out of the ball park. Never being one to simply one-up yourselves you have to exceed our expectations at every turn. Even your most mediocre endeavor (“Cars”) is still a better film than most of what’s considered “family fare” year after year. Michael Arndt, thanks for proving your Best Original Screenplay win for “Little Miss Sunshine” was no hoax. Lee Unkrich, thank you for picking up the slack for John Lasseter and bringing such a thrilling, heartwarming, tear inducing, grand finale to cap off what simply has to be the perfect trilogy to end all trilogies. As excited as I am to hear the news that the toys will be back in short film form, I really hope that sleeping dogs will lie and we can enjoy the end of the perfect series without being beat into the ground “Shrek”-style. It took ten years to bring us something so special, let’s not take that away from us.
And now for the big one... Here is a film that has just as many haters as proclaimers. A gargantuan, spectacle, blockbuster film, that has caused even its biggest detractors to think as much, if not possibly even more so, than its biggest flaunters. Drop by any Inception related forum and you’ll see what I mean. This is the one film that was so spectacular upon initial viewing that the next morning I immediately ran out to buy tickets to see it again on IMAX. It really is that monumental.
It took Christopher Nolan ten years to prep his script to ensure it was ready for the big screen and it shows. (Probably something another director should have spent some time doing instead of making sure his effects would work.) To quote John Hammond, here is a film chock full of scenes “so astounding that they'll capture the imagination of the entire planet.” If one can find another film this year as completely mesmerizing and brain twisting and so simply involving from scene one then congratulations to you. Does the totem fall or not is up to you dear viewer. Thank you Nolan, for never giving an answer and making audiences believe what they want. While I will spend the next couple of months preparing myself for “Inception” to probably not win Best Picture as it rightfully should, it won’t be the first time I’ve been let down by the Academy. However, dear Academy voters, start your engines, this year’s race is going to be a tight race.
Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures and Screen Gems