While it’s no secret that the Hollywood studios save their best product for the end of the year, so that their films might be fresh in the minds that hand out year-end awards, never have I seen such an onslaught of quality movies during the last month of the year as I have in 2010. While most “Best of” lists predominantly feature late-release films, this year it will come as no surprise if most of them are made up of movies that have been released in the last six weeks of 2010. It’s been widely accepted by critics that this was not a stellar year for celluloid and while it hasn’t been the worst since I’ve been reviewing (that would be 2000 when my Top 10 List consisted of eight movies), it’s been far from memorable.
Case in point – without getting on the Internet, name one summer film that was memorable. If you came up with one other than Inception without wracking your brain, I’d be impressed. While there were definite moneymakers (Iron Man II, Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story 3), it was a year of middling affairs. As a colleague of mine pointed out, this year was filled with “B movies, many of them being OK but lacking that one element that pushes them past the mark of being just good to great.” I couldn’t have said it better myself and this year-end wrap up reflects that – films that might not have cracked the top 10 in years past are present here.
While I am conscious of trying to spread the wealth where genres are concerned, this year’s list doesn’t contain a single comedy and only two period pieces. For me, contemporary dramas held sway, with challenging narratives from overseas and relatively low-budget Hollywood affairs delivering the goods where compelling stories and filmmaking were concerned. Some of these films never came to Springfield, while others have yet to be released in the area. That being said, the wonder of home video allows you to catch up on those that have slipped by while now’s the time to start making a list of those you need to catch when they make their local debut.
1. 127 Hours – Is Danny Boyle’s account of Aron Ralston’s harrowing tale of survival without its faults? No, few films are and Boyle isn’t shy about letting you know who’s calling the shots, what with his radical camera angles and aggressive editing style. Yet, this is my favorite film of the year because of its emotional pull and a charismatic performance from James Franco. As Ralston, who was trapped for more than five days in a Utah canyon and had to sever his own arm to escape, the actor displays a self-effacing charm and grim sense of determination that allows us to understand the climber’s reasoning behind his bold act. Life-affirming and shamelessly moving, this tale of one man’s will to live will have you questioning your own motivations as well as appreciating the small, everyday things in life we take for granted yet make living worthwhile. (Will be released in Springfield in January.)
2. The King’s Speech – Class boundaries fall and an unlikely friendship grows in Tom Hooper’s fact-based account of King George VI’s efforts to overcome a debilitating stammer as he’s thrust upon the world stage. Colin Firth is magnificent as the repressed monarch who’s forced to assume the throne when his brother abdicates, conveying the man’s shyness, fear and ultimate strength. He’s matched by Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, his unorthodox speech therapist who insists on being treated as an equal as a part of the king’s therapy. Funny, inspirational and fascinating, this is the best import of the year. (Will be released in Springfield in January.)
3. True Grit – The Coen brothers take on the John Wayne chestnut is an instant classic of the western genre as it simultaneously romanticizes the period while it shows how untamed and violent it actually was. Driven by a dynamic turn by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as a young girl who sets out to bring down her father’s killer, with an alcoholic lawman (Jeff Bridges) and arrogant Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) in tow, this film transports the viewer like no other this year, taking us to a time in which moral codes were clear while honor and loyalty were tenets of life rather than precepts thought of as disposable and foolish.
4. The Social Network – There’s no denying that David Fincher’s film about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is the movie of the moment as it accurately exposes the many ironies surrounding the man behind a phenomenon that was billed as an instrument to bring us all together. Zuckerberg is brilliantly portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, as socially inept, narcissistic and insular, yet his brainchild is seen as an instrument of social connectivity. Nothing could be further from the truth as the film exposes the lies that are capable of being perpetrated on this instrument of anonymity as well as those behind its founding. An instant classic that decades from now will be referenced as indicative of our times.
5. The Kids are All Right – While it was initially regarded as the “lesbian love story,” Lisa Cholodenko’s film is so much more as it looks at the very nature of love and the many pitfalls and joys that are inherent to it. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are lovers whose children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) hunt down the man who donated the sperm to their parents so they could be conceived. This man, played with self-effacing sexuality by Mark Ruffalo, creates unexpected turmoil for all as everyone’s concept of what makes up a family is put to the test. What makes the film special is not only its unflinching look at the redemptive qualities of love as well as the pain it can foster, but also that each of these characters are extremely likable. You don’t mind spending time with them and in the end you hope everyone ends up all right for them all.
6. Inception – Was there a more challenging film released this year by a major studio than Christopher Nolan’s mind twister? I can’t think of one. Batting around the questions this movies poses is part of the fun as it invites repeat viewings in order to crack its code. This time-tripping, dream-plumbing adventure driven by Leonardo DiCaprio is the film that keeps on giving as it riffs on video games, film itself and the nature of our subconscious and the power it contains. Challenging but entertaining, this is one for the ages.
7. The Ghost Writer – Roman Polanski’s political thriller focuses on the distrust we have in today’s politics and media as it weaves a compelling mystery about a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) who’s hired to help write the memoirs of the former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan). Nothing is as it seems. As the writer digs further into his subject’s past, things better left hidden are brought to light and everyone’s motivations are scrutinized. Polanski holds his cards close to his vest and he delivers not only a pointed indictment of our modern leaders and those who cover them, but a fascinating and entertaining film as well.
8. Hereafter – Clint Eastwood’s examination of life and death is a deceptive film that sneaks up on you and refuses to let go. As a reluctant psychic who can commune with the dead, Matt Damon delivers a poignant turn as a man haunted by his visions and incapable of living in the now. Contemplative, deliberate and ambiguous, this is a challenging and moving little gem that doesn’t so much question what may come after death but reminds us of how precious the life we have now is.
9. Never Let Me Go – This English export stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield as young people who grew up in an isolated boarding school. Once they reach adulthood, they become privy to the reason behind their education and their ultimate purpose. Haunting and moving, this sly examination of the vagaries of the class system is a pointed look at the society we live in, in which so few have so much and so many have so little.
10. Animal Kingdom – This import from Australia focuses on a family of criminals who have no problem turning on their own to save their own necks. This is as far from The Sopranos as you can imagine and is driven by actress Jacki Weaver as Momma Smurf, a mother who has no problem eating her young to save her own neck.
Six-way tie — Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank takes an unflinching look at poverty in modern England, while Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bones does the same for America’s Ozark Mountain region…Ben Stiller questions his reason for living in Greenberg… Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale each go 15 rounds in the acting tour de force The Fighter…Disney successfully returns to its roots with the charming Tangled. Ben Affleck shines in front of and behind the camera in the heist thriller The Town.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at email@example.com.