Another year of Cinema has come and gone, and I can’t help but feel we got cheated of any true masterpieces. Having said that, the next rung down – the four- and four-and-a-half star films of the world – seemed to be abnormally plentiful this year. In crafting my ten favorite films of the year, I ultimately came up with twenty-four films that I felt were worthy of a spot on the list – if not necessarily in any year, then pracitcally as much as any one that did make 2010’s cut. (As such, the unlucky fourteen are listed at the end). The following movies could just of easily been presented without order, none of them feel head-and-shoulders above any other; but after a few days of indecision, this is what I came to. Let me know what you think below – what were your favorite movies of the year?
I should mention that I still haven’t seen a few top contenders this year (Animal Kingdom, Fish Tank, The Illusionist, The Tillman Story, The Way Back and a few others escaped my grasp); but with that caveat, let’s get into it.
Coming into this year, Martin Scorsese was 67-years-old and had made twenty films. He was the kind of artist you could cut slack for phoning in a movie after using up so much brilliance in a career that included game changers like Mean Streets and Raging Bull. But ever the experimenter, Scorsese continues to play and dabble in the movies – Shutter Island spins and whirs over a rippling, saturated hospital haunted by its former life as a prison. As its protagonist (Leonardo DiCaprio) sleuths about the setting for a missing woman, he slips into a paranoia that’s hard not to fall in alongside him – but the mystery of the film only compliments the intentional and fascinating feel of confusion. It’s a sharp thriller that, despite the director’s Senior-status, proves Scorsese is far from retiring age.
A lot of fuss has been made over whether or not documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop – the directorial debut of internationally famed street artist Banksy – can be taken as fact, or if its all been fabricated. But whether or not we’re all being had (and I don’t think we are), this look at Banksy’s medium and one man, Thierry Guetta, who dedicated himself to it, is rebelliously charming and ensnaring. I’m almost never this fond of documentaries, but the enthusiasm, excitement and strong sense of humor in Exit Through the Gift Shop make it feel like a new sub-genre of fact-based film – it puts a real-life story on the record, but does so in a manner that you could pop in the DVD and watch it with a few buddies.
Too often, films are burdened by a lack of subtlety; but with first time director Derek Cianfrance’s poignant Blue Valentine, there’s at least one filmmaker out there that knows how much more you can say by not saying much at all. It tells the story of Dean and Cindy (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, a veritable powerhouse of young actors) and their marriage. But rather than presenting a typical narrative going all the way through their time together, instead we get the stories of its beginning and end, presented parallelly. We don’t need to know what happened in between, we don’t need to see where and why it stopped working; by only presenting the best and worst of times, it only becomes more heartbreaking and more touching.
To call the films of Gaspar Noé overindulgent would be a compliment – they can often feel like an exercise in pretension. But Noé’s work still feels monumental – even if his most recent, Enter the Void, feels over-bloated, it’s still totally unique. Letting his cameras linger seemingly in the absence of gravity, the film floats along to above a sea of electric, ecstatic color, following the life and afterlife of our protagonist. It’s a meditation on spirituality and reincarnation that escapes feeling preachy or trite – Noé’s camera tells his psychedellic story as plainly as possible.
Darren Aronofsky has been no stranger to the cerebral realm of film, so it’s no surprise that he hit another one out of the park with Black Swan. Inside the head of the frighteningly fragile ballerina Nina (Natalie Portman), the audience slowly accompanies our unreliable narrator down the rabbit hole into a mental state that defies any real or precise definition. But Aronofsky structures the madness with a surprisingly classy thriller format that would have made Hitchcock proud. But at the same time, he’s not afraid to make you squirm in your seat as he terrorizes Nina’s digits with pulled hangnails and cracked nails. It’s a tense experience that’s not likely to be taken lightly.
Dogtooth didn’t get a wide release when the Greek film arrived stateside last summer – I would never have heard of it if I didn’t follow the A.V. Club‘s Scott Tobias on Twitter. But it’s not hard to see Dogtooth becoming the art-cult classic it deserves to be in a few years. The film is full of conceit, showing a family where the children, fully grown, are educated by their parents to believe that they’ll die if they leave the house. Using sterile colors, obtuse if plain camera angles without using very many shots, the result is a menacing film that rips at the seams from beneath, just waiting to be unleashed. Dogtooth is currenlty is without a home video release date, but once it’s released be sure to toss it to the top of your Netflix queue.
My favorite movie theater in town played the trailer for A Prophet about a one-hundred thousand times before they finally showed the film. Emblazoning frames with a critic’s quote declaring it France’s equal to The Godfather. With that bit of propaganda being shoved down my throat, the film had an uphill battle to live up to its hype, so I was shocked when I finally saw it and it actually did. A contemporary film epic if ever there was one, we see an inmate, Malik (Tahar Rahim) forced into a prison’s Italian clique, a gang that in effect runs the facility and its facilitators. But throughout his incarceration, he works his way up from a petty criminal to an unlikely mob boss. The stale, imperfect visuals of the film throw you into the world and you can’t help but hope for a way out of; but at the same time you can’t imagine leaving the theater before the end credits.
David Fincher might be the greatest director of Thrillers working today. So his decision to take on a talker of a film where the characters argue about Facebook for two hours wasn’t just ballsy, it felt like an experiment that could go disasterously wrong. Which just makes The Social Network all the more of a success – fuelled by dialogue only Aaron Sorkin could deliver and an outstanding cast of young, under-the-radar actors, The Social Network is just as tense as anything else Fincher has delivered. At the middle of it all is Jesse Eisenberg in with the best performance of the year, as a young man who wants nothing more than to be cool but just doesn’t understand how to go about it without becoming an asshole.
I’d say that I consider myself a big Pixar fan, but really who isn’t? Still, as a guy who’s followed the most successful studio in the history of Hollywood as closely and rewardingly as I have, I was shocked to walk out of my screening of Toy Story 3 both shaken and renewed, knowing that I’d just seen the best Pixar has offered up yet. Maybe it’s just beacuse I grew up with these characters, but the emotional core of this eleventh Pixar film is so vibrant and authentic that it left me in tears, something I can’t say any other movie has done for me since I graduated from Kindergarten. Throw in the story’s ruthlessness towards its own characters and a new benchmark in lighting for any animated film, and the whole package is a film that, despite its label as a kiddie movie or its family theme, is just as tough and sophisticated as anything else out there.
Just two years ago, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight took the top spot in my ten favorite films of 2008. But a year later, revisiting it, I couldn’t help but feel that the film lost so much of its bite after a first viewing, its secrets and characters having already run amok through my mind. I was afraid that I’d find the same would be true of his follow-up, Inception; but this movie is just as joyously enigmatic and puzzling as it was the first time I watched it. Inception, which is sometimes more like a labrynth than a motion picture, its story is focused around one perfectly realized mind game that can be just as enticing as it is obtuse. A system that is, by its own nature, impossible to crack. But to view Inception as a problem to be solved would be wrong; at its core it’s about a man who would give anything to know finally giving up and hoping for the best. Excellent action sequences and and a expertly paced enormous ninety-minute third act only add to the film’s sophistocating form. Despite its enormus budget, Nolan has taken one idea and expanded it into a sprawling film that deserves every bit of attention it got this summer.
The runners-up, in descending order, are Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Mother and Child, Somewhere, I Am Love, The Eclipse, The King’s Speech, Rabbit Hole, How to Train Your Dragon, 127 Hours, Winter’s Bone, True Grit, I Love You Phillip Morris, Never Let Me Go, and, maybe just because I need one good comedy in here, Macgruber.