I have included films that I've seen that were either released in 2010 or did not see an official release in the US until 2010 (limited or wide, and not just film festival circuit...so Dogtooth, Enter the Void, A Prophet, The White Ribbon, etc. count for this year).
And now, the terrific year in film that was 2010...
2010 Honorable Mentions:
Let Me In 6/10
Not a bad remake. In some respects, it can hold its own when compared with the Swedish original, thanks in part to solid performances from Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee. However, it is lacking much of the magic and nuance of the original.
Easy A 7/10
If high school sucked for you, just be glad you didn't go to Ojai North High during the age of text messaging. Ordinarily, I would have stayed far away from this sort of movie. But after hearing the buzz about Emma Stone's performance, I decided to check it out. And I'm glad that I did. Emma Stone is a bona fide star and her John Hughes-inspired random musical number is a revelation. She has a certain edginess mixed with girl-next-door appeal, like Lindsay Lohan before the coke. This movie is hilarious and is among the best in the genre since "Mean Girls". It's a cautionary tale about how precious one's privacy and reputation are and how even the perception of indecency is sure to ruin you in the digital age.
Green Zone 7/10
You can always count on the Greengrass-Damon combo to deliver an intelligent and thrilling action film. Like 'Paths of Glory,' it raises serious questions about the absurdity of war. Meanwhile, it does not skimp on suspense, gunfire, or conspiracy theories. Maybe with the box office proceeds from the Bourne trilogy and this film, Greengrass can afford a Steadicam for his next film.
Four Lions 7/10
'Four Lions' is an unexpectedly funny satire about religious extremism and martyrdom. It seems counter-intuitive that such a film could possibly work, but Chris Morris somehow makes it happen. The intelligence of the social commentary is inversely proportional to the ineptitude and buffoonery of the characters on-screen.
The Ghost Writer 7/10
'The Ghost Writer' is a well-paced, atmospheric thriller from Roman Polanski with solid performances from Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, and Olivia Williams.
The Town 7/10
A refreshing take on the otherwise oft-tread bank robbery movie genre with an interesting relationship twist that drives the main plot. It is even more enjoyable for those who know Boston and understand the history of Charlestown and the uneasy gentrification of the neighborhood.
#24 for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the sequels aren't in my Top 30
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo 7/10
The Girl Who Played With Fire 6/10
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest 6/10
Noomi Rapace is brilliant as Lisbeth Salander. Michael Nyqvist is also quite good as Mikael Blomkvist. Martin Vanger (played by Peter Haber) is chilling in the first film. The rest of the performances are merely adequate, but overall, the films are better than I expected. However, the books are much better. While the Swedish adaptation of the first book is fairly faithful to the text, the second and third take some liberties for the sake of time and feel rather disjointed. Interestingly, the first installment was meant to be a major motion picture release, while the sequels were originally meant to be TV movies only. However, because of the success of "Dragon Tattoo", they decided to make the sequels into feature length films as well. Apparently, there are extended (~180 minute) versions of each film that I am going to have to check out. Anyway, the first film succeeds in every way that the sequels fail: pacing, suspense, and character development. Other than Lisbeth and Blomkvist, the characters are a bit flat in the sequels, particularly in "Played With Fire", which is lacking in sufficient screen time for Lisbeth as the numerous subplots are cursorily dealt with instead. Zalachenko and Niedermann are not very imposing or menacing; they are mere caricatures compared to their presentation in the books. I am afraid to see how they are going to sanitize this for the US remake; good luck on filming the Bjurman scenes. I have a feeling that the books would be more suitable as an HBO miniseries than as three feature films. There is just too much ground to cover in too little time.
The Kids Are All Right 7/10
I tried to dismiss this film initially, but I ended up enjoying it. The plot is unusual: it's just your typical lesbian couple whose children want to meet their artificial insemination sperm donor father, which leads to a mid-life crisis, story. There really aren't films that explore similar themes and feature such a stellar cast. I am sure that there will be Oscar buzz for Annette Bening. Mia Wasikowska is also great in her nuanced portrayal of Joni.
Enter the Void 7/10
If you can't take first person camerawork or themes that are characteristic of the New French Extremity, stay far, far away from this film. It is initially engrossing but at the same time suffocating and claustrophobia-inducing. The first 10 minutes are like a weird acid trip. Being inside Oscar's (Nathaniel Brown) head is not a fun place to be. The cinematography during the transformation that he undergoes is clearly influenced by "2001" (and perhaps some psychotropic substances). The remainder of the film is an unfocused, time-jumping, stream-of-consciousness haze as Oscar is forced to relive his past over and over again as a passive spectator. The ending, however, is well-executed. In fact, the beginning and end are rather brilliant. I just wish that there was more happening in between. Just as in other Noé films, the plot is lacking compared to the mood and visuals.
'Somewhere' won the Golden Lion at the 2010 Venice Film Festival, maybe because ex-boyfriend Tarantino led the jury? I have gone back and forth in my mind about this film. Although I think that similar themes were better explored in 'Lost in Translation', it does stand up on its own merit. The film portrays the celebrity experience of ennui but does so at a somewhat superficial level. There are some moments that remind us why Coppola is well-regarded, in particular the makeup scene, the pool scene (I love this scene), the comical massage scene, and the Italian variety show scene (but didn't we already see the latter two in 'Lost in Translation'?). The intro and ending are also great, but Coppola stole them from Vincent Gallo's 'The Brown Bunny'. These deficiencies force me to knock it down a peg. Stephen Dorff gives a respectable performance and Elle Fanning is terrific in her supporting role.
My 20 Favorite Films of 2010:
Youth In Revolt 7/10
For wacky and weird, just add Steve Buscemi. Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Long, and Steve Buscemi = winner for awkward, offbeat ensemble cast. I must admit that I had pigeonholed this earlier in the year after seeing the ridiculous trailer, but I gave it a chance after seeing the cast and directing credits. I am pleased to report that it is nothing like the dime-a-dozen crap that opens most other weekends. Youth In Revolt is two parts Zwigoff, one part Godard, and maybe a smidge of Woody Allen and Wes Anderson. It is a clever mix of coming-of-age tale, farce, screwball comedy, and teen romance based on the C.D. Payne novel.
Rabbit Hole 7/10
I'm not sure why director John Cameron Mitchell has taken so long in between directorial efforts. This is his best film since his debut, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch". "Rabbit Hole" is a sad and uncomfortable examination into life after the tragedy of losing one's child. The pace is a tad slow at first, but it is an adaptation of a Tony Award and Pulitzer Award-winning play that takes some time to develop. Nicole Kidman gives a powerful, understated performance as the mother, Becca, who grasps at ways to cope with the tragedy. She is receiving well-deserved Oscar buzz. Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest also give respectable performances.
A hilariously over-the-top campy comic book adaptation. Aaron Johnson and Christopher Mintz-Plasse are pretty good in their dorky roles. But Chloe Moretz is awesome as Hit Girl and has some laugh-out-loud one-liners. She steals every scene she's in, complementing or offsetting Nicholas Cage's uneven performance as Big Daddy. The film also serves as an interesting social commentary about our passive, spectator YouTube culture, a satire about the glorification of violence and our modern devolution into a world of social apathy. Perhaps that is why the premise of the film -- real-life superheroes -- is so foreign to the audience at the outset until the extreme violence reminds you to sit back and enjoy: it's just a comic book.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World 7/10
Wow, Michael Cera is such a dork. And that makes him perfect for this role. This is a fun and imaginative adaptation of the graphic novel from the director of "Shuan of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz". It's like a guy-chases-girl love triangle romantic comedy with hipster kids, mashed with a Street Fighter type video game, which doesn't sound promising at first, but it works wonderfully thanks to Edgar Wright's apt direction.
Exit Through The Gift Shop 8/10
Banksy directs this subversive and satirical (pseudo?)documentary about the rise of an eccentric shopkeeper and "filmmaker" as a not-so-bona-fide street artist. It doesn't matter how much of it it true. It is a fascinating commentary on the exploitation and commercialization of street culture and street art. It's like "F For Fake" for street art.
Shutter Island 8/10
'Shutter Island' is an edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller from Scorsese based on the Dennis Lehane novel. We are invited into the world of Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), a world full of paranoia, migraines, and nightmares. The more sure of himself he appears to become, the more we begin to understand about Shutter Island and what it is about. Overall, it is a strong effort all around from the cast which also includes Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kinglsey and Max von Sydow.
The Fighter 8/10
'The Fighter' is easily one of the top 5 boxing films of all time. The film centers around the boxing comeback of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his difficult relationship with his half-brother, trainer and ex-boxer Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), the "Pride of Lowell". Dicky must face his demons, which include drug addiction and run-ins with the law, or he may end up hurting rather than helping Micky's fighting career. Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo, and Amy Adams are terrific, but Christian Bale steals the show and gives one of the best performances of the year; he should win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
Winter's Bone 8/10
'Winter's Bone' is a chilling and depressing look at middle America and the ravages of crystal meth. Jennifer Lawrence is terrific in her motion picture debut as is John Hawkes in his supporting role. Lawrence plays the role of Ree, a teenage girl who tries to care for her family since her parents have effectively abandoned them due to crank abuse/manufacturing or its sequelae. She must embark on a search for her father or lose their house, which was put up to secure his bond. I won't give away any more. Watch it and feel better about your lot in life.
Toy Story 3 8/10
Pixar saves the best Toy Story for last. This is a heartfelt final adventure for Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the gang. It is perhaps more effective than the first two films because it works not only on a conventional level as an action-adeventure-thriller, but it also covers more complex themes such as the indelicate transition from childhood to adulthood and the existential crisis we all encounter as we grasp the reality of our own senescence and obsolescence.
127 Hours 8/10
'127 Hours' is about a horror that is almost unimaginable. Can you imagine going through what he went through and doing what he had to do? I was not sure I would be able to finish watching this, but I'm glad that I did. It is a tale of human resourcefulness and survival that makes 'Cast Away' look like Gilligan's Island. I didn't think that James Franco could carry this, but he certainly does and he deserves an Oscar nomination. Although A.R. Rahman is highly touted for his soundtrack work, I felt that some of the music was a bit intrusive. Then again, sound is put to good effect in other scenes, such as the climactic scene. Overall, the writers and director Danny Boyle deserve credit for turning what should have been unwatchable subject matter into a cathartic, triumphant, and life-affirming film.
Fish Tank 8/10
I started watching Fish Tank knowing little about it other than the fact that it had won the BAFTA and the Prix du Jury at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Mia (Katie Jarvis) has a rebellious potty mouth, likes breakin' (well, trying to, at least) to Eric B and Rakim, and tests the limit of everyone's patience. It is an incisive and depressing look at everyday life in lower class England through the eyes of a teenage girl aspiring to be something more; but is dancing the answer? Her mother's boyfriend tells her that it is and he encourages her. But she prtends to hate him, even though on the surface, he seems to be more like a parent to her than anyone else has (including her mother). His intentions, however, are not entirely clear.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives 8/10
'Uncle Boonmee' is mysterious, haunting, surreal, and unconventional, a deserving winner of this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes. However, it is sure to be a bore for the majority of audiences, particularly those who lack an appreciation for postmodernism, magic realism, and Buddhism. The opening is brilliant and Tarkovsky-esque, and the catfish scene is truly remarkable and unlike anything I have ever seen. The film is an interesting reflection on remembrance, reincarnation, and the death of spirituality.
A Prophet 8/10
Forget recidivism. "A Prophet" shows us how prison generates new hardcore criminals, as evidenced by the protagonist Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim in his superb film debut) and his unexpected rise to power within prison. Director Jacques Audiard is in his element, crafting a realistic and chilling look into life within the walls of a French prison where gang-related and racial tensions permeate the facility, rising to a head in a few notable instances which result in a change in the prison hierarchy and Malik's standing within the prison. Malik uses the most of his prison furloughs to do dirty work for Luciani (the in-prison boss, played brilliantly by Niels Arestrup) while also organizing other "business" for himself. By the time he is set to leave prison, he has positioned himself in such a way that it is easy (and scary) to see that prison might have been the best thing that ever happened to him.
True Grit 8/10
Another classic from the Coens. It's probably their best since Fargo (yes, including NCFOM). I must admit, I have not seen the original version of 'True Grit', but I can't imagine the Coens have done any disrespect with this adaptation, an entertaining tale about revenge and just desserts. The cinematography is beautiful. The script is stellar with many humorous and witty exchanges. Jeff Bridges is brilliant as Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfeld is a revelation as the saucy and stubbornly persistent Mattie Ross.
Of Gods and Men 8/10
'Of Gods and Men' is a poignant film about a group of Trappist monks in Algeria that is faced with a dilemma: stay in the monastery and face the threat of violence at the hands of Islamic extremists or return to France and abandon their home and the surrounding village community, to whom they have brought caring and healing. The film provides an interesting glimpse into the spirit of monastic fraternity and their day-to-day activities. It also portrays the lingering negative perception of Pieds-Noirs in Algeria as a reminder of French colonial influence. The monks hope for more than tolerance, but also peaceful coexistence among all, even if it will not come in their lifetime. The ending is more hopeful than tragic, and the last 20 minutes starting with the Last Supper scene are some of the best in cinema this year.
While somewhat contrived, Inception is a fascinating look into the nature of dreams, memories, and consciousness. As it blurs the lines of reality and dreams, it would be somewhat mundane if taken at face value as a heist movie of sorts, where the extractors/inceptors literally manipulate dreamscapes for their own purposes. On another level, it is symbolic of the process of moviemaking, "the chance to build cathedrals, entire cities, things that never existed, things that couldn't exist." In the same way, we populate our dreams and memories with our own storytelling, not unlike Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio). However, his grasp on reality is a lot more tenuous as he is haunted by his late wife, Mal, played brilliantly by Marion Cottilard. Whether he can ultimately bury his demons and return to reality is left open to interpretation, but it is well worth the price of admission.
The White Ribbon 8/10
The White Ribbon is a beautifully shot, deliberately paced film about a small agrarian village in northern Germany just before the first World War. It won the Palme d'Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Viewers who look for a literal explanation to the mysterious goings-on in this village will be sorely disappointed. The film explores the roots of evil and suggests that repression and fundamentalism beget extremism, violence, and brutality. These circumstances sowed the seeds for the rise of fascism and totalitarianism in war-torn Europe.
'Dogtooth' is a really bizarre film that reveals the dangers of overprotectiveness, social isolation, and censorship. Be warned, it is disturbing and rather sexually explicit. The father is a control freak and through his exacting manipulations, he projects his insanity onto his wife, son, and two daughters. He creates a hellish, sheltered world of mind games, athletic challenges, childish competitions, false vocabulary, and fearmongering. The children are not feral; they seem to have a normal intellect that is hampered by their father's absurd alternate reality, which makes the film even more frightening. Their only escape, discovered by accident, is media from the outside world, sex, and violence. But how long can the father's charade last?
The Social Network 8/10
Jesse Eisenberg is perfect in his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, the obsessive and off-putting founder of Facebook, whose brainchild is a remarkable example of Adlerian compensation, albeit not due to an inferiority complex so much as a reflection of his unique combination of narcissism, obsessive-compulsiveness, and sociopathy. To me, this is Fincher's best film since 'Zodiac'. Aaron Sorkin's screenplay brings excitement to the Facebook backstory, providing an engrossing glimpse into the unexpected growth of the much maligned social network. Zuckerberg conceals his inadequacies and feelings of alienation by immersing himself in the development of this project, trampling anyone in his path and dealing with the consequences later. But in the end, stripping away the external shell, we see that he is not immune to the effects of loneliness and Lacanian desire.
Black Swan 9/10
'Black Swan' is my favorite film of the year. Darren Aronofsky immerses the viewer in the world of the dancer, where performance anxiety is routine and one is always looking over one's shoulder. However, there is a thin line between perfectionism and insanity. Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman in a mesmerizing and Oscar-worthy performance) is a fragile ballerina coddled by her infantilizing mother. She becomes as much of a control freak as her mother. Nina's form and perfectionism attract the attention of ballet director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel in a brilliantly creepy performance). On the one hand, he encourages her poise and controlled form for the role of the White Swan but on the other hand, he finds difficulty cultivating the looser, more seductive form required for the role of the Black Swan. He believes that he can coax this performance out of her, and Nina pushes herself to meet this expectation. Nina endures the director's rebukes, her mother's suffocating attention (and career-associated guilt trips), the knowledge of what happened to the company's former star ballerina, and the arrival of her rebellious understudy, Lily (played surprisingly well by Mila Kunis) and their tense encounters. However, despite all of these obstacles, Leroy tells her that "the only thing standing in your way is you." She strives to allow her doppelgänger, the Black Swan, to emerge unrestrained in order to achieve the perfection that she so desires. While it is not quite as disturbing as "Requiem for a Dream", it is just as visceral and engaging and is arguably Aronofsky's best film.
And now, some pithy remarks on the not so good and the just plain bad:
The American 6/10
Snubbed by audiences because of the sparse dialogue and slow plot development, 'The American' is an unconventional thriller. The cinematography is great, helped in no small part by the filming location, Abruzzo, Italy. Whether the long build-up is worth it or not depends on what you think of the ending.
Certified Copy 6/10
If watching Juliette Binoche and first-time actor William Shimell talk for 106 minutes in Tuscany sounds like a good time to you, then this is your film. Binoche plays an antiques dealer and William Shimell (who is out of his depth next to Binoche in some scenes) plays an author who writes about the difficulty in differentiating authentic art from copies in the art world. The film is an exploration of the gray areas in our perceptions of reality. Is she more than an old friend, an old lover, his ex-wife, or his wife? The dialogue is in English, Italian, and French, with some conversations carried out in two languages, which is an interesting contrivance but is also somewhat off-putting. I have a feeling that with some refinement, this might have been easier to enjoy, but overall, it felt rather hollow.
I wanted to like this more, but I found it hard to take Ben Stiller seriously. I did enjoy Greta Gerwig's performance, but I wonder if this film might have been better had the original cast choices, Mark Ruffalo and Amy Adams, not dropped out.
Everyone Else 6/10
'Everyone Else' is about the hidden moments and unseen idiosyncrasies that can make or break a relationship, and this may either be revealing or boring to you depending on your level of patience. It is beautifully filmed but rather tediously paced.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger 6/10
Another darkly comic Woody Allen film, but not one of his better films despite the decent performances from Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin, and Naomi Watts.
Beautifully filmed but rather dull and ponderous, 'Lourdes' raises interesting questions about religion, miracles, and who deserves to be healed. Sylvie Testud is terrific as Christine, a patient with MS.
Animal Kingdom 6/10
Starts out promising but loses its way with rather uneven pacing. The directing is also fairly conventional and derivative. Jacki Weaver and James Frecheville give solid performances though.
The Secret in Their Eyes 6/10
A decent but fairly conventional crime drama about a retired federal agent who is haunted by the circumstances of a murder case that will grow to consume him. He has a noble sense of justice, developing a unique friendship with the decedent's husband. He also has a polite affection for his superior, but there may be more underneath the surface. There are some decent scenes, particularly the soccer stadium scene, but the twist at the end is rather heavy-handed and there isn't much here that you haven't seen before on TV crime dramas.
A timely and important documentary for its content (8/10), though the presentation can be a bit heavy-handed. But the film pretty much speaks for itself. Do not allow fracking in your backyard! 5/10 for Josh Fox's execution.
Iron Man 2 6/10
Plenty of action but the story and humor are a letdown compared to the first one.
I think that the buzz is overblown, but it ended up being better than I thought it would be. The story is intriguing, whether it's fabricated or not. However, the execution is rather mundane. It's hard to talk about it much without giving it away. To put it briefly, the film is more a slice of life story than a thriller.
Love and Other Drugs 6/10
The film can't decide if it wants to be a pharmaceutical industry satire or a romantic comedy; it therefore doesn't really succeed at either, even though it is somewhat entertaining.
Alice In Wonderland 6/10
A studio shoe-horned plot and overdone CGI spoil the charm and imagination of Lewis Carrol's novel. Depp (as the Mad Hatter) and Bonham Carter (as the Red Queen) are otherwise quite good in their roles.
The Crazies 6/10
Somewhat predictable but above average horror film (although the average horror film sets a pretty low bar). The car wash scene is amazing, though. But, way to ruin what would have been a perfectly good ending with the condescending last 30 seconds of satellite nonsense.
Hot Tub Time Machine 6/10
Quite crude and funny, but you will lose some brain cells in the process of watching this.
A decent performance from Denzel and good subject matter for an action/buddy movie (think "Speed" but change the bus to a train and change the bad guy from a terrorist to a jaded railroad exec) are wasted with cliches and annoying editing to dumb things down for those with short attention spans.
Survival of the Dead 5/10
Each new installment of the Dead series since "Dawn" and "Day" has yielded diminishing returns.
A few laughs, especially from Helen Mirren's role, but otherwise, it's quite forgettable.
Intriguing concept that really falls flat in the end.
Date Night 5/10
Decent but hardly memorable, even if you like Steve Carrell and Tina Fey.
Never Let Me Go 4/10
How did Mulligan, Garfield, and Knightley get sucked into this cloying, contrived schmaltz-fest? It is nicely filmed and fairly well-acted, but there are fatal flaws: 1) the critical plot device is told rather than revealed to the audience early on and 2) there is little to no introspection or reasoning on the part of the characters, who should have good reasons and means to escape their situation. Instead, it is a tedious, fatalistic story that is not compelling at all. It fails as a romantic drama and fails as a dystopian vision of the future.
More comical than scary, but overall a waste of time.
From Paris With Love 4/10
Generic action/buddy movie.
The Men Who Stare At Goats 4/10
The worst use of this cast I could possibly imagine, unless they were to do The Human Centipede sequel.
The Other Guys 3/10
Really disappointing and unimaginative. It would have been completely unbearable without Will Ferrell.
The Human Centipede 1/10
Not worth the time spent downloading the torrent, much less watching this piece of garbage.