TOP TEN NEW MOVIES I SAW IN 2010:
- 10. Mother (Bong Joon-ho)
Technically a 2009 film, but it didn't play here until 2010. What looks at first like a quirky crime drama about a wrongfully accused son and the struggle to prove his innocence is actually a challenging and entertaining portrait of the mother who'll go to the ends of the earth for her child. Sure it's an old archetype, but here it's taken to absurd extremes and taken very seriously all at the same time.
- 9. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski)
A drama of pure paranoia from a man who has been forced to live in a state of constant paranoia for decades. It plays with its Hitchcocky espionage-thriller influences on its sleeve but it never comes off as cheap or easy for it, and the pulpy resolution makes for the perfect satisfaction to the story.
- 8. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky)
Viscerally very engaging but ultimately a little simplistic, I didn't really have a handle on what this film was doing until my friend Melissa compared it to the Italian giallo films for me. In the context of a taut, b-movie psychological horror, the story works a lot better for me than as a slghtly pretentious treatise on the lengths and depths an artist must go for her art. Still not my favorite Aronofsky, but everything it aims to do it succeeds at. Hard to fault it for that.
- 7. True Grit (Coen Brothers)
By Coen Brothers standards, this film is straightforward and bland, but compared to the rest of the year's releases it still stands out as brilliant and fun and quirky without being insulting or silly. In fact, it's one of the funniest movies of the year, but you wouldn't guess it from how dark the story is, or how cold and unsentimental its challenging epilogue is.
- 6. Police, Adjective (Corneliu Porumboiu)
This one holds a special place in my heart because it basically plays out like an absurdist play. This year I saw a lot of films deconstruct the police procedural (Herzog alone had two, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?, though neither were 2010 films), but none deconstruct the idea so literally and so cynically as this Romanian film. Smart and patient and austere and hilarious, it's a strange and wonderful tone for a film. (Technically this also came out in 2009, but like Mother it didn't play here until 2010.)
- 5. Buried (Rodrigo Cortés)
One of the most anticipated films of the year for me, and one of the only ones that didn't let me down even a little, I was hooked before I knew the plot, when all I knew was the story behind the story. I'm sure I'm getting the exact details wrong, but basically: writer wrote himself a feature script he could shoot on the extreme-cheap and then showed it around to some producer friends for advice. Unfortunately he wrote too good a story and they offered instead to buy it and produce it with a real budget. They got a Spanish director looking to cross over and put Ryan Reynolds in the box for the entire duration of the film, and voila: a tiny horror masterpiece was born.
- 4. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich)
It's almost obscene that one of the best films of this year, outranking works by the Coens, Aronofsky, and Polanski (not to mention Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, and others who didn't even make my list) is a trequel, or a third sequel -- or is a third film a second sequel? -- or whatever: a #3 in a trilogy or a series... and yet here we are. Toy Storys 1 and 2 are both undeniably quality films, but 3 is my favorite of the series, the perfect resolution to a trilogy and a really moving, emotionally ambivalent story about aging and evolving as a person.
- 3. Winter's Bone (Debra Granik)
To be honest, these last three I had a really tough time ranking, and any of the three could have been number one. The only reason I let Winter's Bone slip down to the third position on the list is because, of the top three, this has been the one I've been less inclined to return to. To be fair, that's almost entirely because it's the most emotionally grueling and exhaustive of the three, and I'm actually about to watch it now -- so who knows, I may have to come in and rearrange this list just to keep my conscience clean. But for now, as-is, #3 is Winter's Bone: a noir detective story that's undergone some kind of alchemy to become the geographical equivalent of a period piece with such sharp teeth and such ice-cold blood in its veins (mixaphorically speaking) that I've been afraid to sit back down with it until I'm good and ready.
- 2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright)
When I first saw this I liked it, but I didn't expect to be ranking it nearly so high on my best-of list for the year. But the truth is, upon revisiting most of these, none have been as invigoratingly fun, and none has hit me with such an emotional suckerpunch as Scott Pilgrim. It's not like Pilgrim has shit on the emotional impact of Winter's Bone, for example, but there's nothing surprising about being moved by the latter. I didn't expect any kind of emotional core to the potentially twee story of an indie rock loser and the comic-booky girl he falls for. But as I say: here we are.
- 1. The Social Network (David Fincher)
Winter's Bone felt too small in scale, though it's probably the best told story of the year. And Scott Pilgrim felt too much like fluffy candy to be my pick for best of the year, though it's the most pleasant. So the default #1 position falls to Fincher's "Facebook movie." It's got the kind of prestige and class that makes it an almost too-easy pick, but if I looked at 2010 and said to myself, "which film out of all the new films I've seen this year best approaches the Platonic ideal of what I want to see in cinema?" (which is very close to what I've done) I come up with The Social Network. It's the best bet for the Oscar (though I'd be pretty happy to see Winter's Bone sneak in and steal the award) and I think I can live with that.
It's been a dry year. I have gone on about it in endless detail on my movie blog, but it was just a year where Hollywood didn't aim very high. Frankly, I've been pretty disappointed overall, as there's almost nothing new I saw this year that had me squealing with excitement or giddy with the power and potential of cinema. Instead, just a handful (and only a handful) of solid well-made films, workmanlike and extremely adequate. Well, so be it. I have a gut feeling 2011 might be more of the same, but I'm going to hold out hope that it's amazing.
There's also, as always, a shit-ton of films I really, really wanted to see this year and failed to (which I will come back and add in tomorrow), so bear that in mind when looking at the list. Mostly I did a terrible job of getting to any foreign films, and as usual the foreign films I was most excited about still haven't played here (I'm holding out hope they'll be part of the Portland International Film Festival in February, and I can make them late entries for next year's best-of list, just as Mother and Police, Adjective were here).
Anyway, it's almost two weeks late, but I've been productive, and that is hard to complain about. I'll come back later and give another of my trademark vague, rambling life updates, but for now, there's a Top Ten list.
And now, good night.