Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Best Films of 2010

Here are my picks for the best films of 2010. Feel free to comment and discuss, but keep in mind I really liked all of these films and ordering them was incredibly difficult. So please don’t nit-pick the order too much, as some of it is fairly arbitrary. Also, this list focuses on the domestic releases that will be more familiar to most people. Another list of foreign films is soon to follow.

15. Let Me In (Dir: Matt Reeves)

The only thing holding this film back is Let the Right One In, which is so damn good that Matt Reeves' adaptation of the book never stood a real chance. If you can look past the Swedish movie, Let Me In is quite good. The cinematography is gorgeous, the violence is striking, and the performances are spot-on. Casting Richard Jenkins was a brilliant choice, and I may even like him more than Per Ragnar in the same role. The young leads are good also, and I am confident that you couldn't find two better child actors out there right now. Unfortunately, this film repeats much of what we already saw in Tomas Alfredson's adaptation. I do like the new stuff Reeves added, though, especially the car scene. I also wish Reeves had gone a little further and dared to tackle the stuff in the book that the Swedish film would not. Still, Let Me In deserves more credit than it gets. Despite what some people believe, it is not just another worthless American remake. Reeves did the absolute best anyone could up against some unfair but inevitable comparisons.

Full review: http://sweethenrietta.blogspot.com/2010/10/let-me-in.html

14. The Fighter (Dir: David O. Russell)

It may follow the standard cliches of an inspirational sports film, but The Fighter excels thanks to great performances, well-written characters, and a unique style. The story is not so much about Micky Ward's comeback as a boxer, but about his self-destructive family and their influence upon him. Boxing is merely the template for this heartfelt story about family and redemption. Christian Bale steals the film as Micky's older brother, Dicky, a crack-addicted, washed-up boxer. Melissa Leo also turns in a great performance as the boys' mother. Micky is your standard boxer-seeking-a-second-chance archetype, but the story works because he is surrounded by fascinating, dysfunctional characters. Most people can relate to Micky's predicament of having to choose between saving himself and being loyal to his family. David O. Russell's slightly-eccentric style and choice of 80s-era music also helps give the film a unique voice.

13. 127 Hours (Dir: Danny Boyle)

This adventure-drama tells the true story of Aron Ralston, whose incredible survival story made him famous a few years back. Rather than simply tell that story like a news article would, Danny Boyle tells us about Aron Ralston the man, not just the incident that defined him. As Aron is trapped beneath a boulder, miles from any possible help, he reflects upon his life and his regrets. Despite impossible odds, he is driven to survive. As Ralston, James Franco delivers the best performance of his career. The audience spends 90% of the movie with him alone. We see every emotion from confidence to desperation to madness to joy - and Franco nails them all. As usual, Boyle provides a wild, unique style, accompanied by music from A.R. Rahman. The feel of the film comes across a bit too much like Slumdog Millionaire, but that is forgivable since the movie is a fitting tribute to an incredible man and his inspiration story.

Full review: http://sweethenrietta.blogspot.com/2010/11/127-hours.html

12. Shutter Island (Dir: Martin Scorsese)

This is one of my favorite Leonardo DiCaprio performances to date. He portrays Teddy Daniels, one of two U.S. Marshalls (along with the ever-fabulous Mark Ruffalo) sent to an island asylum to find a missing inmate. Once there, strange events occur and Teddy starts to hallucinate about his dead wife. Visually, the film reminds me of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. It is haunting and beautiful, and you cannot believe everything you see. I love the look, I love the music, and I love all the creepy performances (special shout-out for Ted Levine's perplexing but wonderfully eerie role). The ending may be a bit predictable, but that does not dampen the rest of the film. Scorsese definitely has a way with atmospheric horror, and he should make it more often.

11. Buried (Dir: Rodrigo Cortés)

Like a more extreme version of 127 Hours, this thriller takes place entirely inside one small location with only one actor. Ryan Reynolds plays an American trucking contractor who is kidnapped in Afghanistan and buried alive inside a coffin with only his lighter and his cell phone. For the entire duration of the film, it feels as though you the viewer are trapped inside the coffin with him as he struggles to breathe, let alone call for help. Cortés gets very creative with the sources of light and he manages to keep the tension high at all times. His use of music and sound is perfect. The fear is driven by darkness and claustrophobia rather than gore or jump-scares. The film has a classic Hitchcockian feel to it - a style of thriller rarely seen anymore.

Full review: http://sweethenrietta.blogspot.com/2010/10/buried.html

10. Tucker & Dale vs Evil (Dir: Eli Craig)

Alan Tudyk and and Tyler Labine play the titular rednecks who just want to enjoy a quiet weekend of fishing, but they have a run-in with some college kids on break, who automatically assume the two hicks are hunting them like in a slasher flick. As the kids panic and try to “defend” themselves, Tucker and Dale fear for their own lives, unaware of the epic misunderstanding going on. This could have easily been another lame horror-comedy among the masses that have been released since Shaun of the Dead. Instead, it is smart, hilarious, and faithful to the horror films it is parodying. In fact, it is the best horror-comedy since Shaun – it is the real thing, not a cheap imitation. This is exactly what horror-comedies should be like.

Full review: http://sweethenrietta.blogspot.com/2010/10/tucker-dale-vs-evil.html

9. Winter's Bone (Dir: Debra Granik)

Winter’s Bone is a bleak and sometimes frightening look at backwoods life. Ree is a teenage girl taking care of her two young siblings and her mentally ill mother. When her junkie father disappears and bail bondsmen threaten to take her house, Ree starts asking around her Ozark town looking for her father. She soon realizes nobody is talking and she encounters numerous threats. Unwilling to give up her home and family, Ree risks life and limb to uncover the truth about her father. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic in the lead role, as is John Hawkes’ as Ree’s scary but complex uncle. The film is dark and unflinching, much like the community it portrays.

8. Black Swan (Dir: Darren Aronofsky)

This is Darren Aronofsky’s contemporary interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, Swan Lake. Natalia Portman portrays Nina, an ambitious ballet dancer who craves perfection. When she is given the opportunity to portray the lead role as the Swan Queen, she is pressured into embracing her dark side, or Black Swan. She becomes irrational and paranoid, believing that another dancer (Mila Kunis) is after her part. Her perfection and innocence spiral out of control as the premiere closes in. Her body even begins to manifest bird-like qualities in a Cronenberg-like fashion. The film is dark, haunting, and visually stunning. The cinematography and music are beautiful, and Portman is great in the lead.

7. True Grit (Dir: Joel and Ethan Coen)

Often mistakenly referred to as a remake of the John Wayne flick, this True Grit is an adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel of the same name. The story tells of a little girl who hires a grizzled, old U.S. Marshall to help avenge her father’s death. “Rooster” Cogburn this time around is portrayed by Jeff Bridges who is absolutely perfect in the role. He is believably apathetic and sometimes cruel to the girl, but that “grit” is exactly the reason she seeks his help. As young Mattie, Hailee Steinfeld is great. She is strong, sharp-witted, and stubborn. Aiding and irritating the pair in their quest is a Texas Ranger played by Matt Damon. Rounding out the fine cast are Josh Brolin as their target Chaney, and Barry Pepper, who almost steals the show as an elusive outlaw. The Coens incorporate some of their humor into the tale, but never stray from the harsh tale at hand.

6. Inception (Dir: Christopher Nolan)

This film is not even among my favorite Nolan films, but it still impresses with sheer creativity. Leonardo DiCaprio plays an unconventional thief who is paid to steal thoughts. He is offered a clean slate if he can pull off something called “inception”, whereby ideas are planted in a person’s mind. The film takes us through the process, going deeper and deeper into the human mind. The level of detail used in the film is staggering, though not surprising considering the director. The cinematography is gorgeous and the use of music is great. All the actors are enjoyable, but Marion Cotillard is especially memorable. While not quite as mind-blowing as some people claim, Inception is still a smart, exciting ride unlike any other.

Full review: http://sweethenrietta.blogspot.com/2010/07/inception.html

5. Never Let Me Go (Dir: Mark Romanek)

Based on a novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go is a beautiful but heartbreaking story that blends drama with science fiction. It begins with an English boarding school in an alternate world where cloned children are being raised for the purpose of donating their organs. Young Kathy falls in love with a quiet boy named Tommy, but he is stolen away by a more popular girl named Ruth. The film follows their lives as they grow older and closer to the inevitability of fulfilling their purpose. As Tommy and Ruth, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightly are both great, but as Kathy, Carey Mulligan is really amazing. The script is just stunning – both an incredible piece of quiet sci-fi and a moving love story.

4. Toy Story 3 (Dir: Lee Unkrich)

I never thought another Pixar film could even come close to the original Toy Story, let alone a sequel. This third installment is just as good as its first predecessor, and possibly even better. It is hilarious, creative, and heartwarming. This time around, Andy is all grown-up and heading to college. His toys are mistakenly thrown away and end up at a daycare center, where things are not as wonderful as they seem on the surface. The film turns into a Great Escape-like adventure. It is all-around fun and full of jokes that appeal to young and old alike. It is also guaranteed to make you shed a few tears and reflect upon your own childhood.

3. The Town (Dir: Ben Affleck)

If Gone Baby Gone left any doubt about Ben Affleck’s skills at a director, The Town surely shattered it. It is an effective heist thriller and a solid drama. It is a bit similar to The Fighter in that the protagonist is torn between loyalty to his roots and his own self-preservation, though this film is far stronger. Affleck’s character falls for a woman that his gang kidnapped, and he yearns to escape his criminal lifestyle with her. However, he is obligated to stay both by threat and out of loyalty to his friends. Affleck is good in the film, and Jeremy Renner is even better. The bank/armored car robbery scenes are incredible and surpass even those of Michael Mann’s Heat. It is rare for a film to be as well-made as it is adrenaline-pumping, but this one nails it.

Full review: http://sweethenrietta.blogspot.com/2010/09/town.html

2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Dir: Edgar Wright)

Adapted from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series of Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, this film is inventive, funny, and an all-around blast. Edgar Wright faithfully brings to life the story of the titular young bass player who falls in love with Ramona Flowers and must battle her seven evil exes. The movie has a solid cast, exciting fight scenes, and great visual effects. It is the epitome of a living comic book with limitless imagination. It plays like a nonstop caffeine rush, accompanied by nostalgic video game references and a kickass soundtrack (composed largely by Beck). Wright provides his usual artistic flare, but it is quite a different animal from his other films. In fact, it is unlike anything you have ever seen or will ever see.

1. The Social Network (Dir: David Fincher)

Whenever self-proclaimed movie snobs dismiss this film as “that Facebook movie,” their ignorance truly shows. This is not a movie about a website; rather it is a classic story about ambition, jealousy, and regret. Whether or not all the events in it actually happened is irrelevant. Facebook is simply used as a template to tell this story - like the contemporary equivalent of Charles Foster Kane’s newspaper. Like Kane, the protagonist in this film, Mark Zuckerberg, is never happy despite all his success. He is obsessed with his past mistakes and with what he can never have. The entire cast is great, David Fincher’s style is perfect, and the soundtrack by Trent Reznor is surprisingly fitting. Even if Facebook is forgotten someday, this film transcends the time period in which it was made. The characters and themes are universal, so while Facebook may only be an icon of this generation, The Social Network will always be relevant and engaging.

Full review: http://sweethenrietta.blogspot.com/2010/10/social-network.html


HitmanDJ said...

Nice list so far, can't wait to read the top 10 part of it. I liked all of the films you've listed so far, I may have put some of them higher, maybe not haven't decided yet. Good list through.

HitmanDJ said...

Yay, you finished it, great list over all, I think I agree with most of them, of the ones I've seen at least. Makes me want to go back and watch some of them yet again after reading the descriptions, and of course makes me want to see the ones I haven't yet.

Rick "The Hat" Bman said...

Damn, I haven't even seen half of these films yet. The ones I have seen that you have listed are pretty awesome though. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World wouldn't be that high on my list but I enjoyed it. I still really want to see True Grit.

I'd post my top 10 but because of all the movies I haven't seen yet, it would look pretty bad. haha

Sean D. said...

Once again, solid writing. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and seeing where you ranked everything. If I had made this list, some things would have been ordered differently. I know you said the numbering is pretty arbitrary though. For the sake of it, our main differences are I would have put "The Fighter" and "Inception" higher than you did... probably. It's hard to say, heh. I've been thinking of where I would rank stuff, and I keep changing my mind. I do feel like those two movies would be higher on my list though, if I ever make one. Oh yeah, another difference... I wouldn't cop out and make a separate foreign films list. :P Kidding!

I'm proud to say I have seen everything you picked, except "Never Let Me Go." I wanted to see that before, but your ranking and words made me all the more anxious to watch it. I really need to get on that soon.

Now, just a bunch of random notes...

Thank you again for pointing out that "True Grit" is an adaptation, not a remake. I can't tell you how pleased I was to read that, haha.

I like the "Black Swan"- Cronenberg comparison. I haven't heard anyone else say that yet. That's pretty accurate.

Jennifer Lawrence gets a lot of praise for "Winter's Bone", which she more than deserves. I don't know if I would give her the best actress Academy Award, but she sure as hell deserves a nomination. I'm really happy you also mentioned John Hawkes. His name doesn't get thrown around enough when people talk about the movie. I thought he was great as Teardrop. I hope to see him in more movies soon. Now I just wish he had a more worthwhile role on Lost, heh.

I still think the "Social Network"- "Citizen Kane" comparison is dead on.

I'm susrprised you didn't rank "127 Hours" higher. I just figured that would be in your top five. As far as survival movies go, I guess you much prefer "Touching the Void" then?

Couldn't agree more with what you said about "Tucker & Dale." I hope it develops a following once it starts playing on more screens. It definitely does put many of the more recent horror-comedies to shame.

Lastly, I'm curious to hear what your biggest disappointments of the year were, or who you think should win academy awards. Get on writing that. :)

Heather said...

@Sean - thanks for that long, heartfelt response! Inception fell further and further down my list as the year went on. And I've seen it recently again, so that's not the issue. And as for The Fighter, I didn't expect it to place at all before I saw it. It's been a good year, hard to rank all these good films.

Re: Winter's Bone, I think Lawrence definitely deserves a nod, as does Portman and Steinfeld and Mulligan (for Never Let Me Go). I usually don't give a shit about the actress categories but this year I've actually been really impressed with a couple ladies. As for Hawkes, I think I just saw that he was nominated for something - Globe, maybe? Not sure.

As for 127 Hours, I enjoyed it, but it's kinda of a 1-viewing movie for me. In fact, I probably should have put it lower haha. Much of the moving stuff came inherently with Ralston's story, but Boyle did create a fantastic movie. I just didn't love it nearly as much as the other stuff on here. And yes, I love Touching the Void WAY more.The story is more heart-wrenching and the filmmaking is better.

I don't think disappointments or worst movies are worth naming LOL. And there were many disappointments. As for winners, I did list some actors/actresses who I liked best, but I didn't really develop it. I might, I dunno.