I think I had a better year at the movies in 2010 then most people. Partially because I don’t think I was quite as enamored by 2009 as most. Partially because even in the films I didn’t like all that much I couldn’t help but find a weird ramshackled charm (hello Wolfman). Either way any year that can add as many fine movies to my rotation as this top ten is a good year by my count. I don’t think this year has been any worse for good movies really, just that they were more spread out. A full third of my list is made up of movies that were released by March, two of which were originally supposed to come out in 2009. One can be forgiven for forgetting about them at the end of the tally.
Eitherway I had a lot of fun at the movies this year. Despite the next couple of films...
District B-13 Ultimatum:
A Parkour Movie without Parkour and a buddy movie without buddies. I saw worse movies this year then District B-13 Ultimatum, but none so completely pointless.
Death At A Funeral:
A sad waste of genuine talent and funny source material. Unfunny, overblown and completely tone deaf. Like watching an Oscar Wilde play performed by a really shitty dinner theater. Except that dinner theater is staffed by the usually charming likes of Chris Rock, James Marsden, Keith David, Zoe Salanda and several other usually charismatic actors, all turning in career worst work.
A Nightmare On Elm Street: This movie broke something in me. I seriously have about thirty percent less tolerance for Hollywood Assembly line Bullshit having seen it. A more jaw dropping waste of time you will not see.
The 3rd Annual Southland Tales Award For Movie I Liked For No Good Reason:
Legend Of The Guardians: Goofily sincere and sincerely goofy. Zack Synder decided to make a movie about owls. Owls who fight. For no other reason, as far as I can tell then he thought it would be neat. You've gotta love this guy a little.
Though it is my least favorite of his films it is the one that sums up best why I have so much affection for him as a filmmaker. It’s the obvious and genuine pleasure he takes from telling his stories. The fact that with each one you can almost hear him say “Gee, this is cool!”
Alice In Wonderland: The ultimate “Is what it is.” movie. I can understand why people didn’t love Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland. I cannot understand why they acted like he took a shit in their Grandmother’s purse when he delivered what is at worst, a modestly entertaining, visually inventive, Fantasy B-Movie. Play it on a double bill with Ladyhawke and I’ll guarentee you’ll like it Better.
Most Pleasant Surprises:
Waking Sleeping Beauty: A rarity of rarities. A glimpse inside the sausage factory that makes you admire the finished product more rather then less. About as honest a look inside the mouse house as we can expect from the source, with some truly beautiful artwork.
It is kept off the top ten list only by the fact that it ends ten minutes too soon.
Let Me In: This film feels impossibly good. A seemingly pointless remake that brought out new and fascinating dimensions to the story it told. The best horror film of the year (depending on what you consider Black Swan).
The Book Of Eli: I feel bad about this one. Before the one two punch of Black Swan and True Grit, Eli was the film that kicked off my top ten list. The Book Of Eli was the most pleasant surprise I had in a theater this year. I came to it with zero expectations and ended up kind of blown away. It’s the type of film that made me a genre fan. The type that’s become all too rare in the modern day. The kind I find I miss more and more as I get older as a filmgoer. A solid genre movie with a well told and crafted story, a real sense of care taken with its characters, a real sense of place given to its world and a visual style that is both imaginative and just plain cool.
It sounds simple so why is it evidently so fucking hard to deliver?
Ad to that the bonus that it’s one of the few movies religious movies I’ve ever seen that is truly even handed, neither demonizing Christianity nor ignoring it’s dark side. It let the Hughes Brothers out of movie jail and allows them to orchestrate some serious mayhem. It has Denzel Washington at his most badass, Gary Oldman in full on EVVVERRRYYOOONNEEE mode. Tom Waits, Ray Stevenson, Mila Kunis and Michael Gambon as a cannibal.
What’s not to like?
10. Kick Ass:
Kick Ass is a dirty, nasty, violent, utterly wrong thinking slice of id trawled up from the very depths of Mark Millar’s subconscious and given a glossy sheen by Matthew Vaughn that makes everything even more demented. It’s a movie that positively dares you to be upset by it, slaps you upside your head and calls you a “pussy.” It features sequences that are genuinely unhinged. Where else can you watch a fifteen year old kid riding a jetpack, machine gun down a roomful of grown men while Elvis croons The Battle Hymn Of The Republic?
And it put a demented grin on my face that just refuse to go away.
If I had doodled this movie in my notebooks in Jr. High they would have put me in a mental institute.
Bolstered by the most old school Nicholas Cage performance in fifteen years, the star making turn from Chloe Morentz and some of the most mind blowing action put on screen this fair decade, Kick Ass remains the ultimate “bad for you” hit of the year. That something this utterly disreputable played on American multiplex screens brings a tear to my eye.
Glory Glory Hallelujah indeed.
9. Toy Story 3 : I still say it lacks the perfection of Toy Story 2, which is one of the most natural synthesizes of narrative and metaphor I’ve ever seen. But there’s no denying that Toy Story 3 is a movie that is astounding both in it’s ambition and emotion. It brings it story to a close in fine fashion, had sequences as beautiful as anything American Animation has produced and made Michael Keaton funny on screen again. Can’t ask for much more then that.
8. A Prophet: Live wire filmmaking, propulsive and punishing. The typical story of a man losing his soul and gaining the prison yard given new juice by the slightest of amoral tweaks.
Yes Malik does terrible things to survive in A Prophet. But when he arrived at the prison he was nothing, an illiterate unformed boy straight out of Dickens. In his rise to power he makes himself in a way society refused to do. And as the film ends the question is asked is he worse off now then when he came in? The subversive answer is “No.”
7. True Grit: The Coen brother’s once again hit it right out of the park. This time turning their skewed lens on a work of Americana and making it monstrous. It’s hard to decide which is the most impressive, how thoroughly warped and nightmarish they make the world traveled by its trio. Or how thoroughly the story retains its power regardless.
Maybe that’s not remarkable as all that. After all the Coen’s vision and the story’s power stem from the same sentiment. One that was articulated before in their second movie, and best of all in Night Of The Hunter, the film closest to this in terms of tone.
“It’s a hard world for little things.”
6. Scott Pilgrim: The most infectious, inventive, joyful movie I saw this year. Edgar Wright may never get to make a movie this confident and completely himself again, but Damnit he had it in him. A full extension of one of the most singular comic voices working today.
This is a film that simultaneously managed to really pushed the cinematic language, be the best musical, comedy and one of the best action movies of the year. Not to mention that it featured one of the funniest ensemble casts in recent memory, including dead pan performances by Brandon Routh(?!?) and Chris Evans (!!??!?) that made me laugh harder then anything else seen on screen this year (!?!?!?!???!)
If a more sheerly pleasurable movie was released this year then man I missed it.
5. Inception: I’m still completely gobsmacked by what Nolan has done here. When all the silly partisan bickering about Nolan fades away this film will remain. An idiosyncratic wonder. Proof positive that work that is epic, imaginative and heartfelt can not only exist in the mainstream but thrive there.
It’s a work of staggering ambition and imagination and though I’ve seen it about six times already, I can’t help but feel the sneaking suspicion that I still don’t know the half of what is going on in it.
4. Black Swan: Mercurial, hypnotic and astounding. The final and perfect synthesis of Aronofsky the stylist and Aronofsky the storyteller. Five films in and I have the sneaking suspicious he is only just beginning.
3. Shutter Island: Dismissed by many as minor Scorsese Shutter Island has grown in my subconscience immensely since the initial viewing. Each time I watch it I find myself pulled further down into its dark spell.
It’s a portrait of suffering on a mental physical and spiritual level. Like his idol’s of the studio system, he has used an unassuming entertainment to get across a stunning artistic vision. One of the few film’s I’ve ever seen to totally match it’s source material, Scorsese and crew come up with one final turn of the screw that beats Lehane at his own game.
Visually and aurally sumptuous, with one of the greatest casts that Scorsese has ever gotten to play with (when was the last time you saw someone actually push Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow rather then just trot them out). Shutter Island is like an excellent Pinot Noir, with arsenic sprinkled in it.
2. The Town: No doubt this film at this entry will come as a surprise to some people. And I’ll admit that while putting the finishing touches on this column I tried moving it around. Just to see how it’d look at different numbers. And it looked like a lie.
The truth is there is no film that I enjoyed more thoroughly this year. Not just the best crime movie since Heat, The Town is a great old fashioned piece of craft that could have been made in any era. It could have been made in the thirties with Cagney in the Affleck role and Bogart as Renner. It’s a film that established Affleck as a major talent, if only for the way he cut out the core of the story from the over stuffed source material with a surgeon’s skill.
From the excellent performances by the central trio of Affleck, Hamm and Renner to the great one scene cameo’s by Chris Cooper and Pete Postlewaithe, each doing career best work. To the great set pieces like the already iconic “Nun” robbery which ends with perhaps the most perfect moment I saw this year on screen.
The Town may not do anything that hasn’t been done before. But it does it so remarkably well that I cannot help but be a little blown away by the sheer care and craft of it.
1. Winters Bone: Like True Grit this is the story of a strong willed, rural girl, out to deal with the fate of her Father. Unlike True Grit, Winter's Bone never winks.
Call it what you will, Hillbilly Noir, American Neo Realism no other film this year brought it’s setting and its characters to such vivid life. And no film made me invest so deeply in them.
John Hawkes Uncle Teardrop, a man tending to the last dying embers of decency within himself, even if we see him at his most utterly corrupt, is the most fascinating character I’ve encountered in fiction this year. And the fact that he doesn’t for one second come in danger of simply bulldozing young Ree tells you how astounding Jennifer Lawrence is.
For all its many forms film remains to me at it’s core a source of empathy. And no film personifies that quite like Winter’s Bone.
Thanks so much for sticking with Things That Don’t Suck throught 2010. I have some great plans for next year, and look forward to things getting better and better here. So for all those who took the time to read and/or follow, allow me to offer my sincerest Thank You.