I've been watching movies for a long time. When I say that, I don't mean "watching" in the traditional sense, there's just not really a better word. Everybody "watches" movies, it's like breathing oxygen. I watch movies, and I've been doing it for a long time.
So, it is with that experience that I say this: Every year, critics whine that the movies were crap THIS year. Every December I read about declining ticket sales, public disinterest, and old geezers lamenting about "the old days" of Schindler's list, Gladiator, and Citizen Cane and how "they don't make 'em like that any more."
Having said that, 2010 truly was garbage.
There were some greats, don't get me wrong. But, I went through 2010 with a fine-toothed comb, week by week, checking the releases to make sure I hadn't missed anything*. I looked at my list, floating around 7, and thought "there has to be 3 more movies that are best-of worthy. I eventually filled it in with what were, in my opinion, my favorite 10 movies of 2010.
(* note: I did not see "The Fighter" or "Black Swan" and judging by the industry buzz those two would have likely cracked this list. Also, for simplicity purposes I kept the top 10 to Wide Release films only. I would like to add that I am a supporter of independent film and there are many great movies that were released this year and I urge everyone to read up on some of the arthouse offerings.)
1. The Social Network
With credit to the geezers, they really don't make 'em like this anymore. Just so you know my intentions, I admit that there's a time in place to watch Jason Statham crack skulls and Megan Fox run from robots. While I appreciate escapism, I still can tell the difference between cheap thrills and art.
Social Network is the kind of film that not only tells a story, but captures a generation. With a group of college-age geniuses on the front lines of a changing society, SN gives us emotion in heavy doses, wrapped in crisp biting dialogue and bundled in one flawless package. It is powerful, it is thought-provoking, and its funny, with each character stealing the scenes simultaneously. Every actor shines and in my opinion the Oscars can't give this film enough nominations.
Christopher Nolan is, as far as film is concerned, a god. If I were to ever teach a film appreciation class The Presitge, Memento and Inception would be required texts with the Batman series being optional for extra credit. The man manages to excel at exactly what makes smash bang directors like Michael Bay fail, he blends satisfying popcorn with deep brain teasing concepts. Case in point, he makes super hero movie and adds a layer of social commentary, pyscho-analysis and just plain blow-your-mind craziness.
In Inception, he gives us the world of the dream. Multiple actually. And then stands them on top of each other like a Jenga game. He gives us eye candy like zero gravity fight scenes and Ellen Page while using his bells and whistles to drive the story forward, upward, downward, backward and any direction he wants to. Now that I've seen the making-of featurettes, I only have more respect for the filmmaker and his desire to push the boundaries of story and picture without sacrificing heart and purpose. And, lest we forget, he only uses green screens when he absolutely has to.
Choke on that George Lucas.
3. It's Kind of a Funny Story
Story is one of those rare quiet films that make you feel like it's just good to be alive. It follows a teen dealing with depression who checks into a psychiatric ward. In many ways it's what you expect, he meets some characters that make him appreciate what he has, he finds out things about himself he didn't know, he meets a girl (Newcomer Emma Roberts – Julia's niece).
Not exactly mind blowing stuff. But IKOAFS is just so darn charming in it's blend of reality and fantasy – during a therapy session the characters, via pseudo-dream sequence, perform Queen and David Bowie's Under Pressure, and it is pure gold – and it's dark humor – watch out for some truly awesome vomit sequences – that you can't help but smile. I walked out of the theater smelling the air and wanting to go on an adventure.
4. True Grit
Jeff Bridges shows his range in the latest endeavor from the Cohen Brothers. Bridges did country in Crazy Heart, the Cohens did country in No Country For Old Men, but in both cases True Grit is something entirely new.
The dialogue is perfect. So perfect it's almost unbelievably good but who cares? You'll want to take your Delorian back to the frontier just so you can spar with LaBeuf.
5. Shutter Island
I've always liked Scorsese. His films have a distinct visual style that you can pick out almost as though you were in an art gallery. He uses color, light and contrast to literally paint a scene so that even when the plot is on pause, the image dazzles.
In Shutter Island, Scorecese takes his steady directing hand to the Thriller genre, which is hardly known for beauty, and the result is absolutely mystifying. Some viewers complained about the plot, but I remember walking out of the theater and immediately calling a friend to discuss it. This week I was able to watch it again and I caught more intricacies than before and even knowing the end was pulled into this eerie world where nothing is what it seems.
For me, I thought the story was fresh and in the masters hands, it's simply art.
6. The Town
I've never been to Boston, so a lot of the pseudo-romantic talk about capturing the "beat" and "essence" of the city in movies like The Departed and The Town is lost on me. Still, Ben Afflec's latest is oozing with a particular vibe that is hard to define.
It's a quiet movie, about bank robbers. In that way it passes on the glitz and bubble gum of other heist flicks like Ocean's 11 and 13 (there is no 12) and The Italian Job and instead feels more akin to talkies from the production code era, except that every other word is an F* bomb.
The film is one giant juxtaposition, from the tender scenes of romance to the expletive rants to the actual heists where criminals don masks that look like Michael Myers joined a convent. It pulses, like a breathing animal, down on all fours and preparing to pounce; and even though it never quite explodes like you think it might, you come to find out that has been its strength all along.
7. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Great film is like good food. We all know that there are superior culinary arts, garnished and presented flambe in a bed of tastes and textures. Sometimes though, we just want to dump Hershey's syrup in a bowl of ice cream and go to town.
Watching Scott Pilgrim is like being a kid in a candy store. For two hours you are bombarded almost incessantly with audio a visual stimuli and the more it dips into crazy town the more you find yourself loving the ride.
Now we're in the minor leagues. Two year's ago RED (a good movie, to be certain) would never have even scratched the top 10 and certainly would not be in the running for a best picture award (Golden Globes, comedy division).
Alas, this is the year that we are writing about and I loved watching RED. The title stands for Retired, Extremely Dangerous and refers explicitly to Bruce Willis but also the combined force of Morgan Freeman, Dame Helen Mirren (she's a Dame right?) and John Malkovich who dusted off his particular brand of crazy for this one. All of the above named are retired special forces operatives thrown back into action when Willis is targeted by the CIA, personified by the ever-enjoyable and drastically underrated Karl Urban (Star Trek's Bones).
Add in the mousy-hot Mary Louise Parker as the love interest and civilian audience liaison and you have a recipe for a fresh spin on a tired genre of comedy action flicks, of which we've had an abundance this year (The A-Team, The Losers, The Expendables – note, I'm not ragging on these movies, I actually thought they were all pretty good, ok, and awesome, respectively).
9. Knight and Day
I'm not afraid to admit it, I'm a Tom Cruise fan. Sure, he's kind of crazy these days, but as I always remind my friends I'm Mormon, and it doesn't get much crazier than that. Tommy Boy, despite his loss of star power, has been delivering some solid hits these days (M:I-3, Tropic Thunder) and this little gem sadly went mostly unnoticed during the doldrums of summer.
In K&D Cruise plays a government agent of questionable mental stability being hunted by his own and lugging around Cameron Diaz for eye candy. That said, Diaz manages to bring the funny, especially during a sequence where she is mildly sedated (actually, there's 2 sequences like that but only one in which SHE is funny, the other one is all Tom).
This is popcorn entertainment at its best. It doesn't change your world view, it doesn't make you switch political parties, it just delivers some fast paste clever entertainment. Some of the supporting players run a little thin and the ending fizzles but Cruise in his off-hilter uber-trained paranoia is an absolute delight.
10. Easy A
I had some qualms going into Easy A. Emma Stone plays a geeky nobody at a high school where having sex makes you the talk of the town ... I'm sorry, but what High School in America is that? Eventually, however, I was able to swallow the pill of necessarily contrived plot devices and enjoy the story, which is darned enjoyable.
Easy A is a modern retelling of The Scarlett Letter. Stone lies about losing her virginity, gains some notoriety, then falls into a slippery slope of lying about trysts as favors to other societal outcasts until (ominous music) things get out of hand.
It's not the most original plot, but the performances of Stone and supporting players Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci ARE original and dynamite. It's the funniest high school script since Mean Girls and the best adolescent identity movie since the John Hughes Era (which receives healthy shout-outs during the movie). I wouldn't give the movie an A, but it stands out amongst many comedy offerings this year.